When news of David Bowie’s death was released on Monday, I wasn’t sure what to write. Some journalists recalled personal “how I met him” stories, one penned a piece about how she wasn’t going to write about him at all, whilst others wisely concentrated on the music. Me, I decided to speak to some local fans here on Merseyside.
Bowie has always been popular in Liverpool, he appeals to our sense of show and glamour – and the celebration of differences. The things I got from most fans, some of whom loved him from the onset, was how they identified with him. Bowie on the telly, broadcast into living rooms in 1970s Britain, strutting about like a peacock gave permission to those who don’t always feel they fitted in, in conventional ways – the LGBT community, the garish, the plain, the lonely, the unconventional beauties amongst us – to carry on doing what makes them happy.
In Liverpool we have a lengthy history and reputation as a radical city, but those who don’t slot comfortably into the world are everywhere. The teenage girl who wears spectacles with lenses as thick as Murray Mints and would rather stumble along in a quiet blur and begs the other kids at school not to notice her; the teenage boy with a face full of angry red acne. There’s a feeling of not fitting in within all of us, at some point.
Local fan Wendy Brown said, “I don’t know how he did it but when he sang it felt like he was speaking directly to me. Whenever I have a problem I listen to Bowie and there is always a lyric somewhere that helps me figure out the solution that I need.” She told me about the second time she saw him perform. “(It was) in Paris, my 21st birthday present from my parents. A Liverpool Echo organised affair. This gig had an interval during which the French left the auditorium. Not wanting to miss the opportunity of getting right to the front, I ignored my bladder’s cries for respite and stood firm. I expected the French fans to ask me to move but they were a very genteel bunch and nobody mentioned my gate crashing. When he came back on he was stood directly in front of me, he looked into my eyes and I thought I was going to collapse on the spot but I remained composed and smiled at him. He smiled back and winked at me and at that moment I knew that he knew I existed. Just one of many Bowie devotees on the planet but he knew I was one of them.”
David Bowie himself was not afraid to be a fan, a devotee. Upon meeting him, artists invariably tell of a genned up Bowie, full of praise for their work. Never mind me, let’s talk about you. Most disconcerting, I expect. When his hero Scott Walker recorded a 50th birthday message it silenced him, Bowie managing to croak out just barely, “I’ve just seen God in the window”.
One fan observed, “When I went to see him as a kid, I didn’t want to know him. I don’t think I even wanted to meet him. I liked the way he was remote, up on stage, this alien. To know he was there was enough.” I’m wondering now what Bowie felt about that, being seen as a god, otherworldly. It might seem strange for us to think of David Bowie as human, with all the frailties that carries. But he was, as it turns out. Human, just like the rest of us. In some ways, anyway.
This article was originally published in Liverpool’s The Guide, January 2015.