I’ve heard a rumor from Ground Control/oh no don’t say it’s true…
When I was 13, a year after my parents divorced, I was untethered, unmoored. Everything I’d known about my life was gone. I’d been a deluded happy kid. Suddenly, everything was different. I had to be responsible for things: the house, my sister, dinner, myself. I liked music in the way people like a warm day. I owned a couple albums: The soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz, an ABBA 45 (Dancing Queen), Billy Joel’s Piano Man, and a Steve Martin comedy album Comedy is Not Pretty. I listened to the radio and had a lot of favorite songs but I didn’t know who the artists were. After the divorce, I went through an existential crisis. What did I like? How would I find out what I liked? How did people discover music they liked? I didn’t have a clue. My father had nothing but opera and classical music albums. He took good care of them. I was not allowed to touch them. My mother liked the Beatles (I own her original trashed copies) but she was a horrible steward of records. No inner sleeves remain. That was it.
News guy wept and told us…..
After the divorce, other albums appeared like magic in the house. I played them to death: Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life, Paul Simon’s Still Crazy after all these Years, Carly Simon’s Boys in the Trees. I have no idea if my mother even liked them or where they came from. She also had a record of Irish dance music. I played them all. But….what did I like? Me? Beside these few things? I knew the songs on the radio that I liked but how would I ever know who sang them? I was living in a world disconnected to the world other people lived in. One foot in a fog of childhood and another in some halfway house filled with cool kids who weren’t divulging their secrets.
Something happened on the day he died/Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside.
I spent the night at my best friend’s house across the street. We were looking through a stack of records and I pulled one out. The cover was black and white, slightly sepia toned. An old fashioned face, pensive stare, hair brylcremed back from his wide forehead. What’s this? Changesone? We played it.
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear…
Oh! I know that song! John, I’m only dancing, you turn me on…. And that one! …what you like is in the limo… And…..I fell in love. The dots were connected. Neural pathways were created in my brain. I could feel them. The voice of this man was something that took me out of this world and put me squarely in it at the same time. I could feel my soul as a living thing, like a heart beat but more. WHO WAS THIS?
We can be heroes, just for one day…
I’d discovered David Bowie and my life was never the same again. By the time I was 14, I got a $10 a week allowance. A record store opened in the shopping area two blocks from my house. It was a long street full of boring stores – vacuum cleaner repair store, “foundations” shop (strange bras and corset like things in the window), a restaurant or two, a store where you could get pot decals put on t-shirts or Robert Crumb’s Keep on Truckin dude. Shirts you’d have to hide from your parents. But now I had a Mecca. I was no longer interested in t-shirts. I wanted Bowie albums. How many were there?
Skull designs upon my shoes…
A lot. I bought one a week. Each one matching my allowance money. I couldn’t buy anything else but I didn’t need anything else. I’d found my thing. I’d found love and happiness and my raison d’etre. With each album I was introduced to something new. Something I’d never heard before. Did I like this? Maybe, maybe not. Over time, overwhelmingly YES. My ears and my brain had to continually readjust themselves. Take it all in. Accept it. Love it. No two albums were the same. He was different in each one. How could such a man exist? How lucky was I to have found him?
And the song went on forever….
He saved me. He saved me from teetering over the edge, into the abyss. He was a religion. A savior. He introduced me to a world I’d never known existed. Iggy Pop, Tom Verlaine, Talking Heads, Velvet Underground, Lou Reed…each tentacle slithering along the ground to other bands, other artists. He appeared in films! I grew to appreciate Berlin, Japan, Australia. Where ever he was, I was there.
I can’t give everything…
I saw him three times in concert – once during the Serious Moonlight tour and twice during the Glass Spider tour – and then I got serious about college. And finding a job. And living a life. I carried him with me but I couldn’t buy his albums, I no longer got an allowance. I had to pay the utilities first.
Don’t believe for one second I’m forgetting you…
I lost the thread somewhere along the line. House, marriage, children. Not the love, just my way. I lost my way. I kept my spyglass aimed at his star in the sky through the window but it was a harder one to see. Because I’d forgotten myself. I forgot who I used to be. That girl. That girl who’d attained a larger soul in 1979. Perhaps she’d stuck it in a horcrux. It lay dormant for years and years.
He took it all too far/But, boy, could he play guitar….
And then, life turned on me again. Upside down. I had to find myself again. Another divorce (my own) brought me back to where the first one had dumped me. Who was I? Where was the person I’d been? I had to reinvent myself. And who better to teach the lesson of reinvention than my soul teacher Bowie? Here was his new album. In my hands. New hands. A born again virgin with a black star in her palm. I remember, I remember. Yes. This is who I am. This was the start. The alpha and omega. The beginning and end and the beginning. Absolute beginners.