I remember the night like it was only yesterday. As with most Australian summers around Christmas time you would be kept awake, often unable to sleep due to the oppressive heat that left you drenched in sweat at 1 am. On this particular night, a Saturday, and with no Internet or mobile phone to entertain me (it’s 1992) I flick on the tele to find a late night film to watch.
Almost all my options are exhausted. No movie worth its crust to watch so my last resort was channel 2 or SBS, take your pic. On Saturday nights since 1987 in Australia channel 2, a government run network has provided a show by the name of Rage that continues to this day. It’s a music video show that runs specials on particular artists or invites touring singers and bands in to pick their favourite clips. On this particular summers evening Rage had decided to devote a night to a man who has since had a resounding impact on my life.
To be honest I don’t remember the first few clips that I watched. It was “Ashes to Ashes” that first caught my eye. It was at this precise moment where David Bowie began to consume my life in so many ways. The following two hours of viewing became enthralling for this 15 year old novice. With each clip came a new image, a new sound and even had me thinking if I was still watching video clips of the same performer. Each video was different to the last.
The next day I began to scour the radio stations in an effort to find more of his music. I had set a tape to record tracks by this strange fellow that had me buzzing. My parents were curious as to what had me so utterly consumed. When I mentioned Bowie’s name my mother just raised her eyebrows and walked away. This wouldn’t be the last time that she would do this over the coming years.
Following Christmas festivities I found myself cashed up with about $25 to spend on whatever I wanted. On December 27 1992 at 1 pm I left home with my father in search of the city. In search of a record shop. In search of music by David Bowie.
The best one in town at this period was The Record Exchange. Everybody came here for their music need my elder brother informed me. They sold records, compact discs, cassette tapes, video tapes, film posters, Doc Martins, clothes and so much more! All I was after on this day however was music by David Bowie. As I began my excitable search through the cassette tape racks it was only moments before my frantic and impulsive teenage excitement turned up a selection of Bowie albums. Which ones to get though? After all I only had $25 on me. Some were expensive, others cheap. I wanted them all!
After a good half hour deciding what I wanted it was apparent that three albums would fit my small budget with some change to spare. Scary Monsters, Let’s Dance and CHANGESONEBOWIE, all second hand and cheap on cassette tap were now proudly owned by me! Over the coming weeks all three tapes would be given a proper going over in my Walkman. Yes, remember owning a Walkman? If only the iPod generation could appreciate just how good it was to own a Walkman.
Scary Monsters was the standout album in those first few weeks. It resonated with me like nothing else had ever done before. The other two purchases were outstanding listening material however the lyrical content of Scary Monsters stood head and shoulders above. It still sits firmly in my favourite Bowie albums to this day.
As 1993 passed by it became apparent it was not very cool to be a Bowie fan. Despite a new studio album early in the year that topped the British charts, ironically knocking glam era Bowie clones Suede off the number one spot and another album later the same year most people had pigeon holed Bowie into the has been, washed up old rocker category. His time with Tin Machine had seen his credibility stocks fall deeper into the pit of no return. This was after all the peek of grunge whilst hip hop music had begun its dark decline into a world of commercial acceptance and dwindling quality that continues to this day. Bowie was on the nose with many.
Regardless of all the negative retorts my love for Bowie’s music grew stronger. I began collecting all his albums, searching video shops for his films and reading any book or magazine article I could lay my hands on. By late 1993 I had discovered a British dealer by the name of Marshall Jarman who was not only a music dealer, he was a Bowie specialist! He even had specific Bowie catalogues he would post out, full of anything Bowie related you could imagine. It was a dream come true and two things from these catalogues would consume not just a good deal of my time but a good deal of my money.
Bootlegs! Bootlegs and 7 inch vinyl singles have been the main element of my Bowie collecting. The bootlegs were something else. I was buying countless boots from Marshall Jarman and discovering more and more about Bowie’s legendary tours of years gone by. And then there was the maze of unreleased studio material that would turn up. The fascination with 7 inch picture sleeve singles began with a book I bought in early 1994 from another Australian fan.
Michael Meara was selling copies of Marshall Jarman’s recently published book on Bowie’s 7 inch output from 1964 up to 1981. It made for a fascinating read. In turn I had become great friends with Michael and he generously made me video and cassette tape copies of rare Bowie material, took me to my first pub gigs and introduced me to the likes of The Church, Died Pretty and countless other bands. We don’t converse much these days. I shall have to change that methinks.
The high point of my Bowie fandom in the 90’s came around mid 1995. Bowie had released another album, 1. Outside and was touring the United States with Nine Inch Nails. Over the coming two years he toured extensively and released Earthling and in the process had begun to be seen as cool again. He didn’t give a fuck what anyone thought once more, just like the 70’s! All of a sudden being a Bowie fan gave you street cred. He had begun to reap the rewards of his Tin Machine period which was one of great self re-discovery. My fandom, or obsession had hit new highs in this period. I began to DJ and run my own Bowie themed nights, punk, goth and 80’s nights. Morrissey was another who I had become consumed with in 1993 and by now English music was cool again following Suede’s arrival in 1992 and the ensuing revival of British music.
By the late 90’s my obsession with Bowie was introducing me to writers, film directors, artists and actors. My collecting had become more than a hobby. It was a full blown love affair that was showing no signs of slowing down. The dawn of the new century would sadly change the landscape of collecting forever.
All good things come to an end. By 2000 Bowie collecting had taken on a new direction. A new band of Internet warriors trading in music collectibles had left genuine dealers like Marshall Jarman out in the dark. Rouge traders were popping up everywhere on eBay selling collectables for extravagant amounts of money. Items that once sold for £100 were now going for amounts closer to £300! Still, there was yet another element for collectors to deal with that would cause many problems for few hordes or collectors to this day.
Low quality MP3 downloads had become the norm for many up and coming music fans. For many Bowie fans this proved a problem. The demand for genuine bootlegs began to fade as the world of bootleg collectors were forced to face the harsh realities of CD-R boots copied in poor quality. It was great to be able to trade on one hand yet on the other you often got sent low quality recordings that the sender had previously guaranteed would be of high standards. Finding factory pressed CD and vinyl bootlegs was becoming harder so I began to trade and receive live concerts that had gaps between songs and acquired a tin sounding quality due to the MP3 formats now widely available. The music collecting landscape was changing fast. Many new fans I would meet didn’t even buy or collect vinyl.
Over the past decade or so with Bowie failing to release any new studio albums I noticed many collectors fall by the way side. Families, mortgages, kids and day to day living were having an effect. House insurance was now more important than that 1973 gatefold Spanish pressing of Aladdin Sane. People move on I guess.
In the past few months Bowie has returned, almost messiah like with his first studio album in 10 years. He is on the tip of everyone’s tongue once more. It has been great seeing old names on the collectors market return to the fold as well. Even now, some 21 years after my Bowie obsession began I still feel like a teenager every time I step into a record store, book shop or pay a visit to an English record fair.
The full story of my Bowie obsession is much too long to even begin going into over a blog. Perhaps one day soon I may sit down and write a book on it. Who knows? Through my love of Bowie I found Morrissey, Hitchcock, Wilde, Orwell, Dali, wonderful friends and countless memories from around the world.
Being a Bowie fan is a lifestyle for me. It’s a good part of who I am. Always has been and always will be. Others may come and go but there will only ever be one David Bowie!