Monday, January 11, 2016

I'm Quite Aware of What I'm Going Through

It all began with a small, blue transistor radio

I woke up to find Chloe, the world’s most loveable dog, pawing me, pleading with me to let her outside or else. I looked at the clock and found the alarm wasn’t set and that I would be late for work (insert Beatles’ reference). Naomi was visiting friends through Monday, and so Chloe knew I was the default human.

I grabbed my coat, stood out in the cold waiting for Chloe to do her thing, spoke to a neighbor, then went back inside and made coffee.

It was Monday. Nothing out of the ordinary except Naomi being out of town. Then I looked at Twitter and saw a post featuring a picture of David Bowie with the hashtag: #BowieRIP. For a moment I thought the internet was messing with me. A few moments later, I learned the truth.

Then I started to cry. Wasn’t sure why. But I cried

Can You Hear Me, Little Warren

When I was a kid, which was something like a trillion years ago, I had a little blue AM transistor radio. It was square with two little dials on the side, and there was a little strap that you could slip your hand into and, if needed, you could take the strap and twirl the radio around like a propeller. You could do this until you were reminded by mom that you were wielding a weapon of considerable destructive powers.

WLEE was the station of choice for the blue radio. It played nothing but pop hits, and Space Oddity was one of the many songs I remember hearing. It was a neat catchy song, and neat and catchy worked well for someone who was on the verge adulthood, or what most would call the lofty age of 10. It was an odd song, countering many of the popular songs I hummed and sang. But like most 8 or 9 year olds, I was running from one distraction to the next, and the moment got mixed in with an era.

I loved that little radio. One day I was going to be on the radio.

There’s a Starman

My first reaction was- Why? It was odd feeling this way about the death of a celebrity. So why all the emotion?


In 1979 I was poised for college. God, I hated high school, and I was looking forward to a place where I’d be rid of the bullies and the asses. By that time, WLEE was a distant memory, and WRXL was my new friend. My brother had a Pioneer receiver that doubled as a space heater. He had nice speakers, and when mom and dad were out, I had the speakers make the house cry for mercy. At that time, my brother’s album collection was one of my main sources for music. Albums included Elton John, the Eagles, Jimmy Buffet, and America. I also had a sizeable 45RPM collection, most of which was purchased for 20 dollars from a girl I knew in high school.

The thing about WRXL… it was different. For several years I was listening to WRVQ, a competing station in the Richmond market, but their playlist at this particular time was ‘less than’, and I remember switching to WRXL so I could listen to a more interesting selection of songs. WRXL introduced me to Pink Floyd, specifically Run Like Hell, and a couple of years later I heard what I think was a musical turning point for me- 1981s Lunatic Fringe by Red Rider. Lunatic Fringe was different, and it was the kind of song I knew I’d want to play when I became a deejay.

A year later, I was working at a campus radio station at East Carolina.

Just For One Day

I logged on to Facebook and started seeing the posts. He was really dead.

I knew I wanted to post something, but I couldn’t find words. Everyone who knows me knows I enjoy words, but no words came. I cobbled a few sentences together, posted them, and continued reading all of the other posts.

Soon after my post, my friend Stephanie replied:

Here's something I found: "If you feel sad, remember the world is 4.54 billion years old 
& you managed to exist at the same time as #DavidBowie"

Okay. So I cried a little more. I was becoming a freaking fire hydrant.

Is There Life In Greenville

I hooked up with some neat and strange people in college. I met Naomi (my lovely wife!), Mary Lou, Todd Coats, Jim Ensor, Jeff Chester, Lynne Rupp, Kit Kimberly, and many other lovely folk. There was this one friend I really enjoyed being around. Thinking back, she resembled Bowie. Like most of us, she smoked Marlboro Lights, a brand we nicknamed ‘Bowie Lights.’ She loved intense conversations, and we had many of them. She lived in a little apartment down the street from the Alpha Omicron Pi house on Johnston St. (By the way, I was one of the Pi’s big brothers, and yes, I’m still surprised at that asterisk in my life.)

And she was a Bowie fanatic. Capital ‘Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa Fanatic.’ Along with many other friends, she helped spawn my interest in eclectic music, an interest I carry to this very day. So I owe you many thanks, Trina. And many thanks to the rest of you, and you know who you are...

I learned about Bowie. Hunky Dory. Ziggy Stardust. And by the time I started learning about Bowie’s early albums, Let’s Dance was released.

I remember Bowie was central to the circle of friends I knew. Though we still listened to Zeppelin and Floyd and all the other traditional staples of rock, we seemed to talk about and listen to Bowie a lot. And from Bowie I gravitated to Peter Gabriel, REM, King Crimson, and XTC.

Bowie was the gateway drug.

I Never Did Anything Out of the Blue
I went back to Twitter to see what the Twittersphere was doing. Bowie was trending at the top. I read more posts. I saw more pictures. One picture stood out. It was Bowie sporting his Aladdin Sane 
lightning bolt makeup with the caption: 

#ImAMisfitBecause He made it OK to be so.

At this point I was worried I was going to run out of water.

Beep Beep

After campus radio, I continued searching out new music, and Bowie was kind of a yardstick. The music needed to sound different from the mainstream.

One thing that fascinated me most about Bowie was how he could change his sound but you could always tell it was him. I think he had a characteristic which all musical greats have. I’ve found it in Sinatra, XTC, Radiohead, U2, and my beloved Robyn Hitchcock. It’s the ability to look for other things to play with, whether it’s a sound or a lyric or a rhythm. A restless spirit. A playful spirit. To me, the greats make music interesting, not just for me, but for themselves.

When Bowie came out with Heathen in 2002, I remember wondering what he’d been up to. I had the usual Bowie suspects in my CD collection, and I was up for adding a fresh one to the Bowie canon. If there was one thing I could count on when I purchased a Bowie album, I could count on it being fresh and different.

I wasn’t disappointed. Though the melodies and hooks reminded me of some of his older music, there was a new creative energy that underlined each song. It sounded like he was having fun, and I was happy to come along for the new ride. I was happy to hear an old friend again.

A couple of years later Reality was released, and I went crazy over Pablo Picasso. It’s still one of my favorite Bowie songs.

Is There Something Wrong?

Chloe went with me to work, and when I got to the office, I prayed that my faucets were finally dry. I went to my desk and did some work, but all the while I couldn’t shake the morning news. My head was still fuzzy feeling like it was stuffed inside a giant cotton ball.

Naomi texted me telling me she’d heard the news and that she and Mary Lou were listening to Hunky Dory. I texted back saying I was feeling pretty sad.

Later in the morning I dropped Chloe off at home and packed my bag for Columbia, SC. Before I hit the road, I thought about grabbing a few Bowie CDs and listening to them during my three hour drive. I decided not to. I just wanted to think.

Sound + Vision

Here’s the deal.

I knew I was going to write something. I was going to burst if I didn’t. I wanted to write it all out so I could understand why I was so emotionally invested in Bowie. And I wanted to share my thoughts with each of you so you might understand what he meant to me, your friend. I’ve seen so many posts from so many different people on how he impacted lives. He had a big impact on mine as well.

While driving down to Columbia, I decided to look backward, and I started remembering an important part of my life, a place where I met and retained some great friendships. I developed an ear for artists. I really listened to the lyrics, and I listened for poetry. In some respects, I became a bit of music snob, but I’m okay with that. I know what I like, and I know how I got here.

That era, over 30 years ago, was significant for me. And Bowie was there. Whether he was in the foreground or in the background, he was there somewhere. There was a niche in my soul that he burrowed into, and I decided, happily, to keep him there.

And I realized today, he’s still there, and he’s not leaving anytime soon.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Warren, I was just checking Twitter and noticed that both of your accounts are on hiatus. Hope everything is okay. Perhaps you're simply sick of the election-related vitriol. Anyway, I clicked over here to see if you were posting here (yes, I really do need to get back to work and quit hyperlinking around the web) and found this amazing post. I listened to a lot of cool stuff in junior high and high school, but I don't think I've listened to a lot of Bowie, so the impact for me was not the same. I'm sorry it hit you so hard . . . except to the extent that it denotes something of deep meaning to your life. Best, Laura