David Bowie: Icon
I love the tribute cover for David Bowie (Feature, Jan. 13), because he is the king of counterculture and so is the City Paper, so they go together like the right and left side of a Twix. But, when I read the articles, I realized your writers are younger than myself, and they got on the Bowie bandwagon after "Let's Dance" and that is a different vision of David than the older generation has. I hate when people call John Lennon a dirty peace hippy. He was so much more than that. And one of your writers called Bowie a "glorified riffer and remixer instead of a visionary" and compared him to Lady Gaga and Kanye West. Well, I almost had a cow! He is much more than that!
"Then I was down south and I heard some funk with some main ingredients/ Like Doobie Brothers, Blue Magic, David Bowie/ It was cool, but can you imagine Doobie in your funk?" –Parliament 'P- Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)'
So, let me take you back to a time where there are no cellphones, no internet, no access to double penetration porn—we only had three network channels. We call this the early '70s. The drinking age in Maryland was 18, driving buzzed was fun and encouraged. And everyone smoked, everywhere. I remember getting the grocery cart stuck on cigarette butts while navigating up and down the aisles. Back in the '70s, they had these things called magazines and they had a wall of them normally in the back of the store. Creem, Hit Parade, and Musician—this is were I would run to get lost while my mom was smoking and buying TV dinners. In those pages, I would stare at the scariest person I every saw, David Bowie. An androgynous skeleton spaceman freak. What?
"It's got nothing to do with you, if one can grasp it" –'Up the Hill Backwards'
Back in the early '70s, "being gay" was still listed as a mental illness. In school, being soft or different were grounds for a beatings. That whole "bullying thing" and "sharing thing" did not exist. Like "Project Runway," "you're either in, or you're out." And if you're out, you will be punished, mercilessly. And everyone was still Catholic, so souls were rife with sin, guilt, and confusion. Abortions and pills were still a dirty secret. Everyone was a walking "question mark"!
"Crack, baby, crack/ show me you're real" –'Cracked Actor'
Saying you were a Bowie fan was code. Like gays have the "Are you a friend of Dorothy?" If you said you were a fan of Bowie, that meant that you got down. Once you cracked the code, it was a couple of fact-finding questions to find out just how down you got. Were you someone who liked to dress up for the concerts and just wanted to have sex with David, or were you someone who loved to do hash and break open "Pez" dispensers to get your sugar fix? Were you up for a threesome or some plain old pre-marital sex? It meant that you were a "freak" or a "closet freak."
"God is an American" –'I'm Afraid of Americans'
David Bowie is the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" of music. Through his collaborations, you learned about Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, Philip Glass, Adrian Belew, Luther Vandross, David Sanborn, Lester Bowie, Nile Rogers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed. And, if you liked Bowie, then you loved Nick Cave, Peter Murphy and Bauhaus, Tom Waits, and Julian Cope. And in the art world you learned about Julian Schnabel, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, and my favorite Jean-Michel Basquiat. And don't forget writers like William S. Burroughs. For a young gay boy in Westminster, Maryland, Bowie was the road map out of that fucking town.
If it were not for Bowie, you would not have The Cure, The Smiths, and Ryan Adams. The goths, sci-fi nerds, and bisexuals should all bow down, bitches. There would have not been a "Rocky Horror Picture Show." He was one of the first white performers to sing on "Soul Train," which was a big deal. And you (present day) would not feel free to dye your hair blue, orange, or what other stupid color you choose. Your inner freak flag is free to fly due to David Bowie's pioneering spirit.
"Time may change me/ but I can't trace time" –'Changes'
The confusion of the world was explained to us through David's music in the '70s. "Low" and "Heroes" took years to digest. Then came "Scary Monsters and the Super Creeps," and Bowie closed up his freak show and I just assume that he just wanted to make money; who doesn't. And enter the '80s and "Let's Dance." The title track was a number-one hit, on heavy rotation between Rick Springfield and Sheena Easton. He was not ours anymore, he was everyone's. And while I can't blame him, we did not have anyone else to fill the void of our hero until 1984 when Morrissey and The Smiths came into our lives.
"Time, He flexes like a whore" –'Time'
For me, my favorite CD is "Young Americans." I remember the story where he wanted to go to Philly to get that Gamble and Huff sound, but the local musicians would not work with him. So, he stayed in Philly, loaded on coke, and clubbed for months while making the most dense, layered soul album I have ever heard. It is a gospel funk album, if that is possible. The CD birthed 'Fame' and 'Young Americans,' two staples of his many hits.
"Gee my life's a funny thing, am I still too young?" –'Young Americans'
What I can soundly take away from this man is, it is important to be creative, even when it is not commercial or understood.
"Oh God, I could do better than that" –'Queen Bitch'
So, David was ours, it is personal! Don't fuck with the icon!