Held at La Poisson Rouge on Bleecker.
All I can say is: Next year I will dress up. These people in the audience were not messing around. There were people with faces painted with lightning bolts, rockabilly girls wearing giant hats and skintight polka-dot dresses, people wearing gold suits. There was a moment when I thought: Wow. I actually am not cool enough to be here. But I let that go. The show started at 11 p.m. On a giant screen behind the stage, footage played: of David Bowie’s videos, David Bowie in the studio, Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show (so surreal to see Charles Laughton’s doughy face introducing Elvis silently, overlooking this hip New York night crowd). The show started so late that I didn’t stay for the whole thing, but I did see the Screaming Rebel Angles (an awesome rockabilly band) and Michael T. and the Vanities (clearly Bowie-influenced, although Michael T. is his own thing, with a giant screaming following of fans). It was so fun. We had had to stand in line outside for about half an hour, and it was freezing. I started talking to the guy behind me, who was very nice, and we were pals for the night. He was wearing a gold tuxedo jacket. He is 52 years old. His first concert ever was David Bowie at Carnegie Hall in 1974 (I think that was the date). We discussed David Bowie and Elvis Presley. “So who are you here for?” he asked me, which was so funny. He said he grew up watching Elvis movies. “I love Viva Las Vegas. He’s so great in it,” he said. I said, “And think about it, you could never re-make it. Because who could replace him?” He started laughing. We talked about Bowie, we talked about Elvis, we had fun. The bands played their own stuff, but they also played Bowie and Presley songs. In between the bands, there were burlesque acts. Bettina May came on in a glittering pin-stripe outfit and did a striptease to Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison”. It was so joyous and fun, the crowd screaming as she disrobed. The other burlesque act was maybe my favorite part of the night. It’s a guy named Brewster. He came on dressed as an old-fashioned pilot, with aviator goggles and a leather jacket and khaki pants. He acted almost shy and surprised throughout his act, like: “Oh my God, look at me, I’m naked … is it okay?” which was hilarious. He had a small glittering propeller on his underwear, which actually turned, when he pushed some switch somewhere. The audience went crazy. It was so funny. I loved him.
The Screaming Rebel Angels not only played Presley tunes, and their own stuff, but other rockabilly classics like “Hoy Hoy”. The best part is: these numbers still jam, these numbers still make people move. Everyone was dancing like crazy. This was a young crowd, too. Mostly 20-somethings. But it wasn’t a “cool” crowd, nobody was “over” it. Everyone was there ready to party and move and dance. What a great atmosphere.
David Bowie and Elvis Presley, born on the same day. Two of the biggest RCA artists of their time. On the planet at the same time. Bowie used himself in an interesting way, gender-wise, the same way Elvis did, although Elvis might not have seen it that way. We have an idea of male-ness in our culture: Here is what a Man Is. Here is what a Real Man acts like. This goes on today, it went on then, and both Elvis and Bowie pushed the boundaries of that. They are clearly men, but they did not limit their expression to what was deemed acceptable for their gender. Both artists are still unbalancing today because of that. When a culture is repressive towards women, the men suffer too. If female-ness is seen as “lesser”, then that’s when you start to hear a lot of pontificating about what Real Men should be like. Because nobody wants to be feminine, and so men start to puff themselves up and start to hate the soft-ness in themselves. It’s quite deep. Femininity and female-ness is seen as “other”, desirable in certain contexts, but those contexts must be male-controlled. When men like Bowie and Presley blend those boundaries, and use themselves in a way that normally women use themselves (objectifying themselves, oozing with sensuality that is more receptive in nature), we all profit. It allows more freedom in the culture. It opens up spaces for people that were not there before. That’s huge.
It was so awesome to be at a “birthday bash”, of all ages, where these things are valued, where the past is honored and celebrated, where we can all come together and say, “We love these people. We do not forget.” No generation invents the wheel. Each one builds on what came before. Bowie’s performance-art career is a logical next-step to what Elvis was opening up, when he first jiggled like a burlesque performer on The Dorsey Show in 1956. And all of us in that club last night have benefited hugely from both of these phenomenal artists.
And, even more important, their songs still groove. They are both timeless.
I loved the Vegas-y and yet underground quality of the show. Again, this is ground that was opened up by Elvis, by Bowie, pouring it into the mainstream in a way that it had not been before. And here we are in 2013, dancing around at 1 in the morning to “Hound Dog” and screaming out all the lyrics to “Major Tom”.
Life is sweet.