Notes on Bowie: let all the children boogie


I’ve always questioned dictums, I’ve always questioned what I’ve been told are the things I’ve got to live by or that this is the way things are done.

-David Bowie in interview with Dazed, 1995.

At work this morning, I logged onto my Facebook. It was 7.20 am. Bleary-eyed, I scrolled through my news feed. There was David Bowie.

Belated celebratory posts for his birthday on Friday last? I presumed. It took me a moment or two to process the link I was clicking: ‘David Bowie dies at 69’.

‘Wait. What?’ I spluttered, desperately searching for the words to convey my disbelief and hopelessly looked around at my colleagues. ‘I know, I just saw’ said the girl sitting nearest me.

Like so many of us out there, I have been thinking a lot about David Bowie today.  We loved his music, his songs, cherished his albums, stuck pictures of his glamorous self (selves?) on our bedroom walls. We each had a favourite Bowie. We adored his wacky fashion sense, his jagged-toothed smile, his sharp cheekbones, his enviable swoosh of hair and of course, those electric mis-matched eyes, surely the windows to an otherworldly soul. He made us want to get up from our seats and dance.

Yet, seeing the astonishing outpouring of grief today – my sister texted to say she ‘cried hard’ on hearing the news – I am certain that there is more to our love of Bowie than this.

Bowie represents the impossible. He represents that secret part in all of us that desires to escape the norm, the humdrum, routine. By listening to his songs or admiring his tremendous outfits, we could displace our own desires to be different and kooky and extraordinary for a moment, or if brave enough, be inspired to embrace it. We could all be heroes. To dream of transformation, escape and boundless creativity and style was enough. Bowie was enough.

Bowie’s universality lies in his versatility: his ability to be different things to different people. Through his innate capacity to change, reinvent, adapt, adopt Bowie was a star of endless becoming. It is striking to note that so much of the commentary today remarks on how we thought Bowie was ‘immortal’, ‘would outlive us all’ or that he was some sort of strange spectacular creature who graced this earth for too-short a lifetime, before soaring into outer space and beyond. If there was nothing else fascinating or special or magnificent in this world, there was always David Bowie, doing something wonderful to defy exactly that.

I cannot claim an encyclopedic knowledge of David Bowie, but I do remember picking up a pre-owned copy of his Greatest Hits in Vibes and Scribes as a teen and allowing myself the impossible daydream of rebellion.


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