I awoke yesterday morning to find my husband Rich standing in our bedroom staring at the TV news, brow furrowed and a look of utter disbelief on his face. He then silently turned on his heel and headed off for a shower. He’s not a big talker at the best of times, and whatever was going on was clearly beyond words. It took a few seconds for my sleepy brain to register the shocking news: David Bowie had died, following a secret 18-month battle with cancer and just three days after releasing what would be his final album, Blackstar on his 69th birthday. Not only had the music world lost an icon (and that’s a much misused word but entirely right in this case), but Rich and I had lost the rock star who’d played a defining role in our 17-year relationship. Princess Diana may not have dug having three people in her marriage, but with me, Rich and Bowie? Things were just wonderful.
When we met in the late ‘90s, I was the music journalist but Rich knew more about music than me. Well, Bowie at least. We bonded over our mutual passion, attending several gigs a week and every festival going, but Rich always brought the musical conversation back to his hero. He even admitted to checking his age against Bowie’s to compare notes on respective life achievements and sartorial eras – luckily I thought this was cute rather than weird. (Years later we discovered there’s a website that allows you to do exactly this: supbowie.com.) Rich showed me photos charting his hairstyle history, through the prism of Bowie of course, including a fetching early ‘90s red hennaed bob with blonde streaks at the front, his teenage tribute to the Man Who Fell To Earth-era look. I’d always had a thing for men with a passion for pop culture (can’t bear it when you ask someone what music they like and they say “anything”), and I soon found myself smitten.
That moment when it all suddenly made perfect sense: in each others’ arms, singing along together to a moving, beautiful, otherworldly version of Starman, the thought of which still brings me out in goosebumps
Like many women who grew up in the ‘80s my touchstone Bowie moments were his turn as the extraordinarily-mulletted goblin king in Labyrinth and his chart-friendly stadium pop anthems such as Let’s Dance. I didn’t properly ‘get’ Bowie until I met my future husband, and I’ll always be grateful for the education – always gentle, never patronising – that ensued, and the memories that now stud the timeline of our relationship. In 2000, at Glastonbury and weary of the mud, I pushed for us to head home early on the Sunday. Rich, unusually for him, put his foot down and insisted we stay to see that evening’s headliner – yep, David Bowie. How right he was.
Kerry and Rich at Glastonbury
A couple of years later, in 2002, we nabbed gold-dust-like tickets for a gig at Hammersmith Odeon. We were late because I faffed around getting ready, and thus missed the first two songs. Rich graciously swallowed his irritation and that night my epiphany came, that moment when it all suddenly made perfect sense: in each others’ arms, singing along together to a moving, beautiful, otherworldly version of Starman, the thought of which still brings me out in goosebumps.
When we moved in together and integrated our sprawling CD collections into one alphabetically-ordered unit, we had to allocate an extra shelf to the “B” section, to encompass his many, many Bowie albums (does anyone <really> need all those live albums and remastered versions? Yes, apparently they do). My abiding memory of our wedding, on a scorching hot August day in 2007, is walking back up the aisle, immediately after being declared husband and wife, to the elegant, orchestral intro to Sound + Vision. The bit where Bowie’s voice finally properly arrives, soaring into the song with “Blue, blue, electric blue…” matched the euphoria I felt at that moment; the formalities of the ceremony dispensed, the party about to begin.
Kerry and Rich walked up the aisle to Sound + Vision
These days, Bowie still looms large over our life. Recently, a rare child-free weekend away to Berlin included, naturally, a disproportionate amount of traipsing around Bowie’s ‘70s haunts. If we’re ever in mutual need of a belly-laugh, we turn to Bowie and Mick Jagger’s unintentionally hilarious video for Dancing In The Street, with its horrific dancing, unspeakable ‘80s fashions and awful shouty singing. And while that may unite us, Tin Machine is a cause of marital conflict: Rich believes that Bowie’s late ‘80s heavy rock outfit are much-maligned and underrated, whereas we all know really that they were, simply, rubbish.
Our children, now 7 and 4, are growing steeped in Bowie mythology. At various intervals, one or the other will point at the Ziggy Stardust poster on our dining room wall, usually while eating their breakfast, and ask the immortal question: “Is that a boy or a girl?” “Well, kids, Bowie’s androgyny was a big talking point in the early ‘70s…” Daddy will begin, as they immediately stop listening and start smearing their Weetabix into the table. Our daughter was an especially tricky baby and toddler and one of our coping methods at that time was to the sing the chorus of Oh, You Pretty Things to her, lullaby-style. “Don’t you know you’re driving your mamma and papa insane” somehow made us feel we weren’t alone in those emotionally draining, sleep-deprived early days of parenthood.
On Sunday evening, once the children were in bed and 12 hours before the news broke, we flopped down on the sofa together and listened to Bowie’s new album, Blackstar for the first time, commenting on how melancholy it sounded. That certainly makes sense now. The Thin White Duke may be gone, but his music (and what music it was! Can you imagine Justin Bieber enjoying a 47 YEAR career?!) will remain the ageless soundtrack to our shared life. Rich has rung me from work several times today, listless and unable to concentrate. When he arrives home, first of all I’ll dispense a giant hug… and then I may even let him put on Tin Machine.
Check out Kerry's David Bowie playlist below