Monday, January 11, 2016

What Bowie Meant to Me

As everyone knows, David Bowie is dead of cancer at 69.

He was a true artist, and as such touched so many lives, especially those of us who were and are "different."

Growing up in a bodaciously small town like I did, I had heard of David Bowie, usually from TV talk shows, and I may have heard Space Oddity.  The talk around my elementary and junior high school was that he was a "faggot" and liking him meant YOU were as well.

When I finally got MTV in 1982, they played videos from the Scary Monsters album.  The first video I saw was Ashes to Ashes, in which Bowie was some sort of demented harlequin.

Ashes to Ashes

The other videos in rotation were Fashion and Heroes.  In Fashion, he was a drugged up mess.  I remember listening to the words and thinking "this is so human.  He just wants someone to like him.  To listen to him."  I UNDERSTOOD that.  I was an outcast, and I was hiding my terrible secret.  He spoke to and FOR me.  I was instantly a fan.

Then I saw Heroes.  There he was, in his "Brian Eno trilogy" period, so lost and distant... but the WORDS...

We can be Heroes... just for one day...

Then, like an absolute Bomb, Bowie's Let's Dance album crashed into the US.  Bowie had reinvented himself as a clean, stylish, yuppified person that EVERYONE wanted to be.  He was the Biggest thing in music in era of larger than life personalities.  Boy George?  Duran Duran?  The Police?  They were Huge, but Bowie was bigger.  He had influenced them all, and now he was taking his star turn.

I remember the only party I ever gave as a teen, when my parents were away at the shore.  It was mostly people I worked with, but a few others showed up.  One was a classmate named Tony.  I remember a bunch of us sitting on the living room floor, talking about music.  Tony was talking about Bowie, saying "a couple of years ago no one cared about him, but now you can't GET tickets to see him."  And he was right.  To this day, when I think of David Bowie, THIS is the version of him I think of, as it impacted my teen life the most. I was dressing as a woman by that point, expressing my true self for really the first time.  And since Bowie could be different, so could I.

The "Serious Moonlight" tour came to Philadelphia for four sold out shows, and Bowie filmed the Modern Love video at the Spectrum.  Simply amazing.

Modern Love in Philly

He stayed on top for a while, then receded as fame does. On one of my first visits to see my friend Chuck at his art school in downtown Philly, I remember seeing murals painted on the school walls of Bowie in his various guises.  Chuck said "Bowie is God here."  And I understood what he meant.  Bowie was so City... and I wanted to be a part of it.  That's one of the reasons I decided to go to a city school: Drexel University.

(I soon realized that this was a mistake and transferred to Penn State.)

Bowie kept changing.  His music kept changing.  In 1989, he announced he was going to stop playing the old songs, so he would tour playing them one last time: the Sound and Vision tour.  I was in the Spectrum with my friend Mike (who got me a ticket) and the show was amazing.

Bowie kept changing, but the public didn't change with him.  Didn't matter,  he kept right on going... true to himself.  Then, he disappeared.

Ten years later, he reappeared with a new album.  March 2013.  I was working at the book store by then.  And the album was amazing.  Bowie was back.

On Friday, Bowie released a new album.  It was his 69th birthday.

Now he's gone.  And so many people are shocked and in mourning.

What did Bowie mean to me?

Bowie showed me new worlds far beyond the small town I knew.  he showed me that change was possible... and could be beautiful.  That is was Ok to be different.

Because I WAS different.  I knew that, but I hid it.

So many years later, I am True to myself.  Yes, I am different: I am Trans.  And I celebrate it.

That is the lesson I took from David Bowie.  He was an icon and an Artist who was different, and celebrated that.

As we shall celebrate him.

Sleep well, David Bowie.  You will never die as long as your art survives.

1 comment:

  1. I am rarely a jealous person but you telling us that you got to see him play his classic tracks!

    I admit that I am old enough to have followed him since day one and those early years gave me the hope and will to be different and not give in.