I first became aware of David Bowie in the early 70’s when, as a young teen I was just getting acquainted with music outside the realm of The Beatles and The Monkees. Bowie was surely an oddity, and I didn’t know what to make of him. He was a man, but why did he wear make up? Did he want to be a woman?
When I reached high school, I began to appreciate how unique he was as a performer and artist. When he sang, he had a quavering, aching voice that could sink to a husky bass or rise to a silky high tenor. Those eyes. One was bright blue, one was greenish brown and permanently dilated, adding to his other-worldliness. He was strange, but mesmerizing, massively cool and undeniably sexy.
My passing interest in him was solidified in 1977, when he appeared, on all things, a Bing Crosby Christmas Special. He and Bing duet-ed on ‘Little Drummer Boy/ Peace On Earth. Nice to know this hipster was appealing to old guys like Bing too. https://youtu.be/wjNToRlUen8
Later on the show, when he performed ‘Heroes’, I was hooked.
I didn’t get to buy any of his albums until the early 80’s, and I got an 8-Track of Young Americans. On the cover he stares out from a smoky haze, with his best Marlene Deitrich gaze, inviting you in. It was one of the first albums I bought cold, not knowing if I’d like it, but I knew he had collaborated with John Lennon on “Fame” and he made John’s Across the Universe uniquely his own. Well, I wore that tape out, especially listening to the funky nirvana of Fame, imagining him walking away singing “Fame…” then snapping back toward you demanding “What’s your name, what’s your name, what’s your name?” and walking away again, as a friend told me he did in concert. So damn cool. I loved Modern Love and China Girl. Later I took the invitation when he sang Let’s Dance.
But aside from his glamour and flash, you could always hear his soul.
At the 9/11 concert, he opened the show. No glitz or glamour. Just sitting cross legged on the stage with nothing but a tiny keyboard, he began playing a carousel waltz, and sang Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” It’s a beautiful moment of raw love for the city he made his own.
And on top of commanding a concert stage, he was an actor too! His television performance as The Elephant Man was so poignant. Wonderful, wonderful actor, and again, his soul was laid bare.
As he identified with the alienated, the misfits of the world like me felt a kinship with him. He was known for his ever changing appearance, a true chameleon who channeled everything from Ziggy Stardust to Kabuki. Some may have thought this was to hide who he really was, but really it just proved that he was so comfortable in his own skin, that he was willing to explore any possibility. He was truly every-man (or woman if he preferred). If more people explored their inner selves as Bowie did, it would probably be a happier world.
That being said, he was naturally private. Which is why the news of his cancer and death came as such a shock. But he never quit working, creating, and just being David Bowie, achieving his final dream of a Jazz fusion album just before he passed. If we can all strive to complete our creative pursuits as he did, it will be a life well spent.
Enjoy the music and immense talent of Mr. Bowie. There will never be another. Rest in Peace Major Tom.