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 duplicate the Center
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
to Mick Ronson’s guitar?!” Shortly after this he begins to tone down his use of
the ‘f’ word.
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.
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?
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
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
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
Sigma Sound Studios. Fame would be
another blockbuster (co-written by John Lennon).
Metallic hard rockers snarled when
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.”
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
The fact is, he slept with everybody, male, female, old and young.
In his later years,
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.