The world was saddened today by the passing of my dear old friend and former band-mate David Bowie. I first met the young Davey Jones, as he then was, at the Bexhill public swimming baths, where he kindly offered me the use of his locker after I clumsily bent the key to mine.
I returned the kindness when I found that he was desperate to learn to swim, and it was natural for me- then the coach of the US Olympic swimming team- to show him a few techniques to bolster his confidence during his first floundering forays in the shallow end. He took to it like a fish, and I soon had him familiar with each of the four main strokes in the men’s repertoire. Although his butterfly was always somewhat werchalt, he became an efficient, if weak, swimmer, and through his eventful life he never lost the joy he found in aquatic motion, the joy to which I introduced him so many years ago. His lyric on Heroes- I wish I could swim like dolphins can swim- was word-for-word what he had uttered to me between his gasps for breath when clutching fearfully at the bar to avoid drowning in the four foot six.To provide a counterpoint to my other interests at the time, I had formed a band that gigged around the western suburbs of London, playing experimental fusions of jazz, folk, R&B and soul, a band in which the guest musicians usually outnumbered the more-permanent members. It was during those exploratory sessions with Hendrix, Baker, Townshend and the rest, that David began to see a wider opportunity for self-expression beyond his aquatic achievements at the Bexhill baths. He admitted to me that he held supressed feelings of androgyny, feelings which I encouraged him to liberate, and soon he was taking a regular singing spot in a variety of cross-dressing costumes that chimed with the avant-garde nature of our sets.
Although I promised to keep it secret during his life, I can now confess that it was I who suggested the nom-de-pop ‘Bowie’. It was while we shared a fag or two during the interval of The Alamo at the Bexhill Essoldo cinema that David had told me he wanted a name that was cutting-edge with a point to it, and Bowie naturally sprang to mind. Who would believe it now?