Bowie ManWhoFell Schapiro 1975 1500 crop

just how did david bowie affect your consciousness?

THE ORIGINAL TITLE to this piece on David Bowie was “Damn That Damn Disco Music!” But that was re­ally an in­ad­e­quate opening for the tone of this ‘true story’ about con­ver­sion. Then I dal­lied with vari­a­tions on “The Day I Came Out as a David Bowie Fan,” which was an al­lu­sion to his an­drog­y­nous Ziggy Star­dust pe­riod.

Of course, that title is a play on ‘coming out of the closet’ to one’s family and friends as gay. And it is a process that David Bowie seems to have made less dif­fi­cult for thou­sands of young men with his cre­ation of the gen­der­bending glam-rocker Ziggy Star­dust in the early ’70s.

But that’s an­other story, and not mine to tell. 1

I fi­nally opted for “Just How Did David Bowie Af­fect Your Con­scious­ness?” so that I could steer readers to an­other re­cent essay of mine, “Just How Does LSD Af­fect Your Con­scious­ness?” And the title does 2

Now, what was I going on about?

Right, my true story!

 

Bowie at the time of this HUNKY DORY album (1971), when he was fi­nally finding ‘his voice,’ both in the studio and out. Few people out­side his small circle of fans ever saw much of this Bowie; it wasn’t until he trans­formed him­self into Ziggy Star­dust that the world paid him any real at­ten­tion in­side the studio and out.

That damn disco music!

I had been ex­posed to David Bowie’s bloody plastic soul music throughout the summer of 1975! Hearing without ac­tu­ally lis­tening was how I tried to get through it. The YOUNG AMERICANS album had been my best friend Jay­tee’s fa­vorite spin since its re­lease ear­lier in March of that year.

Without let-up, I heard Young Amer­i­cans and Win and Fas­ci­na­tion and fame fame fame every damn day!

What I heard was dance music that just didn’t swing—and dance music that didn’t swing had no reason to be! Bowie and his studio band were stiff, some­what plod­ding like they all had two white feet. But Jaytee thought it was groovy and so I heard it daily.

Jaytee and his wife Jays (of course these are made-up names) and I shared an apart­ment in Nor­walk, Con­necticut. I had gone to school with both of them. al­though I had known her for years be­fore him. We were on good terms, con­sid­ering that young mar­ried cou­ples shouldn’t have to share their space with a roomie.

In the be­gin­ning of our friend­ship back in high school, our shared mu­sical tastes had been one of the rea­sons that Jaytee and I had be­come friends. We buddy-bonded over BEGGARS BANQUET in ’69, and a better way to start a friend­ship man has yet to de­vise!

By 1975, he seemed more in­clined to buy what­ever was hot on the charts, most of which I found pleasant if for­get­table pop. So it was that he owned and played the keep­able (Jackson Browne and Stevie Wonder) with the dis­pos­able (Leo Sayer and Olivia Newton-John) and played them equally.

Me? I was stuck in The Six­ties and the at­ti­tudes and ex­pec­ta­tions that the heady music of that era en­cour­aged and re­quired.

 

Bowie_Ziggy

Re­leased in June 1972, its en­during pop­u­larity and in­flu­ence of THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS (RCA Victor LSP-74702) would lead anyone to be­lieve that it had been a mas­sive hit from the get-go. But ZIGGY was not a big seller upon re­lease, peaking at #75 on Bill­board’s album survey. Still, it kept on selling and two years later was cer­ti­fied by the RIAA for a Gold Record Award. It is a touch­stone album of the ’70s. 3

Heralding the glam-rock years

Jaytee had be­come a big Bowie be­liever with ZIGGY STARDUST and ALADDIN SANE, so buying YOUNG AMERICANS was in line with his es­tab­lished pref­er­ences. But he played the new album end­lessly and raved about it cease­lessly. Bowie an­noyed me more than any­thing: I re­sented his bringing the gay ob­ses­sion with ‘camp’ (does anyone use that word any­more?) and style-over-substance ap­proach into rock music.

Of course, ar­ti­fice and pos­turing and souless­ness (sic) was part and parcel of pop music, but I cringed when it be­came a force to be reck­oned with in rock in the ’70s. And I sorta blamed Bowie and his glam-rock Ziggy Star­dust crap.

So I was hardly amenable to being se­duced into dig­ging Bowie via his latest in­car­na­tion as a non-swinging disco artist. For me, the al­bums to hear in 1975 were BORN TO RUN and the long-awaited of­fi­cial re­lease of THE BASEMENT TAPES.

But Jaytee plugged away, playing Right and Some­body Up There Likes Me and Across The Uni­verse and fame fame fame every damn day!

 

Bowie_Aladdin copy

ALADDIN SANE (RCA Victor LSP-4852) was is­sued in April 1973 and seemed to be a much bigger hit than ZIGGY, making it up to #15 on the same Bill­board LP chart. But it took ALADDIN eight years longer than ZIGGY to sell the re­quired number of units to be cer­ti­fied for an RIAA Gold Record Award in Au­gust 1983. With this album, Bowie main­tained his an­drog­y­nous image for both the fic­tional Ziggy Star­dust and as the real (?) David Bowie. 4

Bourbon and the Beach Boys

The Disco Era was al­ready un­derway and it was the time of not-too-bright guys with mus­taches in leisure suits dancing with equally dumb gals with blown hair (ugh!) and slinky dresses (yum). And every­body was into coke and sexual (ahem) “ex­per­i­men­ta­tion.”

And de­spite the al­lure of that drug and its ex­pen­sive sticker price, where there’s coke there’s sleaze and the ’70s was full of sleazy guys who missed out on the “free love” of the hippie ’60s be­cause they weren’t hip or free and now were into get­ting laid wher­ever and how­ever with whomever. It was also the era in which the term coke whore was coined, so it wasn’t just the guys, gals.

I was a bar­tender at one of the hottest sin­gles dance clubs in Con­necticut. It was one of the first places to have phones at each seat so that less-than-adventurous guys could call a girl and see if she was ap­proach­able.

While I pre­ferred my own balls-to-the-walls tech­nique (just walk up and say some­thing clever in a non-creepy manner and take it from there), I un­der­stood the fear of re­jec­tion so I thought the phone thing was cool.

There I lis­tened to pre-Sat­urday Night Fever disco records five nights a week. When I came home, I hoped Jaytee and Jays were in bed so that I could sip bourbon and listen to Neil Young or the Beach Boys or Sly on the head­phones.

 

Bowie_Pinups

PIN-UPS (RCA Victor APL1-0291 with Twiggy on the cover) was is­sued later in 1973. It con­sisted of Bowie’s ver­sions of twelve killer records by nine British bands in the ’60s. It was an­other suc­cess and an­other Gold Record. Bowie had planned a follow-up of ’60s songs by Amer­ican groups sup­pos­edly ti­tled BOWIE-ING OUT that was never recorded. PIN-UPS was the last studio album recorded with the bulk of The Spi­ders From Mars band.

Then came Bowie’s fame

Jaytee and I did acid reg­u­larly; Jays did not so she was our des­ig­nated driver and gen­eral care­taker. If we did it during the day, we tripped out­side. In the evening, we lis­tened to records. While Fire­sign The­ater was a reg­ular on the turntable, it was mostly music that we played.

We took turns trying to turn each other on to dif­ferent types of music. One of us would get the head­phones while the other con­trolled the music. When Jaytee had the head­phones, I forced him to listen to the Beach Boys’ SUNFLOWER and Quick­silver Mes­senger Ser­vice’s HAPPY TRAILS. When it was my turn, Jaytee usu­ally played early ’70s al­bums that he dug and that I could at least handle.

And we were trip­ping, so every­thing sounded outta site, right?

Well, this night it was my turn under the ‘phones be­cause it was Sep­tember 6, the day after my birthday. Jaytee was in charge of the music. He primed me with some of ‘my’ music (it was my birthday, yes?).

Then came Bowie and fame fame fame.

And I had to listen.

It was part of the deal.

 

Bowie ManWhoFell Schapiro 1975 600 crop

She wants the young American

I cringed all the way through the first side. To be fair to Jaytee, he re­ally liked this album and wanted his best bud to like his music. Didn’t we all? But I did not like YOUNG AMERICANS and I did not get Davidf*ckingbowie!

So, of course, he turned the damn thing over and made me listen to Side 2. I made it through Some­body Up There Likes Me thinking that same some­body up there sure didn’t like me tonight!

Then came Bowie’s reading of John Lennon’s lovely psy­che­del­i­cally pas­toral Across The Uni­verse. This was per­haps the track I hated most on the album: Bowie’s des­e­cra­tion of the song made it even worse than Phil Spector had on LET IT BE.

I thought that Bowie just did not get Lennon did not get what Beat­le­john was after or where he was at with this song and that Bowie should have let it be. Now comes the fun part …

 

Bowie_LSD

Mind-manifesting interlude

For those readers who are not ‘ex­pe­ri­enced’ in the Hen­drixian sense of the word, you are going to have to trust me when I say that there no words to de­scribe the ef­fects of LSD on your psyche/soul, and the ways in which your sight touch taste hearing and sev­eral senses you don’t know you have been af­fected.

Hearing? Like wow, man! What’s there to say? Music be­comes some­thing ‘other.’ Some­thing mind-blowing! The sim­plest and even dumbest music can be trans­formed into a senses-unfolding event: silli­nesses like The Time Has Come Today (hey!) or Crimson And Clover (over and over!) can show you The Way.

And in­sights happen. They do! I know you’ve heard about how trip­pers learn the Se­cret of the Uni­verse (and it’s so easy) and then forget it the next day. (“Jeez! I shoulda written it down!”) Yes, that ab­solutely happens—a lot!

But real in­sights happen, and they can change every­thing. I had my whole con­cept of and re­la­tion to nealf*ckingumphred changed the first time that I dropped a handful of tabs four years ear­lier.

And on Sep­tember 6, 1975, I had one of those in­sights again and every­thing about my con­cept of and re­la­tion to davidf*ckingbowie changed! 6

 

Bowie_YA_LP2

YOUNG AMERICANS (RCA Victor APL1-0998) was re­leased in March 1975. It was an­other best-seller, reaching the Top 10 and an­other Gold Record. It pro­vided thou­sands of dis­cothe­ques across the country with dance music while everyone waited for John Tra­volta and the Bee Gees to break disco into the Big Time. 5

Images of broken light

I was lying on the couch with a towel over my eyes (I al­ways pre­ferred head­phones in the dark) and cringing my way through Across The Uni­verse when sud­denly Bazinga! and IT ALL MADE SENSE and I don’t know how or why there was no ra­ti­o­ci­nating just cringing but SUDDENLY there it was and I got Bowie’s sense of humor his irony and the de­tach­ment the emo­tional dis­tance I usu­ally sensed and dis­liked in his music re­mained but made per­fect sense and I grokked Davidf*ckingbowie!

This was ex­actly what Jaytee wanted, but he didn’t know that be­cause of how I re­sponded to this over­whelming change of feeling/attitude.

Be­cause I didn’t throw the towel off my eyes and sit up and ex­claim Eu­reka! In­stead, I fell off the couch laughing! And it was the Fire­sign The­ater / Georgie Tirebiter he’s a spy and a girl-delighter / Fudd’s First Law of Op­po­si­tion kind of laughing!

I couldn’t stop!

But Jaytee could and did as he turned off the music and I stopped laughing and I asked why are you turning off the music and he asked are you okay and I said oh yeah and he asked why the hell are you laughing and I said I get it I get Bowie and he said then why are you laughing and I laughed more and said can you turn the record over and start from the be­gin­ning and re­member we’re both trip­ping no wait I didn’t tell you that he was trip­ping too and that’s the way we did it and he turned the album over and I put the head­phones back on and lis­tened this time with a BIG damn grin on my face.

I had just had one of the most ex­tra­or­di­nary lis­tening ex­pe­ri­ences of my life and just like that, I was a David Bowie fan! It was with great joy that I ac­cepted the fact that I had been wrong all along and the next day came out to family and friends as a Bowie fan! 7

And forty years later, it re­mains a mo­ment of in­sight and grokking that I can call up at any time, and the smile re­turns.

I have been a David Bowie fan ever since and YOUNG AMERICANS will al­ways be my fav­er­avest Bowie album (fame fame fame fame fame …).

 

Bowie ManWhoFell Schapiro 1975 1000

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page was taken by Steve Schapiro while Bowie was on making the movie The Man Who Fell To Earth in 1975.

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   The closest that I can come was ad­dressed in an­other essay about being picked on and tor­mented in high school simply for being per­ceived as gay by a few f*cking bul­lies: “Were You Picked On For Being Gay? (Even If You Weren’t)?”

2  “Just How Does LSD Af­fect Human Con­scious­ness? This ques­tion has puz­zled users and in­ves­ti­ga­tors for more than sev­enty years. Per­son­ally, I have been more amazed and filled with joy wonder awe at the Uni­verse Void God than puz­zled by the how of these things. And that seems to be a defining dif­fer­ence be­tween the ‘ex­pe­ri­enced’ and the ‘un­ex­pe­ri­enced’ in the world of LSD and any and all things psy­che­delic.” I said that.

3   In 1973, I vis­ited my former high school art teacher Graydon Mayer in his cabin-like house in the woods along the Susque­hanna. He showed me his studio and there on the turntable was ZIGGY STARDUST. Not a man to laugh without abun­dant reason, he chuckled and told me that he lifted it from his son’s col­lec­tion. He found the mu­sic’s rhythms and the song’s se­quencing con­ducive to painting. Mr Mayer was not the type of man I as­so­ci­ated with Bowie: he was a wa­ter­col­orist in the An­drew Wyeth mold—representational and con­ser­v­a­tive (and amazing).

4   The chart place­ment and sales fig­ures of ZIGGY and ALADDIN are rea­sons why re­searchers need to know what they are looking for and the point they hope to make with their data when dis­cussing the com­mer­cial “suc­cess” of an album.

5   I am re­fer­ring to Sat­urday Night Fever, the movie and the sound­track album, which was two years down the road at the time of YOUNG AMERICANS.

6   Any at­tempt to make sense of LSD and the psy­che­delic ex­pe­ri­ence is doomed to silli­ness, as mine il­lus­trates. If you’re in­ter­ested, there is only one way to find out about what I am talking about.

7   After about the age of 10 or so, one of the few ways we hu­mans have to learn any­thing new is to ac­knowl­edge that we have been wrong about some­thing. Here is what to do when the er­rors of your way are pointed out to you: em­brace those er­rors warmly, give them a big hug goodbye, then say “Goodbye.” Then let them go. Then wel­come the new fact or truth into your life!

 

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