David Bowie, 1947-2016.

David Bowie was wonderful. He was also an abuser. How do we handle that?

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I dreamt about David Bowie last night. I forget the details, but I woke up thinking I’d write a post about how he seemed to regenerate rather than age. (The first Bowie was Cockney and a mod, the second was Byronesque, et cetera.) The first thing I saw on starting my computer was a friend’s Facebook post: ‘I don’t think I ever really believed it was possible.’ The headline underneath took me a moment to digest: ‘David Bowie, the Legendary Musician, Has Died at 69.Oh no. Don’t say it’s true.

While there was me, I’d always assumed, there would Bowie. At eight, a clip of Ziggy’s arm round Mick Ronson was a queer wake-up call, and later ‘Life on Mars’ would help keep suicide at bay. Having died three short days after a new album’s release, it seems music sustained him too, and it hurts to have been denied the songs the twelfth or thirteenth Bowie would have made. After ten years away, The Next Day and Blackstar were considered two of his best records, and it would be a fair statement that he meant far more to me than any other singer.

It would also be fair to call him a child rapist. (Details ahead.)

Bowie did bad things alright. In the seventies he fixated on Nazis, calling Hitler one of the first rock stars and himself a believer in fascism—a phase which, to be fair, he grew out of and came to call ghastly. More disturbing are the stories of hotel room threesomes with fourteen year old girls. Former groupie Lori Mattix describes Bowie disrobing and having her wash him in the bath before ‘devirginising’ her. Both Mattix and the friend of hers who joined them later had been plied with drugs.

It’s hard to know what to do with this knowledge except rehearse it. I know the above to be true, according to Mattix’s nostalgic account, and that it deserves to be remembered. I also know without Bowie, my own obit would have been written long ago, and I can’t help but remember that too. How do you find room in one eulogy for both those facts? Just for today, I’ll mourn the hero I saw in Bowie, thankful on behalf of the kid who needed all those songs; tomorrow and the next day I’ll let one more hero go. That’s the best I can manage—sorry if it’s not enough.

It’s the legend more than the man I’m grieving in the end, the performances that have stayed with me. ‘Starman’, aforementioned, on Top of the Pops, a Technicolor explosion in a monochrome world. ‘Footstompin’’ on Dick Cavett’s programme, Bowie’s mic trained on joyous, gyrating Ava Cherry. ‘Under Pressure’, where Annie Lennox stares undiluted lust at him after that last breathy note. ‘Heroes’ live in Berlin, where Bowie’s voice rises over six minutes from a mumble to a shout. And then, of course, this week, the video to ‘Lazarus’.

You wouldn’t call it a live act, but surely that’s the point. How much sense it makes now, that song that was so inscrutable days ago, the deathbed pose, title and lines about release, even the rush to productivity between this album and the last, the decision not to tour or perform. Unmissable as it is in hindsight—how visible the cancer’s impact is, quite suddenly—no one took ‘Lazarus’ literally because no one imagined Bowie could die. How unlike anybody else, how entirely like him, to stage his own death as performance art. Now ain’t that just like me?

Hard to think someone who did that could have much faith in any afterlife. (Bowie, for his part, called himself ‘not quite an atheist’.) I don’t often wish I believed in one, and it’s hard to wish heaven on a man with his history, but at eight I longed to travel to Ziggy’s world. It hurts to know for the first time that where he is, I can’t follow. But I do live in David Bowie’s world—the world where everyone followed his tune, where he was sometimes a hero, sometimes a monster, always singular. I don’t feel good about all of that. All the same, I’m glad it was my world too.

David Bowie, 1947-2016.

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David Bowie, 1947-2016.

3 thoughts on “David Bowie, 1947-2016.

  1. 1

    Mattix is the same woman who, just a year later (at 14), was kidnapped by my all-time favorite guitarist, Jimmy Page, and had a subsequent year-long open sexual relationship with.

    Such was the groupie scene of that time. Basically every rock star from that period is a pedophile rapist. I doubt any are truly innocent.

    Unfortunately, that shit was encouraged. There was even an underground magazine at the time called Star, which was dedicated to showing off these underage groupies.

    I don’t say that to excuse Bowie. If anything, this context just makes it worse. It’s really hard think that 1965-1975 is the best decade of music. It’s really hard adoring most of the bands from that era, and calling Led Zeppelin my all-time favorite band, followed closely by Jimi Hendrix. It’s hard because I know that basically they are all pedophiles and rapists, and it hurts to know that there are women alive today who were children then, having sex with adults who did know better. I can still find refuge in Pink Floyd and ELP (Emerson, Lake, and Palmer), but there’s always the “what do I not know about who they slept with?” voice in the back of my head…


  2. 2

    Bowie was awesome and I am a fan of his.

    Vale legend, rebel, hero and awesome human being who made so many sing along with joy and Spiders from Mars :


    I also learnt today that he probably kept a good friend of mine alive for a number of years – and that man is still with us and we’re all better off for it.

    His memories and the good he did will always be with us.

    As for the stuff mentioned by #1. NateHevens, well I’ve writ what I think about that over on Aoife O’Riordan’s Consider the Tea Cosy post on that – comment #15 :


    Its complicated and I really don’t know. Not sure any of us do. I do think the good he did outweighs the bad without excusing or condoning that bad.

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