Well, for most of the time it was adulation in the 70s and 80s but Bowie wasn’t immune to criticism – particularly in the late 70s and early 80s when everything from his political views to musical relevance came under post-punk scrutiny.
Below is a flattering front page from the US new wave magazine Trouser Press but underneath is a more unpleasant tone from a UK teen mag. Looking back though, I’m trending against the knockers – Bowie’s pop legacy, in my humble view, is unassailable.
Thumbing through my old copies of the NME – and by the way, I found out the NME itself has no copies of its old issues pre-1983 – I couldn’t help noticing that Gary Numan was not a performer held in the highest affection. Even though his material has been sampled since and I think history has been kinder to him. But the savaging he got at his career peak was ceaseless.
Nick Kent of the NME had resolved to destroy him by April 1981 – thirty years ago. I’ve got the article in front of me and it’s cruelly hilarious. “…Ground control is evidently calling your number as I write in the same harsh, hollow cadence you yourself have utilised for your sound…” Ouch.
Numan was frequently accused of having snaffled David Bowie’s mantle while the great man took a break for various reasons before bouncing back with Let’s Dance. Nick Kent said Numan must have been feeling the heat by 1980 when Steve Strange and John Foxx were taking the limelight but the return of the thin white duke himself meant the end.
“…David Jones from Beckenham (Bowie in case you didn’t know) had returned from his sojourns out in left-field to claim his throne, the very chair your bum has been keeping warm in his Nib’s absence for – how long is it now? Two years, at least, eh?”
Kent said that Steve Harley had kept Bowie’s seat warm in 1974, Numan had done so for a while and Steve Strange was performing that task as he wrote. It was time, Kent felt, for Numan to go away. Which as it goes, is pretty much what he did.