David Bowie’s music was central to my writing and my life. I was in high school when one of my friends gave me The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars as a birthday present. The first novel I wrote (with Martha Allard, sprawled on her bedroom floor with our spiral-bound notebooks) was an homage to Ziggy.
The year that MTV started, I was in community college. Out in the country, my parents couldn’t get cable, but one of the neighbors had a satellite dish. They hired me to sit with their elderly mother, who had dementia. After I put her to bed, I would watch MTV by the hour, waiting to see David Bowie on it.
When I went away to Clarion, I took two cassettes with me. One was a Bowie mixtape I called Stardust Paradise. Listening to it over and over, I pulled some of my favorite scenes out of the unfinished Ziggy novel and wrote a story around them. That story, “Mothflame,” was published in Not One of Us, before being reprinted in my Ashes & Rust chapbook.
One of the first big stadium shows I saw was Bowie at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan in September of 1987. I didn’t love the Let’s Dance album, but he was amazing. He sang “Time” duing the encore, which was hilarious because he’d spent the evening checking his digital watch. We could see the glow each time it lit up, even in the nosebleed seats. Someone helpfully put the setlist online for me.
I didn’t see Bowie perform again until the year he traveled with Nine Inch Nails. A friend treated me to tickets to the Shoreline Amphitheater show for my birthday. It was weird to see Bowie in the daylight. The audience was so young and clueless that once Bowie launched into “The Man Who Sold the World,” one of the kids behind me wondered why he was covering a Nirvana song.
I saw every movie Bowie featured in, including Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence many more times than was healthy. His turn as Nicola Tesla in The Prestige is my favorite. I like what he says about trying to change the world more than once.
Of all Bowie’s music, Diamond Dogs is my favorite album. His “Candidate” has been on repeat more times in my life than you would be happy to know. One of my unpublished stories is about time-traveling back to 1974 to see his concert tour inspired by George Orwell’s 1984. Apologies for the video quality, but here’s the live version from that era:
And here is the demo version, also one of my personal favorites:
Inspired by Bowie’s death and my long and complicated relationship with his music, I am getting ready to start a new story about him. I think it will revolve around this song: