Guest Number Eleven
This is an invitation to my fantasy dinner party that I've wanted to extend since the inception of this series of blogs, but one which I kept putting off writing due to the emotions I was sure it would incite.
Like many folks my age, my first experience of Bowie - born David Robert Jones on 8th January 1947 - was in December 1989. I was at my paternal Grandparents house, and I saw an advert for a movie that was due to air on BBC One Christmas Eve. It looked magical and exciting and I remember telling my Dad and Grandad about what I had seen. Dad made sure to set up the VHS on Christmas Eve for me so we could record it. The movie in question? Labyrinth.
Not Bowie's first foray into acting, in fact he acted in many films and I lost my mind when he popped up as Nicola Tesla in The Prestige (2006), but Labyrinth is the one that introduced me to him; his impeccable song writing, his Anthony Newley inspired way of singing, and his strange and captivating beauty.
From that Christmas Eve, Labyrinth became and has remained one of my favourite films of all time and David Bowie was cemented as one of the true loves of my life.
Such is this love, that the day he died - 10th January 2016 - I received text messages from both my parents and my sister checking I was OK. A month later, I memorialised him with a tattoo on my ribs. My tattoo artist, Lucile, spent so long on this piece; I had asked for a quote to accompany the iconic Ziggy flash, and she researched into Bowie's handwriting and made it look as though he had written it on me himself. He's always close to my heart now.
David started his music career in the early 1960's calling himself Davy (or Davie) Jones. He didn't really feel satisfied with this as his stage name, and he was concerned by the confusion with Davy Jones of The Monkees (or Sabrina the Teenage Witch if you watched this in the 1990's), so he changed his name. There has, and will probably always be, some contention over how his surname is pronounced (is it Bow [like something you tie with a lace or ribbon]-ee, Bow [like something you do in front of a Royal]-ee or is it Boo-ee!?), but one thing that isn't in contention is where he found the name. A Bowie is type of fighting knife, designed in Arkansas by James Bowie in 1830. His surname was pronounced Boo-ee, so this is what the knife is called and this is really how David's surname should be said, but even he stated in 1991 he wasn't sure how to pronounce it!
It seems that it has been agreed that it is pronounced Boh-ee (rhyming with Joey or doughy), and die hard fans will cut you up with a Bowie if you get it wrong...
In 1969, Bowie released 'Space Oddity', and in 1972 he introduced us to the first and possibly the most famous of his alter-egos, 'Ziggy Stardust'. Ziggy "died" in 1973; an ending that was foretold in the songs written & released during that year.
Bowie gave us many other alter-egos in his time on this earth; Major Tom, The Thin White Duke and his version of Pierrot the clown. All characters he inhabited fully, but all were aspects of the real David. Each incarnation of Bowie gave us more and more classic songs and insights into Bowie's political, ethical and spiritual beliefs.
Due to the era in which I first discovered Bowie, the first songs I became acquainted with are not always thought of as some of his best, but they will always be the ones closest to my heart. Songs like China Girl (co written with Iggy Pop in 1977 and originally released by him), Under Pressure with Queen (I adore Queen & Freddie Mercury, but that's a story for another time), Ashes to Ashes (a revisit from Major Tom), Let's Dance (the opening bars of which give me so much joy) & Fashion are those that for me are synonymous with my monumental musical discovery. I missed out on the Tin Machine years, and didn't get massively into what he released in between that and the final 2 albums. As is typical of me, and I suppose everyone who grows up, my musical tastes changed. I was bullied a lot for something of the things I was into, so, as is also typical for me, I moved towards what everyone else was listening to at the time (a reminder here - you do you!). Some of these genres and bands I still love today, much of it I question! However, a remix of the 1984 "Loving the Alien" by The Scumfrog released in 2002 reminded me of the deep love I had for Bowie and I am so glad it did.
Speeding ahead a few more years to the release of The Next Day (2013). I remember seeing the video to the song "Where are We Now?" and having this really weird emotional response to it. I loved the re-use of the 'Heroes' album cover for this album.
This is where this blog starts to get more difficult. We start drawing to a close and I have what my friend Charlotte calls 'Bowie melancholy'.
In 2016, on Bowie's 69th birthday, the album Blackstar was released. An album largely recorded in secret and was described by Tony Visconti (longtime friend and co-producer) as David's parting gift to his fans. I remember downloading this album on the train on my way home from work the day is was released, caring not a jot that I was using up all my data! Seeing the video for Lazarus you realised how ill he was, yet, that he was suffering with liver cancer wasn't shared with the public until after his death. Two days after Blackstar's release.
In case you're wondering, I am fighting back tears at this point.
OK, I've pulled myself together now.
I've talked about the contention over the pronunciation of his name, but I've not talked about his eyes. There is a general consensus that David suffered with heterochromia (the medical name for having two different coloured irises), however, this wasn't the case. Following a fight over a girl when he was 15, David was punched in the eye causing what is medically known as anisocoria - the permanent change of the pupil; for David, even after multiple eye surgeries, one of his pupils would forever remain dilated. Interestingly, many years later I was talking about Bowie with an old boss of mine, who casually mentioned he knew the girl that Bowie and his friend George were fighting over! The six degrees of separation between him and I shrank massively that day, and I very nearly lost my shit in the middle of our office!
I've given a bit of a potted history of Bowie, and hopefully I've not got any of my 'facts' wrong, but apart from basically swooning, I've not really mentioned why I would invite him for dinner.
I would love to get him to sing and ask what it was about Anthony Newley (for those of you who don't know, Anthony Newley was an actor, singer & songwriter famous in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Famous for co-writing the score to Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and, incidentally, married Joan Collins in 1963. They divorced 7 years later.) that made him imitate his voice and create this signature sound. I would love to talk to him about his son Duncan (aka Zowie Bowie) who is one of my favourite film directors (hello, Moon anyone!?) and his daughter Lexi. I would like to hear him speak about his wife, Iman. You could see how much they loved each other. I would want to ask him what prompted him to write the musical, Lazarus; what happened to his faith - he famously said the Lord's Prayer on stage at the Freddie Mercury memorial concert, but then later described himself as an atheist - and whether he was still as spiritual as he used to be (he wanted to become a Buddhist monk, but was told "you don't want to be a Buddhist, you need to follow music"). I would like to discuss with him if he felt that Ziggy's androgynous bisexual nature has helped in assisting those who are struggling with their sexuality and / or gender identity? I personally feel like Bowie made it so OK to be who you are regardless of your sexuality or how you identify or how you dress.
I won't lie, this blog has been a really hard one for me to write. Throughout I am reminded of the fact I never got to see him perform live and that I never will, reminded that there will be no more music from him, reminded too that I am no longer that 7-year old with that sense of excitement and awe, but thankful that I was able to experience that movie at that time in my formative years.
I really wanted to express here how deep my love of Bowie is, but it was also important that I write something that was interesting and flowing. I am not sure I've achieved any of those things here; it feels more staccato and less legato than I had hoped.
I would love to have David Bowie over for dinner, for all the reasons I mention above, because I love him, and simply to thank him for being Jareth.
"Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the goblin city to take back the child that you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours and my kingdom is as great. You have no power over me."