Crying at the death of a stranger: David Bowie

bowie 2When I was a boy I was ridiculously serious. I only listened to classical music. I couldn’t dance, even badly, and I wasn’t big on small talk.

But one day I was at a party with two girls who knew me slightly from school. We hadn’t paid much attention to each other before, but because they thought I needed to learn some social skills they took over the stereo and played the Black Tie White Noise album, and showed me how to dance to it. Then they went on to Let’s Dance, and then mainlined with Hunky Dory. Swimming backwards, like the dolphins do, in time.  

I couldn’t believe that it was all one guy. And I found it hard to believe that music that often seemed so sparse and simple could be so complex and interesting. I connected my arse to the bass lines, and learned to dance. And to be more playful. 

bowie 3I tried to score with the two girls, but perhaps because this version of me was at least partly their creation, it didn’t have any power on them. They turned me down.

Flat. Like a bedspread.

But afterwards and for the rest of my life I had more fun than I would have without Mr Bowie. 

He changed so many lives in so many ways.

That influence he had on me was relatively minor, compared to the encouragement he gave to young men and women struggling with their sexual orientation. Bowie helped a good number of people to get past their culture’s shaming, express themselves, find reasons for optimism and avoid suicide. My sexual issue was more, “how do I manage being a dom and still retain any self-respect as a broadly pro-feminist man”, and that wasn’t a question Bowie addressed much. Except indirectly, with the implicit encouragement to celebrate being whatever the hell you are.  

But making freaks and geeks, including me, feel happier about themselves is a huge legacy, and yet his music is a bigger one. My interest in Bowie’s music, from that time onwards, was major and passionate. I even like his Tin Machine period, though the later 1980s albums are too much, by which I mean too little, even for me.  

Like a lot of great artists, he seems like he wouldn’t have been much fun to know personally, at least at his creative peak, though he seems to have mellowed a bit in his last years. That’s part of all human lives.

bowie 1But I’m grateful he was here. And when I heard he’d died, about twenty minutes ago, I cried.

He had the knack, through his music, of making you feel that you knew him. It’s an odd kind of intimacy.

It’s an enormous loss, to so many of us. But his music and his fearless use of sexually ambiguous images were also an amazing gift to all of us. We were lucky to have him. 

Do welfare mothers make better lovers?

I live in a village of about 7,000 people. I checked some demographic information when I was thinking of buying a place here. The population is mostly people of Scottish and German descent. I used to find it weird, after living in the city, how seldom I see brown or black people round the village, except those who’ve come up to the mountains as tourists. I’ve got used to it, though it does mean there’s no decent Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese or Lebanese food for about 100 kilometers in any direction.

Yoga and yoghurt in the mountains

Yoga and yoghurt in the mountains

A really high proportion of the people up here are single mothers. The single mothers are here because of the property prices: you can afford to live up here, with a bedroom or two for the kids, after a divorce or separation. And there’s a single mother’s mafia, a network who get each other bargains, and swap garden produce, clothes and that sort of thing, to keep living costs down.

Also, according to Neil Young so it must be true, welfare mothers make better lovers.(It’s a great song, by the way, and I recommend the version on Weld. If you ever wondered, “how much noise can Crazy Horse really make?”, this demonstrates that the answer is, “More than you could ever imagine, in your wildest dreams.”)

There’s a temptation to go all man-of-the-world when you hear bumper stickers like that: ah, yes, that welfare mother, the colours her face turns when you’re in her bed and the kids are in theirs, just a wall away, and she’s trying to suppress orgasmic screams. Her sexual abandonment and need, when you’re just got an hour left before the kids get back from school.

She has various kinds of wisdom, that come from having loved and had to leave a man, and another kind that comes with responsibility for children, that lead to a willingness to see the world and people as they are. That’s sexy too.

The man of the world says something like this, and he sighs with pleasurable reminiscence. He has a sip of whisky, breathes out and says, again, “Ahhh, yes.” I could do that. I’ve even got a library with a leather armchair.

But it’s bullshit, of course. Not because single mothers aren’t great lovers. But then, you could make up just as reasonable a story about nurses, or teachers, or librarians making better lovers. It’s one of those statements that sounds like knowledge but doesn’t really mean anything.

I’ve never known a woman bank middle-manager, or travel agent or public service policy writer, who wasn’t a brilliant lover. I guess I’m just not a man of the world. 

Anyway, I started this train of thought because I was going to write something about running a bdsm meet’n’greet group up in these mountains, and what that’s like. But I’ll come to that next time. 

A night at the opera

I was at Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” at Holland Park last week.

It’s not my favourite opera at all. It’s probably not even going to trouble my top 100 favourite operas. It’s partly because I hate Figaro’s “Largo et factotum” patter-song, which is one of the models for the scenes in Disney animation films where a major character comes on and immediately sings a song announcing who they are. Anyway, most baritones make a huge meal of it. It hasn’t got much musical interest, and I can’t see how anyone can find it funny, so there you are.

Anyway, this performance made the best case for “Barber” that can be made. It helps comic operas a lot if you have singing actors who look the part at least slightly, and who have a vague idea of what might be funny.

Anyway, for once I fancied the female lead, Rosina. She was sung by Kitty Whately, and she managed to turn the boring virgin of most productions into a girl who’s up for it and well worth chasing. She doesn’t want to be chased, or chaste; she wants to be caught.

In fact, she sings this:

“I’m gentle, and respectful. I’m obedient, I’m soft and loving.

I let myself be ruled, I let myself be guided.

But touch me in the wrong way, and I’m a viper.

I’ll make them fall, before I submit.”

Which is a sort of Submissive’s Creed, isn’t it?

Knickerless puzzle #1

The reason I’ve been talking about knickers is that a few nights ago I was at a university music department, watching a student performance of Don Giovanni.

It wasn’t a bad evening, and no-one was actually terrible. But there were no great voices that night, or singing actors in the making. I don’t think anyone in that production is ever going to be a star. The only one I’d have actually thrown tomatoes at, though, if I’d had them, was the director. That night’s Don Giovanni was set in a brothel in fascist Italy, and in that context a hell of a lot of the events, and the characters’ motives, made no sense at all.

But something odd happened in the interval. I was with a woman who was telling me that she was going to kill the next director who up-dated a Mozart opera to Nazi Germany, mafia gangs in America, Thatcher’s Britain, or had the singers come on-stage in their everyday clothes because this opera is timeless, really, isn’t it? It’s about today, really? 

And I said, “Yeah. Or they set it in the time it was written, because the composer was really writing for his own time. Which means Victorian gear for most operas. God, I’m so bored with that. And Victorian dresses are probably the worst clothes women have ever worn in the history of humanity so far. And – ”

lessI stopped because there was movement overhead. A wide staircase led down into the floor we were on, and the girl I was with had taken her drink to the wall under the edge of the stairs. I was facing her. 

The movement that caught my eye turned out to be a girl skipping down the stairs in a sundress. I said, “if they like Victorian costumes so much…” But the dress flipped a bit, mid-skip, and flashed the undercurve of her bottom. A nice slim bottom, pale, apple-rounded. She was either wearing a thong, or nothing at all.

I continued, “they could dress them in – ” Another step and I caught a glimpse of labia. She was wearing nothing at all. She didn’t shave, or wax.

This took maybe three seconds, at the most. But it seemed to have gone on for a remarkably long time. The girl with me said, “dress them in what?”

I’d been going to say something about how Victorians liked to wear costumes from the Raj, and then there was the Japanese craze. So you could dress your cast like that. Anything to get away from brown and grey crinoline. I shook my head. “Nothing. Sorry, lost my train of thought.”

I know. What am I, fourteen? The story’s not quite over yet, though. 

Roads less travelled: Skittety Scat Scat Shoo Bee Doo Wah Wah

Scat singing is vocal improvisation with wordless, nonsense syllables. Scat singing lets singers do the equivalent of an instrumental solo, using their voice.

It’s a jazz thing. God, I loathe jazz. Maybe that’s not quite true. Sometimes jazz spends time being blues (Ella Fitzgerald, sometimes), and then I can put up with it. But the more like jazz it gets, the more I hate it.

And the jazziest thing of them all, even jazzier than bass solos, is scat singing.

However, I will not hear a word against Cab Calloway.

However, I will not hear a word against Cab Calloway.

You know when it’s coming: you’ve just had a long bit where someone goes squeak and squonk on the sax, and goes back to the ranks while the audience gives them a well-bred round of considered applause, and then the singer comes out looking as happy as the Persian cat that engulfed the moon, and begins:

“Squiddily dap dap dap scat a doogity boogity willong scat scat dap whap.”

You just know they plan to keep on doing that for longer than you can possibly stay in the same room as them. Death to scat. I really really will not do sexual play involving shit, but I think the singing might actually be worse.