Joe Gallo reminisces on growing up not so Hunky Dory

When I was around 11 my sister came home with a David Bowie album and the only thing I knew about him was that he was a gay or a fag or a homo or something like that. I didn’t know exactly what that was all about, but I knew the kids down at the field used the word a lot and you didn’t want it directed at you. It was sort of like having the cooties, but probably worse.

Years later, in 1975, I saw Mott the Hoople and the New York Dolls on Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert. I can’t say that changed my life, but I was definitely not put off by the Dolls’ flamboyance or Mott’s thigh-high boots and affected charm. I was being engineered by the satanic nature of the media to accept camp into my life and I greedily complied. It soon became normal for men to wear make-up while they strutted and pouted and poured out testosterone-driven rock and roll.

By 1977, I was ready for David Bowie and my first album was Low. After that I bought anything he recorded, even his first album (called David Bowie) with all of those weird little ditties like the Laughing Gnome or Please, Mr. Gravedigger.

Eventually I bought Hunky Dory and it’s been a favorite of mine for about 20 years now. When he died, the first Bowie thing that came to mind was, “Life is a bitch; he’s finished his news…” And it took me a couple of seconds to figure out where that came from. Even if it’s been my favorite Bowie record I haven’t listened to it in about 5 years.

My ‘bitch’ quote came from the song, Oh, You Pretty Things, the second track on the album. And dwelling on this song, suddenly it all came back to me. The den in the basement where I spent most of my adolescence, the record player with the crappy turntable, and me with long, blonde hair parted in the middle looking chic in a pair of oversized aviator glasses.

I remember this song in particular because there was something mysterious about it. I had no idea what the hell he was talking about; hands reaching down from the sky, books written by the Golden Ones, children with faces in golden rays, the earth being a bitch, and homo sapiens outgrowing their use…

All of this was pretty heady and it appealed to my tragic imagination; that something foreboding was going on, some mystery was being conducted and the Pretty Things – whatever, whoever they were – were rebelling against the old order. And Bowie was making it plain that “you gotta make way for the homo superior…”

Again, I didn’t know what to make of that. Homo? By now I had an idea of what homos were. We didn’t know any (as far as we knew) but the homo superior? Although a puzzling thing to my 15-year old self, it just goes to show that this song did what music was meant to do, provoke the listener into a state of wonder. Without knowing it, I was having an experience that prompted me to extend my boundaries and sift through the ambiguities that attract the adolescent mind such as self-identity, sexual discovery, and the romance of the tragic, the supernatural, and our eventual annihilation.