Remembering Bowie: An Occidental Ode to the Original ‘Space Oddity’

My first memory involving David Bowie is from when my Aunt took me, at age 4, to a screening of “Labyrinth”. The details are fuzzy, but I do recall sitting in the dark theatre, transfixed and frightened by this mysterious man with the spiky mane of blonde hair, extreme brows, and tighter-than-humanly-possible pants. I was scared, but beneath this fear, was also the spark of intrigue and fascination.

David Bowie (remembering bowie)
No, it’s not an eccentric Russian tourist in the Basilica Cistern – it’s the Goblin King in his castle!! (source: cea+ / CC BY-SA 2.0)

As I grew older and came of age in the 80’s and 90’s, David Bowie became someone my Dad referenced whenever talking about “weird” people. A friend’s son, a few years older, had dyed his backcombed hair red and had taken to wearing green pointy faux-snakeskin boots – “He thinks he’s David Bowie or something”, my Dad would comment. I remember thinking that I too would like to dye my hair a shocking colour and made a mental note to hunt for pointy boots on my next after-school thrift shop excursion.

I bought my first Bowie album used, on cassette – a best-of collection featuring such beloved hits as “Changes”, “Golden Years” and “Young Americans”. It wasn’t exactly love at first listen (saxophones are a hard sell to a cooler-than-thou gothy teenager), but the point was that I already loved Bowie. I knew he was one of us – a weirdo, a black sheep, a rebel, a non-conformist, a creative soul, a seeker, a spacey otherworldly goblin king. Over time I began to see the brilliance in those songs, and grew to love his entire back catalogue – a diverse, creative collection of some of popular culture’s most catchy karaoke tunes, as well as many more brilliant and challenging compositions.

On Jan 10 2016, the world lost one of its true creative geniuses when Bowie passed away -just days after his birthday – at the age of 69. I take some solace in knowing that the man who fell to earth will forever be immortalized not only in his music, but in the inspiration and confidence he gave to a worldwide community of misfits, weirdos and rebels, from North America to Turkey and beyond. David Bowie made it okay to be strange, to live authentically, and to recreate oneself at one’s choosing, without any explanation or justification – which ultimately might be the mantra of all us yabangees.

david bowie record (remembering bowie)
A Bowie record (seen at a Kadikoy record and movie sale), just days after the singers passing. (source: Julia Totino)

While Bowie never played a concert in Istanbul (the closest he came was to Greece and the Balkans during the 90’s and Israel’s Tel Aviv show in 1996), there are a few tracks that are perfect for listening to on the headphones, as you stroll through Istanbul’s atmospheric streets. Bowie himself had an avid interest in mysticism and once stated that he lived in a “bizarre nihilistic fantasy world of impending doom, mythological characters and imminent totalitarianism” (‘Musician’, May 1983) – which, depending on your mood, sounds like an average day here.

Top 5 Bowie Songs to listen to in Istanbul:

  • “A New Career in a New Town” – A transcendent instrumental from the 1977 Low Album (written during Bowie’s Berlin years, where he lived in virtual anonymity with Iggy Pop), this track recalls the optimism and excitement of packing up a bag and moving somewhere new.
  • “Secret Life of Arabia”– A catchy yet haunting track off the second of the Berlin Trilogy albums, Heroes, Bowie’s lyrics about secrets and sand and deserts make this a perfect song to listen to as you take an overnight bus to Cappadocia, (which isn’t Arabia nor an actual desert, but you see where I’m going with this), awaking to its otherworldly landscape.
  • “Always Crashing in the Same Car” – Also off the Low album, this moody song really needs no explanation for anyone who has ridden in one of Istanbul’s speedy dolmuşes- or who finds themselves the victim of their own repeated failures and mistakes.

  • “Neuköln” – Another majestic and melancholic instrumental, this track was apparently inspired by a gritty neighbourhood of Berlin inhabited primarily by Turkish immigrants. Bowie often went for long walks in this rather desolate area, perhaps relating to the similar experience of dislocation that many yabangees feel in their new homes.
  • “Rebel Rebel” – A classic Bowie song to put on and sing along to as you strut through the backstreets of Istiklal on Friday nights and holler up at the ladies in the windows. Got your mother in a whirl? Not sure if you’re a boy or a girl? Hey babe your hair’s alright. Hey babe – Lets go out tonight! Oh Istanbul, (and David Bowie, forever): I love you so.
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Julia Totino
Originally from Canada, Julia has spent the past several years in and out of the Middle East, living in both Cairo and Istanbul , a city she affectionately refers to as her "Achilles heel" (whatever that means). Passionate about a variety of creative pursuits, she can often be found wandering alone in the more decrepit parts of the city, digging for inspiration while drinking coffees and talking to the cats. She is currently writing her first book.

5 COMMENTS

    • well. being from Istanbul, I am suprised you left out ‘Yasasin’-which is Turkish, and included ‘Second Life of Arabia’?!

  1. Berna, I knew I forgot something!! I never listened to “Lodger” as much as the other Berlin Albums unfortunately -simply forgot! Both “Secret life of Arabia” and “Yassassin” are great tracks. xx

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