I believe I first met David Bowie through his music, as I am sure we all did save for those truly personal and up close to him who met him however it is that one meets rock-n-roll stars in the real. For you, your first encounter with Bowie may have been at a concert or some more intimate experience, or you danced about to the radio. I imagine you had some life changing moment and could tell me about it. I hate to say, I was around a great deal of music as my parent was a musician and my co-parent an artist, but I cannot pretend I had some I was a child then listened to Bowie and was an adult experience. I more became aware of Bowie, as one may become aware of growing older, or that the mouldering cheese in the fridge was not mouldering right and the blue was more greenish or the grey was had too much blue in it and I wish I had that moment when the Pan Sexual(TM) manchild danced across the soundscape made me change my gender.
But, he didn’t.
We kids had a grandparent, and that grandparent did not believe much about life and family other than that children should be seen and not heard and to make sure they aren’t heard they need to hear HBO, Showtime, or Cinemax in order to keep they glued to the tube. On one or all of those stations, the film Absolute Beginners was on sometimes around 1986 or 1987 – before our grandparent died. Our window on the world was HBO and as I recall the film played several times that day and perhaps other days but our life was messy then and we didn’t have much of a schedule. I didn’t see the movie for some reason I always caught the flick at the end when Bowie’s anthem was playing. We didn’t have a TeeVee Guide or perhaps we did. I know nothing about the actual movie. Perhaps it’s shit. I must have heard his music prior to this, but in this music listening there was not any “before” and “after” moment as I can say for The Talking Heads or Nirvana or Stairway to Heaven. There just was there general awareness of David Bowie. He was everywhere, even in a house where music was frowned upon, he was hiding in placed our parent could not find.
Then, there was the film Labyrinth. This Labyrinth film we watched as many times in the theatre as we could as back then, that’s how one saw films. When Labyrinth came on HBOCinimaxShowtime, we binge watched it. A video store opened and we rented this flick (ask your parents what a video store is). This was sanctioned Bowie by our parent. It was not until I was working full-time that unsanctioned David Bowie was someone I could understand, someone I waited for to come on the radio [this author did not have money for tapes or CDs apparently]. This was in the days where we didn’t have computers to play what we wanted and without records or CDs (Compact Disks), one had to wait until the song came on the radio or pay $12 for the goddamn thing and minimum wage was $3.94 or $4.25 for shitsake. To listen to something you wanted to you had to have friends or money or both or just money or just friends. When you don’t have money, unless you make the music yourself, you had to pay for it back then.
Thankfully there was WPDH, 104.7 FM radio. This station, like HBOCinimaxShowtime, played the same songs over and over, especially as they were bought by some larger company and no longer were a truly local station. I didn’t know when that happened. But, I do know they played Major Tom quite a bit. I worked along with Bowie. Mopping floors. Scraping eggs out of pans. You know how hard it is to get eggs out of pans? The fans blew, and we turned the song up higher. No Berlin Bowie, no Sound and Vision, a little Ziggy, once in a while Let’s Dance or Young Americans, and indeed I was young back then. It was a strange time, and my consumption was alighted with whatever was playing as I mopped the sweating counters off of chicken blood or whatever.
When I got into college, I got a little more Bowie. They played it in the Mug, some bar under the ground that the students went to. Still, less money, no radio, I relied on listening to jukebox hero anthems and petty one-offs in dorm room parties and hey, isn’t that Bowie? It was, and everyone about me knew more about him, and I knew just enough, I knew the Young American, I knew what was on WPDH, on HBO, I remembered the old songs but owned no album of his. When I was in Europe, I tried and failed to be the Young American. You apparently can’t get laid as an American with bad teeth; that privilege belonged to Europeans or Bowie.
After college, the clubs of New York City, the rise of the Internet, and about a million other changes in life. Lime wire, Pirate Cove or club or some shit, I downloaded the fu ck out of David Bowie music. All the albums. It was 1967 again, it was 1972, it was all the years I missed out on and more. For a while I guess I binged on Bowie. I was like some kid from outer space. Who hadn’t heard all those old songs?
After after college, I moved and moved again and grew up at least in body or that is I got older.
I was upstate. Bowie was upstate. I wanted to meet Bowie. You wanted to meet Bowie.
I worked just outside of Guitarville. But, as with the rest of my life, my timing was off. I was alone when I needed to be with others, old when I needed to be young, well when I needed to be sick, and always always not in the right place but just behind. Oh, Bowie was just here for coffee, at the cafe. Oh I just saw Bowie leave, he just picked up his kid, he just went over there, he wasn’t ever at magic meadow he had dinner with Uma and me, he was across the street just now, but you were angry and preoccupied, and you missed him. I missed so much and so many people, those I loved and so many I hated but never had the chance to tell them that to their face. Bowie was yet another fame ghost in my drudge radio life.
Once, I saw what was purported to be his house on the ridge. A huge house is just sitting there plop dag bam on the top of the ridge outside of Guitarville, just I got all this money, and I’m married to a supermodel, and I’m a rock star, and I’m here on a cliff type of house. Goddamn it Trevor, we should burn it down, or just plant trees over it or some other act, but we didn’t nor knew if this was his house. Or maybe that house belonged to someone else. I never rang the doorbell, never stalked whoever could afford that house. So. I guess. I’ll never know. Who lived and loved there, we did not know, and, as it turned out, we never would.
The years went on, and I moved and moved again and lost and found people and technology got more informal and simpler to find and Bowie now as on demand. I listened to Bowie. Even the obscure shit.
Then I forgot about meeting Bowie. I had my chance. I didn’t discover him when I was young. I didn’t become obsessed with him and find some life changing moment. Ashes to Ashes maybe or not saved my life, but I was old by then, and so was the tune. I was back in the city and back to work and back to getting older and technology made music beam through the walls and all my CDs the few I had ever owned were perhaps in the trash or maybe my ex-spouse still had them in the basement…
And then Bowie died.
And I was sad. But I had no Bowie anthem. No story of that time when we both did something grrea.
He turns out to have lived just a block away from where I was working now. The streets of SOHO I walked every lunch hour could have been a chance meeting or maybe a sighting and even as he was sicker and recording the last album maybe just maybe….
But no. My timing was off. I would never meet Bowie. He was dead. We say he is not here, but that is because he is dead and we no longer know how to talk about that.
I went to the memorial and watched a friend place flowers. Then the next day I was given flowers, and I placed them there too.
I would love to say I had some moment with Bowie’s music, but I didn’t. I had many moments. Small moments. Mopping the floor. Sitting in bed with headphones on. Blasting out my ratty rattling speakers in the car. Dancing to it at a bar. Being drunk and strung out at home sad and alone. Together with friends. At a cafe with someone, I loved or perhaps I was at a cafe with strangers just sitting there doing time before the next something. There was no defining moment and no personal contact not even a moment of “oh shit I just saw Bowie” and this made me more sadness than ever as I thought about it. I visited his memorial in Gotham, knowing that his heart and mine was upstate in the Catskills. But, bethatasitmay, I lay my flowers and thought.
He died without knowing me. He died without ever meeting. I would have loved to have sipped tea with him. And of course, I need not tell him I loved his music. He’d already have known that. What with the money I still owe him from all those illegal downloads. The reason I never had an “ah ha” moment with David Bowie was because he was always playing in the background. We get used to these people being in our lives. Even if only distant and through music. And now, sadly, he is gone.
Editor’s Note: This is a rather rambling essay with far too many words, not enough pictures, and really little solid point. We are going to publish it anyway because the author writes for free.