David Bowie died recently. You may have heard. I wasn't a full-tilt fan and in consequence thereof didn't rend as many garments as some. As might be put by someone within hailing distance of youth, the dude was okay. He occupies a small amount of real estate on my playlist. One of them, "Putting out Fire with Gasoline," the theme from the 1980s remake of "Cat People," I went considerably out of my way to get.
Why do I bring it Bowie up now? Because in all the public mourning and celebration-of-life in print over the past week or so I don't recall seeing much about Bowie's super-legendary introduction to "New York's large and influential counter-culture, most of whom had never heard of David Bowie," as put by the site "The Ziggy Stardust Companion." That would have been September 28, 1972, his Carnegie Hall debut, which was the mightiest display of the power of the hipper-than-thou ever seen in the City that Doesn't Understate.
Only a few writers were underwhelmed: Robert Christgau (Newsday), who wrote "I must concede that the performance did not impress me at all. In fact, I told my assistant, who accompanied me, that I thought he was a classic example of the star established though hype. Obviously I was wrong, but I wasn't wrong about that concert. It was nothing and the atmosphere was one of frenzied hype stirred up by RCA."
Al Aronowitz (New York Post, who didn't go but relied on notes from his assistant) "He baffled the straights, bored the hip, delighted the stoned freaks and had flowers thrown at him." That was about the most complimentary Al got.
And then there was this dolt, writing in his "New York Times" syndicated column that was printed in the daily papers in all major markets except for NY, LA, and DC.
The "Baltimore Sun" was one of them. Here's the text file:
Mike Jahn, Baltimore Sun, 15 October 1972
"One more freak show"
NOTHING LIKE a freak show to keep the blood flowing. You don't have to take it seriously; you can just sit there and giggle. Iggy Stooge, Alice Cooper — they're good for a laugh. I thought Alice Cooper was the last of that breed — Sixties nostalgia, the revival of the psychedelic carnival. But no, there's another, Britisher David Bowie.
Already the owner of a best-selling LP, "Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars," (RCA), Bowie arrived last week for his Carnegie Hall debut. Outside, a light truck had a beam sweeping the skies, the type of light used for Hollywood premieres and supermarket openings. It cost $150, but the man running it was disturbed. "It's the air pollution," he said. "We can reach 20 miles in the country. Here, we're lucky to get higher than the pigeons."
Inside, a long line of elegant drag queens was searching for seats. One had a floor-length, silver evening dress matched with silver sparkles glued above the eyes. Another had velvet pants and six-color, tie-dyed Afro hair. I took a long look at the crowd and decided to trade my good seat for one in the back.
Warhol and Co.
It turned out to be the best seat in the house. Andy Warhol walks in and plants himself in the seat in front of me. With him is Gerri Miller, the huge-breasted woman who appears in his movies, notably "Trash." One by one the drag queens come by and pay their respects. The concert starts.
Bowie walks on stage to a fanfare, a tape of some baroque keyboard music and three strobe lights. Fillmore Auditorium circa 1966. He is tall, thin, with bright red hair that goes straight up on top, and straight down in the back. His cheekbones are so high they're feet over is head.
Bowie looks like a skinny version of 1956 Elvis Presley, except that Bowie's gold suit is skin tight, not baggy like Presley's was. Bowie's concert is loud and chunky, like Alice Cooper's but better-sung and unconcerned with snakes and whips. He has one song called 'Andy Warhol'.
"Andy walking, Andy tired
Andy take a little snooze
Tie him up when he's fast asleep
Send him on a pleasant cruise."
In front of me, Andy's gang is plotting. Gerri Miller is going to take a bouquet of flowers and run up to the stage. She will hand them to David Bowie and tell him they're a present from Andy. Since David must be thrilled by this, he will invite Gerri onstage. Then she will take off her clothes, which is something she does at the drop of a hat.
Gerri squeezes by Andy, and makes for the stage. She crouches halfway down the aisle, waiting for her moment. The song David is singing builds to a crescendo, then is over. Gerri dashes for the stage, huge chest doing a good job of breaking out of her lace-up dress.
Bowie is thanking the audience for its applause. Gerri reaches up and thrusts the bouquet under his nose. He doesn't notice, and goes on talking. She waves it back and forth. Nothing. Then finally his eyes drift down. He sees this woman trying to talk to him. He smiles halfheartedly, takes the flowers, and without hearing a word, drops them on the floor. An RCA press agent explains:
"He hates to get flowers. Last week in Memphis a girl gave him a bunch of roses. He cut his finger on a thorn and had to stop the show while someone went for a Band-Aid."
© Mike Jahn, 1972
Rebel rebel, your face is a mess ...
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