David Bowie: How Can That Voice Not Be Here Anymore
By Dave Price
Shirley Giddens remembers with absolute certainty her surroundings when she first heard the news.
It was early morning and she was in her kitchen getting ready for the drive to the South Jersey high school where she has taught English for the past 20 years.
Her boyfriend Sam knocked on the door. She could tell by his face something was seriously wrong.
“He just came up to me, hugged me tightly, and whispered ‘Mr. Bowie died last night’”, Giddens says.
“What are you talking about? He’s David Bowie. He doesn’t die,” Giddens says she replied. “I was in shock. I think I’m still a little bit in shock. I still cry from time to time. I mean that voice – how can that voice not be here anymore?”
Indeed, for Giddens and millions of other music fans around the world, the January 10th death of David Bowie began an incredible year which saw the death of more than 150 musical artists ranging from Hall of Famers like Bowie, Glen Frey, Prince, Leonard Cohen, and Leon Russell to vaguely remembered sidemen from bands like the Box Tops, Spooky Tooth, and Wings.
For Giddens, it was Bowie’s death that hit the hardest.
She collected his recordings. She listened to him daily at home and in her car. She had seen him in concert more than 25 times since his Serious Moonlight tour. (“When it came to David Bowie, money was no object”). She always had a poster or two of him hanging in her classroom. She was known for incorporating Bowie lyrics or lifestyle lessons into her teaching.
Her most poignant memory of Bowie is when she actually talked to him in New York City in the 90s.
Bowie was one of several performers at a benefit for Tibet at Carnegie Hall. Giddens was determined to be there. However, the forecast for that day called for a blizzard to hit New York. Undeterred, Giddens secured a ticket for a Greyhound bus and a room for the night.
“Everybody said I would never make it, but I knew nothing was going to stop me,” she said. “I got to New York and there wasn’t any snow at all.”
Long ago, her mother had told her to always take her NJ license plate (D Bowie) to any Bowie concert to serve as an icebreaker in case she ever got a chance to meet her idol.
The concert began. Bowie was scheduled to perform later in the show. “I paid close attention and I noticed that each act was performing two songs,” Giddens says. “So when Bowie came on I knew I would have to make a drastic move now.”, her license plate in her hands, rushed the stage, holding her artifact up for Bowie to see.
“I guess he thought I wanted him to have it,” she explains. “He said ‘no thanks, I don’t have a car.’ And I said ‘no, it’s mine’. And then he said some more things to me, but I was too excited to hear exactly what it was. It was like I was in a bright light and couldn’t hear him”.
“I could hear the audience laughing behind me,” she explains. “Maybe he asked me ‘do you want me to sign it’. Or maybe he asked me to join the band. I’ve thought I might try to get a hypnotist to help me recall his conversation, but then I think – maybe I shouldn’t.”
However, when Giddens finally returned to her hotel, the enormity of her experience finally struck her. “I just started screaming,” she says. “David Bowie talked to me! He actually talked to me!”
Giddens vividly recalls her introduction to the ever-changing rock icon, who was 69 when he died of liver cancer.
She was in 11th grade when she heard Bowie’s 1983 hit “Let’s Dance”.
“I just loved it so much I had to rush out to the mall and get red pumps,” Giddens said, her initial reaction still bringing a smile to her face. “His music was so funky and so different. I then worked my way backward through his entire catalog. Today, ‘Let’s Dance’ is probably one of my least favorite of David’s songs, but it was where it all started.”
Obviously, over the years, Giddens has been frequently asked about her love of Bowie and his music.
“Why do people like Shakespeare?” Giddens says she usually replies when questioned. “Like Shakespeare, Bowie’s lyrics are so enigmatic and funky. No matter how many times you read Shakespeare, you learn something different about life. It’s the same with Bowie”
Giddens says she also finds a comforting, spiritual side to Bowie’s words. “He’s kind of like the Bible. There’s a story for every way you feel,” she says.
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