Bowie was a living legend in the music industry. In January this year, after a career spanning five decades, he died from cancer. In October his legend was revived over three days in one of the hottest-ticket shows in this year’s Melbourne Festival
FROM memory, someone wrote, as a tribute, if David Bowie didn’t exist no-one would be able to invent him.
But that’s OK, because an Englishman called David Robert Jones did.
Jones? Seriously? It could only have been a more banal beginning if he had been David Smith.
But very few people – beyond his children, who are known as Jones – worried about that once this remarkable Englishman renamed himself David Bowie and the rest was, as it always is in these stories, history.
Bowie went through more periods than Picasso, changed his sexuality from hetero to gay to bi to who knows what, and really, who cared?
Except maybe his two wives Angie and Iman.
The rumour goes Mick Jagger wrote Angie to appease her after she walked in on him and Bowie in bed together.
The truth is Keith Richards, just coming back to reality in a rehab clinic in 1972, wrote it without ever connecting it to anyone, including his own lover Anita Pallenberg, who was giving birth to his daughter Angela while Richards was still locked up in that rehab stint.
None of which had much to do with Bowie, or glam-rocking Ziggy Stardust, or the man who fell to earth or the singer who got caught up in industrial and jungle music.
Bowie was experimenting and evolving until almost the day of his death in January this year.
Fast forward to the Melbourne Festival, for most of October, and Bowie was back on stage in a musical tribute to his life.
An innovative marriage between the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and the cast of iOTA, Deborah Conway, Adalita, Tim Rogers and Steve Kilbey at Hamer Hall in the Arts Centre Melbourne brought it all back to life.
And the crowd, devotees to every man, woman, child and a spectacular mix of LGBTI (the range of Bowie’s appeal across his five decades of music was non-denominational) simply lapped it up.
The presentation was simple – singers prancing across the front of the stage, backed by the MSO led by the incredibly athletic baton for hire Vanessa Scammell, and a slash of Ziggy on the big screen behind.
But it was all about the music, and while even closing your eyes was not enough to provide a seamless transition between Bowie’s amazing voice and what you were hearing here, there was so much enthusiasm in the cast, and such a connection with the crowd, it all worked.
And they belted out the big ones – Space Oddity opened the show and the classics just kept coming. Starman, Rebel Rebel, Jean Genie, Ziggy Stardust, Sorrow, Golden Years, Young Americans, Ashes to Ashes et al.
It worked having men and women sing, it worked that they were basically low key, not attempting to match, let alone outrival Bowie’s stage presence and only changing arrangements to match vocal range.
For a city that never has a day off, the Melbourne Festival – this year it ran from October 6-23 – remains one of the standout get-togethers.
Its own spin claims: “At the heart of Melbourne’s culture of creativity we curate unique experiences that bring people together and break new ground in culture and the arts”.
Apart from more words starting with the letter ‘c’ than you would see in most sentences, I loathe the use of the word unique.
It is the most superfluous word in the English language. My getting out of bed this morning was unique. It was almost certainly not an experience the public need share but makes my point.
Everything is unique, so stop using the bloody word.
Rant aside, the spin doctors are pretty much on song.
The Melbourne Festival truly does have something for everyone and there is no doubt that in this year’s event there would have been a lot of disappointed people when they discovered David Bowie: Nothing Has Changed was only on for three nights.
It was, in its own way, a case of the quick or the dead.
The other good thing about Melbourne is everything is right there, within walking distance. And there are so many places to stay, at so many prices and standards, you can’t complain.
We chose the Hilton South Wharf for the weekend.
Well, let me be upfront and honest here and admit we didn’t choose that. Destinations Melbourne kindly provided free accommodation for two nights.
We have been Hilton regulars, but at the other end of town, close to the MCG. And back in the good old days of life in the corporate world when it could all be booked up to unsuspecting clients.
These days when we are footing the bill if our daughter, who lives in Melbourne, hasn’t got a spare room we simply don’t go.
But I digress.
Getting back to the HSW I can report it was definitely a quality show.
An easy walk to everything, part of the remarkable Yarra precinct stretching from St Kilda Rd down to the Convention and Exhibition Centre; and now slightly beyond, it is a good place to be.
Mind you, for an out-of-towner it is bloody hard to get into, even with my phone telling me to turn this way and that.
We had three goes getting to the front door. Try Two saw us on Westgate Bridge. But eventually, and a little hot and bothered, we made it.
But it was worth the wait and almost everything passed muster with the missus, a stern judge of anything that costs more than $50 a night.
Her favourite gripe, vanities so narrow you can’t spread open your toiletries bag, was not an issue here.
There was a bath built for adults rather than the typical one sitting there mocking you because it knows you want to soak in hot water and if you aren’t five years old or younger it won’t be happening here.
Then there was the view.
We were only on the eighth floor but one wall is all glass and ours looked straight down the Yarra towards St Kilda Rd.
We could stand there and watch the rowers slogging their way up and down, marvel at just how many traffic and foot bridges cross the river these days, almost stitching the two banks of the river together.
Then there was the full breakfast, also courtesy of the weekend junket.
Good tucker (and plenty of it), good service and a good setting with plenty of room. One dabble with room service for toasted sandwiches (you won’t believe how hard most places find that request) was a smashing success.
So I would love to report we hopped in the car (yep, valet service too) on Monday morning and happily headed home.
There was this sour little taste in the mouth.
No problem when we arrived and the hotel asked for a copy of a credit card (in case I cleaned out the mini bar or trashed the room).
But on the Sunday afternoon we stopped to spend too much money on something or another and my little hot pink card (it’s a debit card as the missus has learnt not to trust me with a credit card) was declined.
Talk about awkward and embarrassing.
Not understanding we went online and discovered the Hilton not only had a copy of my card, it had also decided to withdraw $200.
So I queried it and the poor staffer who copped my call explained the money would be returned to my card as we left.
Semi mollified I put it to the back of my mind until we stopped at Heathcote on the way home and the missus assured me I had promised to pay for lunch.
Once again my little card was rejected.
This time the poor Hilton staffer who copped my call really copped it.
This time I got the full story.
The return of my money was now in the hands of my card provider and they would return it in the next few days.
I am trusting a bank with my money, said bank is using my money and I am getting rejection messages every time I try to access my money.
The rattled staffer said they could arrange an express release of my money – within 24 hours.
If they did send the email it didn’t work. It took almost four days to get my money back.
So my question is this: If I had booked to stay for two weeks at the Hilton South Wharf, and wasn’t on a freebie, how much money would the hotel have scammed out of my card?
But that mess aside, if you are a Hilton (or equivalent) hotel user, love being in the thick of the best Melbourne has to offer and are ready to hand over a slab of money for its amusement, you could do a lot worse. It would not be easy to do a lot better.