David Bowie would have been 75 today. He died 6 years ago this coming Monday. And here's the poem I was commissioned to write.
DAVID BOWIE IN HEDDON STREET
In Heddon Street in January The London drizzle falls the same as softly as it did the night, the camera caught in failing light the famous phonebox, current red with Ziggy Stardust in the frame A tinted showbiz biscuit tin Which drew the viewer in An atmosphere which seemed to speak of basement studios,upstairs flats, bell-push models, queenly spats The rent collected once a week from burned out boys who'd known Joe Meek
An England done with swinging now The party-over, drab new nights of keg-beer pubs and candle stubs the IRA and mid-week subs Wildcat strikes at factory gates An apathetic audience waits The 1960s firmly dead A man from Mars arrives instead
What was it in the water then that forged a breed of pop messiahs From underfed suburban lads Grown up by gas convector fires? Skinny, pale, with poor dentition Actor, clothes-horse, pop musician In David's case, all three in one An odyssey which he'd begun In sixty-watts of Bromley sun
When Ziggy sang and played guitar No one yet had gone that far In Sutton Coldfield, Aylesbury Bucks and Sunderland they'd cheer The brickies bellowed," 'Allo ducks!" the dads asked, "Is 'e queer? "Gets harder now to tell the boys from girls, with every year." The critics too, blew cold and hot as critics do. Why would they not?
The Seventies then bedded in in feather boa and satin flare Dull suburbs sat like Hamelin Awaiting anthems on the air from some pied piper yet unheard to woo them with a magic word: The oddball kids, the bookish geek the ones their classmates labelled 'freak' Sequestered in their rooms all week They're captivated by his eyes "You're not alone!" the Starman cries
Now of his band what shall we say? The Spiders, not from Mars but Hull Were best of any in their day If Kingston-upon-Hull, the name did not roll off the tongue the same The Spiders seemed to play guitars As if they really came from Mars Now all the teenage kooks who went to hear the boys from Hull and Kent remember, late in middle-age how Ziggy broke the gender cage.
And when we dig his records out from hard-drives,i-pods, racks or shelves And shed a tear, we find the truth is also, that we mourn our youth. Immortal youth, its peerless light which twinkles in the ageless night until we find how frail we are Crashing in the same old car
In Heddon Street in January The phone-box now is gone Where fans took pictures of themselves When Ziggy had moved on Where did they go -- those slips of boys? Grown up with steam trains in their eyes And rockets in the Dan Dare skies Above the dingy terraced streets of Britain after war? America, by any score would seem some kind of Shangri-la... Best slap some lippy on, then, kid and bring your best guitar.
America eats talent like a wolf devours a lamb With tenderising powder which can turn your mind to spam That's when you have to wrestle with your inner Peter Pan Then, if the boy stops swinging he may just become a man. But even politicians cough. Describing him as 'nice'. They missed him at the kick-off Now they're gagging for a slice. He 'helped bring down the Berlin Wall' it's said, young Bromley Dave 'Fashion icon, futurist..and genius' Oh behave!
The ones who'll really miss him are the girls then in their teens Recalling that one weekday night he burst onto their screens Instantly monopolising all their magazines. Promoting moral panic from St Mawes to Milton Keynes They won't remember mourning any pop star in this way And won't know why they're weeping in the middle of the day. He was Youth and he was Beauty He was talented and clever So stunningly original and... They thought he'd live forever.
In Heddon Street in January The sun falls on a plaque Like an actor taking encores in a Mayfair cul-de-sac. And here beside the doorway are his flowers in a stack. But Ziggy Stardust's never coming back And all the worldly traffic may resume its migraine rumble While all the Babylonian showbiz rumour mills can crumble Let legend be his epitaph The lily needs no gilding Ladies and Gentlemen Mr Bowie's left the building.