David Bowie would have turned 71 today. We originally posted this on January 11, 2016, the day after he died.
I only saw David Bowie once. Not a lot of people were there.
Like a lot of people of a certain age and from certain suburbs, my first real exposure to Bowie was due to Nirvana. Their version of “The Man Who Sold The World” altered me in a way that’s unique to a pre-teen hearing music like this for the first time. I became a Bowie devotee at 12-years-old. “Let’s Dance” and Labyrinth missed me by a few years. I am very grateful “Let’s Dance” and Labyrinth missed me.
Nirvana to Bowie led to Nine Inch Nails and Bowie. I read that one of Trent Reznor’s favorite albums was David Bowie’s 1977 art rock LP Low. Low was my first David Bowie CD. I was lucky to miss “Let’s Dance” and Labyrinth.
I went from the Low CD to a tape. I listened to cassette 1 of David Bowie’s Sound + Vision Rykodisc compilation until it warped. I had a cheap record player so I bought what was available, cheap and used, at local record stores. I obtained 1984’s Tonight and 1987’s Never Let Me Down for under $5 each. They are two of the worst records I still own.
In high school I read the unauthorized biography Bowie: Loving The Alien. It’s not a good book and I do not recommend buying or reading it. I’m glad I read it. It led to multiple viewings of Bowie’s 1976 film The Man Who Fell To Earth. I finally saw Labyrinth. I preferred The Man Who Fell To Earth.
By the end of high school I owned every Bowie song. Some records, a few CDs and a lot of cassettes. He was on a short list of must-see performers. He was one of my guys, my idols, heroes, whatever. Like many people of a certain age from certain suburbs, I had an unhealthy connection to someone I could never really know. I loathed people that enjoyed Bowie on a surface level. How dare someone just enjoy “Rebel, Rebel” as a song! It’s more than that! Each piece of his art is more than a nice song! It was and still is an unhealthy way to appreciate Bowie. Sadly, I feel the same.
I was lucky to see David Bowie once. The ampitheater wasn’t even half full. It wasn’t a slight against David Bowie, people have jobs. It was August 8, 2002, a Thursday, at the Tweeter Center in Tinley Park. Bowie performed in the early evening, around 6 p.m. The venue is not in a convenient location for anyone that has a job in Chicago. It’s an hour drive from the Loop and trains aren’t really an option. Bowie was part of Moby’s summer festival tour, Area2. The Bowie set was great. He opened with “Life on Mars”. Covers included “Cactus” by The Pixies and “I’ve Been Waiting For You” by Neil Young. He played “Heroes” and closed with “Fashion”. It could not have been a better selection of old and new. The ampitheater wasn’t even half full.
The only time I saw David Bowie was with someone I should no longer have been dating. A girlfriend that became an ex and got back together with me should not have gotten back together with me. All of the faults of the relationship were mine. I was wrong and looking back I can say that with certainty. I think we stayed together because we had tickets to see David Bowie. We broke up for good soon after.
Bowie continued to influence me throughout college. Lodger and Hunky Dory were spun on my record player on a weekly basis. A memorable first date included watching the entirety of the Best of Bowie DVD. “Ashes To Ashes” was a highlight.
David Bowie appeared to have a healthy distance between public persona and real life. The father, husband, friend, real person David Bowie didn’t use Twitter or Instagram or Facebook. The musician used social media as a promotional device, not a glimpse into his reality. He didn’t write an autobiography or help make a documentary. Because there wasn’t an official narrative, fans were able to hold the Bowie in their mind they loved the most. Thin White Duke, industrial tinkerer, Ziggy Stardust, ambiguous alien, Goblin King, folky hippy, whatever Bowie you needed, you had. He wrote super simple folk songs with four chords and challenging free jazz experiments. He wasn’t a white version of black music. He wasn’t a British version of American music. He wasn’t any one thing.
Last Friday I watched an hour of David Bowie music videos. Last month I covered “Five Years” at the Black Cat. A few weeks before that I decorated a gingerbread man as Aladdin Sane. A few years ago I played “Drive-In Saturday” right before my soon to be wife walked down the aisle. Bowie has had and will have a place in my life completely unique to me. And it’s probably very similar to how you feel about him.
Tributes tend to be not good. Hastily written, overly sentimental drivel about the greatness of someone who maybe wasn’t so great. I do not know if David Bowie was a good father, husband or friend. I hope he was. I do know he was a positive influence on my life. He made the music, videos, films and tours he wanted. And he made it known it was perfectly fine to sleep with anyone and everyone as long as it was consensual.
When we found out that Bowie had passed at the age of 69, we looked through the BYT archives. Before today, we had mentioned Bowie in exactly 100 separate articles. All of them were positive. Even when we didn’t like something he created, we appreciated it for existing. He may be the only person, place or thing beloved by all of us over the first 10 years of BYT.
I’m glad I saw David Bowie. He smiled a lot. He was very happy to be performing for a small but loving crowd.