It is wall to wall David Bowie. Wars and rumours of wars have almost all but been forgotten for the moment.
David Bowie, the Stones, the Beatles, the Kinks, Procol Harum and Queen accompanied my adolescence and my early adulthood and are as familiar to me as shepherd’s pie.
There have been and continue to be great eccentrics in England, and in Wales and in Scotland, for centuries. Eccentrics who have taken full advantage of the anarchy permitted by and contained in the British way of community.
These are and were the great transgressives: the kings who were Catholic and knew they should not be and paid for it. The Virgin Queen who refused to get married. The Cambridge 5 prepared to give up (almost) all the privileges of their class for a fight for equality. Dizzy who was Jewish by blood but adopted the faith of the elite and became prime minister of the country and a favourite of the Queen. T.E. Lawrence, an Arabist without equal. Viscount Mountbatten of Burma, pansexual to boot. Oscar Wilde. Francis Richard Burton. E.P. Thompson with a history of the working class in Great Britain so mellifluous that you almost forget the outrages. Beyond the Fringe. Christopher Hitchens, late of Balliol, Oxford, late of all our hearts. And Alexander Cockburn. Edmund de Waal with the fabulous amber eyes who took a First Class Honours at Trinity College, Cambridge. Than which there are few things more difficult. I could go on and on. (Very few women, of course, relative to their numbers. Of course!) The privileged strutting their stuff all over the island not to speak of all over the empire behaving in ways which would have crisped ‘ordinary’ people before the law or in the court of public opinion and shamed them into conformity. All of them extending for themselves and their class the possibilities of how to live a life.
Which brings me to why I like David Bowie. I did not much like his music. I mean there are the Stones there. And the Beatles and Dylan Thomas all of his generation………
David Bowie in 1980 during the filming of Ashes to Ashes (Duffy Archive/The David Bowie Archive).
What I liked is that Bowie, the son of a waitress and a man who worked for a children’s charity, a native of Brixton, extended to the entire population the possibilities available to the few: to make of your life what you will with imagination and colour. Making sure to do no harm. This is the promise of our Western civilization. And the ground from which is emerging and will emerge behaviours and attitudes to save our world. David Bowie did this with flair and apparently without fear.
Americans may take all this making the most of your life and talents for granted.
But David Bowie was not American and Britain is not America. Nor is Europe America. And the French mediacracy and literati have gone into overdrive since his death in the admiring analysis of what David Bowie achieved. Because France……………..well, France is stuck in old ways of gender and class and hierarchy and the options of the French people are limited. The people. Not the governing elites.
We need to achieve our full humanity. Without which we are all held bound in paralyzing class/race/sexual orientation and gender models which may or may not be good for us. May or may not be good for the world. The important thing is choice and example. For everyone who wants and can think her or his way through. As did David Bowie.
Lovely. Thank you.
The featured image is Man in a Landscape; a print of cyanotype and gum, 1986, made by Sarah Van Kearen, born 1943, American. Philadelphia Art Museum. 2015