photo of David Bowie from the web of unknown date.
There have been and continue to be great
transgressives in England, and in Wales and in Scotland.
Eccentrics who have taken full advantage of the anarchy permitted by and contained in the British way of community.
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.
Oscar Wilde, Francis Richard Burton.
Beyond the Fringe; Christopher Hitchens, late of Balliol, Oxford, still in our minds.
I could go on and on. (Very few women, of course, Of course!)
Then there are entitled, privileged – I’ll pick on one:
Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, KG, GCB, OM, GCSI, GCIE, GCVO, DSO, PC, FRS, and pansexual to boot, if you please –
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 the fullest of lives.
Which brings me to why I love David Bowie.
It is not so much that I like his music. I mean there are the Stones there. And the Beatles and Bob Dylan 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,
was one of a handful of the British working class who have extended to the entire population the possibilities which, for centuries, were 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.
David Bowie lived this with flair and apparently without fear or favour.
Americans may take this making the most of your life and talents for granted. Pursue your happiness. Follow your bliss. Be all that you can be. Go for it.
But David Bowie was not American and Britain is not America.
Class rules in Britain. Race also. Class almost always in first place even if the two are inextricably entwined.
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 and opportunity.
For everyone who has the courage.
As David Bowie had.