I’m about fourteen and I’m on a boring coach to boring somewhere. It’s a school trip. I’m probably sitting alone because my early teen self’s combination of a permanent scowl and something bordering on selective mutism have made me – would you believe it – unpopular. I prefer sitting alone though because I get terrible motion sickness and I’m in no position to risk puking on one of the roughly two and a half friends I have. The wall is up. Headphones on ears, Discman on lap; I’m listening to a homemade mix CD featuring, amongst others, Busta Rhymes and David Bowie. Not an obvious combination, I know. Busta spoke to the part of me that wanted to – please forgive this middle class white girl – put a cap in the bitch ass of everyone I knew. My id, perhaps. Bowie, meanwhile, spoke to my unabated weirdness. My ego, maybe.
That crunch – the immediately identifiable opening chord to “Moonage Daydream” – sends some much needed serotonin (this was a few years before I started taking antidepressants) bubbling up my spine. Who is this freaky man-woman-alligator-space invader thing and why does he/she/it make me feel so… OK?
At the time, I knew very little about Bowie. This was before Wikipedia and my school library wasn’t exactly an embarrassment of girthy tomes on androgynous, glam crotch, coked up rockers. All I knew was that this Ziggy Stardust guy (who had way more to do with my parents’ generation than mine) made me, a nerdy, closeted lesbian loner, hate myself a little bit less.
There’s so much irony in Bowie being appointed king of the outcasts. When the coolest guy in the world is an outsider, what’s an insider? The youthful David Cameron? Furthermore, when at least a quarter of the world’s population is doing the appointing, are we even freaks (or kooks, maybe) to begin with?
But the popular kids at my secondary school were nothing like Bowie. They were athletic, conventionally attractive and – for the most part – dull as porridge. Knowing that I – mal-coordinated, funny looking and quite smart – had even a tenuous connection to this unfathomably cool guy gave me something that looked almost like hope.
“Keep your ‘lectric eye on me babe, put your ray gun to my head”, say my headphones. What’s this guy on? I don’t know – I’m inexperienced even for a 14-year-old – but if he can spout weirdness, and dress like a gay space pirate, and be blindingly interesting and still be one of the most respected musicians of both the 20th and 21th centuries then it probably doesn’t matter that I hate PE and want to sleep with girls. I rest my head on the window and drown all of my dread and nausea in Bowie’s insane lyrics.
Since David Bowie died this week, I haven’t been able to open my fridge without the word “transcend” falling on my head. I’ve been careful not to use it, until now – and that’s only in reference to how much it’s being used. Fair enough though, I can’t think of much that the guy didn’t transcend. During his Thin White Duke phase he even transcended nutrition, subsisting – allegedly – on red peppers, milk and cocaine. But an above average ability to transcend things doesn’t make you a god. Bowie was a freakishly talented weirdo who – between floating around Berlin, inventing sounds – shat like the rest of us. Probably. I mean – there’s always the possibility that he’s just gone back to Space. Wherever he is, my fourteen-year-old self will be forever in his debt.