David Bowie memories a year after his death

Bowie Ziggy tights

Bowie as Ziggy Stardust

I published this tribute to David Bowie on January 19, 2016. Now, on the first anniversary of his death on January 10, I feel it’s appropriate to print it again. Now more than ever, we need his otherworldly vision for our planet and for America in particular.

David Bowie was the star at the center of my musical universe in the early ‘70’s, in his Ziggy Stardust heyday. Alas, I never met him, but we were within one degree of separation when Cherry Vanilla and others in his inner circle came to see my Bowie painting inside my geodesic dome in the Erotic Garden show at the Women’s Interart Center in Manhattan. But more on that later.

The morning after he died, when I cranked up my car after leaving my Nia class at the YMCA, the radio was tuned to WEXT, the alternative rock station. They were playing “Rebel Rebel,” and I happily sang along. When the announcer KTG came on, she talked about how she’d loved Bowie’s music as a young child, and how her mother played it to help her learn to dance.  “I wish I could play his music all day,” she said in her typically pert, cheery voice. Then she said “We’ve lost a brilliant, innovative artist.”

Bowie Aladdin Sane cover

Lost? The word sounded ominous. I drove straight home, booted up my computer and brought up the Drudge Report. A photo of David in his Aladdin Sane makeup topped the page, with the stark black headline BOWIE DEAD. He had died Sunday, January 10th, after an 18-month struggle with cancer, which he’d concealed from all but his closest family and friends. He’d turned 69 only two days before, and had released his new album Black Star the same day. In December, his new musical Lazarus opened off-Broadway. Both the album and the musical garnered rave reviews.

I was eerily reminded of the morning I learned of John Lennon’s death in 1980. I pulled out of my driveway in New Paltz, headed to work at Hudson River Psychiatric Center, and heard John’s music on Woodstock’s alternative rock station, WDST. They played one cut, then another, and I sang along, but then the announcer came on to announce John had been murdered the night before. I’ll always remember exactly where I was when I heard the news, just as I’ll remember where I was when I learned of the assassinations of JFK and RFK, and I’m sure the news of Bowie’s death will imbed itself in my brain along with the memories of those other fallen heroes.

But Bowie’s death was different. Tragic, yes, but he’d given us nearly five decades of brilliantly innovative music. His 25th studio album, Blackstar, was released on his birthday, just two days before he died, along with two videos. The jazz musicians he recorded with had no idea he was terminally ill, according to his long-time producer Tony Visconti, who was one of the few he confided in. Last night I watched the videos for “Black Star” and “Lazarus.” They were both fantastically imaginative but deeply disquieting. “Lazarus” is a brilliant piece of performance art, where he repeatedly rises from his hospital bed and moves his body spasmodically, like an avant garde dancer.

After that I segued into videos from his Ziggy Stardust period, and the memories came flooding back. I was at Radio City Music Hall on Valentine’s Day, 1973, when he performed as Ziggy, and I made it down the aisle and snapped photos with my Pentax. Available light, no flash, black and white, and when I developed them in the photography studio down the street from my Prince Street loft, they were fuzzy but good enough to use as source material for the paintings inside the geodesic dome I showed that spring in the Erotic Garden exhibit that featured a dozen feminist artists.


I phoned Mainman, Bowie’s management company, to invite them—and hopefully David himself—to the show, and a couple of them actually came, including Cherry Vanilla, who casually bragged “I’ve had him.” They loved my Womb Dome and said they’d encourage him to come see it. Maybe he actually did—I never knew.

When the Erotic Garden show was over, I reassembled the dome in my Prince Street loft for a guest room, complete with a double-size mattress. That same fall, when I met my husband-to-be at Max’s Kansas City, I was wearing the same pink and pastel outfit I’d worn for the Erotic Garden opening six months before, with the same Pentax camera slung around my neck. “I see you’ve got a Pentax,” he said. “I’m writing a book about Pentax.”

Bowie Iggy & Lou Reed 1972 London

David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed in London, 1972

A month later, we were living together, both ready to leave the wild lifestyle of the early 70’s behind. But it’s highly likely our daughter was conceived in that dome, under my paintings of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust and Iggy Pop crouching in broken glass, singing “I want to be your dog.” Perhaps that’s one reason she and my granddaughters are such avid fans of the Starman. Another is the final time I heard David Bowie live, in 1997, when I brought Stacey, then 21, to the GQ awards, where he did an entire set following the presentations. The venue once again was Radio City Music Hall.

Stacey said it best in a recent Facebook exchange: David Bowie has had a transformational impact on three generations of Lomoe women. Long may his legacy live.

David Bowie performs as Ziggy Stardust

8 thoughts on “David Bowie memories a year after his death

  1. Just after posting this, I learned Glenn Frey of the Eagles died yesterday at age 67, just two years younger than Bowie and eight days later. Glad I got to hear the Eagles on one of their reunion tours a few years back. I wasn’t a rabid Eagles fan, but they created some outstanding music.

    I began writing this post the day after I learned of David’s death, but I kept procrastinating – maybe putting it in my own writing made it all too real.

  2. Fascinating comments about Bowie and his influence. I loved Bowie also–his androgynous allure, his aesthetics, as well as his music. He reminded me of a 20th century Dorian Gray, a Decadent from another time, another world. Having always been a loner and a bit of an outsider, I felt akin to him in many ways. He lived the kind of life I fantasized about. At that time I could not imagine myself living to be as old as I currently am. I didn’t want to grow up, drive a car, get a job, get married, or have kids. I just wanted to pursue my passions–writing, playing piano, and listening to music. Bowie seemed to me to be the eternal misfit rock and roll king, free, defiant, unlimited by gender or society’s conceptions. I remember attending my first David Bowie concert, in about 1977, at Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo, MI, with my cousin Shelley. To celebrate Bowie’s fashion influence and my own aesthetic quirkiness, I wore my grandfather’s Masonic Lodge gown–a black velvet robe-type jacket with some silk patches and some metal buttons, if I recall. I put a fake flower in the lapel. Although Bowie was late and didn’t play that many songs, it was still a wonderful experience I am thankful to have had. Nowadays there are few new musicians that I like because so much of the music industry is glutted by commercialistic pop megastars whose songs focus on booties, bling, and material possessions, reinforcing the most mediocre, mundane aspects of modern industrial/profit-oriented values. Most of the musicians I listen to now of them are my age or older, rock, punk, alternative, Goth, folk, etc., and they, unfortunately, may soon be gone.

  3. Thanks so much for your thoughtful post, Alison. I would have loved to see you in that Masonic gown – hope you got some pictures! I agree with your opinions about the current music scene – and the impending mortality of the generation of the musicians we love.

    • Marilyn, so sorry to learn about Boris. How old was he, and how is Natasha? I remember them well, and remember one of them sleeping with me when I stayed in your guest room years ago, though I can’t remember which one.

      Surprised Alan Rickman’s death didn’t get more attention. And now Glenn Frey of the Eagles too. At our ages, we need to seize the moment, because you never know.

  4. Rereading this post and the comments as I republish this on the first anniversary of David’s death, I’m stunned by how many other great musicians we lost in 2016–Prince, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Alan Toussaint and no doubt others that don’t come to mind right now. Their voices are sorely missed, especially in the toxic and deadly atmosphere that poisons our country today.

    I hope you’ll leave comments to let me know I’m not alone in these feelings.

  5. Thanks for reposting this essay and the comments. Of all the beloved celebrities that died in 2016, I was most deeply and personally affected by the loss of David Bowie and Leonard Cohen, two muses who well-understood and eloquently expressed the sense of alienation, disconnection, disillusionment, spiritual,/sensual longing, and yearning for soul communion that I have always felt and struggled to translate into written form.

    • Thanks for commenting, Alison. Bowie’s loss affected me most. I wasn’t a great follower of Leonard Cohen’s work–my bad. In the comments above, I forgot George Michael! His album OLDER is a masterpiece. Oh, and Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, whom I’ll write about soon, in connection with Eddie Fisher, who was my second big musical crush after Dean Martin.

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