|Posted on January 11, 2016 at 4:00 PM|
Everyone over a certain age – and some under it, too - has a David Bowie story. This is mine.
My first proper gig was on the Serious Moonlight tour, in the badlands of Milton Keynes. It was 1983. I was too young, alas, to have seen Bowie in Ziggy times. Here’s what I remember. The horrible crush outside the Milton Keynes Bowl; an uninspiring support set from The Beat, who’d I’d been keen on up till then; the thrilling smell of dope in the air; taking a handful of unspecified pills that my friend gave me, though even back then I suspected they were nothing more daring than aspirin. We took pills because of Rebel Rebel – ‘a handful of ludes’ (or was it ‘blues’?) was one of the lyrics we feverishly decoded. Then I remember Bowie coming on stage, a tiny figure, miles away, and feeling that pull, that surge of excitement in the crowd. We were right near the back. We were scared to be nearer, I guess. We tried to move forward, but so did everyone else. He sang Let’s Dance. And that’s it. That’s all I got. Like Nora Ephron, who describes in her essay ‘I Remember Nothing’ how she was present at a large number of seminal occasions for which she retains little more than the food she ate later, I don’t remember anything else about the gig.
Here’s what I do remember: going home. Fifty-thousand people all left the Bowl at the same time, and the homely little train station couldn’t cope. Me and my three friends eventually got back to London several hours after the last train home had gone. We quickly worked out that I had the Dad Most Likely to be willing to be woken up. I rang him from a payphone, and with relatively good humour, he drove from Ilford to Victoria Station at three in the morning to get us. Thanks, Dad.
Here’s why I went to see David Bowie. I had his posters on my wall. I knew the backstory behind his different eye colours, knew the correct pronunciation of his name. I read Angie Bowie’s autobiography, thrilling to the scene in which Bowie and Mick Jagger emerge from a bedroom together, laughing, clothes mussed. Phwooar. I even liked The Laughing Gnome. All right, I wasn’t keen on the Thin White Duke: stark monochrome, piss-covered Berlin walls, cocaine chic and Nazi salutes (the famous salute, incidentally, was photographed at Victoria Station, seven years before my dad turned up there to blearily herd four excitable and overtired teenage girls into his Vauxhall Viva). But Ziggy and Hunky Dory pulled my heart-strings. Listening to my kids tonight singing Lady Stardust, my heart-strings were pulled again. When I hear his music, there’s part of me still there at the Milton Keynes Bowl: a very young and unformed person, standing at the back of the biggest crowd I’d ever seen, straining to see the extraordinary person on the stage, feeling as if my life was just about to start.