Bowie faithful gather to send Starman home…

Bowie faithful gather to send Starman home…

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Shout-outs to the First Church of the Sacred Silversexual, San Francisco, Reverent Father Lysol Tony-Romeo, Peter…

Posted by Lysol Tony-Romeo on Friday, January 15, 2016


(The following is the complete text of the San Francisco Chronicle article)

Every David Bowie fan, myself included, has had a hard week. On Jan. 8, the singer/actor/producer/legend turned 69 years old and released a solid four-star album to mark the occasion. Two days later, he was dead — fallen to a secret 18-month battle with cancer.

So the entire week has created a big rip in the vast universe of Bowie fans. But only Tony-Romeo — who is 31 and a registered reverend who lives in San Francisco — had to stand before a crowd of the faithful and explain what it meant to lose their icon.

“We, as his followers, have always been trying to fulfill his vision,” Tony-Romeo said. “Our feeling was that if we gathered in his name and fulfilled (that vision) well enough, he might show up. That’s no longer technically possible.”

The great irony is that the First Church of the Sacred Silversexual had been about to fold its tent. On Jan. 8, Tony-Romeo led a celebration at the chapel on Valencia Street in honor of the singer’s birthday and album release, a celebration that he believed would be the church’s last.

11-person live band

Services proceeded as they usually do. Programs were passed out on arrival — including the Scripture and lyrics for the ease of the congregants. The reverend and his clergy — Tony-Romeo leads an 11-person live band, whose members have wonderful names like Honey Penny, Andi Stardust, and Belle Z Bub — led the flock through a welcome and readings.

Communion, which involves offering one’s face as a canvas on which other congregants may draw a silver lightning bolt, was celebrated. Confessions of the converted were granted.

“The band’s major confession is that Major Tom is a junkie,” Tony-Romeo said.

Penance was granted as the band played “Ashes to Ashes.”

“It’s a very spiritual experience,” Tony-Romeo told me. “Our message is that David Bowie loves you, and this is your home.”

Yet Tony-Romeo, who has led the church since 2010, was ready to move on. The decision had nothing to do with the feelings of the faithful and everything to do with Tony-Romeo’s time demands.

“My drag mother is writing a play about her experiences with Freddie Mercury called ‘The Musical Prostitute,’ and I’m helping to score that,” he said. “I’ve also launched a weekly youth YouTube channel with a charitable component, called DJ Action President.”

Bowie’s death, however, led him to rethink his plans.

“David Bowie is the patron saint of everyone who’s alone in their room, listening to their record player, wondering if they’ll always be weird,” he said. “He had you under his wing. That isn’t the way that most rock stars operate. No way could we let him pass without a celebration.”

So Wednesday night, the faithful gathered at Slim’s to send off their icon with a party. The First Church of the Sacred Silversexual’s service is a major undertaking and a theatrical production, thanks to the direction of band member Roxane RedMeat. This particular occasion brought together Bowie’s past, present and future incarnations for one last jam.

Tears were shed. Faces were painted. Almost $3,000 worth of proceeds were raised for the San Francisco Rock Project.

Most importantly, the gathering gave people a chance to sing the hits together.

And if you’ve been remembering Bowie this week, you know that there have been so many hits.

“We could’ve picked anybody to be our icon, but not just anyone works,” Tony-Romeo told me. “Bowie touches so many people because his focus is what it’s like to be outcast, to be down and out. That’s a spiritual message.”

I asked Tony-Romeo if there was a chance the church might meet again.

“We might bring it back as a birthday show,” he told me. He sounded tempted by the idea, and I encouraged him to consider it. Though the stars may look very different today, the faithful will always be waiting.

photos by Gabrielle Lurie

Posted by Lysol Tony-Romeo on Friday, January 15, 2016

Caille Millner is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: [email protected] Twitter: @caillemillner
Featured photo by Gabrielle Lurie

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