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The Beating Heart of Bowie Is Rebel Music #RIPDavidBowie

The Beating Heart of Bowie Is Rebel Music

I was shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the death of artistic legend and musical hero David Bowie in the early hours of this morning, 11 January 2015. I had only ever met the man once, briefly, and then on the telephone to boot, and yet…I felt like I had lost a lifelong time friend, like something deep and meaningful to me had just been stolen.

He was extraordinarily kind, charming, bright and very generous. He was everything you hoped David Bowie would be.

Through my tears, however, I realize David Bowie has not been taken from me, from us, he is still there in our hearts and our memories, he is still standing sharp and sleek and oh so cool in our minds-eye. He is still the Starman, the Thin White Duke, the Hero, the ultimate Rock God, and perhaps the Humanist version of a saint, Saint Bowie the Patron Saint of Outsiders.

My one brief meeting with Bowie was pure luck and pure Bowie. Like so many other young people growing up around the world in the latter half of the 20th Century, I was alienated from what seemed like an ever increasingly disaffected and disinterested world. I felt like an outsider, like I didn’t fit it, like I was different, and then I found Bowie…you are going to hear that line a lot in the coming days and weeks, as people share their stories of how they came to love the man. Bowie was so brazenly, so bravely, so indifferently different that I was naturally drawn to him and felt in him, if I can be so immodest, a kindred spirit. I am sure every fan of the man knows what I mean.

I listened to him with pure joy, devouring his music, enjoying his experiential and evocative performances whenever and wherever I could catch a glimpse or a listen to them on TV or the radio There was no Internet with Holland-tunnel sized pipelines of media, you had to *find* and *search* and *quest* and go on a bloody *pilgrimage* for what you loved!

Rebel Rebel, how could they know?

Through Bowie I came to truly appreciate Rebel music. He was my gateway drug. I came to appreciate the ska, reggae, punk and alternative music that would come to mean so much to me and become such a large part of my life. I think it is very fair to say that without Bowie the world would not have had the last four decades of rebel music. So there I was as a child, rockin’ to Bowie and dreaming of a world where people were allowed to be who they want to be and we could all be free.

Little did I know that across the Pond, another young man, of the same mind, would be thinking and feeling the same about Bowie, and this young man would go on to create perhaps the greatest influence on my life; The Beat, a band I have worked with for half my life. David Wakeling was and is a true fan of Bowie, and like our love of the music of Elvis Costello and Pete Townshend, it is a musical heritage that we wear as a badge of honour. So for me really, it is all one and the same. David Bowie brought me to The Beat.

Oh man look at those cavemen go

Right, getting back to my story, I’m at that time a young man working in a big high-rise in San Francisco, and paradoxically working with my favourite Rebel band in the universe, The Beat. Along the way, like Bowie, I have taken on a new persona, Sir Lou, the Knight of Ska, a named fashioned after my Studio One heroes like Prince Buster and Sir Coxsone Dodd. How else to deal with the cognitive dissonance of my life? It’s all a bit Life On Mars at that point in their life for everyone, isn’t it?

Anyway, it is 1999 and, to quote Prince, “everybody’s got a bomb and we can all die any day, before I’ll let that happen…” I am working on a new Compilation album for The Beat, entitled “Beat This!” It’s a labour of love and we’ve taken the track listing from a poll I ran on the website I built first as an homage, and then as a calling, about The Beat. Along the way, liaising with the label on the conceptualization of the album, I get it in my head that I am going to give the band a present, I’m going to seek out quotes from other influential artists about The Beat. I want the guys to know what they mean to me, and what the band and their music means to others, especially their own heroes. I draft up a short list….and Bowie is of course #1.

I go about my hunt systematically and I’m like a Terminator. I will not be stopped, I can’t be reasoned with and I absolutely, positively will not stop until I get these quotes. I work for months and months on this. I weave myself into backstage conversations, I cajole promoters and club owners, I peddle swag to publicists, I write heartfelt pleas to managers, I stalk fanzines and message boards (remember those?), I fly over to the UK a couple times to meet with people, and I go to show after show to try and get these quotes. I’m knocking ‘em out like clockwork: boom there’s Sting, Michael Stipe, Chris Franz & Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads, No Doubt, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Chrissie Hynde, Elvis Costello…they are all coming in and they are great. My friend Malu Halasa, a fantastic writer and constant agitant for truth and art (which are really one in the same, aren’t they?), and I scream over the phone (or in text in emails) to each other every time we get a new quote in. Malu is writing the liner notes for this release, and poor dear, she seems to have to rewrite them every time we get a new quote in! But it is worth it as they are amazing and the love that the art world is sending our way is overwhelming, inspiring, and simply humbling.

I recall us holding out on finishing up the liner notes…and thus the production and release of the whole album on two continents…because we are waiting for some final enquiries, some last feelers sent out, some final missives to come our way from our rock heroes. I am waiting for Bowie.

The Thin White Duke was always Regal

With all the brilliant and heroic figures in rock I’d been lucky to rub elbows with and speak to, I might have gotten just a wee bit jaded by that point. Also, music is an industry and I figured I had made enough headway on this front that eventually I would get something from Mr. Bowie. Still, I thought that I would just get a fax (Yes it was that long ago, we used machines that printed paper with messages on them!) or something from a publicist or a manager or sumfin’ like that, until my assistant came into my office with a quizzical look on her face, saying, “I have someone from London on the line saying David Bowie would like to speak with you….”

Like all miraculous occurrences, I do not recall at this time how it happened. I don’t remember who’s number I got, what publicist, what friend of a band, what manager or fan club leader or webmaster I spoke to that got me to himself…but IT happened. I am here to bear witness to you, ladies and gentleman, of the occurrence. I met Bowie. He was a true gentleman.

I was sitting in my office on an upper floor of a gleaming high rise in the clouds, looking out over a foggy, beautiful San Francisco day, or at least that is how I picture it in my mind. Again, my assistant comes in and tells me David Bowie would like to speak with me. I stare at my phone and there it is: a flashing button with David Bowie on the other end. Is it just my imagination, or is the button flashing to the tune of “Changes”? “I still don’t know what I was waiting for/And my time was running wild…”

I realize I should not keep HIM waiting, and so I take up the handset and push the magic button, cradling the headset ever so gently to my ear with both hands.
A crisp, proper English voice comes on the phone and enquires as to whether I am Sir Lou. At least I think they used my chosen name rather than my given one, who knows now really, but I like to think if it that way regardless. When I respond that I am indeed the person they are seeking, I hear these words: “Excellent, hold for Mr. Bowie, please.”

I cannot believe it! I cannot believe it! David Bowie is about to talk to me! What will I say to the great man? Will I tell him how much he means to me? Will I tell him how important his music and he is to the world? Will I tell him all the times he made me laugh and sing and cry and how much he means to me and my friends in The Beat? It’s my big chance…

And then a fear creeps in, right away in the millisecond before the Intercontinental signal can click over to Mr. Bowie. What if he is mean or terrible or cruel or vain or any of the other horrible excesses of rock and the music industry that I have been privy too once I got onto the other side of the curtain. I don’t know if I could bear it! Should I hang up? Save myself and my memories…
But it’s too late and the line clicks over and he is speaking to me now. He says in his smooth voice, “Hello this is David Bowie” It is warm and inviting and holds no hint of haughtiness. Nonetheless I am in the presence of royalty, so I respond politely, deferentially, and p’raps a bit sheepishly, “Yes, sir. Hello Mr. Bowie, sir.” … And he laughs!! Right then and there he laughed, a quick one, mind you, I think at my reverence, and that broke the ice, and we had a simply lovely conversation.

I like to think I told him everything I wanted to say to him about what he meant to me. I like to think he dispensed with the stage names and he told me to call him, David, please, and I said to call me Louis. I like to think these things, especially on a terrible day like today. The truth is, I have very little specific recollection of the actual conversation, I have no idea how long it was, five minutes or five hours; it takes place in a golden haze in my mind.
What I recall with absolute clarity, however, is that he was kind and charming, and generous. I was just some kid who worked for a ska band out of Birmingham, but he treated me with dignity and respect. He was a true gentleman and a real class act.

I do recall generally talking about The Beat and how he was such an important influence on my mate Dave and his band. I recall a very pleasant discussion which referenced The Beat’s opening for him back in 1983, and at some point, somehow I got a quote from him that ended up in the liner notes, and which I will repeat verbatim for you here now:

“A truly delicious sound! And stand-up guys to a man. We did some gigs together in ’83 and it was just a treat to watch them in action. I’m so pleased that this CD is available as they shouldn’t, and now, won’t be lost in this rush hour of the rock gods, Bless ‘em” – David Bowie


Whoa! Bowie liking The Beat was epic and life-affirming and I was so very happy to talk with Malu about it, and to call Dave and tell him, and talk with Andy Cox (guitarist, The Beat/FYC) about it…well basically anyone who would listen to me!!

Eventually all the hard work paid off, and all the quotes and comments came flooding in and in the end we had way more than we could ever use, and we had to pick and choose based on silly mundane concerns like production costs and such. Still, it was a glorious endeavor and in the end I feel honoured just to be a part of such a rich heritage of sound and fury with these incredible agents of change. And we put the Bowie quote in there on its own page and it is there right now and it means the world to me.

Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years

Flash forward to a decade and a half later and we sit here today, all of us, thinking about David Bowie and what he meant to us and what an amazing person he was. I’m gutted, we all are, and then someone on Twitter asked about an incident with David Bowie and Saxa and it made me laugh and shows, again, what a kind and thoughtful gentleman David Bowie was. (See Twitter post below)


Apparently, while on tour opening for Bowie, one night there was no beer in the dressing room and Saxa inadvertently dressed down Bowie about the incident, which David (Bowie) graciously immediately rectified!

Here is the story as told to me by Dave, direct from the horse’s mouth:

“Yes, its true, last original line up beat shows July 2 and 3 (1983) at Milton Keynes Bowl opening for Bowie, Serious Moonlight Tour. Story covered in NME or MM, looking for it now!

David Bowie walks into our dressing room caravan, dressed in short tuxedo, and asks if everything is alright, do we need anything? Saxa says, ‘Come with me sonny bwoy’, puts his arm around Bowie’s shoulder and walks him to the fridge, which he opens.

‘Look in dere, you see any Red Stripe sonny bwoy?’ asks Saxa.

‘No Saxa, you’re right, there is none’, says David Bowie.

Bowie leaves, comes back 15 minutes later with 2 six packs of Red Stripe; Saxa is thrilled! Bowie leaves, and Saxa says, ‘Nice young man dat, who him to come in our dressing room asking like dat?’

I say, ‘Thats David Bowie, Saxa’

Saxa says ‘Bloodclaaat, a me a thought he was a waiter…!’

The music paper article was titled around a warning to Bowie about the risks of dressing like a waiter! The thin white barman?

My hero. Could sing every word, just like him!”

Bowie was a true class act all the way, and a quintessential gentlemen. He will be missed. The Thin White Duke is dead and the world is a smaller place for it. But he lives on in us, in our memories of his grandeur and his humanity.

All hail the God of Rock, the Rebel Rocker, Bowie!!


Louis “Sir Lou” Kahn
The Beat
©L. Kahn 2016
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