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13 February 2016

David Bowie

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David Bowie and I have a long history.

I was introduced to his music by my first guitar teacher, Terry Keller, who advised my parents to buy me Pin Ups and Station to Station for Christmas in the early 80s. Terry also taught me a bunch of songs – including Ziggy Stardust, Hang On To Yourself, and Starman – which led to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, and David Live. I also spent time with Hunky Dory, Heroes, and Scary Monsters, although Low – which is now my favorite Bowie album – Lodger, and Young Americans didn’t register as powerfully at the time.

Like everyone my age, I was all over Let’s Dance in 1983: Modern Love, China Girl, and the #1 hit single Let’s Dance. (I am just now reminded that the Giorgio Moroder collaboration, Cat People (Putting Out Fire) – the theme song to a 1982 “erotic horror film” starring Nastassja Kinski – was also on that album.) I saw Bowie four times on the Serious Moonlight tour, including the 1983 US Festival where – in addition to the famous U2 set where Bono climbed the scaffolding during The Electric Co. – I experienced a small portion of the set list on the left. 

As I write this, I feel simultaneously grateful to my mother for taking me to the rock event of the year, and resentful for making me leave early. I mean, we were there specifically to see Bowie! But I was 13, and it was a school night, so we left after the sixth song. He played sixteen more!!!

Luckily, that wasn’t my only opportunity to see Bowie in that era. There were two shows at the Fabulous Forum in Los Angeles – August 14th and 15th, 1983 – and another at Anaheim Stadium on September 9th. I don’t remember much about the Forum, except that it was awesome and I went with the aforementioned guitar teacher, Terry Keller, and my barber – Tom Barillier – who was also a guitar player and has helped me out with my website in recent years. I’m still friends with those guys, 23 years later. There’s more to say about the Anaheim Stadium show, a spectacular triple bill with The Go-Gos and Madness, whose presence theoretically justifies the extra dollar in the ticket price. I was supposed to go with Terry, but there was a snafu: the Hillman family answering machine captured a conversation that contained – shall we say – incriminating aspects, and we were separated. It’s unfortunate, because Terry was only minimally guilty. And, for whatever reason, I still got to go! Instead of Terry – a genuine adult – I went with a friend and his older brother and his older brother’s friends, who were seniors in high school and much riskier. We missed Madness because of traffic – I also missed most of U2 because of traffic, when they opened for the J. Geils Band at the Los Angeles Sports Area on March 27th, 1982 – but saw all of the Go-Gos and Bowie; Bowie played the set list below.

After all that excitement, my interest waned. It may also have had to do with the follow-up album, Tonight, and it’s tepid single; Blue Jean reached #8 in the U.S., but did not capture my imagination. I passed on the Glass Spider tour in October 1987, because it seemed like a big production even compared to Serious Moonlight. It was, if I’m not mistaken, “theatrical,” and featured choreography by Toni Basil of Oh Mickey You’re So Fine fame.

It wasn’t until the early 2000s that Bowie and I “crossed paths” again. On the first night of my first European tour with Suzanne Vega, I had dinner with John Giddings, who was Suzanne’s agent but also Bowie’s. He called Bowie “The Dame,” but acted like he was a regular person, which seemed incongruous. If Giddings offered up any anecdotes, I’ve forgotten them, but it did feel as if I was a step away from greatness.

Not long after that, David Bowie broke up my band. On that first European tour, Suzanne Vega’s guitar player was Gerry Leonard, who is spectacular. So spectacular, in fact, that he found his way onto Bowie’s radar. Bowie went to see Gerry’s atmospheric, improvisational solo act, Spooky Ghost, at the incredibly small first location of the Living Room in New York City, and soon invited him to join the band.

The problem was, Suzanne Vega was left without a guitar player. At the time, I was performing as a duo with Billy Masters, whose style had something in common with Gerry’s. Gerry recommended Billy for the Vega gig, and I was a solo act once more. I joke about a “stolen guitar player,” but the truth is that this was an ideal situation. Billy wasn’t making much money with me, nor was he getting much exposure. So, Gerry’s upgrade enabled an upgrade for Billy, and everyone was happy since I didn’t really need a guitar player.

(Gerry, incidentally, was part of The Next Day, the “secret” album that came out in 2013. He has been asked about that – and the overall Bowie experience – a lot lately, including here and here.)

I was shocked when I woke up to discover that Bowie had died. There’s been a lot of that lately – Lemmy, Glen Frey, Paul Kantner, Dan Hicks, etc. – but Bowie’s death shook me. Why? I have no idea. I didn’t expect him to live forever, but he’d always been around and – for what it’s worth – played a role in my life. Of course, what matters is the music, and we’ll always have that.

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