At my primary school there were two people into music. John Mahoney and me. We both had a load of older brothers and sisters and I guess that’s what did it. Certainly our tastes were shaped by our elders. I like to think I moved on from that, and that John never really did, but I’m not sure how true that is.
Prior to acquiring my own independent tastes, I followed in the family tradition of Bowie. He was a rarity in our household by featuring in various of my siblings record collections – this to me was the original meaning of a crossover artist. Anyone who could sit next to my brother’s Pink Floyd and my sister’s Ohio State Players was bridging a significant chasm.
A few years later, in the early 80s, I would become tediously obsessed with Bowie. Haranguing idiot Duran Duran fan classmates at their failure to acknowledge his genius and influence. Around the age of eight though, my fondness for Bowie was more low key and significantly cooler. He was the background noise I’d grown up with. I didn’t feel the need to evangelise him to the girls playing skipping games in the playground, or to incorporate him, as I would later do, into any story or poem I wrote for school. My allegiance was signalled only by a badge. This wasn’t a button badge, which had yet to really dominate the pop badge market, but rather a slightly less comely larger diameter model. The badge was a miniature of the ‘Heroes’ album cover. Bowie doffing that invisible hat, whilst holding his leather jacket collars close to protect him from the non-existent wind.
I wore the badge with pride, but without comment. At primary school it passed beneath everyone’s scrutiny until a disastrous collision with David O’Brien during a typically bloodthirsty lunchtime game of British Bulldog. He grabbed at my jumper, I flailed and broke loose. Tearing madly to the safety of base, exultant at my freedom I didn’t notice David O’Brien weeping on the ground behind me, or his fingernail still attached to the back of the other David’s head, snagged on the pin mechanism.
‘Heroes’ was released in 1977 just a year after Bowie’s notorious Victoria Station incident. Whilst the Nazi salute was maybe nothing more than an unlucky freeze frame, some of Bowie’s comments during his Thin White Duke phase were less easily explained away, though of course both he and I would try our best in the years to come.
My classmate John Mahoney, as far as I know, knew nothing of Bowie or his fascination with the occult and fascism, but he too would find himself drawn towards the lure of the Reich. John’s older brother Jimmy had been to Borstal. I suppose it was this deferred cachet that gave John such influence in the playground. Certainly it’s hard to fathom any other explanation. He wasn’t good at football or fighting and he wasn’t cheeky to the teachers. He was a skinny boy with ginger hair. And yet he drew other boys, and me, the pathetic tag along tomboy, into his orbit like litter trapped in a cyclone.