Monday, 11 January 2016
Ashes to ashes
I found this a couple of days ago - at the time, I thought it a strange coincidence that I should come across it on his birthday. It's part of my archive of things I will never throw away. I bought it a few days after I left home in October 1984, I was living in a hostel in Streatham and I am pretty sure I bought it in WHSmiths in Peckham. That month I lived on exactly £36 that I'd brought with me when I left home. I was incredibly nieve - but that actually made it easier for me - wandering around central London blithely, not really aware of everything happening around me or how dangerous the world was. At that time, you couldn't buy The Face, BLITZ or I.D magazines where I had been brought up - you would have to travel to either Liverpool, Chester or Wrexham where the 'big' shops were - I'd usually go to Probe Records in Liverpool with my friends Amanda or Lynda (who I am still close to) and be served by the young (ish) Pete Burns or his wife (also called Linda). Buying this magazine out of my meagre budget was a testament to my independence and the new life I had created for myself. I'd left home that month - desperate to get away, something I'd planned for years and taken the first (and probably only) opportunity I would ever have. I know that some people thought I was being selfish - my father had died the previous Xmas and my mother wanted me to stay and help run her pub, but that would have been the end of my life - she was already declining into alcoholism and mental illness and there was nothing there for me - no work, no money, no people I wanted to be with - I needed to get as far away as possible and reinvent myself - or at least try.
I woke up this morning and the radio was still tuned to 6Music - I can't listen to Radio 4 on Sundays - it's an excruciating parody of itself - they were playing 'Life on Mars' and I left it on, partly because I always associate that song with the TV drama - which I'm sure I've mentioned before, and partly because... I just, somehow, knew.
I was never the world's biggest Bowie fan, I know plenty of absolute obsessives. But there are important periods of my life that coincide with different incarnations of Bowie that just 'worked' at the time. Benchmarks of a sort. That was exactly the whole point - and what his appeal was. He would observe, digest, reinvent himself and 'become' what was current and what everyone wanted. It was actually quite shameless, but he did it well. My brother was a bigger fan that me - I think he had a copy of 'Scary Monsters' and I think he was also a big fan of 'Mr Lawrence' - I personally found the first time I saw the promo film for 'Boys Keep Swinging' one of the most profoundly dangerous and exhilarating things in my life - partly because I was so trapped where I was - it was literally like touching the stars. From a creative point of view he was only ever as good as the people around him, but he chose very well. Better than anyone before, and certainly since. He didn't influence my life - but provided an occasional timeline and backdrop. I'm not going to join the braying crowd saying how wonderful he was because I know that he could certainly be ruthless and there are many people aggrieved and hurt by him, but his contribution to popular culture, my culture - is pretty immense, even if I don't always recognise it.
Most importantly for me - this has just reminded me how I felt when I bought that magazine - how young I was, how little fear I had and what expectations I had about the world - I thought I was invincible and that I could do anything I wanted - be anyone I wanted - Bowie was my guide. I could become the person I wanted to be, or even deserved to be. I seem to have forgotten that - life gets in the way. Things are not that great here at the moment, they haven't been for a long time, and I don't think that's my fault, I certainly don't know how to fix it - but nobody else is going to help me fix things, I'll need to do it myself. That's probably why I kept this scrap of paper - to remind myself that I reinvented myself once - and I really need to do it again.