“Life. I love life very much indeed.” – David Bowie
You can be ordinary and lead an extraordinary life, did you know that? I had no idea. I thought that to be someone you needed two things in life, fame and fortune. I grew up watching the cartoon show Jem and the Holograms created by a talented storyteller, Christy Marx. The show was all about the split in personality that the cartoons in those days were obsessed with. Jem, a glamorous rock star was the alter ego of the girl next door Jerrica Benton, who was an heiress as well as the manager of her larger than life persona, Jem’s career. He-Man, She-Ra, The Incredible Hulk, Voltron and the like were just a few of the other examples of ordinary people who could access that part of themselves that transformed them when confronted with situations that needed superhuman powers.
So growing up with all this propaganda that to be seen, you had to be a rockstar, a superhero or a glamorous actress, fashion icon, model, etc… I bought into the ideas that I was no one until someone plucked me from obscurity, lifted me on a pedestal or a stage where I could enchant a crowd of people with my beauty, charisma, charm or whatever there was that I could give. Of course, as a girl, the one easy way to access that power, or shall I say other people’s attention, is sex. Because I didn’t have the patience or the support from my family, who led me to believe that good grades were the only way to achieve a good life, I didn’t get good at music or dancing or sports or writing, even though I showed some initial interest in all those areas. Instead, I ended up focusing on the lowest hanging fruit – targeting and performing for boys.
I was a tease.
It was the only way I could lay my drama before a participating audience. I’d end up sharing so much of my drama (stories I’d made up in my head with very little basis on reality) with them that when they had had enough and seen that I wasn’t going to grant favours, they’d move on. I was lucky that no one tried to take what I wasn’t willing to give and very stupid for leading anyone on like that.
Every once in awhile, I’d end up with someone I wanted to be with and the emotional energy I’d put into these relationships would all go to waste and I’d end up devastated. This was a pattern that I found hard to break even well into my late 20s.
Fame and Fashion
So it all comes back to the conditioning of my childhood. More so than the cartoons, what sealed my fate was childhood trauma from my mother’s side. Mum was the invisible child with the academic gifts in a family obsessed with fashion and fame. My mum’s younger sister, the sun in the solar system of mum’s family was a glamorous model and I can only imagine mum got very little of her own celebrity-obsessed mother’s attention.
So mum started to rebel against the notion of looking nice, having good clothes, nice hair but at the same time was like a moth to a flame whenever an opportunity arose to show herself off, jumping into conversations to show off her knowledge, posing like a model or a celebrity in family photos and she very clearly led a double life. On one hand, she was a housewife and mother and on the other, she had this great potential to be a famous person. She did reach some fame as a familiar face in local farmer’s markets, bragging that her pastries were the toast of town.
So what does this all have to do with Bowie and his many faces? One of the reasons I rushed to start a WhatsApp group as soon as I returned home from Istanbul was to keep in touch with the vibe I felt when my cousins Nergiz, Basak and friend Menek went out to an artsy cafe in the bohemian part of Istanbul’s Kadikoy district. Here we were, three Gen X girls plus my four-month-old Zoe talking in a very grounded way about that thing many people find pretentious, inaccessible, snobby – art!
And Bowie? He died four years ago today but what a body of work he’s left behind to inspire generations of people to express themselves. Bowie successfully found the alien within, brought Ziggy Stardust out for people to love, hate, despise, throw beer cans at and begin exploring their inner space, the consciousness that we are all stardust particles floating about, nothing more and nothing less.
Why did Bowie rise to fame? I think it had a lot to do with wanting to win his aloof mother’s love. I remember reading somewhere that one of his friends confided in him that he felt that young David’s mum didn’t like him and to that he responded “She still hasn’t warmed up to me.”
Heartbreaking, isn’t it?
No wonder he wanted to become famous as fast as he could. He worked very hard at it and finally the single “Space Oddity”, which coincided with the lunar landing in 1969 brought him the public recognition he craved from his mother.
Going through the personas that resided in him in a big hurry throughout the 70s, he came to eventually recognise fame as hollow, fashion as “loud and tasteless” particularly in the beginning of the 80s.
In Praise of Pierrot the Fool
The everyday guy or gal is the fool. This is what Lane Cove drew out of me, I had to embrace the fool and learn with fresh eyes without pretense and prejudice. In short, I had to let go of that hard exterior, the mask, the ego, so I could allow the goodness of life around me to enter and inspire me to create.
I believe this is the revelation that Bowie is expressing in “Ashes to Ashes” a farewell to his Major Tom character who brought him fame with the song “Space Oddity”. In the video, he’s dressed as the stock character Pierrot from mime tradition, singing:
Want an axe to break the ice
Wanna come down right now
Ashes to ashes, funk to funky
We know Major Tom’s a junkie
Strung out in heaven’s high
Hitting an all-time low
So here’s a man who wants to come back down to earth. He’s very happy to leave the character that made him famous up there in heavens so he can break the ice and allow life force to enter him again.
At the end of the video, we see Pierrot conversing with an elderly woman, representing Bowie’s mum, Peggy. It’s so good to see that whatever evil enchantment was blocking the love between mother and child was lifted. Bowie dressed as Pierrot listens to his very middle-class mother, a once aspiring singer. He’s hearing her with his heart and understanding that her incapability to fully love and enjoy life shouldn’t hold him back from respecting her as a human being and appreciating the gift of singing she’d given him.
That video signals that there’s no longer any need for him to separate the rockstar from the ordinary working-class man that he is. He doesn’t need fame, his mum accepts him because he accepts her. The working-class man and the rockstar, they are the same person integrated within him and now he is whole.
Shortly after that, he works as a rockstar, a job like any other, pumps out a series of highly commercial albums in the 80s, focusing on money, a very working-class concept. Always a man of the times, he can’t resist the fastest way to make money in the 80s (accepting life as is, not judging it greedy or evil) and uses Wall Street to issue Bowie Bonds, cashing out $55 million which allows him to buy back all of his work from his crooked ex-manager.
Then it’s back to creating to satisfy his artistic cravings, which is a very sensible thing to do for all of us, as we are all creative beings who may lose our balance in life if we’re not using our innate creative gifts.
You don’t have to go through a rise and fall as a rockstar, financial ruin thanks to bad management, a toxic marriage, cocaine addiction and a flirtation with fascism to come to a place of creating with no ego. But if you do scrutinise your life carefully, you will see your own rises and falls (for me, from academically gifted to government clerk to someone who can’t hold a job), feelings of alienation, grappling with the inner tyrant, addictions (social media, snacks, or the need for people around you to act differently?) and toxicity.
Rockstar or not, we all go through these patterns.
Over to you…
Is there an artist who’s challenged or inspired you to try and understand yourself better to see what forces guide your life? Is this person your own mother? Are you currently pursuing The Artist’s Way? Do you feel it’s pulling you back to earth for a grounding you very much need to create new and exciting things with your life?