I’m sitting here, eagerly anticipating the launch of my memoir on June 1, watching my We Can Be Heroes book tour grow day by day – Bath, Bradford, Brighton, Hastings, London – when suddenly I’m asked to curate a special event at the Purcell Room at the Southbank Centre.
It’s definitely Not A Book Tour Event. It’s an event to mark the 50 anniversary of Bowie’s landmark Aladdin Sane album and explore its ongoing impact on queer culture. But since Bowie is such a huge part of my life and my book, since he literally saved my life when I was 14, since I was running around my hometown sporting a Ziggy orange mullet ten years after my hero famously retired the character, it’s hard for me to completely separate the two.
So of course I’ll mention the book. But mainly l’ll be asking my guests what this particular album means to them, what the iconic cover art means, what the individual tracks mean.
There’s the pun-tastic title track, of course, where Bowie asks "who will love Aladdin Sane?" ("a lad insane" – geddit? An earlier version was called Love Aladdin Vein, which makes the homoeroticism even more explicit).
But for me it was the song Time. On the closing track to his previous album, Bowie had assured me "you’re not alone!" On Time, he sings about waiting in the wings, falling "wanking to the floor," wailing "we should be on by now!" He sings about "keeping dark" and "guilt for dreaming." For a closeted 14 year old, this was heady stuff.
In one of the many Bowie books I devoured as a teenager, he expressed surprise that he’d written a gay song – "I’d no intention of writing anything at all gay. When I listened to it back I just could not believe it. I thought well, that’s the strangest..."
As if this were the first gay song he’d ever written! As if there hadn’t already been Width of a Circle, Queen Bitch, Moonage Daydream, Lady Stardust or John, I’m Only Dancing.
But that was Bowie for you – a faker, a shape shifter, a controversialist, a queer icon.
It’s a Saturday. A crash course for the ravers. Join us.
Portrait of the author as a Bowie fan by Mark Wardel aka Trademark