A few weeks ago, David Bowie’s response to his first-ever fan letter from America was circulating the internet. In 1967, a 14-year-old girl named Sandra Dodd offered to start an American fan club on his behalf. Bowie’s full-length, typed response expressed his excitement at getting a letter from America. He said there was a fan club in England but in terms of America, “it’s a little early to even think about it,” and perhaps one would be set up if things went well there. Bowie went on to say:
“I hope one day to get to America. My manager tells me lots about it as he has been there many times with other acts he manages. I was watching an old film on TV the other night called “No Down Payment” a great film, but rather depressing if it is a true reflection of The American Way Of Life…”
Of course, he eventually made it to America and now calls it his home. He and his family had become full-fledged New Yorkers by the time 9/11 happened. Bowie was among a long list of performers who participated in the Concert For New York City in October 2001. His performance of “America” opened the show.
Few performers — any, really — could sit, cross-legged, alone on a stage with nothing more than a microphone, at a time of great national stress — and still command the crowd. David Bowie is among them.
The song is a cover of a Simon & Garfunkel tune. It is a jaw-droppingly incredible performance. Really, what adjectives could you use to describe this? The tone is perfect. Remember where the U.S. was in October 2001. Remember where New York was, emotionally, spiritually.
This song is also my “unofficial” salute to Bowie’s album of cover tunes, “Pin Ups.” As far as I can tell, Bowie never recorded America — but it is an example of his ability to interpret another writer’s work with precise passion and sensitivity. This is an art in and of itself.