Bowie pokes and provokes something within me that I am compelled to share mostly to myself. Hopefully it is in some way vaguely interesting.
Or maybe it will just reveal that I need my head ever more extensively read.
So. Last night I watched the documentary, Bowie. The Last Five Years.
I now find myself subsequently splintered into the myriad selves that his staggering catalogue of music has served since I first heard Life On Mars wafting from the room of my school friend’s eldest sister.
(She fulfilled her role perfectly. Pretty. Unreachable. Cool. Mature beyond her years. And… she had Cork Wedges.)
It’s a God awful small affair.
Bowie is linked to so many seminal moments in my life; so stitched into so many shards of my existence – the most profound backing track of me.
In this way I am a cliché. One of millions carrying the same banal truth.
Though I now realise that it takes rare moments, rude awakenings and sometimes brilliant documentaries to remind me of the fact.
I have always hoped that somewhere in the world there is a White Light filter; a magical prism lens that, when placed in front of your average ordinary person, splinters out the White Light of them – that of the façade and myth – into a rainbow of different truer selves.
This prism would reveal the fact that we are in fact Ply People – a highly compressed super glued set of layers – each layer a recording of a pivotal, seminal or catastrophic moment from our past – an emotional freeze frame of us in that moment. Each layer revealing different ages, contexts, emotional maturities, worn identities, degrees of hope or disappointment, insight, arrogance, insecurity and confusion.
As to whether this sandwich of recordings play constantly or are frozen until taken off pause by some impact I am uncertain.
I have a feeling that they are mix of the two. Equally I believe that they not only have different speeds, but also directions, and occurrences. Add to that that I also believe that they have different textures and densities, and one might see how the Ply of us could easily render every human being as a wholly unique and individual organism. Before we get anywhere near the sub atomic genetic junk and data of us, or the direct environmental effect of the context in which we exist.
As with all ‘memories’ or recollections, each of these snapshots of ‘us’ in that moment, are rendered in different opacities and intensities; sometimes the information is dense and knife sharp, other times a wafting vagary, more a feeling and some olfactory signature bundled into a misty strip.
Like a Garage Band lay-down, imagine each of them roughly placed across the whole at different junctures and depths, arranged in such a way as to make sense of the particular moment to the whole in which they exist. Each of them ramping and intensifying and fading or cutting in and out as necessary or demanded: or perhaps continuously rendered for the duration of the whole.
I don’t think the Ply Persona is the same as multiple personalities hosted in one person, as the layers I am speaking of are not separate personas to the degree that they are other to me or notionally different people to me (though if a grown up psychiatrist that actually knows about these things corrects my observations I would be delighted!)
So this is my theory.
The Ply Persona is a compound effect of the most evolutionarily powerful moments in our lives -moments that cause a progressive shift or change in us; moments that have shaped us in a way that is indelible; in a way that will never be undone; where decisions we have made, feelings we have felt, things we have seen or heard, connections we have made, actions we have undertaken either indirectly or directly, things we have created and revelations we have unveiled mark us.
Having watched the first Bowie. Five Years documentary this had already started to reveal itself to me to some degree.
To be frank, at the moment I watched Rick Wakeman unpick the chord sequence of Life On Mars on a simple keyboard, the film of it intercut with footage from Bowie’s Be-suited glam film rendition, I cried.
I am not quite sure why. I think I know why.
It moved me in a way that no one single self or moment could explain. But my Ply Persona could. My Ply Persona could point simultaneously to multiple profoundly shaping moments in which Bowie had become both generally and that song particularly inextricably linked to me. And when I hear chords lyrics and refrains of the greatest emotional value to me, the collective is triggered all at once. Emotionally cacophonous: as if I had pressed play on hundreds of precious recollections at once, and felt every emotion simultaneously therein.
There are many Bowie threaded Mes. They read out like a ticker tape
The Me that was desirous of my Friend’s sister and the mourning of the naïve of that youth lost. The Me that sat through Top Of The Pops and Star Man at Christmas amongst the fall-out of my parents’ highly acrimonious divorce.. The Me that coveted my favourite tape in the player sitting on the sunshine soaked floor of the dining room in Thurlestone that looked to the sea. The Me that sat in the café of Bayswater Ice Skating Rink with my best friend Mark, both of us deeply enamoured by a blonde haired girl (Kate I think her name was) in a decorated Denim Jacket with troubled eyes; all to the backing track of Sound & Vision. The Me that realised in the first flush of what I thought was Love that throwing darts in Lovers Eyes as voiced by The Thin White Duke and The Bard was more than just a shared Elizabethan conceit. The Me that remembers the top floor flat in North London and the stereo on which I first listened to Let’s Dance, my girlfriend draped on the sofa in a pink and blue patterned Foundry Dress, over laced shock pink pixie boots with the remnants of an Ibiza tan and the smell of Habanos cigarettes. The Me that listened over and over to the drum section on Scary Monsters Super Creeps waiting for the revelation of how I might ever capture that spirit and vibe. The Me that can smell the rehearsal room at Nomis Studios on Sinclair Road the week before Live Aid and feeling the world at my kick-pedal and high-hat feet to the strains of Thomas Dolby playing the opening chords of Heroes. The Me that watched Life On Mars and realised that I wasn’t the only person who lived and felt the way I did growing up in 1970s Britain. The Me in my old Alfa Junior driving around the outer circle of Regents Park with Louis and Livia, my beautiful children, in the car with me, on a summer’s day with Moonage Daydream powering out of the stereo wondering whether anything could be more perfect (and realising that it couldn’t). The Me that still felt deeply the abstracted pain of Isolation and Ending that the metronomic intro drum beat of 5 Years signifies, on re-listening only a week ago.
The list of how Bowie is written into the layers of my Ply Persona goes on and on. To the degree that it has slightly taken me aback.
But it does explain the strange and abstracted sense of grief and loss I felt on the news of his death. Again, in this I am the cliché. A common emotion shared by millions.
What is more interesting to me is the way in which it clarified and coloured the nature of Ply Personas for me.
This is where a perhaps clinical truth (I am looking once more to the psychiatrists in this) is rendered clearer through the application of an artistic interpretive filter – in much the same way that the dense data and imaging of the Hubble Scope has been separated, coloured and tinted to reveal its depth and majesty. The arts inform and illuminate the sciences.
The pure clinical science of the raw images reveals nothing to people like me. It is beyond my ken. But illuminate it with an interpretive humanity and artistic majesty and it moulds and moves and shapes itself into a constellation through which I can travel, its breath-taking expanse and complexity revealed to me. An inner space is revealed.
I am perhaps applying the vanity of my idea to all, so I should better apply it purely to myself. I’ll start there.
I, me, has I believe a Ply Persona. And the gift and revelation of the creative fillip of Bowie’s music illuminates it suddenly in the same way that when one peels back the corner of some time worn Anaglypta paper on the wall of a flat or house you are renovating, a pinstriped rainbow edge is revealed. And as one pulls harder the other older layers of paint, paper, colour, texture, era, fashion, pain, laughter, boredom, anxiety, hope, optimism – all those layers of all those lives lived in the same place, in one way as one but in so many ways highly individual and complex and rich – reveal themselves.
Bowie’s music is what colours those layers in me.
These two documentaries have revealed to me that the patina of me is made up of where various parts and glimpses of these layers of me, these snapshots of me and the emotional ‘Now’ of that moment, show through.
Like the anaglypta paper, or an often over-painted piece of furniture, these show through, are revealed, at those points of greatest openness, weakness, wear or tear. Where the percussive blunts of my life chip away the present surface layer to reveal those beneath.
Perhaps the ply persona reveals to me the simple truth of being human: our irrational, unreasonable, random and chaotic selves are really just the evidence of when some or many of these layers reveal themselves unexpectedly: momentarily. Our moments of madness. Indecision. Rash reaction. Just scrappy imperfect windows into the previous Mes that mostly sit glued and compressed into one Whole.
So David, bless you wherever you are. For revealing something to me. By accident or design.
I’m a Ply Persona.
I’m a mamma-pappa coming for you.
I’m a Space Invader.
I’ll be [forever]
a rock ‘n’ rollin bitch for you.