Take it easy Ziggy Stardust, it’s only purple rain…
I’ll predicate this post with a warning that it will not be about books. Music has played a major part in my life. I have been married to 2 musicians. For many of us who grew up in the 70’s & 80’s the music of that era shaped us.
While growing up in the shadow of SF I had the good fortune to be surrounded by people who had in my opinion, excellent taste in music. I was exposed to Rock, R&B, and Country music at an early age. Through the diversity of music my family listened to, I came to know the talents of Glen Frey and David Bowie.
Glen and the Eagles were the music of my father. I remember well the 8-track player in our old Chevy Nova, Betsy. "Desperado," "One of These Nights" and "Hotel California" cassettes were tucked lovingly in the glove box.
The Eagles are my native music. It represents warm Southern California nights. It opines the optimistic nature of the West. It conjures a Pacific Brace studded with granite and redwoods. The Eagles’ music is California to me.
While Don Henley would become my favorite Eagle, as a child I was drawn to Glen’s voice. His gentle earnest tenor on "Take it Easy"or "Ol’ 55" made me long for a stronger connection with my father. The music of the Eagles was in fact the single slender thread that bound me to my dad. As he battled his addictions during my youth I was filled with a mix of rage and longing. As a teen that concoction would brew into full teen rebellion.
And who better to reflect that sense of rebellion than David Bowie?
Older cousins would have his records on while I visited them in Clovis. Upon first hearing I was hooked. This was new music. Fresh. Not trapped in the tropes of 60’s message rock.
Bowie was the genesis and culmination of several genres of music. He was the full-fledged realization of Glam Rock. His music was the spark that gave us Punk and Electronica. Bowie also played with sexual fluidity. Even at the young age of 11, seeing and hearing Bowie sing "All the Young Dudes," I began to understand my own sexual difference. Yet seeing Bowie perform as Ziggy Stardust, I also knew it was OK to be different.
While I was led to the Eagles and Bowie by the circumstances of who raised me and who I grew up with, I came to Prince on my own. Prince was the first artist who spoke to me without the influence or stamp of approval of elders. He was cool to me all on his own.
I was raised with Prince’s music in the background. Living in an apartment complex in South Hayward during the 70’s and 80’s you’d hear KDIA or KSOL wafting through open windows. The strains of "I Wanna Be Your Lover" or "If I Was Your Girlfriend" were as common as sparrows.
By the time I hit junior high, Prince had released the seminal album 1999. My 8th grade year is indelibly etched in my memory thanks to that album. I can say the same for my sophomore year in high school. This time it was the soundtrack to "Purple Rain." His music was everywhere, as was his message:
Be defiant. Be different.
As a young gay teen living in the East Bay, I identified with the emerging overt gay sensibility in pop music. Bowie and Prince paved the way for broader acknowledgement in mainstream pop of otherness. Artists like Jimmy Sommerville, Erasure and Culture Club had success in the 80’s because of Bowie and Prince.
They sang songs of our struggle, of love and of pride. That music became a life preserver in a dark time, anthems our tribe sang on dance floors as an antidote to an era filled with prejudice, hate and HIV.
2016 has been a rough year for those of us who came of age in the 70’s & 80’s. Three Pillars of music have taken their leave of the stage. Glen, Bowie & Prince shaped popular music in a way few have. Legend seems a poor descriptor for such consequential stardust.