DAVID Bowie’s been my idol since I was seven-years-old.
In June 1987 he played at Roker Park – Sunderland AFC’s old ground – which was at the bottom of the street of small terraced houses, where I lived with my Mam.
It is one of my clearest memories from childhood. Times weren’t easy, as I’ve discussed before, but suddenly our street was filled with music and I could see bright lights flashing into the sky. It was a moment of magic.
I listened from our front doorstep, as did some of the neighbours. We were so close, but a million miles away from being able to afford the tickets at £15 a pop.
As he sang Modern Love, I asked Mam whether she would get me the record of it. And she did the very next day. It began a love affair – and a collection of Bowie memorabilia – both of which are still going strong some 25 years later.
And it also led to my very first academic publication, about his recent comeback and why it is shrouded in silence. Who is he now: David Bowie and the authentic self” has been published on Taylor & Francis Online this month.
Silence is a shocking move for Bowie, who always utilised the media as part of the creation of his complex personae. Bowie’s utilisation of interviews is extremely interesting. It was firstly part of the inter-textual creation of personae. Later he attempted to demonstrate forms of authenticity.
My next publication argues the significance of Bowie’s output between 1989 and 1999, exploring how it passes through French philosopher Jean Baudrillard’s stages of simulation.This is evidenced by a detailed critical discourse analysis of his Q Magazine interviews during this period. It will be published by Routledge next year in a Bowie special of their Popular Music series.
It was this period when my Bowie fandom was at its peak and it’s the material from then which I anxiously awaited release. The earlier Bowies – such as Ziggy or the Thin White Duke – were later discoveries from me, found through raking through discarded records at car-boot sales, charity shops and later Hot Rats, a record shop which opened in Sunderland in my early teens.
It irks me that not only the media, but sections of Bowie’s fans dismiss this period, despite his own repeated insistence of its importance. He was an artist struggling to rediscover his voice, free from the demands of past personae and the commercial pressures of the music industry.
Later, I got to see Bowie in the flesh. Well, first of all I cuddled his waxwork by jumping over a barrier at Madame Tussaud’s, but after that I saw him gig five times during the 1990s and early 2000s.
Given the hours hunting Bowie jewels, his recent resurgence has been a bit surreal. Suddenly his beautiful face gazed back from the fronts of T-shirts in Top Shop and mugs in Sainsbury’s. But it wasn’t my Bowie really. It was his earlier incarnations which offered soundtracks to another generation’s teenage years.
Bowie was the subject of the quite brilliant V & A Exhibition in the summer and in the final room visitors were surrounded by wall to ceiling footage of past concerts. Including the Glass Spider tour.
I’m not ashamed to say there were tears. And in the exhibition shop, I bought a plaster cast of his face. As I write this he is looking back at me. (A student recently told me this crosses the line into ‘weird stalker fan’. How rude!)
My work on Bowie has been really enjoyable. If you told me as a teenager I’d be researching him as part of my job, I’d have been thrilled. It also feeds directly into my PhD thesis – Celebrity and the Interview – which I promise to talk about in some more detail soon.
In the meantime, here’s something to enjoy from the man himself.