I don’t care who you are, that’s funny: on some confusions in comedy

So, I was thinking about comedy lately. I was thinking in particular about comedians who specialise in saying stuff that they know that their audiences are likely to find offensive, but who say it in such a way that they can get their audiences to laugh at it. (The crucial thing here is the plural: ‘audiences’. Not all comedians have the same audience. We’ll get back to this.)

Now, one of the basic axioms of our understanding of modern comedy is that its fundamental function is to make you laugh. You can find it articulated here, in this archive review from 2007, on the website of my current employers, of a show by Australian comedian Jim Jeffries: ‘Through all of this, Jeffries’ humour borders on the visceral, but you can’t write him off as simply a shock merchant; anyone can be gratuitously offensive but Jeffries never forgets that his prime task is to make us laugh.’ I think that this is something that most comedians, and most lovers of comedy, and most comedy critics, would agree about: the ultimate function of comedy is to make you laugh.

Now, here is where I depart from the consensus. I think that most comedians, and most comedy lovers, and most comedy critics, are mistaking the medium of comedy (or, perhaps, ‘genre’, but let’s go with ‘medium’ for now) for the functions of individual comedians.

I think that, to claim that the ‘prime task’ of any comedian is to make us laugh, is like saying that the prime task of any novelist is to assemble words into sentences that compose an extended narrative sequence, or that the prime task of any painter is to produce canvases with paint on them. Saying that comedians are supposed to make people laugh, only describes how it is that comedians do what they actually do.

Making the audience laugh is not the prime task of the comedian. Making people laugh is just what distinguishes comedians from non-comedians. Making people laugh is what Michael McIntyre has in common with Stewart Lee, and what Jim Jeffries has in common with…okay, well, any comedian you can think of who is exceptionally family-friendly. The prime task of the comedian varies, depending on whatever it is that that particular comedian is using the medium of comedy to do.

The medium of comedy is that you go up on stage and make people laugh. But the reason why comedy is still in so many ways such a confused, immature and thoughtless art form, is that too many comedians still think that all they really have to do is make people laugh, By Any Means Necessary. This is why comedy reviews are usually so fucking boring. The reviewer sits there and reports on whether or not a show was, In The Reviewer’s Opinion, funny, without usually taking the effort to describe what the comedian was doing; what the comedian’s stance was with respect to the audience; whether the jokes were intended to bring the audience in or drive them off; whether the jokes were jokes on the comedian or jokes that enlisted the audience with the comedian, at the expense of some third party, etc. And the reason why most comedy reviews don’t talk about stuff like that, is that most comedians haven’t thought about it either.

Of course, there are some comedians who have thought about it. Stewart Lee is probably the most glaring example, but really, any great comedian has confronted these questions on a visceral level, and with any great comedian’s act, I would submit that their solutions to these problems become very complex. Lenny Bruce, at his best, offered himself up as a kind of sacrificial lion to the priests of bigotry, rhythmically deploying the N-word and other offensive phrases in a noble if doomed attempt to defuse their power. Richard Pryor made comedy out of his own almost helpless self-destructiveness. Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock and other black American comedians made comedy out of their rage.

Eddie Izzard makes comedy out of his own weaknesses as a performer. I once attended a discussion on performance at which Phelim McDermott was one of the speakers. Phelim McDermott talked about classes he’d once given on improv, which a young Eddie Izzard had attended, and Eddie had been, by Phelim’s assessment, seriously bad at them, and everyone had felt bad for him and wished he’d stop coming, but Eddie kept coming and kept doing what he was doing and kept honing it, and after a while, Phelim realised that what Eddie was doing was polishing the appearance of ineptness, until finally the very fact that Eddie couldn’t do accents and couldn’t really become anyone else convincingly was what became incredibly funny: part of the whole point of Eddie Izzard’s act is that he takes the least possible effort to convince you that he is now someone else. His Darth Vader impersonation consists solely of putting his hand over his mouth and being a bit more assertive than usual. He constantly drops the thread and picks it up again, pretends to take notes on any moment that doesn’t get a laugh, etc.

But this brings me back to my original argument. Stewart Lee’s comedy keeps people’s attention by making them laugh, but his prime task is to make them think about comedy and about society. Larry the Cable Guy’s comedy keeps people’s attention by making them laugh, but his prime task is to reassure them that it’s okay to have their prejudices. Jim Davidson’s prime task is the same as Larry the Cable Guy’s. Jo Brand’s prime task, by contrast, is to bluntly confront the audience with its own prejudices. Victoria Wood’s prime task as a stand-up was to tell stories about vulnerability and failure. Michael McIntyre’s prime task is to maximize his brand potential by being no better than his audience thinks it would be if it tried its own hand at stand-up. And so on. The title of this post, ‘I don’t care who you are, that’s funny’, is one of the catchphrases of Larry the Cable Guy. If you insert the words ‘the fuck’ between ‘who’ and ‘you’, you can begin to see the anxious aggression of the comedian who is becoming uneasily aware that the audience is beginning to wonder why, exactly, it’s laughing.

If we laugh, we tend to think that the comedy has been successful, even if it goes against our better instincts about whether or not we enjoy hearing what the comedian has to say. I may or may not find Andrew Lawrence’s delivery funny; I do, however, find what he has to say toxic, bigoted, entitled, self-pitying and depressing, and my sense of humour is not so well-formed that I laugh at him anyway. I just want him to shut the fuck up and go away.

However, Andrew Lawrence, although not in the same league as the aforementioned comedians, is an interesting case, because he proves my argument. When he was younger, his relative youth and extremely dark take on comedy placed him with supposedly similar young comedians of a similarly dark disposition. But Lawrence’s early success as a comedian was based on his performance of tortured guilt about having the kind of opinions that he had. He would deliver up his gags as if he felt bad about making them. (Sample joke, actually pretty funny: ‘I admire these phone hackers. I think they have a lot of patience. I can’t even be bothered to check my own voicemails.’) But as he’s got older, he’s become less and less apologetic.

As Lawrence has entered his late 30s, he’s become more and more honest about how he’s just a right-wing bigot. This is, of course, his right as a human being. What’s surprising is that he’s so bitter that his audience has abandoned him. They liked being teased by his hints at how dark he was, as long as he was willing to look like he felt guilty about it, but let’s face it, all along, he would have been way happier telling racist jokes at Ukip fundraisers to florid middle-aged men in blazers, instead of to Fringe audiences who didn’t agree with him about the EU. But it goes to show that if the comedian’s prime task (which, in his case, has become to unapologetically vent his bigotry) is completely at right angles to the audience’s own sensibilities, then they will no longer find him funny.

So how does he prove my argument? This Independent article from last year quotes him: ‘If you present yourself as a comedian, your job is to be funny, not to educate audiences…Just make me laugh.’ If Andrew Lawrence truly believes that his job is to be funny and not to educate audiences, then you do have to wonder why his Twitter feed as of the third week of June 2016 has become nothing but a conduit for Brexit propaganda.

The only conclusion is that comedians do comedy for lots of different reasons. Some, to pull everyone together. Some, to divide people up. Some, to heal. Some, to wound. The only thing that unites them is that the medium by which they do this involves making people laugh, for one reason or another. It’s when the laughter stops that the failing comedian has to face the difficult questions. And the fact that we still talk about comedy as if it was solely there to get a laugh, is the reason why so few of them ever do.

 

I don’t care who you are, that’s funny: on some confusions in comedy

Prince and Victoria Wood

Jeez. Prince and Victoria Wood. Within a day of each other. One a global music superstar, the other a ‘national treasure’. Both of them turned out to be phenomenally talented at whatever they put their hands to. He could play any instrument; she could write drama, play piano, tell jokes, be charming, sing funny songs, and even do straight acting if she wanted to.
 
When I was a teenager in the 80s, I was passionate about music (well, still am) and I read the then-as-passionate-if-not-more-so music papers, the NME and Melody Maker, every fortnight, spending my lunch money on them instead of on my lunch. (Sorry, mom, I lived on Manhattan popcorn in those years.) I read about Prince’s genius, his brilliant synthesis of rock and funk and soul, his mastery of guitar, his sexiness, his devastating music. And in the evenings, with my family, I tuned into Victoria Wood As Seen On TV, which I never read anything about.
 
And I heard Prince’s music. And I didn’t get it, ever. It always sounded to me like crappy pop music.
 
And, watching Victoria Wood, I laughed my ass off, and was sometimes moved and disturbed by how far she was prepared to go to explore the lives of desperately cheerful people who went on being desperately cheerful even when they didn’t seem to have a hope in hell. (And sometimes, they didn’t; sometimes, they lost hope, or just lost.)
 
Now I’m in my 40s, and they are both dead, both enormous talents, both of them much too young. They could have gone on to do way more. I know much more about music now, and I can finally hear how original Prince was, and how he brought different kinds of music together, and I appreciate how he was in many ways colour- and gender-blind when it came to hiring musicians, and he boosted people who deserved boosting, and he fought for his right to deliver his music the way he wanted to.
 
I know it’s not a competition. As someone who writes about music, and as a guitar player, I have nothing but respect for Prince and his music and his legacy, which I can’t even begin to grasp. I know he affected way more people than I can imagine, far more deeply than he ever affected me.
 
But the one I’m actually going to miss is Victoria Wood, because she changed the way I thought and felt about the world.
Prince and Victoria Wood

Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Making a Murderer and other telly

Well, late to the party with this one, as usual.

It’s on its third season. I saw the first season advertised on Edinburgh buses and thought, well, whatever, a cop comedy, I donno, probably involving some sort of Saturday Night Live people, maybe, maybe not. And then we spent the next few months finally watching all of Breaking Bad, after which of course all shows are a bit of a let-down. (Seriously, Breaking Bad is indeed a wonderful show, but after all, it’s what it says on the tin: it’s about a guy who starts out basically decent and who, in the course of finding out what he’s capable of doing, discovers that he’s capable of enormous villainy. And it’s not about much else. This is not a criticism; it’s classical drama, it’s the steady revelation of character through action, I’m all for that. But there were times when we just wanted to watch something more…fun.)

None of the foregoing parenthesis explains why we subsequently hooked up with Making a Murderer. Seriously, in the history of documentary television, outside of The World At War and anything about serial killers, has there ever been a more loathsome figure than Manitowoc County District Attorney Ken Kratz? I cannot remember seeing anyone in a documentary who I hated more. Obviously the filmmakers picked and chose what they wanted from all their footage, but something about Kratz’s complete uninterest in the presumption of innocence, his sanctimonious lecturing about how evil the defendant was, and above all I think the vile, toxic stupidity that made him so unaware that it was perfectly obvious that even if Steven Avery had killed Theresa Halbach, he, Ken Kratz, had utterly failed to prove it – all these things made him come across like somebody who should never been allowed to participate in the justice system. There are a bunch of people in Making a Murderer who seem to have been at best negligent and at worst criminal, but most of them looked like they knew they were doing wrong. Kratz’s blithe, calm confidence in his own righteousness is what made him so despicable. His only rival was useless defence attorney Len Kochanski, who shared Kratz’s stupidity and utter inability to maintain the presumption of innocence but who lacked Kratz’s insufferable pomposity. Instead, Kochanski had the giggling, imperturbable self-regard of someone who believed that the entire murder trial was something that was happening to him, rather than to his client.

Okay, enough about Making a Murderer, except to say that the revelation that Kratz had been forced to resign after making sexually harassing text messages was sweet, and that if Steven Avery really is guilty, I don’t understand why he continues to slog away as if he isn’t. If he really did do it, but not the way he was convicted for doing it, he must know that the truth will eventually come out, and so he would have nothing to gain by tirelessly trying to get people to reopen the case. Instead, he tirelessly tries to get people to reopen the case. The only conclusion is that he’s either even more stupid than people think (which makes it hard to believe that he could have cleaned his own trailer so meticulously as to remove not only all traces of the victim’s DNA, but also all traces of the cleanup), or that he’s innocent.

Which brings us to Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a sitcom about cops from among other people Michael Schur, who brought you Parks and Recreation. (I have not gone on and on about Parks and Recreation only because this blog is supposed to be about music.) Brooklyn Nine-Nine is part workplace comedy and part police procedural, and stars SNL alumnus Andy Samberg as a hotshot cop who dislikes playing by the rules, and Andre Braugher (Homicide) as the by-the-book new precinct captain who insists on reigning in Samberg’s character. The twist here is that Braugher’s character, Ray Holt, is gay, and this is his first command; having been an outstanding detective, he then came out and was immediately reassigned to public affairs work, because that’s what the police department thought a gay police officer ought to be doing. Now that he has his own precinct, he’s determined to prove that a gay captain can run as tight a ship as anyone else.

Well, it may not sound very promising, and it takes a few episodes to warm up, but Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a treat, with an outstanding ensemble cast and a nice blend of genuine police procedural stuff and daft humour. I am not an SNL-watcher and so Samberg is not someone I’m familiar with, but his character, Jay Peralta, is a true character: cocky, lazy, brilliant and annoying in equal measure. Melissa Fumero plays the precinct’s most dedicated detective, the very straitlaced Amy Santiago, and they’ve managed to avoid making her the eternal Straight Woman. Santiago is a helpless suck-up to Captain Holt, who is utterly uninterested in flattery, but she has a nice line in put-downs (when a sleazy detective says goodbye to her with ‘Stay foxy’, she smirks back ‘Die lonely’.) In a notable piece of diversity casting, the show has not one but two Latina characters: Stephanie Beatriz, who before this show was doing a lot of Shakespeare, plays the epically bad-tempered Rosa Diaz (she has an endearing blog on Latina.com in which she shares her experiences on the show and gives advice on skin care.) And there are a bunch of other very fine actors too, but we’ll just wheel back to Braugher’s performance as Ray Holt, which in some ways is a fascinating variation on another character from a show created by Michael Schur: Parks and Rec’s Ron Swanson. The difference is that Holt is utterly, almost absurdly dedicated to his own job in a way that Ron is utterly, almost absurdly dedicated to subverting his own job. Holt is also wonderfully deadpan, uttering lines like ‘That is literally the funniest joke I have ever heard in my life’ in exactly the same stony monotone that he uses for almost every utterance. (This leads to a nice gag: in one episode, all the detectives are sharing stories of how hard it is to figure out what Holt really thinks, with flashbacks to all of them witnessing him saying different things in the same tone of voice. However, with one utterly rubbish detective, we see a flashback of Holt furiously bawling the guy out about how useless he is and flinging paperwork at him, and then we cut back to the guy in the present, still puzzling over the incident and wondering ‘It’s like, what is this guy thinking?’)

So, that’s our quality cop sitcom fix taken care of for the moment. Looking forward to seeing how things go over the next two seasons and a half.

 

 

 

Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Making a Murderer and other telly

The Guardian publishes a stupid article about comics

The Guardian today has this article about how comics aren’t just for kids and nerds anymore. To be fair, it does give praise to some comic writers and artists who deserve it.

Comic artist and writer Dylan Meconis published this article in 2012, in which she advises people who want to write about comics not to do pretty much everything that Andrew Harrison does in his article.

Let’s just assume, at this point, that  Meconis’s points are well-taken, and have no more of this comics-are-at-last-being-written-for-grown-ups bullshit.

The Guardian publishes a stupid article about comics

Robert Fripp and Joe Strummer Interview

I just came across this fantastic interview from Musician magazine in 1981, long before it became the boring industry wank mag that it was when I first read in the late 80s, in which Vic Garbarini got Robert Fripp and Joe Strummer together on the intuition that they had more in common than they seemed to have, and it turned out he was absolutely right. What’s especially inspiring is the obvious mutual admiration Fripp and Strummer have for each other — two smart Englishmen who had both thought long and hard about the life of a musician. It’s next to impossible to imagine them collaborating on anything, and Strummer is gone now, so won’t be anyway, but it’s a great read. Kudos to preparedguitar.blogspot.co.uk for archiving and posting it.

Robert Fripp and Joe Strummer Interview

Mozart in the Jungle

I’ve not been exactly binge-watching this show, but certainly watching the whole two seasons in the course of about the last fortnight or so, occasionally interrupted by our 20-month-old son having a shit-fit in his cot because he can’t locate one of the three dummies he has to have positioned in there in the event of him arising from deep sleep to semi-wakefulness. But enough personal detail.

So, in case you haven’t noticed, this show is a ‘dramedy’, which is the 21st century equivalent of what used to be called a ‘gentle comedy’ (meaning a basically comic take on  a subject which doesn’t quite have the balls to be full-blown comedy) about a fictional orchestra, the New York Symphony, which in episode 1 kisses goodbye to its incumbent chief conductor Thomas Pembridge (Malcolm McDowell) and says hello to its new one, Rodrigo De Souza (Gael Garcia Bernal).

There are obvious casting gags going on here, notably in having Malcolm Mc-Bleeding-Dowell playing the supposed Old Fart character. McDowell was once one of the most terrifying actors out there, thanks to his spectacular work in A Clockwork Orange and If …, and in this show he’s definitely playing a Young Turk Grown Old. Thomas is said to have conducted his generation’s definitive performances of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, which I guess identifies him with Carlos Kleiber, except that Thomas, unlike Kleiber, is gregarious, outgoing and still has this idea that he’s really a composer, which Kleiber didn’t seem to be too bothered about. Rodrigo himself is what TV Tropes would call a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of the LA Philharmonic’s Gustavo Dudamel, except that Rodrigo is Mexican and Dudamel is Venezuelan. (Also, while most famous musician cameos in the show have seen people playing themselves, Dudamel’s cameo was in a brief scene where Rodrigo was guest conductor for the LA Philharmonic; Dudamel played the LA Philharmonic’s stage manager, joking with Rodrigo about how their usual conductor wasn’t very good.)

On the whole I think it’s a greatly enjoyable show, except for the times when it stops trying, and resorts to being broadly satirical. Most of these moments involve the character of Anna Maria, Rodrigo’s Wacky Performance Artist wife. You feel bad for poor Nora Arzeneder, the French actress given this steaming-pile-of-horse-shit of a role: Anna Maria’s schtick is that she’s a superbly gifted violinist but in her performances she always subverts her own talent by playing something beautifully and then smashing her violin as part of a ludicrous rant about the ‘bourgeoisie’, or some such. Anna Maria behaves like a 13-year-old’s idea of a romantic artist; in one episode, Rodrigo persuades her to play the Sibelius Violin Concerto in front of the NY Symphony, and she gets as far as the actual performance and plays the first couple of dozen bars beautifully, before stopping and insisting that she can’t go on and that it’s all bullshit and she can’t play for these ‘pigs’, going on to implore Rodrigo to leave this idiotic life and come away with her, etc. It was all very predictable, and I won’t spoil the rather predictable outcome. Nobody as chaotic and stupid as this would have risen in the arts to the kind of eminence that we are invited to believe Anna Maria has; in real life, she would never have agreed to play the thing in the first place, because it would have meant giving up all control as an artist about how she was presented, but they wanted to give Rodrigo a tempestuous private life, so that’s where they went.

Still, the show has great things about it. One of these is Lola Kirke’s performance in what’s actually the main role, Hailey Rutledge, a talented oboist who starts out playing in pit bands and teaching oboe to a rich kid more interested in her tits than in practising. Hailey’s dramatic arc in season 1 is about her desperately trying to find a place for herself in the orchestra, which already has a perfectly good oboist in the seriously badass Betty Cragdale, played with wonderful acidity by veteran Broadway actress Debra Monk. Lola Kirke is the sister of the better-known Jemima Kirke, star of Girls; as Hailey she nails the gloomy, obsessive quality of good classical musicians, utterly dedicated to practising because that’s the only way you get anywhere, but she also conveys Hailey’s lack of social skills and her general awkwardness by means of Hailey’s peculiar goofy laugh, a sort of feminine variation on Muttley from Wacky Races‘s ‘Huhhh-huhhh-huhhh!‘.

There are three other great women characters in the show. One is Cynthia Taylor, head of the cello section, played with immense calm and inner steel by Saffron Burrows. It’s established fairly early on that Cynthia is both a.) a good sort and b.) seriously up for it; when Hailey is trying out for the oboe section, Cynthia takes her out on the town, gives her a good time and good advice, and pairs her off with a sexy bartender who happens to be a talented dancer. Cynthia is also Thomas’s mistress, which is less interesting than you might think; her character comes into much better focus in the second season, when the orchestra runs into labour troubles and hires its own lawyer, Nina, played by Gretchen Mol. Nina-and-Cynthia becomes a story in itself, one that itself riffs off Saffron Burrows’s own visibility as a bisexual woman. But the coolest thing about Cynthia is not, in my view, her sexuality, although it’s nice to have a character who is attracted to whoever she’s attracted to and doesn’t worry about it. Cynthia’s true quality is that, unlike the nervous and would-be devious first violinist Warren Boyd, she’s the real leader of the orchestra.

The next is Gloria Windsor, head of the orchestra’s board of directors, played by Bernadette Peters. Peters’ screen career has been relatively limited — if you’re like me, you probably saw her in Steve Martin’s The Jerk and not a lot else, but that was in 1979. She has has a seriously distinguished career on Broadway, most famously in Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, and a lot of that feeds into Gloria, who besides being dedicated to the orchestra is also a born performer, which serves her well in fundraiser nights with sponsors. This part of her character culminates when she turns out to have long-abandoned ambitions as a lounge singer; in a season 2 episode, Gloria shows up at an open mic night in a NYC bar, and delivers a show-stopping performance of Rosemary Clooney’s 1951 hit ‘Come On-a My House’, very much modelled on Julie London’s version rather than Clooney’s, but, in context, eclipsing both.

The third is Hailey’s roommate Lizzy, played by Hannah Dunne. In the earlier episodes, Lizzy is rather annoying, a sketch of a hipster, but to the show’s credit, they gave the character more background and Dunne’s commitment makes Lizzy into one of the show’s most appealing characters. Lizzy at her best injects energy into every scene she’s in, and when in one episode she delivers a seriously good impersonation of Billie Holiday, that too gives her character some needed depth.

So, why am I writing this? Just to give more boost to a show that’s already been given a Golden Globe, one of the less-respected awards on the circuit? Mozart in the Jungle has some genuinely sound things to say about the life of a classical musician, and the differences between being a professional musician and an amateur, and the power of music. It sometimes lurches into silly caricature, but not too often. With a bit of audience love, it could mature still further and be a genuinely great show. Right now it’s just very good.

I haven’t mentioned Gael Garcia Bernal because most of the interesting roles in this show are female, but he takes to TV like a natural, he’s a wonderful comic presence without ever losing the character’s basic dignity and intelligence, and his best scenes convince you that Rodrigo is a bit of a genius at finding ways to connect people with music. All this happens in spite of the fact that he never, ever conducts in a convincing manner. But he talks such a great game that you buy it anyway.

OK, that’s me done raving about this show. I neither expect, nor will be disappointed by the absence of, grace and favour from Amazon, whose show it is. You can read all my Amazon customer reviews here. No, I’m not bitter that I wrote all that for nothing.

 

 

 

Mozart in the Jungle

David Bowie

David Bowie died last night.

I have disliked David Bowie’s music for a lot longer than I have liked it. Fortunately, I think, the disliking came first. I was first exposed to Bowie as a very small kid, when ‘Space Oddity’ was a hit in the early 70s. It unnerved me, the same way the Beatles’ ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ unnerved me. These were songs about giving up control, giving up identity, turning into someone else. As a small boy, for one reason or another, I didn’t like the sound of that.

I missed out on Bowie’s great exploratory 70s music, being firmly a follower of my brother’s own taste, which in those years meant mostly Status Quo: meat’n’potatoes entry-level rock. When I began to develop my own likes and dislikes, in my very early teens, it coincided with learning the guitar, which meant an awful lot of dogged listening to Eric Clapton because for me he had some kind of educational significance. (I don’t regret learning to play Clapton-style guitar, but I do regret a lot of glum listening to his boring 70s and 80s albums.) Just as I got into livelier music, in the form of Talking Heads and Robert Fripp and Brian Eno, Bowie was deep into his blandest, least interesting 80s pop star phase. I was not impressed. When Tin Machine came along, I was even less impressed; it looked like a naked bid for coolness. Dave Fanning, on his radio show, which I was then an avid listener to, called it ‘David Bowie’s latest incredible stab at credibility’, and he didn’t mean it in a nice way. Bowie in 1991 seemed like a burnout. Like the Rolling Stones, only pretentious.

I don’t think I really caught up with Bowie until the Freddie Mercury tribute concert in 1992. At that concert, he and Annie Lennox sang a majestic version of ‘Under Pressure’ which still has the power to bring tears to my eyes. Even then, I wasn’t compelled to listen to more Bowie, but I was willing to recognise that ‘Ashes to Ashes’ had something going on in it, and I’d listen to anything Fripp played on, so ‘Fashion’ was a favourite track of mine, featuring as it does some of Fripp’s most unhinged guitar playing. Then Nirvana, who I’d never liked much, did ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ and did it beautifully, and I realised that I had to think again about Bowie.

I had to fall in love and get married to a Bowie-liker before I truly saw how wrong I had been. My wife Ioanna had a Bowie compilation CD and we would play it in the car when we took our infant daughter on drives. On hearing ‘Life on Mars’ and ‘Rebel Rebel’ and ‘Diamond Dogs’ and ‘Wild is the Wind’, I began to realise that this was something like nothing else, something weirdly unique and wonderful.

And so I completely changed my mind about Bowie, which I’ve never done about anyone, I don’t think. I listened to Station to Station and Low and while they didn’t quite grab me as albums, their high points pierced me the way the best popular music does.

Bowie’s combination of naked emotionalism placed within a strangely askew frame was entirely his. He was as unique in his way as Thelonious Monk, and like Monk he had the ability to sound like no-one else, and to take somebody else’s song and make it sound like his. (He was unlike Monk in that sometimes, between around 1983 and 1991, he didn’t sound like anyone in particular, but even then, there were moments: ‘Loving the Alien’ is a crappy song, but only Bowie could have written it.)

I was surprised to find myself very sad to hear that he’d died. Bowie made his decisive moves with the left hand; he stole his way into your affections, sometimes literally. (I can’t count the number of times I’ve thought that he ripped his entire vocal approach off from John Lennon.) With Bowie dead, at the premature-for-an-aging-rock-star age of 69, it feels like a little bit of surprise has gone from the world. But his strange and wonderful career is still there.

I’d like to end with Scott Walker’s lovely tribute to Bowie on Bowie’s 50th birthday, which, as you can hear, left the recipient, for once in his life, speechless.

David Bowie