I don’t remember exactly when I became aware of David Bowie as a person, but I absolutely remember the first time I heard his voice.
My Dad was a huge Queen fan. The second Greatest Hits album was one of the first CDs that was purchased for our household collection, and it featured ‘Under Pressure’. I knew that there was a different voice in the mix, which didn’t feature in any of the other songs, and I had to know where it came from.
Dad put that familiar name and distinctive voice together for me. And my eyes took quite a while to adjust to what I saw.
David Bowie, as well as being a talented singer, was an assault on the visual senses to a conventional teenage girl in the 90s. Being gay was still controversial and nowhere near as accepted in general society as it is today. Challenging fashion and gender norms was even rarer. My early to mid 90s were very conventional, I was raised on a cultural diet of teenage girl mags, top of the pops, boy bands and Tammy Girl fashion.
Suddenly seeing pictures of a British white man, caked in makeup, wearing leotards and jewellry, with dyed hair in lurid colours… my brain didn’t quite know how to deal with that. But during my subsequent exposure to my Dad’s collection of glam metal music including T-Rex, Kiss, the earlier parts of the Queen catalogue… I began to realise that doing things people regarded as ‘weird’ could be ‘cool’ if you carried it off with a sufficient amount of ‘I don’t give a shit and am so much better than you’.
Bowie was everything that was disregarded by my conventional surroundings. Tall, gangly, seemingly gender fluid, fashion challenging, avant garde, a poet, an actor, an artist in the biggest sense of the word. He treated his body, his mind and his existence as a canvas, and he was never frightened of changing direction. He was a revelation.
By the time I was getting to know him as an artist, he had moved away from the lurid colours and costumes and personas, and was balanced on such a sharp edge of chic that it was almost painful to anyone else to come near it. He seemed to walk in black and white through the lurid coloured 90s and 00s and practically parted the seas. His cameos raised the cool value of anything he appeared in, the single line he contributed to the Perfect Day was just that – perfect. His live performances were spectacular and he never seemed to age a day.
He was the first artist who, deep down, I thought would live forever.
All of that ended this morning at 7.15am when my radio alarm clicked on and the first words I heard were ‘…by David Bowie, who we just heard this morning has died after a long battle with cancer.”
It felt like a reality had ended.
Or was it a dream?
I’m not sure, and it will take me a while to process it. I have always know that I will outlive my heroes, because many of them belong to the generation that preceded mine, and even the one above that. My parent’s tastes in music, TV and film were classic and timeless and I adopted them almost without question. I’ve inherited a lot of old heroes. Sometimes that frightens me, more than a little.
I knew that I was going to lose people. But I wasn’t prepared for one of them to be Bowie. Not with that impact. Not now, not so soon. Not ever, really.
I hadn’t figured out how important he was. How valuable he was. How influential it was. How unique he was. Hindsight is, cursedly, 20/20.
And now he’s gone. And though I hadn’t expected to, I’ve spend much of this day feeling bereft. Lost. Like I lost something valuable before I’d had chance to figure out how much I wanted it to be part of my life.
Right now I am thankful for the legacy he left behind, which I can now explore at leisure, although with that bitter edge which comes from knowing it will never grow any larger.
As of today, there’s a starman waiting in the sky…
He’s told us not to blow it
Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile
He told me:
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie
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