On David Bowie

What will it be then, he says? Dinner jackets and romance, or shipwrecks on a barren coast? You can have you pick: jungles, tropical islands, mountains. Or another dimension of space – that’s what I’m best at.
– Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

It was the year 2000, and I was between school and university. Somehow, somewhere, I’d picked up a cheap compilation CD that led off with Space Oddity. It wasn’t the first Bowie I’d been aware of, or heard; he’d always been in the background, not least in Labyrinth which was the childhood fantasy film of choice for the indie-r nerds in my school. I faintly recall You remind me of the babe being recited on a tape of poetry I had as a small child, read by someone like Roger McGough. I may be mixing things up and smashing them together in a jigsaw of memory. It would be easy to do, and probably not inappropriate, for Bowie.

But it was in listening to Space Oddity while reading the newest Margaret Atwood novel, The Blind Assassin that David Bowie crystallised for me and became a part of my life and music catalogue. I can’t think of that book now without hearing Space Oddity in my head. I’ll never be able to re-read it without listening to it. They belong together. I suspect that Space Oddity make The Blind Assassin better. And from there I just expanded outwards, hoovering up the Bowie catalogue and realising just how much of it I already knew.

Some people I follow on twitter have really specific, powerful stories this morning of what Bowie meant to them and why. I don’t, particularly. To a very large extent @jzellis’s tweet sums it up for me:


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There’s simply something bright and powerful out there that now has a hole at its centre and will never emit more new light.

There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds

For me the power and joy of Bowie was imagination and storytelling. There was a bit of him for all the different bits of me, from dancing in my kitchen (which I’m currently doing, while listening to BBC6Music and writing this), to standing in Berlin in a snowy Feburary thinking about history, to writing about theology and musing on transcendence. I love the willingness to see more out there and imagine and explore what that is. And even though our ideas may be different, there are times when I’m listening to Bowie when the truth in the lyrics comes screaming through the aether – the hazy cosmic jive.

Today, I’m due to be writing about theology and mission. So I’m going to make some coffee, roll up my sleeves, keep listening to BBC6Music, and remember the lyrics to Under Pressure

Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
Under pressure
Under pressure


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