In the late ’60s and 1970s, some of my babysitters were young men. That’s how I learned about the musician and singer David Bowie. Cool. David Bowie. Bowie’s music flowed from the streets, to our home, from our home to the college campuses we lived on or near. Music was everywhere, jazz, classical, rock ‘n’ roll, blues.
I was a toddler, and then a kindergartner, and a soon-to-be first-grader, living on college campuses with my graduate school parents. My Dad started gigging in jazz clubs when he was a pre-teen. Most people I knew played an instrument. Life was great because of my parents’ album collection, my Dad’s live bass-fiddle playing, and the ubiquitous college kids who babysat my sibling and me. Despite the trauma of the Civil Rights Era, my life as a toddler and a child of the ’60s was great because of music, including David Bowie music.
Sometimes my babysitters were young ladies, but a lot of times they were couples, and sometimes, gentle-voiced young fellows.
My babysitters introduced me to “Space Oddity,” (1969), “Starman,” (1972), “Rebel, Rebel,” (1974), “Heroes,” (1977). I remember “Rebel, Rebel,” as somewhat confusing, slightly upsetting, and therefore to be skipped due to the reference of a torn dress. It wasn’t until I was older that I even heard the refrain “Hot tramp, I love you sooooooo.”
When you are a little girl whose BFFs are college kids from all over the world, music is mother’s milk. Life does not get better than frisbee, dogs, and rock music.
In a dorm room, I encountered a poster of a red-haired someone with a flash across the eye. That’s David Bowie. “Ziggy” from Outer Space. Cool. Outer Space. The Moon? Sure.
College kids listened to songs like “Major Tom,” and “Ashes to Ashes,” with its warning “… mama said, To get things done, you better not mess with Major Tom.” I learned early on how culture trumps strategy by listening to David Bowie. What is the need for a War on Drugs policy when you have the life stories of David Bowie set to music as a warning.
When “Modern Love” came out, I remember being confused. How could this man be Bowie? David Bowie is Ziggy Stardust from Outer Space. (I was familiar with “Changes,” but still didn’t get the whole persona-change thing until much later.)
Now, with the release of his last album Blackstar (2016), and the unfathomable announcement of his passing just days after, I cringe at the Elder David Bowie because I do not want to accept his latest change. This is selfish, on my part. This also puts me squarely in the fan category when in fact, I’ve always seen myself as a friend of David Bowie.
The Elder David Bowie, the father, husband, friend, neighbor, and theater-performer, deserves my attention. When I listen to this latest incarnation of David Bowie, I honor his right to evolve. It is my job to manage the emotional cacophony his loss provokes.
The David Bowie tributes flooding the Internet disturb me. I love them, though.
(How can I ever be a kid again?)
David Bowie’s Blackstar (2016), brings darkness to my door. It is brilliant and devastating. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Gail Taylor writes, researches, takes photos, reads books, listens to lots of music, cooks for loved ones.