David Bowie passed away over a month ago so the tributes have been filing in, including Lady Gaga’s tribute at last night’s Grammy awards. There is no doubt of Bowie’s talent and influence in the industry. He belonged in an era where artists created their work for the sake of artistry rather than fame and money. Up until the end, it was always about his work, and not about where he was partying, who he was hanging out with, or who he was sleeping with. But maybe it should have been.
David Bowie never truly faced criticism over his so-called underage groupies. An interview with the more-than willing Lori Mattrix reveals the sordid details of groupies and stardom, or at the very least the attraction of powerful men to young, impressionable girls.
I don’t think Bowie particularly felt what he was doing was wrong, or that it was even rape, nevermind that statutory rape was around in the ’70’s. Mattrix, herself said that the sex was consensual. But she was fifteen. In a hotel with a much older man, being served drugs and alcohol. Even if the age wasn’t a factor in giving consent, is consent really consent when the person’s judgment is impaired?
It’s so easy to dismiss this as “Oh, it was a different time”. Cultural and social norms have drastically changed since then. I don’t buy into that argument. Because this kind of behavior still happens today–from colleges to sports groupies, it is present and happening. It isn’t in the past. If we dismiss this as part of a past social norm, then we’re taking culpability away from the older, influential male, and giving underage girls (and boys) equal responsibility. So where does that leave us a society if we excuse this as “this was then”? It leaves us unable to learn from past mistakes, unable to recognize what can and should be changed.
And where does that leave Bowie’s legacy? There is no denying his contribution to music and movies, that his legacy will continue. But the praise, the sadness should be tempered with the reality that by law Bowie was a rapist, in the same vein as Bill Cosby. By definition a child, a person under the age of eighteen (or seventeen depending on the state) cannot give consent, and without consent, Bowie took the power of a child to say no.