Writer, Teacher, Researcher
My first David Bowie album (and it was a cassette) was “Let’s Dance.” I immediately fell in love. There was something about the music that drew me in. I was twelve. I was listening to Duran Duran and Echo and the Bunnymen and starting to decide musically where I was headed. Once I heard Bowie, I knew for sure. I had found my music. It was Bowie who brought me to Glam, Britpop, Punk. It was Bowie with his different colored eyes, his gender fluid style and how he brought together acting, theatre, and music that made me realize I had found my people. He was an innovator and he helped those of us who felt like outsiders find our place.
My first reaction when I heard that David Bowie had died was sadness. Bowie was like my gateway drug and there are many strong memories attached to him and who I picture him to be. But we get older, and as we get older how we view life and the people who touch us in life in different ways. We have new experiences, new beliefs, and new ways of seeing the world. That’s why, as the death of David Bowie was complicated with the discussion of charges of rape as well as his statutory rape of young, teenage groupies it is important for me to address how I am starting to think about and address these complexities.
My first thoughts were to sit back and watch things fold out. I am a fan. I have important memories connected to Bowie. But, I today I listened to someone talking about Bowie leading a “life well-lived” and I needed to start to write about what this means. Did Bowie lead a life well-lived? Is Bowie someone to live up to and admire? If so, how do we do this without also addressing those things he did that are problematic?
The question becomes, how do we remember someone who also has a history of abuse, and for me even more problematic a history that many are choosing to sweep under the rug because “Bowie was a genius” or “it was so long ago” or the woman who talks about her experiences with Bowie (and other stars such as Jimmy Page) said that she was consenting. But, does this make this okay?
I would argue no. I would argue that Bowie allows us to get a deeper understanding into the larger problems with celebrity culture, and in particular the rock-n-roll culture that creates these spaces where older men use their celebrity to influence young girls. We find it easy to forgive Bowie because “who wouldn’t want to lose their virginity to Bowie?” Yet, when we think about those same 14 year-old girls (7th graders) who have been raped by other men Bowie’s age (their mid to late 20s) who are not celebrities or those who are not rock stars (recently there is the case of Warren Jeffs, but there are also many other examples of religious leaders) we do not find it as easy to forgive, or even push to the side.
But, we need to discuss what this means for us us as a culture. How can we start to have discussions around artists such as David Bowie in honest ways that will allow for change in how women and girls are viewed and treated in our culture? As a society we need to make some real changes about not only celebrity but how we talk about celebrities as real people; people who do some terrible and problematic things.
Yes, I will mourn the death of David Bowie. He holds memories of a specific time in my life that are dear to me. He influenced music, fashion, and even discussions of gender and sexuality in some real and important ways, but this does not mean I will forget about the other parts of Bowie. I will not forget that he chose to use his celebrity to seduce and exploit young women. This is problematic. It is something that we need to discuss. And, I write this piece to add to that discussion.