August 19, 2010
This is dedicated to Mark, the bartender at Bloom’s Bar, “downtown” Potrero Hill on 18th Street in San Francisco when I dropped by there after work last Monday night.
They’ve always had a great jukebox at Bloomies, and a song from David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust came on. I asked who selected “Starman,” and it turned out to be Mark! The beautiful thing is, he wasn’t even born when the album was released in 1972. It reminded me about my early days as a teenage DJ. (Cue flashback sfx here and warp the video…see young man with long hair and beard driving a new gray Volvo 164 cross country to San Francisco, then in Los Angeles a year later.)
At the FM Rock Stations in the Bay Area, we used to champion bands and sometimes try to beat each other to play a new artist or album first and exclusively. When I moved here from NYC, there were five progressive rock stations; KSAN, KSFX and KMPX in San Francisco, plus KSJO and KOME in San Jose. After four years of college radio, I applied at all of them, and was given encouragement by one Program Director (who did hire me a year later), but no gig. My brother Stuart was a grad student at Stanford at the time, so I volunteered at 90.1, KZSU. Within six months, I became the station’s Music Director.
On a trip to LA that May, to get familiar with the hub of the music biz and visit the record company offices, I was listening to the Blaupunkt radio in my Volvo, driving down Sunset Blvd., when one of the DJs played a track from the new David Bowie album. Bowie was still rather unknown, but the cover of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars showed him standing on the street under a sign that said K-WEST…which was something the Los Angeles FM Rock station of the same name was proud of and instantly gave it a spin. I was blocks from the RCA Records office, so I drove right over and went up to their floor. At the front desk when I identified myself, a woman told me that the record reps were out to lunch. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the open door to a record closet off the reception area, with about 50 copies of the new David Bowie album sitting on the floor. I wheeled around, picked up two of them, and as the stunned woman tried to sputter a “Wa..wa..wa..wait!,” I jumped back into on of the elevators, pushed the button to the lobby, and as the doors closed said; “When they come back, please tell them I was here, and I took two of them.”
That night, I drove back up Interstate 5 to Palo Alto, and played the whole album on my show on KZSU Stanford when I got back…before it had even been shipped to anyone else. In October of that year, David Bowie played Bill Graham’s Winterland. Maybe 500 people were in the crowd, and most of them to see Sylvester, a San Francisco Drag Queen singing with his band. I enjoyed watching the jaws of their fans drop when David Bowie came out on stage in his glam-rock inspiring Ziggy persona, with Mick Ronson and the bass and drums shaking the old hall. That band ROCKED!!
Thank you, Mark for proving what my radio mentor John Bybee has long said; “With music, like cars, it’s not when it was, it’s what it is that makes it a classic.”