This is our truth, tell us yours
David Bowie is dead. His record deserves to be assessed. He was an astounding musician who modelled a way of being that was a revelation to many queer people. He was bisexual, he dressed with no apparent regard for gender norms, and he played brilliant, flamboyant, stark and amazing rock and roll. He also made some awful records, which leaves him open to the accusation that he was a musical magpie who got lucky. Compared to, say Mick Jagger, who was the getaway driver to the world’s most accomplished musical vulture, Keith Richard, at least Bowie can say he brought some variety to the table.
The problem is that in a long life, and a long career, Bowie also left a few hostages to fortune, reminders that musical heroes may not be the deepest political thinkers or the most moral of human beings.
This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Being queer or trans isn’t beatification, or a get out of jail free card. When I’m dead peeople will doubtless remember all the times I was an arse, or wrong, or just unbearable. Bowie is alleged to have proclaimed himself, at one stage or another, a fascist, and is alleged to have had sex with someone who was under age. The one is recorded, the other clearly alleged.
Being so shallow as to see fascism as a kind of style statement is no crime, just evidence for the proposition that Bowie was less of a thinker than an instinctive situationist, man who dressed and acted as he did to provoke. Like the facile stupidity of Eric Clapton endorsing a racist, Enoch Powell, while having a multi racial band and close relationships with black musicians, it’s good evidence for the proposition that our idols have brains of clay as well as feet of clay.
As for under age sex, the accusation against Bowie is clear. If it’s true he has no defence. The central plank of our method here is to start from the reality that life is messy. Being good at one thing, and Bowie was superb at being a role model and a touchstone for queer and trans people, doesn’t exempt you from responsibility for anything else you did. But Bowie’s crimes and errors are no excuse for amnesia about what he did and what he meant to so many people.
Whenever I read about carceral feminism in my timeline I have to look carceral up; as best I understand the term, this is a non carceral blog. We don’t seek to excuse or explain away Bowie’s crimes and misdemeanours, just to recognize the complexity of the man, and to recognise what that meant to so many people. If being opposed to sex crimes means that any individual accused of one must be expunged from the public record forever, and their entire life regarded as if it is of no merit, then the world is going to become a pretty lonely place, a carceral archipelago policed by a minority of true believers keen to find heresy wherever it might lie. Challenging those who offend, forcing them to face up to their crimes, helping them to be better, and to understand what they did wrong, that’s the hard bit, but I’d rather live on a continent built aroud rehabilitation than a carceral archipelago.