Oregon Live - 18th April 2004

The boys of summer

By Whitney Otto

When I was a kid, I was an AM radio addict. I loved the radio. In the car, on the beach, in my room before I fell asleep at night. I listened and learned so many songs that if I were to suddenly decide on a life of barroom drinking, I could have quite the career at being the most irritating drunk in the place. But perhaps later, when I'm reincarnated.

In this life, however, three of my radio sweethearts - David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Tom Jones - recently performed in Portland, and I was there to see them all. While none was my hero or my biggest influence, all were an unmistakable part of my youth. And as curious as I was about David, Rod and Tom, I found I was just as interested in seeing who, besides me, would show up.

David Bowie, Tuesday, April 13, Rose Garden Arena

The first thing I noticed about the crowd was the fair number of parents with seemingly bored teens in tow. The next thing I noticed was the marked sobriety and missing aromatics of the rock crowds of my youth. Of course, this also meant that the glassy-eyed girl who usually threw up somewhere nearby was also not in attendance. As a sympathy puker, I must count this as an improvement over the old days. This older, quieter crowd got me wondering what David Bowie thinks when he looks out at an audience so deficient in the wild glitter and glam of his early years. Does he think, "Thank God I don't have to wear 6-inch platforms anymore and can let my eyebrows grow back." Or maybe, "Where am I, and who are these people?" Maybe it's because he can't quite place us that he offers a chance at his shows to don his age-defying cool. Hanging up there with the usual overpriced T-shirts, beanies, key chains and sweatshirts was - for a mere $130, for anyone who wanted to Bowify - a black, knee-length frock coat with a stand-up collar and clever closures. Apparently 19th-century attire was going to be the look for the evening. When Bowie came on stage he was dressed in a very cool, very rocking velvet cutaway jacket with tails. After heating up the joint with a couple of songs, he turned from the audience to strip off the coat. What would the fiftysomething Bowie with the fantastic physique wear under his velvet cutaway with tails? Why, another velvet cutaway with tails! This time in pale gray.

Since I'm unaccustomed to seeing someone wearing a coat under the same coat, I got distracted for a moment, wondering what kind of statement this fashion icon was making and would I have to follow suit. For one who is at odds with her body, the idea of wearing a pair of coats is not unappealing and, you know, if David Bowie does it... After all, Bowie is amazingly hip and cool. Aging has not altered his charisma one iota; in fact, it seems to agree with him. Just as I began to suspect some sort of deal with the devil, a short film was projected onto a screen behind the stage in which a lone figure in a long black coat (at $130, say), walked in and out of flames. The message being "I don't do Botox; I do Beelzebub." There was another short film, too, very grainy, of a winter forest thick with trees. The camera panned in and out until, suddenly, Bowie was there, wandering among the branches seemingly lost and looking like a member of the cast of "The Blair Witch Project."

When I was a freshman in college, I lived in a very small dorm. Three doors down from my room was a senior named Alan, who wore an unfashionable ascot and was in the midst of a nervous breakdown. He never shut his door as he blared Bowie day and night in an attempt, I think, to get us all to join in his impending crack-up. It was like Bowie Aversion Therapy. As I sat in my seat before the show, I had began to wonder if an entire evening of Bowie would have me revisiting the past and turning into Brad Pitt in "12 Monkeys." But no. Bowie was incredible and sang like the former androgynous extraterrestrial angel he is. My middle-age present gave way to my teen years, listening to Bowie on the radio, dreaming of the possible, as I drove the long distances one can drive around Los Angeles without ever really leaving, and wishing for my own life to begin.

Hey, babe, you look divine.