My girlfriend and I were huge fans of The Beatles, the Moody Blues, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin back in the day. Lots more. We had very diverse tastes in music and spent a lot of money on sounds, including David Bowie. He was very cool and his persona just clicked with us. We bought The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album and 8-track tape and played it like he was the second coming of the Rock ‘n’ Roll revolution. He was. In 1972, we went to see him perform at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, PA, just outside of Philadelphia. He played three dates that year: November 30 - December 2. My guess is that we went on December 2. It was a sunlit Saturday afternoon; a day I could easily have taken off work and there was no school. She would have been a high school junior then and I was a successful 30-year-old stock broker on Wall Street.
Just kidding. That would make me a lot older than I really am, and I stink when it comes to stocks and bonds. I wasn’t rolling in the money; I was flipping burgers and rolling hot dogs on the grill. And we were madly in love…
I don’t remember how far away we parked from the venue, but as we approached the crowd that had gathered in line, we noticed two women dressed in Victorian-style garb. I mean, like from the 1800s. Long, flowing gowns. Frazzled strands of hair almost down to their waists. When we got up close, we realized that they weren’t women at all! They were men replete with big, bushy sideburns and bright, vibrant make-up. Welcome to the world of David Bowie, who attracted a diverse and sometimes strange amalgam of people with contradictory traits. Or so it seemed, but that was then.
David Bowie was different, that’s for sure, but in the 1960s and early 70s, what was the norm? I grew up during a time of free love and give peace a chance. We were almost Hippies then, bucking the system. Nixon was the enemy as much as the Vietcong. We smoked our pot and drank cheap wine that ‘Rippled’ down our throats. We howled like ‘Mad Dogs’ at the establishment. Life was good. To me, I didn’t care that Bowie came out saying he was gay or bi or whatever else. Androgyny was a very alien word and world in the early 70s, but all of that had no effect on our eclectic tastes in music. He opened up the world to much more than what John Lennon and other creative artists had to offer. I mean, where would Lady Gaga be today without Bowie?
When we got inside the theater, it was unlike any other venue we’d been to, and there were a few. The Tower is much wider than it is deep. As we climbed the stairs to our seats, music from the movie A Clockwork Orange played over the incredible sound system. We loved that album, too, from Wendy Carlos - then Walter Carlos - the transgender grandmother of electronic music. (Think Switched-On Bach from 1968.) We sat in the loge; top front and center of three levels. When we looked down, it was almost frightful. It was a deep drop.
Eventually, Bowie came out. I don’t think there was an opening act because I only remember him and his band. He was flamboyant. They were tight and loud and put on a great show. All of the Ziggy Stardust album and more. Between some of the songs, his band mates tore clothing from the sides of his body, exposing costume after costume underneath as each layer fit the musical mood. They played on and on and we loved it.
And just like that, it was over. There were no Bic lighters in those days. There was no security that kept out books of matches or Zippos. Maybe, we were allowed to smoke. I just know that when the band stopped playing, everyone broke out their matches and cried in vain for an encore that never came. I’m certain that by the time we all filed out, he was holed up in his hotel room somewhere in Center City, Philadelphia, staring straight into the eyes of William Penn.
We left a bit disappointed because everyone we had seen up ‘til then had done encores. Over time, that was forgotten; usurped by the experience of witnessing a true curator of Rock ‘n’ Roll music as his career began to bloom. We saw the wee hours of a superbly talented artist and genius.
My interest waned as my tastes in music made ch-ch-changes over the years. But, and this is a big but, I never lost my love for the early stuff and some of his newer music. On September 19, 1987, I saw him one last time in Tampa during The Glass Spider World Tour. That time, he did an encore, maybe two. It was a great show and seemingly long, yet, it wasn’t enough. Now, his voice is still, but his legend will live on and on. Too bad he won’t be around to see life on Mars.