It isn’t often that I sit bolt upright in bed at seven in the morning with eyes wide open, shouting What?
Actually, I’ve never done it until today when the news announced that David Bowie had died.
What? Isn’t he supposed to be, you know … ?
That’s it. Isn’t David Bowie supposed to be immortal? As a friend remarked today, I’ve never lived in a world without David Bowie, to which he might have added a little kicker: And I never expected to.
Who expected to be living in a world without David Bowie? Not I.
Some people seem to transcend mundane existence and David Robert Jones was one of them. As the same friend remarked, at least we still have his knife, though even that is a bit ambiguous. Did he really call himself after a notorious killing weapon, the Bowie knife, or after the man for whom it was named? And if he did, wasn’t it lucky he didn’t choose any of the other knife descriptions?
No. He was right when he went for Bowie, leaving Blunt for lesser artists.
When I was a lad, and that wasn’t today or yesterday, Limerick was a decent enough place to live, but I can’t deny that it was fairly direct. In working-class towns, people tend to be direct. You wouldn’t, for example, have ever suggested to anyone that they might be gay, unless you wanted a punch in the face, or maybe worse. Unless they were gay, of course. In those days, if you were gay and living in a land under the control of the Catholic church, you either jumped in the river or went insane on mind-bending drugs in Amsterdam.
But it was a paradoxical town at the same time. It was a place where you might not expect the stereotypical working classes to produce classical musicians, or socially-engaged doctors, or hippies for that matter. And yet that’s exactly what happened. And that’s why it came as no surprise when the toughest of the tough, guys who wouldn’t back down from the roughest front-row Kilfeacle could throw at them, or the nastiest lowlife spawned by skinheadery, were happy enough to tell the world that they were bisexual.
They probably weren’t, but that’s not the point. Tough guys, tough hippies, were happy enough to come out. Happy enough to embrace Bowie’s androgyny because it didn’t matter one flying shit to them.
David Robert Jones, a young lad from Brixton and later Bromley, with an Irish Catholic mother, reinvented himself as he would many times in years to come and presented an alternative vision of what might be possible with a little imagination. David Jones understood very clearly that all he had to do was tell people who he was now and they would believe him, thus making it possible for everyone else to do the same.
You want to be Ziggy Stardust? You’re Ziggy Stardust. You want to be the Thin White Duke? Fine. Just tell them with enough confidence and they’ll accept it because they, too, long for the exotic, the enigmatic and the thing that resides just a millimetre beyond the veil that divides our reality from the next. You’ll believe a London boy can be a starman because you want it to be so.
The real point is that David Bowie — along with many others — brought to every little backwater an understanding that there exists a great world out there, a world that couldn’t be confined within the narrow boundaries of the past, free of the old failures who still sought to impose the old discredited order on a youth yearning for something more.
And he never stopped offering us that freedom, which is why I found myself sitting up in bed at seven in the morning, wide-eyed and incredulous.
Perhaps more than any other artist of his time, Bowie showed us that everything is possible. You can be a goblin king. You can be a defiant prisoner of war. You can be the voice of everything that yearns to become real.
You can even fall to Earth, but of course, he knew that already.