All the songs of my life

All the songs of my life, #3: “Under The God” by Tin Machine

It was May 1989. I was 14, and a new Bowie obsessive, so it was a thrill to discover that he was back with new music!

I had a bit of a shock in store.

As 1989 dawned, it’s safe to say I was a different girl from the one who’d seen in the previous new year. I’d started my journey into being a music fan in the latter part of 1988, when the Pet Shop Boys entered my life, and in early 1989 my life-long David Bowie obsession was just a few weeks old, burning bright and all-consuming as only a new teenage obsession can. I have happy memories of this time of my life, as I explored the new magical musical world I’d entered via many hours spent reading Smash Hits and Number One magazines, as well as any Bowie biography I could lay my hand on.

1989 is also a significant year for me for another very particular reason: it is the first year in which I kept a diary all the way through. I’d kept sporadic diaries since I was 9, but this was the first year that I managed to fill a whole book starting on Jan 1 and finishing on Dec 31 – even if I didn’t write every single day. This is the year that I consider the start of my lifelong habit of diary keeping, and it’s hard not to make the connection that it was my newfound love for music that inspired me to write so much.

Or, if I’m being truthful, it was my newfound love for David Bowie, for my 1989 diary is very much one long hyperventilating tribute to that man. I had the misfortune of becoming a Bowie fan at a time when his back catalog was not widely available, so I had to make do with his lesser-celebrated 80s albums as well as a cassette copy of “Diamond Dogs” which my mum’s friend had recorded from the LP for me (and that particular classic will definitely constitute an All The Albums Of My Life post in the coming weeks).

The version of David Bowie I’d fallen in love with was, of course, the mesmerisingly charismatic and decadently sexy one he played as Jareth in “Labyrinth”. So when “Under The God” was released, it was mildly alarming to discover that just a few short years after that wonderful film had been made, he was now to be found in middle-aged suits and a manly beard, roaring about Nazis to a heavy metal backing.

But the loyalty of an obsessed 14 year old knows no bounds, and so despite it being very far from what I might have hoped to hear as new music from David, I gamely persevered in finding a way to love the track. Truthfully, I would have loved anything David could have released at this time, even if it had been a re-recording of “The Laughing Gnome” featuring flute and harpsichord solos. As can be evidenced by this extract from my diary upon first hearing “Under The God”:

Translation, for those not fluent in Hysterical Teenage Girl Scrawl: “Yeeeeeaah!!!!!!!!!! David Bowie is back! Back! BACK!!!!!! His single is “Under the Gods|” with his new band Tin Manchine and it’s the Best thing on earth!!! ALL HAIL BOWIE!!!” Yes, I was a little bit terrifying.

Of course, if I was being honest, I would have written something more like “hmmm, not sure about this, it’s a bit of a racket, where’s the tune and for god’s sake what’s with the beard???” Reflecting on the song from just over three decades later, it’s actually okay. Its pummelling drive would, I imagine, have been pretty storming to experience live. And while the lyrics may be a bit heavy handed, with David gamely trying to find as many ways to say ‘Nazis are bad’ as possible, he can’t help letting his way with a charismatic melodic turn shine through, such as in the middle eight when his growl turns into a seductive purr as he croons: “as the walls came tumbling down, oh the secrets that we shared”.

What makes this song so significant in my life is the fact that, despite all the things that could very easily have turned 14 year old me away from Bowie fandom – the general atonal racket of the song, the anonymity of David disappearing inside a band with three other blokes I couldn’t care less about, the frankly disastrous beard – I persevered. I knew, by this time, that the world of Bowie fandom was full of delights and surprises and I had not yet discovered them all, and so however perplexing this new Bowie was, I needed to stick with him.

And I was, of course, resoundingly, irrefutably correct.

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