How I Discovered My Favorite David Bowie Song
I’ve lived with his music practically my entire life, and yet there are some David Bowie songs I flat-out missed the first time. One of them is “Teenage Wildlife,” which was released in 1980, while I was in the seventh grade at a Southern California intermediate school.
Those were strange, isolated times for me; my religious upbringing steered me clear of both rock-and-roll and androgyny, and as a result I was only aware of David Bowie as a concept. (Maybe I’d heard “Space Oddity” once or twice, but I had yet to connect the song with the singer.) Besides, in those days, the big bands were REO Speedwagon, Van Halen and, distantly, Devo. Musically-speaking, we were caught in the space between (real) dinosaurs and (imagined) mohawks, and Bowie was neither of those. Perhaps it’s just as well; if I had learned of David Bowie at that tender age I might have been afraid of him, as I was afraid of most things.
In any case, I didn’t discover with “Teenage Wildlife” until well after my teens — when I was my early 30s, I think — and I didn’t fall in love with it until the summer of 2008. Today, I can’t believe I ever lived without it. There are some songs that find a hole in your sense of self and plug it up … and all at once, you begin filling up with the exultations to which you were once immune. All that good stuff was bleeding out of you until you discovered your new favorite song.
Even I if had heard “Teenage Wildlife” at age 13, I wouldn’t have understood it; wouldn’t have felt it in any way that mattered.Today, when I hear the song, I feel like it’s been with me the entire time.
I love “Wildlife’s” steady and determined buildup. Bowie sounds like he could launch into the chorus two or three times before he actually does, and when it comes it’s like a summer downpour, sweet and perfect. It’s a talky song; old Davy Jones has a lot to get off his chest in those seven minutes, and I can’t help but smile when I imagine him nearly tripping over himself as he hastens to speak his mind.
The best part is that this new love of a 30-year-old song happened all at once. One day in August 2008, as I walked around downtown Seattle, the song came up in shuffle on my iPod. It was a perfect afternoon, hot and cool at once. People were bobbing up and down in time to the music, wholly unaware. Albino spiders chased whiffs of cotton across a swimming-pool sky. Closing my eyes, I could imagine that Bowie was sitting at a cafe table, singing his piece between tugs on a cup of coffee and a cigarette, while Robert Fripp and Chuck Hammer stood on opposite sides of Second and Pine and traded riffs back and forth like volleys of ammunition.
It was a moment. That’s what the iPod does best: Every once in a great while, this soulless piece of technology somehow finds the perfect song for the perfect occasion and lets fly. It creates those moments as if it were nothing.
When I turned 16 I acquired a stereo boombox that I’d carry around, trying to force the creation of such moments. I’d blast my Simple Minds and my Echo and the Bunnymen and my Prince and I’d wait for the world to catch the beat and get into step behind it. I can count on one hand and part of another all the times that happened to me before the iPod came into being. Now it happens to me at least a dozen times a year.
In any case, I feel very lucky that I finally caught up with “Teenage Wildlife.” And I’m happy that I still have the ability to fall in love with a song at an opportune time. Moments like these are my million-dollar weapons.