Those possibilities never end though of course he knew they would. He has gone “just like that bluebird” as he soars and sings on his latest single Lazarus. Well he knew things we didn’t, as he had all his life. He departs with Blackstar which I found terrifying without knowing why. What can I do now but listen and weep?
Or find your own Bowie. You will have it somewhere. That first play of Ziggy. That time you put food colouring in your hair. The night when lust became utterly confused with a different kind of longing. A longing to be in one of the worlds he told us about.
It is still with me. Taking Station to Station around to a mate’s flat. He had to hear it. We treated these albums as religious artefacts. We worked hard studying the sleeve notes. We wanted to know some of what Bowie knew. He was our university. He was the one who could open up the world.
From a small town and what my teachers called “a broken home” Bowie would guide us. We could give up trying to be normal now that we entrusted ourselves to him. He sang of space and drugs and floating above the world. He could be so tender (Letter to Hermione) and then swagger like a brute. He was tapped right into something mystical that we recognised but could not grasp as we were too busy preening and dancing and wanting.
But all the time he was passing on secret knowledge. I would learn about Burroughs, Kemp, Crowley, Berlin, Sakamoto, Roeg and so many others through him. I would have my first proper boyfriend because of him – working-class lads started wearing eyeliner and nail varnish because he did, which made them vaguely interesting.
This was a time when tabloid headlines screamed “gender bender” though I had never even heard the word gender before. My mum and grandad ruined Top of the Pops by staging shouting matches when he appeared “Is it a man or a woman?” How could they be so stupid? How did they not get it? I have not changed my mind since then about that actually.
Because we knew what he was. There was never a doubt. He deconstructed fame before anyone had ever really come to grips with the concept. He was thinking, not only dancing. Pulling us through the genres on a diet of cocaine and milk. He looked like an alien. But the funk man, the funk, it was so real.
When I sat next to him in some dark basement of a club in the early 80s in New York he did seem human. I pretended not to know who he was because I was just overwhelmed that he was an actual person. I did the same thing years later at a party. There he was, immaculate in the flesh, all I ever dreamed but still he belonged to my imagination. I did not want an actual conversation with him because I have always been having one. In human blokeish form he was charming but my love was pure.
Only last week I was obsessively playing Hunky Dory because someone on the internet annoyed me by ranking the tracks in order of greatness. And they got it wrong. This incensed me because I care.
I never grew out of Bowie. He was never past. Always present. And Blackstar? This most sublime of English artists hankering for the “evergreens” even at the end. Still dislocated. Still embodied in the music.
“Lay me place and bake me pie I’m starving for me gravy
Leave my shoes, and door unlocked I might just slip away.”
He has slipped away.
That door. He unlocked it. For me, for you. For us. He gave us everything. He gave us ideas, ideas above our station. All THE ideas and a specific one. Of life. The stellar idea that we can create ourselves whoever we are. He let us be more than we ever knew possible. There is nothing greater. Nothing.