"Sound and Vision."
"Sound and Vision."

Crossing paths with the Thin White Duke

SEATTLE – It’s 1977, I am 10 years old and I buy my first single: "Sound and Vision" by David Bowie. It's an oddity of a track, all wandering instrumentation, sparse vocals and washy synth.

But it was the beginning of my relationship with the Thin White Duke.

All around me was this fascination with the guy. I dated a girl who was an obsessive, insisting on listening to his albums back to back whilst we pawed at each other in my bedroom. Bowie was liked by the straights, the weirdos and when it burst out of my hometown Leeds, he was adored by the goths, too.

No chicken dance around the dance floor of Le Phonographique was complete without "Gene Genie" or at least "Rebel Rebel."

In 1987, I made my first trip to America. Arriving in New York, my friend Chris and I drove across the country to deliver a Buick to L.A. "Never Let Me Down" was a big hit on the radio, and I got to see Bowie on the Glass Spider Tour in Anaheim. The show was a bit overblown, but I still love that song and can't understand why it was not given more credit.

But in all honesty, I had only had a passing interest in the guy until I met the boys in Spacehog in New York City in 1994.

Here was this young dude, Royston Langdon, who had uncannily tapped into the Davy Jones spirit animal whilst effortlessly playing the bass guitar … and he was from Leeds.

It's worth noting here that the Spiders from Mars were for the most part Yorkshire men, like bricklayers with heels and mascara, and in some ways, we were trying to do the same in a post grunge plaid alt rock landscape. Spacehog quickly became successful, and suddenly I was fielding a lot of Bowie comparisons during our daily press obligations. It was only then that I delved back into the work of our departed hero and gained a true appreciation for what he did to music.

We played a Tin Machine song, "Crack City," in our set so much it felt like our own, and by the time our band had broken up in 2001, Royston and his then wife Liv Tyler were on social terms with Bowie and his wife Iman.

I first met him at Roy and Liv's wedding. Sitting across from me at a small table, he opted for the lobster and set about devouring it rather enthusiastically. It kind of freaked me out. Spacehog was on hiatus around this time and reappeared as Arckid in 2006. We were coaxed out of semi-retirement by the lovely folks at Hugo Boss. They asked us to perform on their rooftop HQ in New York, and David and Iman were the guests of honor.

I had just been in Montauk for a few days, swimming with my daughter. One of my ears was full of water, and I couldn't hear a bloody thing. To my distress, David came bounding over to me, remembering our last meeting and asking me how I was, what I had been up to, how much he loved my new band, etc., etc. I just couldn't hear him and had to excuse myself … I was gutted!

As we hit the stage to play, I found out later that there had been a bit of a crush to get into the VIP area. My daughter Laila and her friend, who were both eight at the time, got trampled by a throng of liggers, and David pounced from his seat, picked them up and gave them seats next to him and Iman.

So here I am now, sitting in my car in Seattle, listening to "Life On Mars" on KEXP and trying not to cry about losing a man I barely knew.

But that's the thing about great music isn't it? We feel like we have a personal connection with the storyteller, and with as many stories as David Bowie has told us, he's nothing short of a father figure.

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