Last updated on April 23rd, 2022
My First Love and David Bowie
By Jo Anne Wilson, Guest Writer
Ian was my first love and I met him on a ship sailing from England to the USSR in the summer of 1967. He was cute in a studious sort of way. Big, dark glasses framed intelligent blue eyes and his hair was a cloud of soft, golden curls that brushed his collar. He and I had smiled at each other a few times when we had passed on the deck of our ship, and now one evening as we sailed toward Saint Petersburg, I found myself sitting across from him at a table of English and Canadian students on our journey from England to the fjords of Norway to Denmark and Sweden and next to Russia, or rather, in 1967, the USSR.
The summer of 1967 was a glorious one for me. I was 17, Canada was 100. The world was in love with us as we hosted Expo 67. I had just graduated from high school and was looking forward to going to the University of Toronto in the fall. But first I was going to Europe. A couple of friends of mine had convinced their parents to let them go on a tour for a month. I begged and pleaded and was soon on a plane with them headed to Scotland. As I recall, there were about 15 of us who were the Canadian contingent of a tour put on by Ships Schools, a British student travel company.
The ship we were on had about 15 Canadian students and around 100 British students aboard. We Canadians had first spent a week travelling through Scotland and England. Now were 115 kids between 17 and 19 thrilled to be on such an adventure. The British students were fascinated by Canada, its size, its wilderness, its youth. They teased us about being “colonials” and about our “cute” accents. We loved the variety of their accents and the hipness of British youth at that time – Twiggy and The Beatles and Carnaby Street.
A reflective sign above Carnaby Street / Photo by Jack Bassingthwaighte on Unsplash
Ian and I talked and talked that first evening and agreed to meet for breakfast the next morning. Within a couple of days, I was smitten. We tried to be together as much as possible on as all of us toured St. Petersburg and Moscow and took in some of the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. We were able to t get into the same group touring the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg but were separated on the overnight train to Moscow and were on different floors at the hotel. Each floor was guarded at the elevator by a stern-looking woman who watched our every coming and going. But we sat next to each other at the Bolshoi Ballet and were, again, in the same group that toured the subway system, Red Square, Lenin’s Tomb and the university.
As we sailed back to England Ian and I walked the decks, held hands, shared chaste kisses. We talked of the countries we’d seen, especially the USSR. We’d both been nervous and excited about this part of the trip. This was the height of the Cold War and most saw the USSR as our foe. We had seen lots of signs of military might, but we had also seen magnificent art and culture and met Russian students as curious about the world as we were.
When we docked, the British students headed home. We Canadians had another week in London. I managed to sneak off to meet Ian a few times – an evening in a pub and my first beer, a walk through Carnaby Street, and an invitation to dinner with his family in Beckenham, Kent.
After dinner, we went to a nearby church, with a music club in its basement up and coming musicians played. The acoustics were so-so, the lighting inadequate, but Ian was involved in the organization of the club, so we were right up front. The performer that night was starting to make a name for himself and was right on the edge of stardom. We felt it but had no concept of how big he would be. He had just recently changed his stage name from David Jones (Davy Jones, later of the Monkees, was already known by that name) to David Bowie. He mesmerized us, drawing us in with his looks, his charism and his talent. You simply could not take your eyes off him and nothing else mattered but the music and this magic spell Bowie wove around us all. Sadly, at the end of the evening, Ian and I kissed tenderly as he put me in a taxi – it was the last time we would see each other before I went home.
Two mornings later, I left Ian and England. We said our goodbyes again briefly on the phone. I remember crying on the plane most of the way back to Canada. Ian and I wrote to each other regularly for about two years. I loved seeing the blue tissue-paper thin international letter sitting on my desk when I got home from university. Slowly, the time between letters stretched until our lives were as distant as we were physically. His letters and photos disappeared during one of my moves. I have tried to find him a couple of times with no luck. How different things might have been if we had all the technology we have today.
Now when I hear Bowie, I think of Ian and send good thoughts his way. Ian, my first love, gave me four lifelong gifts – my memory of a tender first love, a template for the kind of man that attracts me (curious, thoughtful, fun, gentle, intelligent), a fondness for London (I’ve returned twice since) and a lifelong love of a creative musician that I first saw over 50 years ago (and in concert three times since). The summer of 1967 – my summer of transition from girl to woman, my summer of first love.
Jo Anne Wilson was born and raised mostly in Canada. She is a retired marketing executive (at one time as Marketing Director of Tourism for the Government of the Northwest Territories, Canada) and college professor who now lives in Belleville, Ontario. Jo Anne caught the travel bug at eight years of age when her family moved to Jamaica for three years. Since then, she has visited 30 countries, been to 37 of the 50 American states, has lived in three provinces and one territory in Canada and has visited all the others. Her travels have been by jet plane, bush plane, train, cruise ship, sailboat, and car. She looks forward to more trips, health and the state of the world permitting. In the meantime, Jo Anne is writing about some of her travel adventures, has started a novel and is dreaming of far off shores
Jo Ann, your story brought back wonderful memories for me. Unlike you, I never met my “Ian” in person. But I had a long distance pen pal relationship with a young man from Scandinavia, back in the early 1970’s. I remember the magic of those international letters. Of course the young love we felt didn’t turn out to be real….or maybe it was. Eventually, despite feeling we loved each other, our real lives took precedence and we both went our own ways. I don’t believe it would have worked, but it was still a thrilling time of my life. Thank you for sharing your wonderful story!
Cathy– thank you for your kind words. Yes, those international letters were special weren’t they? Who knows what might have come from our young loves, but it sure is special to remember the thrill of young love.
Love love John Anne’s story. Both the hey days of ” young love” and David Bowie. I didn’t travel quite as far ..living in Ireland at the time and always went to London to work during school holidays. Had a great friend there …Joe…hooked up every holiday.
My first job was in Brixton town hall. I used to walk to the bus after work …going the long way around ..hoping to bump into David Bowie as that is where he was originally from. Love him ..saw him a few times in concert..he’s still my hero…for longer than just one day.!!!
Eileen — thank you for your comments. David Bowie was so special and I still remember that evening when I first saw him as if it was yesterday. I still play his music often.