The Elephant Man, David Bowie, Autumn, 1980 Revisted
(In honor of my recent visit to the Brooklyn Museum of Art, I present my original post from my visit to Broadway to see The Elephant Man. Let’s face it youre jealous as well you should be. The memory got stronger when I saw the actual wrap worn by Bowie, the Playbill, the script notes- but still over all is one of the finest mother / daughter adventures of all time. -HB)
It was somewhere between September and October of 1980 when I was sitting in Freshman homeroom and heard the intercom cut in requesting that I ‘gather belongings’ and report to the office. This wasn’t a huge new thing to me. Either someone in my family was dead or in trouble or my mom was up to something. It was a Wednesday..that was a good omen.
I grabbed my coat and headed down the stairs to the office of the private girls that annoyed me. I was surrounded by Barbie dolls and clones and as the only self proclaimed punk rock girl couldn’t have been more in my own world. There was my mom with a faux solemn expression, ‘something came up’ there was a ‘family emergency’. We left. Once in the car she said…….we’re going to New York, David Bowie is on Broadway. This is why Wednesdays were good omens- Matinee day!
I knew this of course as a rabid Bowie fan I pretty much knew what he ate for breakfast.
We boarded the train in New Haven and chugged off and I remember the black and white saddle shoes I wore, so new wave for a punk rock girl, hair full of gel. Mom was smart enough to bring clothes for me to change into and this I remember as well. Black pants a white buttoned down blouse a man style suit jacket and skinny black tie. I was a female Nick Lowe, I was cool as hell.
We arrived to the theater and for some reason, my mother thought you could just purchase tickets. Hmm imagine Bowie was a sell out? Yeah. So I did what any other 12 year old girl would do. I sat right there on the pavement and cried. Now this seems urban legend now but it’s straight up serious.
In backtracking I found that this show was at the Booth Theater. I remember the woman behind the glass began tapping on it and for some reason two tickets 3rd row side were available and now in my mother’s hands. I recall two people on the street sort of patting my back in some sort of odd celebratory ‘atta girl’ type move but I didn’t really care the rest is a blur, sorta.
I remembered thinking women in theaters wear the most exotic colognes musky and dark..I liked it. The dark haired red lipped woman in front of me oozed the smoke of perfume, which, by the way, I discovered some years later was the cologne Opium, still to this day one of the most sensual of fragrances.
So lights down lights up and there is Bowie. So close in a spotlight and white fashioned diaper. So close that I will never forget that I could see the hair on his legs. The light was so bright my vision so keen my heart..still. There he was. The ‘Thin White Duke’ that ‘Wam Bam Thank you Mam’..Bowie. Fucking David Bowie close enough for me to whip my gum at or abduct or…stare at.
Through the performance I was disturbed and shocked and confused and saddened and for moments forgot he was Bowie at all. The play was outstanding the atmosphere electric and everything was perfect and it was scary and I was with my mom and skipping school for this. This couple hours would smack me in the gut 32 years later as I try to remember the details of an event that went so fast.
I found video of it on youtube. It jetted my mind back, Bowie really did an outstanding job contorting himself and his speech. But he was still Bowie and I was right there I remember wondering why no one was just SCREAMING. Then I figured that’s not cool in a Broadway Theater, I may have if I wasn’t with my mom. My mom was so damn cool. She sat there engrossed in the show not even realizing the impact little things like this would have on me. How as I raised my own daughter 30 years later I would find instances of doing or attempting things other moms found ‘nuts’.
The show ended and the perfumed lady headed up the aisle and my mother and I headed to the exit. There were two unguarded doors, and she gave me a look with a back nod ‘You’re only young once, do what you have to do- I’ll be waiting for you outside’, I pushed through one door and there was another a small plaque slid in it. Black plastic with white lettering the find you’d find on an office door. I gave it a tap and out it slid…’David Bowie’ I tucked it in my Playbill tucked the playbill inside that boxy jacket and high tailed it out of there. My mom was right where she said she would be- and off we went.found ‘nuts’.