The passing of David Bowie, in the succession of the deaths of Scott Weiland and Lemmy, continue to devastate the hearts of millions if not billions of fans. These three figures, who in total have contributed thousands of songs to the human discography, are sorely missed not only on their creative output but they were massive figures bursting with integrity.
David Bowie, who stepped into the world of alternative rock to prop up and support acts who became some of alternative rock’s most popular acts, like Placebo, had an unprecedented influence on the genre’s development. His work in general, with albums like Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs inspired figures like Cobain, Corgan and Farrell, but this all goes without saying. Bowie’s influence bleeds through culture in a blatant and now tragic way.
One thing not always brought up, however, is one of the greatest gatherings of popular musicians, I dare say, of all time. On January 9th, 1997 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, David Bowie hosted a concert for his fiftieth birthday with a surreal lineup. What’s very admirable about Bowie is that he often reached out to people directly influenced by him first, instead of the other way around.
As seen in our featured photo, you can make Bowie surrounded by figures such as Robert Smith of the Cure, Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins, Dave Grohl of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters (as well as Pat Smear), Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal of Placebo and more. To celebrate his birthday, Bowie invited many of his friends and admirers.
The European alternative rock band Placebo opened for the show. They were touring for their self titled album and were discovered by Bowie and in the late ’90s and became his opening act for several months. He would sing on their sophomore album Without You I’m Nothing on the eponymous track. After opening with some songs from his then recently released album, Earthlings, like “Little Wonder,” he brought out his first guest: Frank Black of the Pixies. Together they performed “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) from the selfsame titled album. They also performed “Fashion” together, from the same album.
In 1997, the Foo Fighters were flying high on the scene after Nirvana’s demise. No doubt, Bowie was aware of Nirvana’s cover of his song “The Man Who Sold the World.” He even performed at this show with his backing band. One would wonder though, if Cobain had lived if he would have been invited to perform with him. However, the Foo Fighters were invited to play “Hallo Spaceboy,” a song from the 1995 Outside album, with Bowie. They offered a thunderous rendition of the song. Bowie (vocals as well as guitar) and Grohl afterwards would perform the electronic tinged “Seven Years in Tibet” together. “Under Pressure” in later years, would become a staple of the Foo Fighters’ live set.
Sonic Youth, the noise rock band which also had a tremendous air within alternative rock circles, were present to perform and celebrate with Bowie, playing his newest single “I’m Afraid of Americans,” which featured production stylings from Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. Bowie, never afraid to move forward. Below is also included Nine Inch Nails with David Bowie re-orchestrating “Hurt” in 1995, later covered famously by Johnny Cash.
After these performances, David Bowie delivered his hits “Heroes” and “The Man Who Sold the World” with his backing band. Robert Smith from the Cure, emerged from the darkness of backstage to share two songs with Bowie: “The Last Thing You Should Do” and “Quicksand,” though he wanted to do “Young Americans.”
One of the most prominent figures from Bowie’s past, another one of rock’s figures who favored collaboration with admirers, his friend and creative partner Lou Reed joined him on stage for four songs. The two worked on Reed’s album “Transformer” together, which swept the world in storm. The songs they did together that night were “Queen Bitch”, a Lou Reed song “Dirty Blvd” and two songs from Lou Reed’s first major band, the Velvet Underground: “White Light/White Heat” and “Waiting for the Man.” Those latter two songs were frequently covered by Bowie in his past. “Waiting for the Man” was particularly marvelous, with alternating lead vocals from the two. This performance has been a favorite of mine for a long time. It’s nice to revisit and sad to see these figures leave this world.
In 1997, the following song would already have a sentimental and memorial connotation associated with it, Freddie Mercury having passed away a few years before. The duet is shared with his bassist at the time, American bassist Gail Ann Dorsey.
He closed his set with the Ziggy Stardust track, “Moonage Daydream” and seemingly ended the concert with band introductions. The backing band consisted of Reeves Gabrels on guitar, Mike Garson on keyboards (who also worked with the Pumpkins in later years), Zach Alford on drums and Gail Ann Dorsey on bass.
However, as with most great things there is an encore. After an aptly deserved “Happy Birthday!” from Dorsey, some more music emerged. For the encore, Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins, a huge Bowie fan, joined Bowie on stage for “The Jean Genie” and Mott the Hopple’s “All the Young Dudes,” written by Bowie in the early ’70s. In introducing Corgan, Bowie uttered his famous quote, “I don’t know where I’m going from here but I promise it won’t be boring.” The encore was ended with “Space Oddity” which would be covered by the Smashing Pumpkins during their Oceania tour.
Bowie’s death is as sudden as it is grave. I found out coming out of the Primus and Tool concert in San Diego on their latest tour. It hit me the next day and it hit me very hard and at once. While listening to “Teenage Wildlife,” I became incredibly upset and my eyes followed suit. I felt an embrace and goodbye. What I wrote on my band’s page is the only thing that I can really manage to say about his passing:
David Bowie has died and reborn for the last time, as he did hundreds of times during his lifetime. From the Thin White Duke to Ziggy Stardust to Blackstar – Bowie has always been reborn and died, we tend to forget. This time, it just hits us a bit harder because his consistently ever-changing body and essence has gone to its biggest rebirth, a union with the universe. As he ever was, Bowie exists in all of us. He exists in our courage and our engendered ability to face ourselves, to be ourselves no matter what people tell us. And people do change. His music encompasses a lot, but one thing that has always stood out to me is the spirit of bravery – encouraging people to experience the most of life to better themselves and to grow. To dance, to wander in space, to live as teenage wildlife, to be heroes and in the indefinite final acts and climaxes: to be reborn as Lazarus when Jesus gave life back to him in Lazarus’ miraculous resurrection, the utmost compassionate act we can accept to give ourselves as life continues to shape and challenge us. In embracing his deep lessons, Bowie will be continue to be reborn thousands and thousands of times more.
Rest in peace, Blackstar