There’s no way that today’s column could be about anything else other than David Bowie, his passing, and his musical influence in my life. I can even tell you exactly where I was and exactly what I was doing the very first time I heard David Bowie’s voice, and how it spoke to me.
It was the summer of 1975. I was playing pinball in the bowling alley in the student union at Northwest Missouri State University, where my dad was a Mass Media and Communication Theory professor. I would go there a lot in the afternoons after getting home from school (we lived right across the street from the campus) all by myself. I would roam the campus, alone, free to go pretty much anywhere unchaperoned. I was eight years old. That would never happen in today’s world, not in Redding, and not in Maryville, Missouri. But 40 years ago, it wasn’t that weird.
I remember it so well. The layout of the entire place. It was a huge game room across from the campus cafeteria. Just inside the door was a row of pinball machines to the left, pool tables straight ahead, and to the right were a bunch of lanes to bowl. Bowling was pretty popular. My entire class even took bowling lessons as a gym activity one year out of the three I spent in Missouri (or Misery, as my dad still calls the Show Me State.) There were loudspeakers in the ceiling that played music from a radio station. I’d like to think it was KXCV, the campus public radio station where my mom got her start. But it could’ve been any radio station in those days. It was before my fascination with radio. This is about my introduction to music that made me stop in my tracks and pay attention.
So there I was, all by myself one afternoon, playing pinball. And this song came over the speakers in the ceiling above my head. That beat. That hook. I was already captivated even before the lyrics kicked in, but then I was totally mesmerized. “Fame, makes a man take things over. Fame, let’s him loose, hard to swallow. Fame.” I remember stopping and turning around, looking up at the speakers, and then out and across the room to see if anyone else was paying attention to the song. The. Most. Awesome. Song. EVER. “Is it any wonder? I reject you first. Fame fame fame fame!” I honestly don’t recall ever being moved that way by a song before that moment. It was as if color had suddenly been invented, and the world was being painted in vibrant hues for the first time, right in front of my eyes. “Fame fame fame fame fame fame fame fame fame fame fame fame fame fame fame fame fame fame fame fame. Fame! What’s a name?” The song, by the way, was written when Bowie had fired his management company, and he was pretty disillusioned with….what else. Fame.
That was my introduction to David Bowie. In that bowling alley, in 1975, at the age of 8. Turns out, it was also my introduction, sort of, to John Lennon. If you listen to “Fame,” which is (very appropriately) the very first song on today’s playlist, you’ll hear John Lennon’s voice throughout the song. He also provided guitar and backup vocals (and shares the songwriting credit along with Carlos Alomar). When you hear the song, you’ll know it’s Lennon, now that you know. Only I never knew it was Lennon, not until tonight when I was researching the song to nail down just how young I was when I was roaming the university campus. But now that I know, I feel like I’ve been slapped upside the head. In fact I can’t believe I never knew.
There’s a crap ton of bands out there that had a major influence on my development, musically, but not a lot of solo artists. John Lennon and Paul McCartney individually are both on my short list. But I can definitely say pretty much without a doubt that David Bowie was not only the first singer that made me stop dead in my tracks and pay attention to his music, but in the years that followed, he continued to create music that held my attention, all the way right up to his death from liver cancer earlier this week. His death came two days after his 69th birthday, two days after the release of his very last, very personal album, which serves as almost a pre-eulogy to himself. And no wonder. He knew it was terminal. And he choose to continue on, right up until the end, doing what he loved most. Making music that makes people stop right in their tracks. And I thank you for that, Mr. Bowie.
Today’s playlist takes you on my own personal journey with David Bowie’s music, from “Fame,” that very first Bowie song that held my attention, to the very last song he ever released just last week, “Lazarus.” And all the songs that I personally loved are in-between. Fashion, Golden Years, Space Oddity, Changes, Suffragette City, and all the rest. They’re all there. All the songs I can sing by heart. And after that, stick around, because I’ve added on a few extra treats to today’s Tribute to David Bowie Playlist on Spotify.
Just for you, there’s a couple of Bowie’s very first solo tunes from the mid 1960’s, long before he finally got on the U.K. or U.S. charts, plus a great story about his early days told by Bowie himself. You might also get a kick out of “The Laughing Gnome,” a comic song Bowie released in 1967 that never did as well as Bowie had hoped it would. Wanna hear it? You know the drill. Click on that play arrow below.