Go on then, Dave. Put on your red shoes and dance the blues
It has been four days now, so is there any official spokesperson for anything who still hasn’t made a tribute? I’m sure Robert Mugabe has already said “This is a great personal loss, as I always sang ‘Put on your red shoes and dance’ to get me in the mood for confiscating land off white farmers. May he rest in peace.”
The Vatican made its tribute, which is understandable, as Bowie challenged rigid attitudes towards sexuality, lifting the self-esteem of many gay people, and if there’s one institution that helped him achieve that it was the Catholic Church.
Tomorrow, the religious radio slot Thought for the Day will feature a vicar from Guildford saying “I often find myself singing along to the venerable tune ‘Rebel Rebel’. But as I somewhat tunelessly belt out the words ‘Hot tramp, I love you so’, I think to myself ‘Isn’t this a bit like Jesus?’ Because after Jesus had been in the wilderness for a while, he must have looked a bit of a tramp. And it was certainly hot out there. So I think Mr Bowie was asking us all to love Jesus. Good morning.”
All day on the news, people who haven’t taken off their suit and tie since 1971, and have an extra suit and tie under their suit and tie in case the one on top suddenly wears out, explained: “The wonderful thing was he tore down the borders of fashion, smashing cultural boundaries and making it possible for us to wear whatever we like and dare to be different.”
Then David Cameron made his statement about being in “deep mourning” for someone who was a “master of reinvention”, which certainly makes sense because the first thing that comes to mind whenever you see David Cameron is: “I bet he’s devoted to David Bowie”.
When the Prime Minister was on Desert Island Discs he didn’t choose any tracks by Bowie, presumably because it would have been too emotional for him, loving him the way he did. Nor has he mentioned Bowie in his biography or in any interview or to anyone at any time ever, according to anyone in any capacity. So as it was too painful to refer to him while alive, we can only guess the anguish of Cameron’s deep mourning now.
And now we know he admired Bowie’s capacity for reinvention, we can only guess what he’ll do next, arriving at the State Opening of Parliament in a balaclava to announce his anarchist period, or painting his face blue in a collaborative work with the SNP perhaps.
To be fair, maybe Cameron believes if you’re genuinely moved by someone’s death, it helps when the Prime Minister pretends to be moved by it as well. So he might start turning up to random funerals, and get up to say: “I as much as anyone admired Alf. I’ll always remember the way he sometimes went out of his house, and usually, later on, came back again. And for that we are all in deep mourning.”
There will be a tribute from the Met Office, saying: “Until David Bowie painted the stripe on his face for Aladdin Sane, there was little interest in lightning amongst the public. But David changed all that, and we are forever grateful. Thank you David, our angel.”
A special memorial night will be filmed for ITV, with Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund singing a duet of “Under Pressure” with Sepp Blatter. Michael Portillo will present a Bowie special of his train journey programme in which he travels from Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads.
But mainstream culture will struggle to capture him, because Bowie managed to become an enduring mainstream figure without ever being mainstream.
For example, Simon Cowell doesn’t often suggest to his acts that to ensure they get a Christmas No 1, they should get out of their head on drugs, then move to Berlin with Iggy Pop. If anyone went on The X Factor and did the opening poem on Diamond Dogs or one of the weird tracks at the end of Low, Cowell would crawl round the floor sobbing “Make it stop” while bits of him started fizzing like a fuse shorting out.
Bowie seemed to work out what would be commercially successful, then reject that and do the opposite, which would usually turn out to be commercially successful. Maybe this is why so many politicians paid tribute to him. Because if there’s one trait in modern politicians, it’s adopting a principle and sticking to it, even if commentators say this might not be popular.
Or maybe the official tributes are genuine, and from now on every 11 January will be Bowie Day, in which any schoolkid whose homework is getting them down is allowed to throw it on the fire and take the car downtown instead, and everyone given a knighthood in the previous week’s honours list will be asked to give it back.
Even then, few people will match the most glorious tribute, which is the article in this week’s Croydon Advertiser. The headline says simply: “Local man delivered David Bowie’s milk in summer of 1969.”
That already suggests enough drama for a box set series on Sky Atlantic, but there’s more. It goes on: “The milkman remembers the music legend as a ‘nice man’. He ordered three bottles of silver top milk to be delivered every couple of days.”
This is of huge importance, especially to David Cameron. Because one of his chosen tracks on Desert Island Discs was, “Ernie, the fastest milkman in the West”. Given how much he likes milkmen, when this bloke from Croydon dies, our Prime Minister will be utterly inconsolable for a year.
Mark Steel begins a national tour from 22 January. Details on Marksteelinfo.com