Julie Burchill

David Bowie had sex with underage girls. Is that creepy or cool?

David Bowie had sex with underage girls. Is that creepy or cool?
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Though I adored David Bowie as a teenybopper, I felt that one would have had to have a heart of stone not to laugh at the lush smorgasbord of lachrymosity that accompanied his death earlier this week. I said as much in a short blog on these very pages. Soon I was trending on Twitter, and from the comments you’d have thought that I’d shot, cooked and eaten Shergar the Racehorse.

But I stand by what I said. Like Princess Diana and Nookie the Bear before him, Bowie was not some selfless saint; he was a sharp-eyed, ambitious creature who once floated himself on the Stock Market in the 1990s, and sold himself for the advertising shilling - when already a millionaire many times over - in 2006 to a bottled water company.

I strayed upon the Facebook page of the excellent feminist essayist Louise Pennington, who had already been driven to distraction by grieving trolls. Her crime had been to remind us that David Bowie, in the first flush of global fame, had had quite a lot of sex with underage girls in Los Angeles. In one notorious case, he had helped himself to the virginity of a 13-year-old named Lori Maddox, who went on to act as sperm receptacle/muse to other rock stars. She was part of the so-called ‘Baby Groupies’ circle. Ever practical, my first thoughts were not ‘What a cad!’ but ‘O my days, the tabloids will be all over this as soon as the tears have dried, and there’s just no point in his fans (of which I was the most fervent in my early teens) burying our collective heads in the sand. WE NEED TO GET OUR STORY STRAIGHT!’ After all, it can't be a crime when rubbish entertainers sleep with children, and all fine and dandy when great ones do. A bit of rigour never goes amiss.

Looking back, I remember I had heard about the ‘Baby Groupie’ scene when I was practically jailbait myself and had just joined the New Musical Express. One of Bowie’s foremost forelock-tuggers, a fellow hack NME hack who now likes to think of himself as a feminist, had said to me snarkily one day ‘In L.A, you’d be considered over the hill at 17. You’d only be useful for driving your younger sisters to clubs!’ I thought of myself at 13; would I have had sex with Bowie, given the chance? You bet! Do I think it was creepy Bowie had sex with 13-year-olds? Without doubt. (In such situations I find myself very grateful for the old F Scott Fitz quote ‘The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.’) Mind you, youth is a fickle jade.

Lori Mattix said many years later ‘You need to understand that I didn’t think of myself as underage. I was a model. I was in love. That time of my life was so much fun. It was a period in which everything seemed possible. I saw the greatest music ever. I got to hang out with some of the most amazing, most beautiful, most charismatic men in the world. I went to concerts in limos with police escorts. Am I going to regret this? No. Besides, I had been the last virgin in my high school.’ It is always a mistake for feminists to strip women they do not agree with of agency, and seek to paint them as confused poltroons suffering from good old ‘false consciousness’, as when Chrissie Hynde claimed culpability in her sexual assault by a biker gang as a teenager and was roundly scolded by the sisterhood. It could be argued - as in the case of Lori Mattix - that it is not at all feminist to demand that individual women falsify their feelings about their experiences in order to fit in with the prevailing orthodoxy on any given women’s concern.

Still, it’s a creepy old business, and the creepiest thing about it is the silence from broads who should know better, but who cannot bear to let anything get in the way of their hero's canonisation. Really, you'd have thought that recent events in Germany would have taught we enlightened people the folly of ignoring unpleasant truths in the hope that they'll waft away on a candyfloss-scented breeze.

A lot of the feminist writers currently wearing black for Bowie have teenage daughters. Would they have thought it a blessing for David Bowie to bag their beloved girl's virtue when she was a kiddy? Just because you don’t have all the answers doesn’t mean you can’t ask any questions. And mine is this: under some circumstances, would you excuse, worship, deify a man who has knowingly had sex with children, if he had created music which you passionately believe made the world a better place? Or not?