It was March the third in the year George Orwell wrote about in his novel - 1984. I don't know why that date stuck in my mind other than I liked the numerology of it: three - three - one - nine - eight - four. If you add them altogether it comes to twenty-eight and two plus eight is ten, and if you boil that down further, one plus zero equals one. It was a "one" day.
I was living in Hollywood, California on El Cerritos Drive in a one room apartment with large planked wooden floors and tight molded ceilings which I shared with my faithful companion, Bridget Bardog. I think this was my seventh or eighth apartment I had occupied in my short, bitter- sweet life so far, and I would have roughly twenty more before I would leave Los Angeles for good. That night in March, I was up late drinking vodka, peppermint schnapps and snorting cocaine by myself, it was too expensive to share and I couldn't afford much more than a gram a week, which would set me back about a hundred bucks. Alcohol was bad enough, but I don't know why I did that horrible, self centered drug on top of it. It was never as good as the first time and I could never recapture the rapture of the very first hit - but I kept trying. Oh yes, I was well practiced at the art of getting wasted.
I got a collect call that night for “Jimmy” from a Mr. Bowie. It just so happened that I had the telephone number that used to belong to Jimmy Osterberg, who is better known by the moniker, Iggy Pop, the widely know innovator and godfather of punk rock. Since my name was also Jimmy, at least before 1980 it was - after I met Marly she insisted on calling me James, so anyone I knew before that year called me Jimmy, after that it was James. I answered to both, but not Jim. My father would only call me Jim when he was angry with me or I had done something wrong, which was more often than I would have liked.
The man on the other end of the line spoke in a low drawn out English accent and I guessed it was David Bowie, but I wasn't convinced. I thought someone was playing an elaborate joke on me but I went along with it thinking it could be real. I had to find out and the best way was to keep him on the line. Whoever it was, I could tell he was in low spirits and needed someone to talk to and since Jimmy Osterberg wasn't available, I figured I was the next best thing - after all we did share the same first name. He seemed to enjoy speaking with me, so after a few minutes, he called the operator and reversed the charges back to his number so I wouldn't get charged the exorbitant long distance fees. Those were the days when long distance calls could cost over a buck a minute and I told him I was a struggling musician, I guess if it was really Bowie, he could afford it, I certainly could not. He said he was calling from some friend’s house in Yonkers, New York which is three hours ahead from Los Angeles time.
He was more than despondent; he was clinically depressed over a few things in his life that weren't going the way he planned. He had just finished doing the soundtrack to the movie "Cat People" with Nastassja Kinski, who was now pregnant and nobody was sure who the father was –Bowie thought he might be, and it really panicked him. Apparently she was sleeping with three or four different men at the time and it was the question of the day, at least for readers of The National Enquirer and other tabloid magazines just who the father really was. He was spilling his guts out now to a complete stranger who was now playing the role of the amateur psychiatrist, something I did as a hobby besides astrology, numerology and reading Tarot cards. I looked at the clock on the wall and noticed it was seven pm, we were on the phone for over an hour and it seemed like he was starting to cheer up a little. I asked him if he wanted to hear any of the music I had been working on and he agreed. I played him a tape of a song I had written that was very Bowie-esque called Gone Again. He listened attentively, at least I thought he did, but who knows what somebody was doing on the other end of the line. For all I knew he could have put the phone down and had gone into the other room to fix himself a drink, or a line of coke but when he spoke up after the song was over and told me he really liked it except for one chord in the bridge which he thought was a bit too predictable.
"You know that A minor chord you played, I think it should be something a little darker," he said. "Why don't you try a diminished chord?"
"Diminished?" I said. "Maybe you're right." I thought if this wasn't David Bowie, it was someone who knew a lot about music, because he was right. I changed it later to that chord and it did sound a lot better. We talked about some of the musicians in his band, since I knew Mike Garson who played piano on his song "Aladdin Sane". I met Mike when I went down to San Diego with Larry Harrison a year earlier to see him perform at a Holiday Inn. Mike had given Larry a few piano lessons and was a great jazz player. Not many people would know about Mike, he was a bit obscure and he was a Scientologist to boot. Bowie, or who I presumed was David Bowie, knew all about him and he was the one who brought up the Scientology angle. I felt that he could be the real deal.
He was also tired of being a homosexual and wanted to go straight. "I would walk down the streets of New York past the Essex House on Columbus Circle and I'd see an old fag who would say, Hey David, why don't you whip it out; I’m bloody sick of it."
I said, "David, why don't you just grow a mustache and go down to a hamburger stand and go get yourself a nice chili-cheeseburger. Do some normal stuff, go bowling or play golf."
He laughed. I think he like the fact that I treated him like a regular guy, not some idolizing fan or someone who put him on a pedestal. It's funny because when I saw a photo of him a few months later he was wearing a mustache. Now I was not what you would call a real Bowie fan, in fact I thought he was responsible for the kind of music that was heading in the direction I was so diametrically opposed to with all the glitter, glam and gender bending. I had written a protest song with BJ about it in the seventies called Sequins and Rhinestones. I did like the song he had written, Changes, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and Fame, the latter of which he recorded with John Lennon. Anyone who played music with Lennon was okay in my book.
Another person that was eating away at Bowie’s psyche was his half-brother, Terry Burns. Terry had attempted suicide on more than one occasion and was now in the mental hospital At Cane Hill in Coulsdon, in the south London Borough of Croydon, (it was Cane Hill that was on the cover of the album The Man Who Sold the World). He had thrown himself out of a third story window in 1982 and was now a permanent resident of the asylum. The Bowie family was riddled with insanity and that Bowie’s tortured relationship with Terry, and his fear of going mad, inspired many of his songs but he was riddled with guilt about it as well. Certainly Terry Burns had been essential to his development; there’s little question as to that. Terry, his elder by ten years, had helped turn David Jones into “David Bowie,” having introduced him to everything from Tibetan Buddhism to jazz. A few months later Terry would lay his head on a railroad track outside of Cane Hill and pull it away seconds before the express train came. A few months after that in 1985, he did it again but this time it was a success. He died a few seconds later at the age of 47. I guess David had a premonition about it. He loved his half-brother and felt he neglected him, especially with the on-sought of fame and fortune. He had already written songs about Terry, one in particular called All the Madmen on the previously mentioned album, The Man Who Sold the World. Seven years later he would go on to write a song called, Jump They Say, which was on the Black Tie White Noise album. It was about his feelings about the death of his half-brother, Terry Burns. It was obvious he had a lot of troublesome stuff on his overcrowded plate.
It was now going on four hours and I knew it was getting late, especially in New York which was three hours ahead. I felt that I was monopolizing his time but he didn't seem to mind. I said if we wanted to call back tomorrow or if he needed to talk he could call back anytime. I felt like we connected—we were becoming friends. It was ten o'clock Pacific time and one o'clock in the morning when we hung up the phone. I took the last hit of my coke and turned on the TV not really sure if it was real or not. Did I just have a four hour conversation with David Bowie? I had no way of knowing for sure, and still, to this day, I am in the dark about it.