We don’t really think of Woodstock as being particularly cutesy. But that’s what David Bowie told Interview Magazine in 2002 about his first impression of the legendary Ulster County town. “I went into Woodstock once and I hated it; it was just too cute for words,” Bowie said at that time. (Gee, he would have positively despised Rhinebeck!)
Still, just 10 years later, the iconic rocker — who sadly died after an 18-month battle with liver cancer on Sunday, January 10, 2016, just two days after his 69th birthday and the release of his final album, Blackstar — purchased 64 acres of land atop a pretty mountain just outside of Woodstock. Apparently, he felt differently about this wooded retreat. “This is not cute, on top of this mountain: It’s stark, and it has a Spartan quality about it. In this instance, the retreat atmosphere honed my thoughts,” he told Interview.
Bowie was already intimately familiar with the mountain as he had holed up there at the neighboring Allaire Studios to record his 2002 album Heathen. Many of the people that Bowie played with throughout his unparalleled four-decade romp through rock and roll history called the Hudson Valley home, including bassist Gail Ann Dorsey, guitarist Gerry Leonard, and drummer Zachary Alford. Legendary guitarist Earl Slick, a Pine Bush resident, was plucked from obscurity 40 years ago to play alongside Bowie on his 1974 Diamond Dogs tour. The duo went on to enjoy a long professional and personal relationship.
In 2013, Slick told Hudson Valley about receiving a surprise from the Ziggy Stardust superstar: “It happened fast. No one really knew what David was doing because he was quiet for almost 10 years, but out of the blue [in May 2012] I got an e-mail from him — we were chatting about whatever — and the next day we were scheduling me to be in the studio by July. Whenever he wants to do something, I make sure I’m available. There’s no question… he’s so easy to work with.”
Bowie — who was born David Jones, but changed it to avoid being confused with the Monkees’ lead singer of the same name — is widely regarded as one of history’s most influential and innovative musicians, experimenting with (and spearheading) all sorts of styles, from glam rock to electronic to blue-eyed soul.
Known for his exuberant performances and iconic alter egos, most notably Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke, Bowie’s talents extend well beyond his songwriting. Acting credits include The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Just a Gigolo (1979), Labyrinth (1986) — parts of which were filmed in Haverstraw, Nyack, and Piermont in Rockland County — The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and The Prestige (2006). On stage, he portrayed The Elephant Man in the challenging Broadway production from 1980 to 1981 (though he did turn down the role of the villain in the 1985 James Bond film, A View to Kill).
About six hundred lucky fans got to see Bowie and his six-piece band perform at the Chance rock club in Poughkeepsie on August 19, 2003. By all accounts, Bowie was very nervous to be previewing new material a few months before kicking off a world tour. Billboard Magazine reported that “the artist proclaimed that he and his bandmaters were terrified.”
British blogger Liz Tray, who has attended 16 live Bowie performances and flew in from London for the 2003 performance, wrote on her blog: “Tonight I felt changed… I could not believe the size of the venue. It was tantamount to him playing in your living room!”
Describing Bowie as a “picture of perfection” in pale blue denims and a black T-shirt with “Metal World” across the front, Tray writes: “I have never jumped and sang and hollered as loud in my life. How can you go back to arenas once you’ve been to a show of this size?” The intimate venue echoed the music icon’s relationship with his fans, too. Prior to the performance, Bowie waved and “talked to everyone, exhibiting the charm I’ve been told about,” said Tray.
“He signed various things and, having never been as close to him, I was rather open-mouthed I think. But it occurs to me that the guy who said ‘hi’ to us was not the same guy as the one on stage. He goes through a transformation, the like of which I’ve never seen, a supreme act. He is simply mesmerizing on stage.”
And so the man who fell to earth rose from it in peace. We’ll miss you, Starman.