What the world doesn’t need right now is another essay on Bowie’s swansong, his career, his influence, his grace, his mystery, his stage-managed exit, what he’s meant to me, how I went from China Girl to this and through much in between but still found he could surprise me. What it does need, naturally, is a transcript of three girls, aged 11, 8 and 6, working out what this song is and what it means to them. Well, what a coincidence.
[Juniors 2 and 3 are singing all the “Villa of Ormen” stuff before they get to wondering what they’re listening to]
J2: “Who is it?”
J1: “I like this one.”
J2: “I think it’s David Bowie. David Bowie is the best.”
J3 [singing “I’m a Blackstar”]: “Is it called ‘Blackstar’?”
J1: “How long is this? Nine minutes?”
[J2 is singing all the words now, having sponged them up throughout the year]
J3: “David Bowie is in Labyrinth.”
J1: “I like how they change all the voices. It’s echoey.”
Now, this wasn’t strictly originally released in 1989, but then techno stuff took so bally long to get from Detroit to London that it’s a moot point. Not to mention the final leg up the A41 to some Hemel Hempstead garage. That’s a garage with tools and half-used pots of paint, not a genre-forming hotbed of soul-infused house music.
It says 1989 on the label of the 12” slapped down on the right-hand wheel of steel this morning, for Junior’s listening pleasure and hardnosed assessment. The vinyl’s a bit worn now, so she hardly noticed the subtle piano washes before the beat made her jump. Then she sat and chewed the kangaroo that looks worryingly like one of those soluble bath soaps. Ah well. She wouldn’t be the first person to foam at the mouth while dancing to impeccable acid-tinged techno.
This record’s a sacred cow, Derrick May a revered pioneer. Which is why it’s so obvious that a bunch of troglodytes called Soul Central should decide a year or so back that what the song needed was to be beaten to death with bland, and then desecrated with a pointless vocal track. Cool.
Today’s digression: Virgin Radio just played Bowie’s ‘China Girl’ for at least the second time this week. It was one of the first couple of dozen singles I bought, so I’m warm towards it, but it’s hardly some canonical classic that deserves frequent airplay 23 years later, is it? I’ve noticed this trend on stations like Heart and Magic. They’ve decided, say, that Atlantic Starr’s ‘Secret Lovers’ is one of the all-time greats – kind of an alternative to the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is the Greatest Single Of All Time universe. Dunno who’s right; I suspect it’s neither, but at least ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ has some kind of sales/polling pedigree, usually lacking in the Heart and Magic faves.
Jukebox Junior FM coming soon, playing wall-to-wall Prefab Sprout. It’s What The Public Wants.