The Netherlands, 1974
The first single I ever bought with my own money was David Bowie’s The Jean Genie. It was 1974; I was 14. I rushed home from school to play my new vinyl single on Dad’s record-player before he got home from work. I danced and sang out loud for hours in our lounge room, playing that one song over and over again. It was the first time I had really felt connected to a piece of music.
I was living in the Netherlands; Dad was in the Air Force. My school had kids of four nationalities. I’d been there a year or so when a new boy arrived. He was also in the ‘Brits’ section, although he was a year above us. I noticed him instantly; he was wearing different clothes to the rest of us and seemed very grown-up. He also liked Bowie and later became my first boyfriend.
Not long after the new boy’s arrival a group of us went to his house after school. We hung out in his bedroom listening to his records, smoking cigarettes, being the coolest kids ever. In his record collection were two Bowie albums: Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust… Both of them became personal favourites as Bowie’s music and his androgynous look absolutely captivated me.
I bought the albums myself and played them ‘to death’ – as my father put it, before confiscating them. I had no choice then but to become a rebel. My listening moved underground, making it all the more exciting. My parents’ disapproval confirmed I had excellent taste. My father could not understand why a boy wanted to look like a girl, and was very confused that his daughter now wanted to dress like a boy.
Bowie had opened my eyes to the world of art and creativity and the possibility that I could be anything I wanted to be. I could reinvent myself. Suddenly the world was an exciting place.
The next year we were posted back to Uxbridge, London. I went to a new school. It was a hard transition for me as I only had a year or so to go before I finished high school. Instead of my relaxed Dutch school, with no uniforms and good friends, I had an English grammar school with uptight teachers and snobby girls with whom I couldn’t connect.
And so I spent many afternoons in my bedroom alone, listening to music, dancing in front of my bedroom mirror trying desperately not to fall off my platform shoes while singing out loud to favourite songs like Moonage Daydream (from the Ziggy album): Keep your ‘lectric eye on me babe/ Put your ray gun to my head…
Later, in the early 1980s, I was preparing to emigrate to Australia when Bowie released a music video for his song Let’s Dance. The video had been made in Australia, so I got to see a little bit of my new home. Then, after I’d moved across the world, Bowie announced a series of concerts in Australia. Finally, I got to see him live – in Brisbane in 1983, during his Serious Moonlight tour. We had standing-room tickets, which meant queuing for hours to get decent places in the arena. I managed to get myself right to the front. When Bowie came on stage the audience surged and I was crushed against the barriers. I didn’t care. When he came on stage I cried like a teenager.
Bowie’s music is still on my playlists. His music takes me back to the time when, as a lonely teenager, he made me feel there was someone who understood me. He made me believe it was OK to be different – in fact, it was a good thing. Bowie continues to inspire me. And when I feel down, well, I still have The Jean Genie to pick me up.
©Lorraine Pink. This story was first published in The Big Issue in July 2015.