David Bowie died this past Monday 11th of January. It was very sudden, unexpected, as he had released a new record days before, and also he had his birthday just as recently.
I also happen to live in South London, not too far from Bowie’s birthplace, Brixton. I’ve been there a couple of times. It’s a really ethnically diverse place, next to Central London, great food, and markets where to buy plantains, one of my favourite foods I used to eat in Venezuela, for cheap.
I had the news of Bowie’s death in my head all day. So, after my working day finished, I travelled to Brixton to see what was going to happen there. To be honest, I had no idea if something was going to happen. I did not check the news. No one really had a central voice that said “let’s all gather here.”
I personally have not listened to more than three or four songs from Bowie, but I thought it was a unique opportunity to see history in the making. To see part of something bigger than anyone. Gathering around to celebrate a man that had just become his songs. A man that now will live in the guitars and musical instruments of all those who play him. That’s his level of influence.
I got down in Brixton railway station and the first thing I did was to look for something for dinner. Meanwhile, I began to think what the hell was I doing there. I had only learned of Bowie’s birthplace two hours before. I had no idea where to go or what to do. So I looked on Twitter to see what was happening around. I found out about Bowie’s mural next to Morleys Department Store, and the Ritzy Cinema, which had put a big sign honouring Bowie.
So I went to the mural, which was nearest, to see what people were doing, It was surreal. There was a big crowd around the mural, with lots of people raising their hands with their phones, probably attempting to capture the mural and the front row of people putting flowers. But from my point of view, it was just half of the mural, with lots of little screens around. Were they trying to capture just the lower half of the mural? The heads and phones of all the people piled up there, like I was? Some people were really happy showing off their pictures between their groups.
There was another big crowd nearby. The crowd was not gathered around anything in particular, and after they left there was nothing, just an empty seat. I could hardly listen to a guitar playing, but that was enough for people to sing Bowie’s songs spontaneously. Some people went as groups, but in general, no one knew each other, except that they were there out of their love for David Bowie.
My wife and a friend joined me right after, and I showed them the place I had arrived just 10 minutes before. I considered all of this like a theme park that was in development, with attractions that come and go. You were an attraction if you brought your musical instrument, or came dressed as your favorite Bowie era. And very soon, all these places will become shrines to come and feel a connection with the artist.
Not long after we were standing there some guy comes next to us and asks us what do we think about John Lennon. He said it in a very convincing voice, as he was really attending John Lennon’s memorial. After a very awkward minute, he started laughing and began to tell us his story.
He started listening to Bowie when he was fifteen, that it had touched his heart, that John Lennon, Roger Waters, and David Bowie were his favourite musicians. That England had so much good music to show up. That it was the musicians the soul and the face of the country, not the politicians.
It was these guys that really communicated the values of our society, and that that made him very, very proud of being an Englishman. In London’s everyday, it’s very rare that someone will come out of the blue and pour their heart on to strangers, but right there, right now, it was the correct moment.
Before he left us he jokingly invited us to his place to eat. Probably our face was a clear sign of declining his invitation. Nevertheless, I asked him his name before he left. “Amon”, he said. He said he was really Irish, but that he had been living many years around London.
We continued walking to the nearby square in Brixton. The Ritzy Cinema had a huge sign honouring Bowie, and the square in front was full of people. Young and old. Everyone remembering him and his songs. Some with musical instruments, and others with speakers that were too weak for the vast public space around. But the weakness of the speakers was aided by the people around, who started chanting the songs and thus everyone that was a bit farther started singing.
The center of the square was particularly packed with people. I could not what everyone was gathering around there. But I could see that a building next to the square had all their lights on, with people next to their window celebrating the musician as well. One of the windows had a projector showing mute music videos.
There was a bust that suddenly fell into the attention of everyone, as one guy hopped into the bust, embracing his legs around it, and started putting some masked tape to the face of the bust. After putting the tape, it was obvious what was going to happen next, with a fucsia spray one part of the eye and the forehead was now painted with a thunder in Ziggy Stardust’s fashion.
This was it, there was no other objective in this gathering, more than to share the feeling of having enjoyed his music, celebrate it, and be happy for it. It was not a mourning, it was a reaffirmation of what he represented and the legacy that he left.