My Meeting with David Bowie

An account of my meeting with David Bowie in the 1970s, excerpted from my book
The Televisionary Oracle.

One December my girlfriend Layla and I drove to Atlanta from where we lived in Durham, North Carolina, to catch a live show by David Bowie. Her uncle had not only scored us two tickets. As a friend of the concert's promoter, he'd wangled a couple of backstage passes for us. We had an excellent chance to meet Bowie in the flesh.

Irrationally, I took with me a tape of songs that I had recorded with my band Momo (a word borrowed from the French slang for "madman," used as a name by Artaud around the time he was sent to an asylum for the first time). I was hoping for a chance to give my raw treasure to Bowie--for what deluded purpose wasn't clear. To see if he could help us get a record deal somehow? To ask us to be the opening act for one of his shows?

Bowie's spectacle exhilarated me. With a hypnotized adoration I would not have given any other famous performer, I laid bare my psyche to be reprogrammed by his lyrics, singing, gestures, everything. I was the kind of blank-slate devotee that I had often ridiculed. And yet throughout the show I simmered with the joyous expectation that this was only the foreplay for an even more miraculous event: meeting my hero backstage.

Layla and I waited a respectful fifteen minutes after the closing song to accost him. His sweat had dried. He was eating a peach. With arrogant humility, I strode up to him, squatted so as not to tower over him, and handed him "Sacred Game," Momo's cassette tape of ten songs and poems. Hoping to appear wildly enigmatic and cool, unlike all the other groupies that normally sought his favor, I didn't say hi or introduce myself. Instead, I greeted him with chanted excerpts from Momo's composition "I Love America."

"My nightmares predict terrifying and beautiful accidents of scientific research that will remove all germs from all money forever, giving rise to a generation of the greatest spiritual businessmen in the history of Disneyland . . . ."

For whatever reason--either he was impressed with my poetry or with the gall I showed by walking up to him so brazenly--Bowie engaged me in a conversation. Actually, he did most of the talking. I tried to sound smart by asking questions that fostered the momentum of his rap.

Over the course of the next twenty minutes, Bowie explained to me his theory of how America in the 1970s had much in common with Germany of the 1920s. An unruly form of music called jazz was on the loose back then, breaking down cultural inhibitions and catalyzing riotous eruptions of hedonism. In Bowie's view, the Third Reich's fascist clamp-down in the 1930s was in part a response to the chaotic repercussions of jazz. He likened this sequence to what he foresaw happening in America. The upsurgent music and culture of the 1960s, which had temporarily wilted under the relentless influence of dour Nixonism, would soon resurface in a tidal wave of jangly mayhem. A wave of anarchist bards would tickle and tempt the collective psyche into greater and greater acts of liberation. After a few years of this libidinous uproar, though, there would be an authoritarian backlash that would make the era of Nixon look like an age of enlightenment. Or so he prophesied.

I had never come across these ideas in any article about Bowie, and as far as I knew I had read every one of his major interviews. What if, I speculated, he had chosen to share these secret thoughts with only a chosen few, of which I was one?

On the four-hour car ride back to Durham in the middle of the night, and with Layla's encouragement, the insane thought grew in my imagination that Bowie had recognized me as a kindred, if less developed soul, and had delivered unto me a special dispensation.

I was to be his protege, I fantasized; his younger brother in the cultural wars to come. As if in some magical blast of psychic insight, Bowie saw that I was destined to be one of the most elite of the anarchist bards. When the prophesied counterrevolution loomed, I imagined he imagined, he and I would evolve into the ultimate freedom fighters, singing and dancing and committing beautiful chaos with shrewd intensity. And our work would be all the more pure and effective because we would never get swallowed up by the system.