How to put into words the depth of a loss which affects no material change in my social circle? How to express all the things that stranger, that alien, that musician, that performer, that extraordinary star meant to me?
I woke up to text messages asking me if I was ok. Their sources were diverse enough that I knew it was not a relation. So I ran through the options in my head; Nicky Wire? David Bowie? David Bowie. David Bowie.
Open twitter to read what I already knew in the pit of my stomach. And laugh at the absurdity. David Bowie clearly cannot die. How ridiculous. I spent all weekend listening to the new album. Nobody who made something so vital could possibly die. How ridiculous. Spent the weekend thinking about how Blackstar was like, and unlike Outside. Mulling over the imagery in Lazarus.
Got in the shower. Lost my breath to wracking sobs. Can't be true, is true, can't be true, is true.
BBC News channel, the only place to go when the world turns upside down. Is true is true.
But, united. The whole of my twitter timeline, text messages, messenger keeps pinging, all of my facebook feed. All united. Saying "surely not? He means too much to us all.".
At first I couldn't understand why his illness had been kept secret, but it is better this way. We'd have mourned him for a year and a half whilst he was still here. Brutal though today has been, it's clean.
_ _ _ _ _ _
David Bowie pre-dates the Manics, as my obsessions go. Like the rest of my generation I met him in Labyrinth. But I'd always known his songs; I remember playing with space station Lego, singing Space Oddity to myself, over and over again when I was 4 or so. But it came together in 2002, I bought Heathen after a rave review in Q and added it to Hunky Dory of my shelf. For 3 months in 2005 I listened to nothing but The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I waxed lyrical about his acting skill, and his dick, to a friend, when I got thrown out of a party for being too drunk and made him watch The Man Who Fell to Earth with me. I went to Berlin with Station to Station and The Next Day in 2013.
I saw him live, his last UK show, in 2004 at the Isle of Wight Festival. It was beautiful. Perfect, actually. He came on after England lost at football in some competition or other. Made a quip about sharing his initials with David Beckham. Launched into his set. Turned around the mood. Turned around the festival. The sun went down as he played and when he went off stage, at the end, the woman near me shouted "we'll scream until the sun comes up". As we walked back to the campsite there was a buzz. People babbled in disbelief at what and who they had seen. I overhead two lads talking; "we saw him! The Thin White Duke! I can't believe we saw him!".
I can't believe I saw him.
I knew I was not straight when I was young, perhaps 14 when it started to come into focus for me. I remember asking my Mum, when I was 16 or so, if she liked Bowie. She said "I did, until he said he was bisexual and then I went off him". And I remember that going to my very soul. Bowie was with me, my Mum was not. I clung to him. Immersed myself in Bowie's otherness. I was sure my Mum would go off me, just like she had Bowie, when she knew the truth of me. When I finally came out to my Mum it was with reference to that conversation; "would you hate me if I was bisexual?".
She didn't hate me. She doesn't hate Bowie any more either. She told me today the news hit her like a punch to the stomach. I think my sexuality and feeling accepted, and my Mum's feelings about Bowie will always be all tied up together for me.When I started reading autobiographies I felt a new sense of connection. His brother had schizophrenia, before his sad death. And that shaped who Bowie became and how he moved through life. A few people quote him as saying he feared he would lose his mind. I know that fear. I am shaped by that fear. Nobody who has stood so close to madness, to schizophrenia, can feel anything else. My brother lost his mind when I was 11. And then again, and again. And by the time I was 16, perhaps earlier, I had no greater fear than losing my mind. Still don't.
I took comfort in knowing Bowie shared that. It changes you. It pushes you on.
How far can you push yourself before you do? How does the free-wheeling, top of the roller-coaster moment feel? Who else can you be? Why be one person? If you have nothing to lose but yourself then it's time to let go of that tight grip of who you are and explore everyone you could be.
And look what happens when you let go, look what happens when you reinvent yourself, casting off each shell as you outgrow it.
So he can't be gone, can he? It's just the latest reinvention.