I make snap judgements about people by the songs they write. I know for a fact I would dislike Donovan on a personal level – irritating little Pixie, that Lou Reed would end up being my snarky big brother and Janis Joplin and I would have painted the town various shades of crimson, before I left her to step into the Chelsea Hotel elevator so she could carry on her liaison with Leonard Cohen, while I tripped back outside to stare at Dylan and Joan Baez walking arm in arm through Washington Square. I was a bit late, and instead am left singing “I’ll never be your Maggie May” whilst admiring Suzanne Vega’s auburn dye job.
I think David Bowie and I would have shared a conspiratorial glance while he played All the Madmen, an in joke between survivors of a society that it does all it can to destroy those that shine a bit more brightly than your average earth bound citizen, or else put them on a pedestal and throw money at them while they perform genius/insanity for the masses.
I have to say the thing I have enjoyed most about the trials of the last 16 months, despite the lockdowns, and the toilet paper shortages, the disease and the death and the economy going down the toilet at 100 miles per hour, has been the collective freak out. I have, for once, appeared quite normal, and I have to say it has quite a nihilistic appeal.
I have never been normal, per se. I was always a little left of center, I walked the less travelled side of the road: mundanity rarely appealed to me, and when it did, it bit me on the ass, so I ran back off with all the madmen, cowering in the shadows once again. I covet normality, I worship it secretly, Norma-Lity is a harsh mistress that demands complete compliance and nothing less. There can be no deviation, no slight hint of doing things your way, no hint of a suggestion that you might be thinking something slightly different. Imagine my glee seeing others letting their freak flags fly! I could never toe the line, but that has mattered slightly less for the last year or so as we have all gone slightly mad with the loneliness, the fear, the uncanny strangeness of it all. I’m sorry, I suppose it isn’t truly nice of me to have enjoyed the pandemic in any way, or at least the freedom it gave me, but I found a certain freedom in things being different.
That initial strangeness birthed some community feeling, some art and pulling together, but now we are all tired and just want to go to the bar again. I know I do. Listening to Bowie’s 1970 masterpiece, his reedy whine intoning how ‘the sane stay underground, day after day” I had to laugh at how apt it was to these strange days. It isn’t over yet, despite how people are striving to persuade themselves that it is back to pre pandemic days. Masks are slipping, crowds gathering, yet things will never be quite the same. I cannot imagine going outside without a mask on ever again. I can’t imagine not wearing gloves outside, or dousing myself in hand sanitizer after touching outside objects, and I can’t be the only one. What once would have been seen as OCD germophobia, appears quite quite sane after all! How the boundaries of madness change!
Bowie is singing about hiding out with the madmen, as outside I hear dogs fighting, people fighting, someone has got hold of a tuba and is playing the heck out of it outside their tent. I wonder which unfortunate soul had their tuba stolen, and if they are ok. In the room next to me a man is beating the shit out of his partner by the sounds of the smashing and screaming, and nobody is doing anything about it. I can’t afford to get involved. I eventually make a lazy phone call to the office and tell them. I know nobody gives a shit. I care, but I can’t afford retaliation from an angry man I have to live next door to. Men don’t like to be stopped mid beating the heck out of a female, and I can’t take another beating, especially not for a woman who does not appear to want to leave, day after day I have to listen to her going back for more, and it infuriates me.
I wish she would just walk out, or ask for help, but I guess they will be back to loud screwing by 1am. Bastards. I have become callous. I can’t listen to it. I complain and I am accused of being fragile or not minding my own business, so I sit here with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and I turn Bowie up louder,”gimmie some good old lobotomy!” sings David with gusto. All the madmen are making me sick. It is not me that needs the electric shock therapy.
I won’t give up – I can’t. I won’t leave or be driven out, so I just have to wait it out with David Bowie, winking at me about all the madmen. Who even knows what crazy is anymore? I just want to sleep without being woken up by hammering on my wall, the other side of where my head is while I sleep. It isn’t too much to ask.
Music is there to express feeling, passion, verve, joy, sadness – the gamut of human experience, and yes, madness. Driven mad by noise, by violence, by the banalities, by the mundane evil of an uncaring society, by anxiety caused by one too many punches to the head, I want to reach out and say…it is quite comforting to know you have all gone a little mad with me. If it makes you feel any better, I have been all around the world, and the Cat was quite right – all the best people are a little bit insane, Bowie will tell ya!