So softly a super god dies…
I started writing this in my head at 3:00 this morning as I woke to the rushing wave of disbelief that I had been experiencing all day. David Bowie has died. Much like I think about that possible phone call in the middle of the night hearing that one of my parents has died ( which thankfully has not happened )… through my life I also thought about what it would be like to find out that he has died. He was that important to me. When I thought about writing about it, my first thought was, who am I to write about David Bowie’s death? Everyone under the sun that has ever known him or crossed paths with him has come out of the woodwork in the past 12 hours to speak on this subject and I’m sure there will be more to follow. No one would care what I thought. I have been one degree of separation away from him for several years and through friendships with Ian Hunter and Suzi Ronson I have heard a lot of inside stories so I guess that gets me a little closer than some, but still … I am a no one in a sea of no ones that loved him. As I contemplated writing something, it hit me that every one of us in one way or another had a very personal relationship with this man. We feel loss and it doesn’t matter if he knew us … what matters is we knew him. Whether we were inspired, captivated, mesmerized, lured or shanghaied into his world, we were all woven into the wonderfully artistic fabric that was Bowie and over the decades, we were all taken on one hell of a ride. So yes, we all are connected, feeling a massive loss and grieving. I needed to write this all out to try and get this horrible shitty feeling out of my system. Writing about things gets them out of my head and allows me to understand them. This is my attempt at a cathartic “purging of sorrow” if you will. This blog is more about my personal life journey than David Bowie but he played a huge part in that journey.
Before I can come to terms and begin to explain how I feel now, I need to tell you who I was and how I felt when I discovered him. Time for some back story…
I was a bit of a strange kid I think… disconnected from much of the normal things kids like and think about. Wasn’t into sports or anything like that. Didn’t play army or cowboys and indians … I was a daydreamer. I fantasized. I loved escapism. I loved thoughts of haunted houses and monsters, magic and ghosts, demons and wizards and dragons. I was obsessed with vampires. I can remember being scared to death of the dark as a kid after watching a scary movie but I couldn’t stop watching them. “Twilight Zone”, “One Step Beyond”, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” were among my favorite tv shows. I was drawn to the macabre. The only books I read were horror books. I remember hearing about this new movie called “The Exorcist” and wanting to see it so bad but I was only 12 at the time and mom and dad were not about to take me to see it. I did manage to sneak a copy of the book though and loved it. I had every monster model Aurora made. Dracula was my favorite of course. I was a weirdo.
I always loved music but it didn’t really develop into a career focus until my early teens. I had a guitar given to me by my parents when I was maybe 9 or 10? This would have been about 1970. I didn’t get lessons and couldn’t really get past the hump without some guidance so it didn’t really become an obsession yet. I was an alter boy and in catholic school at the time and one of the nuns showed me a few chords so I could play at the folk mass. aaaaamen … aaaaamen … aaaamen, aaaamen, aaaamen. Not exactly what I would call inspiring.
Rick Tedesco June 1970
My family had moved from Norwalk, Connecticut to Ft Myers, Florida in 1968. We lived there till Jan 1974. I had an older 1/2 brother but he wasn’t living with us so I didn’t really have someone to turn me on to cool stuff and found my music by whatever was played on AM radio. My dad taught me how to read music and made me play the saxophone and I hated it. Every second I held that thing around my neck was an effort. My poor dad … I fought his lessons tooth and nail. I wanted to play guitar. I remember at the time being drawn to certain types of songs on the radio. Great melodies hooked me. Hauntingly sad songs hooked me. Scary songs really got to me. The band “Bloodrock” had a song playing on the radio at the time called D.O.A. about a couple that had a horrific car accident. It is one of the first songs I can remember that I looked for on the radio after hearing it initially. I can still remember the first time I heard it … it was late at night. I was listening to a hand held AM radio that looked like a gas pump that my dad had probably gotten for free with a fill up and some S&H green stamps. I was supposed to be asleep but I kept the volume low so no one was the wiser … such a naughty boy. I can remember being drawn in to the sound of the sirens and the creepy organ sound … the eerie feeling that came over me as he sang in vivid detail, “I tried to move my arm and there’s no feeling…and when I look I see there’s nothing there. And him asking … ”God in heaven, teach me how to die”. That was some heavy, scary shit for a little kid to process. But man was that fucking cool. Music was starting to call to me.
Alice Cooper hit the airwaves with “Schools Out” in 72. That guitar riff. Fuck me! How bad ass was that?!?! Now I was really getting somewhere. I admit I also liked the lighter side of things offered up on my little gas pump AM radio. Carol Kings “It’s Too Late” comes to mind … loved it. Great melody.
Trouble and problems found me fairly soon after we moved to Florida. As a kid, church was scary for me. The robes, the echoed voices droning on in Latin were pretty intimidating. The priests were to be feared, and for good reason. First of all the priests and nuns were allowed to hit you. I remember someone told my parents I said fuck at the bus stop once so they took me to a priest who told me stories of how they would take boys that said bad words and beat them till they were bloody. Wasn’t that nice? Another Florida fun fact was I was unwillingly introduced to sex at age 10. I shudder till this day over what happened to me in Florida. My innocence was stolen. My childhood and my naive little brain was suddenly tainted and my young life had a dark cloud over it. My Catholic upbringing ate me alive over it. I felt dirty because I went along with it and God saw it. I did bad things that were wrong and God knew about it. There was pleasure, and guilt. Lots of guilt. I was bad and God was watching me … as well as Santa Claus … that’s how young I was. I still believed in Santa! I was definitely going to hell AND not getting any presents. I didn’t tell anyone what happened to me. Definitely not my parents. Nope, no one was going to ever find out … not even that prick, mind fucker of a priest. I can only imagine the punishment he would threaten me with for what happened if you got beaten bloody just for saying a word. Instead, I blamed myself and lived with the weight of that for a long time. I have tried to make peace with it over the years but every part of your past makes you who you currently are to some degree. No wonder I hate religion today. I was fucking 10.
Still with me? If you are you’re probably wondering what the fuck this has to do with David Bowie? OK … Like I said, I wanted to give you the back story of what a mess I was and how broken and conflicted and disconnected I was as a kid so that you would get why I connected to Bowie and how profound my discovery was of this new alien life form that was about to enter my confused little world.
It was the summer of 74. My family had just moved back from Florida to Connecticut. It was a very turbulent time in my parent’s marriage. They fought about moving back so there was a lot of tension in my already messed up little world. Mom was done with Florida but dad wanted to stay. He agreed to come back when the ultimatum was given by my mom of “I’m leaving with the kids and moving back to Connecticut. You can come or stay here by yourself.” He came but did not come happily and it was a while before things would calm down between them. I think I learned during all of the discourse to mentally drift away around then. Daydreaming and escaping reality was what my brain decided was best I guess. It wasn’t a conscious decision to do this mind you. It just happened.
Now back in Connecticut, we finished out the winter living with my grandparents for a few months and eventually found a house in Danbury, CT. I spent that first summer digging out stumps and splitting wood and helping get the yard and house the way mom and dad wanted it. I hated it. I didn’t make friends very well and being the new 13 year old kid in a new neighborhood and a new school was hard for me. I got picked on. I was tall and very thin and self conscious, awkward, overly emotional and prone to outbursts when picked on, making things even worse for myself. Bullies love a reaction. Truth is I was fucked up, scared and trying my best to hide it. The bullies in the new neighborhood named me “New” because I was the new kid. Geniuses, all of them. They wrote “New is a fag” in spray paint on the road in front of my house and would gather out there and call me out every morning after my mom and dad had left for work threatening to beat me up. One day I had had it and pulled my dad’s rifle out and walked out the front door with it yelling “come on motherfuckers”! They freaked out and ran for cover and never bothered me again. Yeah, yeah I know … I had no intention of shooting anyone and the gun was definitely not loaded. I didn’t even point it at them … didn’t have to. They saw it, shit themselves and ran. The only kid that was nice to me was the kid that lived right next door to us named Doug Scofield. He was sort of a tall, dumpy kid that had a trashy life and a dysfunctional set of parents. He slept till noon, had no ambition to do anything … but he was my first friend and didn’t seem to judge me so I was content in our friendship. He had this cool scam going. He joined the Columbia Record Club and got 11 records for a penny … then they would send a new record every month. And he never paid them. Eventually they would stop sending records. Then he would join as another name and they would send him 11 more records and he would never pay. Rinse and repeat … He later ended up in jail for forging checks. Go figure. I eventually talked my parents into letting me join … and I paid. I had already pissed off God enough… definitely wasn’t going to push my luck.
The first record I think I ever bought after meeting Doug was Edgar Winters “They Only Come Out At Night”. There was a monster song called Frankenstein on it! And looking back, the androgynous picture of Edgar Winter on the cover was very telling of where I was about to end up.
One day I was perusing Doug’s impressive, albeit ill gotten collection of music and I came across a new record with the most amazing looking album artwork ever. David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs. Uh, Doug? WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?!?!?!? He put it on and OMG… All the stars aligned. There he was. The coolest monster, vampire looking musician, hauntingly singing about death and decay and drugs and sex in church basements and packs of dogs lurking in alleyways and the end of the world all rolled up in one with a ½ man ½ dog sprawled across an album cover. It was perfection. He was instantly my savior and I became a convert into the religion of David Bowie. He sang beautiful melodies, and his lyrics were brilliant and thought provoking. He had intellect and mystery. He intrigued me. He made me feel like I wasn’t alone in being different. I stared at that cover image for hours while listening to it. I read every word printed on the sleeve over and over. The opening track, a dark spoken word poem called “Future Legend” was printed on the inside cover. It ends with Bowie screaming over a massive cheering crowd, “This ain’t rock and roll … this is genocide”. Naïve me …. “Hmmmm what does genocide mean”? I had to look it up. The killing of an entire race of people? That’s actually a thing? Cool word. The inner sleeve was a picture of urban decay by Leee Black Childers. It was a bleak, cold look at a post apocalypse prediction … possibly our future. I would meet Leee at Ian Hunters house decades later and confess how many times I stared at that picture and his name and wonder who he was. I read Tony Visconti’s name who I just met a few days ago. There were other names too … Keith Harwood, Alan Parker, Tony Newman, Herbie Flowers, Mike Garson, Guy Peelaert. These names became magical to me.
I remember talking to a guy that worked with my dad one day. He was younger than my dad by about 10 years and kind of cool. He was visiting our house and I started blabbing to him about my new found hero. He was sort of surprised. “You like him?” he said … “ He’s so strange.” I didn’t understand what he meant. I proudly showed him the album thinking he must be confused as to who I was talking about. I mean, look how cool this is! … and he said, “yeah that’s what David Bowie looks like, he’s a weirdo”. I remember getting a little defensive … no … more like angry. I remember wanting to scream “fuck you asshole!” Strange?? Weirdo?? I didn’t get what he was saying. At all. Bowie looked so cool to me. Not weird. Not strange. He was perfect. This would not be the first time people didn’t get it or made fun of my admiration for David Bowie.
In the 9th grade in my new school I knocked out Nicky Sanchez for calling David Bowie a “fag”. I can remember the teacher yelling at me, “what did you hit him with??” He was completely out cold on the floor in the hallway. I thought I killed him. He was fine, though I got suspended. My junior high school yearbook is riddled with messages like … “Get rid of the stupid David Bowie T shirts”. I wore one to school every day. I was the only kid in school that did this and I paid a price for my choice in hero’s.
Carol Tedesco, Rick Tedesco 1975
I began going through the TV guide religiously looking for his name. I wanted to see him move, speak, perform because so far all I saw were still pictures. Those were the days well before the internet and youtube and even VCRs. If it was on TV and you missed it, you missed it. I used to watch channel 5 after school no matter what show was on because WNEW radio had a Bowie commercial of Mick Rocks filming of “Jean Jeanie”.
I began getting his back records. “David Live” was next I think … I remember looking at the cover and thinking “Hey, what happened to the cool hair”? Fuck it, didn’t matter at this point. I was already sold. Got “Ziggy” and “The Man Who Sold The World”. LOVED all of it. Hunky Dory was next … it was a little lighter (sophisticated ) for me at the time but again, I loved it and I would later realize “Life on Mars” was one of the best songs ever written. Then came Space Oddity and Pin Ups. Space Oddity was folky but I listened to it religiously like all the rest of them. After school I would come home and put my headphones on and stare at the albums, read the lyrics and daydream and listen to every song on every album. I performed this ritual every single day. After much begging, my mom and dad allowed me to get a telephone for my room. When the phone guy who installed it asked me what color phone I wanted, I said red … Bowie’s hair color. Duh! I found the song book for Diamond Dogs and there were pictures of chords so I could figure out how to play them. With my new found direction and inspiration, I was back at the guitar with a vengeance this time. My neighbor Doug decided he was going to be a singer so we started a band. Basically I would put on a record in my room and played guitar to the songs and he sang. This “band” lasted a few months until I found a drummer and we quickly realized Doug sucked as a singer so we threw him out and I started singing. I don’t remember there being any problem with Doug not being the singer in our band anymore … we just stopped calling him to practice and he never asked about it. He wasn’t serious about it anyway …no ambition. The drummers little brother played sax with us at our first performance in my mom and dads basement for some neighborhood kids.
I got another book of Bowie songs that had songs from Ziggy and Hunky Dory in it and learned them too. My life path was now clear and chosen. I was going to play guitar for David Bowie. This is when I took notice of Mick Ronson and Ronson became my guitar hero. Bowie and Mick had already split by the time I discovered them but they were what formed me as a guitar player. I began getting “Circus” and “Cream” magazine and they LOVED Bowie. I found Mott, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and T Rex as I followed the spreading Bowie web. I started getting the bootlegs that were sold in the back of the magazines. I joined his fan club. His posters were all over my walls. I was not rich or given money for my new habit. My addiction was funded and fueled by hard work. I would baby sit, mow lawns, paint porches, dig out stumps, wax cars and shovel snow all around the neighborhood. You name it and I did it to get the cash to buy the latest Bowie thing I wanted.
The Pennybaker documentary of the Ziggy farewell show was where I really got to appreciate what Mick Ronson meant to Bowie and those early albums. Though Ronson had nothing to do with Diamond Dogs and what originally made me click with Bowie, you could not deny his presence or his sound on the previous records. Mick was special and much of how I play and approach guitar today is steeped heavily in Ronson 1973.
I saw him many times in concert. My first concert ever was the Station to Station tour at the New Haven coliseum on March 22, 1976. I was in awe that I was in the same room breathing the same air as him. I was able to sing the same words at the same time as him. It was magic. I saw the Glass Spider tour at the Garden. The intimate Roseland Ballroom gig in the late 90s. I saw him at his 50th birthday party at the Garden. I saw him in Hartford, New Haven, New Jersey and at Radio City for the Outside tour. I have been fortunate enough to meet many people over the years that were involved with Bowie during that time. Mick Rock, Ian Hunter, Suzi Ronson, Woody Woodmansey. I had an hour conversation on the phone with Trevor Boulder once. Met and shook hands with Carlos Alomar at a gig, Tony Visconti, Leee Black Childers. All of them part of the wonderful glamorous fantasy world I created in my mind.
I was back stage at the Meadowlands for the last night of Bowies 1990 Sound and Vision tour. There was David, 10 feet away talking and smiling politely to a few people. Totally approachable yet I just couldn’t find it in me to approach him. I didn’t want to be the bumbling fumbling fan that said the same things everyone else said. I just looked over and smiled knowing I was close to greatness. Do I regret not saying hi or shaking his hand? I don’t know … they say, never meet your hero’s. I always thought I would cross paths with him again though and have another chance. Guess not.
Jan 11th … 7:30am … I woke up to my phone blinking. It was a text from my sister.
”For some reason I’m sad for you that David Bowie has died. Thinking about you more than usual today. Love you”.
I couldn’t comprehend it at first. What? How, why, when, … It was just his birthday, new record out, new video…what? No way … I opened facebook and there it was. Miles and miles of posts about Bowie dying. Oh my god. I think I was in shock. Then the tears came … on and off all day as I was reduced to that little confused 13 year old kid. I think I was in disbelief …. I mean I was just with Ian Hunter Saturday night the 9th and saw “Holy Holy”, ( the tribute to “The Man Who Sold The World” album with Woody Woodmansey and Tony Visconti ) at the Ridgefield Playhouse. We went back stage after the show to say hi to everyone. I spoke on facebook several times with Tony Visconti which was a huge thrill for me, So I finally got to meet him, another name printed on the “Diamond Dogs” album cover and out of the blue Bowie dies the next day? I’ll never forget the look on Tony’s face when I told him about that album and what it meant to me. He smiled and thanked me for the compliments but there was a look that I didn’t understand at the time. It was a kind, appreciative look for what I had to say … but there was sadness in his eyes. I think it was because he knew … he knew the end was near.
L to R Tony Visconti, James Stevenson, Rick Tedesco, Ian Hunter, Paul Cuttleford
Looking back, as a kid my obsession with Bowie was on the strong side to put it mildly. Yes it bordered on hero worship I guess but it was innocent magic to me at the time that took me away from my pain and awkwardness. I look back on those days fondly and now that the realization that Bowie is gone is starting to sink in, I suppose I’ll miss them more than ever. As I said … there was naive innocence to it all on my part. Honestly, what’s wrong with believing in magic and having a super hero … even if he does wear lipstick? And though he drifted in and out of my life over the years as other things took front and center, he was always there when I needed him. I know his music and creativity will always be a part of me as deep down inside, that damaged little awkward weirdo is still alive and well.
Rick Tedesco 1/12/16