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The Girls Are: David Bowie

My first encounter with David Bowie was through television. A cover version of ‘Life on Mars’ was featured on an advert for life insurance. I was hooked after one listen.

‘What is that song?’ I asked my mum. She looked at me out of the corner of her eye; all thirteen years, smudged eyeliner and pink fishnet tights curled up on the end of the sofa.

‘That’s Bowie.’ She said.

I grew up in Sunderland and as a teenager felt disconnected from everything. I read books obsessively and spent Saturday afternoons wandering around the only art gallery, enjoying the bright white space it made in my head. I crammed my mind full of strange ideas and craved escape and excitement and anything that was different from the stale, squat houses I passed every day.

I started dancing. My boyfriend and I went to gigs and club nights a few times a week. They were such a release for us. We used to put on Bowie and do our makeup together in my bedroom, under the picture of David and Angie at their wedding, so perfect in afghan coats and tasseled scarves. We donned sequins, glitter and fur and slipped under disco lights until school the next morning. ‘Rebel Rebel’ was our song. We thrived on being the ‘tacky thing’ he sung about. He was proof that a glamorous world beyond our mundane one existed, hope that there was a city somewhere that was brighter than the one we were living in.

I can remember being very young and dozing on a friend from school’s living room floor after a party. The first sunlight spilled through the window as ‘Sorrow’ played from his parents’ record player. We were full of ideas about what the world might be like and the kinds of people we could be.

No matter how late I stayed up the night before, I always went to school. Bowie was an artist and an intellectual and showed me that learning was a way out, too. I listened to him on my MP3 player on my way to registration, hating the endless red and yellow pattern on the backs of the bus seats. His voice spun inside me like a secret.

‘Your dad loves Bowie,’ my mum used to say, as I twisted to ‘Suffragette City’ across the kitchen tiles. My dad wasn’t at home very much when I was growing up, which filled me with a yearning to be acknowledged by him. I had no memory of Bowie being played in our house when I was child. Our mutual admiration for him was coincidental, but I clung to it, as you often do when you find a connection with a person by whom you want to be loved.

The Terry O’Neill image of Bowie in the mustard yellow suit, cigarette dangling from his lips, always reminded me of my dad. I bought a postcard of that image and sent it to him once, in an attempt to connect with him. I thought that he would look at it and feel that I understood things.

I moved to London in search of adventure, where I met a boy who shared the same romantic ideals as me. I decided we were good together after we were watching a performance of Bowie on television, and we both forgot to breathe at the same time as he strained to reach the high notes in a song. At that time we felt the same things.

I was given a record player as a Christmas gift, a few weeks before Bowie died. My mum gave me a box of my dad’s old records that had been gathering mould in our garage. I sat on the edge of my bed and flicked through them. They were all Bowie, every single one.

It seemed so fitting that on the night of Bowie’s passing I spent the evening wearing glitter with my friends, spinning around my room to my dad’s records, dressing up in fur and drinking red wine.

When the tributes to his life and work started spilling across computer screens, I felt betrayed. My connection to his music seemed so personal that it was inconceivable that all of these other people could have felt the same way.

But as I moved through the crowds in Brixton on Monday night, I realised that was exactly the point. Bowie belonged to everyone; to me, to my dad, to Brixton, and to anyone who ever felt like they didn’t quite fit.

 

Read the full article at The Girls Are.