David Bowie remembered: a Hong Kong journalist’s fond memory of his 2004 concert and impact on the city
The Post’s senior reporter on cultural affairs recalls the influential artist
David Bowie had always been a man who shocked the world, even until his last moment on earth.
When news of the music legend’s unexpected death flashed on my mobile, my hands trembled as memories of his last performance in Hong Kong played back in my head.
It was 2004, at Wan Chai’s Convention and Exhibition Centre, Bowie’s second live Hong Kong appearance since 1983, and, as it turned out, it was his last.
At the time, I wouldn’t have called myself a loyal long-time Bowie fan. But as a young music fan, I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a music icon perform live.
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There he was on a Hong Kong stage, a skinny Englishman who influenced generations of artists from the new romantics and purveyors of glam rock to Britpop specialists and even Canto-pop performers.
That night, Bowie performed many of his classic tunes from his best-known titles, but the most memorable one was The Man Who Sold The World.
“This is not a Nirvana song,” he said on stage, mocking how his 1970 song earned fresh attention after the Seattle grunge band made it big again in its MTV Unplugged showcase in New York.
I was secretly hoping the star would perform Cha Na Tian Di, Bowie’s only Chinese title adapted from his song Seven Years in Tibet, with Mandarin Chinese lyrics written by Hong Kong lyricist Lin Xi. But he didn’t.
It was a bit disappointing as I was anticipating how the star would pull off singing live in Mandarin and how such a moment might make an impact on the Chinese music scene.
But the truth was, Bowie did not need a Chinese song to make an impact. His uniqueness, versatility and forward-looking vision influenced Canto-pop musicians from the golden era – from Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing and Roman Tam to Anita Mui.
He was particularly influential on electronic duo Tat Ming Pair. Bowie’s aura formed an unmistakable aspect of singer Anthony Wong Yiu-ming’s stage presence and musicality. Wong even performed Bowie’s Mandarin song live on multiple occasions.
In 2013, I had the opportunity to visit the exhibition titled David Bowie is at Victoria and Albert Museum in London. An unprecedented retrospective, the exhibition surveyed the music legend’s career from his music to his flamboyant costumes.
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Then in 2014, Bowie’s classic Space Oddity left a mark in Hong Kong cinema, as the song played a key role in Fruit Chan’s political sci-fi thriller The Midnight After, a screen adaptation of a hit internet novel of the same name.
As the song started spinning in my head, I strove to recover from news of his death, the last shock to be triggered by a man who changed the world with his music. It’s a world that will never be the same without him.