I wrote this the day Bowie died in 2016. Quite a few of you have been asking for the link this weekend so I've decided to move it away from the obscure tumblr url it was hiding on and give it new home here on the main Fahrenheit blog - seems to make sense, pretty sure if there had been no Bowie in my life, there would have been no Fahrenheit Press.
A little 7 year old boy from an irish catholic council house in Glasgow was lying in front of a massive valve powered cabinet tv one night in the early 1970s. And then quite suddenly everything changed.
David Bowie danced into my life, pointed straight at me from the TV screen and nothing was ever really the same again.
So many people my age share this exact memory that it’s become one of the standard rock-n-roll clichés but it’s nonetheless powerful and true, and it explains a little about the massive outpouring of grief and emotion his death has provoked today.
That night a few things happened to me and all of them left their mark in one way or another.
None of them had anything to do with the music - I was just a kid - it was a while before I understood the music and everything else Bowie offered - though of course once I did, it stayed with me forever.
That night though it was about something else - he was without doubt the weirdest thing that had ever been inside our house.
My strongest memory was the almost unbearable tension that descended on my normally unshakeable parents. David Bowie and Mick Ronson made them uncomfortable. I didn’t know why but I knew something powerful when I saw it. You could feel their relief when the spectacle ended and my mum could distract us with tea and biscuits.
Later that night I went upstairs into my big sister’s room and raided her make-up bag, lipstick, eyeliner, blusher, foundation the lot. There was no plan and no finesse I just started plastering it all on - red zigzags all over my face and hands, pastel blusher and eyeshadow on every single surface. I had a rummage and found a white silk blouse all ruffles and bows and I threw that on too - massively too big of course but I rolled up the sleeves and belted it kimono style (probably with one of my mums Chanel knock offs).
I was happily prancing around in front of the mirror, occasionally spinning mid-step to turn and point bowie like at myself. I thought I was the cats fucking pyjamas.
It was then that my dad decided to pop in and check on his youngest son, the golden apple of his eye. I don’t really remember exactly what happened next, just the rage and then getting hit. Getting hit really hard, not the way any adult should ever hit a kid. And then the shouting and the tears and the shouting and the tears and the shouting and the tears. My mum holding me, screaming at my dad, my dad sitting, head down, on the end of the bed, me crying but not sure why. Eventually I think we all ended up in a big sobbing Irish hugging mess.
I spoke with my dad about it a few times after I grew up - he never really forgave himself for it - he couldn’t even really explain why, except that he’d seen me dressed up like a ‘wee poof’ and he just lashed out without thinking. Two weeks later he marched me down to the local boxing club and enrolled me. For years I thought this was his knee-jerk reaction to knock the ‘wee poof’ out of me - that he was trying to make a man of me. I was right, but not in the way I thought - years and years later over a pint he told me the reason he enrolled my 7 year old ass in the boxing club was because he figured that if I was gonna be a 'nancy boy’ then I was gonna have to be able to look after myself. Complex fella my da.
I couldn’t verbalise any of it at the time of course but I learned a few things that night;
I learned that i liked the power of provocation.
I learned that I liked the feel of silk against my skin.
I learned I liked make-up on my face.
I learned I could take a punch.
Beyond any doubt that was the night I started embracing the life of the outsider and to be honest I’ve never looked back.
And I think that’s what David Bowie did for so many people - over and above the music and the art and the culture he was our pied piper. All the little freaks and kooks and wierdos could look to Bowie who’d give us an encouraging wink and tell us it was okay to stand outside the herd - that it was okay to be different.
In suburban bedrooms all around the UK young weirdo kids suddenly weren’t quite as alone any more.
We could be, and dress, and love any way we wanted. Boys could kiss boys, girls could kiss girls, we could dress like we wanted, we could make the music we wanted, we could make art out of our lives.
Finally all us little weirdo kids had a tribe and David Bowie was our King Kook, our Queen Bitch and our Court Jester.
David Bowie has been an invisible ribbon of cool wrapped around and running through every freak, weirdo and kook I’ve ever held or loved or danced with. No matter what dive bar, no matter what city - it takes moments to spot a fellow freak and every single time, before we’ve spoken a single word, I know for sure they feel about Bowie pretty much the way I feel about Bowie.
Maybe I’d have ended up here anyway, maybe we all would have, who knows?
All I really know is that being an outsider has taken me places and allowed me to live a life that my 7 year old self could never ever have imagined.
Since that night David Bowie has had a central part in my personal creation myth. He held my hand and encouraged me to start walking down a very specific path and even in the darkest of times I’ve never regretted a single step.
As he said himself,
“It’s all been worth it, ALL of it.”
So thank you David. For everything. x
Chris McVeigh, January 10th 2016