Lights are gone, distant, dark. Crowds of anxious, beautiful, stylish, crazily costumed fans in bright purple, piercing pink, screaming yellow and orange chiffons—capes and crowns of diamonds, darkened eyes of sparkle and thick lashes--they dance, vibrate in unison—praying for that moment.
Madison Square Garden. The Stage Blasts Bright. Station to Station roars through the speakers.
There he is. Bowie.
My best friend Bill and I were there. I was shaking. I couldn’t believe I was seeing him. I couldn’t believe I was seeing him as real. A real human being. Not just Ziggy, not just the Thin White Duke, but the Man Who Fell To Earth, really fell to earth. The man.
That night began it all. I was 15 and seeing the rock n’ roll king of my life. Bowie hit it big when I was 11, so I was primed to fall in love with him—this man, his music, his lyrics, his power. And I did. He was electric that 1976 night—and he never turned off. Until January 10, 2016.
Fast-forward two years. Bill and I played in a band called The Student Teachers. He played keyboards and I played drums. We were part of the 1978–1980 punk rock revolution of New York City and London. Heralded by The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Patti Smith, Talking Heads, Blondie—their goal was to blow out those large arena-loving acts like Led Zeppelin and The Allman Brothers and ignite fans to the small, angry, but passionate bands that didn’t fill stadiums.
And Bowie loved that revolution, despite his own arena power.
As we played in 1978 and the smaller bands got bigger, particularly Blondie, our band got the attention of their keyboardist, Jimmy Destri. He produced a few of our singles and compilation albums, and through him we got the attention of David Bowie.
And then, my king of rock ’n’ roll became my friend.
Bowie came to a lot of our gigs and rehearsals, and gave us advice as how to better sell ourselves. I later learned that he arranged for us to open for Iggy Pop at the Palladium in New York City, among other shows. He spoke with record companies about us and worked with Jimmy on some of the production.
As time went on, we grew closer. Jimmy and I were eventually engaged, and as he spent a lot of time with David, I did, too. We often met him for dinners at secret restaurants, and once at a show at Radio City Music Hall he took us upstairs to the VIP suite. We met him when he was living at the exclusive Carlyle Hotel, and Jimmy backed him when he played Saturday Night Live with Klaus Nomi. It was amazing for me to be backstage then.
In early April 1980, our band played Town Hall in New York City and I had a lot of trouble keeping up the tempo and the beat. Two weeks later I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and left the band. I spent that summer in Los Angeles recovering while Blondie recorded Eat to the Beat. Trying to figure out what I would do with my life, I thought of modeling and did a photo shoot with famed photographer Greg Gorman, arranged, I learned many years later, by David.
That’s the way he was. He supported, promoted, and gave generously to his friends and artists, and causes that mattered to him. And you never knew. It just happened. Magic.
I have since learned of many things he arranged for me behind the curtains, but most importantly, he gave me advice that saved my life.
Returning to New York from L.A., we saw David on Broadway as the Elephant Man, and he was inspiring to watch. He took us out to dinner afterward to a restaurant downtown and, as usual, our group were the only ones there. Halfway through the meal, David asked me how I was feeling, how the recovery from my initial MS episode had gone, and what I wanted to do now that I could no longer play the drums. I told him I didn’t know. He looked at me pointedly and said decisively, “You should go to college.”
I was 18. He saw I wasn’t happy. He looked right through me and told me what I wanted to do was cool. He told me exactly what I needed to hear: You don’t have to be here, you don’t have to stay in rock ’n’ roll. Do what is right for you.
When John Lennon was shot, a huge hole in the universe exploded open. And now that Bowie has died, that hole has grown exponentially. But there is an important difference in their deaths. Lennon was shot. Bowie expired.
Many of us assume, feel, and live our lives believing certain individuals are simply not mortal. Lennon and Bowie were two of them, and as horrific as Lennon’s murder was, the fact that it was murder doesn’t absolutely confirm his mortality.
At least that’s what my 15-year-old heart believes.
Bowie’s death confirms his mortality, and that adds to our rock ’n’ roll pain. He was a true and fine man. Remember his music, his remarkable artistry but mostly, remember the man who fell to earth was mortal. He was allowed to die, like we all are. And he will forever be missed.
[From our soon to be released Citizen podcast spinoff Phi-Fi]