Last night at the invite of Feu! Chatterton -who were playing the rather arty TV channel Arte – we got to have a nose around the Sorbonne. TV gigs are usually a bit stiff, but they did a wonderful job of making you forget the cameras were there. I like Feu! Chatterton. Fronted by a charismatic spiv in Arthur Teboul, they update the chanson – or at least prog it up – throwing in some slam poetry along the way. I’d love to understand what Arthur is going on about – and I love his almost James Brown-like “I simply can’t go on” postures, though comparisons with the Godfather of Soul begin and end there.
There’d be no other reason to find me at the Sorbonne, other than to see a band at some special event, but it was nice to mingle among the ghosts of former acolytes, from Montaigne to the Soixante-huitards at the epicentre of the Paris riots. I’m going out on a limb here, but the students there for the show seemed to have none of that defiant spirit. I don’t know what’s wrong with kids these days; they don’t drink or smoke or take drugs. They seem content with selfies, emojis and being nice all the time. That’s not like we were.
That’s not like the Baby Boomers either, who seem to suddenly be dying out rapidly as a consequence of all that partying. That generation really had their cake and ate it; an idealistic bunch with a desire to be free, who then nailed everything down for themselves and left nothing for us to get our hands on. But still, maybe we’re the free ones as a consequence. The news of perishing rock stars of that generation has been staggering this last few weeks, and if I had anything like a handle on my career then I’d be getting into obituary writing pronto, because there’ll be plenty more falling stars in our immediate future.
I felt too depressed to write anything substantial about David Bowie. That didn’t stop anybody else, and good luck to them. The mass grief was a bit overwhelming, but it made sense, as opposed to some empty vessel like Diana Spencer. Bowie has been the most overwhelmingly influential musician of the last 45 years and was king and queen of the 70s all rolled into one, in the way the Beatles ruled the 60s (but that decade was just a prelude to the untold greatness of the next one). I did go on the telly to talk about the great man. About half an hour after Claire had broken the news to me over the phone, I got a call from France 24, and the next thing I was in a taxi, with the taxi driver telling me in French how gutted he was about the death of David Bowie. It seems I can hold my own talking about death and medical procedures.
The anchorwoman asked me how we music journalists missed the clues he was overtly waving in our faces. I wish I’d said, “if he’d been a fat man then we might have guessed he was poorly”. Kate Bush said it best when she pointed out the impossibility of imagining someone who’d already passed into immortality as being merely mortal. Thanks Kate, we’ve got your coat next time.
Bowie was about the same age as my dad when he went, and in many ways he was like another dad. My dad wasn’t around so much when I was young, but in a quirk of fate when my ma died, I started to get to know him around the same time I got into Bowie. So suddenly I had my unreconstructed bellybutton dad who taught me about punching and drinking and being aloof, and Bowie was gay dad, teaching me about art, and literature and experimentation, and subsisting on red peppers, milk and cocaine. He introduced me to all sorts, Jean Genet and Muriel Spark and Nicholas Roeg and Angela Carter, all of whom I liked, and Friedrich Nietzsche, who I still can’t get a handle on. It’s amazing how one can grieve for so long over one so elusive and unknowable, but here I still am, sad and unable to listen again to Blackstar just yet. He was so incredibly sussed and ahead of the game that it’s hard to imagine anyone will emerge like that again, and that’s something to grieve for too. It’s difficult to imagine now that when the Paris riots were happening in ’68, Bowie didn’t really have a clue what he was up to either.Follow @jeres