I was a white, straight, middle-class girl in the suburbs, who—at the mall, shopping for school clothes—won an album called “Let’s Dance” by some guy named David Bowie.
I was confused. He was a guy, but pretty. His voice was amazing, but he did very strange things with it.
Just when the music sounded “good” to my mainstream ear, he—well, exploded it or melted it.
I didn’t know the word at the time, but he was deconstructing pop music and gender.
He tweaked norms in ways that messed with my head.
When I first saw the video of the single “Let’s Dance” on MTV, I was like: “Huh?” There were no sexy blonde chicks with big hair dancing provocatively.
Instead, Bowie stood dispassionately—playing in a blue-collar bar, while people with crooked teeth and pot bellies moved awkwardly to the beat. And then, the video depicted dark people doing things like scrubbing floors while white people walked over them.
I didn’t understand at the time that Bowie was making a statement about Western Imperialism. All I knew is that an upbeat—albeit to my ear, slightly atonal—song about dancing, juxtaposed against such images, threw me off-center.
At first, I wasn’t sure I liked how Bowie made me feel.
I was repelled in a way–but then, soon, intrigued. I listened with a new ear to some of his earlier songs that I’d not paid much attention to when they’d played on the radio: “Changes,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Young Americans,” “Fame,” “Golden Years” and “Ground Control to Major Tom.”
There was something about each one that made the hair on my arms stand up. Bowie was opening doors for me in rooms I didn’t even know existed.
I saw images of him—how he played around with his look, as if to say everything we wear is a costume and everything we do is a role.
I didn’t know these concepts at the time, but he was helping me see how “normal” is just as constructed as “abnormal.” In fact, the very notion of “mainstream” requires an “other.” And Bowie reveled in being an other.
I think David Bowie would like the kooky fact that I won his album at the mall. I thank him for shaking up my life.
Ultimately, he prompted me to question everything I thought I knew about music, gender and art—indeed, life.
Author: Kate Evans
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Photo: Flickr/Jason Hickey