David Bowie died last week.
I had hoped that the Starman was immortal and his multifaceted muse would continue to inspire his unique contributions to the artistic world. Bowie was more than the flashiest star in the cosmos of rock and roll. He had an undeniable ability to influence things such as music, fashion (turn to the left) and art. He was an actor, mime, writer, painter, singer, musician, fashionista and so much more. To say he was a renaissance man is a gross understatement. He inspired a generation of youth, yes even Native youth, to imagine, dream and live outside the box. His passing has me swimming in a pool of reminiscences.
I was hooked on Bowie at an early age. I remember trying to find anything I had to trade to a friend for his copy of ChangesOneBowie. I didn’t have anything he wanted but I managed a recorded cassette tape out of the deal.
Man I am really dating myself.
In the Middle American high school I attended for most of my teen years I was the only Native and I wanted to be the outsider. I wanted to emulate the Qudraphenic Mod and his gang from Pete Townshend and the Who, be Ziggy Stardust with my own Spiders from Mars and even a wee bit of the Droog and his banda from the Anthony Burgess novel “A Clockwork Orange” and the more well known version, Stanley Kubrick’s film of the same name featuring Malcolm McDowell as the ultra-violent antihero Alex. Maybe I have a Trickster complex?
Anyway, I did all that (sorta). I was the quasi leader of a group of similar sycophants. We wanted to be different. Different from the goat ropers as we called them, I guess a more gentile manner of referring to them would be red necks. We wanted to distinguish ourselves from the jocks (also known as no necks), the studious, even though many of us had top grades and test scores, the religious/racist right (I lost two girlfriends in high school because their xtian families did not approve of a pagan brown Native American. There was even an active chapter of the kkk in my hometown and of all the evils there were in the world they choice to picket the movie The Wiz. We wanted to be different from every clique there was. We celebrated ourselves through music. Fortunately, one of our denizens (who it would turn out to be my sister in law in a mysterious way that only creator could concoct) had spent a year abroad and brought back music that hadn’t yet made it to the shores of the good ole USA. That blend of effete European new wave and the proletariat punk rock I was given to provided our group exactly the non-identity we craved. We called ourselves the RADs (Short for Radicals) and I would have us marching down the hall chanting “We are the Rads,” modeled after Townshend’s film Quadraphenia and the refrain it had of “we are the mods.” One of my proudest moments in my high school career was when the principal stepped in front of my friend and I (She would turn out to be our class salutatorian) and told her that she shouldn’t be hanging around people like me. Today decades later we are still friends.
When I moved back to the rez my senior year I had a Ziggy Star Dust hairstyle with a pink stripe (I swear it wasn’t a mullet), affected the countenance of a punk oi boy by having a safety pin “pierced” into my cheek, wore an ear cuff and was called the punk rock Karok. In a counterintuitive way, being different helped me fit in. The way Bowie gave little credence to the status quo was how I started to become who I am today. I took tips from the Thing White Duke, as I became a Djay at the Tribal radio station playing all kinds of random oddities, the likes those Natives never heard of. I brought the Gremlin King along with his minions, the Clash, Frank Zappa, Gary Numan, Devo, the B 52’s, the Eurythmics etc. I am still apologizing to the spirit people of that tribe for all the noize I pounded into their atmosphere. Ok, I got the song “Bobby Brown” permanently banned, but at least I let the ethos of the alienated Bowie lose on the ears of whoever was listening. I recall a late night drive after one of my radio shifts to take my brother to a midnight showing of “The Hunger.” The movie starred the illustrious Mr. Bowie in his role of a neophyte Vampire. Sure, I probably warped my 11-year-old Bubbie but I placated my need for dissonance.
Alas, the Man Who Fell to Earth is gone, but like trickster he will probably show up in every inconceivable corner to tweak the righteous nose of the establishment. I hope I can do the same.
Just my two dentalias' worth.
Andre Cramblit is a Karuk Tribal Member from the Klamath and Salmon rivers in northwest California and the Operations Director of the Northern California Indian Development Council. He lives with his wife Wendy and son Kyle in Arcata, California.