By Lorraine Pink
THE FIRST single I ever bought with my own money was David Bowie’s The Jean Genie. It was 1974; I was 14. I rushed home from school to play my new vinyl single on Dad’s record-player before he got home from work. I danced and sang out loud for hours in our lounge room, playing that one song over and over again. It was the first time I had really felt connected to a piece of music.
I was living in the Netherlands; Dad was in the Royal Air Force. My school had kids of four nationalities. I’d been there a year or so when a new boy arrived. He was also in the ‘Brits’ section, although he was a year above us. I noticed him instantly; he was wearing different clothes to the rest of looking very British.
Not long after the new boy’s arrival a group of us went to his house after school. We hung out in his bedroom listening to his records, smoking cigarettes, being the coolest kids ever. In his record collection were two Bowie albums: Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust… Both of them became personal favourites as Bowie’s music and his androgynous look absolutely captivated me.
I bought the albums myself and played them ‘to death’ – as my father put it, before confiscating them and then I had no choice but to become a rebel. My listening moved underground, making it all the more exciting. My parents’ disapproval confirmed I had excellent taste. My father could not understand why a boy wanted to look like a girl, and was very confused that his daughter now wanted to dress like a boy. Bowie had opened my eyes to the world of art and creativity and the possibility that I could be anything I wanted to be. Suddenly the world was an exciting place.
The next year we were posted back to Uxbridge, London. I went to a new school. It was a hard transition for me as I only had a year or so to go before I finished high school. Instead of my relaxed Dutch school, with no uniforms and good friends, I had an English grammar school with uptight teachers and snobby girls with whom I couldn’t connect. And so I spent many afternoons in my bedroom alone, listening to music, dancing in front of my bedroom mirror trying desperately not to fall off my platform shoes while singing out loud to favourite songs like Moonage Daydream (from the Ziggy album): “Keep your ‘lectric eye on me babe/ Put your ray gun to my head…”
Later, in the early 1980s, I was preparing to emigrate to Australia when Bowie released a music video for his song ‘Let’s Dance’. The video had been made in Australia, what a strange coincidence I thought? Then, after I’d moved across the world, Bowie announced a series of concerts in Australia. Finally, I was going to see him in person – the concert was in Brisbane, it was 1983, it was the Serious Moonlight tour. We had standing-room tickets, which meant queuing for hours to get decent places in the arena. I managed to get myself right to the front. When Bowie came on stage the audience surged and I was crushed against the barriers. I didn’t care. When he came on stage I screamed like a woman possessed, completely overcome by his proximity on stage. I’m sure he came to Australia just for me. I was feeling terribly homesick at the time.
Listening to Bowie’s music takes me back to a time when, as a lonely teenager, he made me feel there was someone in the world on my wavelength. But most importantly, he was a constant in my life at a time when everything around me was changing every 3 years. Such is the life of an Army brat or in my case an Air force brat. New country, new city, new school, and new friends. Again. I could put on a Bowie track and pretend it didn’t matter, even though it did.
When I heard the news of his death I was stunned, I had recently purchased Black Star and was finding it hard to listen to any of the songs without crying. The songs had all taken on new meaning in light of his recent departure. It was an incredible parting gift and I thank him for that. Even though he’s gone, I know he’ll always be in my orbit. Because he’s my star man. Always was, always will be.
by Lorraine Pink, First published in The Big Issue Australia