It was May 1987 and I was 13 years old. I was awkwardly unsure of who I was, awkwardly positioned between girl and woman, awkwardly stuck in a small provincial city, at a school I was struggling to find my place in. Labyrinth had just arrived at our cinema (no worldwide releases in those days) and its accompanying featurette was on my tv screen. I didn’t really know who this David Bowie was and I wasn’t aware of knowing any of his music (I did, I just didn’t know it was him singing.) The scenes from the movie were captivating and I’d long admired Jim Henson, but it was the interviews with Bowie (particularly the one starting around 4.48, about Dance Magic) that reached out and grabbed me. Yes, even with the incongruous eyebrows, he was remarkably beautiful but, more than that, he was articulate, witty, self deprecating, and so, so clever. “I think I might have a go at having a crush on him,” I thought.
I saw the movie the next evening, with my mum because all my friends were busy, and we walked home under a ridiculous full moon, holding on to the magic for just a little longer. And then I began looking for more. I scoured magazines for the briefest mention and listened to the radio constantly hoping to hear his songs. I bought the Labyrinth soundtrack almost immediately, of course, and then Never Let Me Down. That latter might not stack up against the rest of his catalogue (though, having lost my copy to an unfortunate boyfriend in 1992, it’s hard for me to verify) but, to my ears that were used to the most bland of radio friendly pop, it was a revelation. For my birthday someone gave me a cassette copy of the Chameleon compilation and, as I listened to Mike Garson’s wild piano line in Aladdin Sane, it was as if something shifted in me.
Being a Bowie fan at school in the late 80s didn’t exactly decrease my sense of being out of step with my peers. I did find a couple of fellow travellers but most people’s reactions boiled down to either “Eew, he’s really old,” or “Eww, isn’t he gay?”
The teen years are the time when we figure out all sorts of ideas around identity and sexuality and I’m profoundly grateful that I stumbled upon Bowie at that stage of my life. Sure, many of the biographies I read (and there were a lot of them) were remarkably salacious but the lessons I took from him, that gender can be played with, sexuality is fluid, and it all can, and should, be celebrated, stand up pretty well. I’ve always considered intellect and wit to be the sexiest characteristics a person can possess and I can’t tell if Bowie is the cause or effect of that.
As one ages, obsession wanes, I no longer have the teenager’s ability to instantly recall every fact about a subject, but love, respect and admiration go on. Each note is ingrained in my psyche and yet I can listen to the songs again and again and still find new layers of meaning. David Bowie is part of who I am and the fact that I can go on when he is no longer seems impossible.