Friday, April 27, 2018

Transcript (edited) of "A Reality Tour," performed at World Cafe Live

Kathryn A. Kopple


      It’s so nice to be here with all of you tonight celebrating the life and career of David Bowie.  My name is Kathryn.  I am a contributor to the anthology My Bowie Story.  My Bowie Story is called "A Reality Tour."  A Reality Tour was, as we know, the last time Bowie toured, and I felt lucky to have been able to see him.  It was as if Bowie and I had gone full circle.  You see, my Bowie story began many years before, in a small town, an isolated town; it was so small and so isolated that we had no highway that could connect us to the outer world.  If you wanted to get to the highway that would take you to New York or Boston, you had to drive at least an hour. 
    When you grow up in a place that isolated, not only is it hard to get out but it’s hard for things to get in.  You just don’t know what’s going on outside your small town.  When you are a teenager, it’s only natural as you stand in your small-town parking lot in front of the Grand Union, watching shoppers go about their business, that you wonder what people in the wider world are doing.  You wonder about what people your own age are doing.  What clothes do the kids in Boston wear?  What kind of parties do the kids in New York have? What sort of music do they listen to in Philadelphia?
     Where I lived, music was something that happened elsewhere.  There was no music scene, unless you count the high school chorus, and I wasn’t in chorus.  My situation was complicated by the fact that we weren’t allowed to listen to rock 'n roll in my house.  Rock 'n roll was forbidden.  It wasn’t that rock n’ roll was the devil’s music.  My parents weren’t religious. My family wouldn't permit rock 'n roll in the house for different reasons.  Rock 'n roll was terrible for you; it was terrible music, noise.  It would ruin you.  If you listened to rock 'n roll, you would never know how to recognize truly great music--that was, classical music.
      The pressure to conform was tremendous but I sensed my parents were wrong: rock 'n roll was great music, and if there was great rock 'n roll out there, I was going to find it.
    Which brings me around to Kathy F.  Often, back then, I took refuge at Kathy F’s house.  Kathy was my best friend, and I basically lived at her house.  I was never happier than at Kathy's house because there you were free--free to be an American,free to be a young American. You were allowed to listen to rock 'n roll. No judgement.  
    The most formative musical experiences of my life took place at Kathy’s house. One night, Kathy and I were in our sleeping bags on the living room floor and I looked up at the TV, and there he appeared:  Ziggy Stardust.  He was singing and he was leaning into the song, leaning so close that I thought he would lean right out of the television and into Kathy’s living room.  Of this, I was convinced.  Ziggy would come out of the TV and into Kathy’s living room, and he would take us by the hand, and we would go with him to wherever he came from.  No questions asked.  Because wherever Ziggy Stardust came from had to be wonderful and beautiful because Ziggy was wonderful and beautiful.
    And then, Ziggy disappeared. 
    And David Bowie went on to make a lot of great music but I confess I still hung onto Ziggy.  What can I say?  It was true love.
    When I moved to Philadelphia, I went through a lot of changes.  I finished graduate school.  I married.  I also became pregnant—all in the same year.
    We also moved out of Center City.  I was a little worried about leaving the city because growing up as I had I didn’t want to be isolated.  I needed to make sure that wherever we moved there was good transportation. A small borough not far west of Philly was that place.  I remember standing in the center of town, and saying to my husband, "This town has everything a person could ask for:  three bars, a liquor store, and a movie theater.  What's not to love?"  My town also had one other thing to recommend it:  a video store.
    A really nice guy worked at the video store. When I went into the store, we would chat.  His name was Frank.  There was no expectation that we would become good friends. I was pregnant with my first child. Frank had his own life.
     One day, I went into the video store and I heard David Bowie singing.  I looked up at the video monitor, and there was Bowie singing “Heroes.”  I turned to see Frank at the counter.  "Do you like David Bowie?"  His response was an immediate "OMG!"  Instantly, we were friends.  Bowie friends.
    I gave birth, finally.  Life became hyper-busy.  Frank would call and we’d chat. Mostly, we’d talk about Bowie.  Bowie album releases. News about Bowie.  Bowie history. He told me about how important Bowie was to Philly and Philly to Bowie.  Some of Bowie's most devoted fans were from Philly.  Music to my ears. 
    When my second child was about eight months old, my father died.  As I write in my story in the anthology, "Your father has died has to be the worst wake-up calls you can get." For me, it was the worst call of my life. 
    People talk a lot about how, when you are in a dark place, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. But, for me, forget about light.  There wasn’t even a tunnel.  There was just darkness.  I wasn’t coping with my father’s death.  I couldn’t pull myself out of that dark place.  I was horribly anxious.  Terrified.
    About seven weeks after I received the call that my father had died, Frank called.  "Bowie’s coming."  Bowie? When?  Where?  I hoped he was coming to Philadelphia.  No, he was touring in California.  My heart dropped.  I said to Frank, “I wish I could go.” He said, “You are coming."  I said, "It’s not going to happen."  Where exactly was Bowie playing?  Frank said, "L.A."  I thought, Fabulous, you’re going to get to see Bowie and I get to hear all about it.  (I confess, I was bitter.)  He said, "Stop it. You are coming to see Bowie." "No," I repeated. "I don’t have the time or money."  When was the concert by the way?  He said: "Next week."  Next week?  I couldn't get to L.A. in a week.  He said, "Kathy, he’s going to sing Ziggy Stardust."
    Less than a week later I was on a plane headed for LAX to see David Bowie. I was on my way to see Bowie sing "Ziggy Stardust." I never thought I would hear Bowie sing "Ziggy Stardust" in my lifetime. I had abandoned that hope after the Serious Moonlight Tour.  Along with "Ziggy," there were other songs I hoped he would sing, like "Oh, You Pretty Things."  I talk about the song in the anthology.  It’s such a great song, always a favorite—and it reminds me of my dad.  I know.  I know, that sounds incredibly Freudian.  But understand, "Oh, You Pretty Things" is one of those Kurt Weill inspired songs--full of dark, creative energy. My dad was like that—a painter, an enormously  creative person. 
    I arrived in L.A. on a Thursday.  The concert was Saturday night. I had planned all these spa activities, so I would be refreshed and rested for the concert.  I had Frank take me to a yoga class.  We went up to Malibu for lunch.  We spent an afternoon at the Beverly Hills Hot Springs and Spa.
    Saturday night, rested and rejuvenated, Frank and I got on the subway.  We arrived the Wiltern, the small venue where the concert was held.
      There were two women standing next to me, and nearly overcome with emotion, I turned to them and gushed, "Hi, flew in from Philly two days ago. I abandoned my husband and kids to see David Bowie tonight." They were so excited.  They congratulated me, hugged me.
    Lights went out. People started screaming.  Bowie took the stage and kicked off the concert with "Rebel, Rebel." Everyone started to dance.  The theater filled with an intense euphoria, and it was like that the entire evening: one great song, and another, and another.  You couldn’t have asked for more.
     Then, alas, came the moment Bowie left the stage.  People were clapping, stamping their feet, and calling out for him to come back.  I was screaming, "Ziggy, Ziggy, Ziggy!"  He returned and launched into “Heroes,” and that was beautiful (instantly, we were in church).  I was holding hands with my new friends, and crying, and even if we weren’t holding hands and crying, I believed we were. I believed the whole theater was holding hands.    
   "Heroes" ended, the stage again empty, and I thought, Okay, it was a great evening.  He didn’t sing Ziggy, but what a totally fantastic concert!  Still, the audience was determined to have Bowie come back.  Clapping, screaming.  
     He walked calmly onstage, picked up his guitar, and hearing the first chords of "Ziggy Stardust," I nearly fainted.
    The next day, I got on a plane back to Philly.  After landing, I took a cab home.  I went inside.  The place was a total wreck, but it wss okay.  I hugged my kids.  I went and said hello to my husband.  He asked, “How was the concert?”
    “It was great.  Really, really great concert.”
    "Did he play Ziggy Stardust?”
    “He did. He played Ziggy Stardust, live, in front of me.” 
    We grew quiet for a moment before I said, “I feel better, you know, all that stuff about my dad.  I feel like it’s going to be okay.”
    My husband was looking at me.  I smiled. “Did I mention that I got to see David Bowie sing Ziggy Stardust live?”
    “Yeah,” he responded, “you mentioned that.”
    We grew quiet again.  After a bit, I looked at him and he looked at me, and I said, “Hey babe, your hair’s alright.  Hey babe, let's stay out tonight.”

Postscript:  Kathryn's essay "A Reality Tour" can be found in the anthology My Bowie Story.


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