So much of what Bowie means to me I've kept at a distance. I never understood why.
At first, I just wrote him off completely, I wouldn't even give him a chance. I clowned on my buddy Bill when I came across his copy of "Changesonebowie" while flipping through his CDs. It was 1999. The only substantial thing I knew about Bowie at that point was that "he wrote that one Nirvana song." Later on in 2002, while enjoying my one and only semester at SUNY Purchase, I made friends with a few guys that would get together and watch old VHS tapes. Our buddy Mike had a big paper bag of them. Most of the tapes contained old episodes of "120 Minutes" and "Twilight Zone" marathons, stuff like that. He had one tape which contained a biopic about Bowie that seemed to only cover tragedy and drug arrests. It was really over the top, like Star Magazine meets "Grey Gardens" with corny music in the background because they couldn't get the rights to any of the tunes. We'd meet at the dining hall, then it was off to Alan's dorm with the TV and VCR so we could watch that tape all night while slamming SoBes (not a code word for beer). We got a real hoot out of it. It was a tape of this famous weird guy that kept getting caught with coke in Rochester, New York while his family morphed into a Brothers Grimm tale back in Bromley. This eventually escalated into us looking up his music videos so we could make fun of those too. Slowly something started to happen: We began to like it, with a fair sprinkling of irony that guys in their 20s have to attach to anything they exude emotion toward.
Something about Bowie felt uncomfortable, or too obvious, like being the weird guy with blue eyes who "of course" likes David Bowie. It's like whenever someone says "you gotta meet my friend ____, you and ____ would get along so well!" The expected urgency with which you two must sail into the depths of mutual vindication of your insanity by way of proof that another guy in town wears John Lennon novelty sunglasses just seems to suggest that you're both flakes. You sigh and say "nice to meet you ____" and you both walk away grumbling, thinking, "That's who they think I'm like? Yeesh!" Here, you thought you were Bukowski, Hemingway in Paris, or "The Great Bandini." I guess it comes down to a compromise of sorts: You might not like hanging out with "Slytherin" when you're "Gryffindor" but you both know that ultimately you need to have each other's back in a bar fight. That's why Bowie's song 'Kooks' resonates with me in a deep way. It's about two eccentric parents telling their kid the breakdown: You will become a weirdo "because if you stick with us you're gonna be pretty kooky too." It's all at once a splash of cold water and a proclamation of camaraderie, or as Morrissey puts it in his nod to 'Kooks,' 'Sheila Take a Bow,' "throw your homework on to the fire." I think what good old Moz means is you might live under the stairs now kid, but someday the restraints put on you by jerks will poof like so much stardust and those schmucks will know what time it is!
I find solace in that. I like when the underdog prevails; that's why I root for the Buffalo Bills and not the Patriots. Because one day we'll show the bastards that money and looking agreeable ain't everything. Grit counts for something. Holding on like an old dog to a gnarled bit of twine 'cause ya still got some "piss and vinegar" in ya counts for something. They all took their pot shots at Bowie, even Lester Bangs writing off Lou Reed and Ziggy as "fag rock," but they never got to him. Like Patrick McGoohan's tenacious character in "The Prisoner," Bowie was a fighter. How do you think he got that one weird eye? It was over a girl if you need to know.
The day after David Bowie died I was listening to a "live" stream of some BBC radio station as I figured they'd be playing his jams and commiserating with all of England. A farmer from Ireland called in reminiscing about this or that when suddenly I heard a chicken clucking in the background. I laughed and yelled to the radio "ask him about the chicken!"
It cracked me up and, like Bowie himself, caught me off guard. And so did what happened next: It all came out. I kept Bowie at bay in a carbon freeze of irony my whole life and this stupid chicken somehow broke open the dam, and like Han trembling in the hairy arms of Chewbacca deep in the bowels of Jabba's Palace, I felt I belonged to something, but like the disheveled Rancor's caretaker I also knew in that same moment that it was lost forever. I'd never meet my pal.
Ed Schrader is among other things, the frontman for Ed Schrader's Music Beat, the creator of the wildly popular Cats On The Lake T-shirt, and co-creator of the Adult Swim cartoon "A Family Affair."