DAVID BOWIE AND ME
by Erin Foy-Vian
I was a competitive gymnast as a child. From the age of eight until I was sixteen, I spent five days a week in the gym. Early on in my "career", I got a new coach named Scott Game. Looking back, what a cool name! Mr. Game taught me a lot, including how to be tough, disciplined and the importance of looking out for my fellow teammate. Once a month or so, he would host a Friday night dance party/workout at the gym. I always looked forward to these as they were fun, and broke up the intensity of daily life.
It was during one of his dance workouts that I heard David Bowie for the first time. Scott used to crank the music in the gym, playing the local rock radio station. I will never forget it. The song was Starman from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. I remember vividly hitting the springboard as I heard Bowie belt out, "There's a Starman waiting in the sky. He'd like to come and meet us, but he thinks he'd blow our minds." I thought to myself, this is my champion song.
It wasn't until a few years later that I laid my eyes on Bowie's alter ego, Ziggy Stardust. When I did, I was amazed. Who was this man dressed like a glamazon? I'd never seen anyone like him. I thought he must be a real brave guy to dress like that, embracing gender bending before the world was quite ready for it. It was the start of my obsession with him, and with glamour, and it's still my champion song.
Choosing of favorite Bowie song from my teenage years is near impossible. It was during these years that I caught the “Bowie Fever” that has pretty much stayed with me since.
Let's Dance is one of my favorite records. I didn’t know it then but Bowie collaborated with Nile Rogers, who co-produced and created the guitar riffs and horn arrangements for this album which contains some of Bowie’s biggest hits-Let’s Dance, Modern Love and China Girl. As a longtime fan, I get it now. Nile helped catapult him from avant-garde art star, to rock & roll superstar. Kind of like what he did for the two robots, Daft Punk. While I loved this record and still do, the most important songs for my teen years were from earlier Bowie, Space Oddity and Ashes to Ashes. To me, one can’t live without the other in terms of significance. Space Oddity marks an ascent upward, and the introduction of Major Tom, a fictional astronaut, on a mission to outer space. Musically, this song is amazing the way it builds instrumentally and vocally.
I used to do the countdown in my head. Then at takeoff, when Bowie belts “This is Major Tom to ground control, you’ve really made the grade, and the papers want to know whose shirts you wear”, I was belting it out too, in the privacy of my teenage bedroom.
Bowie wrote the song in 1969, right before his rise to super stardom, which would define his next decade. He was getting high, or uh, Major Tom was, and while the song builds, it also falls. The realization that Planet Earth was blue and there was nothing he could do humanized Bowie to me. In my “slightly dramatic” teenage mind, I got it. When you are in space, you see the world in an entirely different way, a macro view with multiple vantage points. David had a gift to see the world in many different ways, and his music and art are a true representation of his openness and curiosity.
My other favorite, Ashes to Ashes released in 1980 on Scary Monsters. Bowie has come back to earth, and is reflective. He is closing a chapter, and starting a new one.
Major Tom reappears, but this time he is a junkie wanting to "Come down right now." In my teenage mind, I wasn't capable of understanding that metaphor, but I held that song near to me, carrying around the cassette, and hiding it from my siblings just in case someone decided to “borrow” it. To me Ashes to Ashes is a hopeful song, an act of bravery, and some of Bowie’s best writing. I didn’t believe that he’d never done good things, he’d never done bad things, and I sure as hell didn’t believe that he’d never done anything out of the blue. BUT, what great artist does not question themselves? Ashes to Ashes sealed the deal for me.