The album I couldn't live without: Hunky Dory

Last updated 10:54 07/11/2012
Hunky Dory
CORRIDORS OF THE MIND: Bowie puts poetry to music in his 1971 album Hunky Dory.

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I wasn't impressed by the poster declaring that "David Bowie is Ziggy Stardust". Looks a bit of a wanker, I thought.

But when I bought a second-hand stereo, the owner played the Ziggy Stardust album as a demo and I was hooked on the driving rock. So I had to get the next one.

Hunky Dory is the work of a young and self-assured genius. Its songs are quirky, ranging from an appeal to Bob Dylan, an operatic take on She's Leaving Home (Life on Mars), and the (for the time) daring account of a gay spat in Queen Bitch. But the track which holds my attention is one which is hardly ever played.

When did you last hear the final track, Bewlay Brothers? Turn it up and hear the faint creak as Bowie settles into his chair to sing the obituary on a relationship. What sort of relationship? Days of wildness and experiment? And the language! "I was stone and he was wax so he could scream and still relax" - we are walking in strange corridors of the mind.

The abuse and destruction of those who are different: "He was comedian chameleon Corinthian and caricature" - surely an alliterative summary of repression of gays in four words? And throughout there is imagery which takes us to strange places such as the "grim face on the cathedral floor" or the nightwalk pavilion. Now it is gone: "The solid book we wrote cannot be found today".

In the vein of Cohen this is a poem put to music, a narrative of drugs, sex, relationships and loss, written with astonishing skill. But Bowie can't leave us there. As in Ashes to Ashes there is a coda which turns round and laughs at the whole thing. "I might just slip away ... just for the day", he chants in innumerable voices, mocking the singer, the song, and perhaps even the audience.

He has looked back with a moment of nostalgia, but he is stone and won't shed any tears. Yet we cannot forget the warning: "My brother lies upon the rocks: he could be dead, he could be not, he could be you." We do not have to join the mockery.

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