My Life With David Bowie


I wrote this piece many years ago, (it reads that way) and for no particular reason... I guess the guy was just on my mind. Well given his recent death he again came to mind, so I resurrected it.

I first heard David Bowie, I dunno, sometime in the early seventies, it was the single Sorrow. A girl with long blonde hair and blue eyes was in love with me, or at least she liked me, and I was too shy, stupid and un-sophisticated to do anything about it except fret. My god she was beautiful - too beautiful for a kid like me. She left, her parents moved away, far away. Years later I looked for her but never found her, but then again I never really tried that hard. But I’m getting off the point. Bowie.

I revelled in the single and rushed to buy the album Pin Ups. The cover aroused me. Who was this odd but beautiful looking man with an equally beautiful but strange female partner. I was too young to know who Twiggy was. The music surprised me. I guess I thought at first it was going to be all love songs like Sorrow, however the rather frenetic and highly energised music soon appealed; after all I was young and tightly wrought-up myself.

It was Rebel Rebel playing on the radio when dad was driving my brother and me to his work one Saturday afternoon that I heard him next, and thought, yes! My brother hated Bowie. Music from Aladdin Sane never made it to my small universe - 3XY radio station. Then I read a review of the album Diamond Dogs in the Herald, the evening newspaper (a Murdoch broadsheet) that came out back then. The reviewer described it as the worst thing he’d ever heard, and that Mr Bowie was a deviant crackpot. I bought the record the next day. My mother nearly died when she saw the cover, and I’d got the censored version.

Once again on first listening I was totally unprepared for how different Diamond Dogs was to what I’d expected, but soon it was all I could play. I quickly got onto the idea it wasn’t just a series of random tracks, but a collection of songs telling a tragic tale, and it moved me deeply. I was probably only fourteen and had never heard of George Orwell or his book, 1984. Later I read it and enjoyed it, but Diamond Dogs spoke more to me than Orwell.

Bowie was my new hero and I rushed to buy all his stuff I didn’t have. Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust came in that order. I loved Aladdin Sane from first listening, and its amazing cover blew me away. The songs were again different in style from his other records, but it oozed confidence and self-assurance, the recording polished and complex. Jean Genie, and the title track, Aladdin Sane, demonstrated how he could write contrasting masterpieces (not that I had any idea back then what they were about). The love song Lady Grinning Soul was the most moving song I’d ever heard. I wore the record out.

Ziggy Stardust took a bit of getting used to. This was early Bowie, he sang in an effeminate manner, and the music wasn’t tight. But soon the story of this strange alien, frightened of blowing our minds, won me over. I searched for even earlier stuff.

The Man Who Sold the World was my next purchase and soon after Hunky Dory. I wasn’t interested in Space Oddity, I felt it wasn’t really Bowie, and a bit too commercial, the word used back then to describe music that was designed to appeal to the mainstream, and therefore lacking in cred.

I was unimpressed with the covers of my two new albums; though I might have felt different if I’d bought them when they were released. It was the same with the music, though both albums had great tracks on them; The Man Who Sold the World, After All, and Life on Mars still resonate today. I felt, even at my young age, they lacked the sophistication of his later offerings. The Man Who Sold the World appealed more than Hunky Dory, but neither got a lot of playing.

It was about this time I started reading in the press that Bowie was bisexual, and, perhaps surprisingly, it was a bit of a shock. Sure, he was strange but I hadn’t associated it with being gay. The backwater where I grew up considered homosexuality as the worst possible crime, and persecuted anyone remotely suspect. In the end I decided he was probably being provocative to challenge conventional thinking, after all, he was married to a woman.

I missed the release of Young Americans; I had become distracted with adolescence. It was many years before I even saw the albums cover, but when I did I hardly recognised Bowie. I was in love with soul music at the time, so again we clicked. I’d also discovered homos were equally cool, I wanted to be one, only I loved women! I remember thinking my hero was like me, pretending. I didn’t pretend very well, I think I let a guy kiss me once, but that’s all. Young Americans and Station to Station were my favourite albums back then, though they were old Bowie. He was in Berlin and doing completely different stuff, music that didn’t interest me. His film with Nic Roeg, The Man Who Fell to Earth, I could watch over and over.

By the time Scary Monsters came out I was over twenty-one, an adult. To me the album was Bowie’s accumulation of experiences of the past decade (the 70’s) and in a small way I felt it was mine too. I loved the album. Later I moved into classical music, then jazz, where I’m still at, but the Bowie albums mentioned still mean something to me. His music helped me cope with the changing world, and gave me confidence about being different, they were good friends.

Vale, Mr Bowie.