What David Bowie meant to me – from the fans at his Brixton street party last night
‘He was a visionary and he was a creative’
On the train to his farewell street party in Brixton, David Bowie’s face stared out from the commuter’s evening papers, insistent and ironic, ever dismissive of the romance we all attach to it, the romance of genius and unparalleled originality.
There were as many cameras as people by the Ziggy Stardust mural opposite the station. “Too much television” a woman muttered.
The crowd here was everyone. You and all the people you’ve known. The kids who painted their nails black in the music room at lunchtime and the bullies who stalked the playground looking for them. An Australian guy literally drank a Foster’s. A girl with pink hair cried and held a candle. I saw a buddhist monk and company men who’d come straight from their offices.
“Fuck off meedja” one of the more Brixton voices shouted in the direction of a camera crew laden with lights and microphones and circuitry.
Maybe it was still a bit early, maybe people needed more to drink, maybe they just didn’t know the words, but the impromptu rendition of Changes that followed was weak.
People were in a state of divided attentions, caught between singing and recording themselves singing on phones and tablets and SLR’s. No one was able to do both well and no one could decide which was more important.
“It’s exciting innit” said someone, as they papped the Ziggy mural. A lot of the conversations seemed to involve eager explanations of what David Bowie was and what David Bowie wasn’t to others with different ideas of what David Bowie was and wasn’t.
An old northern man laid down some flowers. “Alright, let’s go down to the pub and celebrate the king of rock and roll.”
Earlier in the day we spoke to the fans who’d gathered by the mural and asked them how Bowie had changed their lives.
Amy, 21, chef
“He meant the absolute world. I was about 10 years old when I first listened to him: I was ransacking my mum’s CD collection in her bedroom and just by chance I pulled out a David Bowie record and from that day on I was hooked. As soon as I turned 18 I got some Bowie tattoos. I am definitely getting another tattoo now.”
Greg, 27, financial worker
“It’s important to be here at this moment. He really chronicled my teenage years and came with me into adulthood, to be here with him at this time seems important.”
Jen, 44, special needs professional
“He was my god, there is no other word to describe him with.”
Barbara, 54, visual merchandiser
“He just captured my imagination as soon as he appeared. We saw him on Top of the Pops for the first time. My older brother was very much into him and I followed, all the way through my teenage years it was just Bowie, Bowie, Bowie.”
Andrea, 24, Linguistics, Language and Film student
“I came straight away as soon as I heard the news. A friend of mine from Spain sent me a message saying ‘David Bowie has died’ and I was like, ‘what are you talking about?’ I went on Facebook and when I saw all of the news I was so shocked, I wasn’t expecting it at all.”
Hermione, 55, secretary
“My earliest memory of David Bowie was Space Oddity, I have been with him all the way through. I heard it on the radio because I didn’t have a record player but I bought the record just to stare at the cover. I have all the albums now on vinyl and CD so I can play them everywhere.”
Lia Gomez-Lang, 20, English and Film student
“He was more than just a musician, he was able to reach so many people through so many mediums, especially with regards to gender. He went through so many genres of music and touched generations of people.”
Malcom, 60, retired
“When he was on Top of the Pops in 1972 and he put his arms around Mick Ronson. I remember how disgusted my parents were but at the same time because I’m bisexual it was a big thing for me. He came along and liberated us all.”
Peter, 47, record label owner
“For most people he was a visionary and he was a creative in being able to reinvent himself. He allowed people to be who they were. I listened to a song today on an album that I have had for years that I hadn’t really listened to called Fascination and I think we are all really fascinated with him a bit.”
Outside the Ritzy, they’re not so much dancing in the street as huddling in the street, awkwardly shuffling in the street, taking selfies in the street. The crowd was at least a couple of thousand strong by now and you wished the whole place could be pedestrianised so there’d be proper dancing – but not even Bowie can stop London traffic.
“On one hand I feel like I’m quite happy, I’m quite young and I’ve had a good job but on the other… I’ve never really done anything. I’ve never really been anywhere.” I heard a woman say this to her friend, who had the Aladdin Sane lightning bolt running down her face.
“Why are you here?” A CNN reporter asked a mother and daughter.
“There’s nowhere I’d rather be right now” the mother replied.
“Do you like David Bowie’s music?” The reporter turned her attention to the little girl.
“A tiny bit.”
Around 8pm somebody brought better (louder) speakers and started playing Life on Mars and even though everyone fucked the high note, the presence of people my parent’s age who actually know the lyrics helped things along.
“I think that’s Tina!” A girl said and Young Americans was playing and it was difficult, really difficult to dance or move towards Tina, because there were so many people here now.
“It changed things in the way you looked at life in general, to just go out and do your own thing” said another man to another TV crew.
Near the speakers there was dancing, people holding tinnies and cigarettes and bottles of wine in black plastic bags and flowers and candles. More and more of them had the Aladdin Sane face paint.
You wonder how mental Dartford will be when Mick Jagger dies, if anyone would bother showing up in Stoke-on-Trent to sing Millennium or Let Me Entertain You if Robbie Williams expired next week. The devotion Bowie inspired is undeniable and was palpable around Brixton last night. He found a way to seduce different generations into worshipping him.
“We’re at the statue Tina!” The girls said to her phone.
Some photographers started using an old public toilet as a makeshift stand by the biggest pair of speakers. I joined them up there and began to feel like the party had started.
Every time a celebrity dies we get to watch the worst people we know make it all about themselves. Looking at this crowd I had the strong sense that the worst people were at home making Facebook statuses while the best people were here, screaming the words to Modern Love at each other.
The flimsy roof of the old toilet started to collapse in on itself under the weight of the press and the group of guys drinking polish lager and me. Some irritated police ordered us to get off, and like the punks we were, politely did what they said.
On the way home I walked past a KFC and heard the first lines of Labrinth’s Earthquake (ft. Tinie Tempah):
Ladies and gentlemen
This is something they call
A ground-breaker, breaker…
And I was overcome by a feeling of immense gratitude to have existed at the same time David Bowie existed.