In 1983, none of my friends were dead yet.
In 1983 I was a rose in red overalls, vibrant yet obscure; flushed, tender and fragile.
In 1983 I was 14 and beginning the second longest love affair of my life – with music. Love of literature had taken permanent residence in my brain. Music was located in my heart and in my loins.
In 1983 I experienced my first rock concert.
David Bowie. Serious Moonlight Tour. Madison Square Garden, New York City.
That brutally hot summer I decided to not only attend the concert but to somehow, some way, meet David Bowie. It was pure unadulterated fan girling, and I am not in the least bit embarrassed of it. I would do the same thing today.
My eldest brother, who frequently bounced back between the right and left coasts, was planning to be in New York that July. We made the momentous decision to buy tickets from a scalper and see The Thin White Duke up close and personal – close enough to see (and maybe capture?) the sweat droplets on his face.
I had about $300 saved from babysitting and my crappy summer job. My brother mailed me his $300 and instructions to drain my bank account and contact a ticket scalper via an ad in the Village Voice. It was, to this day, the best $300 I ever spent.
Third row, center.
The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars was my first Bowie album. It’s the album responsible for turning David Bowie into a superstar – and me into a lifelong fan. It’s a conceptual masterpiece. Flamboyant fashion and showy theatricality align perfectly with Bowie’s artistic vision. Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is a rock and roll landmark and THE soundtrack to the glitter/glam movement.
The message? “Freak out in a moonage daydream.”
I was a 14 year old mesmerized earthling listener when I first heard Bowie as Ziggy, the gender-bending, rock n’ rolling bisexual alien. I was smitten with its epic saga of a space rock star’s ascent to superstardom and his subsequent fall.
I had been reading edgy beat literature since I was 11. This was the summer David Bowie leapt up and throttled my musical sensibility with this raw, sexy, funky, witty, and completely weird record.
It’s a delicious, shimmering slice of pop perfection. I fell into a trance at the footstep drum opening of ‘Five Years.’ I hung on every note until the last song, the lyrically brilliant ‘Rock n’ Roll Suicide,’ built to an emphatic climax before finishing with its final, dramatically suspended, violin note.
This was my first David Bowie album, and it will always hold a very special place in my heart.
Concert day arrived.
I wore an outfit I bought at The Limited: a glittery silver tank top with one strap, cut asymetrically across the front, and red jeans. I teased my hair wildly, and slapped on gobs of eye makeup.
Madison Square Garden is on 34th Street in Manhattan. This area, midtown, was a sordid festival of glitz and debauchery in the 80’s, and I was dressed perfectly for the occasion.
I purchased a single red rose that I planned to present to David Bowie after the concert. I had no idea how I would get it to him, only that I would.
Sometimes when we reminisce over past events in our lives, we embellish them into something far more grandiose than they were. Was this really one of the best concerts I have ever seen, or simply the very first?
Bowie performed in a paradoxical style both unhinged and wholly self-controlled. His ambiguous sexuality, outlandishly ornate fashion and makeup, the grand theatricality of the concert and his sheer creativity changed my entire notion of rock music.
The hit song off of his latest album was “Let’s Dance.” As the pop disco beat throbbed a sweaty yet still elegant Bowie performed simple dance moves while crooning in his unmistakable, achingly beautiful honey voice. I was overtaken by a wild urge and as he sang the lyrics, “…and tremble like a flower,” I suddenly tossed my rose to him – which he caught gracefully, never missing a beat.
And made eye contact with me (huge fangirl moment)
I had the 14-year-old version of a spontaneous public orgasm.
The story of David Bowie is that of the most colorful and provocative musician/artist in rock music. He managed to remain relevant and relentlessly hip for five decades.
Bowie’s art crossed boundaries of art and reality. He pulled me into his art, into HIS world. This was at age 14, a time in my life when I began to question my own identity and what I was told my identity should be. Many of the choices I made were inexplicably linked to the explosion of freedom that Bowie gifted me.
Moreover, Bowie created an ambiguity to his sexuality, which allowed me to question my own. The cultural norm for tween sexuality in 1983 was very rigid. The uncompromising sexuality of Ziggy Stardust was hugely important in allowing me to confront and overcome sexual taboos. I began to resist rigid sexual identities, which turned into a lifetime of sexual fluidity and openness.
In 2016 too many of my friends have died.
And with them now goes a cultural icon, a groundbreaking musician who sang his way deeply into my soul. His global legacy was the transformation of musical performance into an art form. His personal gift to me was freedom. And on suffocatingly provincial Staten Island, a place that still has not caught up to the new millennium?
It really WAS as if he were the man who fell to earth.
What was your favorite David Bowie song? Did you ever get to see him in concert?
Tell me your Bowie memories. Talk to me, I’m listening.