It was 1999 and I was a senior in high school. Like most high school students I was preoccupied with bullshit, but unlike most high school students it wasn’t my whole world. On weekends I was at UIL competitions that mainly consisted of hours of waiting and about half an hour of actual writing–it was basically a journalism competition. Yeah, I was one of those dudes that the ladies were just lining up for. I’d have to call my mom on a payphone an hour before we finished so she could pick me up.
One week I called and my mom said, “your dad’s gonna get you. He’s in San Antonio right now but he should be there when you get out.” It was weird because my dad NEVER picked me up from school, but whatever. We got to campus and I waited outside with some friends–I was probably awkwardly flirting with someone (or imagining I was) when all of a sudden a brand new, black corvette Tokyo-drifted its way into the parking lot. As it careened closer the sounds of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” blasted through the air–the car pulled up I saw that it was my dad. “You gonna get in?” I jumped in the car and my dad tore ass out of the parking lot, leaving burnout tracks in a sign of not giving a fuck. It was probably the coolest I ever looked in high school.
The reason I bring up that memory is because it’s the strongest association I have with David Bowie. The thing is, my dad’s music tastes were mostly AOR with a heavy dose of the Eagles and some Yacht Rock rolled in (I think that’s where my love of pre-Cetera Chicago comes from). But for some reason, my dad also loved him some Bowie. He always had his 4 disc greatest hits album on regular rotation in said corvette’s CD changer. I grew to like Bowie more and more, particularly when I got into Nine Inch Nails and saw the work he did with Trent Reznor.
I admit to being a bit of an anglophile: many of my favorite bands, from The Smiths to Radiohead and The Cure, are British. But Bowie was…something to aspire to. You could be a fan of specific types of Bowie: Berlin-era, Ziggy, Thin White Duke (my personal fav) and you’re still looking at deep catalogs with each one.
I always admire people who could inhabit so many different identities and Bowie was a master at that kind of shapeshifting. Maybe I, being a short, dumpy brown dude, saw him as that kind of effortlessly cool artist who could simultaneously blend in and stand out in any era. As a musician, there’s much to respect about him: from his work producing for people like Iggy Pop and Lou Reed to the producers he worked with like Tony Visconti and Brian Eno, he always seemed to surround himself with brilliant musicians. I once read an interview where he described himself as a “tasty thief”and I’ve always like that idea–of picking apart those things that influenced you and unapologetically making them your own. I mean his vocal style was undoubtedly due to Anthony Newley, and he even admitted it:
I respected and really liked Lemmy–dude was the baddest of asses. But this one hits hard: Bowie never quite seemed human and that’s what made him awesome. He was ethereal and otherworldly and he’s finally phased himself out of this realm. At the very least I’ll have that memory of when, for one small moment, David Bowie helped make me feel like the coolest dude on the planet.