She'll come, she'll goLONDON -- There's a brand new dance but I don't know its name/that people from bad homes do again and again/It's big and it's bland full of tension and fear/They do it over there but we don't do it here. Tension and fear; oh, that's so Europe 2013. But people from bad homes, you bet they do it over here; it's the Ziggy plays Maggie dance.
She'll lay belief on you
But she won't stake her life on you
How can life become her point of view?
- David Bowie, Lady Grinning Soul
When the tone of the music changes
The walls of the city shake.
- Plato, The Republic
The Roving Eye landed in London a few days ago smack in the middle of Thatcherism hysteria. Digital Fleet Street is agog; Baroness Thatcher's funeral today will be "beamed to millions." The BBC -- caught in yet another scandal, this time over an "undercover" trip to North Korea risking the lives of London School of Economics students -- provides the only live, no-commercial-breaks coverage on that relic of the past, terrestrial TV. No match for phone hacking enabler Rupert Murdoch's swirling Skycopter shots. Or even crypto-glamorous Pentagon/State Department stenographer Christiane Amanpour anchoring CNN's coverage from New York.
The royal family doesn't like it one bit; this whole affair is way over the top. Big Ben and the Great Clock at Westminster will be silenced. The last time that happened was for Winston Churchill's funeral in 1965. This funeral though, contrary to rumors, won't be privatized. And Prime Minister David of Arabia Cameron is getting no bounce; only 16% of Britons believe he is Thatcher's heir. Iraq war enabler Tony Blair fared a hefty 17%. Elsewhere, no Starman is waiting in the sky. He wouldn't like to come and meet us. Even though he'd blow our minds.
And all the fat-skinny people, and all the tall-short people/and all the no-bo-dy people, and all the somebody people , all yearning to be crammed inside St Paul's Cathedral. With only 50 spots assigned for reporters, The Roving Eye decided to watch it from the red zone, also known as London's police-and-CCTV-saturated streets, which after Boston are under an even thicker cloud of paranoia.
All across town, under the moonlight, the serious moonlight, lies an Orwellian spidery web of censorship; concentric circles of media silencing; thundering propaganda. Antidote, in preparation for the funeral; a mock funeral -- what else?
One more weekend/of lights and evening faces/fast food, living nostalgia. Trafalgar Square, a miserable Saturday evening. Over 3,000 people from all corners of the UK. Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead -- they celebrated. Just like supporters of Liverpool football club have been doing for quite a while.
Police in the thousands. A virtual media blackout. Georgie Sutcliffe, actress and serious candidate for Queen of Soho, knocks on the door of a satellite truck and asks, "Who you're with?" Someone mutters "Sky" in horror, as if a Murdoch outfit was caught in an act of sabotage. After all, the British ruling class must be protected at all costs.
Look out you rock'n rollers/pretty soon you're gonna get older. So what's an older rock'n roller to do? The Roving Eye, a former London resident and a former music writer, meets his roving son -- born in the early years of Thatcherism -- and the destination had to be the venerable Victoria and Albert, one of the world's foremost museums, for the David Bowie Is exhibition. Watch out. It's Ziggy against Maggie. We are the goon squad and we're coming to town. Beep-Beep.
Your circuit's dead, there's something wrong
Margaret Thatcher was in power from May 4, 1979 to November 28, 1990. London pub lore rules that after leaving Somerville College in Oxford, she was a bit lost, on a T.S. Eliot-style "I have measured my life with coffee spoons" daze, clutching a dog-eared copy of an Ayn Rand book, when she was spotted by a visiting Chicago academic superstar by the name of Milton Friedman. He fell in love with her ankles -- and the rest is (neo-liberal) history, with the crucial footnote that her path to 10 Downing Street was mostly paved by millions of pounds courtesy of businessman hubby Denis.
She may not have been your average bag lady of Brit street mythology. She was certainly imprinted with the cosmology of the ultimate shopkeeper -- courtesy of Dad's little grocery store in nondescript Grantham. But most of all she was the ultimate frugal housewife responsible for creating a nation of homeowners. Well, at least quite a few; 13.4 million by the end of the 1980s, compared to 10.2 million early in the decade.
If you were in a council tenancy you could -- for the first time ever -- buy your home at a huge discount, and run straight into mortgage hell. It was this housing boom -- debt boom, actually -- that along with financial liberalization turbo-charged the consumer boom of the early 2000s. Then all went bust. The Sex Pistols, only four years after Ziggy played guitar had already prophesied it way back in 1976, in Anarchy in the UK; your future dream is a shopping scheme. I thought it was the UK/or just another country/another council tenancy.
And even before that, in 1974, post-Spiders from Mars reconverted Diamond Dogs Bowie had already seen it: In the year of the scavenger, the season of the b*tch/sashay on the boardwalk, scurry to the ditch/just another future song, lonely little kitsch/(There's gonna be sorrow), try and wake up tomorrow. Talk about a preview of an inevitable social collapse.
During the Thatcher 1980s (the season of Queen b*tch?), median household income grew by 26%. But for families at the bottom 10%, it grew by only 4.6%. The top 10% did way better. Child poverty almost doubled -- reaching 3.3 million. Thatcher even privatized milk for children. The number of poor pensioners exploded to 4.1 million. Public spending was 44.6% of GDP in 1979. By 1990, it had been reduced to 39.1%. Now it's up again at 46.2%. Oh don't lean on me, man/Cause you can't afford the ticket.
The key legacy of all this is deindustrialization; including manufacturing, industry in Britain was 40% of GDP in 1979; it had fallen to 34% in 1990. Now it's at less than a paltry 22%. And to think that pints and pints of neo-liberalism and extreme social conservatism, plus extra vodka shots of "traditional moral values," ended up generating masses of unemployed. Oh you pretty things/Don't you know you're driving your/Mamas and papas insane?
Ground control to Major Maggie
David Bowie is Byronesque, Baudelairean, Oscar Wildean, a man of theater, lover of masks, master of artifice and a dandy supreme. He is everything a cut-up can carve up -- out of random words or random programming -- as shown in the V&A exhibition. Compared to Thatcher, he is indeed a Spider from Mars.