January 11th 2016: a day when we wake up in the gloom of a winter’s morning and are forced to say goodbye to David Bowie – suddenly, unexpectedly. Horribly.
I was devastated when Lou Reed died, and sad when Lemmy did – but there was something inexplicable and shocking about Bowie dying. I suppose when someone’s music is so ingrained into our lives that we feel they are a part of us – their music is certainly part of our history, anyway. And like most people, I know the words to Life on Mars, to Changes, to Heroes … and I love Underground (I’m a child of the 80s and still obsessed with Labyrinth), Oh! You Pretty Things, Letter to Hermione, Rock n’ Roll Suicide.
Bowie’s music very obviously fits into everyone’s personal playlists – but he also slid into my novel without me noticing it. I liked Bowie and the fluidity that he flaunted in his music, his style, his sexuality, but I didn’t realise how much he influenced my writing until today when I pulled up my manuscript and realised he’s mentioned five times. It would be impossible to have 1980s Soho without Bowie. It would be impossible to have Bowie – or a version of him – without Soho.
The first gig Bowie played away from south London was at the Jack of Clubs, Soho (later Madame JoJos), in 1964 (as Davie Jones & The King Bees). In the 60s he played the Marquee Club and then later The Scene and The Regent Sound Studios.
But Bowie was more than the gigs, the music. The 80s music scene in Soho grew from everything Bowie said, sung, did and wore. He was more than just a musician. He was a figurehead – so much so that Billy’s at 69 Dean Street had regular David Bowie nights (albeit only for three months) where the kids turned up in andrgynous outfits and outlandish make-up.
In We Can Be Heroes (named, obviously, after Bowie’s song), Graham Smith writes: “of the New Romantic moment I have always said, It was all Bowie’s fault.” Which must mean that so much of my novel is Bowie’s fault, too. Thank you, David, for everything.