Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Scary Monsters and Supercreeps

I was always a little behind the curve when it came to David Bowie. As a child his androgynous, angular face, with its dilated eye, appearing on Top of the Pops, seemed a door into a dangerous and uncomfortable world- even the Laughing Gnome, presumably more my style at the time, was somehow... creepy. At school there were those who fell very much under his spell, but Christiane F helped to lead some of my fellow pupils down a very dangerous road of hard drug use. The contrast between small town tedium and the dark glamour of West-Berlin was too attractive to some- and Bowie was the Lord of Misrule that opened the door. Yet still to me he remained a distant, almost frightening, figure. 

His later incarnations- the Pierrot, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke, began to provide a consistent and influential background noise to the music I was more interested in- Eurythmics, Alternative 80s music, American singer song writers and much else besides. In the end, almost reluctantly, and often at the prompting of my friends, I began, partially at least, to understand that despite the ephemeral nature of pop culture, "David Bowie" was not to be found simply in his music. It was the changes, the experimentation with identity, sexuality, even with sanity, which turned a suburban lad from Bromley with a fairly weak education into a figure of major artistic significance. For Bowie had become, through trial and error (and huge drug use), an artist who spoke to millions. Not all of his experiments were successful, and his image and influence waxed and waned through the years, but when he was good- Heroes, Life on Mars, Changes, Rebel Rebel, Starman, Jean Jeanie, This is Not America, Space Oddity, Ashes to Ashes- he seemed to speak about the whole planet to the whole planet, while still offering himself as a detached, alienated, indeed alien, persona. Famously Charles Kennedy was a fan, and so were many other of my Liberal friends, and there seems no doubt that Bowie spoke to the non-conforming, Liberal soul in a way that few other artists did.

As he aged he did not lose his dark glamour, but his angular face gave way to more conventional good looks. He later said he regretted his sexual experimentation, without ever quite disowning it. Being polysexual was something that seemed to go with a persona, Ziggy Stardust for example, but in the end he seemed to find a happy marriage with the stunningly beautiful Iman. In fact Bowie aged well, acquiring a dignity that matched well his previous unbridled hedonism: he had faced his demons and he had won. Except not quite, for in the end the years of cigarettes, drugs and more had undermined his health and so he died at 69, which these days seems quite young.   

The reaction to his death, as seems the fashion in today's media, seems overblown. The death of an Artist is not the same as the torture and death in Syria, and I think Bowie himself would be bemused that news of one could drown out the other. Shroud waving and histrionic shared grief for an artist that 99% of us had never met, even if we found meaning in his works, seems excessive. The media coverage has been as self indulgent  and shallow as most media is these days- far safer to have an opinion about Bowie than about the political and social questions of the day, which seem to be beyond explanation to the vast majority of modern journalists, never mind their readers of viewers.

Still more absurd has been the reaction of the tiny minded Cybernats in Scotland. The vindictive hatred of these people has poisoned the political discourse for years and even in the face of death these vermin could not haud their whist- and although this tiny and tiny minded group deserve nothing more than contempt, the tacit winks they get from the SNP leadership is part of what makes the political atmosphere in Scotland today so poisonous. What was David Bowie's crime? He wanted his country to stay together and for this he was derided as a "foreign Unionist"- a contradiction in terms, but let that rest. The good news, if there is any in this deplorable episode, is that people are beginning to notice and to condemn this vile fanaticism. As for me the playing of the music of the "foreign Unionist" on the Kelvingrove organ was one of the more poignant ways to say goodbye to a great Artist and F*** you to some small minded, envious, creepy nobodies who form the backbone of the Cybernats.

There may be life on Mars, there is no intelligent life on Planet Cybernat.

David Bowie was probably bigger than both worlds put together.

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