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Music

Ricky Gervais calls David Bowie a "genius"

The Office writer Ricky Gervais has come forward to declare his love for David Bowie, the precocious musician who spent much of the 1970s curating a newer, fresher form of music to the rock-heavy work of the era. Bowie was brilliant, albeit erratic, curating a collection of work that really holds up. His work in the 1980s was spotty, the 1990s was worse again, but the songwriter truly made his mark when during the 1970s, the decade in which Gervais listened to the most amount of rock music.

Gervais took to Tiktok to show his love for the vocalist, conceding that he’s far from the only one. “Everyone loves him,” he chuckles. Gervais enjoyed a friendship with The former Thin White Duke when he invited the singer to compose a tune for Extras, a scintillatingly produced television series that saw Gervais and Bowie bump into each other in an exclusive bar in London. The singer was happy to compose a tune to Gervais’ lyrics, but he was a little taken aback when he was asked to “write a ‘Life On Mars'”. The comedian recognised that he had unintentionally offended the rockstar, and apologised unreservedly.

Gervais says ‘Chubby Little Loser’ was the singer’s very last performance. “It was,” he claimed.”To me in Madison Square Garden. He did Extras. I invited him to do Extras after we sort of became friends.” Indeed, the singer is one of the few notable cameos, and arguably only Ian McKellen proved to be better than him. The episode showcases Bowie singing Gervais’ words over a piano. He can be seen clearly enjoying himself.

“And then to return the favour,” Gervais recalled, “he asked me to play a benefit in New York, in 2007, at the High Line Festival, which he curated.” Gervais joined the vocalist to the refrains of ‘Chubby Little Loser’. Bowie would release two studio albums afterwards- 2013’s The Next Day and 2016’s Blackstar – but he would not return to the stage to promote the albums. Bowie died in 2016, a year before his 70th birthday. The singer’s back catalogue continues to draw attention all over the world, as podcast hosts and journalists alike create whole works in an effort to continue his fine work.

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There are so many books on Bowie, and indeed, more should be written about other aspects of the artist’s trajectory. Nicholas Pegg’s The Complete David Bowie, in many ways, proved the definitive text on the man’s career, giving the artist the codicil he truly deserved. The comedian outlined some of his favourite works by the singer in question, referring to the artist as a “proper genius.” Gervais used Bowie’s rendition of Mott the Hoople favourite ‘All The Young Dudes’ for Cemetery Junction, his ode to the 1970s counterculture.

What it left him with was a sense of place in the world of music and material, never underestimating his sense of purpose in the world at large. The film opened Gervais fans to a new side of his trajectory, showing that there was a more lyrical side to the standup comedian than his shows may have presented. Gervais was working in close collaboration with Stephen Merchant, the comedy writer who worked with Gervais on The Office, Extras and Life’s Too Short, which might explain why his work was so detailed and thoughtful.

It was a very different Gervais to the man who roasted the recipients of the Golden Globes in 2020. Bowie showed the comedian that he could be malleable as an artist. Bowie proved his acting credentials with The Man Who Fell To Earth and The Last Temptation of Christ, and although his performance in Labyrinth was wanting, it was a shoddy performance in a risible film. The soundtrack was enjoyable, which was something you couldn’t say about Zoolander, which also featured Bowie.

Ultimately, Labyrinth was no worse than either Give My Regards to Broadstreet or Purple Rain, and his presence still loomed large over the artists that followed in the 1980s. Funnily, Gervais started off as a burgeoning pop star before tailoring his talents to music. The men in Suede remarked that many of the tunes that wound up in The Office were similar to the ones he played to them when he served as their manager.

Suede was also heavily influenced by Bowie, and was, therefore, more susceptible to change than many of the other Britpop acts of their ilk. If Bowie had a counterpart in Britpop, then it was Suede, who created a body of work that was brimming with creative flourishes and spontaneous abandon.

Gervais later asked Bowie what kept him writing, decades after his creative zenith. “I said to him,” Gervais said, “‘Why do you still do this?’ And he said, ‘To stave off the boredom before death’.” Maybe we could all learn from Bowie’s example.

@davidbowie

“Everyone loves him” Ricky Gervais on David Bowie. Listen to all of Bowie’s top tracks via the David Bowie 75 Official Playlist. #DavidBowie #Bowie #rickygervais #DavidBowieIs

♬ Rebel Rebel (2016 Remaster) – David Bowie