Monday, Jan. 11, 7 a.m. A winter Monday like any other: Rainy, cold, and still dark when I’m leaving for work. Except for one thing: I can’t stop crying. I just heard that David Bowie died.
What’s going on? It’s not like I really knew him. I’m a grown woman. Stop crying; go to work. Except that I can’t. Can someone you never met mean that much to you?
I “met” David Bowie when I was barely 16 years old. It was Dec. 15, 1979. Growing up in Chehalis and probably babysitting that night, I was up late watching “Saturday Night Live. “ How do I know the exact date? You can see the video online: Bowie in a suit so oversized and stiff that he had to be carried on stage. Then he begins to sing.
As the lyrics of the song go, I was face to face with The Man Who Sold the World. My small-town, 4-H club, bookworm brain said (language edited for print), “What the flip did I just see?”
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As the next few years went on I became more aware of his music, having been a little too young to be there the first time around. Check out the cover of 1974’s “Diamond Dogs.” If that had been in my room in grade school, it would have been straight to the psychologist for me. I admit that, like so many others, I really became a fan when he hit it big in 1983 with “Modern Love” and “China Girl.”
Now, this is the part in the story where I wish I could tell you that I was at that 1983 concert at the Tacoma Dome. But no, my boyfriend at the time thought the tickets were too expensive. One of the great regrets of my life. That boyfriend from the summer of 1983 is long gone, but my love for Bowie remains.
Those of you who are about 10 years or so younger than I am probably met him when he played the Goblin King in “Labyrinth.” Paralleling my own experience, he provides a blast from another world to a babysitting teenager. If you want to see David Bowie at his charismatic best, check out a clip of his first encounter with Jennifer Connelly’s character.
I made up for missing the ’83 concert, though. In 1987 I was living in Sacramento and saw his “Glass Spider” tour in nearby San Jose. By 1995 I was living back in the Tacoma area and saw him at the dome for the “Outside” tour. About a week before the concert, I told my mother I was going to see David Bowie with Nine Inch Nails. She stared at her hands with a puzzled look. No, that’s the opening band, I told her.
When he came around again in 1990 I was living in Edmonds and bombed up to Vancouver, B.C., on a weeknight to see his “Sound and Vision” tour. It was there that I sent him flowers back stage. I had some fun getting a Canadian florist to help me put together a bouquet suitable for an unconventional mega star. Twelve yellow roses just wouldn’t do in this case.
The B.C. stop was in March. When he announced a May date at the Tacoma Dome that same year – yes, I went again. The 2004 “Reality” tour at the Paramount Theater in Seattle was the last time I saw him perform live.
How can I explain the effect he had on my life? In a word, Wow. That voice. And as Bowie once said, “The eyes are a lot hungrier than the ears.” He understood stage presence, drama, and persona better than anyone. He blasted into my small-town life with a message: There’s A Big World Out There.
His final gift to his fans, the video “Lazarus,” is amazing. His last message had much the same effect on me as did his first: “What the flip did I just see?” And more than that: Here was the formerly beautiful young man, full of fame and fashion, willing to show himself as a frail and, yes, aged and dying man. Yet through it all, he seemed to say: There’s A Big Universe Out There.
He was larger than life, and now he has left the stage. Thank you, David Bowie, for sharing your Sound and Vision with us. Godspeed on your next adventure.
Catherine Forte is a former reader columnist. She lives in Lakewood with her husband and teenage son. Contact her with your Bowie stories at firstname.lastname@example.org.