I wanted to relate a moment from my youth, I was 13 or 14, when some video of Bowie came on a public television documentary I was watching in the fall of -- it must have been 1978, though it could have been 1977. It was of Bowie in his full-on transsexual getup, the Aladdin Sane (1973), Pin Ups (1973), Diamond Dogs (1974) period, which is to say 1973-1974, the Glam Thermidor -- Bowie with the red rooster comb super-skinny supermodel sexual allure.
I was watching the television with my mother's boyfriend who was a blue-collar Hippie. (My mother was an astrologer.) He had worked at the GM assembly plant in Fremont, California, but he was at the time of the Bowie televisual experience a landscaper establishing his own business. He wore his hair long adorned with a leather headband, and he smoked dope every day.
When Bowie came on -- I can't remember which song he performed; I remember he was on stage in a diaphanous gown and thigh-high high-heeled boots; and the audience was going apeshit -- my mother's boyfriend, the Hippie, became apoplectic with rage. He got red in the face and started frothing at the mouth and spitting obscenities at the television. "Fuckin' freak!" or something along those lines. The epithets spilled forth for a while. I think finally my mother entered the room and calmed him down.
I couldn't figure it out. I mean, my older sisters listened to Bowie; they loved "Suffragette City," and that seemed pretty run-of-the-mill to me. Thinking back on the episode what strikes me is that androgynous cock-rockers like Robert Plant or Mick Jagger wouldn't've bothered my mother's boyfriend (his Christian name was Bob; his Hippie name, Joshua), neither would the New York Dolls (from the same period as Diamond Dogs) -- maybe he would have sneered at the Dolls, but that is it.
So what is it about Bowie's androgyny that drove a working-class Hippie mad with rage? The public television documentary was about the history of rock'n'roll. Bowie's Glam represented the documentary's end of the line, the Hegelian moment of spirit made manifest. But Joshua, there in front of a television in southern Oregon at a time when the Hippies were flocking back to the rat race -- didn't Jerry Rubin take a job on Wall Street? -- felt the adder at his bosom.