By Rick London
As the years go by, we all have stories of our favorite artists; and our occasional brushes with fame. One of my favorites in my life is that of whom I considered one of the greatest recording artists of my lifetime, David Bowie.
I was in Los Angeles taking screenwriting courses and selling magazine advertising. I had written two screenplays and gotten my foot in the door of a few large studios but no luck yet.
I got out early in the day and spent most of it pounding the pavement. I stopped at a little restaurant (cedar wood) but can’t remember the name of it. It was mainly for breakfast and was just north of Beverly Hills and Studio City on Santa Monica Blvd. My guess is it is still there as it was one of those old “local family establishments” when I was there for breakfast that morning in 1994.
It was several months after the Rodney King Riots, and several months before the Northridge Earthquake.
I walked in with a few friends and to my left at a large table full of people was David Bowie. There was no mistaking him. I had run into numerous “stars” while living out there, so that was not a big deal. I can remember though the only other time I started shaking was when I met Bob Keeshan (Captain Kangaroo).
I found myself staring at David Bowie as was everyone else in the restaurant. He suddenly blew out a lot of candles atop a birthday cake in front of him and his table all applauded. I said to myself, “You’re either going to meet my favorite artist now, or probably never. I walked over and wished him happy birthday. The rumors I’d always heard was that he was cold and aloof. Not the case at all. He smiled a big smile and said, “Have a seat. It’s my birthday. Here, have some cake”. I took the slice and found myself not saying a word.
He said, “I’m 51…and we’re celebrating and now you are too. Welcome to our celebration.” He asked my name and I told him “Rick” and he introduced me to his friends.
I finally conjured enough courage to ask him about his 51 years and he started talking (from as far back as he could remember); mostly stories of concerts and being on the road.
I told him that though I love most of his songs if not all, “Ziggy Stardust” probably was my all-time favorite. There was a slight pause. I thought he was angry. Not so. He smiled and said, “Mine too”.
I tried to think of something funny to say and I blurted out, “Bet you’ve been through a lot of ch-ch-ch-ch changes.”
He laughed aloud and asked me to sit down and have breakfast. I did.
For the first few minutes I was quiet for the most part, just to see what kind of group of friends this was. They clearly were not his band members and it had been years since he’d had his “Spiders From Mars” band; and had been working with studio bands when he recorded.
They were just regular guys (and women) who were his friends. No big Hollywood glam, just regular everyday people. That felt comfortable. All were very friendly to me as was David.
I was truly curious and wondered “what drove” David and asked (not as a journalist but as a curious fan. He expressed that he’d wanted to “do something different” since he was a little kid, and the more crystalized vision of what different was manifested when he was about 14 or 15. He was not sure if that drove him, but he constantly wanted to do better and loved anything to do with the arts; in fact acting in films was every bit as fun to him as music.
I got him to talk about his travels and concerts. Well actually I didn’t get him to do anything. I asked and he was generously open and told me a lot of “his oddities” (No pun intended) that had occurred on the road. It had all been exciting but he didn’t truly enjoy it until he cleaned up his personal life. That made sense to me.
About an hour later they all decided it was time to leave. The waitress left us all separate checks. Before I could look down to pick it up, David had grabbed it and by the time I could put my hand out to take it back, he’d already taken it to the register to pay it.
We all convened in the parking lot (which was a big spread of gravel) and stood there a few minutes talking about the weather, music, and such. He patted me on the back and shook my hand and told me how wonderful it was to meet me. Aside from The Beatles, he probably was my favorite original musician I’d remembered for many years.
I went home and told a few friends what had happened. My Los Angeles friends were not very shocked given that running into such fame was fairly common there, and David had been known to be very caring and nurturing. But when I told friends and/or relatives back home nobody believed it.
I wrote that incident down and put it in my “creative box”. My creative box was a large shoebox that had literally thousands of ideas that I would one day put into a film, a cartoon, or whatever it was I was going to do later in my life. I was/am a late bloomer.
When I sat down 5 years later to begin creating Londons Times Cartoons, I did a series called “Panel Hollywood” which included my brushes with fame.
I realized I had looked at David as one who helped “keep us afloat” no matter what. He was not about money or fame or all the trappings he had. He was about helping those struggling to make it.
Hence my cartoon, “David Buoy” came to be. RIP David Bowie. I’ll never forget your music and films; and most importantly the morning we had breakfast on Santa Monica Blvd.
Rick London is a writer, cartoonist, songwriter and designer. He is best known for his offbeat cartoons and funny gifts, Londons Times Cartoons which have been Google #1 ranked since 2005. London launched the project from a tin shed in 1997. London has designed cartoon David Bowie tees and gifts that make wonderful collectibles.