by Ambika Thompson
I love David Bowie. Not just any David Bowie, but David Bowie from 1969 to 1980, from Space Oddity to Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). Before 1969 his glimpses of brilliance were too busy forming for me to care, and after 1980 I mostly just try and block him out. I can’t, thus, claim my love is eternal, and I am certainly not faithful, but my love for him has changed my life.
I didn’t always know him, as I know him now. When I was young there was China Girl, a video played on the music channel that perplexed me with his racial slur every time he pulled on the outside corner’s of his eyes to slant them up and down, reminding me of our playground chant; “Chinese, Japanese, dirty-knees, look at these.”
That was part of what I blocked out. Bowie only truly came to me in all his glory almost nearly three decades later. I had been working at a Rock n’ Roll bar, staffed, owned and frequented by a tremendous amount of very hot gay men, and I mean very hot gay men, who all happened to love 1970’s David Bowie. And that’s how it started, with the Bowie filled jukebox in the bar. Space Oddity to Scary Monsters and me buying a David Bowie bundle of LP’s from Ebay for 10 bucks. Everything started to change.
The world began to look different, and most importantly, it sounded different, and then went on to collide into some of the most intense musical orgasms of my life with the Eno/Bowie merging into the Berlin trilogy; Brian Eno being the only other man I strangely love with such intensity. From early Roxy Music, Taking Tiger Mountain, and Here Comes the Warm Jets, I almost loved him at times more than Bowie. Then the two bedded together on Heroes, Low and Lodger. Heaven in vinyl. But that’s not what I wanted to tell you.
I wanted to tell you how I became 1970’s David Bowie, and it started in a Rock n’ Roll karaoke bar. I must admit, due to my passive-aggressive Christian upbringing that there may have been other factors involved, like MDMA, LSD, THC, coke, speed, uppers, downers…
The point is that I really wanted to be 1970’s Bowie. Listen, I don’t really know in all honesty what happened. All of a sudden there were all these people that wanted to kill me. I went into hiding. I quit my job. Floated from place to place, anywhere anyone would shelter me; mostly strangers, people I met on the street. It was that kind of time for me.
After a while of this – it could have been weeks, years, days, or maybe just a few minutes – of carrying around two pairs of socks, an extra pair of underwear and a clean spandex suit, I realized that I had to go home and get one thing. A Bowie album.
It was an impulse, a calling, some sort of religious thing.
When I got home, I rushed to my record collection. I had to be quick, I couldn’t hesitate, and I could only take one, because something triggered in my brain to make me believe that. I couldn’t even afford to take the cover or the sleeve. I knew what I was looking for. I heard the assassins entering the building. Shuffling, loud, menacing. My hands were shaking. Low. No. Diamond Dogs. No. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Ah, maybe, would like to, but no. Hunky Dory. Yes. I pulled the record out and realized I had nowhere to put it. I was going to have to climb down the balcony or out the bathroom window. I could hear them. My heart was racing. I don’t know what compelled me to do it. I put the record on my head. The hole in the middle stretched open to fit my head, and if this next part seems shocking to you, I ask you to imagine how it must have been for me. I became the long gone, but never forgotten, 1970’s David Bowie. I felt it. It started with the hair follicles on the top of my head. My hair became shorter and spikier on top and longer in the back, wisps of red hair caressing my thickening neck. My breasts subsided into my breast bone. I shot up three inches. My groin pulsated and I felt an unfamiliar protrusion expand in my underpants. As I looked down, I saw that I was wearing a powder blue suit. I rushed to the mirror. Blue eye shadow encircled my eyes. “Holy Shit!” a British accent from inside me said to me.
I heard the voices of the assassins on the main floor discussing the names on the door. I quickly stepped out the apartment’s door, closing it quietly. I started my descent. They started their ascent. I tried to act casually as they came into sight. I greeted them as was custom in our building, still wearing my Hunky Dory vinyl hat, and heard my voice again strangely sound British as I said “hello”. They didn’t respond to me, just stared at me as if I was a freak and continued upstairs. And I continued downstairs, and out the door and to my new life as 1970’s David Bowie, and I have to say at that moment it was absolutely fantastic, at least at first.
I stepped out onto the street as 1970’s David Bowie and realized that I didn’t know what to do. It felt busy in my head; much busier than normal. The only part of me that didn’t change entirely into Bowie was my mind. I was me, but it wasn’t that easy. I was also him. I had his memories, his ability to play guitar and sing, and a strong desire for bangers and mash. I had to sit down somewhere and think, and not think. It was too much. All the memories of someone else’s life flooding me. Two lifetime of memories and knowledge amalgamate into one super human.
After some time I felt considerably calmer with my new double-self and decided to go to my best friend Simon’s house. I had been avoiding him for a while, because I was pretty sure that the assassins would go to him first looking for me, but now it didn’t seem to matter. I was somebody else.
One of the problem’s with being 1970’s David Bowie and sharing his mind, was the mixture between our drug abused/riddled brains. I, before, was an amateur compared to him, so I had a hard time struggling with his paranoia and general states of mind – I didn’t do so well with just my own, as is probably evident. If I was feeling like early 1970’s David Bowie, the day would go okay, but for those days when we moved later into the decade, I struggled. At times it was magical. Other times I couldn’t do more than crouch in the corner, muttering to myself and trying to crawl out of his skin.
Simon helped me through all these times, and he was the only person I told. When I buzzed at his place and said, “It’s Ambika”, I realized that my voice was again, now British and male, which he didn’t seem to notice since everyone sounded male on his intercom anyways. When I came into his apartment, he had already gone back to the kitchen, sitting at the table, reading his newspaper and sipping his coffee. I greeted him casually, not really sure and not really thinking out how I should greet him. He looked up at me, baffled.
“I am Ambika.”
He stood up from the table, never letting his eyes leave me and walked around me to the hallway and to the apartment door, only looking away to turn and peer out into the hallway. When he was sure no one else was coming up the stairs, he closed the door. He turned around slowly, looking at me again and not letting his eyes veer away from me, and then did the whole thing again. He finally walked around me and sat at the table. He then proceeded to ask me a series of questions in order to validate my claim. When he was satisfied that I knew enough about Ambika, he asked me how this had happened and what had I been taking. At this point, it wasn’t clear whether he believed me or not, but as he confessed to me later, I looked exactly like David Bowie from the “Life on Mars” video, and that he almost immediately believed me, and it was only reality and the unlikelihood of the situation that was holding him back from accepting things fully. When I told him what happened, I took, for the first time, the Hunky Dory album off of my head. The hole in the middle shrank back to its regular size. I handed the record to Simon. He looked at it. He then placed it on the table, and began going through the motions of someone who thought they were in the middle of a dream. There was the pinching himself, which graduated to the slapping himself in the face, to the throwing a glass of water in his face. He again asked me what I’d been taking. Then he asked himself what he’d been taking. And then he was quiet for about five minutes. All the while, I still stood in the middle of his kitchen in my powder blue, bell-bottom suit.
Then he stood up and walked over to me and slapped me in the face. Not hard, but it shocked me none the less.
His exact words were, “You bitch! Why didn’t this happen to me?”
I rubbed my 1970’s David Bowie face where Simon had slapped me. He offered me a seat and a cup of coffee.
But before we could discuss the real matter at hand, we had to have a fight about our relationship, and why it wasn’t cool to slap me in the face, no matter how freaked out he was. I mean, seriously, I was having a really weird day.
For the rest of the day, we talked about my predicament, and my marriage to Angie Bowie, and what it was like to be a father. He let me sleep over, reassuring me that there was no one out to kill me. He also convinced me that I should perhaps take less drugs.
The next day, for the most part, was fairly uneventful. In someways I think I was in shock. Partly because of what I had become, but also because I had spent a lot of time thinking people were out to kill me, and the sense of relief that that wasn’t the case, had somewhat numbed me. The only major event of that day was when I went to have a bath at Simon’s.
In Simon’s bathroom was a full-length mirror, that I had nervously stood in front for a long time just staring at myself. I had spent at least a half hour alone just examining my teeth, that seemed too big and gangly for my thin face, and frankly, I did not like them. I had touched all the parts of my head, checking their authenticity, and when finally satisfied, began slowly to undress. My thin chest, devoid of all female attributes, shocked me. I was so thin, actually too thin. Before I took off my pants, the nervousness had hit a peak, and I had held onto the sink, fearing I would faint. It was more than just having 1970’s David Bowie’s body, but also a male body, and male genitalia.
It didn’t take me long to try and satisfy myself. How could I not? And after the first time I did, I just thought, “so that’s what it feels like,” and I did it a few more dozen times. C’mon, I didn’t know how long this whole debacle would last. But the other thing I realized that day, other than wanking as 1970’s David Bowie rocks, is the power of memory. I had all these memories of Bowie’s life. Things like sleeping with Mick Jagger, although to be honest he seemed a little stiff in bed. I told Simon all about it, and I talked about it, and felt like it did happen to me, but what struck me was the sadness of realizing that it hadn’t happened to me at all, and I wouldn’t have the actual experience of it. I realized that what I had wanted was to be 1970’s David Bowie in the 1970’s. Having his memories wasn’t enough. I felt ripped off, but I always do, which is probably more a problem for my therapist than anybody else.
That night though, my dreams had become a fusion of my subconscious and Bowie’s 1970’s subconscious. Normally being high, I never remembered my dreams. Now they came on with a vengeance. In one dream I was there with Bowie when he was first born and my sister came in and held the baby. In another, my mother had two heads. Her own and David Bowie’s mother, both yelling at me simultaneously and then each other, which was kind of cool. And this was how all my dreams would be, a mixing of two lives.
When I woke in the morning I was still Bowie. Simon had developed this theory that Bowie actually was an alien, like “The Man who Fell to Earth” was real, and had done this to me, and the only way we could change things back was to find the real Bowie, but that just sounded all too complicated to me, and we realized that no one would believe us anyways. I just assumed that things would go back to normal. Simon did as well. I mean, come on, people just don’t turn into other people. Except in “Freaky Friday,” which I now deem to be based on real life events.
After a few days of holing up at Simon’s I realised that things weren’t going back to normal. I decided to go back home and try and create normalcy. The first thing I did was cut my hair and dye it brown. I wasn’t mad into the red-haired mullet, like kind of, but not really. I realized as well that looking like 1970’s David Bowie would be weird because it was 2005. I would just look like a nutcase, a poser, or an impersonator at best, none of which I wanted to be. Simon had managed to get me a job back at the bar, though not as Ambika, but as Ian, the name we agreed to call me. There were quickly a series of problems popping up due to my condition. I couldn’t legally work, because I didn’t actually exist. I didn’t have any ID. I couldn’t claim that I had a sex change, since there was no proof of this. I could use my bank account to pay my rent, but now I didn’t have health insurance, which set off my hypochondriac side.
I started working again, at the bar I used to work at. I had to be careful that I didn’t get too friendly with all the staff, who I already knew well. They would comment on how much I looked like David Bowie, and so did a countless number of customers, and people on the street, in cafes, on the bus, and in the supermarket. Very quickly, this got quite annoying, like really fucking annoying. I began trying to look less and less like David Bowie, which is exceedingly difficult when you are David Bowie. I even started trying to gain weight in the hopes that my face would fatten up, ordering all sorts of bodybuilding supplements from the internet, and I started talking with my mouth almost closed, which is not very easy. In some ways, my life became quite difficult. It didn’t happen immediately, but after a while I started to miss my own body. The curves and nooks and crannies that I was so used to. This new body was ever a sense of wonder, but I had trouble manoeuvring it. Even if I had Bowie’s memories of moving it, my mind always seemed to go back to moving my own body. This was especially so when I started having sex with other people.
It took me about two months in my new form before I dared to have sex with anybody else. Up to that point I’d become a chronic masturbator. I’d had lots of offers in the bar for sex. How could I not? I looked like David Bowie. It was almost grotesque how people threw themselves at me. Still, I felt nervous, I was after all, a virgin again, a virgin from the 1970’s.
Once I started, I couldn’t stop. It was awkward at first, but quickly I came into my own. This is the point where I decided that I would just try everything. I had a giant pool of willing and able bodies to choose from. I slept with gay men, bi-men, bi-women, straight women, and oh yes, straight men and gay women. I was hot. Sleeping with a David Bowie look-a-like transcended most peoples sexualities. The only crap part was telling them all that I didn’t want a relationship. After awhile I got bored of having random partners, and the regular lovers I had I wasn’t willing to commit to. It just seemed like people were only into me because I looked like Bowie. Most of the people I slept with just asked me questions about that, and after awhile, being just “Bowie” was really starting to get on my nerves.
I sort of fell into a depression. Partly because of my pointless sexual meanderings, but mostly because I couldn’t be honest with anyone except Simon. My whole identity was wrapped up in confusion. If people ever asked me about myself, I stumbled. I couldn’t say that I’d thought people were out to kill me, so I had put a Hunky Dory album on my head and became 1970’s David Bowie. Well, I could of, and sometimes I did just for the laugh, but no one every took me seriously. If people asked me about where I grew up, where I went to school, about my parents, I was at a loss. I had my narrative and Bowie’s narrative, neither which could explain me. I didn’t grow up in the U.K. I grew up in Canada. If I used Bowie’s life story, it was out of date, and I wasn’t old enough for it. If I used mine, I had to make up some story as to why I had an accent. I became an imposter, a liar, even though it wasn’t my fault. It just happened to me.
I ended up just becoming a sort of recluse. I spent all my non-working hours at home, and even started working less. At work I feigned personality to get by, but inside I was crumbling. It had been about thirteen months. I couldn’t even go to therapy because I didn’t have any health insurance, and because if I told a therapist what had really happened, well then what? Paranoid schizophrenic.
I started to hate 1970’s David Bowie. I never listened to him at home anymore, and if I was out and he came on, I would often just leave. I hated having this reminder of who I was and who I wasn’t always hanging over my head. I had this fear that one day, Bowie would eat me up. That I would no longer have my memories. The longer I was Bowie, the less I felt like Ambika. I really didn’t know who I was anymore.
One night, while at home alone, I rediscovered Hunky Dory in my record pile. I flipped the record over and over again in my hands, and then decided to try and put it on my head. Nothing happened. I just couldn’t get it to stay on my head. I sat and cried for what seemed an eternity, or at least thirty plus years since the 70’s. I did something then, that I hadn’t done since before I was Bowie and put the record on the player and laid on the couch. I felt comforted by the fact that I still really liked the album, and my love for 1970’s David Bowie welled-up inside of me. I listened to side one and flipped the record over, and then fell asleep listening to side two.
I dreamt my last Bowie/Ambika dream that night. The dream started in 1969 and flashed glimpses of his life until 1975, when I was born and then our lives flashed by together, over-lapping one another until 1980. Then we were both standing in the last scene of the video “Ashes to Ashes” together; the scene on the beach where he’s walking with the old lady. I was dressed as he was in the video, but I was physically me again, and he was present day David Bowie. The old lady, who’s in the video, was there as well, and she put our hands together. We stood looking at each other, holding hands. David winked at me, charming bastard, and then he disappeared.
At that moment in the dream, just as the sun was rising red over the trees, I woke up. I knew immediately. I looked at my hands, felt my hair, my chest, my vagina. I ran to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I felt a sense of relief rush over me. My mind was less cluttered only having one person’s memories, my memories. I cried tears of utter and complete joy, like I never had before in my life. And then I wanked.
About three weeks later there was a buzz at my door one afternoon. I answered the intercom, “Hello.”
“It’s David Bowie.”
I recognized the voice. It had been my voice for a bit over a year, but it had become aged and tired sounding. I let him in.
It turned out that for the 13 odd months that I was 1970’s David Bowie, he had become 1990’s Ambika Thompson, which must have been really absolutely horrible for him. Our afternoon together consisted of us pondering theses as to how and why this happened, and what it was like. However, none of them seemed very plausible.
Maybe one day he will write about what it was like being 1990’s me. Or maybe he’ll even write a song about it. I hope it’s a good one, but I doubt it will be. I still love him, probably more than I did before, but I still think he sucks after 1980.