I am just back – they’re (many) still there – from Windrush Square, just outside Brixton Library (you love libraries? Lambeth libraries NEED YOU, now), where a whole load of people from all of the places came together for Bowie.
I understand it started from a tweet from the brilliant Maddy Costa. I totally believe that, and I suspect it might have happened anyway. We live ten minutes up Coldharbour Lane from the middle of Brixton, it’s an easy walk. I did that walk the morning after the last riots, to buy things I didn’t need (Ms Cupcake benefitted hugely), to let the shopkeepers know we were with them. I love where I live and it has been home for 18 years and sometimes it is annoying to be in the place that has become ‘the place’ and often, walking to the other, not cool, bits of Coldharbour Lane, it’s just home.
As the radio alarm came on this morning and they said “69 year old star” I knew who they meant and was crying before they named him.
I have been doing loads of work (thinking, writing) on my own dying (my own fear of, embracing of, understanding of) recently. Two cancers down, ‘lucky’ to be here (btw, you never-had-cancer(yet)-people, you know you’re ‘lucky’ too, right?), just hugely aware, all of a sudden, of my own mortality (for the second time). And last week I was walking round our local little park (Ruskin) and listening to Hunky Dory, as I often do, and thinking of Bowie’s death. Not because I knew anything, but because it happens.
Collective grief is weird for me. I don’t do it. My sister died when I was 18. My father when I was 25. My nephew when I was 36. My mother when I was 40. And way too many friends. People utterly real in my immediate life have died, loads. And so I have never quite understood why anyone feels the death of a stranger belongs to them in some way.
And yet. Bowie was queer before it was cool. Gender-fluid before it was a term. Kept making new work when others stagnated. Made work you/me/we didn’t like BECAUSE HE WANTED TO MAKE IT.
And also. I grew up, a red-headed girl from a south London council estate in a small town, NZ timber-town, where I did not fit. (Many of us did not fit, do not fit.) Gay, white when most were brown, red when most were brown/black, freckled/mottled when most were smooth. And as I grew up, this beautiful, androgynous (and I don’t even fancy the androgyny, never have, I always fancied either end of the female/male spectrum, not the middle) boy/man/mix was singing of not fitting in. And not matching. And not being part of.
And it was never ok. It was always, all of my life, hard. I love my wife, I love my life, but I was born in a time when being a woman who loves another woman is hard. That’s the truth, much as we might make it seem easy and desirable. And those songs, and those words, and that dancing, and the Kemp-mime, and the makeup and nail polish, and the gender-fluidity (before there was a phrase, but it was ALWAYS there, my young friends, you know that, right?) from a young man without privilege, without a cushion to fall back on, Bowie’s essential queerity is why my beloved Shelley and I went to Windrush Square tonight.
We stood with some mates and sang along, we stood with loads of young people who cannot possibly have felt the same reasons I had for being there, but were there anyway. Because the words or the music or the stance or the genes-Jeanie mattered, somehow, to each of them.
I am 52, nearly 53. The 66 year old woman on the steps of the library with us was amazed at how young the people in the square were, me too. They were (many of them) also not local, obviously not local. I hope and trust they felt kindly to our square and borough as they left, and left it as well as they found it. I suspect they will not.
I live in Brixton, Lambeth is my borough, that is my library, and I want the square to be lovely tomorrow. We walked past LOADS of rubbish on the way home. I hope people tidied up as they left. I heard strangers say, twice, how cool it would have been if that many people had turned up to protest Lambeth Council’s choice to close several of the libraries. I agree. We’d love you all to come back next time we need support to keep great things happening where we live and you visit.
People are weird. They will turn up to do something amazing together, and expect someone else to clean up their shit.
People are amazing. They will come together out of nowhere for love of something that is as ephemeral as a stranger making music. And they will be kind to each other.
We CAN be Heroes.
These photos all look the same, but each one was taken as the crowd sang along to a new/old Bowie song on a small, unsanctioned, generously brought, sound-system. (And to the young woman I overheard saying “Oh, but I can’t hear, why didn’t they organise a better sound system?”, when ‘they’ are us, we don’t always have the time or the money to make the shiny happen. But, when the people make it happen – it happens anyway.)
Because we will. And we can. Just listen harder, it’s always there.