I might as well fess up straight away. I never really liked David Bowie’s music. Maybe I didn’t hear the right stuff at the right time. Or perhaps I was put off by those dodgy duets in the 80’s. Unlike most of my favourite music, no one I love or respect ever told me what to listen to. But whatever the reason, what I have heard has just never really done it for me.
Regardless of that, I’ve always respected him as an artist.
Monday’s news that he’d passed away was shocking. Like many, I kind of assumed that he’d always be there. He had a youthfulness about him that transcended age. A strong spirit that glowed from within him. Even I could see that.
I couldn’t help but notice on social media how many people, how many close friends and family seemed affected by this particular passing. Almost everyone had something to say.
Maybe that’s why, when I sat on the overground train heading through London that evening, I did something I never do and picked up a folded copy of a free newspaper. There was a picture of Bowie on the front and an obituary inside. It occurred to me that I knew little to nothing of the man. So I showed him some respect and I read.
It wasn’t long before a chord struck in me. I read about his youth, his childhood and school days. Of how he failed his 11 Plus exams. And how he left school with just one O-Level in art. And there it was. Here was a man who could take a knockdown at a young age and keep rising. My mother failed her 11 Plus. It effected her for years. She left school not long after, not to return until she had to in her forties. I myself left school with no qualifications. I had to go to art college, it was my only choice to remain in education. I couldn’t draw. But I could hardly write either. Having to go to art college when I couldn’t draw because I was semi-literate is an irony that has rarely escaped me. I look back and laugh, but it was a struggle.
Reading about Bowie made me think of how important art is. The challenge I had at art college was a technical one. But I learned a lot. I don’t think I realised it at the time but that struggle taught me so much. It taught me to observe. To take in detail. But it also taught me to express myself and not be afraid of the consequences. It opened my eyes up to the world of art, to artists I’d love, to Kandinsky, Matisse, Mondrian and Van Gogh. Some of whom struggled for one reason or another, mentally, emotionally or politically. Yet they found a life in creativity. They found a life in art.
So I sat on the train and I read of David Bowie’s failings in early life. His knockbacks. And then I read on to what he achieved in spite of that. It conjured a feeling of inspiration and respect that I rarely feel when it comes to celebrities. To superstars. To artists in the modern world. He took that knock and just kept on rising. He showed what self belief, despite the best attempts at the system to knock it out of you, can achieve. What self expression and nonconformity can bring to life. To what belief in yourself, your individuality and your uniqueness can do if you harness your mind in the right medium. He showed a character and a spirit that could be stopped by nothing and went on to become an icon for individuality. A hero.
For that he will always have my respect.