David Bowie

‘GIMME YOUR HANDS’ #DAVIDBOWIE

I can’t quite believe that it’s three years since David Bowie died. I don’t know what he would have made of the state of the world right now, the rise of the right wing, Trump, Brexit, the increasing racism and intolerance in the world. I think it would have broken his heart – he was all about inclusion and diversity and being yourself, whatever others thought. We seem to be going back to a world of conformity, intolerance, prejudice and hate. I hope it’s the last death throes of those who are desperately kicking back through their fear of what they don’t know and don’t understand and hopefully we’ll come out the other end, better, stronger, more tolerant, more inclusive.

I was so worried about sharing this post back in 2016, but the responses were wonderful. I’m sharing it again, partly to remind myself of what Bowie meant to me, and to remember that whatever happens in the world, however dark it gets, there is beauty, and light, and music and art and love and compassion and belonging. 

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Posted 15th January 2016

I’ve thought long and hard about writing this post. I’m quite a private person, and I don’t like to use this blog to express my personal feelings or thoughts to any great extent (although I have made exceptions in the past). And my blog is also there for my business – and I like to be professional. Also, I feel as though in some way I’m intruding on someone else’s grief, selfishly indulging in feelings that aren’t really mine to have or to share. But I’ve had this post buzzing round my head, refusing to go away. So, here goes…

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I was a very strange teenager. Awkward, lanky, insecure, painfully shy of others and cripplingly terrified of their opinions of me. My family and the few friends I had at the time would probably be quite surprised to hear this, but what goes on on the surface isn’t always the same as the turmoil that’s raging beneath. I knew I was ugly, gawky, weird. I had strange thoughts and compulsions, strange fears (that I now know are OCD). I didn’t fit in, had very few close friends. School was an absolute torture. I was desperately unhappy, most of the time.

My tastes in music were quite pedestrian. I was a Duranie, in love with John Taylor and convinced one day I’d marry him and be taken away from all this misery. I liked their music, still do, but it wasn’t really about that. Then in 1985, I watched Live Aid. I was aware of David Bowie, liked some of his stuff, but we weren’t a very musical household, so other than my sister buying ‘Ashes to Ashes’ in 1980, he wasn’t really on my radar.

That changed that day in 1985. He blew me away. Those songs literally changed me – ‘TVC15’, ‘Rebel Rebel’, ‘Modern Love’ and, of course, ‘Heroes’. The following Monday I bought ‘Rebel Rebel’ and a few other singles – you could still buy singles then – and played them over and over. I remember one of the B-Sides was ‘Queen Bitch’. What a revelation of a song. I became obsessed.

Bowie became the focus of my life. I bought album after album whenever I could afford it. I watched his films (my poor mum sat through them all with me, even ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ – rather awkward). I read everything I could (actual books – no Google back then!). There was so much to listen to, so much to learn. I felt as though a whole new world had been opened up to me.

And it had. The beauty of this new obsession was that it led me to so many other things. Directly to Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Pixies and, through Ryuichi Sakamoto via ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’ to Japan, the band, not the country! Discovering these bands led me further. I started reading the NME and Melody Maker, discovering the back catalogue of The Smiths, who I adore still, and bands like Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Sisters of Mercy, TheThe, Bauhaus. Band after band, song after song that seemed to speak directly to me, to understand me, to recognise how I felt. It was the beginning of a massive transformation.

As the eighties drew to a close, I began to change. I went to see Bowie in June 1987, the ‘Glass Spider’ tour. I was still a bit geeky, a bit unsure of myself, a bit frumpy and uncool. By the time I went to see him again on the ‘Sound and Vision’ tour in August 1990, I was about to leave home, having been accepted on a journalism course. I was a different person – black eyeliner, black lipstick, black fingernails, cut off Levi’s, Dr Martens, a Gene Loves Jezebel t-shirt. I was finding my way, gaining my confidence, accepting myself.

The following month I met the man who was to become my husband. He was obsessed with Bowie too. We discovered we’d been at the same two concerts. It felt like fate.

I’ve had my ups and downs over the years. As a family we’ve been through a lot – house moves, redundancies, the death of my mum from cancer. All the good things, all the good times, and all the bad things, the bad times spring to mind when I hear certain songs – more often than not a David Bowie song. At a family gathering on Boxing Day, my brother-in-law asked who we would meet, if we could meet anyone. Without a second’s hesitation, both Gary and I said ‘David Bowie’. And now that he’s gone, I can’t think of anyone else, anyone who has the same pull, the same aura, anyone who is anywhere near as interesting.

At 7 o’clock on Monday morning, Gary sent me a text saying simply ‘Bowie’s dead’. I didn’t know what to do except burst into tears. It felt surreal. It still does.

Yesterday, Gary and I went to the Bowie mural in Brixton (I’ve always been inordinately proud that I was born in Bromley in 1969 and so actually lived, for a few years, that close to the man himself!). This was weird for us. We don’t do that kind of thing. After all, we didn’t know him. It seems disrespectful to try and share in that grief. But we are grieving. He was a big part of our lives. It’s not an overstatement to say he changed music, he changed culture. He did. And it’s not an overstatement to say he changed my life. Because he really did. And reading some of the messages scrawled on the walls around the mural in Brixton, I wasn’t the only one. Those messages are some of the most touching, heartfelt and moving things I’ve ever read. Many people have quoted lyrics from his songs that meant something to them. For me, these are the words that really spoke to me at fifteen, and that remind me now that I don’t have to feel the way I did then:

Oh no love! You’re not alone
You’re watching yourself but you’re too unfair
You got your head all tangled up but if I could only
Make you care
Oh no love! You’re not alone
No matter what or who you’ve been
No matter when or where you’ve seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain
You’re not alone

Just turn on with me and you’re not alone
Let’s turn on with me and you’re not alone (wonderful)
Let’s turn on and be not alone (wonderful)
Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful (wonderful)
Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful (wonderful)
Oh gimme your hands.

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Photo Credit BrixtonBuzz

 

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The David Bowie Reading Challenge #TuesdayBookBlog #DBowieBooks #DavidBowie

It’s David Bowie’s birthday today, and since his death three years ago I’ve been intermittently taking part in the David Bowie reading challenge, which I first heard about here.

To be completely honest, I’ve not done too well – but the challenge has led me to read some wonderful books, and I’m determined to read more from the list this year.

Here are the books I’ve read so far with links to my reviews.

‘Nights at the Circus’ by Angela Carter

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‘As I Lay Dying’ by Williams Faulkner

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‘Room at the Top’ by John Braine

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‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ by Muriel Spark

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‘Billy Liar’ by Keith Waterhouse

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‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’ by Hubert Selby Jr

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‘1984’ by George Orwell

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‘Fingersmith’ by Sarah Waters

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‘Madame Bovary’ by Gustave Flaubert

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You can find a complete list of the books here.

I’ve also read ‘Passing’ by Nella Larsen, and will post my review soon.

I do recommend the challenge – there are so many books out there, new and old, but there are books on this list that really are must reads and many are books that I’ve been meaning to read for years, so it’s a good way of focusing on that goal.

Do let me know if you’ve read any of the books on the list, and what you thought.

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‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ by Muriel Spark #DBowieBooks #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

I read ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ as part of the David Bowie reading challenge that I first heard of on Jade Scatterbooker’s blog.

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Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is Muriel Spark’s most significant and celebrated novel, and remains as dazzling as when it was first published in 1961.

Miss Jean Brodie is a teacher unlike any other, proud and cultured, enigmatic and freethinking; a romantic, with progressive, sometimes shocking ideas and aspirations for the girls in her charge. At the Marcia Blaine Academy she takes a select group of girls under her wing. Spellbound by Miss Brodie’s unconventional teaching, these devoted pupils form the Brodie set. But as the girls enter their teenage years and they become increasingly drawn in by Miss Brodie’s personal life, her ambitions for them take a startling and dark turn with devastating consequences.

This book has been on my radar for years, but for some reason I’ve never got round to it or seen the iconic film version. I have read Spark’s ‘The Driver’s Seat’ which was brilliant and strange and shocking, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this.

It’s also brilliant and strange and shocking. Spark is a writer who refuses to be bound by convention. She writes in the way she wants to write and this book is wonderful because of that. Miss Jean Brodie is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve ever read about, and the way she speaks and behaves are skilfully portrayed. The narrative moves back and forth, showing the teacher and her girls at various stages from when they are ten right through to when they are adults.

The way Brodie manipulates and influences the girls is shocking at times, as is the behaviour of the girls themselves (and some of the other teachers). And the casual cruelties, particularly directed at poor, unfortunate Mary, reveal so much about human relationships. The interactions between the characters also reveal a lot about the conventions and social issues of the time, in the years leading up to the Second World War.

The book is short but it packs so much in. The economy of the writing shows real skill. Spark manages to say a great deal in a few words – a lesson that many writers could do with learning. Her use of language is the epitome of every word having meaning. There are no whimsical meanderings here.

Intelligent, dark, subtle and skillful – genuinely a classic.

5 stars

 

‘Nights at the Circus’ by Angela Carter #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview #DBowieBooks

I read Angela Carter’s ‘Nights at the circus’ as part of the David Bowie reading challenge that I discovered on the fabulous Scatterbooker blog.

nights-at-the-circus2Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Is Sophie Fevvers, toast of Europe’s capitals, part swan…or all fake?

Courted by the Prince of Wales and painted by Toulouse-Lautrec, she is an aerialiste extraordinaire and star of Colonel Kearney’s circus. She is also part woman, part swan. Jack Walser, an American journalist, is on a quest to discover the truth behind her identity. Dazzled by his love for her, and desperate for the scoop of a lifetime, Walser has no choice but to join the circus on its magical tour through turn-of-the-nineteenth-century London, St Petersburg and Siberia.

My goodness – what a fabulous lead character Carter has given us in Fevvers. Half woman, half swan, Sophie is the star of Colonel Kearney’s circus, travelling across the globe, followed by the enamoured journalist Walser, who becomes a clown in order to join her on her travels.

It’s hard to summarise this story – so I won’t even try. This book doesn’t follow a traditional structure but that doesn’t mean it’s hard to read. On the contrary, it’s enormously entertaining.

The settings are described vividly, magically, beautifully. The cast of characters are fantastically drawn – I have a particular soft-spot for Lizzie, Fevvers’ ‘mother’, closet activist, her magic handbag able to conjure any remedy for any occasion and as intriguing and delightful as Fevvers herself. Mignon, Samson, the Princess of Abyssinia, Buffo the Great and the wonderful Sybil the pig are all brought to life effortlessly. Their stories are a joy to read and their narratives intertwine with Sophie’s own story flawlessly.

The writing is assured, clever without being pretentious, lyrical in places. It’s a book I’ll remember for a long time – unforgettable, colourful, and chaotic. A masterpiece.

5 stars

‘1984’ by George Orwell #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview #DBowieBooks

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As books and David Bowie are two of the greatest loves of my life, I’m trying very hard to complete the David Bowie reading challenge that I discovered on the fabulous Scatterbooker blog. It’s a great list, eclectic and intriguing, and there are lots of books there that I read years ago or that have been on my ‘I really must get round to reading this’ list of books for years. One of the best and the most memorable and a book that I really believe everyone should read is George Orwell’s absolute masterpiece, ‘1984’.

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Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

‘Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past’

Hidden away in the Record Department of the sprawling Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith skilfully rewrites the past to suit the needs of the Party. Yet he inwardly rebels against the totalitarian world he lives in, which demands absolute obedience and controls him through the all-seeing telescreens and the watchful eye of Big Brother, symbolic head of the Party. In his longing for truth and liberty, Smith begins a secret love affair with a fellow-worker Julia, but soon discovers the true price of freedom is betrayal.

George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four is perhaps the most pervasively influential book of the twentieth century.

There’s a reason that this classic appears on so many ‘must read’ lists. It is truly a masterpiece. And the themes it tackles are as relevant today as they ever were. I read it first when I was in my late teens, angry at the world (I still am!) and looking for answers (I’m beginning to think there aren’t any) and this was a revelation. Re-reading it all these years later, I was struck by how it rings true today and was completely inspired and awed by Orwell’s foresight, his intelligence and his skill as a writer. There isn’t much to say about this book that hasn’t been said before, so I’m going to let the experts convince you:

“”Nineteen Eighty-Four is a remarkable book; as a virtuoso literary performance it has a sustained brilliance that has rarely been matched in other works of its genre…It is as timely as the label on a poison bottle.” -“New York Herald Tribune 


“A profound, terrifying, and wholly fascinating book…Orwell’s theory of power is developed brilliantly.” -“The New Yorker 


“A book that goes through the reader like an east wind, cracking the skin…Such are the originality, the suspense, the speed of writing, and withering indignation that it is impossible to put the book down.” -V. S. Pritchett 


“Orwell’s novel escorts us so quietly, so directly, and so dramatically from our own day to the fate which may be ours in the future, that the experience is a blood-chilling one.” -“Saturday Review

I certainly can’t put it better than any of these more qualified and competent critics, so I won’t try. All I’ll say is that I agree whole-heartedly with them all, and I urge you to read this wonderful, terrifying, heartbreaking, and totally relevant book.

5 stars

‘Madame Bovary’ by Gustave Flaubert #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview #DBowieBooks

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Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Castigated for offending against public decency, Madame Bovary has rarely failed to cause a storm. For Flaubert’s contemporaries, the fascination came from the novelist’s meticulous account of provincial matters. For the writer, subject matter was subordinate to his anguished quest for aesthetic perfection. For his twentieth-century successors the formal experiments that underpin Madame Bovary look forward to the innovations of contemporary fiction.

Flaubert’s protagonist in particular has never ceased to fascinate. Romantic heroine or middle-class neurotic, flawed wife and mother or passionate protester against the conventions of bourgeois society, simultaneously the subject of Flaubert’s admiration and the butt of his irony – Emma Bovary remains one of the most enigmatic of fictional creations.

Flaubert’s meticulous approach to the craft of fiction, his portrayal of contemporary reality, his representation of an unforgettable cast of characters make Madame Bovary one of the major landmarks of modern fiction.

 

I first read ‘Madame Bovary’ for my degree in Literature and Language. When I saw that lovely book blogger Jade at Scatterbooker was attempting the David Bowie reading challenge, I was thrilled to see so many of my favourite books on the list, including this one, and decided to join in. I didn’t need much of an excuse to revisit ‘Madame Bovary’ – for me it is one of those books that teaches you so much, whether you’re a reader or a writer, but especially if you’re a writer.

Charles Bovary is dull.  He manages to qualify as a doctor and is married off to a wealthy widow who soon dies. He meets Emma Rouault – the daughter of a patient – and falls in love. Emma is bored with life. She has dreams and fantasies, mostly concocted from reading, and she yearns for a life of beautiful clothes, dancing at balls, rides in carriages, socialising with the nobility. This may not seem much to aim for by today’s standards, but for Emma these dreams offer an escape from the mediocrity and limitations of everyday life, particularly for a woman. Stupidly, she thinks that Charles can offer her what she wants. Once she becomes Madame Bovary however, she soon realises that life as the wife of a provincial doctor is boring and dull.

She has affairs, acts selfishly and thoughtlessly, spends too much money, has no interest in her child. All in all she should be the villain of the piece. But Flaubert’s mastery lies in the fact that as a reader you are conflicted. Yes, I want to shake Emma, particularly for the sake of her child, but I also feel sympathy – this is the lot of women, to never fulfil their dreams, to be criticised and marginalised. Emma could be so much more, but society pigeonholes her, and when she refuses to conform, she is destroyed, or at least destroys herself. She isn’t likeable, by any means, in fact she is, on many levels, a thoroughly horrible person – but was she destined to be that way? Was she made that way by her situation, and the situation of women in general?

It’s not an easy read, but it is definitely a novel that should be read. And if you are a writer, Flaubert offers you here a masterclass in the art of characterisation – never will you feel so conflicted about a character, or so devastated at an ending and at the sheer waste.

I’ll be honest, some of the reviews on Amazon make me want to spit. Ignore them, and read this. It’s wonderful.

5 stars

 

‘Gimme Your Hands’ #DavidBowie

I’ve thought long and hard about writing this post. I’m quite a private person, and I don’t like to use this blog to express my personal feelings or thoughts to any great extent (although I have made exceptions in the past). And my blog is also there for my business – and I like to be professional. Also, I feel as though in some way I’m intruding on someone else’s grief, selfishly indulging in feelings that aren’t really mine to have or to share. But I’ve had this post buzzing round my head, refusing to go away. So, here goes…

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I was a very strange teenager. Awkward, lanky, insecure, painfully shy of others and cripplingly terrified of their opinions of me. My family and the few friends I had at the time would probably be quite surprised to hear this, but what goes on on the surface isn’t always the same as the turmoil that’s raging beneath. I knew I was ugly, gawky, weird. I had strange thoughts and compulsions, strange fears (that I now know are OCD). I didn’t fit in, had very few close friends. School was an absolute torture. I was desperately unhappy, most of the time.

My tastes in music were quite pedestrian. I was a Duranie, in love with John Taylor and convinced one day I’d marry him and be taken away from all this misery. I liked their music, still do, but it wasn’t really about that. Then in 1985, I watched Live Aid. I was aware of David Bowie, liked some of his stuff, but we weren’t a very musical household, so other than my sister buying ‘Ashes to Ashes’ in 1980, he wasn’t really on my radar.

That changed that day in 1985. He blew me away. Those songs literally changed me – ‘TVC15’, ‘Rebel Rebel’, ‘Modern Love’ and, of course, ‘Heroes’. The following Monday I bought ‘Rebel Rebel’ and a few other singles – you could still buy singles then – and played them over and over. I remember one of the B-Sides was ‘Queen Bitch’. What a revelation of a song. I became obsessed.

Bowie became the focus of my life. I bought album after album whenever I could afford it. I watched his films (my poor mum sat through them all with me, even ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ – rather awkward). I read everything I could (actual books – no Google back then!). There was so much to listen to, so much to learn. I felt as though a whole new world had been opened up to me.

And it had. The beauty of this new obsession was that it led me to so many other things. Directly to Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Pixies and, through Ryuichi Sakamoto via ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’ to Japan, the band, not the country! Discovering these bands led me further. I started reading the NME and Melody Maker, discovering the back catalogue of The Smiths, who I adore still, and bands like Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Sisters of Mercy, TheThe, Bauhaus. Band after band, song after song that seemed to speak directly to me, to understand me, to recognise how I felt. It was the beginning of a massive transformation.

As the eighties drew to a close, I began to change. I went to see Bowie in June 1987, the ‘Glass Spider’ tour. I was still a bit geeky, a bit unsure of myself, a bit frumpy and uncool. By the time I went to see him again on the ‘Sound and Vision’ tour in August 1990, I was about to leave home, having been accepted on a journalism course. I was a different person – black eyeliner, black lipstick, black fingernails, cut off Levi’s, Dr Martens, a Gene Loves Jezebel t-shirt. I was finding my way, gaining my confidence, accepting myself.

The following month I met the man who was to become my husband. He was obsessed with Bowie too. We discovered we’d been at the same two concerts. It felt like fate.

I’ve had my ups and downs over the years. As a family we’ve been through a lot – house moves, redundancies, the death of my mum from cancer. All the good things, all the good times, and all the bad things, the bad times spring to mind when I hear certain songs – more often than not a David Bowie song. At a family gathering on Boxing Day, my brother-in-law asked who we would meet, if we could meet anyone. Without a second’s hesitation, both Gary and I said ‘David Bowie’. And now that he’s gone, I can’t think of anyone else, anyone who has the same pull, the same aura, anyone who is anywhere near as interesting.

At 7 o’clock on Monday morning, Gary sent me a text saying simply ‘Bowie’s dead’. I didn’t know what to do except burst into tears. It felt surreal. It still does.

Yesterday, Gary and I went to the Bowie mural in Brixton (I’ve always been inordinately proud that I was born in Bromley in 1969 and so actually lived, for a few years, that close to the man himself!). This was weird for us. We don’t do that kind of thing. After all, we didn’t know him. It seems disrespectful to try and share in that grief. But we are grieving. He was a big part of our lives. It’s not an overstatement to say he changed music, he changed culture. He did. And it’s not an overstatement to say he changed my life. Because he really did. And reading some of the messages scrawled on the walls around the mural in Brixton, I wasn’t the only one. Those messages are some of the most touching, heartfelt and moving things I’ve ever read. Many people have quoted lyrics from his songs that meant something to them. For me, these are the words that really spoke to me at fifteen, and that remind me now that I don’t have to feel the way I did then:

Oh no love! You’re not alone
You’re watching yourself but you’re too unfair
You got your head all tangled up but if I could only
Make you care
Oh no love! You’re not alone
No matter what or who you’ve been
No matter when or where you’ve seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain
You’re not alone

Just turn on with me and you’re not alone
Let’s turn on with me and you’re not alone (wonderful)
Let’s turn on and be not alone (wonderful)
Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful (wonderful)
Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful (wonderful)
Oh gimme your hands.

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Photo Credit BrixtonBuzz