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1  noun  ˈbläg, -ȧg   plural -s
2  intransitive verb   -ed/-ing/-s
: to talk pretentiously and usually inaccurately : lie boastfully

As the world falls down

The Patreon Patron Platoon got to read a longer version of this post on this day in 2020! I thought I would share it because today is David Bowie's birthday, and so it begins the annual Passion of David Bowie, which ends with the anniversary of his death on 10 January. (Spilly Jane says, "That's how religions get started, y'know." With great power comes great responsibility etc.)

It feels like it was just yesterday that Tiffany woke me up with the news that David Bowie had died, and I was inconsolable and I still am - but it's been eight years.

The world without David Bowie in it has, with very few-but-potent exceptions, not been cool. It's slipped. It's falling down. It's all just coincidence. It's not a causal relationship. But I don't have to like it.

In 1997 I hit bottom in my life.

This is not an abrupt subject change. It's a flashback.

Children of alcoholic parents develop coping strategies that we unknowingly brandish against things in our lives that are not alcoholic parents, for the rest of our lives, mostly. I developed most of the 'laundry list' of traits common to people who grew up with an alcoholic parent, and I dragged those traits with me into early 'adulthood.' I still face a few. I have help.

But up until 1997, even after my mother's death in 1996, I manifested a lot of those destructive characteristics, miring myself in masses of frenetic friendships and relationships that, through an improbable sequence of events, led to me traveling to Europe that year and ending up with time to explore foreign capitols completely on my own, with no one to please, no one to entertain.

I stumbled into Accidental Travel Therapy: no one abroad knew me, so there were, I realized, no expectations for me to fulfill. I had time to work out who I actually was.

This story is a whole book in and of itself, I realize. It's hard to compress it for the sake of a blog post's exposition.

After this remarkable experience, I came back to Chicago, to the hundreds of people who expected me to be their therapist, their yenta, their party host, their cruise director, in some cases their punching bag.

I didn't fit anymore. I couldn't be who I'd been. I felt like I was disappointing the entire city.

I withdrew, moved out of an apartment I shared with dear friends to a tiny little underground flat, cut myself off from almost everyone...and had a little nervous breakdown, with 3:00 a.m. panic attacks and all.

I lived in the Ravenswood neighborhood of Chicago; my group therapy sessions were down on Belmont Avenue, just west of Clark Street, across the street from the Dunkin' Donuts we used to call Punkin' Donuts because of the army of punk rock people who overflowed it after shows at the Metro and Medusa's further north on Clark. On my way back to the Brown Line 'L' train, I would always find myself unable to resist a stop at the record store across the street from what used to be the Melrose restaurant and the famous Alley.

I don't remember the address of the store. I don't remember what it was called. The building it used to be in has been gutted and made into an entirely different building.

But it was so comforting to go there and flip through records and CD cases for an hour before catching the train.


One day in 1995, weathering culture-shock after several months out at the Virginia Renaissance Faire, I stumbled in, remembering seeing in the AV Club in the Onion that David Bowie had been working on a concept album with Brian Eno. I stood in the doorway with my mouth hanging open, wondering if I'd actually read that or just dreamed it.

"Can I help you?" The too-tall dude behind the counter with a Gandalf beard sounded tired.

I stammered, "...Is Bowie doing a thing with Eno? Did that happen, or...?"

Tallbeard just looked at me for a long minute.

Then he reached behind the counter, without looking at what he was doing, and came up with a cutout preview copy of OUTSIDE, which he handed to me.

I knew he wasn't supposed to do that. I worked in record stores through my college years - this was against rules.

I moved to take out my wallet.

Tallbeard frowned and shook his head. No, he would not accept my filthy lucre.

I was just supposed to take the preview copy of the not-yet-released CD, free, for mysterious reasons.

I spent US$50 I didn't really have on other music throughout the store, then raced home to have a freaky, freaky listen. I put it on cassette and wore it out, making it my descent-into-dystopia soundtrack for my daily rapid-transit trips downtown and back.

The version of 'Strangers When We Meet' on that record makes me cry, every time.


After a group therapy session, without even thinking, I walked into my record store. I dimly recalled a new AV Club article, something about some new kind of music popular abroad called 'drum and bass' and David Bowie.

Tallbeard was again behind the counter.

I opened my mouth to ask him -

But I didn't have to.

He clearly remembered me as the week-before-a-new-Bowie-release girl.

Never taking his eyes off me, he slipped a hand behind the counter and came up with a cutout preview disc of EARTHLING.

OUTSIDE was my soundtrack for my journey through the underworld, where the parts of me that weren't really me got burned away.

EARTHLING became the soundtrack to me emerging in my true form, letting my wings dry, trying out my actual superpowers.

There isn't an album in the Bowie discography that I dislike, but those two will always hold tremendous power for me.

In my young 52 years, I've been around long enough to watch a lot of famous artists co-opt current mainstream trends in attempts to stay relevant.

Bowie, though, tricked some post-Disco-Demolition Midwest US people into rediscovering house music, discovering drum & bass, embracing industrial metal, enjoying all the places where those crashed into each other. He never stopped working long enough to fall off of the edge of cool.

I hope, in my small way, I can sneak unfamiliar music into places where it otherwise wouldn't get heard or understood. I hope I can entice people to leap down music rabbit-holes of genuine joyful exploration and discovery, in a world where corrupt algorithms don't really help people discover new music as much as they enforce on listeners pre-selected 'hit' mandates from cultural oligarchs.

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