David Bowie and the Baby Boomers
David Bowie died as an old man earlier this week. Reports indicate it was because he lived beyond his youth and middle age.
Let that be a lesson to us all.
Bowie was 24 when he came to Pittsburgh in 1972.
. . . And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations. . .
The poster below was taped to shop windows to announce Bowie’s concert.
It goes way back . . . back before cellphones and the Internet, McMansions and SUVs, before the War on Drugs and even before President Ronald Reagan.
It recalls a freer time for Baby Boomers, the ones often described as “disaffected.” According to the Webster-Meriam dictionary, that means they were dissatisfied with the people in authority and no longer willing to support them.
According to me, they aspired to be creative, but not necessarily productive. They saw value in getting wasted.
The pervasiveness of the drug culture is evident in the poster. The main ticket outlets were headshops/record stores.
Ziggy Stardust in the Burgh
Bowie came as Ziggy Stardust. He would remain so only for another year. Bowie retired his Stardust persona to get away from cocaine and — to extend his life.
The $5 ticket price may seem ridiculously inexpensive, but that was back when performers made their money on record sales not concerts. Concert tours were just a way of selling albums.
That changed in the 1990s as music became downloadable. Bowe’s last concert here in 2004 would have cost you 10 times as much as the first. Tickets prices doubled and tripled again over the next decade.
More interesting is where you took your $5 in 1972 to buy a ticket.
Heads Together Brings Burgh, Bowie Together
Heads Together was an iconic basement headshop at 1914 Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill.
It was in its prime in the early 1970s. Incense burned, beaded curtains hung in doorways, longhairs flipped through vinyl albums, hash pipes, bongs and rolling papers sat in lighted glass cabinets. Peace and dollar signs were everywhere. They were on tie-die T-shirts and on the waterbeds.
(Turn and face the strange)
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it
But, they did tell them. And then they insisted upon it. Elected prosecutors began sending police to enforce drug paraphernalia laws. Elected lawmakers tightened laws while trumpeting the initial battle cries for the War on (illegal) Drugs.
Heads Together, got its head together and went through various transformations over 30 years to change with the times.
It moved into smaller and smaller shops along Murray Avenue, renting out videocassette movies not normally available at the Blockbuster video store chain.
When it closed in 2009, Heads Together succumbed to a final change. That was the one that had us watching our movies on DVDs and then online.
The Free Peoples Store
The Free Peoples Store in Oakland was but a wisp of smoke in Pittsburgh’s past.
It was at 122 Meyran Avenue from 1969 only to 1973. But, it is not quite forgotten.
George Corneliussen was a member of the rollicking crew that ran the shop and later became a sound man for the likes of The J. Geils Band.
He posted a YouTube video commemorating the record shop and its era. You can buzz on over to 1972 at the Free Peoples Store.
Try to forgive him, but he now lives in the Cincinnati area. He tunes pianos. I imagine business boomed as frustrated Bengal fans pounded the ivories with meaty fists last weekend.
Bowie played at the Stanley Theatre in 1972. Built in 1928, it was a luxurious but dying, 3,500-seat movie palace.
It sat in the midst of thriving businesses, but city leaders didn’t like the businesses. They were porn shops and the sex trade.
Where’s your shame?
You’ve left us up to our necks in it
When Bowie returned in 2004, the neighborhood looked very different.
The Stanley had a new name: The Benedum Center for the Performing Arts. That followed a $43 million restoration and renovation by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.
“What’s a Benedum?” you ask. It’s the name of a Pittsburgh businessman, Michael L. Benedum, who had a knack for finding oil and helping others become rich.
Most of the money for the performance center came from a foundation he established before he died in 1959. One of the reasons he had so much money is that he never stopped working. He lived to 90.
The creation of the Benedum was part of a much broader effort that transformed a 14-square-block area downtown in the now-renowned Pittsburgh Cultural District. It boasts six theaters, art galleries, restaurants, parklets, sculptures, and headquarters for the city’s major arts organizations.
But, the more things change, the more they . . . well, perhaps it is a nod to neighborhood tradition. Blush Gentlemen’s Club offers regular exotic shows among the forest of poles it keeps — right among the theaters.
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time
I said that time may change me
But I can’t trace time
To not be remiss, we should link Bowie’s tribute to a local favorite son. You can hear it here.
–A well-written obituary
— The promoting of concerts in Pittsburgh is captured in the memoirs of Rich Engler and Pat DiCesare. Engler wrote Behind the Stage Door: A Promoter’s Life Behind the Scenes. DiCesare wrote Hard Days Hard Nights: From the Beatles to the Doors to the Stones . . . Insider Stories From a Legendary Concert Promoter.
Leon J. Pollom, writer/researcher