David Bowie’s Final Album Blackstar Is Out Now.
I was a weird kid. At the age of 10, the only thing that mattered to me was music. The radio was my best friend, and I spent most nights secretly going through my dad’s record collection while he slept, being careful not to damage his much-loved collection of everything from Marvin Gaye to The MC5.
My parents were worried about me. A young, healthy boy that didn’t want to go outside and climb trees confused them. But to me there was nothing more baffling and confusing than playing football in a park for hours when you could instead spend your time locked in your room, listening to ‘Pet Sounds’.
All of my friends had posters of David Beckham plastered on their walls and dreams of being firefighters and pro footballers. I had cut outs of Morrissey on my wall and dreamed of owning my very own record store, so I could listen to records all day without being called weird or strange.
A ritual for me on Sunday afternoons was to watch Top Of The Pops 2. Unlike Friday night’s Top Of The Pops, TOTP2 had music from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, or “real music” as my father called it, instead of Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys, you could instead enjoy bands like The Jam and The Specials.
Watching TOTP2 were some of the happiest memories I have as a child, and I discovered most of the bands that I still love today. However, one occasion and one discovery meant more to me than any other. I had just won the battle for the TV remote with my brother and once again he would have to endure an hour or so of “old white people music”.
It was a pretty mundane episode, and I was close to giving my brother back the remote if only to stop him repeatedly saying “this is shit” in a hushed tone so our mother wouldn’t hear, but then something happened that changed me forever.
I saw a close-up of a beautiful blue 12-string guitar, and then a pale, slim face, I had never seen before. That man was David Bowie, and the song was ‘Starman’. Even my brother stopped dead in his tracks, his face contorted into childhood confusion, and watched this extraordinary man sing the words; “I didn’t know what time it was the lights were low…”
The camera panned out to show his stick-figured body draped in a jumpsuit that looked exactly like one of my auntie’s curtains, as he danced in long bright red boots. “I had to phone someone, so I picked on you…” he sang, pointing at the camera, pointing at me; and at that moment I fell in love.
I sat on the floor, in a trance, tapping my foot and trying my best to remember the lyrics so I could sing them in front of the mirror as I did with all the songs I loved. Given that it was the Ziggy Stardust era, he looked pretty conservative, no face paint, no crazy costume, yet at the same time he still looked like a pale alien, and I was sure the song would end with him flying out of the TOTP studios on a spaceship.
As soon as the song ended I ran to my dad screaming “David Bowie! Who is David Bowie!?!” I had never seen that name in his record collection. And since my dad had all the best records I was both angry and crestfallen; either he withheld such a gem from me on purpose, or he wasn’t cool enough to own a Bowie album; both, in my opinion, were punishable by death.
He half-smiled at me and sighed like a man finally relieved to reveal a secret, “Come” he said. I followed him back into the living room and watched as he pulled out a draw from his record chest and took out a padlocked box I had never seen. Still smiling at me, he unlocked the box to reveal various treasures he had kept hidden from me for years.
I felt like Vincent Vega staring into that mysterious briefcase in Pulp Fiction as my dad casually flicked through first pressings of The Beatles (in mono), Captain Beefheart, Isaac Hayes and Muddy Waters. “Here,” he said, handing me The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. “Scratch it and I’ll kill you.” I looked at the beautiful artwork in awe and thought, “If I scratch this, I’ll kill myself”.
I managed to convince my incredibly stingy dad to let me listen to more of his priceless Bowie records and became enamoured with such albums as Diamond Dogs, Aladdin Insane and Hunky Dory after that day my life, and my attitude towards life, morphed into something completely different.
Before that day I would hide my “weird” taste in music from my friends at school because for a young black kid to like anything other than Will Smith (yes, Will Smith) at that time was insane. But I thought if Bowie could wear a dress and make-up in the 70’s and still look cool as fuck, I could unashamedly admit that I loved Bob Dylan, Punk, Jazz, Metal and other “weird” things.
I quickly became obsessed with him; I got all the CDs that my pocket money could afford (my dad remained stingy) and read every book I could find on David Bowie. I even performed as Ziggy Stardust at my school’s talent show; the face paint burnt my eyes, I got into a fist fight with the school bully and my brothers still tease me about it to this day, but if I could go back, I wouldn’t change a thing. I completely came out of my shell and learnt that the only way to be is who YOU are, and being different isn’t bad at all.
There are probably thousands, if not millions, of stories like this. David Bowie with his vision, his style and most importantly his music, changed a lot of people’s lives. When I heard the news that he had died, I was confused. Firstly I thought it was a lie, because one of the perks of being a God is immortality, and secondly I pondered how a man I have never met could have such a massive impact on me, to the point that it felt as if I had lost a member of my family.
But then I remembered who it was. David fucking Bowie. Of course my heart is broken. And while I am distraught I managed to crack a smile as I remembered that he was kind enough to leave us with more than a few masterpieces.
I got out of bed, blasted Young Americans and rejoiced at the fact that he even existed in the first place.
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