The temptation to steal them for bragging rights was hot in my hands when it occurred to me that not one living soul would believe me if I took home a pair of tighty whities and told people I stole them from David Bowie.
The world may have first set eyes on David bowie in 1964 when he was 17-years-old and appeared on BBC Tonight to be interviewed as the founding member of The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-haired Men. That such a thing existed is a whole different discussion but that he, as an awkward teenage boy, was its founding member, and already brave enough to say, “Leave me alone. There is nothing wrong with me. I am perfectly normal,” is really the point and the celebration we feel for his life.
In my personal Bowie encounter, I became an eyewitness to a disarming degree of normalcy that shocks with each retelling of the story because Aladdin Sane is not supposed to actually be sane. But what I learned is that Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll sometimes packs a suitcase. A suitcase filled with tighty whities and your dad’s black socks with gold toe reinforcements.
I met him quite by surprise when I was delivering room service at The Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, many years ago. I was 19-years-old. I didn’t know he was going to be the one who answered the door at the suite when I arrived with breakfast that morning. I didn’t even know that he was a guest in the hotel. But suddenly there he was in his bathrobe smiling at me from behind one blue eye and one brown eye. I must have paused for just a beat too long as I held my head in crooked inspection to confirm the vision before me. He broke the spell by making a point to read my uniform and to call me by name. “Good morning, Rachel! Come in!” He showed me all the way back to the dining area in the cavernous suite. He wanted to eat at the formal table and not on the roll away room service cart. He helped me to spread the tablecloth out and set up breakfast. He asked me how my day was going. He wondered how business in room service was and if I would be able to get off work soon to enjoy the day outside. He was concerned there were no windows in the basement of the hotel where I was stationed. We chatted like pals. I got ready to serve the coffee and he said, “Here, let me help.” He was easy and lovely and he approved with delight at my boring plans to ride the bus home after work and probably do nothing once I got there. “Well that sounds relaxing,” he said.
Later, when it was time to return and retrieve the room service dishes I discovered that he was gone for the day and that he had left his suitcase out and open. Here is where I confess that 19-year-old fangirls maintain the least amount of composure out of all the species on earth. I made a beeline for his personal belongs and I started rummaging through his private business. I wasn’t interested in finding something to take. That much I knew. I had never stolen a thing in my life and I had never once violated a person’s trust like I was doing in that moment. It didn’t even feel wrong at the time. The way he had treated me earlier was shocking in its normalcy. His ordinariness was shocking and that was the rub. It left me feeling like something was missing. What was missing, of course, was my willingness to accept that I was no different from him. He had made me feel no different and I was unable to accept that we shared a common ground because I was No One from Nowhere and he was David Fucking Bowie. It dawned on me while I was poking around his belongings that I was looking for Ziggy Stardust. For Major Tom. For The Spaceman. The Diamond Dog. The Rebel Rebel. The Jean Genie. I wanted him to be a character of himself but all he wanted to be was his authentic self and for me to be my authentic self.
It turns out that I found all the answers I was looking for in his underwear. They were so normal. Hanes, or if I’m being fanciful maybe Calvin Klein. Whatever the brand, they were nothing but tighty and whitey. I unfolded a pair and held them up like a freak flag. The temptation to steal them for bragging rights was hot in my hands when it occurred to me that not one living soul would believe me if I took home a pair of tighty whities and told people I stole them from David Bowie. The second thought that occurred to me was that he was traveling and needed his underwear. I snapped out of a groupie haze and packed them neatly back up before leaving quietly. I told a few friends what I had done and we laughed but I was also ashamed of myself. He had shown me such a kindness in learning my name. In calling me by my name. In showing me himself and in getting me to talk about myself. And that’s his legacy, really. Putting a mirror up to show us how wonderfully normal we are and how pleasant our plans are to ride the bus home and to do nothing if that is what will make us happy. I’m happy, hope you’re happy too. I can hear him sing it to me now. In our mundane exchange over breakfast he wanted me to know that we were not so different and that to be special is boring when normal is strange enough to be magic. He was telling me that authenticity is for Everyone from Every Where and to just let it be so.