Not yet 20 years old, feeling free and with the conviction that we could solve all the problems of sexual, racial and class oppression if only ‘they’ would just let us, I cycled from Cambridge to the nearby Cathedral town of Ely with my friend Nick. We sang David Bowie’s Heroes at the top of our lungs as we rode. We felt that Heroes was written for us and us alone. Bowie understood us and only we truly understood him. This was not just the solipsism and narcissism of students, it was a reflection of Bowie’s ability to combine the most powerful melodies with poetic lyrics that talked directly to universal youth.
Bowie’s shape shifting, gender-bending artistry opened a door for those who felt they did not fit in as well as those who did. Nick had been the only one in his college photo to wear an Afghan jumper rather than the regulation black tie, my Polytechnic didn’t have an annual photo, or if it did, I dare say I skipped the shoot. We were middle class rebels with our own issues and Bowie united us with all the others in the world who did not quite wish to conform to the norm.
Bowie’s elegant embracing of the alternative was just one of the qualities that made him the towering icon he rightly became but perhaps the most important. He also made us joyful, willing to kick off our shoes, or perhaps put stacked ones on, and dance. We needed (and still need) role models like he was; daring, witty, benign, imaginative, anti-establishment.
I will truly mourn his passing whilst remaining glad that in death, as in life, he has slipped away elegantly and stylishly leaving a new album, Blackstar, for us all to savour and salute.
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