23 Jan Kirk Hammett Blog: David Bowie
AN APPRECIATION OF A GREAT ARTIST
David Bowie dying is such a bummer, and I want to acknowledge what a huge influence he was on me. I bought a handful of albums growing up which I can say heavily influenced me, and one of those was Changesonebowie, which came out in 1976.
When I first heard the song “Fame” on the radio, it sounded like nothing else out there. “Golden Years” and “Fame” were two very distinctly different songs. I was raised on AM radio, which was brilliant back then, Motown, Stones, Beatles and all that Bay Area funk stuff, and listening to it in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s in San Francisco was a really rich thing. And Bowie was just so different, and after hearing “Fame” I had to get Changesonebowie.
I would, at that time, also scan the papers for new horror and sci-fi movies coming out, and Bowie was in a movie called The Man Who Fell To Earth and being a science-fiction fan, I recognized that title from the likes Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov. It was based on a story called The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. I was way into science-fiction! So I thought ‘wow, that looks interesting’. I remember watching it and getting a little disoriented, a little confused, and thinking that maybe that movie was a little bit too sophisticated for my adolescent brain! But at the same time the images were very haunting, the image of Bowie as an alien was exactly as I had seen him in my mind, something completely different and from another dimension and other-worldly.
The movie touched on other things like xenophobia, the inability to acclimate to other cultures and it even touched on climate change because his native planet was dying. And over the years I thought about it a lot; my inability to cope with where I came from, where I was and where I was going. And as an adult I found myself interpreting the movie in a way my younger self had not been able to. I think we’ve all found ourselves there, and looking back I wonder if Bowie was always there in a creative sense himself? Perhaps that’s why he was always seen to be moving, always changing, and my thought is that maybe those were questions that lingered in his mind as well. I want to try and understand his motivations, and also how he was able to influence so many people and make such great art. I found empathy with him and he found empathy with so many of us, and it was almost as though Bowie was there to save us from ourselves with his music. Let’s just say that his range of empathy was greater than the average human being.
I did meet him.
I’d chosen to not just throw the story out there, but I feel this is the right time. Before I start though, let me just say I think Bowie’s final album Blackstar is a brilliant, brilliant final message. He managed to invite us all, and I think it’s the first time that someone has creatively involved their passing as an integral part of their final work. It’s incredible and I’m totally blown away. I hope to leave as artistically as he did. He always struck me as incredibly generous. Very honest, open and full of integrity. These feelings which were vindicated on one night in during the “Madly In Anger” world tour in Kansas City. Joe Satriani, Velvet Revolver and David Bowie were all in the same hotel as us because we all had shows in the same area.
We rolled into the hotel, bedded down, woke up and headed down to the gym. Ran into Velvet Revolver, then my bro Joe Satriani, and then hopped onto the Lifecycle for 30 minutes. I became aware that there was some activity going on behind me, but I didn’t wanna turn around and stare. I thought Bowie might be in the hotel because why not, everyone else playing in town was, and out of my peripheral vision I saw a big guy training someone but I couldn’t confirm anything because I didn’t want to get into celebrity rubbernecking. I had a feeling it was him though. Later on, because it was a day-off, Rob said we should go and see David Bowie as he was playing. We had an early dinner, and the restaurant we went to was close to the venue, a short cab-ride so no problem.
We got there, and our old tour manager Ian Jeffrey was working the tour, he got us in, so ostensibly we were there to see the show and say ‘hi’ to Ian. He sorted us out, and it was really cool, he had Earl Slick back on guitar who I really liked, he played all the songs I expected him to play and a few deeper cuts; Rob and I just had the greatest time. Afterwards, we went to say hi to Ian, and I had no expectation of meeting David because I’d heard he was very private and liked to lie low after the show, I don’t blame him, that’s what we do. We were just leaving and Ian said, ‘no no wait, David wants to say hi.’ He’d only been offstage for 15 minutes, we usually take at least 45 minutes before we can get our girdles off and take our vitamins! He came out, wearing sweats and a t-shirt, and said ‘hi how ya doing Kirk, hi Rob!’ I couldn’t believe it! And then all the fanboy stuff came out, how he’d been an inspiration, blah blah blah. He said he’d known about us for a long time, liked our music and told us to carry on! Rob and I were beaming. SO we hung out with Ian and a few other crew guys we knew, before deciding to leave about 45 minutes later. I asked Tom Robb (my tour assistant) to find a cab, and we leave the backstage area, out through the gate, before I suddenly realize I have been really fucking naïve! How am I going to get a taxi-cab when nearly 8000 people are making their way out at the same time from a rock concert parking lot! How out of touch was that? I looked at Rob and said, ‘man, we’re fucked!’ I was frustrated, I asked Tom to call our tour manager and try to sort something out, and I remember being so flustered and disappointed with myself that I just sat on the curb with my head in my hands, staring at the ground.
I didn’t see this tour bus glide out of the backstage gates, but all of a sudden it’s pulled up, right in front of me, and the door has opened. I see David Bowie’s tour manager. He said, ‘aren’t you staying in the same hotel as us? Looks like you need a ride! David wanted me to ask if you wanna catch a ride with us?’
I instantly said ‘sure’ and let me tell you, I felt like one of those guys in Wayne’s World. We go up the steps, turn into the lounge and there’s David with a huge grin on his face saying ‘sit down sit down. Rob and I sat down, once again the fan boy stuff came out, and I cannot remember all the details but we did talk about stuff like music and his love for The Dandy Warhols, I also remember apologizing to him, saying ‘sorry David for nicking the title “Leper Messiah”’ and he was laughing. Cliff and I listened to Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars daily on the ’85 Ride The Lightning US tour, so yes, I lifted the title from the title track of that album. I listened to Ziggy…looking for answers to all these questions that were coming up in my life, and songs like “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” and “Hang Onto Yourself” had a big effect on me.
The entire time we were talking on that bus ride, I was surprised at how light-hearted he was. He laughed a lot, had an almost giddy, goofy sense of humor, and he was very relaxed. From looking at all his publicity photos and everything, you’d have thought ‘man, he looks like a heavy cat’ but meeting him in person was the complete opposite of that, my impressions were so off-track. And when we finally pulled up the hotel, I felt a tinge of sadness, because the greatest bus ride of my life was nearly over. We thanked him up and down, left the bus and then when we got to the hotel elevator Rob and I looked at each other and said ‘did that just really happen?’ It was a weird, beautiful and totally unexpected experience.
So yeah…a great memory of David.
In closing off here, I wanna say that The Hunger is one of the great vampire movies, the vampirism in that movie is very covert and underplayed, more about relationships over the expanse of time, and David Bowie’s transformation from a young club kid vampire into an ancient old man blows me away. The soundtrack is also amazing, a favorite of mine and one you should all check out.
Thank God David Bowie walked the earth and thank God we were able to experience what he had to give.
Until next time, when I will also get back to answering some of your questions and comments!