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."
A long time ago, I started a blog series around having a fantasy dinner party and who I would invite (alive or dead or imaginary!). It's been a while since I posted, but it was such a fun thing to write about so I thought I would resurrect it and start inviting some more people over for dinner. A nice thing to do considering we've not been able to have anyone over for dinner for over a year due to COVID-19!
You can see who the first 10 guests are by visiting the Fantasy Dinner Party posts here.
I would love to hear who you would invite over for dinner - let me know in the comments!
John Cleese, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam and Eric Idle. Also known as Monty Python's Flying Circus.
When I first saw Python, I assumed these hilarious and intelligent men were all really great friends, but this is not the case. Cleese and Chapman met the first time after a Footlights audition; both reeling from embarrassment, went for coffee together. John recalls that he really didn't like Graham at all, but that soon after that they began writing together and that dislike was forgotten. Though I'm not sure it was forgotten forever. Cleese eventually quit the Monty Python team, leaving the remaining 5 to complete the fourth and final series without him. Terry Jones and Michael Palin didn't like Terry Gilliam at all the first time they met him - this is actually one of my favourite stories about their meeting - Gilliam had worked with Cleese previously, and when Gilliam asked Cleese to introduce him to anyone (anyone being the operative word!) in TV, Cleese obliged. Gilliam walked into a meeting with the rest of the Python boys wearing a full-length Afghan coat putting Jones and Palin's noses out of joint. Idle, on the other hand, saw something in Gilliam (and his coat) that he instantly warmed to.
This sketch is actually (allegedly) the reason that we call email and internet rubbish, 'spam'. I for one pretty much know the Dead Parrot sketch backwards, forwards and inside out.
In 1974 after 5 years and 4 series, the Pythons called it a day. They did, however, go on to make their amazingly brilliant films; Holy Grail in 1975, Life of Brian in 1979, and The Meaning of Life in 1983. All of them continued to work with each other in various ways, be it in movies such as Time Bandits, A Fish Called Wanda, Jabberwocky, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen or Brazil (some of these amongst my favourite films of all time) or with writing commitments.
Sadly, a mere 6 years after The Meaning of Life came out, Graham Chapman passed away (died, went to meet his maker, was no more, ceased to be, became a late Chapman) from cancer. Graham really didn't cope well with the life of a Python or with life in general. He finally came out when he was 25, much to the surprise of his fellow Python members (not because they had an issue with him being gay, but because he was always the more rugged one; smoked a pipe, played rugby, climbed trees and mountains etc.), and was an alcoholic. Being a "jovial drunk" (as Barry Cryer described him) it took a very long time for his illness to be discovered. It was, finally, when they were looking for a missing script and Palin, looking in the small suitcase Chapman (or Gray as he was affectionately known) used to carry, found not only the script, but a very LARGE amount of vodka. Chapman told Michael Parkinson, during a 1980 television interview that he was drinking 4 pints of gin a day. He decided to sober up following the making of the Holy Grail and went cold turkey.
The Pythons became incredibly popular among the rich and famous; apparently, Paul McCartney would cease recording in order that he could watch, and a fair amount of the budget for Monty Python and the Holy Grail was provided by Pink Floyd, Genesis and Led Zepellin. Elvis Presley apparently loved the movie so much that he could quote the entire movie back to front. He even used the immortal line "it's just a flesh wound" once when he broke his finger.
I could wax lyrical about the Python lads for days on end; I truly love them all and I'm forever grateful for them because of all the joy and laughter they have and will continue to provide, not just to me, but to others. I hope to be able to introduce my niece and nephew to them when they're older and I hope they give them the same mirth and merriment.
So, yes, I want the Pythons at my dinner party. I want to hear more about their relationship; love, hatred, indifference. I want to hear about Michael Palin's trips around the world, I want to talk to Terry Gilliam about art and his movies which I adore, I want to sing and play the guitar with Eric Idle, I want to force John Cleese to do a silly walk and do one of his amazing screamy rants, and I want Terry Jones to do his hilarious striptease with nipple and arse tassels. If Graham Chapman could spend a bit of time too, I'd like him to just stop the whole conversation whilst dressed as a Colonel because it was all just too silly.
I'll leave you with a YouTube video of a small compilation of sketches and I'm off to eat a wafer-thin mint and tell my dog that he's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy.
Stay Hep, Cats
I guess you could say this time around you get a twofer.
I'll come clean, here. I have something of an unusual mind. The things that interest and fascinate me are not necessarily the things one would either expect nor are things one should discuss in polite society. I like old stuff, and dead stuff (I mean, come on, taxidermy is really freaking cool, right?!) and have a strange fascination with the macabre. Crime TV shows and movies are always my first choice.
Given this 'admission', I will announce my next guests.
Edmund Reid and Frederick George Abberline
These names might sound familiar to some of you, and be utterly alien to others. But, the name that connects these two men, and a name you will definitely all know is Jack the Ripper.
Frederick Abberline was Chief Inspector of the Metropolitan Police in 1888. A clockmaker before joining the Met, he was seconded to Whitechapel from Scotland Yard after the murder of Mary Ann Nichols. Despite being described as looking like 'a bank manager', his knowledge of the east end made him an integral part of the Ripper investigation.
Before his retirement from the Met in 1892, he received 84 commendations and awards. He subsequently worked as a private investigator and was part of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency of the United States for 12 years.
Inspector Abberline had some forward-thinking ideas when it came to the Ripper case, even considering that the murders could have been committed by a woman. This is certainly something that would rarely have been considered in the 1800s, and whilst there are many instances of female serial killers, it is usually less likely that serial murders are committed by women. His prime suspect was George Chapman (whose real name was Severin Antoniovich Klosowski), who was convicted of poisoning several women in the the late 1890s early 1900s. Although known as the Borough Poisoner, he was amongst the suspects in the Whitechapel murders. Not my prime suspect, however.
Frederick died in 1929 at the age of 86, followed a few months later by his wife, Emma. They never had children, but by all accounts had a happy life together.
Edmund Reid was a Detective Inspector based in Scotland Yard. He was tasked with organising J Division's CID Department in Bethnal Green in 1886, which led him to becoming the Local Inspector and head of CID's H Division in Whitechapel in 1888. He was in charge of the investigations of the murders of Emma Elizabeth Smith and Martha Tabram before Inspector Abberline was seconded back to Whitechapel to co-ordinate the hunt for The Ripper.
D.I. Reid also had some interesting theories regarding who Jack the Ripper was. He postulated that the murders were committed by a local drunk who had no recollection of his crimes.
In an interview in 1912 for Lloyd's Weekly News he said: "The whole of the murders were done after the public-houses were closed; the victims were all of the same class, the lowest of the low, and living within a quarter of a mile of each other; all were murdered within half a mile area; all were killed in the same manner. That is all we know for certain. My opinion is that the perpetrator of the crimes was a man who was in the habit of using a certain public-house, and of remaining there until closing time. Leaving with the rest of the customers, with what soldiers call 'a touch of delirium triangle,' he would leave with one of the women. My belief is that he would in some dark corner attack her with the knife and cut her up. Having satisfied his maniacal blood-lust he would go away home, and the next day know nothing about it."
He believed that the Ripper had no surgical skill, and that the knife used was blunt. He didn't think that body parts were missing either (which we know was not true as Mary Ann Nichols' uterus was removed during/after her murder).
After retiring from the police, he became a publican and then a private investigator. Reid died in 1917 at the age of 71, having only remarried earlier that year.
The more I researched both Abberline and Reid, the more I found myself thinking about their characters in the amazing series Ripper Street. Reid being played by Matthew MacFadyen and Abberline by Clive Russell. In the show, Reid is intelligent and forward thinking, compassionate and dogged; whilst Abberline seems hard and battle weary. They don't seem to like each other, and it feels as though Abberline is maliciously trying to drag Reid down and make him fail. Looking at the theories they actually had in reality about the Ripper, it would seem that it was Abberline who was the compassionate forward-thinking man and Reid the more angry and battle-scarred.
I would love to have them both at the table to discuss their theories and gauge their relationship with each other. Did they get on? Was there a mutual respect or some sort of jealousy? Did Reid resent having Abberline be seconded in whilst he was heading up the department and murder investigations? Did Abberline resent being dragged back into the East End? I would love to ask them about the more recent theories about who the Ripper was, and whether they think with the investigative techniques we have now they could have actually caught Jack. I would love to discuss my favourite Ripper-related book with them (Patricia Cornwell's Portrait of a Killer) and find out if they think that the evidence contained within is as compelling as I do.
Whilst the gruesome deaths of Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly are not strictly dinner party conversation, the Whitechapel murders are infamous and such a huge part of London history that I think one could be forgiven for discussing the more taboo whilst dining.
What are your thoughts? Would you come to dinner if Frederick and Edmund were invited?
Stay Hep, Cats
Despite getting increasingly frustrated, angry and bored of her antics towards the end of her career, my love for her didn't wane, and, even increased after her sad and untimely death. She had a soul that nobody of this era will ever be able to truly understand, she was, very possibly, born in the wrong time.
I can relate to some of the hardships she went through as a child and young adult, but, unlike Amy, I had a very solid family. My parents loved me and wanted me, and whilst I have suffered (and still do) my fair share of mental health problems, I at least, am still here. Still surviving.
I hear new things in Amy's songs every time I hear them; nuances in the way she sings, hidden messages in her lyrics. I feel that as I get a little older I understand her pain in different ways.
I would love to have Amy for dinner because I would like to talk to her about her life experiences and try to get her to open up about how it felt to be her. This incredibly talented, unassuming young woman, who was used and abused by so many people in her life, her father included. I would love to ask her what she planned to do next, would she have continued to make music if she hadn't left this mortal coil and joined the '27 club'? Would she have married Reg Traviss? Would she have ended up going back to Blake Fielder-Civil?
I want to believe that she would have got fully drug-free and found lasting love, but then again, I'm an old romantic. I have to wonder if she had settled down, would any new music she produced be as emotive as the tracks we know and love? There are so many questions I would like to ask her, but to be frank (see what I did there), I would just want to hear her sing.
So, what do you think? Would you have Amy Winehouse over for dinner?
Stay Hep, Cats