David Bowie was a constant chameleon, ever-evolving: losing him seems unthinkable
- Credit: Toby Melville
His was the first album I played religiously, he was the first artist whose lyrics I knew off by heart – and while he was technically beaten into my bedroom by Abba, his music was the first that really meant something to me.
It was also the first, and only, album that I stole (to date).
Although I managed to persuade my parents to buy me a tinny made-for-children 'ghetto blaster' with a tape player for Christmas in 1980, I didn't actually own any tapes, which somewhat limited my listening selection. As archaic as it was, my own tape player had released me from the tyranny of my father, who was the head of the stereo Stasi, owning a set of hugely expensive 'separates' which made me the only child I knew who had to master a tuner and graphic equalisers before being able to put the Grease soundtrack on the turntable.
Everyone else's Mum and Dad had a nice, simple Hinari or a Binatone stereo which could have been operated by an earthworm. Mine required tutorials from What Stereo? magazine before you felt confident enough to even switch it on.
Keen to start a new career as a music critic, I went rooting around in my parents' collection of tapes and quickly discovered absolutely zero of any worth – Wings, Queen, jazz: to paraphrase Morrissey, they said nothing to me about my life.
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It was only when I had cause to be looking for drawing pins in the cupboard under the stairs that I found a tape in the same junk box, David Bowie's Hunky Dory.
The cover immediately fascinated me (it was designed by the same chap who punched Bowie in the face causing one eye to change colour) and the track listing sounded enticing: Life on Mars? Andy Warhol, Kooks, Queen Bitch, Oh! You Pretty Things…I trousered it quickly and repaired upstairs with my ill-gotten gains.
- 1 Pretty thatched cafe business on Broads for sale for £75,000
- 2 The areas where Covid rates have fallen the fastest since lockdown began
- 3 Escape to the Country names 'north Norfolk's seaside capital'
- 4 'Small number' of staff at town's Tesco test positive for Covid-19
- 5 'We're all shocked' - Butchers shop attacked by vandals
- 6 Shock as cannabis factory found in quiet Broads' village
- 7 Anger as woodland used as 'playground and dustbin'
- 8 Giant Victorian underground reservoir marks supplying city for 150 years
- 9 Child groomer caught by seven paedophile hunter groups
- 10 50 home development approved despite flooding fears
I remember sitting, transfixed, as the album played. And when it finished, I played it again. And again. And again. And again.
Bowie sang about space and nightmares and sex and love and drugs and how being weird was normal – and as I grew up, one of several round pegs in square holes at Costessey High School (luckily I was, and remain, friends with the other round pegs who were anything but square), Bowie's lyrics seemed even more apposite to a black-clad misfit.
'I still don't know what I was waiting for and my time was running wild…so I turned myself to face me, but I've never caught a glimpse, of how the others must see the faker I'm much too fast to take that test…'
Suddenly, being strange and different didn't mean you were a freak, it meant that you were like David Bowie: and recommendations don't come much higher than that.
I fell in love with the ginger man in a dress with the big teeth and odd eyes, the polysexual space cadet who fell to earth and gave us some of the most beautiful lyrics ever written – you can keep Dylan, McCartney and Reed, I'll take Bowie any day.
And so began a Bowie journey, buying more of his music, watching the videos (only a few weeks ago I was a stone's throw from the Sussex cliffs where he filmed Ashes to Ashes, it was a thrill just being close to them), the films, the interviews…
Bowie led me in all kinds of directions – to authors, cities, playwrights, musicians – and while I didn't love all of Bowie's music, I always loved Bowie himself, a constant chameleon, ever-evolving, never standing still. I loved him for his introduction to The Snowman – to me, the child in the cartoon will forever be David Bowie – for being Jareth The Gnome King in Labyrinth, for sending himself up in Ricky Gervais' Extras, for encouraging us all to turn and face the strange. I woke up in darkness yesterday, acting as a secondary alarm clock to my teenagers, and as I made tea, a news alert pinged on my phone: David Bowie Dies Following 18-Month Cancer Battle. I hoped it was a cruel hoax.
Rarely am I so affected by the death of someone I never met and knew only through the material they chose to reach the public domain but Bowie was beside me through some of the hardest times of my life and for him to be gone seems unthinkable.
He was also there at some of the happiest times: Kooks is essential listening for new parents, saying everything that you feel, just with more lyricism than mere mortals can summon without adequate sleep.
But although he's gone, the David Bowie that accompanied the night feeds, the post-funeral weeping sessions and the nights spent alone in my teenage bedroom will never die.
Ground Control to Major Tom, commencing countdown, engines on, check ignition and may God's love be with you. RIP David, and thank you for the music.