I was up fairly late last night - I've recently been having a little trouble falling asleep before midnight. At around two a.m., I received a Skype call from my old buddy Rob, who'd just returned to Christchurch after spending the past few days mountain biking near Arthur's Pass. I've mentioned Rob on occasion in this blog; he's been one of my best friends for over twenty years now, and in that time we've had some hilarious adventures and fun experiences together in both New Zealand and America.
In the years that followed, Rob's fandom never waned. He managed to assemble quite a Bowie collection, probably the best in New Zealand - rare albums and bootlegs, books, photographs and lithographs. His travels around the world have taken him to places renowned in Bowie-lore; Rob has posed in front of the gate to Château d'Hérouville in France, where most
Anyway, last night, Rob began to tell me about his weekend and a minor sports injury he suffered while riding around, but our Skype chat was interrupted when he received a call via his regular phone, so he asked me to hold for a couple of minutes. I whiled away that time sifting through my email messages and browsing the news on the Web, nothing major or out-of-the-ordinary, just another night. So I was jolted when I suddenly came across the headline "David Bowie Dead at 69".
It didn't take long to find that the news was not specious, but accurate - David Bowie had died a couple of hours earlier. "Jolted" is an inadequate word to describe my initial thoughts and feelings once I received confirmation of this story . . . with my second thought being, "How am I going to break this to Rob?" I knew it was potentially devastating, heartbreaking news, and I wasn't looking forward to telling him . . . but he had to know, as soon as possible - and it's always good to find these sort of things out from your friends. I sent him a quick text message telling him to get off the phone as quickly as he could, as there was some important news I had to tell him . . .
When Skype resumed, I told Rob the news, in a way that let him know I wasn't screwing around or pulling his leg. I've known this guy a long time . . . and I have to say I've never seen him more stunned. We spent the rest of the call reminiscing, commiserating, and reflecting on the life and work of Bowie, and what he's meant to us over the years.
To be honest, I didn't know that much about David Bowie until I was well into my teens - my first full-on encounter with all things Bowie occurred in late 1979, when I saw him perform on NBC's Saturday Night Live. As I alluded to an earlier post, in much of America of the 1970s, Bowie was considered a "weirdo", a cross-dressing English fop with a flair for flamboyant, garish makeup and outlandish rock 'n' roll alter egos. Of course, by the late '70s, he'd long left a lot of that stuff behind - Bowie was constantly modifying and experimenting with his sound and his look. But the majority of Americans didn't keep up with his ever-changing moods, methods and influences - in this country, first impressions meant a lot. And the impression that the majority of Middle America still had of Bowie - the otherworldly Major Tom and Ziggy of the late '60s/early 70s - was the impression that still lingered as the Eighties approached.
And of course, a big move was his appearance on Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas holiday special on 30 November, 1977. As I mentioned in an earlier post:
"People forget nowadays, but back in the mid-70s Bowie was considered to be an out-and-out freak by most of Middle America . . . so it was somewhat of a shock and an enlightenment for a lot of people seeing the friendly, polite, 'normal' family man Bowie warbling Christmas carols with Mr. Wholesomeness himself."So the stage was pretty well set for him to continue his assault on the U.S. market through his Saturday Night Live appearance, his first national television performance. David made the most of this opportunity.
Bowie's appearance on SNL was in many ways a concise summation of his career up to that point. He and his band (supplemented by up-and-coming (but then generally unknown) New York performance artists Joey Arias and Klaus Nomi) opened with "The Man Who Sold The World", from his 1970 album of the
Here's a clip of the first song from the show, "The Man Who Sold The World":
I thought the costume that Bowie wore for this song was amazing; basically a rigid Bauhaus/Dada-inspired shell tuxedo that held him immobile - Arias and Nomi had to carry him out to
What followed later in the show was "TVC 15", with another stunning and androgynous costume change that Bowie pulls off flawlessly, a 1940s-style Lennon Sisters wide-shouldered dress suit and sheath skirt:
And who could forget the pink poodle with the monitor in its mouth, and the herky-jerky backup singing?
The strangest performance occurred at the very end of the program, just before the host/cast farewells and closing credits. For "Boys Keep Swinging", Bowie's head is shown atop what appears to be a man-sized wooden puppet body, which during the performance cavorts and bounces around the stage in a very weird, off-putting yet mesmerizing way:
Bowie was pissed that the NBC censor bleeped out the "other boys check you out" line during the song, but he got his revenge and the last laugh - take a close look at what happens to the puppet's pants at the end of the tune! All in all, it was truly a strange, surreal "WTF?" moment in television history. I didn't know what to make of it; you can tell by the studio audience reaction that they didn't know what to make of it all either.
In any event, as strange as it was to see unusual performances like this on American national TV, I was entranced and impressed by Bowie's art, and finally realized what I'd been missing all those years. December 15th, 1979 at 1:00 AM was the moment I finally became a David Bowie fan - a decision I've never regretted.
I spoke with Rob again for a bit this afternoon. "Mate," he said, "I don't normally like to admit this, but I'm feeling a little . . . weird and vulnerable since I heard the news last night." I know exactly what he means. The passing of an entertainment icon is normally a cause for acknowledgement, appreciation and tribute from fans and contemporaries. But in the vast majority of these instances, this "moment of reflection" is just that - a short-lived moment, and after which, we all go on with our lives. Perhaps all of this is too recent to make a truly subjective determination, but David Bowie's death feels . . . different, as though something has definitely changed in the world.
I've had conversations with other friends today regarding his passing, and they all feel the same way. The recent deaths of Lemmy and Natalie Cole were sad, but they haven't been lingered over, analyzed and eulogized in the press and on social media as Bowie's has been. I think that may be due to the nature of the man and what he brought to the world for the past fifty years. To quote Rob: "Bowie didn't write music; he made accessible art." In those words lies the essence of what made Bowie so great, why he will be missed, and why his absence will leave such a void.
During our conversation late last night, Rob and I asked one another not what our favorite Bowie album is, but even more narrowly, what our favorite Bowie SONG is. Here's mine - the 1973 alternate demo version of "Candidate", included as a bonus cut on Diamond Dogs:
Rob's all-time fave is "Always Crashing The Same Car", from Low:
Enough of all of this - there have been more than enough tributes today, and there are certain to be tons more coming in the next few days. I don't expect my reflections and memories of David Bowie will have that much import or impact in the grand scheme of things. I just felt the need to pay a small tribute to a visionary artist who is now no longer with us. We may not see the likes of David Bowie again . . . but isn't it great that, in the millions and billions of years that this planet has existed, we all were lucky enough to share this planet at the same time with him?
In honor of the life and memory of David Bowie, for my buddy Rob, for myself, and for you all, I proudly offer the deluxe edition of the 1976 album Station To Station. This is the September 10th, 2010 reissue, which includes not only the original album, but the entire show at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York on March 23rd, 1976 (on two bonus discs).
In addition, also offered here are the three performance videos from Saturday Night Live shown above, in .mp4 format. These are notoriously hard to find on the Web; NBC and Lorne Michaels are vicious about keeping SNL content off of free sites like Vimeo and YouTube. The ones included here are burned off of my SNL DVDs I purchased upon their release many years ago; I own the first five seasons of the show, which are really the only seasons anyone needs to care about.
Anyway, enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.
Farewell, Thin White Duke.
Please use the email link below to contact me, and I will reply with the download link(s) ASAP:
Station To Station (Deluxe Edition): Send Email
Saturday Night Live performances, December 15th, 1979: Send Email
[Hmm . . . it appears that the performance videos I embedded above aren't being displayed in this post anymore; I guess Blogger.com has an issue with having them be seen here. No matter - the download links are still available, and I'll be happy to send them along to you.]