David Bowie has died and it’s very sad. We’ve had the vigils, the heartfelt testimonials, the ‘David-helped-me-figure-out-who-I-am-I’m-a-bisexual-Venusian-market-gardener-(I-think)’ moments. Unsuitably dressed pensioners have been on the news, fiercely explaining why Bowie was ‘like an alien being’, the subtext being that if you weren’t permanently camped outside his flat in 1973, you can have no claim to any fandom. It would be hard to think of another figure in British cultural life who has been so universally loved in death: literally no one has a bad word to say about DB. Now this city has to choose how to remember him
As London’s favourite late son, Bowie must deserve at least a statue or something. That’s the law. Even Gandhi’s got one, and he didn’t write much you can hum, and certainly nothing of the calibre of ‘Boys’. And Bowie really lends himself to statuary: he had a waist, he had good cheekbones, he had recognisable hair: he’s a gift to chisel-wielders. But hang on… Statues of rock stars are always terrible. London’s got some real duds, from the Marc Bolan shrine in Barnes to the hideous, wonky Winehouse in Camden. Thankfully, that creepy Michael Jackson was removed from Fulham’s football ground: the King of Pop apparently had one of those chainmail gloves that butchers wear, in case he had to suddenly hack you a couple of nice chops.
Here’s a better idea: Bowieville. Bowieville, BR3, to be exact. David Jones might have been a son of Brixton, but Ziggy was born in leafy Beckenham. Bowie got his iconic red mullet on the high street. He ran an arts hub in the Three Tuns pub. Ziggy’s platforms were crafted just a 227 bus ride away in Penge. I grew up in Beckenham and I can totally understand why Bowie found it stimulating: it is a land of slow dreams and crunching gravel driveways; the soft popping soundtrack of the Tennis Club on Foxgrove Road; the gently promising loop of the high street. There’s not much to do there but inhabit your imagination and see what comes out of it.
In this spirit, Bowieville wouldn’t have any rides, attractions, themed bars and restaurants, or hallowed ground. Luckily the house Bowie lived in back in the early ’70s has long since been pulled down, so you don’t need to worry about going on a stupid pilgrimage to see it. You’d just arrive in Beckenham from wherever (it’s in Zone 4 btw), have a wander around, and leave. Like Bowie did.
Actually, scratch that: we don’t need Bowieville, or any other physical memorial. If you liked David Bowie and what he made in his life, you could just go somewhere and try and see the beauty and inspiration in it. So no theme park, then – and definitely no statue. Statues are of people who didn’t create anything themselves. They’re often of people who actively destroyed things. They’re aggressive and crass and posturing and made by people who think that because something is cast in bronze it doesn’t have to have any life or humanity or resemblance to its subject. David Bowie is as alive in death as he was in life – blazingly, blindingly. But once you’ve got a statue, you’re really dead.
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