Why are my eyes watering after Bowie stepped off the wheel? While he lived I felt little human connection to the self-professed faker; he was much too fast to take that test. But it seems like I spent most of the '70s with the Zigman, and kept returning to that music decade after decade. Huh -- he made a huge impression. Opened doors when I was facing my own changes. And set a matchless standard for songwriting, performance and creativity. A motherhumping artist of the highest order. Now I remember . . .
Early 1972. Friend Jack makes me listen to "Hunky Dory," Bowie's fourth album. (DB released his first at the age of 20 in 1967, the same day as "Sgt. Pepper.") I'm grabbed by the nasty rock of "Queen Bitch," the foggy mystery of "The Bewlay Brothers" and the stagy melodic gymnastics of "Life on Mars."
Mid-1972. Hearing that Bowie has delivered a more rock-oriented concept album, I push to the front of the line to buy "Ziggy Stardust." At first the gelatinous eunuchry of the Spiders From Mars makes me think Bowie's heart pumps no true rocker blood, then I'm captured by the strength of the songs and realize he's tossed a volatile mixture into the eternal test tube. I pick up the RCA reissue of 1970's "The Man Who Sold the World," Bowie's failed attempt to intellectualize Black Sabbath; its blunt heaviness gives me a headache. I disapprove the reissue of 1969's "Space Oddity" on technical grounds: "Check ignition" -- what's the astronaut doing, cranking up his Cortina? Is he going to snack on protein pills RIGHT NOW? Did he FORGET to put on his helmet?
Late 1972. Now a devoted acolyte of limpwrist pop via Bowie, T. Rex and Sparks, I ask my women friends to cake my face with girly makeup (complete with Marilyn Monroe beauty mark) for a photograph. I interview myself for my college newspaper in the persona of androgynous rocker "Onan Sideria" and seduce myself in print.
1973. Purchased in downtown Spokane on infuriating RCA Flexi-Disc, "Aladdin Sane" presents the full baroque realization of Bowie's starman concept. "The Jean Genie," "Panic in Detroit" and "Cracked Actor" rock like a bitch behind Mick Ronson's filthy, squealing guitar; Mike Garson's flourishing piano dissonances escort "Time" and the title cut into smoky dens of Weimar decadence. The music (a sonic response to the Stones' "Exile") runs so thick and deep that I haven't found the bottom to this day. Meanwhile, Bowie has saved the careers of Mott the Hoople, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop with his colorful production on "All the Young Dudes," "Transformer" and "Raw Power."
1974. Since Los Angeles has gained a reputation as America's Glam Central, I move here hoping to meet Bowie. He's gone, but I find Iggy wearing a filmy gown at Rodney's English Disco and dance with him. I hole up with Bowie's new "Diamond Dogs" and absorb its post-apocalyptic rent-boy excess, an atmosphere reflected vividly on the streets outside my Hollywood slumdump -- "You've torn your dress and your face is a mess." Proofreading a cheap Bowie bio at a Glendale pulp printer, I learn that the singer began his showbiz career as a mime. I tape Bowie's 1972 Spiders From Mars recording from the Santa Monica Civic off KMET-FM and get a charge from its electricity level, way higher than the pre-'73 albums. That flashback of rock energy makes Bowie's September live show at Universal Amphitheater all the sadder; he's decided he's a soul singer and is making a tool of himself, ruining his still-fresh classics with funk and Latin grooves.
1975. But, well, then I get "Young Americans" at Peaches on Hollywood Boulevard, and it makes me rethink the whole Black Bowie thing. Although his breathy grunting still sounds ridiculous, his love for Philly soul infuses genuine emotion into "Right" and "Fascination" in the same way that his love for the bathetic Euro balladry of Jacques Brel redeemed "My Death" and his own "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide." "Fame" raises the possibility that Bowie may save John Lennon's career as well; too bad that didn't pan out.
1976. Bowie portrays his own image in Nicolas Roeg's paranoid-atmospheric "The Man Who Fell to Earth," a movie I still never pass up a chance to engorge. (Candy Clark! Rip Torn!) The Thin White Duke further revives his sci-fi credentials by choosing a still from the film as the cover of "Station to Station," a collection of harrowing funk grooves that remains a late-night go-to for me 40 years later. And what I just said about Euro bathos? After all his posing, Bowie's desperate prayer "Word on a Wing" finally pierces my heart all the way through.
1977. Brian Eno's alchemical sound processing endows "Low" (so named because Bowie was trying not to get high for a while) and "Heroes" with robot sensuality, and Bowie applies those lessons the same year to his production of Iggy's "The Idiot" and "Lust for Life," which heat me hotter than David's own contemporary abstract Berlin efforts. At Iggy's Santa Monica Civic show I'm boggled to behold Bowie as sideman, banging keyboards and singing backup in ominous shadows cast by two big slow-pulsing white plastic hemispheres.
1978. Punk has sprunked in L.A.; the Masque has opened across from my Hollywood dump. And, like other former Bowie fans such as Darby Crash and the Weirdos, I've started a band. Bowie is now too sophisticated for me.
1983. I attend a warehouse party where all the cool kids are hailing Bowie's new "Let's Dance." Curious about Stevie Ray Vaughan on guitar and Nile Rodgers producing, I'm shocked to experience the thinnest, stiffest, most awkward thing DayBo has ever done; he even botches Iggy's poignant "China Girl." I give up.
2016. In the intervening years, every snippet of Bowie I hear sounds equally thin and stiff. Has he established a final image as the Thin Stiff Dork? Was Angie Bowie (they divorced in 1980) the power behind the throne? I continue to respect him but have no use for his living, breathing art. Then he dies of cancer, and I download the new "Blackstar." It's subtle, jazzy, thoughtful, poetic, melodious, original and quietly passionate, and I miss the hell out of Bowie like some old love. I pray for a messenger to greet him in the Ever; a hummingbird appears in a flash and zips away to the east, a word on a wing.
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PHOTOS BY FUZZY BOWI.