From a Deadbeat to an Old Geezer 003: Memories of visiting the Oracle – David Bowie

From a Deadbeat to an Old Geezer 003: Memories of visiting the Oracle – David Bowie

Saturday, 16 January 2016

From a Deadbeat to an Old Geezer 003:

Memories of visiting the Oracle – David Bowie


Two of David Bowie’s best live recordings were concerts I actually got to attend; 1978’s David on Stage, and 2004’s A Reality Tour.

On hearing the news that David Bowie left his physical body today, I’ve been reflecting on how much his personality and his music has affected my own life. I started listening to Bowie in the mid-70s, Young Americans was the first album that I became obsessed with. With all the airplay that the lead track, and Fame received, many of my high school aged friends also were affected by his earthy, white-soul funky sound. It was the lesser popular tunes on the album that I found more entrancing; Fascination, Right, Somebody Up There Likes Me, Can You Hear Me, all these mellower, moodier melodies struck deeper sentiments inside of me.

In retrospect, realizing that I missed the phenomenon of Ziggy Stardust in the years of that Bowie persona, listening to that album, and later, Aladdin Sane, I had no idea of the serious life transformations that Bowie went through in coming to be able to make the new types of music he would go on to do. Being just 17 years old myself when I first really started listening to him, that was the beginning of my life with him. He was moving forward while I had to take time to look back at what he had to do to get to be his present self, while still staying current with his new developments. It’s a lot to do, especially when you also like listening to other musicians. I guess I’m saying that I was not a devotee solely of Bowie’s, but he was definitely a cornerstone of my love of the world of modern music.

In 1979 I got a job in a record store. It was like going to a rock and roll university. I was surrounded by opportunity to descend into the study of popular music and quickly became obsessed with David Bowie’s catalog.

There is just too much to say about what this experience was like, to be able to do nothing but listen to music that I loved. It was the beginning of a life long practice of delving into listening to everything that the musicians I resonate with have created.

The point I want to make here is that what is important to me is how music makes me feel. Music enables me to descend to a state of mind where my emotions are expressible. Music is a key to the throne room of my heart and soul. I am not musically gifted though. I’ve tried to learn how to play musical instruments and have never succeeded. The thing about Bowie’s music is how the music he created so closely mimics my own character and personality. He created a soundtrack that I listened to over the decades which continually nurtured my own inner being.

I never tried to personally mimic his style or look, I didn’t feel it was necessary – what he turned me on to though was the importance of finding my own means to feel free to express my uniqueness without fear.

I followed his career closely through the decades, but that is not to say that there weren’t some gaps in my admiration. A couple of albums of his I didn’t fully embrace, namely Scary Monsters and Earthling. Their releases happened at times when I was out of sync with my own individuality, and I was not free enough to listen to those albums closely. Even now, years after their release I have not been able to connect with his messages in the sound and presence of those albums.

Later though, some of my all time favorite albums of his came along, namely; Outside, Heathen, and Reality. These were deep and complex sounding compositions, and in the case of Outside, a legitimate concept album that harbored and envisioned dark emotions and fears – and I found so much comfort in them.  These albums diverged from typical pop music formulations that Bowie was so fond of in prior years. Even though they were not typically the light and happy themes he was known for, the music was still something you could dance to and sing along with. Just with a heavier ardour.

I’ll speak in unison with the sounds of many people in the world today and say that he seemed to be someone immune to death. He was a superman and did things that most mere mortals have been incapable of doing in their lifetimes. I mean, why did he not die in an accident? The way he wrote his last piece of music, Blackstar, it’s like he knew it was going to be the very last thing his mortal body would be strong enough to create and he tailored all of it to exhibit his belief that he was the master of his existence. He chose to leave this world when he was ready to. I mean, only spiritual masters are supposed to be able to do that, aren’t they?

My friend and co-editor here at Ground Control Magazine, Bill Adams was struck with a very unique idea, that David did not really die, but faked his death and has plans of creating a brand new identity for himself, secret and unknown to the world. That there were secret clues about this plan in Blackstar and that we, his fans, should be on the lookout for mysterious appearances of his new self in the world. Would this be a way for him to find freedom from the constraints of a life of fame that restrict him from being ultimately as creatively as he more deeply desired to be?

Our shallow understandings of how life is lived here on earth, that you are given a stretch of time to find yourself and do things, and then you die – he was much more intelligent, and spiritually complex than we may ever perceive. I’m going to be on the lookout for him. In this world where we all believe what we’re told in the news, I want to believe more and he is the one person I believe could be capable of defying death.


Part II

In those years when I worked at Record Factory in Walnut Creek, I found three musicians that were the foundation of all the music I would primarily listen to for the rest of my life. They were Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, and David Bowie; my holy trinity. All the other musicians and types of music I would come to listen to expanded from this trio of sound styles.

Bowie led me to punk and new wave, the forms of music that I’d find the most uplifting and socially adapting in my world. One thing I remember about the early years of being involved with the punk community in the late 70s was the tiers of social structure that existed.

When my friends and I would drive 35 miles into San Francisco to see shows at Mabuhay Gardens, Dirk Dirksen always joked with the crowd about how the “kids that rode the bus from Concord” had arrived. We knew we weren’t members of the hardcore fans from the inner cities, but it didn’t matter there – the edges of distinction eroded in the mosh pits where our aggressions and joys flowed freely and the punk anthems we all embraced rose together in unison. It was the music that united us and set us free.

I stayed part of that community for close to two years before I began having existential realizations that image was valued too highly there and that the substance of soul was ignored. (I used to sit in the crowd reading Krishnamurti between sets.) One night I walked away, knowing that I had experienced and learned all that I was supposed to. I took off my safety pinned and ripped up jeans jacket adorned with buttons and patches, and had a swastika spray painted on the back and left it on the corner of Broadway and Sansome. I never felt a desire to return there, but the spirit of the music had rooted itself deeply in my bones.

The foundation that listening to Jethro Tull established for me was the doorway to all music acoustic and folk based. It’s what gave me a handhold to come to enjoy listening to Irish traditional music when I lived in Ireland, and it eventually led to my becoming able to listen to the musings of Bob Dylan and Neil Young – much, much later in my life. This is a good point to explain the narrow mindedness I have about a lot of music too. I am immature and obstinate about having reasons for refusing to find certain types of music palatable. It was decades and decades into my lifetime before I even became able to listen to Dylan and Young. I had built up arguments based on reasoning that the type of people that I knew that listened to those musicians when I was young, were not my kind of people. And my ears were closed to listening closely and hearing what those musicians were expressing. Social narrow mindedness was to blame for me missing out on years and years of soul touching lyrics by those men, and women…

Pink Floyd led me to prog rock, jazz, and all things experimental. This is my most favorite of all genres to hide in and explore. It is the music that sets my mind and soul free to experience their wildest imaginations. There are no rules and thus, there is endless pushing against the walls of perception about what is acceptable. Everything is acceptable! I thrive through listening to discordant rhythms and melodies. Krautrock and prog rock are pretty much the foundations of music that I love the most, but there are so many new genres that have emanated from, or are cross mutations of psychedelia… low-fi, noise rock, post-anything, anything where musicians are allowed to do something different and unexpected is what sets me most free.

I haven’t even touched on King Crimson, or Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart, or Brian Eno… all of which more closely match and mirror the soundtrack of my life than even Bowie did – Bowie lifted me up, these other musicians guided me into dark corners of my soul where my depression could grow. Bowie stood singularly as a beacon of individuality and even though he played with hordes of other musicians, he never needed “band identity” to stay afloat and make sense. He was his own sensibility. He was his own beacon in the storms of life that he no doubt suffered through. We were spoiled through seeing him when he was his best, when he felt strong enough to perform live, when he was focused enough to produce albums. We forget that he was a mere mortal being and woke up on mornings when he didn’t want to get out of bed, that he could stub his toe in the dark of the night and bleed. In death, the sides are evened up and we realize that he too was one like us, we will fall one day and will not be able to get up. At least he followed his own instincts and became the man he wanted to be – which we all too can do.

Oh yeah, and what was it like attending those two concerts, nearly 25 years apart? My memory of the first show was of how moving it was to hear so many songs, covering so much – even at that time, diversity across his career, it truly was like being in a rarefied time and place. He was the ultimate musician and performer and we could tell how privileged we were to be inside that auditorium with him. The second time I saw him live, he was just as young and spritely on stage as he was the first time. I don’t remember who opened for him in 1978 but in 2004 it was The Polyphonic Spree – a group I had never heard of before that night, and they were an incredible warm up for the experience we were going to have with Mr. Bowie – who in no way disappointed us that night. Pure rapture, that’s all there is to say about how it felt being entertained by him.