I never met David Bowie, but he was my friend for decades.
So many of my life's adventures have had him as the soundtrack. Hearing Low for the first time in a hotel room in New Orleans as the rain outside poured down in buckets. Playing Changesbowie on my car stereo over and over during four-hour roundtrips to my then-girlfriend's place in the early 2000s. Playing “Rebel Rebel” on stage with my old band, The Graveyard School, while Bobby Steele filled in on bass. Interviewing Tin Machine's Tony Sales over lunch at the Rainbow Bar & Grill about his many years with the man. Countless nights playing “Heroes” on vinyl; numerous evenings spent marveling at how great the overlooked 'hours...' album truly is. And then there's Raw Power. Bowie's original mix is like an old, smoked-out couch. Yes, it's a bit dirty and should probably be thrown away or at least cleaned up, but it's familiar, comfortable and has been with me forever.
The only time I saw Bowie live was in 2002 on the Area 2 tour with Moby, Busta Rhymes and The Blue Man Group. Standing front row/center, I was blown away from the very second he appeared on stage to sing the first line of “Life On Mars?” The Blue Man Group had body paint theatrics, Moby had an extensive stage setup and Busta Rhymes was, well, Busta Rhymes, but David stole the show with little more than a great band and an unassuming backdrop sign that simply read “Bowie.” No glass spiders, no stardust. Just that incredible music.
And that music has been with me a lot today.
We can't think about Bowie's impact on history without applauding him for introducing us to some truly exceptional talents. Stevie Ray Vaughan, David Sanborn, Luther Vandross and Reeves Gabrels are just some of the artists who received their first substantial career breaks in Bowie's ever-changing (and always high-quality) backing band.
As Bowie's Tin Machine bandmate Hunt Sales told me back in 2005, “He’s smart enough, whether it be with us or any of the musicians who’ve worked with him, to step back and really utilize the people he has around him, and their talents and their ideas. I respect that of him. Good ideas can come from anywhere and anything, and a smart person is smart enough to sit back and realize that...He’s really smart at utilizing the people he’s had around him, and getting the best out of people and setting up a situation to get the best out of people creatively.”
Of course, his influence can be felt through stereos and iPods around the world. His lyric “the kids was just crass” provided the name for a certain well-known '70s anarchist Punk group, while The Misfits' Jerry Only has stated in countless interviews that he got inspired to be in a band after seeing Bowie on the Diamond Dogs tour. There are millions of others, in bedrooms and stages around the world, who got their first flash of potential Rock glory from a Bowie record.
Back in the mid '90s, I was recording some songs with engineer Carl Paruolo (RIP), who had done some work on Bowie's Young Americans album. He told me that, at one point, a crowd of fans had camped outside the studio in hopes of meeting David. Carl said that instead of having his bodyguards usher the fans away, David gave them some money and asked them to go to an area shop and buy sandwiches to distribute to the crowd. That speaks volumes.
As we continue to digest Blackstar and accept it as the farewell it was intended to be, we can find solace in the fact that he was still pushing sonic boundaries as he put down his final vocal take. Approaching his own demise, he turned mortality into performance art.
With his final musical statement, David Bowie left our world the same way he greeted it – creating, innovating and showing the rest of us the way forward.
He was a gift.
- Joel Gausten
January 11, 2016
- Joel Gausten
January 11, 2016
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