Rich Wilhelm

Archive for January, 2016|Monthly archive page

Dear Eighteen-Year-Old at the David Bowie Concert

In 1983, David Bowie on January 17, 2016 at 3:32 am


Dear Eighteen-Year-Old at the David Bowie Concert,

I can see you clearly, waiting for the show to start. Your seat is behind the stage, not the best view, but the best tickets you could get. You have been to a few concerts before, but have not seen Bowie. It’s the summer between your high school graduation and your freshman year at college. Your mom didn’t want you to get tickets for Bowie’s Serious Moonlight tour, but you bought them anyway. It was a tiny rebel rebellion on your part.

You are at the Spectrum, a legendary Philadelphia showplace where Bowie recorded parts of his live Stage album a few years earlier. The night before or the night after the show you’re attending, Bowie’s crew would film the footage that would become his celebrated “Modern Love” video. Philly crowds love Bowie and the crowd gathered around you at the Spectrum that night in July 1983 is no exception.

You know Bowie’s latest album, the smash, Let’s Dance, and you know the hit singles that appeared on the ChangesOneBowie compilation, but you don’t really know what to expect.

As a matter of fact, there is so much you don’t know about Bowie, and lots of other things, as you sit with your pals Joe and John, wondering what Bowie’s first song will be.

Beyond those big, glittery hits, you’ve never dived deeply into Bowie’s discography. But Bowie and his large, great band would stray beyond the hits that night, leaving earworms that would eventually lead down audio rabbit holes with titles like Low, “Heroes”, Lodger, Station to Station, and Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). Plus, that cover of “White Light/White Heat” would whet your interest in the Velvet Underground and their early proponent, Andy Warhol. And learning about Andy would lead you to learning more about this thing called Pop Art. And so it would go, a single concert leading to a lifetime of discovery.

But you don’t know any of that at the time.

You don’t know, as the lights go down, about a moment that will happen deep into the show. As Bowie performs his Major Tom songs, “Ashes to Ashes” and “Space Oddity,” he’ll enter a large clear plastic tent/spaceship and walk toward the back of the stage, facing you, Joe, John and the other behind-the-stage fans. You’ll be at eye-level with David Bowie at this point and, even though he’s not really looking at you, you’ll feel connected to him in that moment. You’ll think to yourself at that point, “I am going to remember this moment for the rest of my life,” and you will be right.

You don’t know that Bowie and his music will be a constant in your life. Or that you’ll see him live two more times and keep up, more or less, with his work over the years. Some of it will be great, some just so-so, but, as both you and Bowie get older, you’ll appreciate how age did little to dull his creativity. You don’t realize how Bowie will become a model for you for how to grow older with your creativity, enthusiasm and openness to new experiences–to life–intact.

You don’t know that, more than three decades after the show you’re about to see, on a dreary January morning in the 21st century, your wife will say “Isn’t it shocking about David Bowie?,” and when she does, tears will spring to your eyes and you’ll have to sit down for a while to collect yourself. And you don’t know that, as you sit there, you’ll think about how, in the days prior to this awful news, you have talked to your older son–who is 18, the age you were at the concert–about how the new Bowie album was influenced by somebody named Kendrick Lamar.  You’ve also just talked to your younger son about who Ziggy Stardust was.

Most of all, you don’t know how, decades after this concert, you would spend a week mourning—hell yes, it was mourning—David Bowie’s passing by listening, over and over, to Blackstar, a compelling final album released just two days before his death. And by watching, many times, the eerie, provocative video for “Lazarus,” a song from Blackstar. And how listening and watching will get you to thinking about all kinds of things, in much the same way that listening and watching the concert you’re about to witness will get you thinking about all kinds of things.

You don’t know any of this as Bowie hits the stage that night. All you really know is that you think you’re about to experience something pretty damn mind-blowing.

And that is all you need to know.

Take care, and I’ll see you in about 33 years,



Patrick F. O'Donnell

writer, editor, general wordsmith and scribe

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