Layers and layers of my mother, piling up in my mind.
What is music if not a series of mothers?
By mother, I mean hearing and finding sonic shapes that punch you in the gut and seem both strange and familiar. Music has the ability to change my idea of self in a flash, as if I could suddenly change my facial features from one family's genetic features to another. Resonance.
Music is about longing and belonging. Pop music and its close miked voices was such a big part of my childhood in the 1980s (I was born in 1980) that I was constantly hearing new voices and feeling them resonate in my throat. Growing up as resonance. Like poetry rearranges language and gives words new sonic connections, growing up with so much music around me felt like the language that was being rearranged was myself, my self.
I've written a lot about these themes, especially in the vocal work of Kate Bush. But this image is something more random and personal; a rare occasion of finding a mother connection visually. My mother didn't know at the time, but there was a moment in the mid-80s when she looked very much like David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust era. I never noticed either until a few years ago. I grrew up loving a different Bowie, Let's Dance-era Bowie, a pale, distant and definitely male hero in the Australian desert.
But then I watched The 1980 Floor Show, the 1973 film in which Bowie performs as Stardust for the last time. I watched it on video in about 2005, while away from home, on a rainy day on a small Scottish island, surrounded by water, and got this overwhelming womb feeling.
What is a concert if not a step into a womb?
I found my mother in his hair, his eyes, his cheekbones. Resonance. The similarity wasn't constant, but every moment of likeness was a wound, a body cry. Later that day I wrote a this long piece about jumping into the water and finding a home at the bottom of the sea. Lots of pearls and jellyfish. I thought this had nothing to do with my Floor Show trip.
After this experience, I found this Bowie image online—in one of my mother's signature thinking poses—and my blood was singing (Roland Barthes writes beautifully about this in Camera Lucida, and so does Suzanne Vega, actually, in "Blood Sings")/
Bowie's voice didn't mean a lot to me when I was growing up—he was just one of many artists on cable TV—but ever since seeing The 1980 Floor Show I feel like he has tampered with my memory. My memories of growing up seem like a collage of images from his career, reinterpreted, cut up and displaced: all mixed up but containing similar information. I remember being a golden blonde kid moving to Australia in 2000 (or is it the "Let's Dance" video?), feeling like a sexless alien in the Perth desert (or is it a scene from The Man Who Fell to Earth?) or lost in Vienna in 2001 (or was it Berlin in 1977?); wearing a golden costume to somebody's birthday when I was about six years old (or is it an image from The 1980 Floor Show?) A picture is, after all, flat—even this one. The spectator provides the depth. Looking back at the 80s photos of my mother is sci-fi poetic: the Ziggy hair (hers was brown with pink stripes), the cheekbones, the eyes, the mouth.
So I keep coming back to this image, thinking about us in 1986: my mother looking into a book; me looking at the TV where "Let's Dance" was playing; him looking into the camera; all of us looking like each other, none of us knowing it.
Imagine that we all look up at this moment, we're looking at you, reader, synchronised as dancers, in a short moment. Where are we now?"
—Jenny Hval, "The Wire" magazine, issue 366, p. 71.