Monday, February 08, 2016

Golden Years with David Bowie

The Next Day
Look up here, I'm in heaven. I've got scars that can't be seen. I've got drama, can't be stolen. Everybody knows me now. "Lazarus"

That Monday morning, my radio alarm clock woke me with news about David Bowie that I never expected to hear. My grogginess snapped into shock and disbelief until creating a void in my chest that I assume is permanent. I think Sleater Kinney guitarist and Portlandia star Carrie Brownstein summed it up best for me when she wrote, "It feels like we lost something elemental, as if an entire color is gone."

To me, David Bowie is ageless, contemporary, and set apart from all of my other favorite musicians. He was visionary, always thinking differently and ahead of his time to create his own path no matter what anyone else was doing. He introduced new albums full of veiled
references and unique sounds, often with a new persona to match. As comedian Fred Armisen said, "David Bowie transformed the space he was in," and we were thrilled to share it. (Check out these amazing performances of "The Man Who Sold the World," "TVC-15," and "Boys Keep Swinging" from Saturday Night Live in 1979! Had I seen them then, I think I would have become a fan a few years sooner.)

I didn't follow everything David Bowie did all the time, but I preferred it that way. I pictured him always busy doing interesting things that haven't occurred yet to anyone else. Thinking of him lately, I keep comparing him to Picasso: Bowie was a prolific, larger-than-life kind of artist. He did whatever he wanted in music, movies, fashion, art, and anything else that sparked his interest. He never disappointed us and influenced whatever areas he touched. Since I was 10 years old, David Bowie has shown up over the years like a breath of fresh air, and I fall in love every time.

Hello, Bowie!  
But we're absolute beginners with eyes completely open. "Absolute Beginners"

In the '80s, MTV introduced me to David Bowie through his videos, which got regular airplay on the channel, including "Let's Dance," "China Girl," "Modern Love," "Absolute Beginners," and – of course – the goofy cover of "Dancing in the Street" with Mick Jagger (which still makes me smile). My favorite video of that era is "Blue Jean" because it feels like cool movie, filmed in some exotic location (where they snap fingers instead of clapping), and you get two Bowies in one. Also, as my sister pointed out, David Bowie looks cute with a Band Aid on his nose.

"Blue Jean© David Bowie (1984) 

At the same time, his older classics got my attention on the radio, and I started my Bowie CD collection with a greatest hits compilation. With songs like "Changes," "Ziggy Stardust," "Heroes," "Suffragette City," "Rebel Rebel," "Young Americans," and "Ashes to Ashes," I'd be in a better mood, singing and dancing along within minutes. When I saw his older performances, I marveled at his changing looks: That unrecognizable alien rock star with electric orange hair and full make-up was a world away from the dapper, suave Bowie I knew. Still, I somehow connected to these great songs, like "Life on Mars?"

"Life on Mars?© David Bowie (1971)

Every time I heard or saw David Bowie somewhere, I gasped with excitement and was left hungry for more.

Bowie in the '90s
Nothing prepared me for your smile, lighting the darkness of my soul. "Thursday's Child"

At the start of the new decade, I saw a clip of a Sound & Vision Tour press conference on MTV news, during which David Bowie performed the first verse of "Space Oddity" on acoustic guitar for a crowd of reporters. When he stopped and said, "Now, you're going to have to use your imaginations–," everyone interrupted with their own version of the missing blast off sound. "You brought it!" he exclaimed. "Great!" And, he launched into the next verse. It hit me then that I had to see this guy in person.  

I saw Bowie in Cleveland with my sister during that tour in 1990. While he played "Space Oddity" on his guitar, a giant image of David Bowie walked onto the massive screen behind him, knelt down on one knee to peer at the tiny singing musician, and at times sang along with him. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.

"Space Oddity" (Sound & Vision Tour, Tokyo, Japan, 1990)

Bowie offered all sorts of other random surprises during the '90s.
  • He rebooted his 1975 hit "Fame" with a 1990 version that had a fantastic video to go with it. 
  • In 1992, he married supermodel Iman, forming – in my eyes – the coolest of the cool power couples. 
  • In 1996, he offered fans BowieNet, his own Internet service that came with exclusive Bowie content for fans. I never ordered it, but swooned at the idea of having an e-mail address with that name attached. That year, he also showed up as Andy Warhol in Julian Schnabel's film Basquiat.
  • A year later, he sold his rights to future royalties from anything he'd written before 1990. I considered this a sound investment, but I never bought any because I don't know anything about finances. 
  • Also in 1997, he collaborated with Trent Reznor and released Earthling. The video for the first single, "I'm Afraid of Americans," plays like a nightmare. I didn't buy that album at the time, but I liked the songs I heard, and that cover image is one of my favorites. (Although partly inspired by the movie Taxi Driver, it's interesting how relevant that video seems now.) 
  • In 1999, he revealed a new, softer look and perform a completely different kind of song, called "Thursday's Child," on a talk show. (Listen to those backing vocals!) I loved it so much that I bought his new CD, Hours, immediately.
"Thursday's Child" (Madrid, 1999)

Bowie in the New Century
I've got a better way. Ready. Set. Go. "New Killer Star"

In 2002, I saw David Bowie on an A&E special, David Bowie: Live By Request, and I lost my mind. I mean, I bought some more older albums as well as his most recent one, Heathen, and soaked it all up. He played in each of New York City's five boroughs in support of Heathen, and everyone who reported that news added things like, "Who does that?," "Has anyone ever done that?," and "Why has no one ever thought to do this before?" (My only question: Why didn't I attend any of them?) A year later, he released another great album called Reality, to which I was hooked as soon as I heard its first single "New Killer Star." (Those guitars rock!)

"New Killer Star" David Bowie (London, 2003)

Then, the Bowie music stopped coming, but I didn't really notice its absence since the artist was occupied. He made a surprise appearance during the Fashion Rocks! TV special in 2005, singing along to a fantastic song called "Wake Up" by a band I'd never heard of – Arcade Fire. With that kind of endorsement and performance, I ordered Arcade Fire's debut album after the show (and noticed the band everywhere after that night). Among other things, David Bowie made a cameo in Ben Stiller's comedy, Zoolander; costarred in Christopher Nolan's drama, The Prestige, as Nikola Tesla; and – my all-time favorite – appeared as David Bowie on Ricky Gervasis's show, Extras.

Extras (BBC, 2005) 

The other day, a snippet of conversation that I had with my friend in 2012 popped into my head. We must have been talking about music when I said, "I wonder what David Bowie is doing." She responded matter-of-factly, "He doesn't have to do anything." It was true, but a few months later, on his birthday, David Bowie reemerged with a surprise album, recorded entirely in secret, called The Next Day. Do you think he heard me?

And, just before Thanksgiving last year, I found out that David Bowie had written a musical – a sort of sequel for his alien character in the 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth. It was playing a limited, sold-out run off Broadway, but I couldn't justify buying a scalped ticket for $3000, even if I could get my hands on one.

Do it Bowie style! 
This way or no way. You know, I'll be free, just like that bluebird. Ain't that just like me? "Lazarus"

Last month, the outpouring of love and admiration for David Bowie online among friends and strangers was immense, genuine, sincere, and comforting. We lost our most unique, irreplaceable friend. Just two days before, we were celebrating his birthday and the release of his spectacular album Blackstar. Leave it to Bowie to give us a gift on his birthday as solace for what he knew was coming.

After listening to all these new, exciting tunes; coincidentally, I got to a funny anecdote about David Bowie in the book I'm reading now, Elvis Costello's memoir Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink. I had to laugh when I read, "Eventually, David leaned in to me conspiratorially and said, in his best David Bowie voice,..." Every David Bowie fan knows exactly how that looks and sounds. There's only one David Bowie, and no one else will come close.

While we mourned the loss of an artist who had so much more to say and left us too soon, my friend reminded me, "We're lucky to have been around to appreciate him in real time." David Bowie will always be out there with plenty for us to hear, read, watch, learn, and love. Keep exploring. His world is vast and keeps on giving.

The Kitties can rock it! 
We could be heroes....forever and ever. "Heroes"

Sometimes, thank you doesn't seem like enough, but The Kitties are up to the task. Here they are playing dress up, Bowie style!

Bowie Kitties (January 28, 2016)

Mostly taking inspiration for Bowie's varied album covers, from left to right: Tyrone celebrates the Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane era, Comet models Heroes, Norman shows off Diamond Dogs, B.J. knocks out Let's Dance, The Mother Kitty is Aladdin Sane, Simon goes method for The Man Who Sold the World,  Lily tackles Reality, Gordon gets to wear the coat for Earthling, Ashes is Hunky Dory, and Mini is Low.

And, here, The Kitties get down to "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. There's a Starman, waiting in the sky. He told us not to blow it 'cause it's all worthwhile... 

Starman (February 1, 2016)

He told me, let the children lose it. Let the children use it. Let all the children boogie...

"Starman" (A&E's Live By Request, 2002)

Play his tunes and play them loud, friends!

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