My Bowie was an underground Bowie—quite literally. I was pretty sheltered from any sort of popular music for a long time, as my parents felt my sister and I would grow to be more cultured if all we listened to was classical music. It was on a visit to the family of my father’s workmate when I was about 10 that I was introduced. They had a daughter my age, and the first thing she said to me was: “do you like music?” Feeling embarrassed, I just nodded yes. Laughing, she grabbed my hand, and we ran down to the basement. Up until then, what I had heard was standard early 80s rock: hairy-chested, red-blooded fare heard in snatches drifting from the open windows of metallic blue Firebirds and those hideous vans with elaborate landscapes painted on the sides.
When we got to the bottom of the steps and she flicked the light switch, I gasped. The large basement was wall to wall vinyl – shelves, stacks and plastic milk crates full of albums. “Dad likes his records,” she said, as if living in such an Aladdin’s cave was no big deal. I started flipping through them, in awe of the first father outside my own who was obsessed with something outside of hunting and beer (it was the Midwest, after all). Then I stopped suddenly, gazing rapt at one particular cover: Bowie’s Aladdin Sane. I’d never seen anything like it. Somewhere in my head I knew it was artwork, but it felt different to all the posed rock-star covers I’d been looking at. J looked over from the stack she was sorting and grinned. “Good taste—I knew we were going to be friends”. She gestured and I handed it over, watching as she lovingly set it on the player and placed the needle down. “This is my favourite”. It was “The Jean Genie”, and from that moment on, Bowie was everything.
As I got familiar with his music and what he did outside of it, what I loved was that you always got the impression that he wasn’t just a musician, actor, or artist: these were just labels. Here was a guy who was interested in the whole damn world, wanted to devour it, learn from it, and give back as much as it gave to him. No record label or PR can fake that. Did I love all the music he put out? No, but it isn’t the point. That he did what he wanted to was what kept me—keeps me in awe of him. When I heard the news this morning in bed, the first thing I did—like most people, I imagine—was play his music. It was the first song I came across on one of my playlists: “I’m Deranged” from the Lost Highway soundtrack, a perfect example of cinema and music in sync: haunting and sinister, making your very skin shiver, refusing to leave your mind.
We talk about real stars, but the fact is it’s rare to come across the person who has the singularity to keep creating both personas and worlds as if it were as natural as breathing. But that was David Bowie—he created a universe that we all wanted to be a part of from the moment we glimpsed it.
Tomoé Hill lives and writes in Kent. Her pieces have also been in The Stockholm Review of Literature, Open Pen, and LossLit. She is reviews and deputy editor at Minor Literature[s]. @CuriosoTheGreat.