Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Red Shoes Laced Up & Ready To Dance

I don't know where I'm going from here,
but I promise it won't be boring.
- David Bowie

David Bowie died on Sunday in New York City, in the presence of those he loved and those who loved him.  He was sixty-nine years old.  His death, on January 10, was preceded by his birthday just two days earlier.  In a world of perpetual overexposure and over-sharing of one's most intimate secrets, his death - after an eighteen-month battle with cancer - was a shock to all but a chosen few.  His health was his business.  He did not allow it to become everyone else's.  

I have enjoyed his music for years.  That being said, I do not pretend to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of his catalog.  The music of his with which I am familiar I like very much.  I am quite confident, however, that the songs with which I am familiar make up nothing more than a very small percentage of his work.  His voice, to my ear at least, was instantly recognizable.  Everything he sang had an air of cool nonchalance about it.  It was as if - without even trying very hard - he was smoother and cooler than you ever had any right to hope to be yourself.  I remember, all those years ago, when he married Iman, the model/actress.  If they were not the most effortlessly stylish celebrity couple, then they were at the very least somewhere on the medal stand.   

When I think of David Bowie, the thought that jumps to the forefront of my mind is a performance of his from slightly less than fourteen and one-half years ago.  On October 20, 2001, Bowie was the first performer to take the stage at "The Concert for New York City", which was held at Madison Square Garden.  It was an all-star event designed to raise money to aid the various charitable organizations that were still providing relief to families throughout the Tri-State area who were still reeling from the September 11 attacks.  Equally important was its functioning as a platform for honoring New York City's first responders, both those who had died only forty days earlier at the World Trade Center, and those who had spent those forty days working the pile at Ground Zero in a desperate attempt to find any trace of those who had been murdered there.  

Bowie performed two songs that night.  He began the show by playing Simon and Garfunkel's "America".  He was onstage by himself, seated on the floor of the stage itself, and illuminated by a single spotlight.  He then performed one of his seminal works, "Heroes".  Before he sang a word of it, though, he greeted the crowd by saying, "Hi friends, my fellow New Yorkers.  I'd like particularly to say hello to the folks from my local Ladder.  You know where you are.  It's an absolute privilege to play for your tonight."  

His "local Ladder" was Ladder 20.  Bowie and Iman lived on Lafayette Street in NoLIta since 1999 and Ladder 20 was their neighborhood fire house.  Ladder 20 lost seven men on September 11, 2001, all of whom were killed when the North Tower collapsed.  

In the fourteen years or so since he gave it, I have not been able to listen to or to watch Bowie's performance from that evening without feeling a catch in my throat, thinking of the men and women whose lives were lost that day as he sang so beautifully about them and for them.  I invite you to listen to it now and see if you fare any better than I.

I know now, going forward from this moment that the catch I feel in my throat each time I listen to it will be not only for those he honored that night but for the man who honored them as well.

Their friend.  Their fellow New Yorker. 


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