The photos that appear in the video are © Iconic Images/Terry O’Neill
‘I still don’t consider myself a performer. I’m a writer….’ (David Bowie, Melody Maker, 1969)
Unbound celebrate David Bowie.
Our mourning isn’t over, but we want to write, we’ve got to write: to him, for him, about him. Fill Your Heart: Writers On Bowie is an anthology by some of our greatest contemporary writers. It is an anthology celebrating David Bowie with creativity. Whether a short story, a poem, a piece of memoir, psychogeograhy or creative non-fiction, these pieces will be personal responses to Bowie, to his shaping work and influence.
Edited by the novelist Tiffany Murray, this will be an important celebration, possibly a strange, mad celebration, but it is for anyone who was and is inspired by David Bowie and his work.
Fill Your Heart will be creating something new, a bold anthology that in some way shows us all how Bowie sparked each generation’s imaginations: how he made us.
Let’s spark together.
Contributors to include:
Contributors so far: Simon Armitage, Paul Burston, Peter Carpenter, Horatio Clare, Imtiaz Dharker, Roddy Doyle, Stella Duffy, Charles Fernyhough, Neil Gaiman, Ryan Gattis, William Gibson, Niven Govinden, Lavinia Greenlaw, Nick Harkaway, Tom Hickox, Dr Sarah Hill, Sam Illingworth, Dylan Jones, John Kelly, Gary Kemp, Rory Maclean, Suzanne Moore, John Niven, Daniel Rachel, Sarah Salway, Owen Sheers, Sjón, Wesley Stace, Rupert Thomson, VIZ, Evie Wyld, Louisa Young…and counting.
John Niven: In Memory Of The Thin White Duke
I came quite late to loving David Bowie. Of course I’d heard him throughout my teens, but this was the mid-Eighties and he was in his full Let’s Dance period of commercial success, a period he later described as a “creative and artistic nadir” (and, man, looking back, how many artists would sell a kidney to be able to describe something like Let’s Dance as a nadir?). Anyway, I was a young punk, not too inclined towards tuxedos, bleached hair and gigantic snare sounds.
Then I went to Glasgow University, where I shared a room with my friend Alan. Alan, it turned out, loved Bowie. We had a ritual: when we went to our beds at night we’d put a side of an album on to send us off to sleep, taking turns to choose the record. Alan would often go for Bowie, more often than not for Hunky Dory, his favourite album. More often than not, for side two of Hunky Dory.
Now, Alan was one of those people who could just go to bed and go to sleep immediately. This is a superpower I do not have. So it would be me who was still lying awake in that big Victorian room – with its dimpled gas fire, swirly patterned carpet and the sound of Alan’s snoring – nearly 30 minutes later as The Bewlay Brothers ground its way to a climax.
I could not believe the Let’s Dance guy wrote this song. I was staggered by its musical and lyrical complexity (“I was stone and he was wax so he could scream and still relax, unbelievable”). With most artists you come to love there has to be a gateway track, and here was mine. From there I went on to explore the whole catalogue and it became part of the fabric of my musical life – as it was for so many people…
This week and a half, the outpouring of grief on social media has felt unprecedented in my lifetime. He was not young, yet not so very old either. It was perhaps more than anything the fact that he seemed so far from finished artistically, that he had only released a new and critically lauded record the week before, a record we now know he made in the full and frank knowledge of his imminent death.
As writer Graeme Thomson pointed out on Twitter, in perhaps the best-phrased comment of that dreadful morning, “We were so thrilled to have him back we failed to notice he was saying goodbye.”
And then, right at the end of that day, came something I was completely unprepared for. A music business friend in New York forwarded me an email. In it he said :“It would have been wrong to have sent this on at the time, but on this very sad day I thought you should see it…”
I read down. He had forwarded on an email that said “Have you read Kill Your Friends by John Niven? Mad, funny, music biz novel.” That was all. It was from David Bowie (who my friend knew personally) and was dated 15 November 2015. David Bowie – reading one of my novels and finding it funny. David Bowie – taking the time to email a friend to recommend it. David Bowie who, at that point, had seven weeks left to live.
And, yes, I know the grief police of the internet are already in high dudgeon about people indulging in overt displays of emotion for a man they never knew personally, and, no, I am not a sentimental man, but at this point I thought of Alan and me 30 years ago, teenagers in a cold Glasgow flat, lying in our beds in the dark, listening to Hunky Dory. And I broke down at my desk and cried.
Of course we do not just weep for the star we didn’t know. If you are of a certain age, you weep because it reminds you of all the people you have already lost. It reminds you of all the people you will soon lose. If you have children, it reminds you of the fact that one day they will lose you. Death smiles at us all, as they say.
If Death has the brass balls to come for someone who lived as fearlessly – who was creating with such life force right up until the end – as David Bowie then, dear God, what will Death do with the rest of us?
In summer 1984, Iain Harvey was in London’s Charlotte Mews, behind the offices of the animation company TVC. He was wondering how, in four years, he had gone from being finance director at publisher Hamish Hamilton and being interested in doing something with a remaindered children’s book, to being a film producer about to see David Bowie, his teenage pop hero, in his movie. “When…
Who will connect me with love?
It was probably the suit that did it. Let’s Dance had just come out and I was working my way through Bowie’s back catalogue, hitting the albums in between the ones I already knew. I was sitting on the floor, reading about Bowie’s dark years just before he went off to Berlin. In the fan bio I was reading, Bowie talked about his ‘suicide note to the world’…
Eight Line Poem
‘Drive in Saturday’ at Ebbisham Hall;
Cartoon psycho up at Cane Hill;
A Free Festival by Beckenham Junction;
The peeled-back face of Thomas J. Newton;
A lad insane, Kooks, Kings of Oblivion;
Supermen, Pretty Things, plain old Homo Sapiens;
That couple snogging beneath The Wall:
‘To Be Played At Maximum Volume’. All of it. All.
We have a few of these fine writers/artists in our Fill Your Heart Collection. This time of year is reading time, and giving time, so gift a FIll Your Heart pledge to your favourite ones.
David Bowie's Top 100 Reads:
Interviews With Francis Bacon by David Sylvester
Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse
Room At The Top by John Braine
On Having No Head by Douglass Harding
Red Hot Red
By Dylan Jones
'The cigarette was the thing you noticed first, sticking out of his fist like a little torch, or indeed a little chopstick. Neither would have looked out of place in a Venn diagram of Bowie bits and pieces. He had been espousing all things Oriental for well over a decade now, and if you scanned the cover of Lodger - the record before the last one – you’d probably…
Dear Delightful Bowie Supporters,
I have asked our wonderful writers to share a little. To give you (and others who haven't delightfully pledged as yet) a taste of their experiences of David Bowie. Our first installment comes from Charles Fernyhough, Professor of Psychology at Durham University, author of The Voices Within, and Bowie-lover.
'I’m dizzy to think what great writing…
Dear Fill Your Heart Collective,
The Mercury Music Prize is tonight. Whatever the outcome, it perhaps has many of us daring the album again, again, again (the dare has taken some time perhaps? It has here).
Oh, it's been a few weeks thinking about creativity and grief (joy!). Fuelled by Andrew Dominik's astounding (or Nick Cave's astounding) One More Time with Feeling.
Right, back to the…
It's quite a night tonight (although Unbound's vetting means you may receive this post on Monday). First there is Iggy's Bowie session on BBC6 Music from 7pm. The BBC site tells us, 'Iggy spins two hours of his favourite Bowie numbers and chats about the times their paths crossed.'
Ha! 'Their paths crossed.'
Those entwined, tangled, twinned, spiraling, ressurecting 'paths', eh…
It's not quite as monumental as those Belgian astromers dedicating a constellation of seven stars to the great man. There's no Aladdin Sane lightning bolt lighting up our skies tonight, but Fill Your Heart: Writers on Bowie does have wonderful news.
Today the Bookseller calls us 'Unbound's stellar anthology.'
Today Neil Gaiman has signed up as a contributor.
I'd give these…
Dear YOU wonderful people,
Now we are past 100 supporters I am giving you a huge THANK YOU.
We're getting there, and I'm busy at the Hay Festival bothering people about supporting this project. In fact, here is a picture of Benedict Cumberbatch and my friend Rosa who have pledged their support with a grin and a pointing finger (I'm a fiction writer so some of this may or may not be true)…
These people are helping to fund Fill Your Heart: Writers on Bowie.