Through a series of personal “flashbacks,” Eve Connell relates what David Bowie means to her and how the impact of his art (and his passing) continues to inspire.
“Do you ever remember a time when he was not in your brain? I sure don’t.” —Miz Martinez
FlashThen: 1973 or ’74. SoCal burbs, during what are known as my formative Clock Radio Days.
Ours was a musical household. There was never a moment that music wasn’t blasting from the living room hi-fi. Classical. Rock. Some jazz. Later, punk. And lots of it. If the music was on, someone was singing, someone was dancing. My brother and I used to fall asleep listening to KLOS, KMET, and soon KROQ on our small radios.
When Bowie songs began to frequent the airwaves, it was unpossible to not crank it up, to not move. My reaction to Ziggy was purely electric. I would laugh and smile and jump around, air guitaring, gyrating, bouncing, most likely levitating. Sparkly shadows also made an appearance on my baby face. No other family member got into Bowie as I did. But nobody cared. They didn’t not care, but we each had our own jams. There was some recruitment efforts, sure, as we each tried to turn others onto what we were totally into, usually by hosting dance parties encouraging new moves, new personas, new costumes. Always costumes. Capes, usually.
Early Bowie was my perfect inspiration. My guardian angel, my spirit animal, my fairy godmother. My alien friend. If he could do that, well, I could do something wild, too.
During this same time, I was inspired to go as Bowie for Halloween, but because I also liked trick-or-treating with a pal connected by theme, we opted for Elton John (moi, sporting giant rainbow glasses, striped flares—I loved presenting as boy) and Kiki Dee (Alyson, who always steered feminine). Equipped with our cassette tape player, rad costumes, and fierce attitudes, we made every person at every door in the entire neighborhood watch us sing along to “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” We had moves. We had moxie (we were nine or ten years old). Of course, you can picture this. Quite memorable.
Yet, I abandoned the Bowie impersonation in later years, too, probably because it was “too weird” in my very conservative (predominantly Mormon / Catholic / Republican / upper-middle class) town. (It was never, ever too weird for my Atheist / Liberal / working mom family, but still. Social pressures towards inclusivity direct those of us hovering on the fringes.)
FlashThen: 1983. Serious Moonlight Tour. Both L.A. appearances.
Cindy was never allowed to go to concerts until this one. (Even when my dad was chaperoning, which he did with some late-1970s midlife freak-out frequency, pleasing me to no end.) We maneuvered to the pit’s front row at the overwhelmingly vast Anaheim Stadium. (Madness and Go-Go’s opened; Kris Kristofferson stared at us from the bench directly above for the entire show … but that’s a different sort of story.) We swooned (not for Kristofferson—obvs). Cindy vowed to go to concerts no matter what with me from that night on.
Judi Jae and I had attended another date of that same tour at The Fabulous Forum for her summer birthday celebration. That was a most magical night, too. We devoured the music, dancing and singing along. But it was his theatrics on stage that proved particularly captivating. We marveled at how he moved, how he used the space, how he created his space, new space, charmed space, that instantly drew in ALL. (And, then high on this show of shows, the old family Plymouth died in the parking lot. Two naïve 18-year-old valley girls schlepped to an Inglewood bar in the middle of the night to find a phone … but that’s a different sort of story, too.)
FlashNever: (And yet) 10 January 2016. THE VERY BAD NEWS.
Through her bedroom wall in our just-got-to Hanalei getaway, Hil shrieks. I consider the option of a giant spider in the bed. My door springs open. Hil gasps: David Bowie died.
No words. Only stares.
We dive into the social media frenzy for days upon days, but most obsessedly in those first few wee hours, trying to absorb the news, reading commentary from across the universe, gauging reactions, and tempering our own. Or not.
The next day, Brian just can’t abide any Bowie music. It’s all I want to mainline. It’s usually all I ever want to mainline, sonically speaking. We talk about it. We don’t talk about it. We continue reading posts and watching clips and interviews. We skirt around the subject.
Later in the week, we are ready to move. Our bumpin’ party of four features Bowie (duh), Iggy, Lou, Stones, Velvet Underground. We dance it out. This works wonders to elevate the collective mood.
FlashBack: Fall 2014. David Bowie Is at MCA.
The very same Hil and I on a business-meets-pleasure arts-focused trip to Chicago, perfectly timed to hit the masterfully curated Bowie show at the Museum of Contemporary Art. We dive in, marveling at everything being showcased—music videos, of course; clips from early theatre forays; interviews; costumes and wigs and shoes; lyrics and sheet music; set designs; notes and letters; photos. Endless ephemera. Here we glimpse the major influences of each and every incarnation of his most extraordinary career spanning literature, current events, politics and culture wars, and space, space, space, art and architecture and theatre and lighting and movie scores and …
Absorbed. Instantly transported, I gulp in bits of what propelled Bowie throughout his life. His art. His challenges. His passions. Too many to count. So many surprises, and yet, none, really.
I could have lived in those rooms for a week.
FlashNow: Today. Late January 2016.
Belatedly delivered birthday presents continue to arrive. Mine is the day before Bowie. And as always, many are inspired by the Thin White Duke. As I unwrap the small, precious items ordered long before his last day on earth, I embrace each with a certain joy. Yet the tokens of my friends’ love are also enveloped in not-quite sadness but, yeah, something heavy. A cuddly pillow. Sigh. Paper dolls. Sigh. A tee-shirt. OK, rad. Vinyl galore. Fuck yeah! Nail decals. So silly. All perfect.
FlashThen: Clock Radio Days revisited.
I remember cranking the radio as loud as possible without distortion (good luck with that), attempting to not only hear but make sense of lyrics people were quite suspicious of (most of which didn’t make much sense to nine-year-old me), all the while loving the notes, the beats, the wild energy in and behind and in front of each and every song.
Bowie’s music is timeless. All of it. Even especially those early ’70s tracks. It’s why we never stopped listening. Bowie never feels dated. Bowie always feels future forward. Put on Station to Station right now. (Unless it’s already on.)
FlashNow: Currently (mustering) creative inspiration.
Yes, fine people, we are so lucky to be living in such nutty, fucked up, amazing times, in general, and certainly during the same damn time as Bowie (per the bright memes of the last weeks). As I attempt to reignite my own creative spirit, I reflect on his artistic starts and stops: the reinventing, the appreciating, the morphing, the putting it out there, whatever it happened to be. Being interested in and stretching to multiple areas of the creative sphere. Touching everyone imaginable. Supporting others’ visions. How is that even possible?
FlashForever: Anything is possible. Everything is possible.
It’s in the attempt. The go-for-it attitude. Trying something on. Seeing if it fits. Embracing process. Not taking anyone else down along the way. Expressing without apology. Finding new opportunities. Tripping and stumbling and accelerating. Winning and churning and fine-tuning. Keeping the bus moving.
Because WHAT ELSE CAN WE DO?
FlashThen: 1983 or ’84. Reseda Country Club.
I convince Gabby to drive me to The Valley upon rumor of Bowie introducing the new “Let’s Dance” video in the flesh. There’s no way that’s really going to happen—him showing up—and over dorm hall dinner, the idea is aborted. But bored Gabby pokes and prods all evening. She loves to drive and smoke and drive and smoke and drive. And what if he does show, and I don’t go? (Always the threat of missing out, a theme ruling my life choices during my teens and twenties.) We rally. She drives. We talk and sing. She smokes. We arrive in smart college girl playin’ it cool attire (yeah, right). It’s late. He’s a no-show. It’s later. At this hour, there’s barely a crowd—just a vast dance floor and giant screen showing crackly videos and a few drunks stumbling around. We knew it.
FlashThen&Now: 1985/86 & 2016. Eve comme Bowie à Paris, à Portland.
When I returned from that life-changing, ego-altering year, my dad looks through photos, exclaiming: What’s David Bowie doing in Luxembourg Gardens? Oh, did you run into Bowie at the Louvre? My hair was shorn, buzzed, cropped, bleached, Bowied. The photos of me from that time showcase the most androgynous look I’ve achieved to date. I loved it.
My roomie from 216 Rue St Jacques, who now lives mere blocks away, drops off a birthday present. It’s a framed photo of me—spiky Jean-Louis David no-hairdo me—sitting in the snowy Paris park we frequented.
FlashNotSoFarBack: December 2014, my dermo’s office.
Before having a suspicious cyst removed from my upper rib cage, Dr. B asks: Which Pandora station?
While “Suffragette City” blasts, steam rises from a small incision in my chest. I feel nothing. I sing along. Two and a half songs in, and we’re done.
Wham bam thank you ma’am.
FlashNever: 2011. The Great Unfollowing Project, Act 1 or 2.
I unfollow Iman in a huff onnaccounta she posts A LOT of inspirational quotes that mention God. Bowie couldn’t possibly be with someone who believes … I’m incensed—and also acknowledge the bizarre notion that for one split second I actually believe I know a complete celebrity stranger better than his wife.
FlashThen: 1979 or ’80. 8th or 9th grade.
After school some days, Rinnie and Kim and I like to head downtown and cruise the main drag, always stopping at Neufeld’s Jewelers to ogle the new bling. What catches my eye, immediately, is a gold lightning bolt charm for a necklace. After a week or two of extra lawn duty and some babysitting stints, it’s mine. And still is.
Later, I sneak into my mother’s makeup drawer and slather my lids with the bluest blue creamy Avon eye shadow. As I sing along to “Life on Mars” in the bathroom, I pretend there’s a camera focused on my face and necklace and curling iron microphone stand-in. It seems to work.
FlashThen: 9th grade winter dance.
Equipped with my mother’s DNA that provides an extreme interest in fashion, costumery, and disguises both general and specific, I decide that my outfit for the latest teenage humiliation can not, will not be some Gunne Sax bullshit frock that every girl wears to every damn dance. A recently seen black and white photo of skinny slim pale Bowie in a fitted white shirt and tight black trousers sparks instant desire. Instead of the fake country crap, I opt for black velvet slacks, a cream shiny silky blouse, black patent leather loafers, and a rhinestone and black enamel pin in the shape of a vintage Bentley (classy!). Each preciously perfect item was discovered on one of our usual mall hunts in the Inland Empire. Going against the preferred uniform of all my peers, I feel the true suburban rebel, trying my best to muster any modicum of social strength by channeling Bowie for weeks pre-fête. I can usually be found prancing around my parents’ bedroom in front of the full-length mirrors sporting my news duds. Again and again and again.
At the dance, I am, of course, the only girl in pants. Along with the expected look-up-and-downs, I do gather some winning compliments. This secretly fuels my most challenging misfit weeks to come.
FlashForever: It’s called grace.
Offering a lasting gift, neatly wrapped up in a quiet, private passing provides more than the originally anticipated creative output.
And nothing was ever the same.
FlashForever: Now until →
We’re all under pressure.
We can do better than give up (recommends TheRumpus.net. They’re on to something.).
And while we’re at it, forget Mars: superhuman feats of strength matter while we’re here on Earth. Anything less just won’t do.