When I was a pre-teen, I auditioned for and got into the exclusive Karen Kramer Drama Program for Young People. It was run by Stanley and Karen Kramer, a mish mash of Broadway theater type skills training for young actors: scenes, monologues, chorepgraphy, singing. You had to do it all if you wanted to make it. I had no idea who the hell Stanley Kramer was at the time. He just seemed like a cranky older man who frowned a lot and gave off a "you gotta work your tail off to make it in this business--it's a tough world kid, don't quit your dayjob" kinda vibe while barking at someone for a glass of Alka Selzer. I was pissed at him for making me recite the Declaration of Independence under a simple stage light for my monologue while other people got to do wild and funny scenes or cry their eyes out in a psychotic rage.It wasn't until a few years later that I started watching his films on AMC and was blown away by the realization that I had spent close time with the man who directed Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, The Defiant Ones, Judgement at Nuremberg, The Wild One, Inherit the Wind, and of course, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr T, which I think I saw for the first time in some kind of (ahem)altered state.
But there were plenty of perks. I almost shit my pants when THE FONZ came to lecture us(it's going to be really hard to pretend I'm 24 now), as well as Diahann Carroll and Dom DeLuise. My friend Kirsten Fenswick and I would have huge, dramatic, raging fights in the halls and people would think we were serious. That was the best thing about "KKDPFYP" as we called it--the young actors in the program. We were like a family--quirky, tight knit, lovingly dysfunctional and fueled by big laffs. It was a talented group--bright eyed, with dreams cast towards Hollywood and New York, filled with the promise and excitement of making it. My acting career went pretty well for a time until I realized that no, they were not going to cast me in Annie--there are no brown girls in tthat orphanage, they were in the one on the other side of the tracks. But what does this have to do with Bowie?
Enter one of the young actresses, a striking and androgynous Persian beauty who became an independent filmmaker and now runs popular media site OML. She was wearing a tie and had skinny pants(remember when you could just roll up your sleeves, turn up your collar and look bored/pissed off and that was punk), and that was really cool. She asked me if I was into Bowie. "You mean like the knife?" I asked sheepishly, images of some Davy Crockett fur hat popping into my mind. "No, the singer. He's the best. You HAVE to hear him." She gave me some tape, I don't even remember which one, perhaps "Young Americans". I went home, and was fully blown away by the quality of his voice. It was like a constantly morphing, alien siren song that was at once sweet and melty, then raw and full of Brit twang, then all disco and funky. It was super sexy. Damn. I'd never heard anything like it. Especially since the hard rock dudes were totally dominating the airwaves at that time. I was looking for anything that dirthead Seattle rockers with names like Steve and Rod, who drove Camaros and Mustangs with bleached out Copenhagen snuff rings in their back jeans pockets wouldn't like. Bowie was it.
Then--I saw his TEETH. I'm not going to explain this. Either you know what I'm talking about or you don't. You're either with us or against us. I started bothering my parents to take me to Tower Records(RIP) so I could buy posters and records. Then "Let's Dance" hit and I found myself in the Tacoma Dome with 23,000 other screaming fans on August 11, 1983 for the venue's first major concert: DAVID BOWIE. From then on it was like a drug. I went to New York the spring of the following year for a press junket for the local NBC TV show I used to do movie reviews for and ALL I could think about was going to the Lower East Side to search for obscure Bowie records. My cousin came up from DC to chaperone me and was afraid of EVERYTHING, even the room service at the Plaza Hotel for cryin' out loud, where Touchstone Pictures put up all the press. But she still took me down there, perhaps because I wouldn't SHUT UP about it?? I couldn't believe the number of records he had. I had that panic attack/OCD-eyeglass adjustment thing that nerds have when they start their collections: "Aw man, it's gonna take me forEVER to get ALL of these!" I came home with a stack.
As I went deeper down the rabbit hole, I couldn't believe this man. The looks, the history, the personas and identities created and broken, remade and restyled. The vast universe of sounds, some of which I really didn't like at first, then was amazed at how they slowly washed over me in layers and became my all time favorites. He was a man. He was a woman, He was both. He was a vampire. He was a space alien. He wasThe Elephant Man. He hung out with people like Iggy Pop and Brian Eno, Grace Jones and Freddy Mercury. His early years were marked by bouts of brash fisticuffs, hence his two different colored eyes. He altered the worlds of fashion, identity and rock music. My best friend and I cried as we watched him being buried up to his neck in the sand in "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence." "OMG! He's so sexy even when he's dying with cracked lips and ants all over his head", we marvelled. We felt sorry for him as he turned into a decrepit old man when he no longer rocked Deneuve's world(Bowie AND Bauhaus, so suck it, Twilight). I stayed up late to watch "Christiane F" on Night Flight, and refused to let anyone in my family touch the TV lest I miss the "Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth" duet with Bing Crosby(?) That was unexpected. But Bowie always, always, ALWAYS looked cool. I think that's the crux of it. There are but a few people who seem to embody this concept of eternal coolness and he is definitely one of them. Sorry, but Bowie was really bad for the anti-smoking campaign. He made it look too cool. Can't get away from Bowie. Even when I first heard TVOTR, there he was on "Province", melting out of the CD player with the rest of the lads. And to top it all off he married IMAN, the most gorgeous woman on the planet(who also told DeBeers and their bloody diamonds to f** off)for Christ's sake. The ultimate, modern renaissance man, a dangerously dashing chameleon with a seriously fine tuned aesthetic.
A few years later I got a bit older and more pissed off, delving into the thriving Seattle hardcore punk and Batcave scene, and some of the posters eventually came down, replaced by tinfoil, electrical tape and black paint, but the yearly Bowie birthday celebration(we eat sushi on January 8th--you had to be there) that vinyl stayed and has become well worn and l oved over the years. My David Bowie records are like the sonic Velveteen Rabbits of my vinyl collection: "He's NOT a toy. He's REAL!" When the boys agreed to record Moonage Daydream, I almost peed my pants. I'd been singing it loudly for more than half my life. We didn't try to make it sound like him--that would be lame. You can't. You just can't. I've heard a bunch of boy bands do it and I actually like The White Stripes("sounds like a weirdo") live version of it best because Jack is just out there and crazed. That's how I felt when I first heard "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars"--I ran around the room like a maniac. I felt like I could lift a car. So this is our small humble offering. It may not be much in the face of the vast universe that is Bowie, but I really mean it. I mean every fucking word.
Hear Static People's rendition of Moonage Daydream