When I was young, I spent a lot of time imagining what I would look like as a grown up. I knew I wanted to look different from most of the people I encountered in my everyday life, but I had trouble making the image come into focus. I didn’t have a lot of exposure to rock and roll. We didn’t have MTV or cable. But what I saw, I liked. I worked with what I had, wearing brightly colored lace tights under ripped jean shorts and crop tops. But the results were disappointing at best. At 8, I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup. My round face, dirty blonde hair, and chubby baby body made me look so benign, so incredibly boring. My happiest times, image wise, were when I wore costumes for my dance recitals. The hairsprayed hair, the pink makeup, the sequins. I liked them all, but it was still wrong. There was always so much focus on looking “pretty”.
There were some definite inspirations. Jem, the cartoon executive/rock star was pretty good. I really liked her big pink hair and triangular eye makeup. But she was too silly looking. Madonna was also close. I liked her bag-lady-sexy clothes and ratty hair. But she was too messy and loud. It wasn’t quite it. I wanted to look different but also otherworldly. I wanted to look somehow extreme but untouchable. Extraordinarily calm and powerful but hints of the storm that lay beneath. I wanted to look like barely controlled wildness.
Around this time we had a baby sitter that my brother and I both loved. Gretchen, a high school student that lived down the street, was funny and fun. She played games with us and ate pizza and always brought a movie to watch. One night, Gretchen brought over Labyrinth. I remember liking the movie pretty well, the spooky fantasy subject matter and high drama appealed to me. But when Jareth stepped through the window in Toby’s room, the moonlight shining through his round orb of white blonde hair, his strange eyes coldly amused, I felt my heart completely stop in my chest. There it was!!! The way I wanted to be! The way I wanted to look! And also, weirdly, someone I wanted to be with.
Many years later, my heart would stop in the same way when I would see this very scene played out in the movie, Velvet Goldmine, directed by Todd Haynes. When Christian Bale’s character sees Maxwell Deamon (a character based on Bowie and played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers) for the first time on tv in his parents living room, he feels immediate identification. “That’s me, that’s me, Da!” he yells, jumping up and down in his drab clothes and jabbing his finger at the beautiful, sparkly man on the television.
After the movie I asked Gretchen why that guy looked like he did. “He’s, like a rock star. He’s a singer. His name is David Bowie,” she told me offhandedly as she wiped her hands on a dish towel and looked past me out the window.
In the movie, Labyrinth, the main character, played by Jennifer Connelly, is called Sarah. Jareth wants her to live with him and be the goblin queen, it’s why he steals her brother. At the end of the movie he pleads with her, “I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.” She denies him and gets to go home with her baby brother as the reward.
This was absolutely stupefying to me. This gorgeous magical being wants you to become a freaking QUEEN and be his SOUL MATE and live in an amazing FANTASY CASTLE and basically get WHATEVER YOU WANT for the rest of your life and you never have to go back to boring school and chores and clothes that aren’t shiny violet ball gowns?
All I had to do was close my eyes and listen. Sarah, Sarah, he would say, whispering directly into my heart. Yes, I would whisper back. The answer to your questions is yes.
And that’s how I fell in love with David Bowie.
Being 8 and living in a small town in Missouri, I didn’t really come in to contact with his music until much later, in a different small town. But when I did, I fell in love all over again. His strange and beautiful baritone, crooning and shouting and not quite singing the note but just somewhere around it. The melodies, shifting and sliding, the tone, the beats, bringing in the horns, taking out the horns, electronic, rock, atmospheric, folky, always changing, changing.
So, I love Bowie. And I want to be him.
I have heard other people talking about how they picture their own bodies as something different from what they see in the mirror. I think it’s pretty common to imagine a thinner or more beautiful version of ourselves. But I feel something more than just wishful tweaking. When I picture myself doing things that I do, I prefer to picture David Bowie doing these things. His elegant grace, his extreme confidence, his mismatched eyes piercing your very soul, dismissing all that’s frivolous. There’s nothing I could do that he wouldn’t do better. The images are so pleasing and so comforting that I indulge in this often. Sometimes to the point of being surprised when I accidentally catch sight of myself wiping down the bathroom counters in the mirror. That’s not David Bowie, I might think, holding a bottle of Clorox bathroom spray, my hair frizzing unattractively around my face.
Why don’t you just dress up like David Bowie and get on with your life, you could be asking at this point. But I don’t want to attract attention. I feel like if I went about my day in a full face of glam rock makeup and a sequined romper, it would become more about other people than myself. Also, I don’t want to look silly. I’m no teenager anymore.
And it isn’t about disliking myself. I don’t. It’s about love. It’s about enjoying the love I feel through and past the boundaries of myself and someone else. Blurring the line between Bowie and me.
Which Bowie do you picture, you might be wondering. I love them all. Dorky unfamous 60s Bowie, girl/unisex Bowie, glam 70s Bowie, alien Bowie, thin white duke Bowie, tan 80s square hair Bowie, sad clown Bowie, Labyrinth Bowie, grungy 90s Bowie, grim electronic goateed Bowie, long haired hip but getting old Bowie, sick heart attack Bowie, just plain old Bowie.
On the album, Heroes, there is a version of the song, Heroes, that is different from the edited version you hear on the radio. Here are the lyrics from the opening:
I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be heroes, just for one day
And you, you can be mean
And I, I’ll drink all the time
‘Cause we’re lovers, and that is a fact
Yes we’re lovers, and that is that
Though nothing, will keep us together
We could steal time, just for one day
We can be heroes, for ever and ever
What d’you say?
He whispers these words directly into my heart. Yes, I whisper back. The answer to your question is yes.