Monday, July 25, 2011

And we lived the lie like the hope it was

With all this re-writing, re-living my youth, I've been thinking a lot about David Bowie. Those who know me won't find this surprising, or even interesting. That's okay, they put up with enough.
I've been listening to David Bowie in my writing life for thirty years. I'm listening to him right now, in fact, truth be told. He is, in many ways, my most lasting relationship.
Maybe that's overstating just a bit. Then again, if we're telling the truth....
Let me explain. David Bowie came to me one late night as I lay on the floor in my parent's living room. I couldn't sleep, so I wasn't just alone, I was achingly alone. Insomnia does that to you in the deep night. It cuts you off, makes you long for human contact. Makes you forget that you've ever had any.
For company I had the television. I was thirteen. It was the summer of Star Wars, my first religious experience, the thing that made me pick up a notebook and a pen. It was also the summer of my first experience with sex--not so religious. And it was the summer I found a name to put how I felt--that I wasn't alone completely in the brand of different that I was.
You'd think the sex would have tipped me off about being gay, but it didn't happen like that. I wasn't sure what had happened, and I wasn't sure I wanted it to happen again. I was a very sheltered thirteen year old, I think, or maybe we were all...slower back then.
But I remember very clearly that the secret that love came in different combinations was just that to me. A secret. I knew how sex was supposed to go from the junior high class, and I couldn't imagine that as something I ever wanted to do. I had decided that I would always be alone.
And then came the second religious experience of my life. The kiss. It was the music that made me look up at the screen, of course, jangly and shrill, and somehow compelling. I looked up from my notebook in front of me, and saw it. The few seconds of video made everything seem to fall into place in my life.
David Bowie, paper thin, and frail, walks unprotected down a nighttime city street. His face is a narrow smudge in the dark, his eyes on something ahead that we can't see. There is a group of people around him, but he's clearly alone, none the less.
Suddenly a man, a stranger, races up, throws his arms around Bowie and kisses him. Bowie half turns, as though to keep the stranger in reach, but the man runs away again and is lost in the night. At least that's how it happens in my memory.
Watching it now, on the tiny, and oddly unaffecting YouTube screen, it seems so mild, not at all earth-shattering. Although when MTV started, they clipped those frames away, so it must have been shocking at some point.
And to me--the last survivor of the insomniac wars that night, it was huge. The biggest thing in my life. It put my fumbling first time with a girl into perspective. Gave it possibility. Gave it a name.
I can't explain how it happened, why it struck me so. It's only my explanation of how David Bowie came to me. Why do I still carry him with me? I don't know. I do know that he's buried so deep to see with the naked eye in every sentence I write. I tried to resist, but that's a waste of time. It works and this is how it works. Star Wars gave me the desire to tell stories. David Bowie gave me the context for what I needed to say.

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