I was about fourteen when I first heard Bowie, I had quite long hair, we all did then. And with me having soft, quite feminine features at the time, unlike now, I was often taken for a girl, especially by old people... 'Look at your lovely hair, what a pretty girl you are, what's your name?' they would say. And I would reply 'Tommy', and because they were nearly always deaf they would say 'ooh Tammy, lovely hair you've got Tammy, you should wear a dress though, little girls shouldn't wear jeans' and I would scowl.
I hated looking like a girl, and I wanted me hair cut, but no one had short hair around our way. I hated my face, hated my eyes because I had such long eyelashes. I tried to cut them once, with some kitchen scissors. I grabbed them off the kitchen table one morning and went up into the bathroom to try and cut them. They used to call me at school about them because it looked like I had mascara on. Some of the harder kids used to take the piss something rotten. Mam caught me in the mirror with these scissors and screamed 'what you doing you silly sod, you'll have your eye out' and I thought about it for a minute, I thought about opening the scissors to just the right span, and jabbing the blades into my eyes so that I would ruin them for good, and so that I wouldn't be able to see Tammy's face any more. But as usual I chickened out. Didn't have the guts to do it. In fact every time I went near my eye with the scissors I could smell the bacon fat that mam had been trimming off the rashers 'coz she was on a diet. The smell of the raw meat made me feel sick.
Anyway, that night I was at home and The Old Grey Whistle Test was on, I was watching it on the portable telly in my room when I saw Bowie for the first time. I hadn't a clue who or what he was. All I could see was this thing in tight clothing with an attitude and a smile. If the presenter hadn't said the name 'David' Bowie I wouldn't have known if it was a man or women. I remember looking at him and everything else on the screen disappeared. The way he moved, and the way he smiled and sang completely blew me away. The pouting, the attitude, the sexual ambiguity of this... this 'thing' that stood and sang. No, not sang... that stood and performed in black and white at the bottom of my bed left me wondering what the hell was going on in my head. That was another thing, even though it was a black & white telly I knew, I mean I just knew, that his hair was red and that his skin was as pale as alabaster.
It was around that time when Glam was tarting itself up and ready to hit the streets and screens of Britain. There were plenty of people on telly wearing make-up and playing the Glam game, but he seemed to me to have something extra. He had a look of authority coupled with a coy sense of fun. But you just knew that he was far more than a flash in the pan. It was in the way he moved, the way he looked almost alien-like that you knew he was going to rule a part of your dreams and your life for a long time to come.
I remember one Christmas when Top of the Pops was on and my Gran and my Aunt Maureen were at our house. Gran was always at ours on Christmas Day but it was the first time Aunt Maureen was there 'coz Uncle Stan had left her. I had got my first LP, Ziggy Stardust it was, and I couldn't wait to play it on the record player in the front room, but I was going to wait until I was on my own to play it. My little brother Sean had got loads of toys, just like I had over the years, but I really felt as if I was growing up now, you know, 'coz I had got this album for Christmas.
Anyway, we had had our dinner and were sat around letting it all go down when he came on telly. The drink had been flowing and Gran, who was a huge woman, was asleep on the settee with a big green paper party crown on. She was such a big woman she couldn't cross her legs and she had to sit with them apart 'coz they were so big. I remember her big wobbly legs in her coffee coloured stockings, it was awful. Aunt Maureen was quite drunk in the chair opposite me. She had a big beehive hairdo and a short floral patterned dress on and every time she moved it was rising higher up towards her waist. She had lovely legs though so I didn't mind, and she had wanted to watch a film on the other side but I wasn't going to miss Top of the Pops 'coz I knew Bowie was going to be on. Mam was washing up in the kitchen and dad had gone upstairs for a lie down. Anyway Bowie came on and Gran opened one eye, her top teeth had dropped onto her bottom lip and she looked like something out of a horror film. She was full of sherry and this would always tend to loosen her mouth a bit, in more than one sense. Anyway she spotted him on the screen, in colour this was, and began to try and speak. 'Bloody transhveshterite, thatsh all he is... they want cashtrating... that'll short the bashtardsh out.' she mumbled, before nodding off as her teeth finally fell out of her mouth and came to rest on top of her massive breasts. Aunt Maureen began to giggle, she was mam's youngest sister, and she must've been about mid twenties at that time. Her beehive wobbled as she laughed and she spilled some of her gin and tonic on the carpet. I was trying to watch him on the telly but was distracted by the frequent glimpses of Aunt Maureen's knickers as she shifted on the seat whilst giggling. Then our Sean came in and started firing his arrows from this toy bow that he had got for Christmas. The arrows had big red suckers on and he fired one right through Aunt Maureen's beehive. She left it in, said she felt like a 'Geisha Girl'. I didn't know what she was on about. Gran was snoring now and I got up to turn the volume up on the telly. When I sat back down Gran stopped snoring for a moment or two and Bowie sounded really loud in the room, then Mam shouted through to turn the volume down but I just pretended not to hear. Then Gran let this enormous fart go and Aunt Maureen went into fits of laughter, gin and tonic splashing all over the place. I wanted to go upstairs to watch it but I couldn't in case I woke dad, anyway I wanted to watch him in colour. You see Bowie was a distraction to other people in my family, but to me he was an escape.
I didn't have a 'record player', as we used to call them back then, so I had to wait until the house was empty or something before I could play stuff I wanted to hear. I remember thinking that the record player must have got such a shock when the needle first went down on Ziggy, it was so used to playing Matt Monroe, or Doris Day that I thought it could sing the songs without having the records on it. That record player finally got a life when Ziggy dropped onto the turntable, the speaker sang like never before. I say 'speaker' 'coz it was one of those all-in-one things, a mono, with a lid and a handle you could carry the whole thing around with. It eventually became mine when Mam and Dad got a new 'stereo'. And I passed it on to our Sean a few years later. I wish I still had it now. But anyway, Gran was snoring her head off on the settee and Bowie was singing Starman on the telly. I had chased our Sean out of the room 'coz he was jumping around in front of the telly just to annoy me. Bowie had his arm around Mick Ronson and was looking as cool as anything, when all of a sudden this steam began to cloud my view. I thought the telly was on fire or something but then I realised it wasn't coming from the telly at all. You see Gran was getting rather old by then, and what with having too much to drink and a great big dinner, she had gone into a deep sleep and the poor old sod had pissed herself right there on the couch in front of me. The steam was rising from her like a bloody huge Christmas pudding and she was snoring away. I was absolutely flabbergasted and I just froze in the chair and tried to pretend it wasn't happening. Aunt Maureen was facing the telly and singing the wrong words to Starman and she hadn't noticed what was going on, but eventually the steam and the stench of pee filled the room. Aunt Maureen was going "There's a Starman singing in the skies, he like to come and see us but he hasn't got the time..." and I'm sitting there embarrassed as hell about the human kettle on the settee and f**king annoyed that Auntie Maureen was singing all the wrong words. By the time Aunt Maureen noticed what was going on it was like a flaming sauna. She jumped up and ran through to the kitchen to tell Mam what had happened and I jumped up and ran upstairs into my room to watch the remainder of Top of the Pops on my portable and to escape the situation. When I came downstairs again later on the atmosphere was rather subdued and the incident was never mentioned again. Mam got a new three-piece suite out of it though.
So Bowie became part of my life from around that time. I would listen to his music to escape the mundane reality of life. Even at school I could relate him to subjects. I remember in English when we were studying Antony and Cleopatra. I found it a great way to see how Bowie and his fans were related. I saw Bowie as Cleopatra, and glam was his barge. It was the superficial beauty that surrounded him. The fans were each an Antony, initially drawn in by that superficial beauty but once they were connected saw a deeper, more enigmatic being that would constantly toy with their hearts and minds. And they, full knowing, would dance to whatever tune he cared to play. It was more than just the music though. The music was fantastic, it was imaginative, it was creative, and it was new to me, but it wasn't enough. I wanted to do what he did, to emulate him.
It was well known that drugs were a large part of his life back then, and for some reason I thought that it was because of these drugs that he was so appealing. I thought that if I could take drugs that I would be like him. I would become creative, and imaginative and new. And that's how I think I got started. Throughout my teenage years I dabbled with various drugs as I followed Bowie's career. To listen to Bowie while tripping, or high, was a whole new experience. I could hear things I never heard before. Everything seemed so much clearer and the songs were amazingly visual. Drugs were becoming easier to get hold of in the eighties. I got to know dealers, and when I took drugs I escaped. But eventually they began to take hold of me and control more than just my recreational time. Bowie, like everything else in my life, began to fade as the addiction took hold. I sold everything, by the time I was twenty-five I had nothing. The record collection had gone, I was stealing money to pay for the habit, and my parents understandably threw me out because they were afraid of me. I had grown into this monster and they were couldn't put up with me any longer. The downward spiral seemed never ending and the only time I could stop falling was when I took drugs, it seemed to halt the fall momentarily. I didn't realise that it was fuelling the fall.
Then I moved in with Jenny, she was a lovely girl, we had gone to the same school as kids but she was a year younger than I was. She was a real fun loving girl you know. The type of girl that would have made a great mum. But I got her into drugs and she became addicted and we had two years of gradual chaos. We were dealing to supply ourselves, not very successfully. In the end we had very little furniture and Jenny had an abortion as things went from bad to worse. Then the worst day of my life happened.
I had been across to the far side of town to get some gear and when I returned in the afternoon, I found her slumped on the carpet. She had o.d'd and I found her dead on the living room floor. F**king ironic. I tried to pick her up but I knew she was dead, you can just tell, and she was so very cold. I panicked and dropped her to the floor and I remember the sound as she hit the floor with a thud and I said sorry, automatically, and my head was full of sirens but I did the only thing I could do. I got a hit. I hated myself for doing it but it was the only thing I could do. I had to escape again and that was the only way I could do it. I didn't even phone an ambulance, I knew she was dead, but that's not the point is it. I didn't even have the decency to cover her up or try and get help. I just had to get a hit. It was an hour or two before I could tell anyone, and even then I told a friend in the flat below. It was John from downstairs that rang the ambulance. I was just sat on the scruffy old chair. I don't remember much else about it. That was the worst day of my life. I felt like a murderer. It had been down to me that Jenny had became an addict and it naturally followed that if she died because of that habit, then it was ultimately because of me. It was then that I realised that it was only a matter of time before I would go the same way as her. I considered suicide, but being the coward I am I couldn't do it. So much for the Antony in me, I couldn't even fall on my sword.
The next few years saw me in and out of rehab. I was constantly breaking promises I made to myself and going through the motions of a sad existence. Then one day in the clinic, I was thumbing through a magazine when I came across an article on Bowie. The photographs showed him looking tanned and healthy, and it said that he had been off drink and drugs for a number of years and was enjoying a healthy lifestyle. He looked absolutely fantastic. Seeing him like that seemed to rekindle the fire in me and I decided to try and catch up on the years I had missed. They had a CD player in the clinic and there were one or two Bowie albums. They even got some more from the library for me and I began listening to his music again. The old stuff caused a wave of nostalgia. The newer stuff had one or two things that I liked but I was finding it hard to get into some of it. But one thing was clear. He had worked through his addiction and had kept going, kept on. This showed me that it could be done, it inspired me to keep on. His music is now a big part of my life again and I look forward to hearing or watching anything that he's doing in future.
We've both come a long way since Ziggy. And it seems an age since Gran got quite literally 'steaming' drunk and called him a 'transvesterite'- bless her. Jenny would've loved to hear that tale. I never did tell her about it... or did I? Can't remember now."
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