I can still see them. My two best music friends. Those two girls. They were two of my dearly beloved mischievous classmates and they were teasing me with their wink of an eye look to each other. “Hey Steve, you’ve got to check out Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust.” They just kept giggling like the fellow 6th Graders they were and knowing that I was ready to accept Bowie down the line. I already knew Bowie from the resurgence of “Space Oddity” as a result of the popularity of The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. But it was one of those cases where my friends actually were ahead of the game on me. Little did I know how roughly 43 years later that this moment shared between us would turn into an encapsulation of something even greater as I stand at 54. This was what immediately sprang into my head the morning of as I was taking a drive across town to get groceries and then got hit with this news while listening to the radio. This was when my eyes began to tear up.
As I think back on David Bowie, I am also thinking about when we lost Lou Reed. I am also thinking about when they crossed paths. Lou gave us Transformer and David gave us Ziggy Stardust. To me though, I always thought Bowie had a bigger canvas from which to work with than Reed. If you really think about it, Reed got constricted in the sense that the work of The Velvet Underground never went too much beyond a small audience at the time in the ’60s and the fact that the ’60s had just enough of the conservative element going to keep it that way. In the ’70s, Reed’s Transformer and then Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust met head-on with a groundswell that was perfect for the ’70s.
There are a lot of you out there who are really well-versed on every aspect of his career and all of his albums. For me, it was the Glam period that sticks out in my mind the most because it took for me to be an adult to discover the Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane albums. I was unique in that I went from the late ’72/early ’73 revival of 1969’s “Space Oddity”, then bypassed the Glam stuff and went straight to the mid ’70s of “Fame”, “Golden Years, and “Young Americans”. Even when I switched over to FM radio back in the Summer of ’74, the Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane period went unnoticed for the most part by my brain. I’m still trying to figure out how this happened.
My entryway into really digging David Bowie’s Glam period came two decades later. My entrance point was not really David himself (though it was coming promptly afterwards). No. My entrance point was in realizing that the greatest career move David Bowie ever made was having late guitarist Mick Ronson be a part of his musical life. Bowie’s grandiose ideas and risk taking were loudly solidified by Ronson’s fantastic playing. It gave those ideas and reach the power to become realized while kicking some serious ass to boot. In my heart of hearts, I consider Bowie’s passing to be a great excuse to have people reconsider just how tremendous Ronson was. I really hope so because he needs to be discussed when one thinks about great Rock guitarists. It was Ronson who pulled me into appreciating Bowie so much more.
Along with Lou Reed, the gender-bending Bowie cannot be left out of the equation. David Bowie was a life-saver. He helped to lead others into a freedom they otherwise would not have had had it not been for the Ziggy Stardust persona and stage presence. “Look out you rock and rollers”, indeed. Even the old-guard music guys needed to be reminded that music is supposed to be a forward moving Art form and not be stagnant. He challenged all of our preconceptions of what it was to be a Rock star and then he expanded it beyond what anybody would have guessed by going through so many musical avenues. He was telling us that there was stardom, but no archetype for the stars themselves. Baby, be a star. Don’t let it be anybody else’s star because it’s already been taken. Find your own version of it. He also helped to give the music community the swift kick in the ass it needed to get the ones who didn’t understand what was going on that there were people out there who also had something to say and had not been allowed to say it prior to 1972. Bowie gave us the warning ahead of time with “Changes”. He charged full speed ahead with Ziggy Stardust and didn’t look back. Welcome to a new world. In this regard, he opened up musical possibilities for bands who likely never would have existed if it hadn’t been for his persistence in supporting an unknown and then unaccepted cross-section of people crying for a voice. In this regard, David Bowie will always be regarded as, along with Reed, one of the greatest liberators in Rock history.
And I came to understand just why the two special girls from my class were having a good laugh on me. It would be a short time later when Bowie would become their own liberators in ways even they never expected. One would eventually go on to become very public about it when she came out while the other one remains very secretive about it to this day. It was part of the reason why my eyes teared up this morning. They were two best friends to each other. They were my two biggest supporters in talking about music, which in turn, helped to forge my identity. I kept loving the both of them for being my great friends back in Grade School and long after we graduated. And then they stopped being friends to each other along the way at some point during the ’80s. It was David Bowie who helped to tie it all together along with others. Reed and Bowie became liberators for me in a completely different way. They helped to reinforce the common sense idea that the Gay community and Trans-gender people were human beings and that they deserved an equal say in considering what our greater good should encompass. I thank David Bowie (and Lou Reed) for showing me to allow and accept that community of people instead of shunning them.