real life

David Bowie made my funny little family seem like it was ok.

A child of the 1980s, perhaps my first real obsession was Labyrinth.

I learnt Jennifer Connolly’s opening monologue off by heart, and could be found reciting it around the neighbourhood morning, noon and night.

Every Friday we would go to the video store and pick two weeklies and one overnight movie. The rules were simple. Mum, my brother and I would have to agree on the overnight one and then us kids would get to pick a weekly each.

I got banned from picking Labyrinth every week. (Like a typical ’80s kid I then switched to alternating it with The Neverending Story and The Princess Bride.)

But even after the ban, Labyrinth remained a go-to film when none of us could agree on what to watch.

Mum didn’t mind watching it again and neither did my Nan, who we lived with, because despite their many differences of taste they both loved David Bowie.

I can’t believe he is gone.

Who didn’t want to watch the Goblin King sing Magic Dance?

In my family, and I suspect so many others, he united generations like no one else.

Growing up living with Mum and Nan the two of them were a pretty odd couple.

Nan loved cricket, Cat Stevens and Swedish detective books.

Mum loved Queen, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Star Trek and Doctor Who.

My parents split up when I was very small and for the bulk of my childhood we lived with my Nan.

It was her house, and her rules, and so for the most part we watched what she wanted to watch, and listened to what she wanted to listen to.

The cricket in summer was non-negotiable, and I remember Mum muttering under her breath whenever the radio played Cat Stevens and Nan wouldn’t let her change it.

They would bicker about these things, I guess in the way any mother and daughter would. But they had two shared loves.

The first was The Rocky Horror Picture Show which I was desperate to watch. They wouldn’t let me, and instead would watch it on occasion together after we’d been sent to bed.

Late at night, trying to be quiet, I would sit in the hallway, with my ear pressed against the wall and listen to them watching. Sometimes my mother would raise her voice against the din of it and scold: “Sarah, I know you’re there. GO BACK TO BED.”

I imagine I gave myself away singing along to Hot Patootie.

Their second, enduring love that was shared by many other members of our family and ultimately passed on to me, was David Bowie.

They would sing along whenever he came on the radio, his records were all upstairs in our record collection, played on any occasion of note.

Whenever she would hear him, my Nan would wistfully say “He is a truly beautiful man”.

My Nan and I, then and now.

Bowie came with us when we travelled.

We drove the 12 or so hours to Canberra to visit my great Aunt and Uncle, listening to the tape of Aladdin Sane at least four times.

Sometimes we would lie on the floor on the bright yellow 70’s shag carpet in our upstairs living room, watching the fan push the stuffy Brisbane air around, listening to Starman on the record player.

Other times the kids up the road and I would take to the dance floor in our socks, sliding around dangerously as Let’s Dance played on.

We were never asked to turn down Bowie.

I still recall the first time I remember really taking in the story of Major Tom, I was probably around four.

I couldn’t comprehend the utter sadness of it. It blew my tiny little mind. I remember thinking about that spaceman, forever floating alone, as I tried to get to sleep.

It might not have been a conscious thing for the most part, but Bowie really made my funny little family seem like it was ok. He was so far from convention, larger than life, sexually ambiguous, a rule-breaking, brilliant, flamboyant wonder.

I went to a Catholic primary school in the suburbs and my parents were separated. My father, immersed in the arts, would let our spare rooms to the travelling cast of musicals that passed through the Queensland capital.

Our Dad weekends were raucous and silly and full of music and possibility. And then I would go home, and back to school, where the parents of my friends wouldn’t let them stay at Dad’s with me because my parents were separated.

Figures like David Bowie made being different something wonderful.

When I heard he had died, at first I couldn’t believe it, and then I couldn’t stop thinking of all the times he’s been a bookmark in my life.

Golden Years was the wedding song for dear friends.

Rebel Rebel is on every party playlist my housemates and I ever make. So is Dancing in the Street.

When I’m feeling uninspired but I need to write, I turn to Ziggy Stardust.

Once, after a rather close encounter with a very attractive bartender, he scrolled through my iTunes collection before settling on Modern Love (I think), and a short soliloquy on the brilliance of Bowie.

They are too many to mention them all (Bowie memories that is, not bartenders).

My Nan isn’t well these days. Her mind is not so good and she can’t remember a lot of things. Her back is so bad she is in a state of persistent agony.

The last few times I’ve come home to Brisbane we’ve put Bowie on the stereo for her. It always makes her smile, and I swear I’ve caught her singing along a little under her breath.

Now and forever his music will be wrapped up for me in family, and the people I hold dear.

He was a giant, and there is not a period of my life that he didn’t touch, nor do I expect that influence will wane with his death.

No goodbye seems like it is enough.

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