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The Days Float Through My Eyes

January 17, 2016

“I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes”

– David Bowie, from Changes

It seems the whole world climbed to the top of the mountain this week to exclaim their adoration of David Bowie. The tributes started last Sunday night as soon as we learned of Bowie’s passing and are ongoing a week later. In the Catholics’ Year of Mercy, even The Vatican sent a blessing.

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I wonder who buys posters these days. Kid, I would guess. I wonder if the kids buy Bowie posters.

My temperament nudged me to the door before the peak of these memorials. I’ve learned that lingering too long and paying too close attention won’t treat me kindly.

Bowie’s vast range of artistic interests and talents reached generations of people across the world. His gentle presence left a lasting touch on many. Bowie was never shy to help the disenfranchised or speak out about injustice and is given credit by people he didn’t know personally for helping them get through difficult times. Those who did know him testify about his kindness and generosity and the power of his endorsement in the music and art worlds. No less than Bruce Springsteen talked last night about taking the Greyhound Bus to Philadelphia to meet Bowie in 1973 and the benevolence and support that he received. Bowie took care of those around him.

Of course, many just appreciate Bowie for his art and his art for art’s sake. That’s where I come from. Pejorative reviews calling him a chameleon seem simplistic to me. When people call him a shape shifter, I say, “yeah, what’s wrong with that?” He was a performing artist for over fifty years and up to the end, curious to try something new. He was as much a trend setter as he was an observer of changes.

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The guy at the local record store told me Bowie discs flew off the rack this week.

And Bowie was nothing if not a style meister. The man knew fashion. The costumes on stage to his street clothes were the stuff of glossy vogue. Put it all together – the kindness, the grace, the style and calm presence – and you have cool. My twenty-something son has Bowie on the apex of his Cool Meter. There’s cool and there’s Bowie Cool.

Like any pop musician from the 1960’s, Bowie had lots of hair. Wild hair, like only the British could think up back then. Bowie’s hair was even crazier when he took the lead on glam rock in the early 1970’s with his Ziggy Stardust personae. Most of us had never seen anything like it.

My first memories of being aware of my own hair are when I was four or five-years old. On Saturday mornings, my father took my brother and me to the local barbershop that had a good seven or eight chairs lined up on a mirrored wall. These stations were manned by a bunch of sturdy guys who must have been only a generation or two removed from Europe. We’d wait our turns in chairs lined up against an unadorned wall facing the barber chairs. The waits were never long, since there were so many barbers. Plus, I don’t think these guys gave haircuts were all that involved or took too much time. Nobody was going there to start a new trend or ask for anything much more complicated than “a little off the top and sides.” People came in just to get cleaned up.

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NY Yankee shortstop Tony Kubek featured in a Vitalis ad from 1963. This is the stuff that the barber put on our hair. It stunk and was so unnecessary.

Maybe it was simply that the barbers had nothing to say to a little kid, but none of them seemed very happy. Jaded perhaps and so different from the other adults I knew in my still very young world. I certainly don’t remember much of a dialogue with them or even very much kindness in the way that they went about their task. It was all pretty mechanical. Dad would give them the instructions for a “regular haircut” and they’d go about their business. A few minutes later, with an itchy neck and my hair as regular as it came, I’d climb down the chair and go on over to the counter where they had suckers for the kids. They didn’t hand out Tootsie Pops. No, these were smaller, odd-colored candies that were way too sweet. A hardened blob of corn syrup, sugar and food coloring on a stick.

When I was in the fourth or fifth-grade, Dad bought a home barber kit. I don’t know why he bought it, but probably figured that with two sons it’d pay off after a few haircuts. We’d go downstairs, sit in a tall chair with a large towel attached around our necks and get a haircut. At first, this was fun enough, but by the time I was in the sixth-grade, it took a turn for the worse and it wasn’t long after that Dad gave up on any long-term return on this household investment.

You see, like anybody else at that age, I was running hard towards self-identity. Here in the good old US of A, s-l1600then as now, this complicated process manifested itself with something as simple as hair. I didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew it wasn’t the haircuts Dad was giving.  I didn’t want long hair, just longish hair, like a few of the sports stars, such Derek Sanderson, Pete Maravich and Joe Namath were wearing. Not even that long, really. Everything broke down over a problem of definition, however. Longish meant long to Dad. Plus, nothing in the home barber kit user’s manual could prepare someone to go beyond a “regular hair cut” or crew cut.  After a few epic battles, Dad gave up on it and the home barber kit was re-purposed to trim the family dog’s fur.

My hair was longish, maybe even borderline long, when I was in high school. I’m sure that it drove my parents nuts, but they weren’t alone. That’s just the way it was with hair back then and short hair on teenage boys in Chicago wasn’t a given. My parents eventually accepted this and didn’t bug me to cut my hair. Raising teenage boys brings on plenty of other more important matters. After all, it’s just hair.

Enter David Bowie. Just one of a number of musicians my chums and I were listening to back then. Bowie was everywhere we were. He issued fifteen albums during the 1970’s. We couldn’t have avoided it if we wanted. But we did want to. There was something that caught and kept our attention. Bowie toured seven times during that decade. Three of us drove thirty miles into Chicago for one of those shows. A Bowie show. On a cold Wednesday night. A school night. Pause on that for a moment. (I don’t do much of anything on Wednesday nights anymore. Not even something as easy as sitting in the barber’s chair.)

I enjoyed the show. It was Bowie-Big and great theater. Bowie was wearing a sharp tailored black vest and pair of slacks with a white shirt on stage during that tour. He was sporting a clean-cut hair cut too. It was very different from the outlandish outfits he wore just a few years earlier.

The year after that show, still with long blonde hair, I took a Bowie album cover into a fancy-schamncey hair salon and ordered myself a Bowie Cut. If this new look was good enough for Bowie, I felt that I could venture a try too. The woman the scissors did her best to figure it out and did a pretty good job. It was the shortest my hair had been in years and it felt good. She couldn’t do anything about my blue jeans and flannel shirts; that part was up to me. I remember that I was eager to show my parents the haircut. They were of course, pleased about the new look. Had I told them that Bowie was the inspiration, perhaps they too would have been fans for a day.

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This is the Bowie record album cover that I brought in for the Bowie Cut.

There’s a photo of me the day I had my Bowie Cut in which I look quite happy. I can’t place my hands on it right now, however. It’s been lost in the Great Fire, metaphorically speaking. Who could know back then that I’d want it today, while with many of you, I am remembering David Bowie.

28 Comments
  1. That’s a wonderful tribute, Bruce. I’m one who believes Bowie’s humanitarianism ended up giving ‘shape’ to his music.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Very nice post, Bruce. I saw him once too, in Stockholm Sweden in the 70s. I still remember that concert fairly well. He was really good.

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  3. Beautiful story, lovely tribute.

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  4. I love this. If you ever come across that photo, please share it with the group.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hey Bruce I remember when you had your haircut like Rod Stewart. There was also a time when we all committed to get a crew cut during Little League Baseball season. That was a mistake. There was a barbershop in downtown Barrington that a pole like that on the outside of there building, along with a sign that said, “Keep America Beautiful Get a Haircut”

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    • Jim – thanks for stopping in. It’s always nice to hear from you. I trust you are well and smiling big.

      For a pedestrian like me, the ‘mod’ haircut could only work for a short time in one’s life. Specifically, when young and nothing much to conflict with a crazy look like that.

      It’s funny the things we remember, like the barber’s sign that you mention. I think that would play well in Barrington in the 1970’s.

      As for the crew cuts, if I made the promise to join in unity, I suspect that I betrayed the group. But it’s so funny that you bring up crew cuts. Just yesterday, Mark was telling me that Chris got a flat top crew cut one summer that Mark particularly liked. He asked my Dad to give him a flat top. However, something went very badly and Mark ended up with a off the shelf “baldy sour” crew cut. He was very upset about this and I think, never did sport a flat top. I had forgotten the incident until Mark reminded me.

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  6. Very nice. Thank you.

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    • Thank you kindly, Mat.

      I see that you once met David Bowie’s wife at your friend’s house. This never happened to me.

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  7. Ah, if only one could get their hands on that pic… 😉

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    • Pete,

      Yes, fires are unfortunate. Even metaphorical fires. You were possibly on the scene, unless you were on campus at the time. It was taken at a routine evening get together in 1977. I know the photo very well, but don’t know how to get my hands on it.

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  8. I have that Bowie LP in a “12 inch frame” hanging above my desk. My girlfriend and I were sad when we heard the news and immediately started thinking (sadly) about when it would be Morrissey’s time to go.

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    • Gary – love the image of the album prominently displayed by your desk. No frames here, but I rotate album covers on the front of a short stack that doesn’t fit in the LP shelf. Bowie’s “Heroes” has been front and center the past week.

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  9. Now, in my ‘not so young’ years, ahem, I appreciate Bowie’s music much more than before. His lyrics are philosophical and, if you will, humanistic and ‘trend setting’ (or at least I like to hope so). Last Tuesdayin my NIA class, we danced the entire 60 minutes to Bowie. We enjoyed it so much the instructor did it again on Saturday and invited dancers to ‘wear Bowie.’ You should have seen us! Glitter all over, face paint and bright tops. And huge smiles on our faces as we shouted through his lyrics, step by step. And in the end, we stretched and teared up over his latest Lazarus song. W O W. An ode to the end, in so many ways. Thanks for this beautiful tribute post, as well as many smiles imagining you in a Bowie cut. 🙂

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    • That is quite a picture. A Bowie double-header. There were a number of Bowie events at the night clubs out here – dress in your favorite Bowie era costume, come listen to Bowie music, come remember Bowie with others, etc. As one from the area, you can imagine how elaborate, yes wild, these can get in SF. Even on a Saturday night, not exactly where you’ll find me. Nonetheless, I say to them, “Put on your red shoes and dance away the blues. Let’s dance.”

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  10. I’ve come to the conclusion, Bruce— sadly, (grin) that you were much cooler than I. Your tribute is very thoughtful and I always love your detours, this time into the world of haircuts. I’m a little older than you, shock value in my youth was Elvis. I remember when our music teacher wouldn’t let us sing Love Me Tender for our eighth grade graduation. It had to be Aura Lee. I also remember the Beatles first coming to America and being somewhat surprised by their long hair… and we were protesting at the time! I waited until the 70s to let my hair grow long. Now-a-days, long hair mainly means that I have been too lazy to go to the barber. I went today, BTW, for my once every two month cut, whether I need it or not. 🙂 –Curt

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  11. Curt – First of all, no eighth grade class should ever be allowed to sing “Love Me Tender” for their graduation. No matter what reason your music teacher had, everyone was better off. But why “Aura Lee” made the cut, who knows? There’s something about eighth grade school music that seems a bit off to me. I’ve always thought this. (Maybe I should catalog my observations.)

    When Elvis Presley heard David Bowie’s music, he wrote a letter to him telling him that he liked it and wanted him to produce one of his upcoming albums. That never happened.

    I’m nowhere on the Bowie Cool Meter and never have been. I think you must register however, being a true BM veteran. Knowing where it was headed before the techies and seekers figured it out. Indeed, on the scale and don’t even know it. That’s even cooler.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thanks for another slice of life. You disappeared off my radar for a while, but now you’re back on.

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  13. Bruce, it seemed that I couldn’t read enough about Bowie after he died. I would listen to the tributes and feels as if I took him for granted. Does that make sense?
    You write with feeling and then you combine a personal story.
    If you find that Bowie haircut picture, please share!

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    • Hi Laurie – All of us take things we value for granted every day. We cherish, yet don’t know how deeply.

      The photo. I’d like to get my hands on it and if I do, I’ll find a spot here to share.

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  14. One bonus for being late to catch up on my blog reading: I have been able to prolong the Bowie tributes. I read a nice one this morning from Louise May Alcatt. Like hers, yours comes from a very personal place and that makes an impact. I was born a little later and grew up knowing that Bowie was already important, so I missed the way he came and shook things up. I guess my tributes to Madonna, Duran Duran and Prince will come up one of these days.

    I completely agree with your take on Bowie’s constant efforts to expand his repertoire as an artist. It’s brave and necessary, I think, to stay relevant by never resting on one’s own accomplishments. It’s a humble approach that endears me to the man. I am also grateful for his willingness to break social mores and gender stereotypes on stage and in public. I tried to explain to my transgender teenager how important this was, but they are unimpressed. My kid grew up in a time and a place where it’s ok, even appreciated, to be weird. And that means David Bowie’s life has made the world a better place, when later generations don’t even recognize that what he did was amazing.

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  15. Hi Crystal, Maureen’s piece on Bowie is excellent. Isn’t that a terrific image of her jetting around with her Aunt Martha? Only to be matched by her dancing with the headphones. I’ve kept those in my mind when I thinking about losing Bowie. I also like the way she declares that our spaceship knows which way to go, with or without Houston.

    If you haven’t already, you may want to check out Madonna’s tribute to Bowie. I’ve never cared for her act, but I enjoyed her remembrance. She was getting into Bowie at the same time I was and just up the road from me in Michigan. As for Tara’s muted response to Mom’s “reading list,” who knows? Kids. But I agree with you, that Bowie helped create a whole new way for the world to think about, accept and even embrace a whole lot of things that were once not so easy for many.

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