One of my very closest friends in high school was – still is – the biggest David Bowie devotee I’ve ever known. I knew a little – I was already trying to broaden my musical horizons, the way that you do when you’re a teenager with deep feelings of nonconformity.
But Changes gave way to Looking for Satellites and Golden Years and it heralded the start of my investigating music from the past. Apart from my parents’ Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel.
Sometimes we played records, even though it was 2005. There were windows all along the lounge, and the sun shone and so did our hearts. We were fifteen and took on affections of traditions that weren’t our own. Mostly, though, the click wheel of an iPod mini, whirring, stopping, whirring again as we realised we’d overshot it because D is awfully near the start of the alphabet.
We were sixteen and at the beach, and we listened to enough that I started to agree that he was the superior part of Under Pressure. I bought Best of Bowie. I bought Hunky Dory. You had a LiveJournal username homage to a track from Low. We knew all the words – you already did, I learned them by immersion.
We were in our version of teenage love, an impermeable bubble of joy and eternal phone calls. We were learning what love and gender meant. Queer wasn’t a word I could use for myself yet, I was too cautious, too saturated by the surrounding world, but as we unpicked our existences and what they could mean, Bowie was a part of that. Performance of gender, stories of Jagger relations, when you’re a boy, other boys check you out, ‘trisexuality’.
I’ve never been afraid to be a little off-the-wall – one of my sister’s classmates in primary school told his mum ‘I’d rather be weird than cool’ at a tender age, and we’ve taken that on as a family adage. But at the same time, that particularly package of music and poetry and glamour and fluidity was new, and simultaneously enriching and comforting.
I’ve always liked the idea of getting a lightning bolt tattoo – an homage to formative childhood and teenage influences – Harry Potter (I’m a child of the phenomenon) and David Bowie. It’s been cemented now, with a loss that has been felt far more acutely than I could have ever guessed.
Take your place back up in the stars, you magical man.