David Bowie's passing rocketed me back to never forgotten pre-pubescent memories. I was a sensitive adolescent who locked myself in my room drawing private planets and the Rock & Roll bands that in habited them. Discovering Bowie and Glam Rock was the life raft I needed to survive in a grey and barren suburban landscape. He was someone who poetically articulated how I felt. His songs were secret encryptions for freaks the world over to communicate by.
If you saw someone on the street in a Bowie t-shirt or a red rooster coif, you knew they were family. Before modern technology, your tribe came together to listen to the latest albums. You opened up the sleeve and scarfed it like pastry dusted with brain candy. When a band was to play, word of mouth traveled like lightning. Bus schedules, hitchhiking and parents' cars were hot-wired by determined glitter babies racing to stadium parking lots and misfit dance clubs.
Your experience wasn't controlled by a PR hack; you were just as much a part of the happening as the artist playing a gig. You got to Hollywood by any means necessary and your people were there when you went looking for them. Hanging out was an art perfected by smoke rings and sparkle nail polish. Shimmying on platforms and daisy dukes were the new street ballet. Satin, lame and lurex replaced denim patchwork and embroidery. Suddenly, we all became very interested in cutting our own hair and applying food coloring to our crowning feathers.
"If you saw someone on the street in a Bowie t-shirt or a red rooster coif, you knew they were family."
For a brief moment, glam cast a spell over a select few. Those who remember it still speak of it reverentially. In reflection, I miss the music of Bowie's early work. But if I look closely I realize what I mourn the most is a time and place that will never be again: the passing of youth and the spontaneity of that era. No more was there attention to the cut of a jacket, shoulder pads pointed to the sky, a scarf knotted just so. A pot of crème eye shadow, silent film star eyebrows, and skin tight satin overalls for those who could afford them.
For some of us, we stuffed our contraband in a bag and got ready in the bathrooms of gas stations, rather than sneaking passed our parents. Nothing was going to stop that train and we rode it to the end of the line.
Later, punk absorbed the overflow of lam, and every punk from Sid Vicious to Siouxsie Sioux paid their respects to Bowie's influence. Sifting through some writings, I found these snippets of Aladdin Sane, written while he was still with us, out of sight, but not out of mind. Safe travels, my man.
I musta been about 12 or 13 when I heard David Bowie's song "Starman." I sat still trying to catch the lyrics:
Didn't know what time it was, the lights were low-oh, leaned back on my radio-oh, some cat was layin' down some Rock & Roll, lotta soul, he said. Then the loud sound did seem to fade, came back like a slow voice on a wave of phase haze, there weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive.
(Insert "beep beep beep" sound effect here.)
What the...? My ears were thrilled and immediately did the gimme gimme dance. "Gimme gimme more." I wasn't sexed up and excited like rock & roll usually left me. I felt content. I think it was probably the first song to conjure up that feeling since The Tokens' "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."
I listened to the static beeping between the verse and the chorus and thought, "What's that weird little noise?" I asked everybody what it was. I even asked my stepbrother. "I don't know. Sounds like some... outer space signal. But that dude looks like a royal homo," he said.
I got pissed at him for knocking my new discovery. "My homo's from another galaxy," I sniffed, snottily. I asked a friend's brother who played the guitar and he said it was probably a Moog.
"What's a Moog!?" I shrieked. "For sure it was Morse code only spacelings could dance to on Jupiter, right?"
"No dumbass, it's a keyboard instrument."
Whatever. I like the cricket sounds, and Moog sounded like Droog, the characters from the film A Clockwork Orange. I walked around saying Moog and dropped it in conversations every chance I got. The stepbrothers' bong was now referred to as The Moog. I dug anything about space, forgotten worlds and old rock 'n roll, so naturally I loved this fey tune. But where this song merely told about radios, cosmos, TV and jive, Aladdin Sane, was all that and more. On Aladdin, the spaceman crashed-landed in America.
"Aladdin Sane was the picture of a hangover after a bad drug run to Earth. The result is his most harrowing, yet romantic work."
Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars was the album that broke the Spiders wide-open, critics and fans alike cited it as his best and memorable work, but I wavered. Ziggy was too perfect, too pretty, too mannered. Even the albums' scorchingest rockers sound contained. Aladdin Sane was the picture of a hangover after a bad drug run to Earth. The result is his most harrowing, yet romantic work. The warm tube amps were working overtime on Ziggy Stardust. On Aladdin, everything shorted out.
There's not a bad song on this album, but on first listen I wasn't digging on Bowie's version of the Stones "Let's Spend The Night Together." The only weak track, a dive bomb of shrieks, electronic whirring and whiz-bang let's throw in the kitchen sink while we're at it. Who tries to cover a classic Stones song on an album riddled with references of the same? The piano opener is bonkers and Bowie's yelp GEEKS IT THE FUCK OUT. And that's exactly what works for it. It jerks all over the place with a startling prance. It's an over the top peacock walk. When Bowie throws down a goofy "hoot!", I almost walked into a wall.
On "The Prettiest Star," he croons, "Cold fire, you've got everything but cold fire." I think of Gene Vincent and Anthony Newley. There web spinning guitar leads and needling high notes fuse the 50's handclaps with a cross pollinated metal charm. It's another nostalgic reflection from a bygone era of music hall piano and eye gazing pop gloss. This song made me swoon with teenage existential loneliness -- a smokey after hour's ballad. I give Aladdin Sane a thumbs up as a sexy Rock N Roll train wreck.
I believe that genius is made of three important ingredients: creative impulse, hard work and careful study. They are created, not born. Bowie was a genius at tapping into the collective subconscious of his audience.
So excuse me, Mister Spaceman, not that you're sitting around waiting for the arrival of my review, but could you get off your Soho couch and gimme gimme more of what you do best? Fire your band. All of them! Get Hunt and Tony Sales back. If they're busy, get some young dudes to play Bowie songs from Hunky Dory to Diamond Dogs for a Bowie tribute band. (Ha!) Get the best picks of the litter for a closed final audition. Whereupon you show up and make somebody's wildest dreams come true and you guide your career back to our loving arms.
One more for old times sake, Mister Jones, with glitter on top?