As a child David Bowie frightened me. I mean, really frightened me. The lyrics to Space Oddity, overheard on the radio, left me in existential torment for the lingering death of Major Tom. Then there were those creepy emaciated illustrations on his 70s album covers. So how did the Thin White Duke come to be such a central, even homely figure to my own children? In honour of his 66th birthday, that new single and album here are my updated ten (and a half) top tips on raising your kids the David Bowie way.
1. The Laughing Gnome: (Age 0-3) A perfect way in. The simple joy of silly voices.
2. Sorrow: (age 4 upwards) This cover of an old Merseybeats’ song off the Pinups album offers two useful things. a)A song about long blonde hair, for any girl going through an Alice In Wonderland fixation. b) A useful lesson for boys about the siren power of a beautifully shallow female. (See also the evil Suki in the Cbeebies animated series Binka.)
3. Labyrinth: (age 4+) This features a wonderful myth-laden script from Terry Jones, packed with references to Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz and the Arthuriad, and Jennifer Connolly in the lead. As my daughter put it: “A goblin king steals a beautiful girl’s baby brother. But he’s really David Bowie!” The party dream sequence is particularly beautiful in an 80’s pop video kind of way. Combines a useful education in 80s teen culture. Don’t mention the tight trousers, unless you would also like to offer an early lesson in the changes the body undergoes in puberty. Oh, and there is a prequel graphic novel, coming soon.
4. Berlin: Age 4+ (Geography, Cold War History) Who says children are only ever taught about the Second World War? A trip to Berlin offers the chance of riding the S-bahn, discussing the inspiration for the lyrics to The Passenger, visiting Schoenberg where he lived, discussing the importance of friendship (with Iggy Pop) and the importance of abandoning celebrity to focus on hard work. A discussion about the hard drugs aspect of their sojourn in West Berlin might be best left till later.
5a. Rebel Rebel: (Age 10+) While a useful exposition of inter-generational conflict, we decided to park this song, unless you like your preteens singing raucously along to ” Hot tramp, I love you so” and asking what it means.
b. Boys Keep Swinging video (age 4+) The joys of raiding your mum’s, or possibly your nan and grandad’s wardrobe and makeup box. Plus your kids’ first lesson in gender studies. You could make cards to study the different images: My favourite remains the pre-Camilla Ravished Aunty in pearls (at 2 min 45″).
6. The Falcon and the Snowman : The Cold War (part 2) The children are still too young to watch the film, but the lyrics to the title track This Is Not America provide plenty of discussion material.
7. Modern Love: David Bowie’s marriage to Iman is a wonderful symbol of mixed relationships. The one thing my family has in common with David Bowie.
8. Nutrition: We knew David Bowie had achieved favourite uncle status when, unable to coax our son to eat with a claim that “David Beckham always eats his food before matches”, our daughter piped up that “David Bowie always eats a good breakfast before going to parties.” A falser claim may never have been made, but it did the trick. I still like to think he does.
9. The Prestige: Science is cool. If David Bowie had been Tesla he would have invented the transporter.
10. Tin Machine: Everyone makes mistakes. Even David Bowie. But we learn from them.