Late night #itchysilk session again.
This foray takes in something by the award-winning composer and arranger John Uren. John’s previous work includes compositions for names like BBC Singer and the Abelia Saxophone Quartet creating some intricate aural wonders for some sweet listening pleasure.
In this instance, John Uren has set his music to a stirring bit of prose by a palliative care doctor called Dr Taubert. To be exact the prose in question was a letter that Dr Taubert penned to David Bowie in the wake of his untimely (or timely as the case may be) death on the 10 01 16. It was a truly poignant and immersive letter that was ultimately read by that giant of UK music Jarvis Cocker at the celebrated event Letters Live (this year) which has hosted some influential names reading out letters worthy for a more public domain. It was the subsequent universal acknowledgement that it was indeed a most powerful tribute to that genre defying, individualistic maverick that was David Robert Jones aka David Bowie which led to John Uren hearing the letter. In turn, Uren created a composition to the letter which is addictive, immersive and gorgeous.
German by descent, Taubert uses smooth clean poetic language elucidating some powerful points: namely Bowie ’s importance to Germany in the mid to late 80’s when it was marching towards huge social change-the fall of the Berlin Wall referenced in Taubert’s letter. Germany’s importance to Bowie however cannot be understated as well. It was the place that Bowie retreated to between 76-79 (The Berlin Period) to rid himself of a drug addiction and indeed it was the place that inspired singles like Helden/Heroes (1977) which Taubert warmly refers to,
‘I still have Helden on vinyl and I played it again when I heard you died’
It’s a deeply personal recollection and it is this deeply personal feel that runs throughout this poignant letter, it’s like he is talking to a friend but that is evidently it-Bowie was, to many, more than just a musician.
Reducing the letter to mere eulogising from an ardent fan would however be folly. Dr Taubert also speaks with clinical lucidity yet overpowering warmth about the personal journeys people diagnosed with cancer take. More significantly we gain an insight and understand the journey Taubert takes as a guide of sorts for those diagnosed. It’s clear that as this Palliative Care Doctor (a guide) who can only take the individuals so far that he (and others alike) attempt to make this unfeasibly difficult journey as ‘comfortable’ as possible.
While Taubert’s letter can evidently stand alone as a piece of prose that could in many respects feature as literary piece set for an English exam Uren’s composition skilfully adds further emotional layers to the letter. An amalgamation of what sounds like a violin and cello driven composition (which is so simple in many respects), with the almost yearning sound flowering at skilfully chosen moments while Dr Taubert narrates in his engaging German lilt is hypnotic. Uren stated on BBC 3 a few days ago when he was interviewed that he wanted the music to merely support and he achieves this with startling and successful results.
Her Own Dying Moments pays respect to an artist who reached a level where he was known by his music but was in some respects more than the sum of his music. Perhaps (as Taubert alludes to) his greatest achievement will be as a guide for others to open discussion about death and to allow those in question to navigate the journey to death (because of cancer) without overwhelming fear but rather with a sense of more control through the acceptance that finality will come at a known specified time rather than an unknown specified time.
Maybe the knowledge of one’s demise as noted by Bowie’s last album Blackstar (2016) allows for a crystallisation of what is important and a more refined idea of what one wants to achieve prior to the finale in this dimension.