Crazy how a few songs can elicit a host of memories. David Bowie’s death at 69 this week flooded the airwaves with the soundtrack of my teens—‘Turn and face the strange Ch Ch Ch Changes…’ Strange indeed.
For a kid with same-sex attraction who adopted the credo that weird is good, sex better, and sensational times set to music lay just beyond suburbia in nearby Hollywood, I made Bowie the troubadour of my teen dreams. He was smart and sexy and for rebel kids, a guide to gender-bending bliss. I can relate to Madonna’s recent comment: ‘I was inspired by how he played with gender confusion.’
Confusion was our clarity. My high school friends and I would salivate at each new album, its cover sporting another evolution of the ‘glaminal’ Bowie. ‘Rebel, rebel, put on your dress; rebel, rebel, your face is a mess; Rebel, rebel, how would they know? Hot tramp, I love you so …’ When he growled: ‘All night, I want the young American…’ we related. We were the young Americans he wanted, right?
Strung out and resilient, insinuating ourselves into adult clubs and the fantasies of father figures, we had fun. Even when Bowie turned the tables and exposed the sickness of the ‘Fame’ we were seeking (‘What’s your name, what’s your name?’), we stayed faithful to his ever-changing persona.
I just saw a clip of an interview with Bowie where he equated his search for new expressions of music with a search for God. Which I guess means you never really land; a new riff, another spritzer of spirituality–the search is everything, more important than actually finding God. Or perhaps being found by Him.
For all my bluff and dare, I hoped someone would find me. I was strung out but not that resilient. My two friends with whom I traversed the thin line between Disneyland and Hollywoodland (we lived smack dab in the middle) bottomed out. One became a porn guy and died of AIDS and as did the other. But he passed radiantly into the arms of Jesus, the prayers of his Pentecostal single mother answered as he cried out for mercy in his dying.
I pray Bowie did the same. Sensations aren’t enough. Personas and good music do not save you. Only Jesus.