I remember seeing Jim Henson’s “Labyrinth” on VHS when I was about 7 or 8 years old. It was love at first sight-literally. Next to Wentworth and Darcy, I have been in love with 2 of Henson’s creations for the majority of my life: Kermit the Frog and Jareth the Goblin King. The soundtrack of said film alone has been a constant favorite of mine for as long as I can remember. It was one of the first CDs I purchased (besides U2’s Achtung Baby). Bowie is dangerously sexual and seductive in the film and is meant to be so. As a child, I fell in love with the Goblin King because I wanted to live in that world-I wanted to play with the fairies and Ludo. I wanted to run around in the Escher drawing. I wanted to threaten misbehaving goblins with the Bog of Eternal Stench. As I moved into my teen years (specifically around 12 years of age), the ball scene became my favorite. I wanted to dance with the Jareth and I know it’s a fantasy of many a girl my age, older and the younger generation. There’s a reason this film endures and it’s not because women everywhere are in love with David Bowie and his tight pants (well, we are, but that’s not the reason). It’s because it’s a tale about how hard it is for girls to become women-it’s painful, it’s hard, and it’s dangerous. And the dangers are unseen and untold. Jareth is not only dangerous because he is a very attractive male, because he is the ONLY male available. He is powerful, he knows your weaknesses but at the same time, he is weak as well. It’s a very sensual tale of seduction that almost occurs but never does (much to many a female disappointment). Again, because the female in question is a teenager, but we always hope that somewhere, somehow, when we get older, we meet our own Goblin King who takes us away. Because the world of becoming an Adult is scary-it’s riddled with choices that no matter which one you choose, it’s the wrong choice. Life is increasingly unfair as you age and you find out that the opposite sex is not only something you need to be wary of, but that you like the danger it contains. And that you do eventually have to give up playing with toys and living in a fantasy world (well, it’s recommended that one does this, but I have yet to divest myself fully from this and highly recommended that neither do you).
Actually, now that I am older, it’s amazing how much sexuality is in the film and was allowed to stay in it. I’m shocked it didn’t get a higher rating just based on the tightness of Bowie’s pants alone. As a child, you are aware that there is this undercurrent of something there, you’re just not sure what it is, but it definitely becomes more apparent as one gets older and more sexually aware. Because all of the sudden, instead of enjoying the story, you want the Goblin King to come and kiss you. Or kiss the girl in the film (and become angry that he doesn’t). Actually, I tended to get angry at Sarah for the choices she made (always poor choices in my opinion) and wanted to smack her until she made the right ones. Or at least be able to step into her role and make the decisions I know would make me extremely happy (basically, choose the Goblin King-forget about the baby). Then you pick up on the tight pants, the extremely low cut shirts (open of course), and all that leather. And should one mention the riding crop and swagger stick? Jareth was a pseudo Regency-Steampunk Bad Boy before that was even a thing. With Tina Turner Hair and makeup that only seems to make him seem more feral and dangerous than anything else. Of course, this was before his teeth were fixed, so the jagged teeth actually worked in his favor. Plus his two different colored eyes were truly magical. I’m pretty sure that David Bowie is the only man that looked good with those kind of eyes. Of course, he had cheekbones that were just as sharp and deadly. Then there were the smirks. As one gets older, you tend to live for them because you come to realize that Jareth is snarky and full of wit and quite possibly the magical version of Darcy and Rochester rolled into one. Yes, he’s the villain of the film, but then again, didn’t he do everything that Sarah asked for? Is he really the villain or did he just grant her every wish and whim only to be thanked by constant complaints? Truly, what was there to complain about?
Plus the music-the soundtrack itself is timeless and pure Bowie. As the World Falls Down is very much a love ballad, but sad and poignant. I confess that I have the entire lyrics memorized and sing it every single time I hear it-I really can’t help it. It’s a very beautiful song. And, if you listen carefully, it’s based on a waltz, which is why it’s so simple and seductive (and makes one want to twirl). It’s full of sweetness and sadness with a tinge of regret at times and while it’s not my favorite Bowie song, it’s pretty close. There’s a reason so many women have wanted to dance to this song at their weddings. The music video for it is also just as lovely as it pays homage to the film but also is not wholly about the film, which makes the video (and the song) continue to work after so many years. It was very easy to go from “Labyrinth” to “The Man who Fell to Earth” to “Ziggy Stardust” and other films and albums of Bowie. His voice has always been seductive to me. Beautifully resonant and filled with emotional depth. Plus, he sometimes included saxophone (which he played) on some of his songs, and I just enjoyed his talent as a singer and musician. He was an artist. I always thought it was a pity and he and Prince never did a song together (but could the World have ever actually handled that much seduction and talent in one song? Probably not). Yes, David Bowie is not everyone’s cup of tea. He had songs on some of his albums that are very jazzy and all instrumental. He constantly challenged himself and never wanted to be boxed in. But he was always the Goblin King at the same time. He was seductive and dangerous and vulnerable and slightly bored with reality. So he created his own with each and every album. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of “Labyrinth.” Either the film nor the soundtrack. Sometimes I need to escape into that world as Henson created a very beautifully dark faerie tale for girls and something in me will always need it. Just like something in me will always whisper, when I am alone in front of a mirror, “I wish the Goblin King would come and take me away right now.” I am always a little saddened when it never happens though.
When Jim Henson died, I admit that some of my childhood died. After all, I loved and still love Kermit the Frog. He doesn’t sound quite the same, but at least the spirit is still there, which is why I love that character. But when Bowie died, I was devastated. He was, after all, my first major teenage crush. I don’t think I ever stopped being in love with the Goblin King, I just expanded it to be in love with the man behind the character as well. I respected his music and always considered him to be a terrific actor. The man had some serious talent there, though not many people appreciated it. But his music was an art form in of itself and I feel that’s what I will miss the most. I will miss the next new Bowie album coming out. I know he left recordings of songs and there’s always unreleased stuff that can come out, but his evolution as an artist ended. That’s what I will miss. He was always way ahead of the curve and songs he wrote in the 1990s are more relevant now than when they were first released. He was the Goblin King in that regard-he was magical. He saw beauty in all races, all colors, all people.
But at least we live in an age where if I’m feeling particularly stressed or blue, I can pull up a song or album up on my iPhone by Bowie and let his voice relax me and take me away from reality for a little while. And while I can never get the Goblin King to come and take me away like I’ve always wanted him to, at least I can turn on his voice whenever I wish, which is as close to true magic as I’ll ever be able to do.