by Madeline Bocaro
There’s a crack in the sky and a hand reaching down to me.
That’s how Bowie entered our world. We were the teens of the 1970s – the lucky ones. He raised us as our wise sage, respecting that we could comprehend much more than our own parents thought we could. He understood us. They taught us to be ordinary. Bowie gave us Kabuki, Mishima, Genet, Gitanes, the occult, Dada, Schiele, Krautrock, outer space A Clockwork Orange, Warhol, Isherwood’s Berlin… Let all the children boogie.
It was thrilling to see him in concert, and to anticipate each Bowie album in the 70s, wondering what David might look like on each album cover. He always blew our minds; wearing a ‘man’s dress’, his gorgeous glamorous face, half man/half dog, a lightning flash dividing his face, a Pin up with Twiggy…
We became accustomed to his years of silence. It was nice just knowing he was still around, taking it all in. Now the world mourns his passing. But many will never know the intimacy we had, growing up with Bowie, living through all of his changes – immersed in his world. The isolation we felt in a teenage daydream (when NOBODY understood why we adored ‘that freak’) was written into all of his songs. He came from the future. We were his pretty things.
Bowie portrayed someone alien, but he was really the opposite. He was one of us. A young man, lonely, confused, searching, tormented, human. He craved, exploited and later rejected fame. Bowie used rock n’ roll, but he was so much more than a rock star.
We yearned for our next lesson from him. “I’m just the space cadet – he’s the commander!” What would Bowie reveal next? Who would he become? His music was atmospheric, his lyrics foretelling and enlightening. It all flashes before my eyes. When I close them, I can see the revolving orange label of the RCA Dynaflex albums!
Dislocation. A detached astronaut floating in space, strangely comfortable with his situation. Perhaps he cut the cord himself.
We had a friend, a talking man / Who spoke of many powers that he had …We used him / We let him use his powers / We let him fill our needs / Now we are strong.
Bowie questions mortality, death, religion, good and evil – When God did take my logic for a ride… He sings of a saviour machine, which scorns humanity and begs to be destroyed.
A glamorous cover shot – he’s gone blonde. Dietrich circa 1946. David imparts the Buddhist principle of ‘Changes’ – Turn and face the strange. We evolve together. Impressions of his New York City idols – ‘Andy Warhol looks a scream‘. An ode to Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, ‘Queen Bitch’ – ‘Some V.U. white light returned with thanks.’ And a song for Robert Zimmerman.
I’m not a prophet or a stone-age man / Just a mortal with the potential of a superman / I’m living on… (How did he know?)
He landed on Heddon Street. Ziggy looked like an alien, but he was simply a gorgeous, visionary boy from Brixton with an incredible voice, who pointed us toward the infinite. Most of Bowie’s songs are full of darkness and dismay, yet they bring feelings of brightness and joy. Therein lies the magic.
We all have films in our heads depicting the ‘Five Years’ before earth’s demise. As no videos exist, we each see the Aylesbury market square differently. The soldier, the Cadillac, the girl hitting the children, the black guy, the cop, the priest, the ice cream parlor – the decline of humanity before its time was up. Bleak and poignant. Bowie was only 25.
Ziggy singled us out personally. Millions of us! I had to phone someone so I picked on YOU. Bowie was our radio. A small voice on a wave of phase with his hazy cosmic jive. David turned us on to The Velvet Underground & Lou Reed, and Iggy Pop & The Stooges. He saved Mott The Hoople. David frequently referenced his friend Marc Bolan and T. Rex. Thank god for them all. Thank god for Bowie. We sought out other fans who became our lifelong friends, since our schoolmates could share nothing of the glory that we knew.
It was pure theater – choreographed and precise. Thanks to his wife Angie for styling Ziggy and the Spiders, and orchestrating the dramatics early on. But for David it was all too real – Ziggy sucked up into his mind. Ziggy was visible in brief flickering moments. The stage shows were dimly lit, and photographers banned. The more fleeting the images, the more we craved to see. It became an addiction – an obsession. It doesn’t take much to enrapture a fourteen year old, and this was over the top. The hype worked beautifully. Less is more.
Ziggy sang, Gimme your hands, cause you’re wonderful. We grasped his hands and never let go. Just before Ziggy’s demise he told us, I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain / You’re not alone / Just turn on with me… Then Ziggy was gone. “This is the last show that we will ever do. Bye bye, we love you.” But Bowie never left us.
Los Angeles broke him. Hollywood highs. Paranoia. Weird vibes and strange rituals. Subsisting on milk, peppers and cocaine…(these items – sans the cocaine – were left by a fan at his Hollywood memorial site). We thought this was all crazy, cool and decadent, unaware of the toll it was taking on his body and mind.
It’s hard enough to keep formation with this fall out saturation…
Bowie is a stunning canine freak on Pellaert’s cover art (based on a pose by Josephine Baker). Using Burroughs’ technique, Bowie cuts up lyrics and rearranges them. Still, they make sense to us somehow – all jumbled and cryptic. We decipher them in our bedrooms, sometimes alone, or with a cherished friend.
And in the death, as the last few
corpses lay rotting on the slimy thoroughfare… This ain’t rock n’ roll / This is genocide!
Droog-like street gangs reappear. The future is hopeless. (Meanwhile the Sex Pistols were forming, who soon would declare ‘No future’). The Diamond Dogs are poachers and they hide behind trees / Hunt you to the ground they will, mannequins with kill appeal. It all takes place in the apocalyptic Hunger City – the first elaborate theatrical stage set with blood-dripping buildings, built for the Diamond Dogs tour.
The funky ‘1984’ with its Barry White / Shaft styled strings. Orwellian themes.
A sick society yearns for a leader to subjugate them – Someone to claim us, someone to follow / Someone to shame us, some brave Apollo / Someone to fool us, someone like you / We want you Big Brother. An extended theme of The Stooges’ ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’.
The 1980 Floor Show on Midnight Special beams Bowie into American homes from the Marquee Club. Amanda Lear as hostess. Erte styled dancers denote the cobwebs of time. Outrageous costumes; Space Samurai pulls away to reveal the Dadaist keyhole leotard. Censored mannequin hands, Angel of Death feathered corset. A strange Marianne Faithfull duet.
Double album, Tower Theater, Philly. Shoulder pads. In the Cracked Actor documentary – Bowie is emaciated and unwell. He drinks milk and mimes to Aretha in the back of a limo driving through Los Angeles. Songs from Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs. It morphed into the Plastic Soul tour after the recording of Young Americans began. Some fans left the theater. I didn’t.
The first time Bowie became a black star. Philadelphia, plastic soul. Ain’t there one damn song that can make me break down and cry?
‘Fame’ with John Lennon. Gotta get a rain check on pain. Coked up and emaciated on the Dick Cavett show. Crazy duets with Cher on television.
Bowie fit the alien part perfectly. A million shades of orange hair. In the end he lives forever. Stuck on earth, sort of like now, only his body has left us. So many parallels with Thomas Jerome Newton in Bowie’s own life – past and future.
Station to Station
The Thin White Duke’s white lines. It’s not the side effects of the cocaine / I’m thinking that it must be love
Stark, stunning black and white stage lights.
Expressionism. Suave and elegant in a monochrome suit by Ola Hudson. Chain smoking Gitanes. High kicks and slick moves. Dali / Bunuel film as the opening act, and Kraftwerk music.
Written during the emergence of punk rock. Incomparable. Eno and his EMS synth. ‘A New Career in a New Town’ (France, then Germany). Starting over, yet still in turmoil. Another low. Drifting into my solitude / Over my head
Always Crashing in the Same Car’. Making the same mistakes.
A beautiful, mostly wordless B-side. Serene – synth sounds. The antithesis of punk rock’s violence.
In Berlin, by the wall, with Eno’s Oblique strategies to guide them. Stunning Sukita cover photo, Egon Schiele style. Fripp’s dazzling guitar wails.
‘Heroes’ is one of the greatest songs of all time, illuminating East Berlin’s dreadful plight. First he sings in a low key, wistful, smothered by the Wall. Dreaming of escape, of stealing time …just for one day. Then an octave jump, as the music swells. Shouting, frantic, defiant, victorious! ‘Heroes’ made us all feel sublime and fearless – above anything. But then he is doubtful, revisiting mortality / reality in the last verse…We’re nothing, and nothing will help us / Maybe we’re lying, then you better not stay / But we could be safer, just for one day
instrumental B-side. Stunning, lamenting and tranquil. A koto on ‘Moss Garden’. Woeful wailing sax on ‘Neukoln’. ‘Subterraneans’ for the East Berliners. A foreboding: ‘Sense of Doubt’.
Tomorrow belonged to us.
A travelogue. ‘Red Sails’. ‘Fantastic Voyage’ – In the event that this fantastic voyage / Should turn to erosion and we never get old / Remember it’s true, dignity is valuable / But our lives are valuable too
A million dreams / a million scars ‘Because You’re Young’. He knew.
A sad update on Major Tom …hitting an all time low.
Then we turned 25, and he turned 33. This is just a fragment of what Bowie gave us. It was all so heavy, prescient and sublime, but he always gave us a wink and a smile. In the end, he was overcome by quicksand, but he’s still got the power. Bowie will be as much a part of our future as he was in our past.
There are so many false idols being worshipped these days. I’m so glad that Bowie is mine.