Little known fact: David Bowie helped me get into college.
My first exposure to Bowie was around 1980, when a friend played a couple tracks from “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”. I was immediately enamored of the album, bought it in La Grange, IL from Beautiful Day for $6.75 (including tax) and proceeded to try to wear it out on my record player. I made a cassette copy of it to play on my Walkman (actually a Sharp-branded knock-off) and probably did wear that out. I could recite all the words for every song on the album and used to write them on my notebooks in school. I got a book, the only one that I could find at the time, called “Bowie: An Illustrated Record” and pored over it. As a sophomore I got a “Ziggy Stardust” haircut (sans the orange color—wimp!), something that eventually became known as a mullet. I watched the “Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture” and nearly cried when he announces that not only is it the last show of the tour, but it’s last show they will ever do (even though he had already, thankfully, gone back on that statement. Three times.) Shortly thereafter when he toured in support of the “Let’s Dance” album I was so worried I might lose my ticket I bought a second one and I went to the concert with two tickets.
When I applied to Stanford, one of the questions was to describe a person, real or imaginary, alive or dead, with whom I would want to spend a day, and why. I thought about it for a while. My initial reaction was Bowie, but I started to think about how that would play on a college application and I immediately started to doubt. I remember thinking I should write about Jesus, or Ghandi, or Mother Theresa—you know, somebody “safe” that couldn’t be questioned. In the end, however, I stuck with my first choice. My mom helped by encouraging me to be real, and that if they didn’t accept me because I chose a crazy rock and roller then maybe I wouldn’t be a good fit anyway. I don’t remember the entire essay, but I remember talking about how he changed, moved forward, and reinvented himself, and then created some cheesy connection to how being at Stanford would allow me to change, move forward, blah blah blah.
Dean Jean and her team apparently had a small sense of humor and decided to grant me admission, even if I might show up with a mullet and some old glam rock albums. And although not perfect by any stretch, my time at Stanford was a big part of setting me on the path that led to the rest of my life, all the good, the bad, and the other, none of which I would trade for anything.
In college I continued to be a huge fan, and enjoyed telling people who I chose for my essay (it was a common question amongst other freshman in the dorm—and if I recall, the number 1 and 2 answers were “my grandfather/mother” or “Jesus”). I spent a small fortune for an import version of a Bauhaus double album simply because they covered “Ziggy Stardust” on it. I saw him again in concert. As CDs became the new media for music, I began buying CDs of the albums I already had sitting back home and continued to think “Ziggy” was the best album of all time.
I saw him one last time in concert, in 1990. Although his music and theatrics and stage presence were great on the previous tours, that show was the best one for me because he played, for the first time since the 70s, “Ziggy Stardust”.
After college I didn’t follow him obsessively, but I’d tune in to the news a bit, or hear about and buy the new albums, even though none of them captured my imagination like Ziggy. I enjoyed his appearance as Nikola Tesla in “The Prestige”. I was amused at his Bowie Bonds. I was impressed by his long-time marriage to Iman. And I continue to wear out the music (if digital formats are able to be worn out that is). And he remained faithful to who he is–always comfortable in his own skin whether his music or his movies were praised or panned. Even if he was, in any given moment, out of step with what was popular, it never prevented him from changing, moving forward, re-inventing himself, trying new things, and forever being who he was gifted to be.
Just last week I was on my commute and listening to the live version of “Hang on to Yourself” from the “Live Santa Monica ‘72” album. I worry about hearing loss as I get older, but this song usually causes me to throw caution to the wind, turn it up and sing myself hoarse, and last week was no exception. But it’s weird thinking about that and not knowing he was not only sick, but that he’d be gone in a few days. All the posts and links on Facebook have been awesome to read and reflect upon, while at the same time reminding me of the loss that his death leaves for so many.
And although I don’t have a lot of answers, I believe in an eternity and I hold out hope that I’ll still get a chance to spend that day with him.