Before Life on Mars
by Bridie Wilkinson
I wake up and check my phone for the time.
Instead, I can make out a message from my dad. Two words. Bowie’s dead.
Bowie’s dead. Bowie died today, but I’m not here, I’m there. Back in my dad’s car, 11 years old. We’re listening to the CD player and my dad turns to me, intent to annoy, and says, ‘the next one is about you.’ But this is all before.
Before I met the icons out of order, the fast blonde burnt orange lightning and thin white elbows. Before I realised he was one person, that the ‘somebody else’ was actually ‘nobody else’. Before I saw him wear his body like it was borrowed, uneasy, like he wasn’t sure where it came from. When it fell out of earth and landed on him.
“Before I realised he was one person, that the ‘somebody else’ was actually ‘nobody else’.”
He felt fictional. Then I heard the screams, saw the lipstick and the makeup pitched to match the high octaves of the spinning girls – salt of the earth, he called them. Just like him. Brixton boy gone Bromley gone Berlin, each one determined to claim him as their grown, just like each generation tied themselves onto his vocal chords – but we’re nothing like him. Starman, Major Tom, past one hundred thousand miles and watching planet Earth turn blue.
I learnt his colours – dancing reds and electric blues, but his voice was already a kaleidoscope, there was no need for further flamboyance, but that really wasn’t his style, I found, spending hours with history as he danced on screens behind me – ‘Ziggy died?’ I asked my dad, later, after. ‘Not really’ he replied –
‘This song is about you.’ So I wait. Wait for the defiant piano that hits the stirring lyric, the first notes of a call to arms. Open arms, welcoming me into the out-of-focus places I didn’t know I should’ve been looking for.
But the film is a saddening bore, because I’ve lived it ten times or more, or years, until now, lying in bed, as the piano and his voice are the only thing I can think of. Bowie’s dead. But not really.
Co-founder of Dear Damsels, missing the starman every day.