David-Live-coverI’ve just watched this fantastic BBC 4 documentary David Bowie and the story of Ziggy Stardust (below) about Bowie’s emergence as a global pop star and, more importantly, cultural sensation and groundbreaker.

I had all his albums. (On vinyl. Not an exaggeration.)

I recall feeling anxious for him when I saw how skeletal he looked on the cover of 1974’s David Live — still one of my favorite live performance albums all these years later. Genius.

Here’s the opening track: 1984


David Bowie ‘1984’ from David Live.

When I think back, my and my contemporaries’ fervent admiration for Bowie as a writer, musician and performer, and our accompanying acceptance of his sexuality (gay/bi/whatever) opened a path for the social changes we’ve seen — most recently the same-sex marriage/’marriage equality’ legislation passed this week.

Lamenting Christian commentators and activists like Ian Wishart (who I saw today on The Nation grumbling darkly about ‘dishonest’ media coverage and a cynical ‘gay propaganda strategy’ which he thinks has ‘brainwashed’ the world to accept gay ‘lifestyles’ by concealing or de-emphasising the ‘lifestyle’ part, as if we’re all stupid) can say what they like. But on the other hand, it’s good that he labelled the argument a ‘culture wars issue’. Yes, we agree about that, but our conclusions as a result may be different.

Icons like David Bowie courageously expressing themselves, and (yes, for sure) shockingly pushing boundaries/frightening the horses in the 1970s — when ‘poofter-bashing’ was still disgracefully commonplace — were part of that shift to our cultural foundations. He was routinely called an ‘abomination’ by Christians at the time. Which really grated with me.

Personally, I think acceptance of ‘the other’ follows exposure to ‘the other’, and locating our empathy for our fellow human beings. It doesn’t mean you become them, but stop ignorantly hating them.

This is a brilliant documentary. I laughed out loud at some of it, and winced with nostalgia at other bits. If you’re a fan, or even just interested in how influential Bowie was, it’s worth an hour of your time.
Take a look:

My sixth form English teacher was at Hammersmith and very kindly lent me the negatives of his grainy Tri-X pix of Bowie in concert. So I had the vicarious experience of developing my own prints of Bowie in the school darkroom. Unforgettable.

– P