I feel that it’s necessary to mark the passing of David Bowie, reclaimed as a Beckenham boy, who lived for several months just around the corner from our house.
I was too uncool to be an early fan and, when presented with pictures of his various avatars, this strongly conformist early teen who had no idea how to be a teen, viewed him with strongly establishment disdain. His music did nothing for me. It was completely at odds with the classical pieces I was painstakingly reading on the piano, with my dad’s carefully-collected record clubs classical 78s. Music like that would never last, it was generally felt. It was a load of rubbish.
Of course it wasn’t a load of rubbish, it’s just that I wasn’t ready to accept this colourful, bizarre, non-conformity. I hope I’ve grown up a bit and opened my mind since then.
I can’t pretend to be an afficianada of Bowie’s work but the the album that really chimed with me was Let’s Dance, which arrived when I was in my final year at school. I loved the sophisticated, quiet musicality and the fact that I could actually discern the lyrics. I loved the clean-cut, modern image. China Girl, the track above, was a particular favourite as I was about to start my Chinese degree, which included a year in China and, somehow, I identified with the half murmered-half growled passion and anguish.
What struck me most early this morning when the news of his death broke was this tweet, from a fellow Beckenham resident:
Oh, David Bowie. I remember my grandparents’ stories about him coming in to their Beckenham shop. They’d never seen a man with a bag before.
— Rebecca Pike (@bec_pike) January 11, 2016
And that was the thing. No-one had ever seen a man with a bag, with weird hair done in the salon now owned and run by my friend Lynda; with a painted face and bizarre outfits. A man who openly had relationships with women AND men?
Imagine that world before Bowie. And now imagine what it would be like if he hadn’t happened with his real creativity, his real artistry, The non-conformity, and purple hair and holed fishnet tights with DMs and face paint and all the stuff that’s commonplace in our pretty ordinary suburb: would we pass those people in the street with a nonchalant shrug of complete acceptance? I don’t think so.
Thank you, man with the bag who changed the world. I still don’t know how to pronounce your name.