I'm a very ordinary David Bowie fan. I own only a handful of his albums, never managed to see him live, and didn't even realise which part of London he was from until the recent coverage in the wake of his death. But, just like the other 12,000 or so people who've signed the petition I started on Change.org, I'd love to see him feature on the next £20 banknote.
After the sad news on Monday, the number of people who've written their own tributes, proposed statues, laid flowers in Brixton and Beckenham, and even taken to the streets to sing his songs says much about Bowie's success in creating music and imagery with both mass appeal and personal resonance. Most people I've spoken to since can think of specific memories we associate with David Bowie songs. For me these include childhood memories of my Dad singing his own rendition of Space Oddity across the house to ask if I was ready for school each day: "Ground control to Major Tom / Have you got your trousers on?"
Others mentioned memories of life-changing road-trips, surviving bouts of depression, or even meeting life partners to the soundtracks of Hunky Dory, Heroes or Earthling. These albums and songs permeated both the mundane and wonderful moments of our lives in equal measure. They simultaneously hold deep personal meaning and constitute part of a shared cultural dialogue between all of us. And so, in the moment of first hearing the news of his passing on Monday morning, even those of us who'd never met David Jones (the real person behind this supernova of creativity), experienced a sense of loss.
The marks Bowie has left on popular culture are already indelible, but it's a natural part of our collective feeling of loss to want to somehow acknowledge his amazing body of work and the man behind the talent. The road names and statues will come in time, but for someone so unique and with such profound influence it seems like only meagre recognition. And so, once my friends and I hit upon the idea of petitioning to feature Bowie on the £20 note, it seemed like an obvious way for everyone to acknowledge him.
Bowie was an outsider. Some have suggested that the man who refused a knighthood would be unlikely to want to feature on currency - perhaps the ultimate symbol of the establishment. But he also made the music and imagery of a cult artist part of the mainstream by sheer force of talent. After gaining mainstream popularity he continued to challenge and innovate, shifting the cultural landscape with him each time he did. If his image is taken to befit the next £20 note he'll be doing the same all over again by changing the rules of who can appear on currency.
In the UK, our banknotes have been reserved until now for stuffy historical characters, who few people find a great deal of emotional connection to. Fry, Churchill, Darwin, Faraday, Elgar, Austen, Smith, Watt - all great luminaries who made seminal contributions to the world, but with whom almost no-one has any feeling invested. With Bowie on the bills all that changes. We can begin to ditch our homage to industrialists (James Watt), elitists (Elgar) and individuals who've become totemic of a continued neo-liberal wet dream (I'm looking at you Adam Smith) and show that what matters to people in this country, the ones who still have to use cash notation rather than bank transfers of several zeros, are the people that have made our lives happier and richer. No single person has done that for so many as David Bowie.
David Jones, the man behind the rock-star personas was an intensely private person, who from the accounts of his family and friends was charming, generous and loving. The body of work he created as David Bowie has transcended the influence one person could normally have upon the world. In acknowledging that by having him feature on UK coinage Bowie will be performing one more little revolution for us. We get to have someone inspiring and otherworldly in the mundane transactions we make every day. I'm pretty sure David Jones would have approved of that.Suggest a correction