Our Tribute To David Bowie: A Personal Account


The first words I heard this past Monday morning; ‘David Bowie’s dead?!’

There was a question in there; disbelief, a hazy, early morning kind of anger and a swift, rising sadness.

I reach for my ‘phone and, as if I don’t trust the information or ‘cos I don’t want to hear it I check. I check the ever-reliable news source, Facebook and I watch it implode. Sick from work with toothache I talk to my colleagues from a nest of blankets, not crying yet, not even close. When the tears start to well up I throw back a couple more painkillers and think of diversionary strategies.

Organising. Putting things together. This will occupy that part of our brains. Happily we have the best venue in East London to make a home for this makeshift tribute and we’re quickly into the meat of the matter. His two best films? ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ has to be number one. Why? Because of its jarring, glorious Roeg collage of beauty and horror, its incongruous romance and absolute, determined otherness (on re-watching we’re feeling it should double bill with ‘Under The Skin’) but mostly? Because Bowie. Infinitely sexual, heart-crushingly beautiful and conversely understated this was Bowie painted large across the silver screen for the first time. An outsider so far from comfort that nothing could possibly save him – not even his incredible intellect and art.

And then there’s ‘The Hunger’. Because it’s bizarre, unique, pretentious, overtly sexual, needlessly ridiculous…there are certain traits conjured in Tony Scott’s vampire-poem that I feel resonate pretty deeply with its lead actor, our non-chameleon (when did he ever blend in?) Bowie.

As I contact bands and artists and we begin to pull the strands of our night together I listen to ‘Absolute Beginners’; I listen to ‘Modern Love’ – but I don’t get past the first chorus of either. As dozens of eager, immensely talented humans throw themselves into our event, committing time and effort with reckless abandon, I’m touched by the presence of kindness, selflessness that’s been engendered by this sudden, strange sadness.

We realise in double-time that it needs to be a charity event and, in asking someone we know who is currently living with cancer, that the charity needs to be Cancer Research UK.

The logistics of putting together the night at short notice loom large and imposing, awkward mechanics at best. Yet there’s only optimism and the will to pay respect – to perform, to share, to give and to help. It feels like between my own mind, my workplace, my online and ‘real’ friends there is a sudden, sharp unity. It’s incredibly moving.

Over in Brixton on Monday night we hear ‘Heroes’ with the gathered thousands at both the mural and outside the cinema (all smiling, all in love with the great one and one another), ‘Starman’ and ‘Let’s Dance’ and it’s very, very close to magic.

‘He’d have liked this’.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure everyone enjoys love.

As the week unfolds and more and more people step up, hundreds buy tickets for our little night and a touch more sense is made of Bowie’s last artistic, entirely intentional musical and visual output. We listen to his first six records in a row – Blackstar is being held for…I dunno…the right time? – and there’s this depth of connection I’ve never felt with Bowie before. I didn’t realise how well he spoke for the eternal outsider; the ill-fitting person; the awkward and unfamiliar. Admiration slips easily into adoration.

He filled us with hope for the artist, that there was a chance that by the act of creation one could excel without the need for acceptance. Bowie was a beacon of hope for the lost, a magnet for the disenfranchised and a true champion of the curious, the eager, the hidden, the damned and the desirous.

We pay tribute to Bowie by showing his films and by playing his music not for any practical reason other than to put some money where it is needed. We all know the movies; we all know the songs – so why the need? Why not just make a donation and leave it at that?

It’s because we need to show the world our love for him; and in that love a respect and adoration for one another. We perform the ritual of music and film and we become bonded by Bowie – a band of outsiders creating their own interior; a home eternal where there will always be room in and on the walls for a patron saint of the unique.

Which, of course, is as much of a contradiction as the man himself.

Bowie has, with his brutally untimely yet graceful passing, reminded us that life is far too short not to express ourselves; to collaborate; to come together; to create and contribute in whatever way we possibly can. Although Bowie is ostensibly about entertainment he’s still desperately telling us that passivity is NOT an option. Inspiration may never have hit so strongly for so many thousands of people.

So, no matter how many times I check online those first early morning words are still true. Yet they’re completely wrong at the same time.

Goodbye David, I’m glad to have imagined I’ve known you.

See you next Saturday.



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