Bye, bye Bowie

 

Diamond Dogs full spread eagled coverI first saw David Bowie in the summer of 1974 at Madison Square Garden.  New York City, baby.  Age 17.  The “Diamond Dogs” tour. . . I don’t think I had actually heard any of David Bowie’s music at the time.  Aside from maybe “All the Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople (which Bowie wrote).

My older sister’s boyfriend was a huge David Bowie fan.  Which was weird.  Because he was mostly a Grateful Dead Deadhead.  And you wouldn’t think that somebody like that would be a David Bowie fan, too.  But there you go.  Anyways, he had an extra ticket for the Madison Square Garden show. So I tagged along.

I knew that Bowie was a big sensation in England at the time.  The leading light of the “Glitter Rock” movement.  The Next Big Thing according to the media.  But he hadn’t quite caught on in America yet.   Though the media hype machine was pushing hard.   Bowie — who was always one step ahead of the game — captured his own phenomenon perfectly with his Diamond Dogs album cover.  Presenting himself as a Barnum and Bailey freak show.

Myself?  I was a 17-year-old high school jock at the time who was just beginning to dabble with LSD.  So the whole David Bowie thing seemed a little too gay and campy for my tastes.  But what the hell.  I couldn’t turn down a free ticket.

I still vividly remember that Diamond Dogs show 41 years later.  Big dramatic entrance.  Bowie reciting his “rats as big as cats” soliloquy.  This apocalyptic rant.  Ending with him shouting:  “THIS ISN’T ROCK’N’ROLL THIS IS GENOCIDE!!”  And then bursting into the music.  And David Bowie bursts onto the stage.  And he’s got these two half dog / half-human creatures that he’s holding on long leashes.  And they’re scampering across the stage like barely-controlled wild animals while Bowie is singing.  A helluva’ entrance.

And, unlike so many other concerts, Bowie held your attention for the entire rest of the show.  There was something captivating and magnetic about Bowie.  You couldn’t take your eyes off of him.  But it wasn’t just Show Biz schtick.  Even at age 17 I could tell there was a high intelligence behind the sensation.  Something conceptual.  The allusions to Orwell’s “1984” and all the rest of it.   For once there was some real substance behind the Next Big Thing hype. 

There was also this zany humor along with the outrageousness.   And people forget:  This was the era of “jam rock” where rock stars took the stage wearing blue jeans and work shirts and turned their backs to the audience and did 20 minute guitar solos.  It was very innovative for the times, the way Bowie put together this show that was choreographed almost like a Broadway theater production, but without losing the spontaneity and rawness that made rock music so great in the first place.  But the bottom line (which sometimes got lost in the mix because of all of Bowie’s other talents) was that Bowie was an extremely tuneful songwriter, belting out one great song after another.

What can I say.  I became a life-long David Bowie fan after that Diamond Dogs show in 1974.  And I’ve enjoyed just about everything David Bowie has done since then.

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The third time I got drunk

Here We Come....

I remember the third time I got drunk.  1973, age 16, a junior in high school.  A guy in our class named Punchin’ Bob Miller — Punchin’ Bob was his nickname because he was well known for his boxing prowess  — was going to be fighting in the first round of the Golden Gloves boxing tournament.    So my pal Johnny Walker Red suggested that we show our support for our fellow Northern Highlands Regional High School classmate by going to the fight and cheering him on.   Chuck and I agreed that this was an excellent idea.

There had been a whole bunch of articles and features about Punchin’ Bob in the local newspapers and local TV stations.  Young Kid From the Suburbs Competing in the Legendary Golden Gloves Tournament!  So it was a big deal.  Personally, I always found Punchin’ Bob to be a little on the smug and arrogant side.  But then, he was young and good looking and strong as a bull and from a rich family.  So I guess it would have been hard for him to NOT be a little full of himself.   And he never once punched me, so what the heck.

The Golden Glove tournament took place in the fabulous Felt Forum, which was an annex of the legendary Madison Square Garden in New York City.  So this was the big time.   The Big Apple.  If you could make it there you could make it anywhere.   Or so I’m told.

It was about a 45 minute bus ride from the suburbs of New Jersey to New York City and when we hit Manhatten, Red had yet another great idea.  There was a chain of restaurants in New York called Burger and Brew, and the deal was, if you bought the hamburger and french fries dinner you could get all the beer you could drink.  Me, Chuck and Red were determined to get our money’s worth.  I’m amazed that they served us considering that the drinking age was 18 and we were only 16.   And we looked it.  Hell, Red with his skinny little body and face full of freckles looked like an innocent 13 year-old boy.   That is until you took a closer look at the hard glint of mischief in his eyes.  But I guess things were looser back then.  So we sat there in our cozy little booth polishing off brew after brew.  There was a warm, electric glow to the lighting in the restaurant.  You know?  That kind of lighting where you can’t see anybody’s zits and everybody looks better than they are.  Most of the people in the restaurant were corporate businessmen and secretaries having a couple pops before they took the train home.  So we felt very worldly and adult sitting there amongst them, slowly getting schnockered.  Pretty soon I began experiencing that feeling for the first time that I would come to covet in my long and varied career as a consumer of alcohol . . . that feeling where you look across the table at the guys you’re drinking with and say stuff like:  “Ya knowww . . . You guys REALLY are the GREATEST!!”

Suddenly we remembered the fight was about to start, so we quickly guzzled down the rest of our beers,  paid our bill and went romping down the wide sidewalks of downtown Manhatten.  When we got to our seats the fight was just about ready to start.  And there was Punchin’ Bob way down there standing in the middle of the lighted stage of the ring, like he was standing at the center of the universe.   “Its Punchin’ Bob!”  we all shouted.   It was a surreal feeling to see somebody we actually knew standing there on center stage.  Punchin’ Bob was throwing warm-up  sparring punches in the air and looking incredible tough and rugged  in his big, balloon-like boxer shorts.  After reading all the glowing reviews about Punchin’ Bob in the local papers we were convinced that he was destined to win the tournament and bring glory to the name of Northern Highlands Regional High School.

When the bell rang and the fight started we were cheering wildly.  But pretty soon we got quieter and quieter.   Punchin’ Bob was fighting this black guy, and the black guy was way too quick for Punchin’ Bob.  For three rounds he beat the living crap out of Punchin’ Bob.   He basically used Punchin’ Bob as a punching bag.   Even from up in the nose-bleed seats we could see how red Punchin’ Bob’s face was from all the punches he had taken.  By the end of the fight Punchin’ Bob wasn’t even trying to land any blows anymore, he was mostly just trying to cover up his head, wearily, and avoid further beatings.

When the bell sounded and the fight ended we were all a little stunned.  “Poor Punchin’ Bob,” we said.

“Yeah, but he showed he’s got guts and courage by the way he hung in there until the end,” declared Red.   And we all agreed that Punchin’ Bob had indeed brought pride and glory to the mighty Northern Highlands Regional High School.

The referee stood in the middle of the ring with the two fighters by his side as we awaited the announcer to announce the winner.   The black fighter was dancing around in anticipation of victory.   Punchin’ Bob was standing there with his head slumped down like he could barely stay on his feet.

“And the winner is . . . Punchin’ Bob Miller from Upper Saddle River, New Jersey,” announced the announcer.  When the referee raised Punchin’ Bob’s arm in the air, Punchin’ Bob looked like he could barely hold his arm up.   At first everybody in the arena was stunned.  And then there were some scattered boos and curses from the crowd.  It wasn’t like a cacophony of booing or anything.  But you could definitely tell the crowd was angry and disgusted and felt like it had been jobbed.

This old guy who was sitting next to me smoking a cigar (those were the days when you could smoke inside and men were men) and who was obviously a boxing afficionado, turned to me and said:  “They want to keep that kid in the tournament because he’s generating a lot of publicity and selling a lot of tickets.”   It was the first time it occurred to me that race sometimes played a factor in these things.  And that life was not necessarily fair.

The other thing I remember was the bus ride home.   I looked over at Red and his face was changing colors and he was contorted in pain.  “Hey Red, are you all right?” I said.

“Holy shit, I’ve got to piss like an Irish racehorse,” said Red.  “I’m afraid I’m gonna piss my pants.”  Red sat there fidgeting and groaning for the next 15 minutes until we finally got to our stop.  And Red raced out of that bus like a bat out of hell and pissed for what seemed like at least 10 minutes straight.  That Johnny Walker Red, he was a character.  I wonder what ever happened to him.   I haven’t seen him in 40 years.  I hope the years are treating him well.

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