The David Bowie tributes that continue to surface largely focus on his world-shifting artistry, but there’s another thread running through them: what a splendid person he was. Talents of Bowie’s stature are rare, but when you limit the set to people who actually seem like decent human beings, well, the list gets pretty damn small. Bowie had no doubts about his own genius, and perhaps because of that, he seemed almost uniquely untroubled by the approach of lesser mortals; he never acted like their ordinariness might rub off on him.
One story of Bowie’s extraordinary generosity comes from Time Out New York film editor Joshua Rothkopf, who was a 19-year-old arts writer for the Oberlin arts paper when the student board managed to book the then-white-hot Pixies for an on-campus concert.
“The rumor went up that Bowie, a fan of the Pixies, was in the audience. Sure enough, there he was, standing in the back of the hall among the serious, trench-coated thugs from Tin Machine, his aggro rock band. A friend of mine was literally genuflecting on the floor. Possessed of the attitude that only 19-year-olds have, I approached Bowie. I told him I was an arts writer for the paper (I was) and asked if he would give me a brief interview.
‘Sure,’ he said, ‘but let’s go somewhere quiet.’ At that point, he put his arm around my shoulder and began talking in my ear as we walked through the largely stunned crowd toward the stage. I was observed by all to be having a private conversation with Bowie, obviously my new confidante. I remember his cologne, his eyes. I was completely out-of-body and would be for days.”
The encounter, Rothkopf says in his full post, “made me a writer” — just one more thing we have to thank Bowie for.
What was David Bowie doing showing up at a college Pixies show in the first place? Here’s a clue, from Will Harris’ A.V. Club interview with Bowie’s “Linguini Incident” co-star Maura Tierney:
“I guess I don’t have a great David Bowie story, but I remember I had this one scene where — it wasn’t even really a scene with him, but he was a bartender and I was a waitress. And I found out from Richard that David Bowie liked the Pixies, and I loved the Pixies at the time, so I just kinda sorta casually dropped the Pixies into the conversation so that David Bowie would think I was cool. And then he, like, sent his person out and had him buy all the Pixies CDs that existed, and we played them in the dressing room, and it was fucking awesome. It was an amazing moment to, like, hang out with David Bowie and listen to the Pixies.”