The most oft-repeated mantras on Facebook the Day David Bowie Died were, “David Bowie helped me fly my freak flag,” “David Bowie helped me feel less alone” and “David Bowie inspired me.” Some fans threw up their hands at the thought of saying anything at all, unable to properly eulogize such a hot creative flame gone, poof, so they clammed up altogether.
His music flew all across the globe Monday, and as post after post flew by it was as if all the glitter and stardust that Bowie had been sprinkling on us all these years had finally landed and actually rubbed off, and so now we all wanted to report in and testify, that we had a ticket stub or a story.
I discovered Bowie in all his androgynous rock ‘n’ roll star glory when I was a 15-year-old Catholic kid looking for adventure, and while I have many life-altering memories of my times spent with his music (starting with dancing to the Suicide Commandos’ blistering version of “Suffragette City” at Regina High School) one of my favorites came on his 69th birthday, last Friday, at Studio 2 Café in South Minneapolis.
The night started out with the former Java Jack’s and DevJam owner David Hussman and I toasting Bowie’s birthday and talking about “Heroes,” an epic and emotionally-wrenching and uplifting song I’ve had the honor of singing at First Avenue with the Rock For Pussy crew a couple times, and which I discovered Friday night that David has deep recording knowledge of.
Hussman and I have become friends over the last year, as he and his wife Andrien Thomas and their family have worked hard to bring live music and the Mad Ripple Hootenanny back to the corner of 46th and Bryant. And while we share similar community-building and live music missions, our main conversational bond as rock dudes has been Bowie.
“David Bowie” has always been shorthand for a particular freedom and freedom of expression, sexuality, and otherworldly enthralling ROCK, and, so, as so many have said since Bowie succumbed to cancer Sunday, he was and remains a voice for all sorts of eternal teenagers, aliens, freaks and space travelers. So it was perfect when, after Friday’s live music concluded, Hussman dialed up his iPod and right there in that sleepy little neighborhood a small dance party broke out to Bowie’s “Golden Years,” “Fame,” “Young Americans,” and “Let’s Dance.”
I thought of Bowie that night, and his brilliant infectious smile and confidant roar, and how tickled he’d have been at the sights and sounds of his music transforming a cozy little family bistro into a mini-disco on his birthday. Sweet.
As the snow fell and people milled about and finally out into the night, the very sounds of those records brought me back to when I first discovered them with my friends Paul Kaiser, Greg Larson and John Brownson at DeLaSalle High School. We’d been tipped off to Bowie by an upperclassmen, John Ennen, and all us young dudes fell hard for all that urgent-sounding pre-punk rock, driving around the lakes and playing poker to endless plays of “Diamond Dogs,” “Station To Station,” “Young Americans,” “Low,” “Heroes,” “Changesonebowie,” and rushing to the Southtown Theater for the opening of “The Man Who Fell To Earth.”
I didn’t think much about it at the time, but as rocker/author Laurie Lindeen put it when I interviewed her for a story about Rock For Pussy in 2008, “Bowie is everything that appeals to me in one package, which is rare: beauty, fashion, great songwriting, acoustic songs and rockers, the whole package. I’ve always gone through androgynous stages — boyish stages and really girly-girl stages — and I realize that guys don’t have that freedom at all. So he was probably much more helpful to guys, to say, ‘You can have these phases too, and we’re all cool.’”
That was me, and my friends. We grew up amid the sexual and political freedoms of the glitter-bombed ’70s, and as the Studio 2 Cafe mini-dance party reminded me, I knew in my bones it all stuck with me for good. After high school, I’d continue listening to and writing about Bowie, saw him twice in concert, and for a couple years running on the morning after Rock For Pussy, I had to explain to the Little League umpires why the coach of the Lynnhurst team was wearing slept-on rouge and lipstick.
These nights my Bowie fix has been sated by John Eller, who mans the Tuesday night piano bar at Nye’s Polonaise Room in Northeast Minneapolis with real artistry and generosity. Nye’s is now rumored to be shuttering at the end of February, and when it does, gone will be the monster magic sound of Eller expertly ripping through the Bowie catalogue, and leading people in all those great songs, and the sight of strangers’ faces transformed in recognition of all those great songs, and in their own supremely unique connection to all those great songs.
Time and again I’ve seen it happen: They really can’t believe what they’re hearing; that it’s David-fricking-Bowie being played so well and with so much heart and grit. They become teens again, or they remember the teen they were, or the time they discovered Bowie amidst all their own ch-ch-ch-changes. It’s a beautiful thing to behold and I’m heartened to know that Johnny will be playing his broken heart out this Tuesday night at Nye’s and that there and all across the known and unknown universe, Bowie’s music will never die.
Speaking of which, of loss and love, my friend Mike Wiley buried his 26-year-old daughter Lauren this week. My brother Terry sang Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic” at St. Joan’s at the memorial service Wednesday, then he reprised it at Lee’s Liquor Lounge Saturday night with the full Belfast Cowboys band as Mike and his wife Janey danced.
I will never forget the sight of Mike under that mirror ball, just days after his daughter’s funeral, dancing with his love, and Lauren’s friends dancing and singing as one hive gang, and it made me feel once again that music has healing powers beyond our understanding and that those who really truly hear it and play it truly never die.
That’s all I’ve got. Ouch. Tears. Good night. David Bowie is dead and I’m freaking sad.
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at [email protected]