Every year on a certain date, he sends her expensive jewelry, which she sleeps with and then always sends back. The jewelry gets more elaborate and expensive every year because he knows she’ll send it back. He had only engraved one, long ago.
It was in a dream I first noticed his eyes. He climbed up a ladder and came eye to eye with me. Shortly after that dream, “Pin-Ups” was released with him and Twiggy on the front and the different colored eyes were obvious. That was my one what I believe was a spirit dream of Bowie. It was more than just seeing his eyes. It was looking into his soul.
For me, it began at a jukebox on a declining hippie strip called Paseo in Oklahoma City. My roommate played the current hit, “Space Oddity.” I liked it, but I didn’t run out and buy it, but she did. It was the album as a whole that got my attention. Back then, the early ’70s, albums were released as they were made, so things moved very quickly. I’ve always felt that one of the biggest mistakes made in the record business was holding albums back for release. Music imitates life, but life also imitates music. Holding music back and releasing it after its time of creation, years after it was truly born, just messes up the relevance of the music and its influence on society.
By the time “Space Oddity” penetrated radio in middle America, it was 1971. Of course, in the UK, Bowie was already a star and there were already three albums out. So one day I was at the bar on Paseo hearing “Space Oddity”; the same day, I’m hearing my first Bowie album; and the next, I’m at the record store trying to find any others. Bowie released albums every single year, through “Heroes” in 1977. Not that many years later, waiting for a band’s next album became like standing in line for a ride at Disneyland, tired and sweaty. But during those early years, having a favorite artist was like being on the most thrilling rollercoaster continuously and only coming off long enough to pour over the fanzines, Circus, Creem, and imported Melody Maker, which were the best and nearly only source of information on glam bands in that pre-internet time. That and the rare treat on Midnight Special. Now, that was something, “The 1980 Floor Show.” I still haven’t been able to throw out my VHS of it, even though it no longer plays.
Bowie’s images were as powerful as his music. Even now as I watch “Five Years,” the closeups of his face, the startlingly beautiful makeup and his spiky orange hair, the courage of it, the beauty of it, the artistry of it make me just choke up and cry. I used to have a black and white photo of him in a Garbo fedora that I cherished most of all that got stolen along with my Diamond Dog tag.
Through the fanzines, you could see the connection between all the great artists of that period. Bands I’d loved early on like King Crimson, well, you’d pull a thread, and it would lead you to Bowie. By 1973, I was working in my first record store, and I began to rely on these magazines and the interviews or the photos to recommend other artists to me. If I saw a photo of Bowie with Lou Reed, then I had to look closer at Lou Reed, or Iggy, or RoxyMusic.
Being in the middle of the United States, I was fairly isolated the first few years in my Bowie obsession. Then in my second record store, I saw a fine-boned rather Bowie-esque young man posing in the aisle, looking at T.Rex, another love of mine. And that’s how I met my biggest Bowie buddy, Carl Harris. He was a lot younger than me, in the process of trying to come out. We were very close in our music preferences, and he was one of the only people who could beat me to a good band, even though he didn’t have the advantage of working in a record store. We spent hours listening and dressing and posing and practicing in the mirror. He could put on a whole Bowie show for you and bring it to life.
Bowie didn’t tour, probably wisely, the middle part of the US for the first few years. It was 1974 when I finally got hold of an itinerary and began finding a way to see him. By then, sadly, the Spiders were already history, so I never got to see Mick Ronson perform with David Bowie, though I would see him later with Ian Hunter and Bob Dylan. In 1974, we drove to Dallas to join a chartered flight out of Dallas to go see Bowie in Memphis. The other people on the plane were strangers to us and didn’t particularly try to be friendly. I would find out many years later they were a group of guys who made a name for themselves as being a band, mostly by making t-shirts, but never actually played live!
Each early album was a favorite when it came out, but for me, over the decades, it has been “Diamond Dogs” that has become my touchstone. And that is the first show I saw there in Memphis in 1974. The set was amazing, with a high cat walk, boys on leashes, and best of all, being able to see Bowie in what was the last period of his glorious orange spiked hair.
“Diamond Dogs,” Side A, became the music I pumped myself up with to go out. As they say in “Five Years,” (thanks, Diane) Bowie and the other glammers were all about self-actualization, and though I was already stumbling along that path, leaving freakdom behind, Bowie was clearly the professor, and “Diamond Dogs,” especially checking myself in the mirror to “Candidate” is the thing that put fuel in me and got me out the door and back in the saddle during the best and worst of times. Don’t like your life tonight? Go become who you want to be.
Nearly every song on every album was personal for me. Nearly every song had something that reached out and touched me, whether it was lyrics or Bowie’s delivery or a fascinating and addictive note progression. Listening to the nuances and unexpected and beautiful changes was almost a full-time job for me. You really couldn’t give it too much attention. There was always some other nuance to marvel at. “Chant of the Evercircling Skeletal Family” became my tribal chant.
Bowie had many great guitarists, and Ronson isn’t even on “Diamond Dogs,” (though he did work on it and toured it prerelease, so his mark is there). Every note Ronson played with Bowie matched Bowie’s intensity and amplified Bowie and brought that loud strong glistering spine-tingling wild wolf wail. I have days now in my old age that I can’t even take that kind of excitement. It makes me restless.
In the eighties, I met Iggy at the Hard Rock Cheese Club. I told him “Some Weird Sin” was my favorite song of his. He told me he was hanging out with Bowie at his place and he saw crumpled up paper under the bed and started pulling it out. One of them was “Some Weird Sin.” Iggy said he asked if he could have it and Bowie said yes. So that was his throw-away stuff! It’s hard to even comprehend. I mean, they’re still mining for any scrap a Beatle left behind and meanwhile, somewhere in a New York landfill, there’s God knows how many brilliant songs rotting away. And what kind of person gives away “All the Young Dudes”?
His songwriting is just limited only by the length of his life. It leaves you wondering, was there some that were too personal to want to release? Was there a white elephant that came to him in the middle of the night that he thought, Oh, wish I’d thought of that for the Ziggy Stardust album, but then tossed it under the bed because he’s already been there, done that? I have a feeling he didn’t leave too much in the studio, but I hope I’m wrong. I think whatever was tossed was tossed right there in his writing chair.
Just this week, on Twitter, I asked Craig Ferguson “When you were young, did you practice Bowie in the mirror?” He replied, “Yes. I think everyone of my generation did.”
When Bowie passed, I just really couldn’t process it and am still trying. It’s just too much brilliance to be snuffed out. That week, the song in my head was “Starman.” “There’s a starman waiting in the sky/he’d like to come and meet us, but he thinks he’d blow our minds.”
My memories of Bowie are mixed up with a lot of other memories, and for that first few days, to deal with Bowie’s passing, I had to also relive Carl’s. I kept thinking I would write about it, but I went into the first part of my journal and realized that my Bowie story is basically a huge part of my whole story and that I’ve already written it there in the years of journals.
I would fly to see Bowie a few more times in those early years. My favorite show was the “Station to Station” show in St. Louis, March 6, 1976. From my journal:
“When he first came out during the prelude to “Station to Station” to a wildly cheering audience, he swept his stare from one side of the audience to the other, and where his gaze fell, all movement stopped and a breathless hush fell like a wave across the arena. The hair went up on the back of my neck. . . He was in possession of his audience more than any performer I’ve witnessed.
I wore a three-piece taupe wool suit with brown boots and stood out from the rest of the crowd, who were either glammed out or in jeans. I’d bought an extra seat for my binoculars and purse, and I was front row, first tier up from the floor over to the side. I was lit by stage lights. At one point early on, Bowie singled me out to stare at while I sang along. I smiled widely. He smiled widely. It was on “Station to Station,” his new material. Most of the audience weren’t yet familiar with it. He changed cadence on one line so that I sang it the way it was recorded while he skipped a beat and then resumed, and then he laughed at me and moved on.”
Thanks for all the amazing music and imagery and inspiration. Thanks for writing so many songs that spoke directly to who I am or who I wanted to be. You always gave me courage.
I can’t even go back far enough for my first memory of Jefferson Airplane. So I’ll go to my last. Last night I was idly watching a sitcom on TV about 10:00 or 11:00 at night and on the show, two characters were at a karoake bar and the man told the woman to get up there and sing. She said, “Why?” And he said, “Because you can.” My idle mind immediately went to “What would you sing?” and immediately came the opening acappella opening line, “Throw dow-ow-ow-own a-a-all yo-ur sil-verr spoooons.”
One summer in the early ’70s I lived and took care of a small ranch in the middle of nowhere. There was a wooden step ladder built to go over the fence. I would open the doors, put an album on the stereo, that summer, mostly Jefferson Airplane “Bark,” “Sunfighter,” and Grace Slick “Manhole,” go sit on the top of the stepladder and sing along. My favorites were “Silver Spoons” and “Lawman,” plus the entire “Manhole” album to sing along to.
You know, they say that until you’re somewhere in your mid-twenties, your brain is still growing. If so, it would account for why this music seems such an innate part of me, like my brain formed right around it.
And of course, way before that, there are the memories of my school days, listening to “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” and dancing in my black fur micro-miniskirt.
This band is one of a few that is truly in my DNA. And now the brilliant revolutionary Paul Kantner has passed. But what an impression he made. He will forever be woven into the fabric of America, and America is better for it.
I had the opportunity to go see Alice Cooper this week when a friend was kind enough to buy tickets and invite me (Tracy D.) It was just them, no opening band, and they played a bunch of hits. As usual, they started with “Hello Hooray” and rained glitter down like a sheath in front of them. They did an “I Love the Dead” tribute to Morrison, Lennon, and Hendrix, which Tracy wasn’t nuts about (“rather hear more Killer”) but I kind of enjoyed it. More and more older artists are paying tribute these days.
There were times during “Ballad of Dwight Fry” that I was almost having flashbacks of the original Alice Cooper lineup being onstage like the first time I’d seen them in 1971, a hugely influential concert for me that left not only audio but visual imprints that will always stay with me. Rather than rehash anymore, I’ll simply repost a blog I wrote some years ago:
I rarely hear Alice Cooper credited among the glam community. A lot of people remember where they were when Kennedy got shot. I remember being on the 18th row, center aisle seat April 28th, 1971 when the curtain went up on the Love It to Death tour. I was a bonafied commune-dwelling hippie in my first year of college, and that concert remains in my memory as a brilliant blue lame flash of adrenalin that left me open mouthed and hungry for change.
There was this silly sort of class thing among hippies: the longer the hair, the earlier you had become one, and hippie royalty could be pretty much measured by it. So here I am immersed in freakdom but restless, always restless and always riding the fringes of what was accepted hippie music fare, preferring something with a little more life to it at times. And out comes the longest-haired guys I’ve ever seen dressed in blue sequins and silver lame and wearing makeup and straightjackets. And they’re just unapologetically loud and the guitars and even the bass is just so irreverently blazingly bold!
“Hello! Hooray! Let the show begin,
I’ve been ready.
Hello! Hooray! Let the lights grow dim,
I’ve been ready.”
I have to say this Alice Cooper show was my first glam experience. By 1971, Hunky Dory was out and TREX had some acoustical albums out and had just released Electric Warrior, and glam was well formed and starting to really bloom. RoxyMusic had just emerged. Certainly Cooper went on to fit more into the hard rock genre, but Alice was the first band I saw pull out the heavy theatrics that glam would become known for a year or so later when Ziggy rose to personify the genre.
“Ready as this audience that’s coming here to dream.
Loving every second, ev’ry moment, ev’ry scream.
I’ve been waiting so long to sing my song
And I’ve been waiting so long for this thing to come.
Yeah – I’ve been thinking so long I was the only one.
Roll out! Roll out with your American dream and its recruits,
I’ve been ready.
Roll out! Roll out with your circus freaks and hula hoops,
I’ve been ready.”
By 1973, when Alice Cooper released Billion Dollar Babies, glam was in full thrush, the most exotically beautifully man-eating butterfly of the entire music chain. And it was at this point that the paths of Alice Cooper versus the paths of the sparklingly dark visionaries began to diverge. Alice Cooper had its own identity and never veered from it. Its influences seemed to be largely horror and American commercialism, while Roxy and Bowie and TREX had UK folk roots tinted heavily by contemporary art influences. And of course, it goes without saying that all were influenced by the music leading up to their point. Alice Cooper was my first rain of glitter, and I still consider them to be my earliest glam influence, because they bolted out of the sixties cocoon and took me with them.
“I can stand here strong and thin.
I can laugh when this thing begins.
God, I feel so strong,
I feel so strong,
I’m so strong,
I feel so strong,
God, I feel so strong,
I am so strong!”
(And thanks Tracy for bringing it all back to me and being one of my top two favorite people of all time to listen to music with.)
I once owned a 1960s Fender Stratocaster, which had previously belonged to Lemmy Kilminster before he found fame with Motorhead. But when it dawned on me I was never going to catch up with the growing band of hotshot British guitarists at that time – Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton – I traded it in for a Selma Goldfield student flute worth £30.
— Ian Anderson, Jethro Tull
May 20, 1970
Shortly after National Guardsmen shot and killed four students during a protest at Kent State, Neil Young and David Crosby were cloistered in a cabin in California’s Butano State Park. Crosby left to get supplies and came back with a copy of LIFE. “I handed it to Neil and watched it hit him,” Crosby says. “He picked up his guitar and started fooling around.” Right there, Young spit out a scarred howl of outrage, a lament that tapped America’s fury . . . Hours later, without altering a word or cord, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young recorded “Ohio” and rushed it to radio.
Below: Kent State LIFE Magazine, and “Ohio” single, Bill of Rights sleeve.
I was working in my first record store in Oklahoma City. A guy named Joe worked there too. He was my first fellow Lou Reed fan, and he was gay. Even though I kept up with the glam fanzines, for some time, I still thought Max’s Kansas City was in Kansas City. Joe and I talked about buying big motorcycles and going there. Once I found out it was actually in NY, this period became the only period of my life I thought maybe I should go to NY.
I guess you could say my first two gay influences were Lou Reed and Gore Vidal. If not for them, how many wonderful friends would I have missed knowing? “Walk on the Wild Side” in many ways brought this country out of the closet.
Just hearing “Walk on the Wild Side” filled my head with visions of platform heels and glitz. It became and remains an anthem.
Once I was traveling late at night near the Angelina Forest in South Texas when by some miracle of phantom radio signals, Lou Reed came blaring past the local station the radio was tuned to, and not just “Walk on the Wild Side” but a less commercial song I can no longer remember, coming all the way from Chicago, on the “X.” It was like being transported into another world, out there in the dark, made me realize how many possible realities there are and both how near and how far away they are.
I used to play the darkly beautiful “Berlin” a lot. The juxtaposition of beauty and joyful appreciation of the simple things emerged from a thick shadow of sadness. Here was Lou Reed, the quiet poet.
“Staring at my picture book
she looks like Mary, Queen of Scots
She seemed very regal to me
just goes to show how wrong you can be”
So many of his lines became catch phrases. I always loved “just goes to show how wrong you can be,” because it’s so simple and so true.
When “Rock and Roll Animal” came out, that live version of “Sweet Jane” became my favorite guitar dual of all time. Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter parry through the long intro. The sound quality and production of the song was just amazing. The recording in many ways made everything he’d done before pale in comparison, at least to an electric witch like me. “Berlin” was for a special mood. “Rock and Roll Animal” was the best of everything, for anytime.
Lou Reed is one of the only rockers I really wanted to meet but never got to. The label had arranged a dinner once, but it fell through. Maybe that’s why he’s still an enigma to me. He was a true pioneer, a nucleus of a growing genre of music that came together in different ways at different points in time. He influenced music, art, and most of all culture.
To Lou Reed, in his passing, I’d just like to say, “It was very nice. Oh, Honey, it was paradise.”
I was listening to Buddy Guy burning the house down on guitar when I realized that blues musicians are just musicians whose living off women has finally caught up with them.