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The transmission was clear, but what I was seeing was not.

“What is this?” my Grandmother asked, alarmed. She was usually very subdued and I was taken aback by her tone.

“Why is his hair like that?” I asked her, not sure if it was a boy or a girl.

“Turn the channel!” she demanded.

But I was transfixed. A sea of bobbing heads, all enchanted by this orange-haired being ecstatically strumming an acoustic guitar.

“Turn the channel!” my grandmother cried. Her insistence startled me, but I quietly refused. I was right up against the TV screen. She was sitting well back in a comfy chair.

“Why grandma?”I asked, failing to understand the harm.

“It’s a cult!”

“What?”

“He has them hypnotised,” she pleaded. “Look – he’s hypnotised them. He’s in a devil cult. Turn the channel!”

I wouldn’t. I was succumbing to the cult. Somehow, now that I was forbidden to watch it, I wanted it even more. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Bright orange flame of hair bobbing atop a skinny, twisting frame. Hundreds of people bobbing along with him ensconced within a warm, hypnotic haze of stage lights.

“Turn it off!” she insisted. I couldn’t believe it when my grandmother leaped out of the chair and turned the channel herself. That was, I believe, the first and only time I had seen her react like that. Perhaps the first and only time she was ever cross with me. Perhaps the first and only time I ever defied her.

It wasn’t until the mid-nineties Brit Pop explosion that this memory came back to me – a transmission far less clear than the original one. Slowly it came into focus. I understood what I had been watching – what my grandmother had reacted so vehemently against. The memory was quite startling at the time, the return of this buried treasure. I realized that my grandmother’s reaction, for better or worse, had the opposite effect to what she intended. Far from revulsion, it forever instilled in me a curiosity and a taste for something battling norms and expectations. That was my first encounter with David Bowie. It was to forever impact my taste in culture and my outlook on life.

Afterword:

As the memory become more vivid, I began to wonder exactly where and when the footage originated. Living in Goderich, Ontario – across Lake Huron from Michigan – we were inundated with Detroit-centric news and events. All our American TV came through Detroit. The broadcast had to have come from Detroit. I did some research and, after careful consideration of a variety of factors, I’ve come to the conclusion that what I was watching with my grandmother was a broadcast from Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust Tour – specifically the October 8, 1972 show at the Fisher Theater in Detroit, Michigan.

 

 

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