:: Article

The Bowie Neurotransmitter

By Susana Medina.


You are a delicious teenager, you are searching, you read books, listen to music and want to be dazzled by possibilities. You enjoy drifting into solitude because you are learning that during long spells by yourself you grasp small parts of the vast picture as well as of your inner landscape. You are taking the first steps in the struggle for self-determination as your mama is yelling no, and your papa is not quite there … You slink away to your bedroom, click the record player’s start button, and as the needle moves and descends on the vinyl and you wait for the suspenseful chords, you catch a quick glimpse of the album cover: an otherworldly earthling with wild orange hair, light bathing the left side of his face, a playful font on the album’s corner that spells out ‘David Bowie’ in white letters, ‘Space Oddity’ in pink.

You wait with trepidation for the zing transmission. Like dreams, the simultaneously exhilarating and sad songs immerse you in an offbeat collage of images, ideas, emotions and sensations which echo your potential inner texture. You are dreaming someone else’s dream. Disconnected bits of potential selves resonate in your ears as a voice at times visceral, other times otherworldly, personally addresses you with playful intensity, melancholy, euphoria, humour, electricity, fury, hope, tenderness, yearning. It is a dissenting voice, and now and again, it speaks of an elsewhere.

You are transformed. You are re-enchanted. The spell has been cast. In ‘Life on Mars’ the soft voice paints a picture of domestic and social chaos, but as the tracks proceed, you recognise the recurrence of something delicate that is crushed by the real. And you recognise too the trauma of living in a world riddled with dystopian forces. Trauma, that’s what you’re tuning into: stories that deal with human suffering and chaos with the universe as backdrop. Backbone, spunk and adrenaline: that’s what the range of voice transmits to your nervous system. Suffused with exquisite shades of emotion, the voice and words also wrap you up in intimacy, the images, in reverie. His lament about the world speaks of a utopian impulse that echoes your own, plucking a precious chord in you. His sadness and anger at the trauma of being in the world merges with your own. The lyrics caress your most intimate neurotransmitters, creating new synapses that connect to the royal road and back again. In a conversational tone, sprinkled with slang, gibberish and interjections, the voice tells you about Mars, the stars, heaven, and you cry, because you’re longing for this elsewhere.

You find there is something better than the answers you are looking for. Something enchanting that soothes you while giving you gutsy energy and a strange power: the power of magic, which is the power of good art.

You play the other side of the LP and savour the unexpected mix of words and vocals, with its fusions, high contrasts and joy. You identify at the level of the search. You are listening to a storyteller, a poet, a writer. You will keep on listening to him because he’s a poet who composes songs who’s a playwright who sings who performs. You don’t know yet anything about his reinventions, his ventriloquist abilities, his many hats and faces. At the time he was singing, he probably didn’t know either … You don’t know he’ll be part of your days throughout the decades, nor that he’ll become an indelible part of the planet. Like water, like electricity …

Oooh, who’s this orgasmic being? Oh, jouissance.

Oooh, the intimacy … a seducer …

Oooh, the sweet cheek, as he often addresses you as you in interactive songs that create a fantasy of rapport, flattering you, telling you he’s on your side, protecting you and first thing in the morning, he even whispers sweet-nothings in your ear: ‘Wake up you sleepy head, Put on some clothes, shake up your bed … I’ve made some breakfast and coffee’ (‘Oh! You Pretty Things,’ Hunky Dory, London: RCA, 1971). Playfully, he addresses you as a child and he addresses us as children. Not so much infantilising us, but acknowledging our innocence and powerlessness, whilst giving us the courage of conviction to build our new worlds: a fragile power which acknowledges vulnerability as part of being human while empowering us as multi-dimensional beings. And there’s even a command to our elders: ‘let all the children boogie’ (‘Star Man,’ The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, London: RCA, 1972). And a rebuke to our tormentors: ‘And these children that you spit on as they try to change their world, are immune to your consultations, they’re quite aware of what they’re going through’ (‘Changes,’ Hunky Dory).

You are discovering your own sensuality and sexuality. You’re looking for ideas. You’re finding out about surrealism, the irrational, the poetry of the everyday and the beyond. You are seeking to enrich your identity, seeking inner complexity and adventure. You are beginning to know what you don’t want: a boring life. You’ve had your first glimpses of mortality and you want to live all the emotions and mood shades. Mr Bowie, dangerous? … Oh not at all, just what we want in our lives, the whole caboodle, to live. We want to live. Live … Bowie has been there before. He’s the older friend-teacher-sister-brother who sings about all these things that you are wondering about and speaks about mortality, and about loss, and despairs at man’s inhumanity to man, at the stupidity of the cavemen who betray what it is to be human, while Eden can only be an occasional dream, given the freakiest show, though let there be a glimmer of hope amongst the ruins, oh, oh, yes, and let that glimmer become a blast of optimism, because with so many things out of your own control, zest is paramount.

You want to be androgynous, because what’s all this bloody gender roles bollocks about? Hunky Dory’s cover seduces you with androgyny in warm pastel colours and doe-eyed passive availability, an updated, edgy version of Pre-Raphaelite female languid beauty, as orgasmic, nihilist, dystopian songs full of hope at maximum volume suffuse your bedroom’s air teaching you to embrace contradiction, imperfection, ambiguity, lust, to fight back for the right to be right with otherworldly otherness, while other songs tell you how vital it is to face the strange and to keep on dreaming about an elsewhere.

You see, there’s the lesson that, to some extent, when it comes to identity and inventing yourself: you’re in charge. You see, there’s something extra. When it comes to generating meaning, there’s simultaneity. And there’s multiplicity. From calm to anxiety to euphoria, these are mesmerising palimpsests, you think as you play another LP and, as someone interested in literature, you’re interested in his words, yes, but also in the way his characters are portrayed with such empathy and love. This is folk’s melancholy at the service of the future, as if the future was already a derelict dream, a retrofuturism, you think, and he’s now invented the perfect outlandish character and persona with the perfect script—suits you, sir!—an extra-terrestrial bisexual Messiah who’s a rockstar who’s going to save us from ourselves … Ziggy Stardust. And it’s electrifying. And it’s seminal work, after seminal work, after seminal work, and sometimes listening to his music you weep, because his brilliance is achingly beautiful.

And now and again, through the years, as you choose who you want to be transformed by, you gravitate towards Bowie’s music, to lose yourself in it, because it is there that you find yourself, again and again, enhanced. And through the years, he’s become an indelible part of the dense psychic texture that forms your self-experience. Good art touches your most intimate neural circuits, giving you new psychic structures. And that’s what Bowie’s music does: magic. You see, Bowie, the babe with the power, gives us the gift.


You want pulsars unreal, and undoubtedly, there’s his gaze, which sends out a different message from each eye. Light and darkness … heaven and desire. One blue eye, one green eye. Until you find out this isn’t the case. Both his eyes are blue. It’s just that one of them, is permanently dilated, forever signalling curiosity and desire in asymmetrical beauty and dual sense.

The wild instant of the gaze happens when your pupils become dilated with desire. Imagine a beautiful, bright, sexy creature who oozes sensuality, raunchiness, humour, exquisite, cheeky intelligence and composes and writes beautiful edgy songs where he addresses you directly telling you that you both share the same anxieties and hopes. Add to the already alluring mix, a perpetually dilated pupil that forever gazes at you signalling attraction, whilst the other eye, immerses you in lyrical blueness. Imagine all the erotic interest generated, all the earthlings seduced, beaming back dilated pupils as Bowie’s undamaged eye pupil begins to dilate too. Imagine simultaneity written in your gaze. Imagine this beautiful trailblazing creature, who has made playful seduction his life-long game, looking at you from myriad magazine covers, articles and TV, throughout the decades, invariably and unwittingly telling you with his dilated pupil, that hey, ho ho, there’s sexual chemistry between us. Bowie, the wild eyed boy with the quirky, orgasmic intelligence who sings an elsewhere into existence, is a stardust entity who not only warps the fabric of space and spirituality, but that of desire too.


When the girl with the deep-seated Bowie neurotransmitter turned sixteen, after having taken many many drugs, afraid all her neurons had vamoosed, she took a leap into the unknown: she became addicted to the sensual chemistry of reading. She also decided to put a bit more time into her studies and start taking English as a Foreign Language seriously. To make the latter enterprise thoroughly pleasurable, she set out to learn the language with a variety of English bands: The Smiths, Queen, The Jam … Her younger brother had a good LP collection, so she just slipped into his bedroom and explored it. She enjoyed and translated most of their songs, but as her brother had most of Bowie’s records, she tuned mostly into his voice, though that was by no means the only reason. There was something she couldn’t quite pin down. Something that resonated through her nervous system, activating several areas in her brain as in revelation.

Surrounded in bed by Bowie LPs’ inner sleeves with lyrics, a ring notebook and a pen, lying on her chest, legs crossed in mid-air and one arm propping up her head as she thumbed a humongous English-Spanish dictionary, she filled the notebook’s blank pages with new words, mysterious beautiful sentences and their translations from Space Oddity, Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and Heroes, translated into Spanish song by song, and sang along with him hundreds of times. Jibe? What’s jibe? Burla, mofa, insulto … Yelling? … to yell: Gritar … Cesspool? … Cloaca … Infiltrated business cesspools … Hating through our sleeves? Sparrow? … Gorrión … Drag? Arrastar, rollo … Snag? Flickers? … Droog …? Not in dictionary … America’s tortured brow? Freak out in a moonage daydream?

Instead of watching TV, she voraciously devoured books at the time, seeking to be written and transformed by a collage of stimulating voices, often singing ‘Ground Control to Major Tom,’ ‘Cygnet Committee’ and so many other Bowie stellar songs, already intuiting he must be an avid reader, because who else could come up with so many exquisite lines? So, TV out of the window, she had no idea what a great performer Bowie was, nor about his ch-ch-changes. She knew nothing about him but his disembodied voice, his spellbinding epic songs. She basked in their density, the lessons about turning things inside-out, and the occasional absurd lines, sometimes unable to figure out whether a line was absurd or it was just that particular slang word that wasn’t in the dictionary which sabotaged meaning. So, many gaps here and there, filled in over the days. But even with the gaps, it all always made visceral sense, for the voice carried the force of his inner landscape. And yes, he was certainly a pretty boy. Pretty unintelligible, how she didn’t have a crush on him. Just not interested in boys. A sexually precocious girl, she just wanted to find out what it was all about way too soon, quickly got bored, and she was now searching for something else. The special connection was about art and conviction, the affinity was in the spiritual quest. And was that when her love of things hybrid started?

Inevitably, there were expansive lulls, where the girl with the deep-seated Bowie neurotransmitter explored myriad other things. And once upon a time, some years later, when everyone had to re-buy all their favourite music on CD, her lovely partner, who also has a deep- seated neurotransmitter, buys their favourite Bowie CDs. Gleefully immersed in nostalgia, they enter the charming dimension, dancing and fooling around together to his songs, cherishing their own private Bowies, while reclaiming his music as part of their present. As she knows most of his songs, she sings along with Bowie, like she’s always done. Grinning, he puts his hands on his ears and laughs at what an awful singer she is, which she is. With sound in stitches, they fool around as she continues to sing unwittingly out of tune. And one day, Ziggy Stardust’s LP cover ends up displayed on a top shelf in their high-ceilinged living room. ‘I don’t think it goes well with the rest of the objects on that shelf,’ she says. ‘I like it, leave it there,’ he says. And there it stays, to this day.

And now, his disembodied voice and sublime melodies are here again, filling up the room’s molecules with a thousand dreams, kicks and pains, activating neural circuits that speak of lust for life and a primordial trauma, as she sings along with him, re-works traumas, re-visits former selves and tunes into unconscious sense. Undoubtedly, there is the release of all these half-digested emotions. A catharsis. The delicate, transparent feeling of a breath of fresh air, and the impact of the force of his rage. As usual, listening to his songs, she sometimes weeps. There’s plenty of weeping in his songs. The connective tissue of empathy is always there. That’s fine, you can lose it, weeping is good for you. The tears of everyday human tragedy are always there. For in Bowie, there is, above all, a sense of the tragic, and a few glimmers of crucial hope. And tragedy and hope bind us, unite us in social bonding and love. Because there are so many people dreaming the same dream and who doesn’t mourn and bemoan the destruction of utopia? And is there anybody out there who’s not aware of the ultimate loss?

Throughout the years, glimpses here and there, of the now relaxed, gracefully aged game- changer with slightly long tousled hair and the big smile, welcomed glimpses that soften and dissolve the Bowies she switched off from and couldn’t quite get into, but understood, as going mainstream is often the only way of making sure your best work survives. So, beloved Bowie is always there, a recurrent, intermittent presence, like when you switch on the TV and suddenly there is a documentary about his work where you get to truly savour the extraordinary musical talents he cleverly teamed up with such as Mick Ronson, Brian Eno, Gail Ann Dorsey as well as so many other backing vocals and musicians; or watching the news, voilà, after a long silence, he’s finally made a return with Next Day, this time fittingly singing in one of Tony Oursler’s signature videos as phantasmagoric Bowie, a pertinent nod both to his absence and to his beloved Berlin which here takes on a Dada retro-feel; or more recently, you come across a surprise appearance in Ricky Gervais’ Extras in which he gets everyone to sing along to a song written by the comedian, ‘Little Fat Man,’ in an excruciatingly funny sequence.

And these days, fleeting through their living-room, she now and again catches a glimpse on TV … of va-va-voom Bowie, ever the magician, as Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth. Grinning, she sits on the sofa for a few minutes, excited by the sudden appearance of such a special friend in her living room. Oh it’s so silly, she laughs, deliciously wicked, and so very endearing. Must make time to watch the entire film!

And then, once upon time suddenly, beautiful subatomic particles spread out throughout our galaxy, slowly re-configuring themselves in a quantum elsewhere, while shockwaves reverberate through Planet Earth as millions watch in mourning disbelief a button-eyed Bowie lying in bed, working till the very end, singing as if with one foot in the grave, conjuring up his final magic trick, knowingly giving us the ultimate gift, which will be ready to be unwrapped as he majestically dematerialises from our planet leaving behind the most magical and sorrowful trail.

And the girl with the deep-seated Bowie neurotransmitter didn’t know that something would happen on 10th January 2016 that would cause a prolonged pause at the centre of her being. That after spending several hours in quiet disbelief like thousands of others, the day would proceed in slow motion while tending to her mother’s care needs, and taking unusual breaks, she would turn to Facebook, when she hadn’t posted anything for ages, and share a series of poignant posts. And it’s London mourning and planet earth mourning, as the shock, the shiver, the warm tears, give way to a deluge of all the Bowies in social media, TV, newspapers and magazines. A deluge of mourning devotion. Myriad Bowies … And Bowiefacts. And Facebook friends who change their profile pictures to Bowie ones. And then, the deluge of worldwide tributes from the Brixton Bowie Mural Wall, to moving eulogies by astronauts, astronomers and, of course, musicians, to the top of the Telecom Tower relaying into outer space a LED spinning message to our beloved Bowie. And now there’s ‘342843 Davidbowie’, an asteroid named after him which lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, as well as a constellation named in his honour consisting of seven stars that shine in the shape of a lightning bolt, still to be recognised by the International Astronomical Union, but already given the green light by so many of us as the neural constellation within. And there’s a proclamation of David Bowie Day in New York City. And there are petitions to bring back Bowie to Planet Earth, as well as to feature him on a forthcoming £20 banknote. And there’ll be the Brits Awards tribute. And social media has become Bowieland. And she’s been unable to listen again to Blackstar. And when a much younger friend mentions that she’s been listening endlessly to Scary Monsters, she winds up listening to it. And the opening song, ‘It’s No Game,’ in which he screams in fury about people having their fingers broken, fascists in power and refugees, fully resonates with what’s happening at this point in time. And as the news feed becomes a weeping wall for several weeks, with so many Bowie pictures, articles, videos and GIFs, we begin to grasp the magnitude of gratitude and grief. You see, there are hundreds of thousands of earthlings with deep-seated Bowie circuits, a zillion Bowie synapses riddle our collective brain. You see, we’re Bowie’s children, certainly not Thatcher’s. And we are all so lucky, merci-thank you, what a precious honour to be the bearers of the deep-seated Bowie neurotransmitter gift, tailor-made to our desires and needs.

The sky keeps on falling and this prolonged collective mourning that has touched so many generations is also about where we are. Bowie has also become the repository of many a sadness. For many of us are already mourning the death of some of our dear ones, or are about to mourn as we witness the illnesses that slowly steal away the lives of our elders, so, it’s losses to losses. And at this point in time, we’re distraught too, as we witness a version of ‘nothing has changed,’ as dystopian forces insist on forging and perpetuating social inequality, and there’s humanitarian crisis after humanitarian crisis, and thousands of refugees die at sea and others are teargassed in refugee camps, while ruthless clowns, scary monsters and super creeps take centre stage.

Nothing has changed, everything has changed.

Scanning the Milky Way and neighbouring galaxies for radio emissions that betray the existence of life elsewhere, the girl with the deep-seated Bowie neurotransmitter didn’t know she’d spend two dazed months listening to Low, exploring some of the Bowies she didn’t know, loving them, lost in torpor, trying to come to terms with loss, stealing time from here and there to blow this goodbye kiss to a cherished human being who’s touched so many lives. You see, hot tramp bluebird, we love and miss you so.

Tiger & Susana

The Bowie Neurotransmitter by Susana Medina was first published by Tony White’s Piece of Paper Press in a limited edition of 150 numbered copies on 10 January 2017 — the first anniversary of David Bowie’s death — with an event at bookartbookshop, London.

Susana Medina is the author of Philosophical Toys (Dalkey Archive Press), offspring of which are the short films Buñuel’s Philosophical Toys and Leather-Bound Stories (co-directed with Derek Ogbourne). Other books include Red Tales / Cuentos Rojos (published in a bilingual edition, co-translated with Rosie Marteau) and Souvenirs del Accidente. Medina’s story ‘Oestrogen’ featured in Best European Fiction 2014 (Dalkey Archive Press). She has been awarded the Max Aub Short Story International Prize and a Grants for the Arts award from Arts Council England for her novel Spinning Days of Night. ‘Object Lessons’, an audiovisual story produced in collaboration with photographer Paul Louis Archer was recently published in El País in English. ‘Poem 66’, translated by R. Marteau, was runner-up in the Goodmorning Menagerie Translation Contest and published by the USA Press in February 2017. Medina has also published a number of essays on literature, art, cinema, and photography, curated various well-received international art shows in abandoned spaces, contributed texts to art catalogues, exhibited at Tate Modern, and collaborated with numerous artists.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, January 10th, 2018.