David Bowie has been dead for two years now, and it's still somewhat difficult to believe he's gone. Chances are, Bowie touched your life in some way - he was, after all, possibly the greatest rock icon of any age. His influence can be felt in almost every aspect of art - from paintings by those who were listening to Ziggy Stardust, to Christopher Nolan's The Prestige, to "Heroes" appearing in more films than we can count. Bowie transcended being just a man, or a musician - he was a bona fide global institution, whose mere presence was somehow both otherworldly, and made you feel at ease all at once. He was our Starman, and now he sits amongst the cosmos' dust, waiting for us to join him when we expire and turn to nothing more than soulful specks of ether.
The BMD Staff were all huge David Bowie fans, and to help celebrate the man's life, we put together a collection of our favorite memories. Some are from films, others television, but they're all unified by the man and his persona, ever-shifting, yet always familiar and welcoming...
Bowie's VH1 Storytellers Episode
Even if you limit his output to just live performances, David Bowie gave us a wealth of material to enjoy, so much that you can take a casual stroll through YouTube and find one magnificent gem after another.
For instance, I recently stumbled upon his VH1 Storytellers episode and couldn’t believe I’d never seen it before. Storytellers is sort of VH1’s answer to MTV’s Unplugged, in which artists play through their catalog while discussing how this or that song came to be. Bowie’s set is remarkable. In only eight songs, he covers favorites (“Life on Mars?”, a short version of “Rebel Rebel”, “Drive-In Saturday”), a couple numbers from his then-upcoming Hours (“Seven” and a delightfully stripped-down version of “Thursday’s Child”), and even reaches back to his early early days for “Can’t Help Thinking of Me”.
The music is great, but the anecdotes are even better. I’ll leave most of it for you to discover or revisit, but Bowie is so cheered and jubilant while talking to his audience, offering them casual stories about dumpster diving with Marc Bolan and never missing an opportunity to do various spot-on impressions. It’s still hard to believe one man had all this raw talent and charisma, but this Storytellers set shines a light on something we often overlook with Bowie: his joy at being the coolest motherfucker out there. - Evan Saathoff
Bowie’s 1997 Acoustic Encore
Growing up in the ‘80s, I missed Bowie’s live golden years by a fair margin. The first time I saw him perform live was in 1987, on the bloated, widely-panned Glass Spider tour. It was heralded as a return to the theatrics of the Ziggy Stardust live shows, and it was expensive, flashy, highly choreographed - and literally a football field away from my nosebleed seats at Giants Stadium in New Jersey. I of course decided it was GREAT. Three years later, I returned there for a greatest hits tour Bowie had launched to promote the release of his back catalog on CD. This was a fun show, and I caught it again in another city later on in the tour.
The next concert was in 1997 - his 50th birthday party at Madison Square Garden. This was pretty much another greatest hits set, but this time Bowie was joined onstage by the likes of Lou Reed, Sonic Youth, Frank Black and Billy Corgan. It was a blast. But the live Bowie moment I’ll keep in my heart forever was later that year, on October 4th, 1997. Supporting the album Earthling, Bowie played the relatively tiny Electric Factory in Philadelphia. After burning through a drum & bass-heavy main set, Bowie walked out on stage alone for the encore - armed only with an acoustic guitar - and sang “Quicksand” from 1971’s Hunky Dory. I was about 20 feet away; I’ll never forget it.
This clip is a close approximation of the moment; it’s that song performed on that tour, ten days later. In my version, Bowie was barefoot. - Phil Nobile Jr.
David Bowie's Enormous Package (d. Jim Henson, 1986)
Like so many other '80s kids, my first real encounter with David Bowie came in 1986, with the release of Jim Henson's Labyrinth. The film was only the third or fourth I'd ever seen in a theater, and - while I enjoyed it at the time and continue to count myself a fan - the experience I had watching it that day is seared into my brain forever, as the release of Labyrinth wasn't just my first encounter with David Bowie: it was also my first encounter with David Bowie's enormous package.
For reasons I can't fully explain, I was an easily-embarrassed child (unlike the utterly-shameless child I have grown into three decades later). Everything made me feel uncomfortable, particularly anything...well, "sexual" is the right and wrong word here. I obviously didn't know about sex at that age, but things I'd later recognize as sexual - even tangentially so! - were total deal-breakers. The bra section at Target was a mortifying prison. That weird kid across the street, the one who had a penchant for scampering nude through his front lawn's sprinklers? To be avoided at all costs. If I happened to be with my mother upon encountering such things, the skin-crawling embarrassment was even worse.
So, you can imagine how I felt when - about midway through Jim Henson's Labyrinth - David Bowie showed up in the world's sheerest tights, flaunting a unit so big that he seemed in danger of damaging various pieces of the set. I was sitting next to my mother, and instantly felt panic wash over me in a wave. To this day I cannot explain why this would have made me feel so uncomfortable, but I distinctly remember my face burning with shame as David Bowie's gigantic dong became a supporting player in what had, until that point, but an utterly delightful filmgoing experience. I was, as my associates say, shook.
Whatever hangups I had about sexuality and the human form faded as I aged, and quickly, but that first viewing of Labyrinth remains crystal-clear in my memory; I can summon it even now as if it happened only last week. As the years passed, I'd become more and more a Bowie fan, collecting up his albums and coming to appreciate the massive, incalculable impact he had on the world. Like so many of you, I grew to love him. I loved his music, I loved what he represented, I loved his seemingly endless supply of exciting new creative directions. I followed each new stage of his career eagerly, right up until his tragic death. I still think about him all the time, and when I do, the memory of my first encounter with David Bowie's enormous package isn't far behind. - Scott Wampler
My Mom Talking About Bowie
My first experience of David Bowie was not as a musician, or an actor, or even as a style symbol. I had no idea what he looked or sounded like. All I had was a breathless account, from my mother, of attending a show in the Low / Heroes tour in 1978. When she first told me about her experience, I was but a child, with little idea of what rockstars even were. My mother’s description of Bowie changed all that.
Bowie was alien-like, my mother said: impossible to look away from, performing songs seemingly plucked from the stars, wearing weird costumes that made everyone in the audience feel comfortable no matter how strange they themselves might have been. But everyone knows this about David Bowie. What still sticks with me to this day is my mother describing her attempts to resist getting overexcited, then absolutely failing once Bowie took the stage. At that point, she said, she turned into a screaming fan just like everyone else, captivated by this magnetic performer.
I still think about that story every time I see a live show. My mum was right: there’s nothing like the experience of seeing a true star take the stage. Your breath quickens, your eyes widen, and you find yourself losing your mind a little - so powerful is their star. I never got to see David Bowie - didn't even get into his music until a decade-plus after hearing that story - but my mother's secondhand memory has cast a shadow over every other rockstar I’ve ever seen get behind a mic. And frankly, that's the way it should be. - Andrew Todd
There’s nothing not to love about a mythical, charismatic admirer from another world, but that charisma wouldn’t have been half as exceptional as it was if Jareth the Goblin King were played by anyone other than David Bowie. Making the monster of your film a sympathetic one certainly wasn’t a new tool when Labyrinth was released, but Bowie’s portrayal helped raise that bar. The love he has for Sarah is toxic, without question, but it’s difficult not to sympathize with him for just a moment when he’s explaining that everything he did, he did for her. Bowie managed to weave together pain and adoration to create a flawed and confused monster that would bring even more layers to an already magical film. There’s a lot to analyze in Labyrinth’s narrative, but sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and admire the stellar performances unfold in a maze of creatures and riddles. - Amelia Emberwing
The Hunger (d. Tony Scott, w. Ivan Davis & Michael Thomas)
In an American Wasteland, human scientists like Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon) want their New Wave '80s reality to keep raging into infinity, and that’s just what posh, pompadour-sporting vampire John Blaylock (David Bowie) needs. John has a disease, given to him by his Egyptian wife, Miriam (Catherine Deneuve). It’s the illness of eternal life. But now Miriam is bored with her centuries-old lover, yet John isn’t ready to leave quite yet. Where most vampire tales romanticize the notion of interminable love (think Bram Stoker’s Dracula), Tony Scott's The Hunger is more infatuated with how all things end. Scott’s use of cold mise-en-scène keeps us at a distance, while alternately creating a carefully curated tableau of existential dread. All of this will die. Feelings. Flesh. Time itself. Age is a plague.
I keep coming back to this movie in the wake of Bowie's passing, and what was once simply a cold stylistic exercise in horror theatrics is now a reminder that even Bowie enjoyed exploring the notion of his inevitable human end. After all, Scott's movie opens with Bauhaus hissing "Bela Lugosi's Dead", reminding us that even our icons depart this mortal plane. The Hunger is an ethereal, strange motion picture - one of the very best in the director's undercelebrated filmography. Yet now there's a layer to it that's also untapped, as Bowie appeared onscreen, his presence positing that all things, even seemingly immortal monsters and Ziggy Stardust, eventually fade away into little more than memory. - Jacob Knight