In the lead-up to The Mind Warp Pavilion: A Celebration Of The Life And Times Of David Bowie, co-organiser, Leanne Casellas reflects on her connection with the artist, the man and the enigma.
Pic: Leanne Casellas, post-Bowie press conference, 1983
Hand-in-hand, David Bowie has weathered many a storm with me over the past 40 or so years. He was oblivious to this close connection of ours and sadly, now, will never know its depths.
For me, the story is a very different one. He was my one constant therefore, I am bereft without him. Bowie’s lyrics held me aloft, never ceasing to astonish me with their raw guts, emotion and a sublime beauty set to a constantly changing music bed that appealed to my slightly perverse sense of the avant-garde. ‘When I believed in nothing, I called your name…’ This is a tale of infatuation, admiration and reverence made light.
Casting my memory back into the rheumy annals of time, to that carefree era of early adolescence, I have a very clear memory of when I discovered this enigmatic creature who instantly altered my outlook on life. The setting for this epiphany was a suburban pool room as we smoked what probably were lawn clippings… the needle dropped to emit dirgy keyboards, haunting howling and the careful annunciation of the tale of a post-apocalyptic future precipitating a climax of guitars. It was the year of the scavenger, the season of the bitch and I was quivering, ready to rock’n’roll with him for an eternity because there was no one else I’d rather be.
As my friend’s brother tossed the album cover onto the floor, I was enthralled by the half human/half dog with a shock of red spiky hair resplendent in kohl rimmed eyes, shiny blood red lips and sporting that spine-tingling, non-conformist addition of jewelry - an earring and a bangle! My head was spinning. After a brief dalliance with Elton John and David Essex, David Bowie became my first real love, and some could say, my last.
Okay, maybe not real love but it was not just a lust driven by his earthly (or in his case, alien) charms, his music literally transported me to another place. It was so exciting and bewildering, it spoke to me, he spoke to me. You know – the moment, you know you know, you know. It was 1974, the year of the Diamond Dogs. I can still recite Future Legend in its entirety. Album after album followed, I bought them all without question and none of them let me down. My head was about to explode with so many songs, all of them amazing from Lady Grinning Soul to Subterraneans and beyond.
Just under 10 years later, I found myself in a room with the man himself. Unfortunately, this was no intimate tête–à–tête; it was the national press conference for Bowie’s Serious Moonlight tour in the latter reaches of 1983. I was working at the Sunday Independent at the time and a colleague, knowing my penchant for Bowie (aka obsession), took his professional reputation into his own hands by letting me tag along. I studiously prepared for this event safe in the knowledge I would monopolise the floor by dazzling the assembled national press pack with being a Bowie authority to be reckoned with. As luck would have it, I was struck dumb in the presence of my idol and forlornly whimpered to myself over my lack of prowess in the asking-questions stakes. Galvanised by the tour manager’s announcement of the last question, I was shaken from my stupor leaping up punching the air (v v v uncool I might add). He, of course, had no option but to allow me to deliver that final probing question as I probably appeared to be on the verge of a bursting a blood vessel.
Once my presence was acknowledged and the question securely mine, Bowie turned his attention to me – our eyes locked, the room swirled, I was incapable of speech. The nine pages of questions I had written were just words swimming on floating pages, all discombobulated and nonsensical. Everything was reduced to the agony of slow motion. Once I regained a modicum of composure, the inane question I managed to blurt out was more reminiscent of Bowie’s cut-up method of lyric writing that he borrowed from William Burroughs, rather than a coherent train of thought. The perplexed, or shall we say bemused look on his face, when trying to make sense of my plaintive spluttering will haunt me to my grave. The horror of my ineptitude and his perfunctory response cut me to the quick. I recorded that whole press conference, yet to this very day, I haven’t listened back to it.
After the devastating failure of my one big chance to engage with this man, I toyed with the fanciful folly of becoming a door-to-door sales person in Switzerland. I would find him and finally realise my dream of a long and languorous dinner discussing life’s many mysteries. Then he married Iman and moved to New York. I didn’t think she would take kindly to me trying to sell them a vacuum cleaner before beating her over the head with the hose to fulfil my lofty intellectual ambitions of an intelligent conversation with no distractions.
Fast forward 33 years. I am in the wilds of Tasmania. My phone hots up with a stream of condolence messages, it takes three or four before a name is mentioned – David Bowie. Again I am struck dumb, my heart constricted, crushed in disbelief. He was an alien, immortal, he could never die but he just had, on that very day: 10 January 2016. 720 ABC had me on its Drive programme that afternoon to tell the tale of my fleeting encounter with this giant of popular culture. I managed to hold it together.
He was more than a singer. So many people describe Bowie as just a singer – British singer David Bowie… but that is doing him a disservice. He is (note the present tense) a popular culture icon who has influenced pretty much any band you care to mention in one way, shape or form. It could have been musically, theatrically, visually or simply facilitating the means to be whatever they wanted to be. Bowie was never intimidated, never. He exhorted us all until the day of his very demise to not follow but to lead, to experiment, to be free. I really do wonder if today’s generation of teenagers would understand this. They seem to be driven by an entirely different set of considerations. That being the case, I feel sorry for them.
He made it ALL okay for us. Okay to be different, okay for a man to wear make-up and feather boas, okay to be gay, okay to experiment with music, sex or whatever turned you on. He made us go a bit wild, think wild, be wild; he made us think in technicolour and not accept the norm. This is his legacy. One I always have, and always will be in awe of.
He possessed a wicked and incisive sense of humour, a social conscience and talents as a singer, a multi-instrumentalist, a painter and a great reader. I really did love and admire everything about him. Just hearing him speak reduced me to a puddle and those shower scenes in The Hunger with Catherine Deneuve - groan. I remember when I heard the first strains of the Giorgio Moroder penned Putting Out Fire, the title track of the Cat People soundtrack, on the radio. There was no mistaking Bowie’s very distinctive voice. I was driving at the time and had to pull over to compose myself before being able to continue on.
In the almost 12 months since Bowie’s departure from this earthly plane, I have read numerous accounts of people’s relationships (real or imagined) with this very unique man and I have to admit to being quite miffed. I thought I was the only one who really understood him! Ah, spoken like a true obsessive.
Something I have been stunned by is the amount of people who have admitted to me that they now get what I had been banging on about for all those years. So many people seem to have dismissed him as a faded glam-rocker who never achieved the same critical and commercial success of his ‘70s output. Oh, those puerile non-believers. It was only his death that made them aware of his many achievements and depth of talent in so many different fields.
The David Bowie Is exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum did go some way to exposing the magnitude of his talent to the world of the uninitiated. It was the first international retrospective of his extraordinary career. Of course, I couldn’t miss it and flew over to London for it in August, 2013. I spent hours wandering around the 300 exhibits feeling very emotional – probably the jet lag!
In the past 12 months, I have listened again and again to those seminal early ‘70s albums marveling at his ability to be so ahead of his time, a feat he repeated time and time again right to the very end with his magnum opus, Blackstar; an epitaph so finely crafted and sublimely timed. The man was brilliance personified. He left us with so many conundrums, so many questions answered and others not as was his wont; to keep us guessing. Blackstar will be dissected for some time to come. There will be no one quite like him. No one who could entertain the thought of such a magnificent exit from this world, let alone execute it so remarkably. I thank him for making me question and challenge life and of course, for his vast catalogue of timeless music.
I was lucky enough to see him play live eight times, the first in 1978 at the Perth Entertainment Centre, and the last at the Isle of Wight Festival, UK in 2004. Each performance was a religious experience for me; he was god incarnate – maybe he was the second coming and now the world waits for his resurrection: The parable of Lazarus - ain’t that just like him?
Doing the research for the Mind Warp Pavilion projection content, seeing that smile, hearing that wit and watching those hips time and time again was abject torture. The penny still hasn’t entirely dropped that he is with is no longer us, and for those of us on the periphery, I guess we can pretend he is still with us. I simply can’t imagine the pain his family must be feeling. Although, I have to say that I was horrified to read that they are selling off his art collection. He loved art, if a piece resonated with him, he bought it. The collection is part of him so selling it off is beyond the realms of my comprehension. All I know, is that I would never sell not even one work even if destitution beckoned. The collection should be kept intact. Donate it to a museum or art gallery, just keep it together.
My only regret in life is that on that November day in 1983 that I didn’t throw caution to the wind and take my chances rugby tackling that gorgeous man. As the ability to speak had abandoned me, therefore not being able to rely on my usual wit and charm, the consequences of a rugby tackle was the only option left to me, one I didn’t act on. Ah, regrets, I’ve had a few…
I have no regrets though about the amount of work that has been put into pulling together a commemorative event to celebrate the life and times of David Bowie: 7 January 2017 at Gate One Theatre, Claremont Showgrounds.
The Mind Warp Pavilion: A Celebration Of The Life And Times Of David Bowie is a labour of love with over 40 local musos uniting in the common cause of paying tribute to his towering talent. We miss him. He will continue to mesmerise, absorb, compel and fascinate me until the day I too shuffle off this mortal coil.