Mourning Rant

David Bowie has died. It hit me pretty hard, harder than any other celebrity death. He always seemed so ethereal, whether he was playing Jareth the Goblin King, Ziggy Stardust, or Phillip Jeffries. He’s an artist who was always evolving, always re-inventing, and the world is poorer for having lost him. Luckily, the influence he has had on music, popular culture and ideas about gender and sexuality aren’t going anywhere.

Content warning for the next part: discussion of underage sex/statutory rape

Yesterday, amidst bouts of crying over the Bowie’s death, and reading other people’s thoughts and memories of him on social media, something infuriating kept popping up. A few people kept bringing up a tumblr post, referencing a VH1 special that mentions Bowie had sex with a very young girl (13 or 14) while he was 23. Like, “hey everyone, I know you’re sad that an artist who means a lot to you has died, but check out this bad thing he did 45 years ago.” I saw a couple people tweet out this post and I just wondered…why? Why is it important to share this right now? Is it to tell people their heroes aren’t perfect? That they make bad decisions and are problematic like every single other person on the planet? Is it to detract from his career or his death? To say don’t feel so bad, he wasn’t that great a guy? I just don’t understand the motivation here.

While I agree that the trend of rockstars sleeping with young teenagers is gross, and something to be discouraged, it’s also important to take the thoughts and feelings of the girl in question into account. From the post:

at one point, Pamela Des Barres, the women who made the documentary, brings up Lori Mattix being young at 10:39 and that she may have gotten “overwhelmed” by the scene, but Lori gets very defensive and says she felt much older – it’s clear Lori Mattix doesn’t see what happened to her as rape or assault and as consensual…

My point here isn’t to defend the bad, most likely illegal, decision to have sex with a minor that the recently deceased made many years ago, but to question the decision of people who are still around to bring this up right now.

First of all, this is shitty timing. It’s just generally disrespectful to broadcast out to people who are in mourning that the person they’re grieving for did a bad thing once and try to undermine their feelings.

Second, I think it’s also shitty to the woman involved (Lori). Legalities aside, Lori didn’t see her sexual relationship with Bowie as a problem when she was a teenager, and still didn’t see it as a problem many years later during this interview as an older, and hopefully wiser, woman. It would be different if she looked back and said she felt taken advantage of or abused. There’s a huge problem in our culture of people not listening to women when it comes to sexual assault. Women are not believed or are blamed when they say they’ve been raped or assaulted and as a result, crimes go unreported and unpunished. The message, which is one I believe in, is that we should believe women. However, it also goes the other way. If Lori maintains the feeling that it was consensual, and doesn’t feel like she was taken advantage of, maybe we should believe her and not impose our own indignation on her experiences.

Pointing everyone to this extremely cursory post condemning a man who just died seems really cheap and opportunistic. And I honestly still don’t understand the motivation for doing it. Please don’t do this.

6 responses to “Mourning Rant

  1. Thank you for this post.

    I actually am someone who experienced statutory rape as a girl, and I do view it as a bad thing that happened in my life. However, I was pretty upset by the people on Twitter insisting that this had to be a THING, particularly if one had experienced it oneself.

    Can a person not change in 45 years? Is there no room for cultural context? We’re not talking about Bill Cosby or even Woody Allen here, where someone was bodily harmed against their will — we’re talking about rock and roll groupies in the 70s. And aside from David Bowie’s legacy of art (which is SIGNIFICANT), the man spent his life pushing gender roles and promoting musicians of color. I know so many bi/gay/genderqueer folks who looked at Ziggy Stardust as a sign that they were gonna be okay, and it feels real shitty to just ignore all of that.

    Anyway. You’re totally right, and that was totally tacky.

    • There’s a lot of stuff to work though. In general, examining the people we support or are fans of is a good thing to do from time to time. Some famous people do a lot of really shitty things but go unscathed in the court of public opinion. In this specific case though, I feel like it’s such a reach. Though sleeping with young groupies was rampant in the 70s, by all accounts it wasn’t something Bowie did a lot. This was the only time I’ve ever seen mentioned. And the fact that the girl still has no issues with it makes it seem like even more of a stretch to try to make a big deal out of it. There were times it was more of a problem. For example I’m a huge Led Zeppelin fan, I have a Jimmy Page-related tattoo on my body, and between the time I got it at 18 and now my feelings on his rampant, maybe not always consensual, sex with teenagers have changed quite a bit. That’s something I need to work through for myself, though if he were to die tomorrow I’d still not appreciate those stories being shoved in my face immediately afterwards.

      As you say, Bowie made such huge contributions to art and making people accept themselves that saying “yeah, but look at this shitty thing he did once, 45 years ago” seems very petty.

  2. I agree that it should mostly fall upon how the “victim” viewed the events, as long as they are mature enough to understand what happened. Age is a just a number, and laws need context. Interesting, in Ontario (Canada) 16 is the age you can have consensual sex. But, if you are 14 or 15, as long as the person isn’t more than 5 years older than you, then its okay. So they are trying to build in room for kids to experiment (or be in love) as kids, without getting charged for it. End of the day, intent and consent are more important than age.
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    • I don’t think what he did was right, but as long as the “victim” doesn’t see herself as such, then or now, I don’t think it’s fair to call him a rapist. People are imposing their own traumas on someone else’s experience and I think it’s shitty. When I was 14 I felt mature enough to make these kinds of decisions.

  3. This happened with Michael Jackson, too.

    It’s over, millions of people are in mourning to various degrees. Let them celebrate and remember the ways in which the deceased enriched our lives. It’s even worse than shitting on his parade because there is no comeback, no right of reply. It’s crass and wrong and a horrible thing to do.

    I’m glad I didn’t see those kinds of tweets/posts on social media, I would have gone off on them. Not as a personal thing, I didn’t have much invested in Bowie, but I recognise him as a great artist and cultural leader, and as such he, his memory, and those left behind deserve some respect for that.
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    • I don’t think it’s a bad thing to examine the actions of celebrities, in fact it’s a good thing, we could do more of it. But there’s a time and a place. Do it when they release a new album, or win some award, or basically any other time other than the day they die. If people need to talk it out for their own purposes, there are ways to do it other than general “hey look at this bad shit” notices over social media.