When I first listened to David Bowie, I was trying to impress a girl.
She was a couple of years older than me, liked glam rock and Terry Pratchett, called herself a writer, and talked like she knew everything. Where this could have been something that aggravated me, I instead became altogether too infatuated with her. I doubled down on writing and considered her my writing rival, despite never having read a thing she’d written. And I immediately looked into all of her favourite things, immediately knowing all of her favourite things because she loved to talk about herself–a blessing for a shy kid with no idea how to talk about anything.
Luckily for me, one of her favourite things was David Bowie. I pirated all of his biggest songs, “Space Oddity”, “Ashes to Ashes”, “Heroes”, and they soon became a significant section of the soundtrack of my teenage years. I continued listening to Bowie long after I stopped liking this girl and started liking her best friend. I put on Bowie in the background whenever my best friend came over, and we’d play video games while I moped about, complaining about how Bowie reminded me of how much I was in love with So-and-So at the time.
A lot of my emotions and memories are inextricably connected to Bowie. He became an idol of mine, among the first on a constantly growing list of artists.
So I was a bit put-off to find out that David Bowie was a rapist.
In the 1970s, David Bowie had a threesome with a fourteen- and fifteen-year-old. Said fourteen-year-old was Lori Mattix, a girl heavy into the groupie scene, who would later go on to engage in an abusive relationship with Jimmy Page, and who has been very vocal about her time romancing rockstars. Then, in the late eighties, Bowie was accused of rape and taken to court.
Immediately, I wanted to defend him when I found all of this out. I’d already known about Jimmy Page, but I didn’t really care because I’d never been a huge Led Zeppelin fan. Bowie was a different story. And it is important to note that Lori Maddox doesn’t consider what happened to her rape. On one hand, it’s wrong of us to tell other people how to view their sexual encounters, and she makes sure to remind her interviewers that she still sees her time as a groupie consensual. On the other hand, she also considers being kidnapped by Jimmy Page’s manager and being hidden away as a glorified sex slave for three months “romantic.”
Sexual abuse is complicated, from perpetrating it to surviving it, and feeling victimized is but one head of the hydra. It is not uncommon for abuse survivors to deny that what they experienced was abuse. And while the world loves to complain about false accusations, only 2-4% of rape allegations are false (in Canada, at least.) I could argue, as well, that he’s no Bill Cosby.
None of this excuses Bowie’s actions. I really don’t want to make excuses for him, because I don’t want my emotions to get in the way of my integrity. I know it makes me hypocritical to want to defend Bowie, when I’m the first person to scoff at the thought of supporting Orson Scott Card or Bill Cosby, two monsters I’ve never given a damn about. I imagine this is how Cosby fans felt when over thirty women accused him or drugging and raping them.
Undeniably, Bowie abused his power as a rich, famous, older male. On top of that, he had periods throughout his life where he was (admittedly) a bit of an asshat. Rape or not, no matter what anyone says, he is in the wrong. He did a shitty thing. It’s easy to feel betrayed when we allow celebrities so much space in our heads, and it’s hard to realize we never really knew these people or the things they were capable of.
I didn’t know David Bowie beyond the way he made me feel, and maybe it’s for the best that I never met him. Heroes so rarely live up to expectations, and even David Bowie was only human, no matter how often he tried to blind himself to the fact. But it also doesn’t change the role Bowie’s art has had in my life. It sucks, and it is upsetting, and I pray that I never find out the horrible things done by the remainder of my heroes.
(Neil Gaiman, please don’t have sex with minors.)
Now, when I listen to David Bowie, I’ll remember crushes on girls and games with best friends, and these memories will be tainted by the thought of Bowie as a rapist. I’ll try to figure out which songs he wrote were him remembering that time he had a threesome with a couple of underage girls.
Perhaps it’s better this way, when it’s so damn easy to remain blind to the horrible things our heroes do.