It wasn’t only David Bowie.
It was also Robert Smith and Dave Gahan and Morrissey and Brian Ritchie and Peter Murphy and Ian McCulloch and Ian Astbury. Siouxie Sioux and Bjork and Annie Lennox. Everyone from Bauhaus, in all their configurations.
But certainly it was David Bowie.
Even now, every time. I hear his voice (doesn’t matter the song) and I still get a tingle. A rush, a spurt. A little piece of the wild, angry, sad, passionate, creative person I was as a teenager.
My friend Chris and I were talking about just this on Saturday, when she found herself driving through the little town where we became friends. Where so much happened, ugly things and brilliant things, when we were unhappy and messed up and more than a little bit crazy. But that version of myself—she was braver than I am now. Truer to what she was, instead of what people wanted her to be.
Brave and true. Unhappy, yes, but because of things that happened to me, not because of the things I did.
Another friend, who I met long after my crazy teenage years, asked me once about being a goth girl. About how she didn’t understand it. Why would you want to look so weird?
The impulse is self-protection, of course. It is putting the weirdness on the outside, where it’s the first thing people see, so if they’re surprised by your internal strangeness, it’s not like you didn’t warn them. It’s a preemptive strike.
I only wore black clothes. I didn't care what people thought. I immersed myself in the music of flamboyant, creative, passionate, and yes, strange artists because they felt familiar to me. They were who they were and not only were they unapologetic, they were the musicians they were because of the strangeness. I needed that because I needed examples, needed proof that being who you are is the way to be who you need to be.
And no one more than Bowie. His music, his appearance, his words.
He brought his authentic self (which was built on constant change but also on creativity, on making) to the world, unapologetic, and it made me value my own authentic self (instead of mocking it, or hiding it, or covering it up). He was true to his mutability, always, and by being who he was he gave me courage to be who I was.
Or maybe it was just who I wanted to be—a babe, to sum up, with the power of voodoo. I’m not sure I ever was that, but I thought I could be, and the thinking—the believing in the possibility—is still a creative power for me. A thing that makes sparks.
I think somewhere along the line I started believing the idea that to be a grown up I had to abandon that self I used to wear so brazenly—that my wild side belonged only to my adolescence. But I think about Chris, driving our old route along our old haunts. I think of how I felt, thinking about her there, bumping into our old ghosts. It makes me sad, a different sadness than the kind I had as a teenager. A sort of disappointment—that I didn’t keep on being who I was.
But she’s still here, my wild, strange, fierce self. I want to let her out more—want to be who I am instead of who this world expects me to be.
I want to put on my red shoes and dance the blues.
I can’t be too old for that. Because watch this:
David Bowie, sick with secret illness. Wrinkled. Almost seventy. And still, moving and passionate and creative. Still making. Still being who he was. His voice still makes me feel that spark.
I wasn’t part of his tribe. I never met him, or even saw him in concert. But he was part of my tribe. Part of the group of people who inspired me and encouraged me and helped me make peace with being different. No—not just peace. I am an adherent of uniqueness, deep down. Even though I look like a middle-aged, Mormon mom. I don’t wear it on the outside much anymore, but just like my anhks and crystal necklaces are still in my jewelry box, just like my steel-toed boots are still in a box in the closet under the stairs, I still have it. The abhorrence of commonality. The avoidance of the norm.
And I know—half a bajillion people are thinking about David Bowie today. So probably I’m not that unique anyway. But still. I am a former goth girl who loved David Bowie not so much for his strangeness but for his refusal to hide it. But most of all for his songs.
All of us writing about Bowie: we were Ziggy’s band.