And the Stars Look Very Different Today – Genesis cinema, London, 23rd January 2016
Maverick independent cinema Genesis in Mile End is a jewel of an arts and film venue and tonight’s tribute was representative of how they roll – a fundraiser for Cancer Research with a double-bill of Bowie on celluloid and some lo-fi live tributes and DJs.
The stars may look very different but the scars are still raw – it’s coming up to just two weeks since he pulled his biggest surprise over five decades yet. None of us were expecting this – how could we after The Next Day, the exhibition, Lazarus, Blackstar and all the new box sets and paraphernalia? This was a man at the top of his game and was surely yet another brilliant phase in his career. Cliches like ‘chameleon’ and ‘re-invention’ were being thrown around as ever, but the simple truth was that David was inspired, invigorated, innovating, creating possibly his best work since the Berlin era. But then…
Tonight felt simultaneously like a gathering of lost souls, a celebration and a wake. Personally, I was not ready to drunkenly chant along to Ziggy Stardust, or craft a lightning bolt on my face whilst wearing spandex pants, and I probably never will be. He’s too important to me for flippancy, as precious as that sounds. But I also know everyone has their favourite period and own personal Bowie – that was his genius – so if that meant dressing up as Jared the Goblin King and rocking out to Let’s Dance then who am I to deny them? Such was the beauty of this evening – we all could find our own mental corner to appreciate him and reflect and remember Bowie in our own way. Mine was walking into the foyer and immediately being seduced by the pathos and beauty of Dollar Days, then slipping into the cinema to take a front row seat to re-view arguably his greatest and most seminal role – The Man Who Fell to Earth, and later in the evening the ’80s lesbian erotica of The Hunger where we watched him age and wither – both beautiful and sensitive performances which made one re-evaluate Bowie the actor. The thing about both pieces tonight is that they resonated so much with the loss we know today. It felt hard to detach from the actuality of his leaving the planet, literally in this case. At one point I choked a little tear as Thomas Jerome Newton lay motionless and naked on a bed, eyes still and glistening, full of loss over leaving. But then the house lights came up and we were transported to glam ’70s Bowie as the succession of musicians in the bar treated us to ever-so-slightly-rough but well-intentioned fun singalongs of the classics. I was hoping to hear some interpretations of newer material but – in the same way when I fought my way to the front at Glastonbury in 2000 to hear ‘China Girl’ and ‘Life on Mars’ – this was a mixed crowd who wanted to sing and celebrate, so ‘All the Young Dudes’ and ‘Rebel Rebel’ were both appropriate and appreciated by the sold out Genesis crowd. We did get a gentle and reflective piano-led ‘Where Are We Now’ so I went home happy.
A fitting finale came from brilliant neo-burlesque artist Helene de Joie (who also co-curated the night) as a gore-splattered and edgy vampiric tease through Cat People saw some open mouths and wide eyes, bringing things to a blood-curdling climax after a glorious eight hours of Bowie-filled immersion. With a tribute corner for your messages to the boy from Brixton on the way out, and enough glitter to illuminate the planet for a week, tonight was a heartwarming and memorable way to celebrate David Bowie’s life and work. As the strains of a drunken Starman drifted along the Mile End Road and up into the misty London sky, the stars did indeed look very different today.
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