I used to stare at that record for hours.
What was it? What did it mean? What was that teardrop thing in his clavicle?
I was nine years old. My Mom’s friend used to work at a radio station and somehow managed to walk away with a complete wall of records. Hundreds and hundreds of records. He let me borrow three:
Dark Side of the Moon.
And David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane.
I was neck deep in my KISS, Queen, Foghat and Aerosmith phase and their anthemic rock choruses had me by my squeaky pre pubescent throat.
So my first encounter with David Bowie I just didn’t get. It was just too odd for a nine-year-old perfecting his air guitar skills to “We Will Rock You” and “Detroit Rock City”. It was odd like it came from space odd. Hmmm.
My next encounter was at ten years old. I’d stay up as late as I could handle on Friday and Saturday nights to watch anything rock music related. No internet. No VCR. Not even MTV. So any glimpse at rock royalty was like a crumb stick thrown to the starving masses.
So one 2 A.M I got the video to “Ashes to Ashes”.
It started to click. It made no sense but it resonated. It was catchy, odd and intriguing. I tried my best to figure it out – figure him out, and obviously that is precisely why Bowie has remained iconic until the day he died. You can’t figure him out. Ever. But I searched for something that resonated when my KISS buzz wore off. Bowie started to woo me but then Led Zeppelin came in and swept me off my feet. I was grounded in the land of ice and snow fighting off the evil one to reach the stairway and yet there in the ether continued to float that oddity. That Major Tom guy.
At 13 I got Changes One. Major Tom beamed me up to planet Bowie and I was tossed about in a universe of songcraft. Rebel Rebel, Space Oddity, Changes… How was all this possible from one guy? He was like a chameleon changing and morphing into these different styles and yet somehow retaining this Bowie constant. I was still deeply in love with my primal Zeppelin but when I was Heartbroken and Whole Lotta loved out, I would connect with this collection of songs on some weird level I didn’t understand. It was like being five years old climbing up into Grandma’s dusty old attic connecting with some strange painting that you only found out later was a classic Picasso or Kandinsky worth millions. You couldn’t put your finger on it but you knew something was there.
Then the explosion happened. MTV took over the culture. And Bowie was right there in the middle. China Girl, Modern Love and Let’s Dance were played relentlessly. But even among my heaviest heavy metal friends Bowie was still cool. But How? In the midst of Judas Priest, Ozzy Osbourne and Iron Maiden how on God’s green Earth could Bowie still be respected? No clue. But he was. So odd. Like space odd.
So Bowie exploded into the full spectrum of an artist. Ultra cool hipster. Weird androgynous Ziggy creature. Undeniable masterpiece songs like ‘Changes’ that everybody loved. Mega MTV pop star. Cult classic movie star (See Labyrinth). He wove himself into the fabric of culture. He wove himself into the fabric of our lives and challenged us on how we experience art, music and theatre.
But for me it was something other than music, film or theatrics that had the biggest impact.
It was the Queen tribute concert for Freddie Mercury in 1992. Ten years earlier Bowie and Queen had completely saturated the airwaves with the timeless masterpiece “Under Pressure” so it was expected he would perform and he did. He delivered a stunning performance of the song with Annie Lennox.
And then he did something that completely blew my pre grunge mind.
In the celebratory spirit of that concert honoring a legendary performer taken by a still potent disease, in front of a stadium of 70,000 people and a billion people on live TV, Bowie did the most unthinkable Rock star thing ever.
He got down on one knee and prayed the Lord’s prayer.
I was stunned. 70,000 people were stunned. A billion people across the globe were stunned.
I saw it happen live and will never forget it.
I could go on and on about Bowie and all the cool stuff he did. I could tell more stories. Like when my friend called me from a pay phone at the US festival and told me about his performance. I remember asking if he played “Ground control to Major Tom”. He said yes and it rocked.
I could go on about how cool it is he married a Somali model and stay married for 20+ years. Or the timeless duet he did with Bing Crosby.
But there’s no need to. Bowie’s legacy speaks for itself.
When I heard about his death just a few hours after it was announced it hit me hard. I even woke up my wife to tell her. It’s taken a few days to sort through the reason why it hit so deep. I’m still sorting it out actually.
I didn’t own every record he ever recorded. I never even saw him live. But I have this history with him and his art. A friend of mine recently said, “It’s amazing someone you’ve never met can have this affect on you. That’s the power of music.”
So here’s to Ziggy Stardust.
And God bless Aladdin Sane.