I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.
Confession: I’ve always had a secret crush on David Bowie. At any age, really. You could say I grew up to a Bowie soundtrack, as his music oddly led a parallel existence to my life. His glam rock was more accessible to me than the 70s hippy movement, and it was beguiling. I didn’t completely understand it, but that didn’t prevent me from pouring over liner notes (yes, kids, those were the days of liner notes and vinyl records and beautiful, mesmerizing cover art). When I started DJing, Bowie was always a staple. It was Jersey in the late 70s, after all, and I was still exploring music, but I knew Bowie — so it was classic rock (Jersey) with as much Bowie as I could manage to spin in between the rock. “Ziggy Stardust.” “Space Oddity.” “Suffragette City” (god, I couldn’t get enough of that song). “Changes” (Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!). “Jean Genie.” “Station to Station.” “Heros.” “Golden Years.” “Diamond Dogs.” “Fame.” “Young American.” Moving overseas cut me off from a lot of music, but not Bowie. His Berlin Trilogy was in full swing then, and I wore out my Bowie mix tapes (shut up, yes I’m old). I was mesmerized by his lyrics. His sexuality. His flaunting of the norm. It was all AOR then, and his storytelling lent itself perfectly to album oriented rock — especially his concept albums. Because yes, that used to be a thing. We came back to the States, and I fit in even less if that was possible, but Bowie was there, still changing, and still there for me even if I hated where I was. By then, I’d grown into my quietly rebellious years, and “Changes” was practically an anthem for me:
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through
(Turn and face the strange)
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it
(Turn and face the strange)
Where’s your shame
You’ve left us up to our necks in it
Time may change me
But you can’t trace time
My dependence on music followed me to Austin and college, where I discovered that, if you worked the concert nights at the Frank Irwin Center and started cleanup a bit early, you could shut down the food stand, close out your till, sign out and slip into the concert for free. With a bit of luck, you only missed two or three songs. Put up with serving soggy chips and nacho cheese in exchange for free concerts? It was a price I paid willingly (although I’ve been forever turned off by vats of fake orange cheese sauce). I managed to see Bowie during his Serious Moonlight tour and, being a mostly squeaky clean cut teen, immediately gravitated to his latest persona. Glam boy, androgynous pretty boy Bowie in a suit? Yes please. My Let’s Dance and Tonight albums were well worn, and I’d finally gotten to the point where I knew entire albums by heart. Some would argue that he was selling out for pop success but I don’t think Bowie ever really did anything based on how successful it would be. I think it was where he was musically — and of course, it spoke to me because that’s where I was musically. So be it.
When I escaped into New York City, my life shifted and I was giddy with the power of freedom and rebellion. Of course music was still a passion, and I went back to DJing, Bowie in tow. Out on my own finally, I wasn’t so clean cut, and embraced “Rebel Rebel” as my new anthem:
You’ve got your mother in a whirl
She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl
Hey babe, your hair’s alright
Hey babe, let’s go out tonight
You like me, and I like it all
We like dancing and we look divine
You love bands when they’re playing hard
You want more and you want it fast
They put you down, they say I’m wrong
You tacky thing, you put them on
Rebel Rebel, you’ve torn your dress
Rebel Rebel, your face is a mess
Rebel Rebel, how could they know
Hot tramp, I love you so
Bowie was a drug for me. There were times I couldn’t get enough of him, and when he’d been gone for a bit and then returned, it was like I’d discovered him all over again. It was hard to pinpoint his sound or style, and it wasn’t always my cup of tea, but here’s the thing — he continued to push the boundaries, to explore different sounds and to me, that was brilliance. MTV had hit the scene and frankly, Bowie was made for that medium. I think his videos have always been performance art set to music. When he collaborated with other artists or did something new, it was kind of magic. Brian Eno. Mick Jagger. Iggy Pop. Queen and “Under Pressure” which had a life of its own. Or when he took to the stage, in character or as himself. Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ. That infamous magic dance in Labyrinth. Clearly he could also laugh at himself with his sly wink cameos in Zoolander and Wedding Singer. Even hearing “Golden Years” in A Knight’s Tale actually grounded the movie for me, probably because I could easily relate to dancing to it. No matter what anyone else said, Bowie carved out his own space and followed his own musical muse. He made being different cool. Time and time again, he made being different cool. (Remember he was one of the first to marry a super model. SUPER. EFFING. COOL.) Perhaps that’s why Bowie is still such a strong part of my life soundtrack. One always hopes that someone out there will look back at you at some point and say, yeah, that cat was cool. With age comes a bit of insight and, hopefully, some wisdom. Bowie still has that in spades. In interviews, he’s deprecating and cool. He’s even become, dare I say, traditional in his own way. I loved listening to him speak and tell stories, even in later concerts when he introduced the next song with anecdotes and insights. In his sixties, David Bowie was still hot, still creating music, and still insightful, only now he’s seasoned and mellow. I mean was. He was seasoned and mellow. I can hardly believe he’s gone. The man was magic, and I’m grateful I grew up while Bowie was around, creating the ever-evolving world of a Starman.
Didn’t know what time it was the lights were low-oh-oh
I leaned back on my radio-oh-oh
Some cat was layin’ down some rock n roll lotta soul, he said
Then the loud sound did seem to fa-a-ade
Came back like a slow voice on a wave of phase-ha-hase
That werent no d.j. that was hazy cosmic jive
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
Hed like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
Hes told us not to blow it
Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile
He told me:
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie
Not to be undone, Bowie released his final album Friday, just two days before his death. Leave it to David Bowie to write his own eulogy. I will, of course, be listening to Blackstar today, most likely on repeat, because that’s how I listen to Bowie. I expect that, yet again, Bowie will be guiding me once more, putting to music the thoughts I’m only beginning to think, because that is what he does. The man was magic. I’m forever grateful for his influence on my musical tastes.
On the other hand, what I like my music to do to me is awaken the ghosts inside of me. Not the demons, you understand, but the ghosts.
That it does. Hot tramp, I love you so.