I heard the news today, oh boy!
No sooner had I started to process the sudden death last week of legendary front man and bass player Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister of the British heavy metal band Motorhead (who, besides being a friend, single handedly made Twisted Sister cool to his many fans in 1982) but I awoke this morning to the news of the death of David Bowie.
John Lennon famously said: "If there hadn't have been an Elvis, there wouldn't have been The Beatles."
I can say this without any sense of overblown hyperbole: If there hadn't been a Ziggy Stardust, there wouldn't have been Twisted Sister.
The Beatles lifted my dreams off the planet, Bowie shot them through the galaxy.
As much as the Beatles awakened my passion for rock 'n roll when I was 12 years old in 1964, Bowie (through his alter ego Ziggy Stardust) came along at just the perfect moment in time in 1972, when I had just turned 20, and provided the second booster rocket that carried that passion into the unexpected realms of androgyny, rock and commerce.
At the time, I was just recovering from a four- year Grateful Dead hangover, wondering what would be coming next when I decided to get a subscription to a rock magazine called Fusion. It came with 3 free albums (that's right, you got free LPs for subscribing in those days!) The albums arrived. They were the first Lou Reed solo album--before Transformer, with members of the band Yes as his back up band...weird! An album from Mott the Hoople called All The Young Dudes and David Bowie's Hunky Dory. While the Bowie song "Changes" was playing on FM radio at the time, the second track "Oh, You Pretty Things" knocked me on my ass. The song spoke to me an both the musical and sexual level actually having me wonder about my own sexuality.
The albums came with an issue of the magazine with Lou Reed on the cover, just as Transformer was being released. When Lou died in 2013, sad as that was, it never felt shocking. Lou's image was almost like a U.S . version of Keith Richards, burning the candle at both ends and just waiting to get the news. Bowie, on the other hand, was like a space age version of Howard Hughes, draped in mystery and speculation, appearing only when it suited him and in a weird way, ageless. Reed's hit song "Walk on the Wild Side" was produced by Bowie--who also played that amazing sax solo on it-- and his guitarist Mick Ronson. The confluence of Bowie/Ronson-produced Transformer, Mott The Hoople's hit "All The Young Dudes," written and produced by Bowie/Ronson, and then the pièce de résistance, the classic album Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders From Mars created the effect that this guy, David Bowie, seemingly out of nowhere, was the most important artist on the scene since the Beatles!
Weirdly enough, there was definitely change in the air. I had spent the summer of 1972 rehearsing with an Allman Brothers cover band at a hippie commune in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania and occasionally rehearsed at a studio called Talent Recon in New York City run by a guy named Satan, who looked just like... Satan. I ran into the Dolls there and noticed they didn't look like hippies. They were wearing very cool, British style rock 'n roll wear. This was really different to me and I wondered what was going on.
Combine this with the fact that, shortly after seeing them at the rehearsal studio, I was taken by a friend to see the New York Dolls who were playing weekly at the Mercer Arts Center in the village in 1972 with an image that was pretty close to drag queens.
So...the fall of 1972 collides with Lou Reed, Mott, the Dolls and...one night, I think I just got the Ziggy Stardust album, Bowie walks into the Mercer Arts Center to see the Dolls and sits behind me (see photo).
Bowie was in town to play his first ever NYC show. No, not the one that people think was his first (Radio City, Feb. 14, 1973, and yes, I was 4th row center for that one where he performed as Ziggy Stardust) but the much more interesting and revealing performance at Carnegie Hall five months earlier.
At that show, without any stage props to speak of, was a stripped-down, tough rock 'n roll performance. This showed me that Bowie was dead serious about who he was and where he was going.
Of course, there is no way to tell how anyone handles the first flush of celebrity. That incendiary white hot light of seemingly instantaneous fame has destroyed many artists.
Somehow he seemed to take two steps forward, dragging us along the way, pause for a little while as we got used to where he brought us, and then come back to push again.
Only the smartest can do that.
Much has been written about the revolutionary "Bowie Bonds." This was an investment tool created by some very smart advisers to Bowie to raise money against his future royalties. I don't know if it was Bowie's idea, his advisers or a little bit of both. Regardless, it got a lot of artists thinking for the first time about their economic futures.
It impressed the hell out of me.
For more than 40 years Bowie was always evolving, always changing, always pushing.
There are so few artists, or businesses for that matter, that have lasted decades let alone ones that keep pushing forward without seemingly concerned about how they are being viewed but believing that it is for the betterment of mankind.
Bowie was one of the rarest of that breed.
A brilliant musician, song writer and producer
Above all, however, Bowie was a visionary.
A trait that all successful entrepreneurs share!