My soul feels heavy.
I have been pretty intensely sad since yesterday. In fact, a huge number of people have been. I was quite surprised (thrilled, in some ways: more common ground we share) to find how many of my friends have revealed themselves as Bowie fans. But I was more surprised to discover just how deeply his death has affected me.
It’s been a pretty shitty time for losing heroes. Terry Pratchett went last March (is it really that long ago?) and I was cut up about that – his wit, his insight, the very real, fantastic world I lived in throughout my teens, no more. Oliver Sacks shuffled off in August – I had a shorter but still intense relationship with the good doctor: he helped me see another side to psychology (ironically, a more human side) which I believe has intrinsically changed the way I work.
But this new loss is different. For me, it is more profound. Context is needed. It’s not a very unique story, but it is mine, and it’s part of me.
I was (like many) an awkward, misfitting youngster. I was in that strange limbo between “I don’t care what people think of me!” and desperately trying to fit in. It was a confusing place, and I pretty much just papered over the cracks by being loud and obnoxious (and for those of you still putting up with me today: sorry, that trait stuck). My chosen hypothesis for getting people to like me was to try and be a bit more like them, to like the things they liked (turns out this hypothesis is bollocks, by the way – be yourself and all that). So when I was 12, and met a boy I really really liked (like liked), I did some detective work to find out what he liked, so I could like them too, because that’s how you get people to like you, right?
Most of his interests were so crud that I couldn’t even recount them if I tried to (although, at the time, I’m sure they were veeeeeer’ important). But one of the things he was a BIG fan of was David Bowie. So off I toddled to Napster (remember when that was a thing?) to see what all the fuss was about.
From Hunky Dory through to ‘Hours’ and everything in between, I couldn’t make sense of it. It was all freaking awesome, obviously, but was this all by the same guy? And then I saw pictures of Bowie through the ages – he was a chameleon. Some of it was really bloody wacky. But he was so cool. And in the few TV interviews he did, he didn’t seem to give a rat’s ass. He was just doing what he was doing, and that was that.
He was a really accomplished musician, a self-made man, an experimenter, he was unafraid of being. I found him instantly and inescapably inspiring. Why spend one’s life trying to be other people in the hope that other people will like you and what you’re doing (especially considering my own experiments in this line had hitherto been unsuccessful)? Better to be who you feel like being, whatever that happens to be today, and enjoy the ride. If people hang about, great, if not, they probably weren’t worth chasing anyhow.
But Bowie has brought me closer to a lot of people. There are still Bowie songs that instantly transport me back to (cliché alert) simpler times with friends, sharing our mutual love of this strange and enchanting beast. I even had the opportunity to see him live at Wembley when he released “Reality” (my first big stadium concert). I remember my friend ducking out for “Bring Me the Disco King” because she hated jazz, and I had my first ever cheeky Vimto (mum, if you’re reading, that’s DEFINITELY a soft drink, because I was 16 and why would I be drinking booze? Jeez).
The boy (I can’t even remember his name. Andrew? Anthony?) is long forgotten, but Bowie has been with me ever since. Although I may not talk about the man every day of my life (there has been a bit of “closet Bowie fan” bashing going on. Off you fuck), Bowie made a subtle but indelible impression on my life. I am richer for it. Thank you, Starman.