David Bowie Change My Life (Rebel Rebel)
Research Team:
Shannon Ashley and Lauren Hellier

Rebellion was a key theme in the research results. But sometimes even Bowie went too far for some of the respondents.
During our interviews rebellion was an obvious theme: respondents connected with Bowie’s sexuality and androgynous appearance as a form of protest with conformity. The interview with Nicola Shute exemplified this. ‘My experience of life is one of straddling the line’ she says, ascribing this to her young interest in Bowie.



Nicola is a 52-year-old woman whose background is an unusual one. Raised in South London, Nicola attended a school for the highly intelligent. While there, herself and her friends identified themselves as ‘the naughty girls’. They first became aware of David Bowie in 1972 when he appeared as Ziggy Stardust. Nicola stated that the main appeal of Bowie was his innovative and deep lyrics, she said that, ‘he sung about incest and war, he sung about really great things and back in 1972, we didn’t do that like we do today. You know, back in 72 you saw two people kissing in the street and you walked out of a room if your parents were in it.’ David Bowie’s music began to break down barriers for her, a common reflection of youth in the 1970s. [i]


She and her friends discovered Bowie at the age of 12. ‘Bowie brought us together - an icon that expressed our difference for us’. In her head she had ‘two fingers up’ at life screaming ‘fuck you’ and although she couldn’t outwardly show it she found that Bowie embodied how she felt.


Ziggy Stardust was the main guise that Nicola could identify with. She spoke of how confusing it was as an adolescent and how Ziggy inspired her: in the 1970s he walked the borderline what was acceptable and opened up a whole new world of rebellion and expression for them. Her parents didn’t understand her obsession and frowned upon Bowie’s look. One of the most dynamic aspects of his appearance was his androgynous dress. During the interview, Nicola recalled an incident from school where her drama club were set a project to perform a presentation on their favourite celebrity. One of her friends, Pauline decided to do her project on David Bowie. She arrived at school dressed in a white leather catsuit and had cropped her hair and dyed it red. Nicola says this was extremely outrageous at the time and completely out of character for someone she described as a plain, studious type. ‘She went in this completely encased, body hugging white cat suit and to this day I do not know where she got this from…’ Bowie gave her the outlet to express herself in a fresh and surprising way.


Bowie’s music offered a lot of different pathways to a lot of people, one of which, according to Nicola, was drugs. Drug culture was just as big a part of society as it is today and a number of Bowie fans used to take narcotics in order to express themselves as at odds to the normal and everyday.


Another integral part of the Bowie façade was his open sexuality, which Nicola stated was a deal breaker for her. When Bowie first announced that he was bisexual, Nicola felt betrayed and confused, she said, ‘How can you be gay, when you speak to me on that sexual level?’ She went on to say it wasn’t his sexuality that particularly upset her but the fact he had ‘boxed’ himself into a label. Indeed, in retrospect she recognises the radical impact his ‘sexuality’ had[ii].


After her disappointment in the Aladdin Sane identity, Nicola moved onto what she considered more rebellious events, in particular the punk scene which she considered as even more offensive and crazy than Bowie had ever been. Nicola says she ‘really started dressing up and following music’ at this time. She was 17 and used to sneak out of the house on a Sunday night, tell her mum she was doing homework then change into her punk gear on the bus and go to the Croydon Greyhounds. She felt very much like she had grown up and it was only when Bowie re-emerged in the 1980s looking more masculine and sophisticated that her love was rekindled.



 more like this:

[i] See Foster, L. and Harper, S. (2010) Narratives of politics and Art. British Culture and Society in the 1970s: The Lost Decade , 1 p2


[ii] For more on this see Vicari, J. (2011). Male bisexuality in current cinema: images of growth, rebellion and survival. Jefferson, N.C., McFarland & Co