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!”
“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.
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.
Now give this a listen!