Monday, January 11, 2016


My plan for today was to write a follow-up on "Blackstar," not to wake up and find out that one of my musical heroes was no longer with us. I am shocked and saddened. And I really don't know where to begin.

David Bowie was the first.

After growing up with The Beatles and my grandfather's Elvis 45s and my uncle's Sinatra LPs, David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust" was the first record from the outside that I bought on my own. It felt illegal, as if everyone I knew up to that point, which was mostly family and 10 year olds, looked at me as if there was something wrong with me.

I continued to hang onto Bowie's every word and melody.  I hopped off a NYC bus miles before my stop as we passed Record Connection on 6th Avenue and 8th Street, when I spotted "David Live" hanging in the window. I bolted out of Sunday mass where I was expected to bring home palm for my grandmother when I noticed an ad in the Arts & Leisure section of the New York Times (yes I was reading in church) for Bowie at MSG. Cabbed it right up to Madison Square Garden and bought a pair. (It was that easy in 1978.) I watched a VHS tape of the "Serious Moonlight" tour until the video cassette finally snapped. I sat bewildered and heartbroken as I listened to "Tonight" and the offense that was his cover of "God Only Knows." I sent two of my co-workers home early, "sick," but really, to go and wait online at the shithole known as The World on East 2nd Street in Alphabet City, because Tin Machine was playing their first concert later that evening. (I arrived, after covering their absence with my boss, two hours later.) I saw four of his five NYC Marathon shows in October of 2002. (I passed on the Staten Island show. Not even The Dame could get me to Staten Island.)  I played "The Next Day" twice a day for an entire year. I secretly hoped and wished that there would be one more performance, not just a finale.

The love affair, and that feeling of wonder and excitement and danger and confusion, continued right up until last week's release of "Blackstar."

I spent a lot of time listening to David Bowie's new record this weekend and with each pass I discovered something new to love and a few things to hate. My entire career as a Bowie fan was a lot like Bowie's career.  It has never been boring. It has been occasionally disappointing. But it has always been worth every minute.

While discussing "Blackstar" with my friend Alan this weekend, he offered this:

"It's Bowie. It's really good in that he's not coasting and still reaching for the (black) stars. It's a record you can only enjoy on its terms. Gotta roll up the sleeves and do some heavy lifting."

That nails the record, and might nail David Bowie's career.

This is a huge loss for me personally, for many of us.


William Repsher said...

He went out on a good note. I'd say go ahead and write your follow-up to Blackstar, good, bad or both. I gave it a cursory listen this weekend, with no idea that this would be his final album, and was pretty pleased with what I was hearing.

Of course, his influence on anyone who loved his music has been profound. Never quite sure how much to make of it, and if there's one thing he taught me, it's that you should feel free to change your mind and do something else. I can't think of any other 70's artist who's has such a lasting effect on me, although as noted, there have been times when he completely lost me along the way.

Feels a lot like when Lou Reed passed on. Strange. Sensing a huge void, and no one could ever hope to fill it. While those two influenced countless fans and musicians, no one could get anywhere near what they did in their time. That may not have seemed obvious at the time, but it surely does now.

steve simels said...

Sal -- sad news.

As you know, I was never remotely a fan, but Bowie had been a major presence in rock for so long I genuinely believed he was going to live forever.

In any case, the minute I saw the obit in the NYTimes, I thought of you.

kevin m said...

Just gutted.

I was listening to Blackstar over the weekend and found myself enjoying it.

In all of the press that I read about the making of Blackstar everyone commented on how robust his health was. I was not expecting this at all.

I'm still processing this news. Horrible.

Anonymous said...

Hello, please remain seated,

A sad day for Western culture. RIP, Mr. Bowie. Thanks for the music.


snakeboy said...

Feeling crushed for the obvious reason, but also because there are too many voids that will be difficult to fill being left recently.

Noam Sane said...

Wanna hear something weird? Had a dream last night where I was visiting people (who I didn't know) and they had a big orange/yellow cat. I can still see the cat in my mind. They told me his name was Bowie. It was one of the first things I thought of when I woke up, I don't normally remember dreams. Then as normal, I sat down to breakfast and clicked open the NYT and read the news. Oh boy.

He stomped the terra, truly.

Chris Collins said...

I'm heartbroken. I don't even know what else to say. Some people make your lives better, even without knowing them. He was one of them. Until the day he died.

David Handelman said...

There are only a handful of artists so iconic that we take their eternal presence for granted. When they prove to be mortal we refuse to believe it. But in some ways we are right. He defies time, space and other mundane trappings. The only time I got to see him live was Serious Moonlight, by which point his "persona" was "David Bowie" in quotation marks, but it didn't matter. The body of work still endured. I do regret seeing "Lazarus" on New Year's because, despite some theatricality and of course a good songbook, it was a mess. They even managed to ruin "Heroes" which I thought unassailable. Thanks for your memories.

dogbreath said...

I've travelled along Bowie's musical path since "Space Oddity", with all the ups and downs that entails, and it seems to me his passing leaves not so much a "Blackstar" as a black hole which will be difficult - if not impossible - to fill. I'm glad I got to see him perform live, first time at the height of the Ziggy/Spiders period, although not enough times, and like so many people I thought this day would surely never come. A big, big loss. A very nice obit piece of yours which says it better than I could.

Mr. Baez said...

I awoke to this terrible sad news. I too have been on the good ship Bowie since first having my young teenage mind blown when B. Mitchell Reed first spun "Space Oddity" on underground radio KPPC. The "Hunky Dory / Ziggy" tour at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in '72 is still one of the greatest concert moments of my life. We are really truly blessed to have artist like David Bowie and its going to take some time to process his loss on the culture and our lives. RIP, Thin White Duke.

Dr Wu said...

It feels like we lost something elemental, as if an entire color is gone. #DavidBowie

-- Carrie Brownstein (@Carrie_Rachel) January 11, 2016

Robin said...

I cannot imagine a world without him. He seems to be beloved by many generations and I'm so happy for that, that a real artist can be recognized and loved by the multitudes- perhaps it's because for all his changes deep down we always knew he was "just David Jones" as he once told the NYT's Dave Itzkoff (the latter posted part of that interview on Twitter today). He never lied to us, played with us yes, but never, ever betrayed us.

I think for us kids in the 70s especially he was a truly personal hero in a way that might be hard to explain- he had large ideas, he was unusual and yet he felt like a friend in much the way Springsteen could. He was made for us wasn't he?

I hurt today but hurt even more for some of my friends back then- the outsiders the ones on the fringes, for whom Bowie really was a father confessor, they dressed like him, sang as Ziggy on stage, for me he was the ultimate entertainer and a wonderful songwriter and adored him, and he was so dashing, but for them he seemed to make it okay for them to be themselves,to be free, if that makes any sense.

How can anyone be so perfect and yet so easily reach in and grab one's heart? How could he be so deity like and yet feel so real? I really don't know. What I do know is he tapped into something in a lot of us, and we'll never be the same. Thank you David Jones. Thank you.

Anonymous said...


David Handelman said...

Like a gazillion other people, I feel stunned by the news that David Bowie has departed this earth.
At the loss of someone who has impacted and influenced your life, you can hardly begin to measure the shape of what’s left behind.
Our personal and collective inner landscape has shifted and we’re trying to come to terms with it.
No one exists forever and it seems our elegant gentleman was well aware that his last mortal chapter was about to reach it's conclusion.
"Blackstar" was his parting gift.
Provocative and nightmarishly “otherworldly”… we are jolted towards the twilight realms of epileptic seizures and voodoo scarecrows.
The bejewelled remains of Major Tom lie dormant in a dust coated space suit…
It leaves me breathless.
You must see it to believe it…
He knew…
He could see through it all.

buzzbabyjesus said...

He was my first, too.
I spent yesterday coming to terms with "Blackstar", finding hooks amid all the new sounds.
I concluded it was probably a great record and wondered what direction it would take him.
Today I know he made it as his last.

Anonymous said...

What a sad, sad day.

The release of Blackstar and then this. Man, what an exit. Typical Bowie.

Anonymous said...

Never get old...he said.

I'm screaming that I'm gonna be living on till the end of time, Forever...he said.

God bless him for all the joy he gave us.

We are going to miss him very much.


ge said...
started me 1st blog to share this longish
DB reminiscence-- pretty personal but i dare say surprising

jmsafree said...

When John Lennon, Lowell George, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko. Levon Helm and Allen Toussaint passed away, I realized that there was an important part of my life that enriched me by their art but was over, with regard to hearing new important music. I understand how supporters of David Bowie's art feel today.

It is not a good feeling. joe

peabody nobis said...

Hi, Sal
This was such a shock to the system. I woke up Monday morning in happy anticipation of the College football championship game that night, only to see the news of Bowie's passing. The shock quickly turned to grief as I verified the news. Not ashamed to say I shed a few tears, and continue to tear up, as I watch videos of his live concerts on Youtube.
Such a wonderful performer! Shy and vulnerable, but warm, and in complete control of the stage, and the room. People loved him, and how could you not? If you didn't like Bowie in 1972, no worries, there's the model from 1975! Don't like 1975? Okay, how about 1983? And just on and on...
Like you, my first musical heroes were the Beatles and Elvis. But those were shared tastes with the family. Bowie was different; he looked weird and sang about strange things. And I was like a moth to a flame. I remember the joy of singing the final verse of "Golden Years" with my friends, and with or without Bowie helping us along. Such heady days.
And like you, I played the hell out of "The Next Day" when it was released in 2013. Just loved it, the whole thing. I picked up "Blackstar" the other day, and my first reaction was well, there's not many songs. And as I listened to the first cut I thought, odd that he would start the record with a dirge. I never in a million years thought of his mortality, but then I recall being a little suspicious when he had no live performances of "The Next Day" material when I knew how much he loved performing.
Sal, I want to thank you for the posting of the St. Ann's Warehouse show a couple of years ago. I Listened to it yesterday for the hundredth time, and, as you know, at one point Bowie is between songs and remarks on how he's sweating profusely from the intense heat. Then he admonishes the crowd to "make some fucking noise, it's the least I deserve!". And they do, wildly...
But he was wrong; he deserved much, much more.

Charlie Carr said...

He really has given us so much great music and touched so many people. "Ziggy Stardust" was and is the one for me. That quirky production, the hooks, the story. Unique and gifted. Looking forward to the mix . . .

Sal Nunziato said...

Charlie Carr, check Tuesday's post.