Upon the untimely death of one of rock's most influential stars, Jeff Kristian reflects on David Bowie's gift to the LGBT community.
My school playground was buzzing. 'Had I seen David Bowie on Top of the Pops cuddling that bloke?' I had. As his sparkly arm draped Ronson's shoulder, my father shuffled his feet; perhaps a Freudian reflex to get up and turn the telly onto another channel. Had remote controls been invented, I may have missed the end of the song. Having only recently been to my first rock concert, I was considered by my peers to be an authority on these things. Of course at that age, I wasn't an authority on anything. Perhaps it was the heady July heat sending everyone into a frenzy, or maybe something profound really had happened on BBC1 the night before? I described the Starman's multi-coloured figure-hugging cat-suit to my friend, because he only had a black and white telly. Despite his portending joke that it must have been made from a very glamorous cat, we could sense that a revolution was underway. As an impressionable eight year old, it had nothing to do with my own impending homosexuality – or at least I wasn't aware of it at the time. To us Bowie was dangerous, and that was exciting.
Gossip had filtered down that Bowie had recently come out as gay in Melody Maker. Nobody in my pre-pubescent class of '72 really understood what this meant, but we knew it was somehow fierce. History recalls his blatant display of affection on Top of the Pops as too much too soon for many in middle-England. They had so far graciously turned a blind eye to the high camp of Glam Rock, with its cross-dressing, outrageous makeup and long dangly earrings. But suddenly and without warning, a self-proclaimed pretty thing was touching another man on national telly before watershed. It hadn't been long since homosexuality had been legalised and for many in and out of the closet, this casual gesture in front of fourteen million viewers was a massive leap for queer kind. In an instant, he had become our hero… and not just for one day.
A decade or so later, I met David Bowie. Well, I say met… he walked past me in London's Lyceum Ballroom. Another rock concert, this time an invite-only affair graced by the likes of Kate Bush, Annie Lennox and the McCartneys. We'd blagged our way in at the stage door with one of the band. Billy Idol from Generation X had just bought us drinks and my heart was fluttering at the sight of his bare chest. Suddenly, there was Bowie. Did he always walk in slow motion or was I just shocked to see him? He glanced briefly in my direction and smiled. Had The Icon noticed me leering at The Idol? I realised in that moment it was OK to be myself because Bowie had told us so. He smiled at me then, and he's still smiling at me now.