I spent the evening going through my old scrapbooks. It felt like the right thing to do. I needed to remind myself. I wanted to remember how it was, how it felt, all those years ago.
It had been nearly a week since I dragged myself out of bed after not having slept, with a hollow pain deep in my gut that I had no explanation for. As it was already late morning, I stumbled onto the computer to check email and twitter, to acquaint myself with the day, and I saw the news that David Bowie had died. That he had, in fact, been battling cancer for 18 months. It didn’t seem real.
It has been a long time since I was a superfan. A very long time. There was disbelief and shock, and it was an odd feeling I had, a vague sense that something huge had been lost, but it felt very far away at first. It was perhaps a blessing that I had so much work to do, that I could only glance at the outpouring of grief and remembrances. People I hadn’t heard from in years posted things to my Facebook page.
As the days went by, memories started flooding in and I began to remember. I began to feel. A lot.
None of the fans really understood why I stopped publishing my little Bowie newsletter and sold my collection, after being so devoted for 10 years. In my heyday, I followed tours, attended many, many shows, met fans and former associates and bought everything in my general vicinity having to do with him. And then I just stopped. For the record, it all got to be too much. Not the artist, nor his wonderful music, but everything else that madly swirled around him. All that other “stuff” got in the way of the art and kept me from enjoying it all purely, as I once had. But I never stopped being a fan.
From the moment I was introduced to Bowie’s music by a boy I met at a technical school we were both attending, I was entranced. It was just before Let’s Dance came out, and I gravitated toward the Low/Heroes/Lodger trilogy — especially Low. There was something about that sense of isolation, the alienation, the continuous searching, the yearning, the endless endeavors and failings, not feeling quite right in one’s own skin, that I immediately identified with. I’ve always felt different from the mainstream, apart from others, and Bowie bestowed his blessing on all of us who were trying to forge our own way alone, through uncharted lands. He was a shining beacon, a knowledgeable guide, a mystical sherpa. As he proclaimed in “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide,” “And you’re not alone, let’s turn on and be not alone, give me your hands, ’cause you’re wonderful, oh give me your hands!”
The first concerts I saw were his two shows in Hartford, Connecticut, during the Serious Moonlight Tour in 1983. His Let’s Dance album wasn’t a particular favorite, but that just happened to be my timing. Other albums that hold a special place in my heart, then and forever, are the Space Oddity album (Man of Words, Man of Music), The Man Who Sold The World and Hunky Dory. Plus the very early song, “Conversation Piece.” So many of those songs, I felt, he was singing just to me. He understood. He was a kindred spirit.
In an almost continuous wave of serendipity, I began meeting fellow fans, collectors, minor legends and all sorts of interesting characters. It was a magical Felliniesque odyssey. Just ahead of his Glass Spider album and tour, I started a Bowie newsletter with legendary Bowie fan Rose Winters (who had collaborated with the equally legendary David Jeffrey Fletcher on “David Robert Jones Bowie: the discography of a generalist, 1962-1979”). Our humble little photocopied newsletter then morphed into Sound & Vision, which for a short while was printed on colored paper to thwart extensive copying among non-subscribers but which never worked. Ah, those quaint pre-Internet days. And the concerts — oh god, the concerts! From arenas across the U.S. starting in 1983 to massive festival crowds in 1987, mostly outdoors, in Rotterdam, Belgium, Germany, Italy, England, Sweden, Austria, France, Spain. Exciting exclusive press conferences on both sides of the pond. A scrappy Tin Machine show at a dodgy club called The World on the Lower East Side and a later one on their next tour at the intimate and wonderful Toad’s Place in New Haven. An improbable “Sound & Vision Fan Convention” in L.A., loosely based around a Tin Machine live taping at LAX for an “In Concert” TV broadcast. Nutty adventures with friends in a kaleidoscope of cities. Corresponding with and trading with fans all over the world. The memories (and half dozen scrapbooks) I’ve saved are just as much of the interesting people I’ve met as they are of the man’s music, all part of the same glorious experience.
It’s a few weeks after his passing now, with so many articles and tributes talking about the music, the art, the movies, the fashion, the sense of oneself as a unique individual, fearlessly sharing your gifts with the world. That last one is perhaps the most valuable for me personally, as I wrestle with an endless parade of mid-life crises that I’ve been struggling with since age 15. So yes, this is mostly about me, just as writing about Bowie, for anyone, turns out to be just as much about the observer as it is the observed. The message and the messenger and all that. The message, of course, is to celebrate your uniqueness, however odd you may be to yourself and others, and to value that uniqueness in others, without casting judgement. And that’s one hell of a legacy.
From The Archives
‘Early On’ (Rhino Records) Liner Notes
Sound & Vision Newsletter Excerpts
A Sampling of the 1987 European Road Trip