On the way home today, I told M that something sad had happened, that a man called David Bowie has died. He was mildly interested. I explained that he’s the man who sings the song “Dance Magic” (that I have played to M in the car and that he likes), and who stars in the film Labyrinth that I want to show him when he is a bit older. M absorbed this information and then, in all seriousness, he asked me: “Do they have it on DVD or does he have to act it all the time?” I said yes it is recorded on DVD, why, was he worried that he wouldn’t get to watch it now? He was. Then he checked that the song was also recorded. I laughed and said yes of course it is how else would we have listened to it – David Bowie wasn’t in our car singing it was he (though that would have been awesome).
I am not of the generation that grew up with David Bowie. When I discovered his music (through my mum’s The Singles Collection when I was 15) he was already in his 50s. I loved that album and I fell in love with him in Labyrinth; I am ashamed to admit that is the extent of my knowledge of Bowie’s legacy. I have not listened to his albums in their entirety, nor have I watched The Man Who Fell to Earth. I suppose I am not a “true” fan except that I remember discovering Bowie as a formative moment in my teen years (a moment that coincided with the feeling that I had been born in the wrong decade and a longing to be a child of the 70s).
I remember the songs and the lyrics that resonated with me at different periods in my life:
“Rebel Rebel you’ve torn your dress, Rebel Rebel your face is a mess…” (going out drinking when I was 16; wearing random combinations of goth and hippy clothes as I struggled to find my place in the world).
“And all these children that you spit on as they try to change their world, are immune to your consultations, they’re quite aware what they’re going through…” (classic teenage angst and being certain that I would indeed one day change the world).
“She wants the Young American…”/”I’m Afraid of Americans” (when I was obsessed with my American boyfriend/husband.
“Life isn’t easy, it’s not always swell; don’t tell me truth hurts little girl, ’cause it hurts like hell…” (whenever I need a reality check/am feeling sorry for myself).
Plus all the awesome freaky random totally cool classic Bowie (from, ahem, the Singles Collection) that is part of the soundtrack of my life.
I showed M the child-friendly “Heroes” on You Tube as a bedtime song tonight (and later, Ziggy Stardust). M immediately asked “are they a boy or a girl?” I asked what he thought. “Boy” he said. But that he asked the question I thought struck at the heart of what David Bowie is all about, and at the legacy he leaves behind. I explained the word “androgynous” to my five-year-old and told him some reasons why David Bowie was cool.
David Bowie was a part of my teen years and back then his music struck a chord with me that no other music really had – it was weird, it was cool, it was different, it was retro. Who was this weirdly sexy guy that in real-life was old enough to be my grandfather? I never imagined Bowie as old, but as Jareth the Goblin King – that was my Bowie – ageless and strikingly beautiful in an ethereal and slightly kinky way.
When I was a teenager I thought it would be cool to sleep with David Bowie; then I realised how old he was in real life and also that aspiring to sleep with someone was a bit of a crap goal. Subsequently I aspired to meet him and have a star-struck conversation (if I thought about it at all). Somehow, my life feels that bit emptier for knowing that I will never have that hypothetical conversation and get to tell David Bowie how cool I think he is. But then he obviously didn’t need me to tell him and after all:
“It’s only forever, it’s not long at all…”
Thank you David. My life would not have been quite the same without you.