We have now reached the first anniversary of the unexpected and shocking death of David Bowie and can expect solemn tributes from worldwide fans who still feel heartbroken. He has gone like we imagined him to join the immortals, thanks to his constant role in our lives, if not the world stage in recent years.
The surprise announcement of a new Bowie album The Next Day on his birthday in 2013 astonished fans who thought that he had gone into retirement after an earlier reported heart attack. This album in fact proved a stunning return to form with the singles the poignant Where Are We Now? and the flashy The Stars Are Out Tonight, each with very contrasting videos pushing him back in the limelight to critical acclaim. Blackstar in 2016 was even more perplexing but offered some of the joy of deciphering both imagery, sound and lyrics like fans had done when pivotal soundscape albums such as Low and “Heroes” were originally released. This apparent renaissance was particularly pleasing to long-standing fans, some of whom like myself had followed him since a teenager.
Living in Seventies suburbia as an ethnic sexually confused teenager, there were few role models you could look up to, who you felt understood your alienation. Being confined to a children’s home from an early age added to that feeling of isolation.
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T. Rex’s Telegram Sam and David Bowie’s Starman came out the same year, blazing a trail on Top of The Pops, while Roxy Music also released their first album that year. Much has been written about Bowie’s Starman performance in 1972. I had begun a fascination with his image a little earlier after the Melody Maker interview, thanks to an older teenager who also had the album, Hunky Dory.
I began to spend the little pocket money I had on buying all the magazines and music papers that featured him, especially on the cover. Fab 208, PopSwop, Music Star, Music Scene and Jackie thankfully were relatively cheap and I began my scrapbook collection. Ziggy Stardust with his bold make-up and glamorous wardrobe (courtesy of Freddie Burretti and Kansai Yamamoto) was unlike anything seen before and blurred the line between sexes. This beautiful creature offered a world of possibilities to this youth already bored with football and the teenybop fandom that dominated our era. Clothes, style, identity – normal teenage rites of passage – all took on a greater importance over the next few years but now helped define a more alternative journey.
Seeking out Bowie’s references in lyrics opened a new door to imagination. His creative output eased my inner void of loneliness and probably kick-started my interest in science-fiction. Humdrum suburbia was replaced by the magical worlds of Alfred Bester, Philip K Dick, George Orwell and Robert Heinlein to a soundtrack of Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs.
Scissors, Pritt Stick or Gloy Gum and a large desk were my 1970s iPad, and all that was needed, as I lovingly read and then pasted articles onto A4 note paper into a hard grey binder. This became a ritual that continued for my teenage life. I never liked to create collages because I hated cutting up articles too much and words were equally important. What Bowie was saying or what people were saying about him seemed as important as the visuals. That shape-shifting style (musically and visually) meant I never got bored and felt that I evolved along with him, my anticipation becoming almost tangible with news of a new release or a TV appearance.
His video clips were dazzling on ToTP for Life on Mars? and the Jean Genie, while for appearances on Russell Harty he sported Burretti’s creations plus diamante chandelier earrings! Two pivotal programmes were the 1975 BBC documentary Cracked Actor – the Radio Times did an interview showing pictures of him creating face masks. The second was a satellite linkup interview with a sleek, slicked-back, flame-haired Bowie showing him wearing a demob suit, performing the disco-rock of Golden Years on Soul Train in the States.
The following year after much subterfuge and negotiating I managed to see my hero live as part of his Station To Station tour 1976. Looking around outside Wembley Arena that warm summer evening and seeing kindred spirits and other freaks, I realized I was no longer alone.
Within a few years Bowie’s children found a home at the short-lived Billy’s club in Soho, his fan base galvanized by his art to inspire their own creative dreams. We were inventing nightclubbing to our own musical tastes and no middle-aged doorman was going to turn us away for being inappropriately dressed. This coterie of hard-core fans moved onto the Blitz Club in 1979 where the underground eventually emerged into the glare of the mainstream. A catherine wheel of future stars in fashion and music began spinning furiously, all inspired directly by David Bowie.
His influence then and now and in the future remains the one constant in my life.
LANDMARK VIDEOS… LIFE ON MARS? 1973
JEAN GENIE – LOST TOTP FOOTAGE FROM 1973
CRACKED ACTOR – BBC OMNIBUS 1975
GOLDEN YEARS ON SOUL TRAIN 1975