John Pownall

John Pownall

Bowie Memories

The first time I heard David Bowie, and knew what it was I was hearing, I must have been about 10. It was 1972. I liked the Osmonds, Slade, T Rex, and a few old things which my mum and dad had from the 50s. I recognised, dimly, that the world had stopped when The Beatles split up, and that pop music was on hold. The shock of the split was still new, and kids of my age were looking for a hero.

The song I heard first was 'Space Oddity'. A friend at school had an older brother with a reel to reel tape recorder. I can't say I liked it at all. Then, when I saw photographs of the androgynous one, I was even less enamoured. Why would anyone dye their hair that colour, or wear boots like those? My friends brother said "He's a freak", as though it were a good thing. Yes, I thought, a real freak.

"He's from another world". Indeed, he was. This was Rochdale; 12 miles from centre of the urban sprawl of ruinous post-war, post-industrial Manchester. It rained every day. We wore laced up shoes, and short pants; duffel coats, and balaclavas.

We didn't even understand what sexual was, let alone bisexual.

Then I heard 'Life On Mars?'. Suddenly I was there, in that "god awful, small affair", and I knew so many girls with mousey hair. Mummy was always yelling no, and daddy always telling me to go. I got it. He was speaking to me. Then, of course, here was a pop song that sounded like no other, with string arrangements, and a grand piano, and those wonderful home counties sounds of his voice as he utters "Wonderful" at the end, with the phone ringing in the background. It was a piece of music which made me shiver inside, for the first time in my life. It still does. I had never heard The Beatles' 'A Day in the Life', or Dylan's 'Desolation Row'. I had been too young. Here was a hero for my generation; lost somewhere in the wilderness between the heights of hippy culture and punk, searching for a meaning.

From there I discovered Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, The Man Who Sold The World, and then later, Aladdin Sane. I was hooked. The hook stayed in me until about 1984 when I realised that the great man had passed through his great period, and I sat cringing as I watched the video to 'Blue Jean'.

But for 12 glorious years he was my mainman. Thanks David, you helped me to grow up.

John Pownall.
20th January 2010.