To me, a boy growing up in Vermont in the seventies and eighties, David Bowie was a threat. Bowie was too clever, too variable, too strange, too complicated, too challenging. I didn’t know what to make of a musician whose lane was seemingly whatever he wanted it to be. That this also applied to Bowie’s movies and fashion was overwhelming. To that boy who wanted so badly to fit in, to not be thought of as strange or different or weird, Bowie was a warning and a danger.
Of course I didn’t think about it that way at the time. I do remember feeling strange when I first heard that Bowie and Mick Jagger had been found in bed together, both naked. It was one of those moments when you feel the ground shift beneath your feet, like when you learn your parents can be petty or that a beloved TV star is a jerk in real life.
Bowie didn’t fit into a neat concept of what a musician was supposed to be, not like my favorites Springsteen or Dylan. Bowie was a legend but couldn’t say for sure what the definitive Bowie song was because there were a lot of contenders and none of the were definitive. Or maybe all of them were definitive.
The Breakfast Club came out during my sophomore year in high school, so its fair to say that I was solidly in the target demo. I wasn’t familiar with the Bowie quote that opened the movie. A friend explained to me that it was from “Changes” and for a short time afterwards “Changes” was my favorite Bowie song, like The Breakfast Club was my favorite movie. While the movie probably hasn’t aged very well, the song still means something to me even as my Bowie knowledge has expanded. (I haven’t watched The Breakfast Club in years because I want to keep that feeling that I had when I first saw it.)
John Hughes, the writer/director of The Breakfast Club, knew what he was doing with the Bowie quote. Not only does if fit the movie but it lends some coolness, pandering to teenagers who feel perpetually misunderstood by the older generation.
Years after the death of Stevie Ray Vaughan I was surprised to find out that Vaughan played on Bowie’s Let’s Dance. Bowie had been impressed after seeing Vaughan perform at the Montreux Jazz Festival and invited Vaughan to take part in the Let’s Dance sessions. This was just before Vaughan released Texas Flood so, as usual, Bowie was ahead of everyone. At the time I thought it made Bowie cooler, but of course I had it backwards.
So Bowie was never my guy but it occurs to me now that he should have been, or he could be. I’m thirty plus years away from that scared boy in Vermont and I haven’t changed so much. Bowie want in whatever direction made sense to him and I can’t tell you if it was calculated or not, but it wasn’t safe and easy. The easiest thing to do if find way to be comfortable and then never do anything different. That ease ends up being a prison. I don’t think Bowie ever felt confined. I’m tired of feeling that way. So what am I waiting for?