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The X-Factor in Bowie Tributes

Posted Saturday, March 5th, 2016

It is as though a part of a memory being enacted helps the public to mourn the loss of an icon. It is hard to say this, and perhaps I have not left it long enough but allowing your act to perform the complex arithmetic of a Bowie song, or a performance that peoples’ minds will compare to flawless, filmic renditions in the memory. In his final decade, Bowie decided to leave artifacts that bear examination, rather than memories that twist and fade.

For his own way of looking, from the other side of the mirror, it was his work as an artist that he cared about, not the fame or experience of the glare of galaxies of eyeballs pouring out attention and admiration. He made extraordinary video artworks, made two records of some of his best music before he departed from this life.

And so the tributes started, almost always Rebel, Rebel or Life on Mars or a medley mashup of obvious hits. Bruce Springsteen honoured Bowie by turning Rebel Rebel into his own original hard rock. Madonna mangled the same song by trying in vain to duplicate it, but her own performance was unconvincing. Then there were two piano expositions by Elton John and Mike Garson. Both are works of great talent and highly appropriate, the latter in particular. And of course Rick Wakeman playing it again, Sam.

Discovered handheld phone footage of Iggy Pop singing Tonight with the great Sharon Jones, backed by the Patti Smith Group at Carnege Hall. That the promoters or artists did not film this is unfortunate.

The two most expensive and “significant” of the tributes started at the Grammies with a misjudged covers medely swiftly strutted out against the super-mad prodution values of the woman who seems to want to change personae every time she appears, now using a computer chip sponsor to exploit technical gimmickry and morph Bowie Hollywood upon her visage, so perhaps she wants to be seen as a model of his personae, wearing his makeup like a mask. Then performing, (she has learned from her glare of her crowd), with great skill and energy a fine rendition of what she felt. For all its glossy postmodernism and pasartface, it was gold where brass was it, it was dressing your soldiers for war in silver rather than having enough tin to go around. She was great, but not that great. Too much technology and the feeling of the art is disguised, imperceptable instead of imperfection highlighting danger, plastic perfection slides by.

And then a producer who should be knighted immediately perhaps, the producer of The Brit Awards did not do what the tired of all this media were expecting. Rumours of a “supergroup” weirdly composed of Bono, Damon Albarn, Noel Gallagher, Adele and Coldplay scared Bowie fans into a sense of Brit boycott finally broken for me as I switched the channel to see Annie Lennox waiting for the crowd’s silence. Her tribute, her expression, brought forward how tangible the loss felt; Gary Oldman added to it perfectly, then introduced the act that nobody had anticipated. Bowie’s touring band playing a respectfully brilliant mashup of his music and then Lorde walked on an made the world cry with her emotional volume and sensitivity. Life on Mars brought Bowie back to life. And that made the most genuine tribute.

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