Gift of a memory
Of all Bowie’s album tracks the one I love the best, the one that stands out, is Speed of Life from his album Low. Each time I hear it - and I’ve heard it many, many times - it comes like a gift.
I first heard it was sometime in 1994, finding it on a cassette while working in a charity shop in London’s Notting Hill. I was working with a young Asian guy that morning, both of us charity firemen, send off to work in charity shops when help was needed. He was an actor but had yet to make it, and the main thing I remember him telling me was about his next neighbour’s excuse for not liking him being that he smelt of curry, which we both agreed was quite funny. Anyway, we were both lazy firemen and shot the shit behind our counter, me interested in the actor’s life (later I’d know enough to thankfully lose interest), instead of sorting through the plastic bin bags of junk people brought in. There was a rule that we couldn’t sell false teeth, underwear or electronics, or porn, which you’d sometimes find in these bags, hastily thrown together, meaning if you found any such items you could keep them - result! (I did score a VHS copy of Caligula though, but only the edited version sans hardcore sex). For some reason, this shop had an old fashioned hi-fi in the middle of it beside all the old and scratched vinyls and boxes of cassette tapes. I’d loved mixed tapes back then, no doubt due to being deeply envious of cool people, who always had the best music. By scoring a mixed tape you could snaffle up a lot of top-notch tunes in just one sitting, the cost of doing it yourself beyond the realms of London charity shop minimum wage. And so as we stood shifting through old music, picking up and tossed back other peoples hits, looking for something worth putting on, there it was, the diamond dog in the rough, Bowie’s Low, which I’d never heard before. Back in those pre-internet, iTunes, Spotify days, it was only really devout or wealthy who had more than fifty albums, so it was easy to miss the entire oeuvre of any artist, even Bowie. Exited me stuffed in the tape and pressed the heavy-duty chrome-plated play button. The shop was empty, apart from one old black guy leafing through the pound rail, dressed like he loved in LA or was an extra from some Terminator bar scene, funny baggy pants and headband. He looked cool in an 80’s way, so we cranked up the volume.
And BANG, there was Bowie’s sound, his Speed of Life, this slow-fast instrumental thumbing through the shop, making the hangers buzz. But then, in that first note instant, the strangest happened. Like a scene from Fame, the old black guy jumped into the air and began to dance, dance like he’d been dancing all his life, each movement perfect, like he’d danced to the song a thousand times before. We stood there and watched as the guy spun and jumped, twisted and twirled, tapped his way around the hanging tat as if he was on the stage at Wembley Stadium, his face absolute bliss, like a deaf man, given the gift of hearing. And around the shop he danced, straight past us, our mouths agape, and - as the song died - out into the street, strutting away, clapping, laughing, like the happiest man who ever lived.
What a gift of a memory eh.