Thinking allowed


It was announced that David Bowie had died, aged 69, at around 6.45am. I found out, as is the usual way of things now, via social media. I logged on to Twitter at around 7.15 and the first tweet I saw was by Gavin Hogg, which had been retweeted by Nige Tassell. I didn’t, at first, get it.


So I scrolled down and confirmed it. This was devastating news, not least in light of the fact that we bought his new album yesterday, and purchased the recent Mojo with him on the cover, to have a good read about the making of said album (and of Scary Monsters in a separate feature). Certainly, he looked a little wizened in the new photos, and especially in the video for the single, but nobody outside of his family and close friends can have known that he’d had cancer for 18 months. Not as shocking as someone famous you admire dying in a car crash, for instance, but shocking nonetheless. We shall hear no more new David Bowie music in our lives.

Anyway, I will pay tribute to my all-time favourite musician elsewhere. I blog herewith about David Cameron, who had this to say.


What David Cameron, or David Cameron’s office, says via his Twitter account impacts on way more people than anything I will ever say. He has 1,327,911 followers. He is the Prime Minister of a country. His party were voted in at the last election. Of course he has 1.3m followers. Many of these followers will take everything he or his office types at face value. And indeed, I am not saying he didn’t “grow up listening to David Bowie.” David Bowie is always on the radio. Unless you only listened to Radio 4 or Radio 3, or don’t listen to the radio at all, you’re going to hear David Bowie’s hits. I’m not even saying that David Cameron doesn’t think he is a “pop genius” or a “master of reinvention.” But when I saw the tweet (I follow David Cameron as you must know your enemy), I felt indignant.

I read the comments under David Cameron’s tweet, posted by his office within around ten minutes of the official announcement by David Bowie’s office, and this was the gist: “Fuck off … Fuck off, you twat … You prick … Oh do fuck off … Fuck off, dish face … Bowie was the antithesis of everything you stand for … Piss off … Twat.” Rather than join this jolly mob of abuse the Prime Minister will never read, which would be water off a prick’s back in any event, I simply retweeted his tribute with a footnote of my own.


Note, I used the epithet “Sir,” to distance myself from any foul-mouthed abuse. This was intended to back-reference what Johnny Marr said when David Cameron voiced his appreciation of the Smiths. He “forbade” him from liking the band, as I’m sure you remember.


Anyhow, my “You are not allowed to comment” comment was passed around by those who agreed with the sentiment. I felt strongly and passionately about the insidious and hollow way our Prime Minister uses social media to attach himself to what he thinks are issues that will endear him to the electorate. Jumping in with a personal tribute to David Bowie, on the great man’s untimely death, felt particularly ghoulish to me. Part of my problem is the motivation behind it. I have plenty of evidence that David Cameron’s motives are not always sincere or honest. He was on Andrew Marr only this weekend explaining why selling council houses would be good for people living in poverty and at no point actually told the truth, which is that he despises anyone without the get-up-and-go to be rich and if they can’t afford to buy their council house, then all they’re doing is preventing less lazy people from buying it.

I see David Cameron as a hateful figure. A dimwit without the empathy to understand what it’s like to grow up without a helping hand. He lacks the intelligence to see how much ire he stirs up when, say, he turns up in his wellies to be interviewed about the floods in Cumbria when it’s his government that has cut flood defence spending, and engineers his photocall so that he doesn’t have to speak to any ordinary people who have been flooded out.


That’s the background for my tweet, something most people who care to follow me understood. But a few took violently against it. I took abuse from individuals who called me, variously, a “fascist”, a “totalitarian”, and, in one illiterate case, a “fuck whit”. Before blocking them, I checked to see if they were Tories, but it was hard to tell. One compared me to Donald Trump in my haste to disallow one elected man from commenting on the cruel passing of my favourite artist from cancer. I’m pretty sure you can’t be a fascist if you are against one single person? And it would be a pretty useless totalitarian state that oppressed one citizen.


My dislike – and disenfranchisement – of David Cameron is not based on his race, or ethnicity, or his political views, or his detachment from the country he is chopping up and selling off; it is merely based on his being David Cameron, and a grudge I have been building up for five years. One rather more reasonable person on Twitter claimed to also “dislike his politics” but remained affronted that I had disallowed the PM from commenting on David Bowie (as if perhaps I had some kind of administrative or legislative power to do so). Mind you, “disliking his politics” does not quite go far enough to describe my feelings about David Cameron.


So, RIP David Bowie. And do shut up, David Cameron. Someone else sarcastically asked me to provide a list of those who can and cannot comment. Easy: everybody else can; David Cameron can’t. Hope that clears it up.


16 thoughts on “Thinking allowed

  1. I didn’t respond to you on Twitter, Andrew, but can I respectfully disagree with you on this one? I have no idea of the depth of David Cameron’s feelings about David Bowie, but (to within a few days) he’s almost exactly the same age as me, and there’s enough evidence to suggest that he’s a pop/rock fan, so I’m prepared to accept and believe that Bowie’s music is part of his life to a greater or lesser extent, as it is for all of us of that age. I suspect he felt at the very least a little diminished by the news, as we all did. I’d have been a little surprised and disappointed had he not commented, frankly.

    His politics remain hateful, of course.

  2. Great stuff… Am with Linda Bowen also. Still in shock and I always reach for the keyboard in times of trouble. Good work for coming up with this… How to sum up a man about whom there is so much to say, and with whom we have lived so long?

    I too bought the album a couple of days ago… Am glad that I understood it’s beauty and art before it became clear it would be his fitting epitaph.

    As for Cameron, it is clear that you are going through the anger stage… Bowie isn’t a ‘Smith’ though I was lucky enough to see him appear alongside Morrissey in Exeter in 1995. He transcends musical boundaries and is part of the fabric of Britain. The PM, loathsome as he is has a right to ‘tweet’.

    It would be nice to think that even if Cameron is so inept as not to realise that people like Bowie and his few peers hate everything the tories stand for, that a few seconds reflecting on Bowie and thinking of his legacy, as well as the circumstances of his death, he may not be coming up with new innovations of his own to punish the poor and dismantle the NHS which provides so much for cancer patients. Having said that, he has just been interviewed saying that although he can’t pick out one track from Hunky Dory, he remembers a friend played it a lot, so I too am not hopeful…

    David Bowie…. The Man Who Fell to Earth…. Sadly fallen six feet further.

    Look forward to your moment of Zen…

  3. I guess the other problem in these times is that if he didn’t comment, people would notice. He may well be a fan (not enough for his Desert Island Discs selection of course) but it reads like it was written by staffer because someone felt they should say something. Osborne’s just done the same thing. I imagine this is the real reason people find it offensive.

    • I don’t think people who care about Bowie would care if Cameron or Osborne or Corbyn commented on his death or not. If asked for a reaction by the media, then an elected representative should comment. They don’t need to put out the social media equivalent of a preemptive press release. That’s what smacks of opportunism. There’s no way Cameron or Osborne types out their own Tweets. They wouldn’t be allowed to. Each syllable will have been cross-referenced and focus-grouped before pressing “send.”

      • Yes, that’s what I meant, but less eloquently. I think people expect him to say something anodyne at every opportunity – these kind of things are the chance for him (or Osborne or whoever) to come across as human beings and they fail on every level.

  4. I think I’m with you, Andrew, but… isn’t this the problem with everyone wanting to have their say, and, more importantly, to be seen(heard) to have their say? I’m as shocked(?) and saddened as the next man, but I don’t feel the need to stick my metaphorical bunch of flowers on the gates of Bowie Towers. It’s this collective public grieving I find rather baffling, if not cloying. What did we do when Elvis or Lennon died? We talked about it among close friends; it was of no consequence to the rest of the world what we thought.

    • Think of it this way: if David Bowie had died pre-Internet, pre-social media, pre-mobiles, the only way of expressing your grief publicly would have been to phone a radio station, or non-metaphorically put flowers at the gates of his house (if you were in New York) or his record company (if you were in London). All the technology has done is enable EVERYBODY to share their feelings. Why is that baffling? Not everybody has “close friends”. I’m delighted to be able to correspond and share with people I have never met on social media.

      I was at 6 Music when John Peel and Joe Strummer died, and it was fantastic to be a part of that group hug, that collective act of empathy. It’s “public” in the sense that it’s done through a public medium (radio, email, Tweets, texts), but it’s “private” too, in that it’s your own thoughts your are sharing with like-minded folks.

      Clearly, it cuts both ways, and when EVERYBODY has an opinion on something trivial, it gets blown out of proportion. But I don’t think it’s right to condemn those who use social media as “cloying”. Remember the reaction to Princess Diana’s death: it was physical, bodily. People kept on turning up to sign remembrance books, and leave flowers and teddies, and weep in public. I didn’t join in, but I didn’t feel that connection to her that others did. Who am I to deny them their moment of communion?

      David Cameron, however, is doing it for political reasons because he is a politician.

      • Yes, Cameron is cynical.

        Yet you are criticising a figure for behaving according to his nature. It is the same anything public happens. Just after the Paris attacks, I was watching the news and they cut from the speech of Hollande, so they could see what Obama (who the media see as more important) had to say, which of course, were the same artless platitudes you expect from politicians.

        It will be the same when the Queen dies, when David Beckham dies or god forbid should someone really important die, like White Dee from Benefits Street. You know what is coming almost before the spin doctors, and I agree, that is not a charge that could ever be levelled about David Bowie.

        I guess, it is because music is such a personal thing, as well as communal that we feel that Camerons official Twitter feed feels like the intrusion of an outsider, a stray arrow into the collective heart. However… You ignore the idiot at the party, or the wake, and let them babble incoherently in the corner unheard.

        I can’t use the words I would usually use to describe Cameron here… It doesn’t seem fitting or respectful. His words may be carefully considered, just like Bowies cut up collages. Bowie had the art of taking noise and turning it into poetry, the spin doctors have the art of taking the poetic and making it seem lifeless and devoid of emotion. But we can’t expect the death of a major figure to go un-noticed by the establishment. They will express it as the establishment does. If you really expect the press office to issue a statement that says ‘I can’t remark on the death of one of the biggest cultural British figures because the fans will think me shallow’ then you are deluded.

        It seems healthier to me that we concentrate on the things that made Bowie a chameleon, rather than expect leopards to change their spots. That means ignoring the gush, the faux sympathy and outpourings and let the music speak for itself. Ignore the Black Tie and love the White Noise.

        (Although, I am not going to be able to listen to his latest work again for a while, even if the media are using it as a Rosetta Stone to learn the inner language of a man who always spoke in broken code)

      • Fair enough. Indeed, mine was the first email you read out on your show after John Peel died. At the time I felt I was communicating with you and other like-minded 6Music listeners. I didn’t need to go further than that.

        Colonel Col

  5. I think you’d have done better explaining in the blog what you explain in the comments – that what’s annoying (no more than that surely) is that the statement is in effect machine-generated: a communication made in utter antithesis to Bowie’s own ethos. I think Bowie would have thought it mildly funny, unimportant.

    • “… that what’s annoying (no more than that surely) …”

      One man’s annoying is another man’s infuriating. And I’m certainly not getting annoyed on Bowie’s behalf.

      • Here’s the thing about Cameron’s tweet. I’m a 53 year old bloke and when I heard the news I instantaneously felt like crying, almost did so, got big lump in throat, could hardly talk. It was an astonishing reaction for me. Then only an hour later my father-in-law, in his sixties, with whom I’m not that close, sent an email. We’ve never spoken about Bowie, but each knows the other is a fan. The email contained a most beautiful Bowie eulogy by him, witty and sad, and it broke me. I cracked, the full tears. I emailed back, telling him how moving his email had been. He replied saying he’d been blubbing too. And there’s the power of Bowie – he’s bonded me and my father-in-law forever now, in a way that hadn’t happened in 15 years of acquaintance. Extraordinary. I know I’m not alone. These reactions and these kinds of exchanges have been happening across the globe. Which is why Cameron’s tweet is so utterly inadequate. It so plainly contains not a millionth part of the bizarre, puzzling, overwhelming, ‘sudden’ and true emotional experience that so many people have had… Cameron’s tweet is definitively an empty sentiment and it betrays the inauthenticity of the man.

  6. What I think it’s important that people understand is that the death of David Bowie – while sad – will in fact prove to be very much a positive thing both for British culture and the wider economy.

    [If asked, mention the BBC’s Sound of 2016 list.]

  7. It is easy to be contemplative on the morning after the cracked night before looking out over the ocean from my balcony, watching the rain clouds disperse over that grand water, with only the accompaniment of the million boundless burbles of a suitably artificial waterfall. The skies above me, total blue. My stomach, that flits, between corpulent with beer, feeling full of hot air and as empty as it has ever been awakens the silence.

    I did everything I needed to do yesterday. The day the Dame died.

    I went through four of the five stages of grief, which wasn’t bad seeing as I prefer not to bother and seeing as I was sorta in shock. A manufactured man-made shock of varying design. I told my friend and she was sad. She cried and I almost did.

    You start with the news reports of course, as the soulless hacks composed the frothy obituary calling up every name they can find on Wikipedia to ask their opinion. Caught up in the oratory, I wanted to express my own, but had no words, so simple posted the same pictures that tens of thousands were doing as they awoke to sleepwalk through the savage day.

    I tried to put on a little music. But the voice, almost unique in it’s understanding of my whole existence, was hard to hear. It sounded shrill and hollow, painful and missing, as I surely knew it would, as I surely knew myself to me. Instead, I focus on the newsfeed, hoping to catch a glimpse of laughter, anything to ease the idea this may real.

    I dashed straight off into anger. A man I hate said something tepid and dishonest about a man I loved, and I defended the right of the hate to exist, worse still, to another man, one I respect but can be justifiably jealous of. My best friend texted, asking about football, I answered but didn’t mention the elephant in the room. I couldn’t find the words to express the quiet dawn then, but I could rage for the sake of shameful betrayal.

    Next I went out into the world. The Canary Islands are hot, even in January, and though the news crawled around like a cockroach, it hadn’t spoiled anybodies day. Why should it? The beer was playing, and the songs were playing on the radio. I sat in the Sun, secretly desperate to embark on expression, but found all the other vessels were sat in the sun, like me, but elsewhere. It came up a couple of times thankfully and we all said how we were shocked then talked about the local markets, the pretty girls in their bikinis and the coming of the cloud.

    I couldn’t eat at lunch. I felt stupid. I was hungry.

    The afternoon was bitty and increasingly drunken. Each time I went to the loo, I looked for something new. The news was still the same…. Bowie was dead.

    A couple of thumbs up on my feed let me know I wasn’t alone.

    As silence made way for speechifying, we disseminated memory across the island. Ah, so man, said a Scot, if you had to pick a tune, which one, and there were so many. He picked Space Oddity, I perversely went for a bargainers choice between obscure album tracks which were personal and a couple of the biggies… Life on Mars say, or Starman… But that night, as I barely dressed for dinner, my music library reminded me of a hundred others… Currently, I am settling for Time… I dwelt on a faded era of sepia awhile, the gigs, the girl that got away, all sound-tracked for the bedsit poet by the audio explorers drumming into me Moonage Daydreams…

    And then, after a sticky meal of unusual meats (!) I could not believe this Buddhist… He told me that Bowie grief was pointless posturing, a mass hysteria, imposed upon a nature by our own failure to comprehend. He said that the man was 69 and had cancer, so it wasn’t a shock, wasn’t important, that the artist had finished the canvas and had gone on to become part of a larger, grander tapestry. It was around this time I started drinking heavily.

    The night was fitful and full of farts. My stomach cramped and my lungs wheezed and I dreamed of a tiny golden Buddha. I went to a meeting and demanded to know what the hell was going on. Who are you people? At an old familiar bus-stop I vaguely recognised I was greeted by my oldest friend without a word, ageless as all other atoms. Trust us they said and I couldn’t.

    My hands fell off without any pain.

    A stranger approaches and tells me there is nothing to fear, all the others have gone off to hug. I was sad I had left it too late.

    As if to prove it is never too late, I melted with warm bliss into the golden eternity. I used telepathy, I flew and breathed as deep as that very ocean I am looking over now. I felt David Bowie was there, as we are all a part of the formless skies, the perfection of the now and forever. I knew that this wasn’t about Bowie, or the memories, or the sea, or the speech, but the soul. Yet still, a joyous parting gift from a man I never met who felt compelled to share with me, and countless others, so much.

    The few words spoke with semi-strangers yesterday compared the impact of Bowie with Lennon, which I would normally consider heresy, if only to start an argument about a couple of lives I understood more than most. They collaborated, on Fame, which sums up my initial response to death. I was mourning a cultural artefact, a fond memory, an ever-present, and that is fair enough I guess, I think few could argue the work doesn’t merit the applause. More tellingly they performed together of Bowies cover of The Beatles ‘Across the Universe’…

    The mantra… “Limitless undying love which shines around me like a million suns” has never seem so truthful and it has become what I think the kids are calling an ear-worm for the day. (Though all the lyrics are apt.)

    So as the sunbeds are laid out for the new days drinking, and I consider my position, I do it in grace.

    I can enjoy the work of Bowie, and Lennon, and another hundred dead rock stars who left a mark on my careless life. I can summon their spirit at will and become the very energy that binds all ancient rhythms to the still of the eternal hum.

    The final album by Bowie, that has no place here among the grazing lizards and the dolphin sands. That is for me, to explore, alone in a room somewhere sacred… As it is for all of us.


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