It was 1982 and I was fourteen years old. I was a shy and awkward teen who liked horses and reading and not much else. I’d never had a date and, while I could write an A+ essay, I couldn’t talk to people.
At a time when I thought I might be an alien, or at least my hair was surely from outer space, into my life strode David Bowie. An ethereal figure made of white bones and stardust. His haunting voice sounded like the wind through the trees on a snowy moonlit night. Up to then, I’d heard nothing quite like it, and seen no one quite like him. In his mellifluous tones, I found solace and a kind of acceptance.
Somewhere between feather earrings and headbands, leg warmers and shoulder pads, I discovered it was okay to be different. I could turn and face the strange, embrace my weird self and it was good.
But I could also change. Bowie had been at least eight different incarnations of himself in the 1970s alone. If he could do that, I could become at least one other self. I could leave my high school and my hometown where I’d been the shy, skinny geek with odd hair. The idea of reinvention felt not so far-fetched and Bowie’s music became the anthem that gave me the strength to brave one more day of school hallways full of indifference and classrooms full of judgement.
I left home and it actually worked. My clipped wings grew back to the dimensions they’d been when I was still a child full of wonder and reckless abandon. University life allowed me to become who I had always wanted to be. I was still myself, but somehow better. Stronger and freer, I approached relationships with openness and confidence. I consciously tried not to judge others and found, in that way, I was less likely to be judged by them.
The year was 1990. The concert was Sound+Vision. The city was Toronto; the CNE was the venue.
My university friend, Tamara, and I had somehow scored stadium-seating tickets to David Bowie. I was apoplectic with excitement. When we found our seats, back and to the left, we discovered, to our dismay, we were sitting behind a large pole that obscured our vision. We could hear him, but whether we could see anything depended on where he decided to stand on the distant stage.
The concert was luminous, like Bowie himself, and we enjoyed it despite our poor vantage point. He completed the last song, waved and left. We whistled and clapped and shredded our vocal chords with screaming. The stadium devolved into chaos and Tamara turned to me.
“Let’s rush the stage,” she said. “No one’s watching. We can at least see him for the encore.”
So we did. We left our crappy seats and rushed out onto the floor, pushing our way to the stage, hand in hand. When he re-emerged on the stage, I thought I’d surely be deaf and mute for the rest of my life, given the noise and my own screeching.
The closer we got to him, the more mythical and larger he loomed, yet also the more human he seemed. The perfect paradox for the man he was. I remember standing at the corner edge of a stage piece that jutted out into the surging general admission audience. He glided to the end and stood right above me, shook his head, and a bead of Bowie sweat flew from the end of his hair onto my cheek. I grabbed Tamara by the shoulders and screamed, “He sweated on me! David Bowie sweated on me!”
The transformation was complete. I had grown and matured and was no longer the sad, lonely teenager I’d once been, although my hair took many more years to find its groove. (Some might argue it still hasn’t.) But you never forget those difficult years and those experiences that help to form you.
Thank you, Mr. Bowie, for being there for me, for being there for all of us who needed your voice, your strength, your weirdness.
And Rest in Peace.