Depeche Mode, finest purveyors of electronic pervy pop (© Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant) for four decades and counting, kicked off their Global Spirit Tour in Stockholm last week. Towards the end of the band’s set is a rather poignant, and very timely, inclusion: a cover of David Bowie’s Berlin signature song in stripped down drum machine and guitar stylee. That’s a nice circle circle of life thing, as it’s well documented that, in 1980, vocalist Dave Gahan got to audition for what would become Depeche Mode after Vince Clarke heard him sing Heroes during a jam session in Basildon. Later in that decade the quartet had twice recorded albums at the same Hansa Studios that Bowie, Brian Eno and Tony Visconti had made the Heroes album.
Heroes was Bowie’s highest placed song in the UK singles charts in the immediate aftermath of his passing, reaching No.12, a full dozen places higher than its original but incongruous 1977 peak.
Gahan, who turns 55 today, recently recalled the traumatic time he and Martin Gore heard the news of the Dame’s demise: ”When Bowie died, we both didn’t know what to do with it. There was a personal connection there. It was a huge loss.”
“Martin was really shaken up. He doesn’t show a lot of emotion that way but he told me he didn’t sleep all night. So I told him we need to just write something, we need to express that, and he was like ‘You’re right’. It’s that English thing, you hold back your emotions but when someone opens the door and says ‘we should say something’ you go Yeah, of course we should”. Below are the Facebook posts Gahan and Gore made in tribute to Bowie.
“I had seen the news but it wasn’t until my wife told me he had died that I just broke down in tears,” Gahan says. “My daughter came out and they were both hugging me. It really affected me. I felt a huge gap. I was so overwhelmed with emotions, I felt like a big chunk of me just dropped out of me. … I had been playing Blackstar for a while and it suddenly all made sense, you know?”
The Mode frontman had been used to seeing Bowie in surprisingly normal social settings, both with daughters roughly the same age, living in New York: “I’ve seen him time and time again over the years. My daughter and his daughter went to the same school for a couple years, so I’d see him at these school functions. It was very different to the Bowie that I grew up adoring and living vicariously through,” Gahan admits.
“One thing I regret — of course when he passed away — is never telling him how much his music had meant to me all these years. I always thought it was kind of weird to do that, especially when we were at school together, just two dads with their kids, but it was shocking to me when he passed away. He was too young.”
Gahan remember the last time he saw Bowie in person: “It was about a year before he died. I saw him at a school thing and I just got this feeling that something was wrong. I remember going back to my wife and saying, “I don’t think Bowie’s well.” He just had this look in his eyes and I kind of know that look. And I had heard he was ill … but nothing that I thought he was dying, that he wasn’t going to make it. It was very surreal that morning when I heard the news, very upsetting. I don’t think I’ve been that upset over someone passing away in my whole life, to be quite honest.
Gahan had become a fan as a young schoolboy watching Top of the Pops and latched onto Bowie’s androgyny because his mother didn’t like it: “Bowie, since I was in my early teens, had an extraordinary effect on me. He represented something that was a little different and he didn’t feel comfortable going along with what was considered to be the norm. That really appealed to me and somehow comforted me, certainly as a teenager. His music has been with me throughout anything I’ve ever done.”
“If you’re backstage at a Depeche Mode gig, when you walk past my dressing room, you’re probably going to hear a Bowie album before a show. Usually it’s something from Stage, which was a live album recorded at a concert that I was very lucky to see when I just turned 16. Me and a couple of my mates sneaked into the back of Earls Court and before we got thrown out, we saw a couple of numbers. It was mind-blowing to me at that age.
Last year, Gahan and Mark Lanegan also recorded some typically mean and moody backing vocals on a cover of Bowie’s collaboration with Giorgio Moroder, the 1982 soundtrack single Cat People (Putting Out Fire) with Martyn LeNoble & Christian Eigner.
There’s also Dave’s occasional side project with the cinematic production team Soulsavers. One of the members of that group, Rich Machin, told him that Depeche Mode records like Violator and Songs of Faith and Devotion were among his favourites when he was 13.
“They were like what Diamond Dogs and Ziggy Stardust were to me, those albums where you sit in your bedroom wondering why you don’t fit in with the rest of the world,” Gahan says.
“That’s what I was doing with David Bowie at that age. I had found somebody in him that I could understand, where I felt I was part of his world, when I felt alienated. And I think that’s why Depeche Mode appeals to a lot of people. Somehow it’s comforting, like, ‘You’re not alone.’ You’re not, of course. None of us are. But music is the thing that crosses all boundaries and brings odd people together. I think Bowie was always a little odd, kind of like Depeche Mode. He didn’t quite fit into that kind of thing; didn’t play the game, didn’t go along to all the events that you’re supposed to go to if you want a Grammy. We’ve never been like that, either.