January 10, 2016
I’m in the middle of a big translation project for a tourism company here in Berlin and the project is due at the end of the week, but fuck: how can I translate a text about Hitler’s Bunker when the Thin White Duke is dead? I take a break I can’t afford to record a song in Bowie’s honor.
Bowie: 1. Hitler: 0.
In high school, Bowie was my musical god, right up there with the Violent Femmes and the Ramones. I had a light gray cassette of his greatest hits which I listened to while showering in the bathroom off my parent’s bedroom. I stared at tiles the color of rancid butter—seriously, why would anyone make tiles that color?—while Bowie sang:
(two, one, liftoff)
This is Ground Control to Major Tom
You’ve really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare
In the early 90s Bowie wasn’t that big anymore, at least not among the high school set in Castro Valley, California where I was growing up. But I was in the know: I discovered him, which boosted my natural adolescent Narcissism, like recognizing how cool he was was enough to make me special.
Bowie, with his androgynous form and one permanently dialated pupil, looking as much like an alien as I felt like one.
January 10, 1990
My friend Julie and I cut school and drive with her white Volkswagen rabbit down Seven Hills Road, which actually has eight hills because we counted, but this town is full of morons. We go to her house and tell her mom to rent us the Hunger at Blockbuster and yes, we know her mom will do this. Maybe we’ll make it a double or a triple feature, adding Rock and Roll High School, with Riff Randall and the Ramones, or Sid and Nancy.
We watch the Hunger on a TV mounted to the wall in Julie’s bedroom: David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve slinking around New York, slashing the throats of the unsuspecting with an knife pendant shaped like an Ankh. Eternal love but, in Bowie’s case, not eternal youth. Susan Sarandon plays Sarah Roberts, a doctor they bring into their circle to start a vampire love triangle.
Sarah Roberts is in jeopardy. Stay with her. Help her. For she has begun to feel the awful horror of….the Hunger.
The Hunger and Sid and Nancy are the closest I get to watching chick flicks in high school. No wonder the first boy I kiss, Sal, is the one who wrote me a poem using his own blood as ink for several of the words.
The. Most. Romantic. Thing. Ever.
Now she walks through her sunken dream
To the seat with the clearest view
And she’s hooked to the silver screen
In the 70s, my parents were Jesus freaks, which is like being a hippie without any of the fun. But Sal’s parents are real hippies. He spent most of his childhood on The Farm, a commune in Tennessee. When he was five years old, a long-haired loon slipped him some acid and he lay in a field while the sky spilt open and it was terrible and he doesn’t like talking about it.
Sal isn’t into Bowie. He’s a goth boy: Bauhaus, Christian Death, This Mortal Coil.
One night Sal slips out of his parent’s condo in a housing complex called Shadow Creek or Stone Canyon, or some other pretentious California bullshit. He gets into my father’s Toyota Tercel with me behind the wheel, only a learner’s permit to my name, and we drive to Berkeley because where else is there to go?
Down 580, past San Leandro, past Oakland, down 13 past Montclair where the Head Royce prep kids sit at their desks, cramming for the SAT. Past the red brick house like something out of Dickens, but in a good way. (My father every time we drive by: The people living there might not know it, but that house belongs to me).
Past Clark Kerr Campus. Past frat boy row, the run down villas fitted with large, stencil-cut Greek letters.
We drive down Bancroft and it’s so dark and we don’t know why. I pull over on Durant by Top Dog and Sal rolls down a window and a Cal student in baggy pants tells him Berkeley is in a blackout and that’s when I know:
I drove all the way to Berkeley without turning on the lights.
It’s been so long
And I’ve been putting out fire
Sal on the day of my first kiss:
All black clothing: check
Black fishnet stockings under black jeans: check
Black hair (natural, because he’s half-Mexican) in a gelled Peter Murphy do-up: check
Black eyeliner with one side ending in an Ankh: check
We kiss on his bedroom floor next to his loft bed and the whole time I’m thinking: this is it? Even sans chick flicks I’ve always imagined my first kiss would be magical, the lighting softer, an orchestra playing in the background, or at least a string quartet. But there’s nothing magical about kissing Sal. Only awkward, darting tongues and lots of spit.
We stop hanging out soon after our first make-out session. Of course, I never sleep with him.
My friends at school tease me about the incredibly rare species I am: Rebeccah, last of the high school virgins.
But at church my virginity means I’m doing it right, pun intended. Our youth pastor Laurie, who looks like Heather Locklear only a lot less pretty, is an unmarried 30-year-old virgin. Even at 15 I’m thinking: shoot me now.
Laurie: You guys, I can tell you, it’s not easy to wait until you’re married. Believe me, there are times I want it. When I really, really want it.
TMI, Laurie, TMI.
Laurie is from Orange County and she has a year-long tan even here in NorCal which she shows off in miniskirts and skin tight tank tops anytime temperatures hit 70 or above. Provocative for a youth pastor, some of the church elders whisper. But Laurie always adds in girlie accessories, like even hot pants can be made chaste with a few well-placed bows.
Laurie came to Christ when she was a young actress in Los Angeles and she once turned down a role for moral reasons. She always makes it sound like the role was the break of a lifetime, when really it was “naked girl in the shower 3” in Porky’s 2.
Laurie to the film producer: Thanks so much for the opportunity, but unfortunately I can’t do it because Jesus frowns down on a little T and A.
Laurie=0% Bowie, 100% Amy Grant
If we do fall off the celibacy band wagon, Laurie says Christ can reinstate our “spiritual” virginity if we stop with the fornicating. We watch a video where fallen teens share their loss-of-virginity stories in upspeak:
Fallen teen: It was after school? Tim came over? He stayed longer than normal?
After the fallen teens share their stories they cry, pray with their youth pastor, sing Our God is an Awesome God and voilà: Honorary virgins in the eyes of the Lord, the holy halo of the hymen restored.
I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes
But the days still seem the same
But who would I want to sleep with, anyway?
The jocks in their varsity jackets, their bubble butts protruding from their peg leg jeans?
The young Republicans in their collared shirts, carting around copies of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead like doorstops from hell?
The hair bear stoners kicking around hacky sacks in rastafarian colors behind the gym?
That guy in Brewer’s Art of Science Fiction class, with boy boobs under his Megadeth t-shirt, who swears he once conjured up Beelzebub in his bathroom?
Not in a million fucking years.
The smart, sarcastic skater I sometimes smoke with during lunch on Conrad Court, two blocks and a left turn away from school?
If he didn’t have some Asian girlfriend at another school, then maybe.
“I’ve loved. All I’ve needed: love.
Sordid details following.”
One night, after coming home from choir practice at church, my mother pulls into our driveway. I stare at the orange trim of our Eichler while she gives me unasked-for, not very youth group-like advice.
Mom: Be in love and use a condom.
My mom is more Sarah McLachlan than Bowie, but I think she’s almost ready for him.
Dann sind wir Helden
Dann sind wir Helden
Dann sind wir Helden
Nur diesen Tag
It’s January 10, 2016, my virginity over twenty years gone, and now David Bowie is gone too. I feel sad and can’t concentrate, so I record one of his songs. I know it’s not much: Just me, a cheap mic and playback from iRealPro, alone in my living room paying tribute.
I post the song on SoundCloud and two bots heart it right away.
Hoorah for bots, my biggest fans.
Now it’s back to the very bad things Hitler got up to a few miles away from where I live.
(Posted January 10, 2017: RIP D.B.)