Is There Death on Mars?

David Bowie, the man whose songs were, first by proxy and then by choice, the soundtrack of my youth, has died. The proxy soundtrack at first because of my twin brother. And if you are a twin growing up in the same house, it is your lot to share more than your genes. I grew to love Bowie, but it was not always so.

In the early 80s I was a huge fan of The Cure. Robert Smith had the look I was after. So while I teased and backcombed my dyed black hair (don’t worry, I thought, there’s plenty more where that came from), piled on the white makeup and eyeliner, wore Victorian era clothing; my twin was all slicked back bob, thin white features and late 70s Berlin sartorial elegance.

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And now? Never listen to The Cure. Haven’t in years. Best Album was 17 Seconds and I don’t even listen to that anymore. And Robert Smith? Looks likes Miss Haversham from Great Expectations, never quite realising that the wedding party is over (let the gothic reader understand the in-joke). Same look, same(ish) hair, 60 pounds heavier, wrinkled. Playing the same songs.

But Bowie? Ah Bowie. Slinking from one smooth look to another. No rock lothario. Never stopping somewhere long enough to be a parody of himself. My only victory is compared to what Smith looks like now. I scrub up pretty well, bald and ageing and all as I am. Yet Bowie? Still looked the goods even into his sixties. Leaving us for dead.

Except Bowie is the one who has died. Today, leaving us a little morose, a little sad, and more than a little reflective.

As a Christian I always felt conflicted by my fascination with Bowie. There was a guilty pleasure about his allure. Yes he was a chameleon, but there was something more reptilian in there too. He slid and slithered into our lives with all of the diamondesque glam of the serpent offering us a fruit that morphed continually in our hands.

Sin, sex, sorrow, sensuality and stardust. My friend Dan says there is something about Bowie’s songs that pluck the strings of creation, fall, redemption; all of the big narratives. Yes, that’s it, all of the big narratives, but ultimately, none of the story’s conclusions. If Bowie concluded anything it was that, as a man of his post-modern times, he didn’t do conclusions, either because he didn’t believe in them, or because he honoured his audience enough to want us to draw our own, and in so doing, knowing we would create and recreate him many times more than he could ever do so himself.

And that ability to shift and shape with the times, growing less weary with age so it seemed, is what made him so maddeningly endearing, so shockingly attractive, and so fascinating to so many people for so many years.

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