Recorder is a new, visual and literary celebration of pop deities as experienced in time and place. We’re not talking discographies here, or analytical discourse or career mapping. It’s a light examination of our (faraway) relationship with our icons and how, over decades and around the world, they have influenced and informed our lives. It’s an innovative idea and the launch issue of this intended biannual kicks off with David Bowie.
But first, a disclaimer: I’ve always liked Bowie but, oddly for a serious music lover, I never bought his records. In fact I must have the only kid who stayed away when he played in my home city in 1979. I don’t really know why, I haven't tried to work through it yet.
Second, I don’t think we’ll see a better magazine cover this year. Brazilian artist Butcher Billy’s artwork seems to blend Bowie’s Aladdin Sane and Thin White Duke visages in eye-popping fashion. The overall, seemingly shapeshifting but unified design of the magazine is bright and welcoming, as well as accessible; the continuous quality of contributed artwork is worth remarking on, with Jörn Kaspuhl, Stavros Damos and Joe Wilson particularly outstanding.
Michael Sheen writes an elegant foreword that locates in Bowie a master performer who trades in ‘changes’, going on to hint that a feeling of isolation or emptiness is the price the star paid for his success. This is followed by a couple of dozen pages of ‘Life Stories’ in which non-musician celebrities share memories of Bowie. We’ve had a lot of this from everyone over the last year and it’s not an idea that gets me excited. But it works, mostly. Ian Rankin gets across his teen fixation with Bowie, how Marc Bolan ‘couldn’t compete’. I lived through the glam era too and I saw it the other way; Bolan played guitar, jamming good on his Les Paul, so he seemed to matter more to me. But Rankin called it correctly, perhaps that’s why he’s sells millions of novels and I’m writing this. David Baddiel is also entertaining, correctly identifying Bowie’s crap years, before redrawing them. And I appreciated Ivan Scalfarotto’s view that Absolute Beginners marks the crossover from a darker, ‘lunar’ Bowie to a positive ‘solar’ performer.
An infographic comparison of the singers UK and US album chart success is intriguing (largely consistent here, rollercoaster over there), as is the spread of his number one singles worldwide. The pop fanatic in me wants to drill down much more here, but that’s not what Recorder is about. It’s made more clear in the odd company Bowie keeps in a comparison of his chart companions in the Top Ten in three different countries over three decades. It takes in the likes of Slade and the Osmonds to Culture Club and Taco to The Prodigy. Bowie is Bowie, the rest is Fashion.
There are four contrasting short stories before Recorder comes to a close with an entertaining comic strip riff on the Let’s Dance video, conceived by the magazine’s editor and creator, Dan Tickner. Without the fiction Recorder would be a brief trip but it all ties together rather satisfyingly, and it’s a very stylish excursion.
Recorder dropped on us three weeks so, if Bowie is your bag, get a shift on and snap up a copy of before it’s gone – it certainly has the feel of a quality memento about it.