I heard the news of David Bowie's death coming down the stairs, when my mother shouted it at me rather unceremoniously from beside the radio. It would hit me on and off throughout the day-perhaps the reason it didn't sink in straight away was because I'd heard David Bowie's music so often throughout my childhood that it simply didn't sink in that he was dead. In fact, a few times I caught myself genuinely wondering if it was true, because it felt so unbelievable.
I'd grown up hearing David Bowie's music without really being conscious of the person I was listening to. He was just often there in the background, the music being played under whatever party or family meal I was at; I liked the songs but I almost didn't think about them because I heard them so often. In fact, the first real awareness I had of his name was realising he was responsible for Changes on the Shrek 2 soundtrack.
When I was fifteen, I first heard Heroes, sitting in a darkened cinema, watching the last scene of The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. I must have heard it before but this was the first time I'd really paid attention to it. The second I told my mother about it, she regaled me with a memory of going to see Bowie live and then informed me he also used the name Ziggy Stardust, which was enough to endear him to me straight away.
The teenage years are a time of donning personas, trying on various identities to see what fits. Maybe that's why so many people discover Bowie in their teenage years-the thing I loved about him was how utterly open he was about the many different sides of himself. One of the things that irritated me the most as a young teenager was being pinioned in one shape, one group, simply because that was what the people around me had decided I should be. Whenever I hear Bowie, it reminds me of sitting in the car on the way to school each morning, seething about some injustice or other, with "Rebel Rebel" blasting in my ears. The very lyrics conjured up that feeling of teenage alienation, of questioning identity: You got your mother in a whirl, She's not sure if you're a boy or a girl.
One of the insidious messages of society seemed to be that we were crammed into one persona, that we are put on one path and that is the path we have to follow. That any deviation from that path or goal is a failure at living the right kind of life-a life dictated by your previous actions. But change is natural-as Bowie made clear in the famous song of the same name. As a teenager, sometimes I felt like I had a label scrawled on my head and that was what I'd be stuck as forever-as though any other side of myself, even one that felt just as genuine, could be dismissed, simply because people had already decided I was a certain way.
David Bowie's many faces and personas didn't detract from his authenticity-it added to it. Because it's natural to change and all of us have many different faces and sides to our personalities. I remember dyeing my hair blue when I was sixteen and feeling as though I was shedding that image of myself as a little girl with pigtails. That had been just as real once-but now this was real. This was the side of myself I felt comfortable being right then and whatever other people said, it didn't make me any less genuine. Bowie became a comfort to me, blasting "Rebel Rebel" whenever someone muttered something about me changing, like it was a crime.
In today's society which is increasing in both diversity and tolerance, we are growing in awareness all the time. We are becoming more aware of different sexualities, gender identities, different outlooks. The world is gradually turning up the volume on difference, variety, breaking the mould. Bowie, in a substantially more conservative era, is one of the artists who laid the foundations for this generation-not just in terms of music and artistry but in tolerance, diversity and embracing all sides of a person.
David Bowie will be remembered for many things by many people. But for me, I'll always remember him as the person who taught me that there didn't have to be one face I chose. Because, through his music and through his steadfast refusal to stick to one projection of himself, he showed that there was more than one side of a person to know-and that all were acceptable, all were genuine. For me, I'll always remember being a mixed-up, angsty kid in a car, listening to Bowie in my headphones, singing about showing all the sides of yourself, not just the ones society wants to see. He taught me and all the other mixed-up angsty kids, that it's not your responsibility to turn all these sides of yourself down-it's the world that should be turning itself up.