Just the Beer Light to Guide Us
This is a line from “Ziggy Stardust” and was the title of a novella I wrote back in the late ‘80s. At the time I was very involved with the thriving music scene here in Los Angeles. These were the days when glam rock and death metal shared the same strip of road with Goth and the tail end of the ‘new wave’ (that would soon emerge into Brit pop). It was all here together, in the same clubs on different nights. It all happened on the small city block of Sunset Boulevard between Doheny and La Cienega.
This tiny section of road contained all of The Roxy, The Whiskey A Go-Go, The Viper Room and the epic bar to the stars, The Rainbow. I practically lived at the Rainbow for years. Just below on Santa Monica Boulevard was the infamous Troubadour where played every major act popular music has ever produced—and it’s the size of a restaurant kitchen. All these clubs and bars are still there presenting whatever is happening in music these days. This old lady doesn’t know—or care, quite frankly. The world I’m remembering today is the one I lived and breathed for when I was a gorgeous young adult; the world forged by genius artists in the ‘70s like Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Doors and David Bowie.
I wasn’t a huge fan of his music, but I was extremely familiar with it. It was ubiquitous during those formative decades. The many artists who were deeply influenced by Bowie were the ones that caught my attention. In the UK, glam was merging dangerously with hardcore Goth and becoming its own fresh beast. As that blender continued to whir through the 80’s and early 90’s, out poured maverick, unique artists like Gene Loves Jezebel, The Cure, Bauhaus, The Cult, The Damned, Souxie and the Banshees, Sisters of Mercy and later, The Mission. This was a subgenre of a subgenre that kept morphing as it grew, always reinventing itself. Any one of these artists would site among their major influences the luminous Thin White Duke.
In 1983 Bowie starred in a film with Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon called “The Hunger”. It was then, and remains, the slickest, coolest vampire movie ever made and in its opening sequence, there was a band featured called Bauhaus. They performed a song that would become iconic to all hardcore Goths, the mesmerizing “Bella Lugosi’s Dead”. The frontman, the elusive Peter Murphy, could have been Bowie’s younger brother by the look of him. He had all the same ethereal leanness and intensity of nature, but Murphy was a Goth god. He did everything dark. I adored him. In one interview, the hapless reporter clumsily asked if Murphy was gay, to which he replied: “If I were homosexual, I’d have had you by now.”
I found him deeply inspiring. His energy informed several of my characters along the way, namely my beloved Michael Ward in Arabesque.
Today, as the world continues to mourn the passing of The Starman, I find myself feeling more grateful than sad. I got to live in the same lifetime as David Bowie and all the amazing talented artists who were moved and formed by him. I often think of what would be left of us humans if we were suddenly obliterated. When the ash settled and new beings repopulated earth, what would they find of us? Would there be any record of our vast cultures and art forms? Would anything remain that would truly explain who we were?
If there was only one thing that could be left of us, I would hope it would be our music. It explains us in the truest way. It tells of our elation and fear, our inspiration and heartbreak. If music were the only thing left for these new beings to find, I hope the first song they would hear would be “Ziggy Stardust”. Its lyric tells of the rise of an icon and the many ways he gained his fame. It describes the cult of celebrity just as much as it describes our deep seated need for leadership. I think that lyric says everything any new being would ever need to know about us as a race. That lyric describes our own rise and fall.
He took it all too far; but boy could he play guitar.
Blessed be, gleaming David. Thank you.