By PAM HARBAUGH
Yes, I know the title of this piece mixes the musical metaphors. But that’s all I can think of right now when grappling with David Bowie’s death. Everything else has been said, it seems, about the man who fell to Earth.
The emotions so many of us have experienced have been surprising. Why David Bowie? Why not as such with Robin Williams, Joan Rivers, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Visions in my head flew to the opening of the amazing film, “Immortal Beloved.” It opens with people pouring into the streets and mourning the death of Ludwig van Beethoven as his casket was carried through the crowds. Their town square was, literally, just that; ours has been social media.
Of all the people with whom I wanted to speak about David Bowie, the person looming largest was Tony Macaulay, the legendary songwriter with iconic songs in the ’60s and ’70s. Mr. Macaulay, as you may recall, lives part of the year in his oceanfront condo in Cocoa Beach. He has had three musicals produced at Cocoa Village Playhouse — “The Windy City,” “Build Me Up Buttercup” and “Sherlock in Love.”
Mr. Macaulay, who is English, was in the nexus of great music in the ’60s. And one of the people he knew when was Davie Jones, who renamed himself David Bowie (thank you The Monkees for that). Mr. Macaulay generously called me from his home in Brighton, England, to talk to me about David Bowie — here’s what he said:
“I had a meeting with Dick James, publisher of The Beatles and all the other Mersey acts of that period. He was the god, you know. I sat all afternoon (in the reception area) on the sofa next to this thin young man, Davie Jones whose band was the King Bees (fyi, click here). We spent hours talking waiting to see this guy.
“David said ‘Why don’t you come see us at Eel Pie Island’ — a sand bank in the middle of the Thames in London. It’s where the Rolling Stones began. We all went to see our local bands play there. I went to see David there. The crowds were shouting out ‘Go commercial!’ The band was essentially booed off. David and I sat on some rotting mattresses overlooking the Thames and he said ‘I don’t know what they mean.’
“I said ‘Your records all had these expansionist, esoteric lyrics.’ This was when these marginalized groups — gays, lesbians, transexuals — were still on the fringes of society. His lyrics were all very bizarre and weird and arty. He played saxophone and was the lead singer in this band that did covers of R & B songs that pre-dated Motown. I said ‘If you believe in your own music, you should pursue it.’
“We move to 1971 at the BASCA Awards. I had been given songwriter of the year, the first ever to get that award. David, who was now David Bowie, had a hit earlier with Space Oddity, said if awards could pay bills then he’d be doing very well. But they don’t pay bills. I gave him the number of my manager with Gem Management, I was a partner of the company. (My colleague) Tony DeFries took the call and the next thing I knew we were making this album with David, who dressed like a woman in that day. (DeFries soon left Gem Management and took Bowie with him.)
“They made this album (Hunky Dory) but nobody (big record producer) wanted it, it was far too off the wall. But out of the woodwork came record buyers that nobody had identified before. They weren’t just teenage girls. They were art students, people with more complicated sex lives and personal lives. His lyrics spoke to a different strata of the industry — off the radar. He didn’t find an audience, he created an audience.
“I think what Bowie unquestionably did was take that concept of pop music as art and made it a feasible concept. You cannot separate from Bowie the visual image. He was the first person, long, long before the impact of pop videos. He was as much a visual icon as a musical icon. That’s why he’s so important.”
“Oh, and he only traveled by train.”
Find out more about Tony Macaulay by visiting his website, TonyMacaulay.com.
Edward Rubin, a theater and art critic who lives in New York City, said he had spent Monday at home, in tears. In Artes Magazine, he begins his review of Mr. Bowie’s Off-Broadway musical, “Lazarus,” with the sentiment: “I was devastated. It was like part of me died, which indeed it had.” You can read Mr. Rubin’s well written review and commentary about the touring art exhibit, “David Bowie Is” by clicking here.
Octavio Diaz, a smart man who is an artist, philosopher, surfer and wit-meister. Like so many, OD (his friends call him that) turned to social media which became our town square and allowed us a communal reaction where we shared memes and links to videos, music and some great news stories. OD thinks our emotions come from two places — we didn’t know he was sick and… “He left a final gift (Blackstar) shows how much he appreciated his fans.” To see a little video OD put together, click here.