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David Bowie Looked At Me by Robert Nevin

Rock NYC Contributing writer Robert Nevin remembers a great concert by David… and then a less great one.
I had moved to New York only weeks earlier. Iman got me a job at Corinthian Media where he is senior buyer. While looking for an apartment (I later moved into a room in a private house) I was staying at a fleabag hotel in Harlem and had no money to speak of.

Although I was never a big Bowie fan, I was only too eager to take Iman up on an offer he made one day. He would buy me a ticket to a Bowie gig at Roseland if I got in line early enough to ensure us places at the front of the stage. “Great!”, I said, “what’s ‘early’?”

“Be in line by noon,” he said. “I’ll meet you there.”

Although the show wouldn’t start until 8p, I really didn’t mind my assignment. My typical Saturday in NYC back then consisted of going to Washington Square Park, hoping I wouldn’t get burned on a dime bag and spending the day walking around and smoking. A day in line to see an artist I’d never seen before would be a piece of cake.

No, I wasn’t a fan. I never got into the Ziggy thing, and I found the androgyny and the theatrics rather off-puting. And quite honestly I didn’t think he had that good a voice. “Modern Love” is probably the only song I wholeheartedly liked by him. Still, I wanted to see him. Roseland is a pretty small venue, (general admission, standing only on the main floor) so the Bowie gig was the hottest ticket in town.

September 14, 1996 was a sunny and comfortable day, thank goodness. I made sure to get to Roseland a little before 12, and even so there were about 15 people already there. I settled into my spot and waited. As is often the case, people in lines develop a certain comaradarie, and the day went by fast. The beginning of the line was about 25 feet from the entrance to the venue. There was a parking garage up the street with a bathroom, so we took turns saving places in line so people could go. The line grew and grew.

Iman arrived about three hours before showtime and I was pretty proud of myself for for the great spots we were going to get at the front of the stage. With a couple of hours to go, a Roseland person came out to guide the line the final distance to the door. Despite his offhand entreaties to stay in line and don’t run, several people broke for the entrance and a general rush started. Iman moved fast. A girl next to me stumbled and looked to be in danger of falling. She would likely have been trampled had she gone down. I paused…Iman shouted to me…I kept running… I glanced back and it looked like the girl had managed to keep her feet. We got our tickets torn, and made a final, desperate sprint to the stage.

We made it! Absolute front row, center left of the stage!

The place filled up quickly and it was hot! A stage hand was squirting water at people in front, but I didn’t want to get wet, and kept ducking. We still had a good three hours to go before the show, but it seemed to go fast.

Finally, out he came. I don’t even think there was an opening act.

My lack of familiarity with his catalog meant that I didn’t recognize a lot of the songs. “Scary Monsters” stands out, and he did his latest single at the time, “Little Wonder”, which I liked.

Bowie was really excellent. I was impressed and how casual and friendly he was. His backup band was dynamite! There were minimal stage props and some low-key lighting effects.

And, he looked at me…he made direct eye contact with me. I was stunned at how that affected me! It was like he recognized me and would have said, “hello Bob” if he hadn’t been busy performing! He knew me! He’d probably invite me backstage after the show for a game of chess and some powerful drugs!

“Send me some of your poems, Bob,” he’d say. “I might be able to work them into a song.”

I felt like a bleeding teeny bopper!

I left the show on a real high. He was superb! I felt good about the day in line and the reward of being down front, and I was pretty sure he’d have pulled me up on stage to sing, if he’d had a chance.

“He’s a professional, Iman! That’s why we saw such a great show! This is what he does! He’s a complete professional!” I raved. Iman smiled indulgently as if he knew something I didn’t.

Nonetheless, I came away from that concert firmly believing that Bowie would always be good, under any circumstance because he couldn’t be bad!

Four months later Iman and I saw him again, this time at Madison Square Garden for his 50th birthday. It was staged as an extravaganza, huge video screen and dazzling special effects. The place was sold out with sold out Bowie fans. We didn’t have nearly as good seats as at Roseland, but no matter, the MAN was in the house!

And he was flat as a pancake. Lethargic and disconnected from the audience, he didn’t even phone it in. He killed a carrier pigeon and sent it by Fed Ex.

Not only that, he didn’t even look at me.

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