When I went to the David Bowie Is… exhibit in Chicago last January, to be honest I was a bit disappointed. Maybe it was the irritating crowd, shuffling through in their boring clothes, smelling of cough drops and fast food, mindlessly wearing their headphones, making stupid comments like, “Wow! It’s David Bowie’s coke spoon! Look how tiny it is!” They were pushy, yet somehow managed to be cow-like. I was so annoyed with every last bumbling moron in the place that I went out into the waiting area well before my boyfriend had finished looking at the vast collection of extraordinary costumes, artifacts and videos.
As I waited for him, a woman who looked to be in her mid-50’s, dressed in thigh high fur-trimmed boots, a wild mop of platinum blonde hair, a gold lamé winter coat, red bag, purple eye make up and green spandex pants makes a beeline for me. (Bypassing several other people, I might add.)
She gets right up in my face and says, “That was shit. Those fuckers. Those stupid fuckers. They don’t know Bowie. They just don’t know. People like you and me, we know Bowie.”
Now, I was dressed in a black coat and boots. Nothing particularly Ziggy-inspired about my attire that day. So how did she know? How did she pick me out of the sea of people wandering around? How could she have known that we were stardust soulmates, and she was the saving grace of my Bowie exhibit experience? This gloriously weird woman was peroxided, purple-eyeshadowed proof that Bowie has always been the patron saint of weirdos, outsiders, oddballs and freaks. No matter what we are wearing, a suit or spandex, the weirdo shines through. We recognize each other.
And this has always been the beauty of Bowie. He belonged to those of us who hid out alone and ate lunch in the gym stairwell because no one would let us sit at their cafeteria table. He’s the voice in the darkness of our bedrooms, when everyone else was at Prom. Anyone who has ever felt misunderstood or lonely knew that Bowie was out there making music for us, so we knew we weren’t truly alone. Which is also how Bowie knew he lost his way somewhere in the ’80s. He once said there was a certain point when he looked out at the audience and thought, “Why are all these people dressed like they’re at a Phil Collins concert? Then I realized, hang on a minute. I sound like Phil Collins.”
When I attended his Glass Spider concert, I was only 14. None of my friends’ parents would let them go. Actually, that’s not true. I never even asked anyone to go with me. Because I knew what the answer would be. So I went alone. My dad drove me to Vancouver from Whidbey Island and waited in the parking lot for well over two hours.
But as the Bowie refrain from Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide goes, “You’re not alone” and I knew I wouldn’t be. I would be with my own kind. My seat at the BC Place wasn’t great. I was on an upper level. So some people down below told me to jump and they’d catch me. I climbed up on the railing and leaped over it. I still remember how it felt in freefall, the attached cape of my vintage cocktail dress I’d purchased for the occasion fluttering behind me. They did catch me, and we all danced together that night. When I returned to my dad’s car, he told me the stadium had blasted the concert on speakers outside too. He said it sounded like the voice of God. And it was. The God of Weirdos.
At the end of The Man Who Fell To Earth, David Bowie’s character, Thomas Jerome Newton, releases an album of alien messages meant to reach his wife in outer space. Sitting at a café, lonely and miserable, the traitorous Dr. Nathan Bryce tells Newton he didn’t like it much. So Newton replies, “Oh. Well, I didn’t make it for you anyway.”
As Bowie fans know…he made it for us.