I’ve been listening to David Bowie a lot lately.
It’s a bit like returning from travels abroad and insisting on eating as I did while away. Toasted bread rubbed with fresh garlic and tomato following a trip to Spain. Cucumber-tomato salad for breakfast after a press trip to Israel. And most recently, coffee made in a stove-top moka upon returning from Italy. Each time, holding on to that place, that experience, for as long as I am able.
Except Bowie takes me back to a place and experience I mostly do not care to hold on to — high school. It begins at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the David Bowie IS show — Artist Date 93. I am transported.
I am 14 and wearing a baseball jersey from the Serious Moonlight tour. My cousin from Los Angeles has turned me on to Bowie. The same way he turned me on to weed, the Culture Club and all things French. He is cool with bleached-blonde hair and skinny ties that match his skinny body. He lights my cigarettes, walks on curb side of the sidewalk and stands up when I leave the table. He is my ideal man. He has been all of my life, and although I don’t yet know it, he will continue to be — long after I stop smoking weed, and Boy George gets sober too.
I am rifling through bins of used albums at Sam’s Jams in Ferndale, Michigan and find ChangesOneBowie. Soon I will commit the words of each song to memory. I will know them like I know my own name. My hair is a pinky-red, spiky and sticky with Aqua-Net Extra Hold. I am wearing iridescent blue lipstick, a plaid pleated skirt from the Salvation Army that doesn’t quite zip all the way up and a Cranbrook Lacrosse sweatshirt — hooded with a torn front pocket — that I “borrowed” from a boy named Simon, who I met just once and never saw again.
I am in Ann Arbor visiting my friend Stacey. We have taken the bus from her house to the University of Michigan campus. There are no buses in suburban Detroit, where I live, save for a yellow school bus. I feel urban and cool. We are watching The Man Who Fell to Earth on a big screen. It is terrible but we love it anyway. Stacey has also seen The Hunger and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. I have not. She is clearly the bigger fan.
I am sitting on multi-hued blue shag carpeting in my bedroom holding the cover of Heroes in my hands — singing every word printed on the sleeve. “And you, you can be mean. And I, I’ll drink all the time.” Little do I know how true these words will turn out to be. A few years later it is Tonight. Blue Jean and a cover of Brian Wilson’s God Only Knows passing my lips.
I am on the cold sidewalk outside of Record Outlet with my best friend A. We are here overnight, in line for tickets to the Glass Spider tour which go on sale tomorrow. I cannot believe my mother has agreed to this.
I cannot believe how long it has been since I have talked to A. Nearly five years. That the last thing she said to me was, “Keep them. They look better on you anyway,” referring to the sunglasses I borrowed and that were still tucked in my bag as I drove away from her apartment. I no longer have them.
I cannot believe I left Heroes and Tonight in Seattle with my ex-husband, along with The Specials, Thriller and the original soundtrack from Hair.
I cannot believe I remember Simon’s name, how long I held on to that sweatshirt, or that I am waxing nostalgic about high school.
But it is. And I did. I do and I am.
In 1990, David Bowie played his greatest hits on tour “a final time.” “…it gave me an immense sense of freedom, to feel that I couldn’t rely on any of those things. It’s like I’m approaching it all from the ground up now.” In 1996 he resurrected Heroes onstage.
There is an IS in hIStory — as well as a story.