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Alan Humm: 13 Ways of Looking at David Bowie

Thirteen Ways of Looking at David Bowie

1 Top of the Pops

Sly lights pick out

Tensions between the raw and cooked.

Assonance: the same old gestures but

Refined; containing

More: something that's flaunted like a dare.

Audience members all stare solemnly.

Noli me tangere. But soon: acceptance, meaning renewal.


2 Julie*

His silence was so loud.

It was a question of glazing over

and becoming incoherent.

People had to prod me.

I used to think he was the Coming of the Lord.

We'd have this wonderful space age relationship.

I tried to masturbate.

I thought: if it's truly possible to walk through glass

and reach him

I might touch him.

For a long time I used a hairbrush.

I used to think about a cold, hard atmosphere

with a lot of cloud.

I had orgasms of a space kind;

non-committed hysteria.

I would lie under the covers for fear

of being overwhelmed.

He was there for me.

I was humming.

I'd think this means this and this means that.

I'd think of ESP.

I had conversations with him.

I used to walk around the room

protecting my small parts.

He'd say, "Well, I have to leave you now."

I was crying a lot,

we were all crying,

because of Ziggy.

He'd tease people

by holding out his hand to them.

I remember going home as all fans do,

in solitary confinement.

He prompted something in me.

I never believed I was David Bowie.

It's a terrible thing he did really.

He has a lot to answer for.

*A redaction of “Julie: He’s Got a Lot to Answer For” from Starlust: The Secret Fantasies of Fans by Fred and Judy Vermorel. You can find the extract in The Faber History of Pop, edited by Hanif Kureishi and Jon Savage and published by faber and faber in 1995.


3 Bowie and Me

My girlfriend bought me Aladdin Sane.

It was meant, I think,

to be exemplary: what could be sexier?

Not sex, which vexed us both.

The songs wallowed in something

that was like another atmosphere.

It wasn't, quite, desire;

more like heat:

the opposite of us.

The music mussed the room

just as, you felt, Bowie would smear

himself – that musk

the famous have,

as pungent as the smell

of roasting meat –

just about everywhere.

My romance didn't last,

but Bowie did.

The things that were hidden from me then

are what I love about him now:

the way his songs

disclose a taut inscrutability;

hang there like oil in water; overlap;

explore terrains you've never thought about before.

Aladdin Sane? It's still cocksure.

But there is something else.

Unease. Distrust.

The transience you meet

trying to find yourself

in the mirror's maze.

(Whose face? It never lets you see.)

All of the things I felt

coming to terms with what I didn't know,

there on my girlfriend's bed.


4 Singer On National Network Experiences Trauma

I mime delirium, distaste, and then

stare at the TV host; my underwater stare.

I'm floating here, the real is over there;

nothing but real; a feint; a holding pen.

I place a finger on my brow; attempt a smile.

I feel how tight the skin is on my face,

and how the tall lamps blast my panstick-beige

wet forehead white as a bland bathroom tile.

Later, after the make-up girl has gone,

trapped in my living room, I try to feel

the stars gutter and brim; try to explain

how every iridescent self is one

attempt to mime, or to locate, the real

here in the clatter of my slowing brain.


5 Live Aid

Something like calm; something like peace

adheres to him. Such artifice:

he seems to greet us face to face.

Consoling, legible, he makes

a perfect silhouette: foursquare

and elegant; emphatically here.

But this is artificial too:

his hair like gold, his teeth like new,

the way he smiles, as though each song

is logical as stepping stones.

Too sly and fey to make us think

of Everyman, he's Bowie Inc.


6 Blackstar

Yes, something happened on the day he died.

Something was let out of the world, like air

from a balloon. We cried, mostly, for us:

for all those times the world was just an echo,

dully reverberant, and he'd proclaim

himself our avatar; would ease the passage

from our world to his: the rain no longer

just the dull gloss on the known, but stage rain;

something like an accompaniment. He unfurled himself.

Sometimes, he lost a step, but at the last

he leapt again into the inhospitable:

music like the slow unyielding music

of a storm. On the day he died he was ours

again, just like he always knew he would be.


7 Insomniacs

With apologies to A.E. Stallings

Lover, I will not linger.

I turn my moon-cold shoulder.

Why would you trust a singer?

The room is getting colder.

I turn my moon-cold shoulder.

I make free with the cover.

The room is getting colder.

Go find another lover.

I make free with the cover.

There are so many of you.

Go find another lover.

I cannot hope to love you.

There are so many of you.

So many lonely places.

Go find another lover;

Find sympathetic faces.

So many lonely places.

Lover I will not linger.

Find sympathetic faces.

Why would you trust a singer?


8 Terry

It's difficult to explain

how the world cracks open,

disclosing fire.

A band, that's all,

their noise, explicable –

loud bass and drums;

lightning on the guitar –

became unbearable.

Thunder, inside,

there in his brother's brain.

The sly, tilting kiss of madness.

Bowie ran; was always running:

bright star; blind mole.

Each act,

each iridescent character,

formed in the void;

the lone self's howling wind.

The lone self's howling wind

Formed in the void.

Each iridescent character,

Each act:

Bright star; blind mole.

Bowie ran from it; was always running;

the sly tilting kiss of madness

there in his brother's brain.

Thunder, inside,

became unbearable.

Lightning on the guitar;

loud bass and drums;

their noise explicable –

a band, that's all,

disclosing fire.

How the world cracks open.

It's difficult to explain.


9 Salute

All hail our visiting Superman,

there in the haven of his car.

He drove out of Victoria

erased and burnished by the sun.

He stood and smiled and waved; no more.

The papers called it a salute.

They made it look like a salute;

like something done by Superman:

his hand and posture somehow more

than someone waving in his car.

He looked like he'd stepped from the sun

to gather us in Victoria,

to rally us in Victoria;

to throw the kind of wild salute

associating you with sun

and moon and stars; with Superman.

He was as burnished as his car,

and we were all expecting more. More what? I couldn't say. Just more.

More than a man in Victoria.

He was as burnished as his car.

He waved. It felt like a wild salute.

And, anyway, we expected Superman.

He shone, for us, just like the sun. His urge was somehow to be sun

and moon and stars. But claim that more's been given you, that you're a Superman,

and you end up with Victoria:

with people seeing a wild salute

when you're just waving from your car.

Look at it from our side. Your car,

erased and burnished by the sun,

seemed in itself a wild salute.

Reading the newspapers, what more

could we have asked from Victoria

than that you claimed us like a Superman?

You said it: Homo Superior. Superman

is as Superman does. Less is more

when you wave from a car here in Victoria.


10 Home

See him, if you can, at home and not at home, in the 1960s. How much like prose it was, all of those rooms, acoustics like labouring machinery, in which he played the blues. Or oozed over the stage, miming... I don't know what. The Fall of Stalingrad. The Pentateuch. Forget the strange poetry of the later years; the way that he stood, as sinuous and distant as a flame, biting the air between his teeth. No. Try to imagine Davey Jones still poking through. Just like the rest of us: those for whom home felt like a closing jaw; from whom the slightest thing – an armchair or a lighter, say, displayed to signify the family – withdrew. From which we then withdrew in turn. With drugs, was it, for you? A brand new suit? For me, it was the songs. No, not the words: the tunes. As sinuous and distant as a flame, but always there. Always, forever, true. Foursquare. Bowie was home.


11 Bar Fly

He was a slab, this guy. Pure prose. Red in the face with the effort

of being him. We need an erotics of David Bowie: how he enters

the blood, like wine. Just for a moment, he was giddy; slightly

out of true. A slab, yes, but there was something around the

eyes, and at his jaw. He was in a band. Was more, he

was implying; much much more. Slowly, he kissed

his beer. He started to describe his friend, the

one who had worked with Bowie. His

hands, two slabs, dipped briefly,

elegantly, towards the bar.

They were mimicking

DB; his talent:

how free it

was. The






ed to


And I

saw, in the pewter

afternoon, what I should

have seen all along: reflected light.


12 Hermeneutics

The soul, on its way

through, craves stasis; craves movement.

Sings its dilemma.


13 Beautiful

"He's beautiful," my lover says.

I say: "A mess.

Look, darling. Look at his fingernails."

"Shh. He's ideal."

He's an ideal, she means: an imprimatur.

I imagine a cat-purr

Of satisfaction as he sees the cloth

Of his soft

dimpled suit fossick and dip

on his cantered hip.

Square-jawed and would-be-feminine,

unfair how in-

candescent he can appear. Those eyes.

And each surprise,

each shimmering suit of clothes, each whim,

became him.

He drew them into him somehow.

I tell her how

he seems to have slept his way to fame.

It's what he became,

that shimmering thing, burnished reality,

she wants to see.

Alan Humm is the editor of One Hand Clapping. His first novel, The Sparkler, will be published by Vine Leaves Press in 2024 and his first collection of poetry, A Brief and Biased History of Love, will be published this September.


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