The Bowie & Prince Panel

There’s not a lot to report from this panel as we didn’t really have a reading list. However, there are a few things I want to mention.

Firstly I opened up with Amanda Palmer and Jherek Bischoff, because what better way to start an SF&F convention panel on Bowie than with Neil Gaiman performing the countdown from “Space Oddity”. I’m very fond of the Strung Out On Heaven album, but it wasn’t until I was listening to a music documentary this morning that I realized that on “Space Oddity” Jherek had done with strings what Bowie had originally done with a Mellotron. On the 1969 recording it had been played by a young session musician called Rick Wakeman. (Wakeman also played piano on a number of other huge pop hits, including Bowie’s “Life on Mars” and Cat Stevens’ “Morning has broken”.)

As I was the only member of the panel who had grown up in the UK, I probably had more of a connection to Bowie than most, but Cat surprised me by revealing that her step-mother was a huge Bowie fan.

For Cat and Suzanne much of their connection to Bowie came through fantasy rather than science fiction. Labyrinth seems to have been a very important film for lots of people. I can quite understand why.

Cat, having grown up in the US, was invaluable when it came to discussion of Prince. The UK barely bats an eyelid at the sort of thing the Purple One got up to. He didn’t even get banned from Radio 1, though he did have to make a small change to the lyrics of “Sexy Mother Fucker”. The USA, on the other hand, went into full scale moral panic over “Darling Nikki”.

Bowie did so many SF concept albums that we had no trouble finding things to talk about. Cat said that parts of Blackstar sounded like a story she might have written. Hopefully one day she will be able to do it. Prince only did one SF concept album: Art Official Age, which is a “sleeper awakes” story (and features Lianne La Havas as the doctor). After the panel, Iia Simes reminded me (and I had indeed forgotten) that Prince wrote the music for Tim Burton’s 1989 movie, Batman.

As both Cat and I noted, Prince may not have written much SF, but everyone agreed that he must be an alien.

I ended the panel by going a little off topic because there is a recording artist who has managed to combine the legacies of Prince and Bowie. Prince played on some of her early work, and that work involved the creation of a character every bit as vivid as Ziggy Stardust. Take a bow, Janelle Monáe Robinson, a.k.a. Cyndi Mayweather.

Finally, for those of you who have no idea what I meant when I said that Cat and I re-created the famous Bowie/Ronson hug from “Starman”, here are Ziggy and the Spiders in that famous Top of the Pops performance. Everyone sing along now.