Wednesday, 13 January 2016

News Had Just Come Over... Sheena Wilkinson

I had to phone someone, so I picked on you…

I didn’t phone anyone. Who would I phone?

There was no shortage of people to engage with – the internet was full of tributes, songs, videos, sweet spacey cartoons. His death was the top story on every news programme. I could have had a lovely Bowie-wallow of the sort I could only have dreamed of when I was fifteen.

But I didn’t. I kept away. I didn’t post anything. I didn’t click on any of the videos. I didn’t add my voice to any of the tributes.

Because I’d have been embarrassed to tell the truth: that this felt personal, and painful, in a way that no other famous death ever has, and probably never will again.

David Bowie shouldn’t have been my first obsession. It was the mid-eighties, the wrong time. But I’d found some of my stepfather’s old records and had fallen in love. One Saturday I bumped into a classmate at Caroline Music in Belfast. She was buying a Duran Duran single. I had finally saved up enough for Station To Station (1976). ‘I can’t believe you’re buying a ten-year-old record!’ she sneered. ‘People will be listening to David Bowie when nobody remembers Duran Duran,’ I said. ‘Aye right,’ she said, and on Monday the whole of IVA was laughing at me.

But we found each other, the way people did, and then it was OK. They were in the year below. Four girls cool enough, like me, to risk being uncool. Hours in each other’s bedrooms, copying down lyrics, pouring over NME just in case there was a mention of him that week. There may have been scrapbooks. There was certainly poster-kissing.

And then The Man Who Fell To Earth. 

Two hours of him being unearthly and doomed in a film. Almost too delicious to bear. The trouble was finding it. No YouTube; no Netflix; no next-day-delivery from Amazon. But one of us – not me – had a VHS video recorder at home, and there were video libraries. How hard could it be?

Very hard. We trawled the video libraries of Belfast, dodgy places full of eighties blockbusters and seventies horror and porn. Hardly any had a ten-year-old cult sci-fi film called The Man Who Fell To Earth. There was a sighting in a southern suburb… but it turned out to be a Betamax tape.

Then! We found it in an especially dingy shop in Smithfield. I had to join the video library. This involved bringing in my mum to sign something. She looked horrified, but she knew it was important. Not a god-awful small affair to me. 

By the time we got to see the film we were nearly past ourselves. I have never watched it since, though I could watch it right now, if I wanted. It’s just a click away.  

Maybe that’s partly why yesterday was so hard. It was all just a click away. Too much. When I was fifteen, and everything was so elusive and hard to find, I used to imagine this day, when it would be, what I would be doing, if we would get together to mourn, if we would all still be friends.

We aren’t, though there was never a falling out, just a growing up and away. One of us died. Two of us are in occasional FB contact. Yesterday, the only person whose post I could bear to engage with was one of them. She sent me a private message, saying how shocked she was at how sad she felt. It was the sweetest relief, just like finding her and the others had been thirty years ago, when I was the weird girl with the seventies albums.

What has this got to do with writing for young adults? 



Unknown said...

Beautiful post, thank you.

Sheena Wilkinson said...

Glad you liked it!

John Dougherty said...

Actually feeling a little teary, reading that. Thanks, Sheena. x

Sheena Wilkinson said...

Thanks, John. You're not the only one, it seems.

C.J.Busby said...

I missed Bowie completely - but it was still a shock to hear he'd died, and obviously he touched so many friends. You're utterly right, though, about the teenage years and how fiercely important music heroes/crushes are for those years... I never found my musical soul-mates, just got roundly laughed at for liking Bob Dylan until I got to university and was flabbergasted to find people who actually thought he was great and weren't just trying to get a rise out of me!

Sheena Wilkinson said...

I loved Dylan, too, and I'll be sad when he dies, and VERY sad when Leonard Cohen dies. I've loved both of them since I was a child. But Bowie was an obsession. First of several!

Leila said...

Sheena, this is lovely but also painful to read (I have felt the same about not wanting to read all the articles). I was basically you but in the 90s. One of the articles I did read was a collection of quotes - apparently he said before he was famous that he was a writer really, he wouldn't want to rely on this singing stuff. I think he was right on that - fundamentally he was a writer and that's one of the many, complex reasons he became an obsession for me. His albums always felt as big and complex as novels but with the wonderful twist that they were made out of music and shattered sentences, each album a kind of hallucination of a Tolstoy-sized world. And of course everything else - but I do think he has a special attraction for writers. Glad he stuck with the singing though.

Leila said...

p.s. I've just seen the video for Lazarus and noted the children's literature references!