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Monday, February 22, 2016



   Strap yourself into a 1970s Time Machine. We’re headed to Upper Darby near the Tower Theater where David Bowie (The Rise of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars) is giving a concert. The streets are jammed packed. Young men in day glow eye makeup, long shag hair, and platform shoes look indistinguishable from their girlfriends. Then again, a lot of the young men do not have girlfriends, and some have both a boyfriend and a girlfriend. The streets of Center City duplicate the Upper Darby scene. At 15th and Market near City Hall near the old Pop Edwards Bar (with its 1,000 beers from around the world), more kids in platform shoes make their way to the Greyhound bus station or Suburban Station. Among them are more discreet looking Bowie imitators: tough looking Italian and Irish “kids” from the neighborhoods in ordinary dress (they come from conservative families) but who are nevertheless “with Bowie” in spirit.   
   Consider an acquaintance of mine, Anthony, a real tough guy with shoulder length hair who makes no bones about using the word “faggot.” Poor Anthony is having a rock n’ roll breakdown: there are just too many androgynous shag haircuts, glitter and platform shoes. He feels outnumbered. He describes what he saw on stage at the Tower. “Did you see what Bowie did to Mick Ronson’s guitar?!” Shortly after this he begins to tone down his use of the ‘f’ word.  

   Bowie caused a kind of schism in the rock ‘n roll world. A certain breed of hard rockers called his music fag rock. Rebel, Rebel, don’t know whether you’re a boy or girl. They disliked Lou Reed as well, especially his ‘Transformer’ album and the lyrics about a he becoming a she while walking on the wild side. The hard rockers wanted everything straight up like a John Wayne movie. After all, wasn’t it John Wayne who said, “If you can’t f-ck it, shoot it?” But how do you stop a world sensation like Bowie?   
   Bowie mania accelerated the sexual revolution. Heretofore forbidden fantasies and sexual identities were now out in the open. The word ‘pansexual’ became popular.  
    David Bowie was born David Jones in east London. At 15 he was punched in the face by a friend, causing one of his eyes to stay permanently dilated. It gave him the look of a Grey Alien, The Man Who Fell to Earth.  Bowie would later thank his old chum for punching him because “the eye” complimented his love for outsiders and outsider art. The technical school dropout who could also play the sax went on to become a commercial artist before starting to make music (3 singles) in 1966 for Pye Records. The success of Davy Jones of the Monkees caused him to change his last name to Bowie.  
    In 1967, the future folksinger, alien and all-round decadent spent some weeks in a Buddhist monastery. Good music comes from a deep inner wellspring. Aspiring musicians who loathe spirituality are unlikely to write meaningful lyrics that touch the heart. Imagine atheists like Stephen Hawking or Richard Dawkins sitting down to write a love song. One can almost hear them say, “I can’t write this crap. It’s about love. We can’t see or prove the existence of love!”
     Spirituality in rock in the 1970s was generalized and rarely specific. In those days we heard about mountain gurus in flowered robes or about visions of obscure godheads that might appear after several tokes on a hashish pipe. There were many references to Hare Krishna (George Harrison) and about expanding consciousness with LSD, even though what LSD usually did was make people jump out of windows because they thought they could fly.  Fly like an angel but land like a man!  Serious spiritual transformations among rockers were not the norm but they did happen over time. One thinks of Cat Stevens’ conversion to Islam.

    Some other religious affiliations and/or conversions include:

     Chris Hillman of The Byrds converted to Eastern Orthodoxy.
     Bob Dylan for a brief time was a born-again Christian.
     Eminem (of all people) converted to Eastern Orthodoxy.
     Bob Marley converted to Eastern Orthodoxy after spending time as a Rastafarian.
     Bruce Springsteen has always been a Catholic.
     The Sex Pistols also identified as Catholic.
      The Bee Gees, namely Robin Gibb, identified as Vegan, although when did ‘Vegan’ become a religion?  

     Bowie was a kind of Buddhist until the day he died, although after his death many people came forward with videos and statements attesting to his occult interests, namely his love for the occultism of Aliester Crowley. Others maintained that Bowie had to be a Satanist because of his use of satanic imagery in his music videos.
     Angela Barnett met Bowie in a London speakeasy and they were married in 1970. In interviews after their acrimonious 1980 divorce, Angela said that they had a “bizarre and unconventional marriage,” and that “David was randy…there was every possibility that he wouldn’t be faithful.” Angela herself was expelled from a college in Connecticut in 1966 for having an affair with a woman. True to the 1970s mantra, they each did their own thing during their marriage. As writer Clemmie Moodie wrote, “It was a tempestuous, sex-fuelled relationship - both were late to their own wedding after having a menage a trois with an unnamed third party….”

  Moodie also writes, “In her book, Bowie, author Wendy Leigh claims the star kept a four-foot-deep, fur-covered bed – nicknamed ‘the pit’ – in his sitting room, used for orgies with his famous friends and wife at the time, Angie.”

        Angela credits herself with creating Bowie’s look during his Ziggy Stardust phase. David showed some resistance to wearing makeup at first but he later complied. Ziggy, of course, was an unheralded success. After the spectacular album, ‘Space Oddity,’ Bowie’s name was enshrined forever. The story of a fictional astronaut named Tom blended well with the world’s fascination with space flight.  
   Next, Diamond Dogs and The Young Americans, the latter recorded in Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios. Fame would be another blockbuster (co-written by John Lennon).
   Bowie was in Philly many times in the 70s. During one of his many visits he met a woman friend of mine after a concert. Cheryl, who could capture the eyes of any man (or woman) with her good looks, intrigued Bowie, so they arranged to meet for drinks in a downtown hotel. Cheryl told me that she and Bowie sat at the hotel bar for some time but that their peaceful rendezvous was interrupted when a jealous Iggy Pop appeared out of nowhere. Iggy Pop and Bowie were partners (they shared an apartment together in Berlin), so the furious Iggy made sure that this would be Cheryl’s only round of drinks with Ziggy. 

   Metallic hard rockers snarled when Bowie appeared on SNL in a dress. The skit was hilarious because Bowie looked like the Church Lady.
      In Christopher Andersen’s biography, Mick: The Wild Life and Mad Genius of Mick Jaggar” we read how Angela Bowie walked into the bedroom of their home and saw David and Mick Jaggar in bed together. Angela knew immediately what was up. She reportedly said, “Do you want some coffee?”  
   Bowie’s affair with Jaggar lasted a long time. When they met in the 1970s, Andresen says that they “became fascinated with one another.”
    In 1972 Bowie told Melody Maker magazine that he was gay. But an astute friend of mine who studies American pop music thinks otherwise. He says that Bowie carefully manipulated his image as an outsider to include a gay outsider status. Bowie would later claim that he was bisexual and then later change that to “I have always been a closet heterosexual.”
   The fact is, he slept with everybody, male, female, old and young.
    Bowie was a mercurial businessman who planned every stage of his career like the plodding/plotting Capricorn he was. His career manipulation even extended beyond death so that in the coming years we will see the release of additional albums. He even incorporated a lot of death imagery into his last album.
        In his later years, Bowie seemed to have settled into an exclusive relationship with the beautiful model, Iman. The orgies and intense sexual promiscuity of his earlier years seemed to have vanished, although who knows what may be waiting to be revealed in the future.  I do know this: His wife’s name, I-man, suggests that Ziggy Stardust had found a way to always keep a man in his life, even if it was only by way of language.