If an opportunity to wear a suit presents itself to me, I jump at it. That’s why I’m not so concerned about when I die, because at least then I will forever be in a suit. So, when Bowie Ball at the Green Room was announced, I already knew my outfit: spruced up, cocaine-free David Bowie, post 1983.
As I entered the bar, I overheard a conversation between the greeter and Tyler, the owner. The greeter was a young woman with bleach-blonde hair and too many bracelets to count. They were discussing the cover charge: $5.00 for those in costume; $10.00 for those in regular, boring clothes. She asked Tyler, “What am I looking for?” To which Tyler, a large man with a tilted black cap and an unzipped jacket that flailed about like a shawl on Stevie Nicks, responded, “I don’t know. Space shit. Wigs. Makeup. Sparkles. Stuff like that.” I was worried my suit wouldn’t fly. I even planned for such an incident by saving the photo of David Bowie in a suit to my phone and playing out make-believe arguments in my head – a few of which I lost, surprisingly.
Without hesitation, the greeter gave me the discounted cover. There was a slight sense of disappointment after not engaging in the argument I was sure to win, but it was quickly overshadowed by awe. The barroom was dark and gloomy, with various forms of Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke sipping on Pabst and specialty Bowie-themed drinks like Moonage Daydrinking and China Girl Press. Men in dresses and women in suits were conversing underneath a painting of a blue Bowie smoking a cigarette. Everywhere I looked: silver suits and space helmets and Aladdin Sane lightning bolt makeup, eye patches and capes and boot heels as thick as bricks. These curious creatures made it feel like the cantina scene in Star Wars. I peered through the tunnel of Bowies and booze and eyed a stage covered in CDs boasting their shiny undersides. Silver flair showered the stage and a disco ball reflected red and blue and gold and green lights, spinning them into rainbow raindrops that sprinkled across the dance floor.
The flyer said 9 p.m. but, as with most events at The Green Room – the good ones, anyway – the night didn’t really start until at least two hours later. The event was hosted by Andres Dre Aduato, or Deep-Space Dre, who spent the night disappearing and then reappearing in different but equally glorious outfits. In between the live performances by Angry Ostriches, Quadratics, Coffee Pot, and Heebie Jeebies, Emmy Gnardust threw together classic Bowie hits in his DJ set that even had me dancing; though, that might have been the gin and tonic. Flagstaff Aerial Arts gave three dizzying performances that had me seriously doubting my upper-body strength. The costume contest started at that beautiful time of night when the drinks had set in and everyone had become quite confident in their dance moves, when the smiles are sincere and you start to catch the faintest scent of pot. As I made guesses about who carried the pungent musk, five Bowies strut across runway and the crowd roared like a beast over the music and Deep-Space Dre.
After the performances, the night closed with an hour-long dance party where drinks were spilt, wigs were lost, and makeup was ruined by sweat. A woman approached me and, with her clammy thumb, drew on my cheeks with glitter. My initial reaction was one of annoyance. “Man, that’s going to take years to get off,” I said to myself. But as I watched her skip around the dance floor and do the same to other people I thought it beautiful – beautiful because it was welcomed by everyone. People smiled and danced and gave each other compliments on their outfits. Everything was welcome because if Bowie showed us anything, it was everything. He was Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Andy Warhol, Nikola Tesla, The Thin White Duke, Halloween Jack, and the Goblin King. He was everything.
Alex Frank of Pitchfork once wrote that Bowie should be an anointed saint for the church of gayness; but his influence was not only on gayness, but on sex and gender. Throughout his career, he constantly redefined gender because he was constantly redefining himself. His androgynous look gave comfort to men who wanted to wear makeup or paint their nails and women who wanted to wear a suit or have short hair. The indelible mark he stamped on music is as pertinent as his mark on culture, attitudes, and sex. As great as his gift of music was his gift of expression and the freedom to do so that is often trapped behind politics and social norms.
Bowie Ball was a fitting tribute to a figure who, until the day he died, for five decades created music and redefined culture and fashion. Two days after his 69th birthday and the release of his final album “★,” or “Blackstar,” Bowie died of liver cancer. When news of his death hit, it hit hard. It seemed so sudden and strange. Bowie was barely a human – how could he die? But the truth is he hasn’t and he never will. So at night, when you look up at that endless sea of lights, know that there is a starman waiting in the sky.
To watch a short video with music and stills: click here