London suburb mourns passing of David Bowie

The London suburb where rock star David Bowie was born was the scene of large impromptu gatherings Monday night, as fans came from all over the city to honor the man who had been one of the world's most influential rock stars for the past 45 years.

Bowie, who died of cancer in New York city on Sunday just two days after his 69th birthday, was born in the south London suburb of Brixton in 1947.

The house where he was born still stands, in a normal side street close to the town center, but mourners focused their attention on a striking mural of the singer opposite the entrance to Brixton Tube station and in Windrush Square, a large area often used for celebrations, entertainments and demonstrations.

The Ritzy Cinema stands on the square, and cinema staff had changed the usual notice of films on show to read "David Bowie, our Brixton Boy, RIP".

Fans and mourners gathered here from early in the day, drawn by calls on social media like Facebook to come to Brixton to celebrate Bowie's life.

By the early evening the crowd in Windrush Square had reached about 500 people, and there were continual chants of "We want music". Many drifted off after paying their respects, to go home or to one of the many pubs and bars in the area -- all of which were playing non-stop David Bowie on their sound systems.

But a car drew up at nearby traffic lights, and the driver wound down the window and played Bowie's hit Starman at full blast. The crowd enthusiastically joined in, many word perfect.

Shortly after, the window of an apartment in the area was thrown open and a sound system pounded out Bowie hits, to the delight of the crowd, which had by now swelled to nearly a thousand.

Fans had come from across London, shocked by the sudden news of Bowie's death -- there had been no inkling that the star had been seriously ill and was perhaps facing death.

Many felt a strong personal connection to the man whose career had begun in the late 1960s and whose final album was released last Friday. During that time he had become an icon for people who felt they did not quite fit in to the normal routines of society, and who saw in Bowie's continually changing and engaging performing personas a strong and intimate link.

Jasmine Pender, from London, was among those in the crowd. Speaking to Xinhua she touched on Bowie's otherworldly qualities.

"I guess I always figured that Bowie was an alien or a vampire, and though the news of his death was shocking it felt like we had always just been borrowing him anyway," she said.

But for everyone in the square, the reason they had come was to honor the memory of a great performer and to acknowledge their own sadness at his death.

Fiona Veira, from London, told Xinhua, "I woke up and found out about his death -- I was really shocked but I was also really upset and I still haven't figured out why I was really so upset, but it feels like a great loss."

Every pub and bar for a mile around the center of Brixton was filled with people, all celebrating Bowie's life with a drink and a singsong.

Just 500 meters down the road at a pub, the Effra Social, a crowd of several hundred danced to Bowie's hits.

The barmaid told Xinhua that the pub had held a party with Bowie songs on Friday night to mark the singer's birthday.

Her colleague, a woman in her early 20s, said that she was shocked by the singer's death even though she was too young to remember much of his work, but she had been introduced to the songs by her parents.

"My parents are gutted, they are huge fans," she said.

The crowd sang along almost perfectly to a string of hits -- Rebel, Rebel; Diamond Dogs; Changes; China Girl; Let's Dance; Queen Bitch; Heroes, and many more.

These songs were in wildly different styles, reflecting Bowie's continued changing of his artistic persona as he sought further inspiration and to further engage and link with his audience.

Those singing were drawn from many generations, from teenagers through to retired people, reflecting Bowie's wide appeal and the longevity of his life.

Back at Windrush Square the crowd had grown to several thousand, singing along to the songs of Bowie.

Meanwhile around the corner, a three-meter mural of David Bowie in his most outrageous persona, Ziggy Stardust, had become a focus for the flowers and candles of fans, lit in remembrance.

But by Tuesday morning, the atmosphere was more normal. Brixton felt a little hungover under a leaden London sky.

A smattering of fans stopped briefly on the windswept Windrush Square to take a photo of the front of the Ritzy Cinema with its remembrance message for Bowie, wrapped up against the cold and the rain.

Round at the mural the shrine of flowers had grown to a large mound, and increased throughout the day, as it surely will over the coming days as more fans make the pilgrimage for a quite remarkable performer.

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