by Anthony Castillo
By now you have all heard of David Bowie’s recent passing at age 69 due to liver cancer. And unless you are under the age of two or have been living in the middle of what’s left of the rain forest, you know who David Bowie was and why he is an icon of music. As tempting as it is for me to dive into all the reasons why David Bowie is a superstar, and always will be, there really is no need for me to do so. So much has already been written about him I would only be rehashing what you readers have already heard many times by now. And if you’re a Boomer like me and grew up with Mr Bowie there really is no need to go there. When I heard of Bowie’s passing I had the same reaction as I did when I heard of his friend Lou Reed’s passing. Not yet! They both had more creative energy in them. They both were still vital, and had so much more music in them and so much more to say.
But I do have a few things that I feel have not been said about David Bowie that I think need to be pointed out. First and for most is a glaring fact that most mainstream obits gloss over or ignore completely when reflecting on Bowie’s life and work. David Bowie came from the underground. Though he went on to obtain fame, fortune, and international super stardom, Bowie/Ziggy was not a safe, commercial, mainstream artist. Early Mod David Jones (Bowie’s real name) music was a mix of pretty pop and quirky lyrics. Once Jones became Bowie he continued doing pop songs with a mix of hippy folk. But that all changed after he met the cast and crew of the Andy Warhol produced play, Pork when it came to London for a run in the summer of 1971. Bowie went to see the play and met the cast afterwards. The New York City cast of Pork was chock full of important future underground rock n’ roll, artist luminaries, such as the beautiful Cherry Vanilla, the charming Leee Black Childers and the outrageous Wayne County to name but a few. The bios of just these three people alone could fill the pages of the Beachhead. Get yourself a copy of Cherry Vanilla’s book “Lick Me” or the Legs McNeil, Gillian McCain book “Please Kill Me” to read Cherry, Leee and Wayne’s recollections of the first time they met Bowie, went to see him perform, and what they thought of him. Cherry Vanilla would go on to hold a special place in Bowie’s career as his publicist during his time with the Mainman management company.
Bowie asked the Pork cast about the NYC underground scene, Warhol, Lou Reed & the Velvet Underground and Iggy Pop. Impressed by his awareness of the underground art and music scene in the US they went to see him play his music. Bowie and guitar hero Mick Ronson were not yet The Spiders From Mars. In fact some of the Pork cast members were rather let down by what they saw. While the songs were good, David came on stage with long hippy hair wearing a long floor length frock playing a mostly acoustic folk based set. But in less than a year or so Ziggy Stardust was born and the rest as they say is history. Remember folks all of this is before the internet. Bowie had his finger on the pulse of the underground and drew his inspiration from it, then made his own mark upon it. The Ziggy era was cutting edge and is the Bowie music I will always love best. After that period Bowie would swing from being the leader to being the follower and visa versa.
But what I personally love David Bowie most for are for giving a platform for the brilliant guitar playing of Mick Ronson, writing the hit “All The Young Dudes” for Mott The Hoople (which saved them from breaking up) and for producing Lou Reed’s Transformer record with Mick Ronson. Ronson is my favorite guitarist of all time, Mott The Hoople is my favorite band of all time and Transformer is one of my favorite Records of all time. Thank you Mr Bowie. How strange it is that both Bowie and Ronson died of liver cancer, with Ronson dying in 1993 at the young age of only 46. Trever Bolder The Spiders bassist died back in 2013 at the age of just 61. Only drummer Mick Woodmansey is left from Bowie’s Ziggy lineup. Sad indeed.
This leads me to yet more sad news, Bowie wasn’t the only 70’s Glitter rock n’ roller to pass away in this new year. On January 8th singer/song writer Brett Smiley passed at the age of 60. On January 17th Mott The Hoople drummer Dale Griffin aka Buffin passed on at the age of 67. The death of the first member of Mott The Hoople hit this writer as hard as Bowie’s death did to most of the world. All of this makes me wonder where are the new breed of young dudes (and dudettes) going to come from? Or will there ever be any glitter kids ever again? I’m not talking bad 80’s glam rock hair metal, I’m talking decadent, gender bending, dolled up, 70’s inspired, clean shaven hip kids with great haircuts, not hipsters or Motley Crue numb skulls. There is a huge divide between 70’s Glitter and 80’s Glam. But I digress. While Smiley and Griffin may be obscure names to most of you, for those of us that got plugged into the underground at an early age they mean a lot. While other kids were listening to Bachman Turner Overdrive or Jethro Tull, the kids I ran with were spinning T.Rex, Roxy Music, New York Dolls, Mott & Bowie. And then came Punk Rock when we all started our first bands! I know nothing will ever be the same in rock n’ roll ever again. Am I approaching that time in life that my mother and father’s generation went through when the heroes they grew up with all started to fall. Probably so. So I’m left to ponder, is there life on Mars and can we really be heroes someday? I guess only time will tell. Here’s to all the dudes, young or old.