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.