David Bowie says he is afraid of Americans. Well, I was once afraid of David Bowie! Very afraid!
I remember the day I got turned on to the music of Bowie and changed my life forever for the better. It was the early 70’s and I was going to school in Boston. I was already a big music fan, mostly of British rock like The Who & The Kinks, and I was also into prog rock as well, like Genesis, Jethro Tull, Nektar & The Strawbs.
Yes, I had heard of David Bowie, but had not heard his music. Not that many people had. He wasn’t getting played on the radio at that time, but was starting to get press in places like Creem and Circus magazines. I saw pictures of him and he looked alien to me and not in a good way! I had mentally lumped him in with artists like Alice Cooper and The New York Dolls, whose music I also had not yet heard – rocker men who dressed up in woman’s clothing. His persona, the outlandish wardrobe, the make up… I just couldn’t relate. I had decided it wasn’t for me and went on my merry way, and looking back, playing it safe with my listening habits
Then one day, a new friend, Russel Gaidos, and I were talking about our favorite bands, and he said, “You have to check out David Bowie,” pulling out a copy of Hunky Dory. I said ok, let’s try it. He put the needle on the opening track, “Changes,” and as the song played out, everything changed for me right then & there. I loved it! It was the perfect pop song. The first thing that grabbed me was the great hook: “Ch-ch-ch-changes, turn and face the strange.” That’s exactly what I was doing: falling in love with this song & artist. The lyrics made me think, and when he said, “Look out, you Rock & Rollers,” I knew something new and adventurous was being added to my rock & roll repertoire.
Other songs drew me in as well:
“Life On Mars” – Oh my god, so beautiful and surreal! Is that Rick Wakeman playing that amazing piano part? I knew Wakeman from his band Yes – what is he doing on a David Bowie album?!?
“Kooks” (for small Z) – What a warm and beautiful song about parents & children. I so wanted to join in their “lovers’ story.” It still brings a tear to my eye when he sings to his child, “And if the homework gets you down / Then we’ll throw it on the fire and take the car downtown.” I often refer to this song in my role as a dad to my own 13-year-old daughter.
“Queen Bitch,” “Oh You Pretty Things,” “Quicksand,” “Andy Warhol,” “Song For Dylan,” “The Bewlay Brothers”… Astonishing song after astonishing song. I listened over & over & over again. It remains one of my all time desert island discs.
I’m sure I would have eventually found Bowie eventually, but I thank Russel, wherever you are, every day for turning me on to David Bowie at that time of my life. And to think I almost missed it!