Wow, that really hit me with a shock.
He had been very ill with cancer for the last 18 months, but they had kept it a good secret. In addition to the cancer, he had a heart scare seven years ago when he had to have an angioplasty. He made very few appearances in recent years. Shockingly, he made a stage appearance a mere month before he died, and he looked reasonably healthy. But his rail-thin appearance stunned a lot of people and left many of them wondering what was going on.
What type of cancer did Bowie have? He died of liver cancer, but it was not primary liver cancer. Instead David Bowie died of lung cancer that spread to his liver and caused secondary liver cancer. Well, that’s what the rumor mill says anyway.
Lung cancer itself is a bitch, with 5-year survival rate of a terrifyingly low 5%. In other words, lung cancer is a death sentence. Everyone I knew who had it was dead pretty damn quick. Liver cancer is not much better, with a 5-year survival rate of 17%. Liver cancer is pretty much a death sentence too. I have known a few people who had it, and none of them survived long.
I always loved David Bowie, even back when it was pretty uncool to like him. I started listening to him around 1974. I do remember that the Ziggy Stardust album from 1972 was still popular around that time.
Hunky Dory from 1971? Even earlier stuff like The Man Who Sold the World? Hardly popular at all, though I do remember being at some stoner hipster groovy people’s house around that time, and a teenage girl smiled a sly, devious smile and put on The Man Who Sold the World.
Aladdin Sane was quite popular, but only with the stoner underground freak crowd. I remember when it came out, and one of my best friends, MJ, went to visit a mutual friend of ours, an Italian guy who worked in a liquor store at the beach but lived all the way up in in north Orange County. MJ went over to that guy’s apartment one night, and they listened to that album and smoked lots of weed until dawn, MJ later told me.
Pin Ups followed later in 1973. This album was not very popular at all; however, some of the “underground” crowd was into it. I first heard it on an 8-track in a Volkswagen being driven by one of my total hipster surfer cool guy friends as he pulled his car up to us late one school night out in front of NF and DN’s house. I think his name was Perrault. The song was Sorrow, and damn it was cool.
I was just starting to smoke pot at the time, and I was growing my hair long. I got hazed pretty bad when I first started to hang out with the cool guys because they were pretty rough street kids, basically juvenile delinquents. RN, NF, CD and TB were there.
We were all smoking pot outside late one school night.
They hazed me. CD and TB swarmed me, jumping in to hit me and jump away. They were calling me gay. I kept saying, “I’m not gay. I’m not gay.”
It was one of the most traumatic nights of my life, dealing with that bullying. It was also my first gay bashing, and two much worse ones would follow. Yes, it is true! Straight guys get gay bashed too! Quite a few of them do in fact.
RN was trying to calm the scene down, saying, “It’s cool. It’s cool.” I don’t think he thought I was really gay, so I suppose he thought it was an injustice. NF was quietly snickering. He didn’t think he thought I was really gay either as he knew me pretty well since he was the one who introduced me to the local delinquent crowd, but I guess he thought it was funny.
I put up with the hazing, and pretty soon I got to hang out with the bad boys, but they never totally accepted me. CD and TB later burglarized my house and stole my coin collection. A year earlier, CD had thrown a rock through my window. I was in the room at the time, and it was terrifying.
CD was basically evil, but TB was just a stoned out delinquent surf cat. I met TB ten years later around 1984, and he acted very apologetic. He didn’t say anything, but his body language told me he seemed sorry for what he had done to me. He had cleaned up his act as so many White delinquents do and had a good job and a girlfriend.
NF, who was basically heterosexual, later turned into a gay rent boy or a gay prostitute in Laguna Beach. He was the kept man of an older gay man. I always figured he was in it for the money because he always seemed basically straight to me. A tough badass surfer juvenile delinquent, he was extremely macho and overwhelming. He always had beautiful girlfriends. A lot of very good-lookng young straight men get into gay prostitution. I guess they do it for the money. It’s quite common.
When he was about 30 years old, NF the kept boy was a passenger in the sports car owned by his older Sugar Daddy. They sped through an intersection in Laguna Beach very late one Saturday night, and NF never made it out of that car again. A terrible car accident sent NF, maverick, stud, Greek God, surfcat and ultimate bad boy, into the archives.
RN turned into a White Supremacist and moved to Idaho.
CD was still a sadistic shit the last I heard, and it was rumored that he beat his wife a lot. Some people seem to be born evil.
JB across the street was a Mormon who was never into dope or rock and roll. He was the typical straight guy. Apparently much later in the early 1990’s, he became a heavy cocaine user. He came around to my friend BD’s workplace one day and said goodbye to BD. BD didn’t understand what JB was doing. Why was he saying goodbye? Huh? But there’s a logic to most things people do. JB was going around to all of his old friends and saying goodbye to them one by one. Very soon afterwards, he went home, sat down, pointed a gun at his head, pulled the trigger and blew out his brains. We were all stunned.
The rock and roll had come a year earlier or so. The fights with my father over the hair were legendary and often quite violent. A lot of objects got smashed up. Good times! I was fond of tipping the dinner table over when everyone was seated at it, and everyone’s food would go crashing on the floor. Usually a plate or two broke. Dinner was often interrupted by me jumping up at the table and yelling, “Fuck you!” at my father as I threw a glass of water in his face. Those fights were cool! A great time was had by all. God I love my family! We sure knew how to live it up. Lot of excitement growing up, and never a dull moment!
Pinups was a very underground album, and only the coolest, hippest people were into it.
Diamond Dogs came out the next year in 1974. It wasn’t a hit, and most people just thought it was weird. However, the title track is awesome, and Rebel Rebel is out of this world!
Next came Young Americans in 1975, which was Bowie’s disco album. I was very much into the disco craze at the time. I wore platform shoes – at one type I had four-inch high purple platform shoes. I wore cotton and silk scarves a lot. Some people thought it was gay, but most people called it “stylin’.” Gay men don’t usually wear scarves. But a lot of straight disco guys were wearing scarves back then.
I know Tim Leary was fond of silk scarves. Some friends of mine used to visit Tim and Rosemary at their house in the Hollywood Hills pretty often. Once DL and I were in a video store on Sunset Avenue in Hollywood on the Strip in the 1980’s. DL said, “Bob! Look! The Godhead! It’s Timothy Leary!” He had his hands folded in front of him and was bowing his head repeatedly like a Buddhist monk in the direction of a white haired man at the checkout counter.
It was Timothy Leary himself, the first time I had ever seen the man. Leary had a copy of Amadeus in his hand and was renting it for the night. He had a huge ear to ear grin on his face. Every time I saw him on TV, he always had that grin. Face it, if you took LSD 2,000 times and saw God as many times as he did, you might never stop smiling either.
I had velvet pants and silk shirts. All of that sounds pretty faggy, but you have to understand that all of this stuff was the style back then, and most of the guys who were wearing this stuff were straight disco guys. Gay men didn’t wear clothes like that, but they did have their own gay disco scene about which I know little.
I hated Young Americans, but I still like some disco music. In 1973-75, Bowie, Mott the Hoople, the New York Dolls, Queen, Lou Reed and T. Rex were pretty much the glam scene. The glam scene was extremely underground and druggy, and you hardly ever met anyone who was into it. The people who were into it were basically “freaks” who were completely outside of society.
A lot of more conservative types hated all of the above music, which they thought was sick. I believe the basic complaint was that the glam bands were a bunch of faggots. It wasn’t true, but they did play up a phony angle like that – fake faggots, or straight guys pretending to be gay to shock people.
None of the big glam stars except Freddie Mercury were really gay, and even Bowie and Reed who were playing around with homosexuality later “came out” as straight. Back in those days, it was groovy, transgressive and shocking to be bisexual, and there was a bit of bisexual chic going on, but I never saw much of it. Bowie was always a closeted straight man, and Iggy Pop said he got more pussy than any man he ever knew. “From waitresses to heiresses, David Bowie fucked them all,” said an incredulous Pop.
Reed later settled into a longterm straight relationship with Laurie Anderson, who was always straight but played up the lesbian look and act as some sort of a weird art statement. A girlfriend of mine told me that she knew people who knew Reed, and they described him as omnisexual or pansexual. He pretty much fucked anything that moved without much preference or care. All of Mott and T. Rex, the rest of Bowie’s band and the rest of Queen were all straight. They were messing around with the androgyne look, which incidentally was very popular among straight men at that time.
I went to see Bowie for the first time on the Station to Station tour when the human chameleon was in his Thin White Duke role. It was bad, man! I went with BA and maybe BD, and we smoked pot the whole concert and got stoned to the gills. You could openly smoke pot at rock concerts back then, and generally no one even cared. There was security all over the place, but they generally never tried to stop the pot smoking. Pretty soon a huge cloud of pot smoke would collect toward the top of the stadium. Funny.
BA died ten years ago at age 47. He was a hardcore alcoholic who used alcohol to make a beast of himself. People went outside one sunny late morning and saw him in his parked car, slumped over the steering wheel. He would never drive that car again. A massive heart attack kindly released him at last from the unbearable pain of being a man.
The next year featured Station to Station. By this time, Bowie was mainstream. I still think Station to Station is one of the greatest albums ever made. During this phase, Bowie was living in London and was completely gone into a drugged out world – in Bowie’s case, cocaine. He got completely out there on coke to where he was more or less psychotic.
Cocaine was a much discussed but little used drug back then. It was so expensive that really no one could afford it, but everyone was in awe of it anyway. At that time, we thought cocaine was a “soft drug” like pot, and boy were we wrong about that. I was already hearing ugly stories about cocaine as early as 1976, and with the years, they only got worse.
Low came out in 1977 and was widely panned by critics. This was an ambient music album patterned on the work of Kraftwerk, Brian Eno, etc. I actually liked Low a lot, and I still do. I think it is underrated. It was such a change for Bowie that people were freaked out by the new sound. Philip Glass later described Low as a “work of genius.”
Later in 1977, Heroes came out with the same type of weird ambient music. However, this was more popular. The single Heroes was well received, and it’s always been one of my favorite songs of all time. The Heroes album was very weird, but I still like it.
In 1978, when I transferred from junior college to four year university, Lodger came out. Lodger was widely panned upon release, and some still hate it. I liked it a lot at the time though, and it was a bit of a cult album. Note that Low, Heroes and Lodger were seldom played among the crowd I ran with in the US, though they topped charts in the UK. The only people listening to this stuff in the US were “underground” people.
However, time has been kind to Lodger, and its status seems to increase with each passing year. It is now regarded along with The Man Who Sold the World and Diamond Dogs as one of Bowie’s most underrated albums. Boys Keep Swinging is a great song off Lodger.
Scary Monsters (Super Creeps), released in 1980, was also very weird, but by this time, Bowie was starting to get a bit more mainstream, and his popularity was moving out of the underground crowd. The title track and Ashes to Ashes were hits on the album, and Ashes to Ashes ended up being a huge hit single in the US, where it was on the radio all the time. The title track was a less popular song, although I like it about as much as Ashes to Ashes. During this phase, Bowie was into the New Romantic movement, which most of you have probably never heard of.
1981 featured only a single with Queen’s Freddy Mercury called Under Pressure, but boy is that one incredible song. It’s one of my favorite songs of all time, a work of genius and as good a song as Heroes. By this time, Bowie was just about mainstream.
1983 saw the release of Let’s Dance with the fantastic hit single China Girl, one of the greatest songs he ever did. That song was very popular with the mainstream crowd, and it seemed to never leave the radio dial. Not that it mattered, as you could about listen to it all day anyway with no loss of pleasure. The song Let’s Dance was also a big hit, but I never liked that song much.
After Let’s Dance, Bowie never made another good album until two days before his death, and he did not write one good song for the next 23 years. Most of his albums and singles in that period were poorly received.
However, I heard a track off of Black Star which came out just this month, and I think he finally broke his losing streak with that album. I heard part of one of the tracks on the radio today, and it was awesome!
Black Star had been 18 months in the making. Bowie started making it at the same time as he got diagnosed by metastatic cancer (Get it?). The album absolutely baffled listeners who didn’t seem to know what to make of it.
But now that he is dead, this haunting, dark, brooding yet sentimental and beautiful album titled Black Star makes sense, and people are putting the pieces together. Bowie knew he was headed out, and Black Star was his farewell. Black Star is David Bowie saying goodbye to all of us. It sounds a lot like the Low/Heroes/Lodger ambient sound of the late 1970’s, the perfect sound for one last exit from the Stage.
A wave, and gone.
Goodbye David Bowie. I loved thee well.