In the weeks since David Bowie’s death, the world has been in mourning. Losing Bowie was a shock, because if Marvel movies have taught us anything, it’s that heroes cannot die. His fans — a dazzlingly eclectic group of every age, ethnicity, and creed — saw him not only as a personal idol, but as an icon for every person that existed outside of the narrow categories into which our culture is so eager to sort us. Processing Bowie’s passing has been no easy task, and in trying to cope, we’ve reverted back to the only thing that can truly give us solace: basking in the immortal beauty of his work.
[jump] On Saturday night, San Francisco took its turn at a eulogy with a pair of Bowie-themed events. The first was a screening of The Man Who Fell To Earth at the Castro Theatre, with an in-person appearance from co-star Candy Clark. As patrons shook off the rain and took their seats, a series of clips encompassing Bowie’s career flashed across the screen. There was Bowie in his role as the Elephant Man on Broadway, Bowie belting “Starman” on Soul Train, late night appearances, film clips, and more.
Eventually talented dancer Kenshi Westover performed a strip tease of sorts to “Changes,” which brought on two hours of pre-show festivities, most of which missed the mark. There were personal speeches and reminisces that failed to channel the universal, an a capella performance of “Life on Mars?” that attempted to fix a song that wasn’t broken, and a general awkwardness that seemed to linger as the organizers of the event continued to throw everything at the wall in hopes something poignant might stick.
Things reached their lowest point when San Francisco Chronicle fashion writer Tony Bravo took the stage to interview The Man Who Fell to Earth actress Candy Clark. Bravo apparently saw the evening as a chance to practice his comedy act, lobbing woefully inappropriate one-liners on subjects like bulimia and Tatum O’Neal’s acting career while completely missing his chance to have an inspired, unique conversation with someone who shared an intimate few months with the man of the hour. For her part, Clark answered questions that Bravo wasn’t asking, wandering into non-sequitur territory on several occasions and reveling more in the time she spent in close proximity to Bowie’s physical beauty than speaking candidly about the mind behind the (admittedly perfect) skin.
When Bravo referenced that a certain line of query could be followed-up during the audience Q&A, the Castro crowd audibly moaned in frustration, prompting the two on stage to hurriedly end their conversation and begin the screening — after an unnecessary intermission in which the “production” credits for the pre-show train wreck played on repeat for 20 minutes.
At last the film began, revealing itself to be a true product of the 1970s that placed as much emphasis on the visual as the story. The alien Bowie on-screen is a nuanced performance: aloof, perplexing, but also paradoxically human. While Clark was abrasive in the flesh, her character is a wonderful embodiment of human naiveté. At 139 minutes, The Man Who Fell to Earth is a bit of an ordeal, but willing viewers were able to experience the catharsis offered by director Nicholas Roeg’s tale of human evil and the trans-species power of love. Then it was time to dance.
Heklina’s Mother night at Oasis is lip-synch drag done right. For the club’s tribute to Bowie (the first of two consecutive weekends dedicated in his honor), a bevy of queens went to town embodying his many defining looks and crafting impressive numbers. Starting with “The Man Who Sold the World” and ending with a full cast “singalong” of “Rock 'n' Roll Suicide,” a top-notch ensemble that included Lady Bear, Laundra Tyme, and many more gave new life to the timeless classics everyone at Oasis had come to hear.
Among the numerous memorable moments was a Patty Hearst-inspired performance of “Young Americans” and a touching speech from Heklina herself on Bowie’s significance in her own life. For all of the heart that may have been lacking in the Castro Theatre’s production earlier in the evening, it was given back tenfold at “Mother,” proving once and again that if you want it done right, leave it to Heklina and her bewigged cohorts.
When the drag show ended, the DJs kicked off the dancing portion of the evening with “Suffragette City.” As the crowd cut loose, embodying the snarl of funky synthesizer with arm pumps and head shakes, the true nature of the evening’s efforts was revealed. We only lost Bowie two months ago, and despite our best efforts, we may simply not be ready to look back yet.
Are we still in denial? Depression? Anger? Perhaps all of the above. In short, we cannot make peace with that which we aren’t ready to accept. So despite the film screenings, the speeches, even the incredible love poured into the “Mother” performances, there was only one fitting tribute to Bowie on Saturday night, at this infant stage in our grief: to play his music, play it loud, and dance our tears away.