Over a quarter of a century ago, I stood towards the back of a crowded, but not especially large, venue in Edinburgh. On the stage at the far end there were the usual microphones, drum kit and guitar stands; the skeleton of a performance waiting for the musicians to flesh it out and bring it to life. Nothing special; just an ordinary back-line. The man who took the stage was anything but. The one and only time I saw David Bowie perform.
It was the Sound+Vision Tour and I was 23 and working in local radio. In a syndicated interview earlier that day, Bowie had described the tour as a farewell (it wasn’t but it electrified his performance). The songs he would be playing weren’t his choice – he’d asked his fans to vote on which should be included. If he had to choose though, what would it be? He would, he said, like to go out on Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide: that would be a fitting end.
The night I saw him, he ended on Heroes. The people’s choice.
As a man, I knew little about him: his private life was off limits, particularly in later years, and I admired him all the more for it. As a musician, writer and performer, I was in awe of his talent. His creativity was boundless. An eclectic chameleon of the arts. For me he not only made it ok to be different but positively revelled in it. We all wear masks, adopt different identities and change our behaviour in response to any given situation. Bowie made it into an art form.
I didn’t love everything he did but I loved that he did it. And how. Growing up, what I learnt from David Bowie (and other such influential icons) was this: everything is possible, it’s all up for grabs. Be weird, unusual, geeky, different, wild, ridiculous, funny, happy, crazy, belligerent … or not.
Grab it. Life. With both hands. Wring every drop of experience from it. Every. Drop.
To David Bowie: thank you for blowing my mind.