Life

Nuala McCann: The grim reality about David Bowie's early days was no fun to watch

Perhaps the lesson to be learned is that if you really really want something badly enough – like fame – then eventually you'll get it and also, genius, like Bowie's, takes time to develop. They say Albert Einstein didn't exactly shine at primary school

David Bowie pictured circa 1965, as seen in the BBC's David Bowie: Finding Fame

IT’S been a difficult week about here. The idols were falling fast and furious. Think wanton bloody vandalism on Easter Island.

David Bowie: Finding Fame went out on Saturday night – so sad that we stayed in on Saturday night. As fans from way back in the day – I have the vinyl to prove it; Hunky Dory eh? – it seemed like the perfect sofa fodder complete with a glass of Bombay Blue and an onion bhaji.

The sofa is a battlefield where he who possesses the controller is king. But this time we signed an agreement.

We watched Bowie: Finding Fame but decided we really ought to have watched Bowie: Fame Found, because by the end of it, we were floundering in the shallows of disillusion and floundering in the bog of disappointment. Who would have known that young lad could be so downright uncool?

Yes those were the days of crimpolene and big hairy sideburns that could have hosted whole generations of nits – but honestly, how could they air this and shatter our illusions? It really ought to have been called 'Bowie, the Wuss'.

Our dreams crashed around our ankles with all the indignity of big old schoolgirls’ knickers when the elastic snaps. So it was with David.

Where to start? He sang ballads wearing a powder-blue jacket that must have come second hand from Herman of the Hermits. It had seen better days. It was, in the English vernacular, naff.

In the past, we may have heard and scoffed at how someone in the BBC decried his first demo with the words: “The singer is a Cockney type but not outstanding enough.” It turns out whoever wrote that actually totally nailed it, was dead right and was not even sharp enough with the little stiletto dagger.

For diehard Bowie fans, this was a gut wrenching, grim Saturday watch. Bowie in the early days was an embarrassment.

Yes, we were all prepared for the Laughing Gnome. Remember those little pinky and perky voices that you got turning up the speed on your da’s old radiogram? Count John McCormack on speed was always a giggle.

Bowie’s The Laughing Gnome was a novelty song, everyone makes mistakes. We could cope with that. But Bowie, the Cockney gentleman singing about love was truly dreadful. Perhaps the lesson to be learned from this is that if you really really want something badly enough – like fame – then eventually you’ll get it and also, genius, like Bowie’s, takes time to develop. They say Albert Einstein didn’t exactly shine at primary school.

Even Bowie started off small. But there were times when methinks the gentleman tried too much. His mime teacher and former lover didn’t think much of his talent for mime either. Let’s face it, he was no Marcel Marceau said Lindsay Kemp. In fact, he said, Bowie was “a lot of s**t”. You couldn’t not agree.

Perhaps it was a mother thing. Bowie’s cousin said he was always trying to please her. We visited his old house, peeked into his childhood bedroom and she pointed out the windowsill where he used to perform.

But there were none too many pictures of a smiling mum. One of his friends recalls writing to Bowie to sympathise after she died. She didn’t really like me, he told the singer; she never quite took to me either, Bowie wrote back.

There were touching moments along the way. We got to meet the “girl with the mousy hair” who stole his heart, but hey it was a god awful small affair and it made me think about all the other fallen heroes.

Take Gary Glitter. Yes, take him. We all know the truth about him. Back then, he was the first centrefold to make it to my teenage bedroom wall. Yes, my first pin-up was a paedophile.

Other girls liked David Cassidy – boy-next-door wimp – or David Essex – double blue-eyed boy-next-door wimp. A girl who would really rather not entertain that tame kind of guy, had to channel her inner Gary Glitter.

I wanted to be in his gang. You got to go heavy on the glitter make-up and stomp about in silver platform boots – you were making a statement that yelled “Up Yours!” to Puppy Love. Yes, Donny Osmond, another wuss.

But he wasn’t Jimmy Saville creepy. Even back then, we picked up the ‘no no’ vibe.

The grim reality about Bowie’s early days was no fun to watch. It was poignant because we saw the singer’s early vulnerability. But I like my Bowie strong, handsome, defiant and cutting edge. Back then, he wasn’t.

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