I was a kid – ten years old or so – when i found this 45 for a nickel at a school rummage sale. I’d heard the song on my AM radio. Space Oddity. It was weird and fun and melodic, and the singer had a great voice. I was just discovering music and this song was one of the first ones in my collection.
The musical lines in high school were pretty clearly drawn: Rock and Disco. I came down firmly on the rock side (I maintain an irrational hatred for disco) but while my fellow rockers were listening to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, and Black Sabbath, I was drawn to “softer” stuff likeThe Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Kinks, and The Moody Blues. The Bowie fans were different. They were queer, in the best sense of the word. They embraced androgyny and scorned all attempts to label and contain them. They went to see David Bowie at The Tower Theater in Philly, in a series of shows that would result in his first live album, David Live.
In college, a friend had a beat up Volkswagen Bug that we had to push uphill so he could ride it down with enough momentum to pop the clutch and get it started. It was a Frankenstein car he’d built in his parents’ driveway with pieces of other cars. One of those pieces was a cassette deck. He only had one cassette, but as it was The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, that one was enough.
I first saw David Bowie live in 1983 during the Serious Moonlight tour in support of his album, Let’s Dance. He had already gone through so many personas: Ziggy Stardust, Alladin Sane, The Thin White Duke and now he was pushing pop music in a new direction. There is nobody who navigated the swirling currents of pop more gracefully than David Bowie. I saw him again in 1989 at a club called The World on 2nd Street in the East Village that also no longer exists, with a band called Tin Machine. I saw him at The Concert For New York, after September 11, where he opened the show with a beautiful version of Paul Simon’s America, and followed it up with a haunting Heroes. In 2003, I saw him one last time, at Madison Square Garden, in support of his Reality album. He was phenomenal. His voice, if anything, had gotten better with age.
Last week David Bowie released his last album, Blackstar. I haven’t heard it yet but I will, and I would be shocked if it’s anything but brilliant. His last three before it, Heathen, Reality, and The Next Day were all worthy of the catalog that includes Hunky Dory, Young Americans, and Station to Station.
David Bowie’s irreplaceable vision has ended. But he left a lot behind. This is one of my favorites, Oh! You Pretty Things from the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1972.