I woke up this morning with a throwaway comment I made yesterday afternoon when picking up Marvel Girl from school running through my head. It wasn’t a dreadful thing that I said. But it was a careless, offhand remark that was completely unrepresentative of what I believe and frequently stand up for (and makes me think less of myself for saying), and it also had the potential to cause undue offence or hurt to those who heard it (and, quite possibly, for them to think less of me too). The sort of aside that you wish could be unsaid, that you later think of at least two hundred and seventy-three different things you could have said, but it’s what you did say that sticks in your head. On repeat.
Some days, silencing the insidious voice of the Inner Critic can a be difficult thing to do. Today, however, I was fortunate that my early morning self-loathing session was interrupted by a phone call from The Bloke’s mother: a serious truck smash had occurred near our house, she said, people were trapped; The Bloke had better take an alternate route on his drive to work. By the time I’d hung up the phone and he’d shut off the shower, I could hear the news and emergency response helicopters circling. Nothing shuts the Inner Critic up faster than a dose of reality — particularly the life or death perspective changing kind.
And yet, as I walked down the hallway into the day, that devious, persistent voice was still attempting to sneak back into my consciousness, and I realised that today I would need to pull out the big guns: caffeine (of course), but far more importantly, music. For me, music is right up there with oxygen on my list of life’s necessities. It comes in on top of tea and even above sleep. So as the kettle boiled, I scrolled through the iPod menu searching for the one artist — and I use the word ‘artist’ deliberately here — who could pull me out of my funk and send that Inner Critic packing. I needed David Bowie.
“Ooh Mummy, are you playing the space music?” asked Miss Malaprop, running in from the play room upon hearing the opening chords of “Space Oddity”. She was referring, of course, to the much-viewed YouTube clip of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield singing in the International Space Station, but her interest had also been piqued because — weirdly — she and Marvel Girl were in the middle of building spaceships and lunar modules out of my old Lego (yes, you know the set: grey base plate with a couple of craters, mini NASA figures and tiny control panels, all circa 1984). “Yep,” I replied, “but this is the original version.”
The original, and still the best.
Growing up, our house was filled with nothing but classical music and the occasional blast of blues or jazz. Commercial radio and pop music were not things I discovered until I was about ten years old, and yet for some reason, David Bowie’s music is familiar to me as…as childhood itself. And this morning, it really did the trick. For all of us. By the time the tea was brewing the girls had abandoned their space Lego and were romping and rollicking to “The Jean Genie” (while I thanked every deity I could think of that Miss Malaprop doesn’t yet know the real words to that one), and I was fixing them porridge for breakfast, complete with a lightning bolt of cinnamon sugar across the top à la Aladdin Sane.
Bowie is rock’s original chameleon, a man out of time. To someone who grew up on a steady diet of Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Liszt, his compositions are awe-inspiring: I would love — really love — to learn the piano part to “Life on Mars” one day, and play it on a concert grand. A Steinway, preferably, like the one my first piano teacher owned. With as much drama and rubato as I dare.
And then there are the lyrics: layered with meaning and richly imaginative, deftly evocative of specific times and places, and yet as relevant today as they were the day they were written. This morning, packing Miss Marvel’s lunchbox for school, the words that struck me most came from the closing bars of Bowie’s duet with Queen, “Under Pressure”, the part where he’s singing beneath Freddie Mercury’s soaring “Why can’t we give ourselves one more chance? / Why can’t we give love?” vocal line:
‘Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves…
“Last dance,” I told the Inner Critic, daring it to leave. “Go on, put on your red shoes and dance the blues.” Daring myself to change my way of caring about myself, to be a hero — just for one day. And with that, the voice was successfully banished.
I know it will return, no doubt unbidden and relentless as ever, but for now it is gone.
And in the space that remains — all that glorious space that opens up when the Inner Critic has been silenced — there is room to think, to dream, to forgive myself for the occasional social blunder, and even to wonder: are Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop old enough to watch Labyrinth yet?