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8 January 2022

Dear David: A birthday letter to Bowie

A fan writes to her hero on his 75th birthday.

By Deborah Levy

Dear David,

Planet earth is blue and bereft without you.

Happy Birthday.

You made my life bigger. You have always astonished me.

Actually, I have never called you David.

You will always be Bowie to me.

The Starman, The Space Oddity, Ziggy Stardust.

David, (if I may presume) may I confess that I often wonder what happened to Ziggy. I mean the Ziggy inside you?

To create and embody a persona, and then to entirely cancel that persona, is it really possible to do that? In Life or in Art? It was hard to believe in the Thin White Duke because Ziggy never died in my imagination.

The Starman stepped into my history when I was 14. The power of your art is that we never lost touch with each other over the decades. Yet, to quote the late, great, Joan Didion, it would be true to say that “I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be”. Sometimes, the lost personae in my own life (brave and anxious, lashings of mascara) reach out to touch me with their spectral fingers. There are times when I miss some of the people I used to be. Did you miss Ziggy? Did you entirely shake off the stardust that enchanted us Seventies kids in our stifling English living rooms?

We urgently needed another life to live; to long for; fluid, freer, crazier, more expressed. We poured our big feelings into Ziggy and the music was on our side.

I watched you struggle to see off the glamorous extra-terrestrial rock and roll poet in full make-up. The red mullet hair was going to disappear too. Long live the mullet! For a while, as you experimented with other personae, it was as if the spaceship did not know which way to go. Which only made me love you more.

In the iconic film Blade Runner replicant human beings have to be “retired”. They have become unstable, dangerous. Every replicant has learned a false biography by heart, been implanted with memories to help them pass as human. David, you wrote the narrative for Ziggy Stardust and it made you a star. You were born in Brixton but your craziest persona came from Mars.

It seems that Ziggy became unstable, dangerous to you, confusing, too powerful. Who knew we so badly needed a messiah in thigh length boots and blue frosted eyeshadow? Frankly, we still do. To your credit you did not want that sort of power. Ziggy would have to be retired. The replicant Roy Batty wanted more life when his time was up. 

“You have burned very, very, brightly” he is told by his creator.

Yes, Ziggy burned so very very brightly. Maybe the poetry of Baudelaire and Apollinaire has something of that spirit. Like you, they cut a new path through their time, were of their time and crashed out of their time.

I notice that when I write your name, David, you become real, normal, a regular mortal person. Unfortunately for you, I am a fan, so I don’t want you to be those things. That’s the problem with having fans like me, but I hope you can feel the love.

Finally, I understood you were close to yourself when I first heard “Where Are We Now?” It made me cry. I was asking the same question. To land on planet Earth, with all its pain and pleasure is hard enough, but to truly believe that we are its temporary tenants, in the sunshine and rain? Oh no, impossible to accept. So thank you for the sublime music.

Love from Deborah

PS Where were the spiders?

[See also: Bowie the bellwether]

Deborah Levy’s most recent book  “Real Estate” is out now (Hamish Hamilton)

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This article appears in the 12 Jan 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The age of economic rage