The Young American
Press Articles - 1975 Onwards
Circus Raves February 1975 - Who Can I Be Now? Two young black men with Afros and Yes T-shirts gazed at the art-deco murals and shrugged their shoulders. As they awaited the debut of David Bowie’s all-new show at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, an intense but typical seventies rock mob milled around them. "I expected to see a lot more glitter people," said the one seeming Woodstock refugee to the other. An enthusiastic but somewhat confused audience had just been entertained by Bowie’s thirteen strong musical entourage. Like the crowd-stirring opening acts in an all star rhythm and blues revue, Bowie’s versatile back-up vocalists stepped into the spotlight and did their best to link the reluctant Ziggy kids into a soul train. Just a month before, a Raves correspondent had interviewed Bowie’s co-producer, the articulate Tony Visconti, who had definite ideas on David’s new blue image. "He’s been working to put together an r & b sound for years," said Visconti, defending his long-time colleague from accusations of trendy opportunism. "Every British musician has a hidden desire to be black," he explained. So, the intellectually superior street punk had finally achieved one of his fondest rock dreams. A Go Go Bisexuality: A bumping, grinding fully integrated and bisexual team of go go talent was at the spry red head’s disposal. As Bowie hit the stage after intermission, attired in a plaid tie, suspenders, and white pegged pants, he was obviously feeling fine, funky, and in full control. Davey made it all look easy as he effortlessly blended the forties teen appeal of Frank Sinatra with the sexy self-assurance of a James Brown. Gone now were the songs that searched for a satellite of love – "All the Young Dudes," "Space Oddity," and "Aladdin Sane." In their place were the rousing r & b oldie "Footstompin’ " and a new Bowie identity tune, "A Young American." David had clearly fulfilled his desire to make his stage a theatrical discotheque. But could he convince his swelling league of fans to dance to his newest music? The cute but crafty style-setter had certainly come some distance since the 1972 media message which had proclaimed, "David Bowie is Ziggy Stardust." Since his first nova explosion of notoriety, Bowie’s spiders had risen and fallen, his gold-plated diamond dogs had evidently caught their death in the fog – but not before helping David to his first million selling album and a terrific "out-of-retirement" tour. Yet even as David’s disciples were fantasizing seduction by sick sweet things, his management company MainMan planned still another surprise. To coincide with the second half of Bowie’s 1974 Tour of Tours and the release by RCA of David Live, MainMan arranged to have ABC televise D. A. Pennebaker’s fascinating film of the Spiders’ British farewell concert in July, 1973. Complete with stunning stereo FM radio simulcast, the splendor and stature of Bowie’s "Aladdin Sane" presentation came to life on the tube as never before. As seen through the eyes of Pennebaker’s crack cameramen, David does indeed become the stardust kid himself. In and out of one dazzling outfit after another, David is observed backstage concentrating on his entrances and relaxing almost nude with friends like Ringo Starr during his break. To crown the performance of his career with the superstar he helped to make, Mick Ronson was joined onstage at the Hammersmith Odeon by his idol, Jeff Beck. While Jeff and Mick provoked each other to heights of flash unheard of in the seventies, Bowie crouched to one side and pushed his mouth harp loud and hard through the vocal mike, then smiled in unfeigned joy at the electricity pouring off his band and their stellar guest. In the audience at Hammersmith was Mick Jagger; no coincidence then, that after a close escape from a pack of determined ravettes at Radio City, Bowie broke spontaneously into "It’s only rock and roll…" He likes it now as much, if not more, than ever. Dylan and David: As "director" of Bowie’s first feature film, Pennebaker contributed an instinctive feel for rock showmanship gained from his filming of the historic Monterey Pop Festival and the classic film on Bob Dylan, "Don’t Look Back". Although a stranger to Bowie personally and only recently acquainted with his work, Pennebaker realized that David had a compulsive need to commit a kind of artistic suicide, even if his supposed "retirement from the stage" was merely a swan song for the spiders. MainMan’s official reason for screening Bowie ’73 implied that the longer they waited to show the movie the more of a museum piece it would become. Pennebaker was intrigued by Bowie’s detached but quietly obsessive concept of his own talent. He remarked to Raves, "Somebody like Bowie doesn’t care how things have been done in the past. That’s not how they got anywhere. Their business is finding out what can be done and what should be done. These are the kind of people I like to see get into film." Because he felt so strongly that Bowie’s aptitude and theatrical instincts were almost extra-musical, he gave him the same kind of encouragement he had given Dylan years earlier. When asked to compare Bowie to other artists he had worked with and known well, Pennebaker found himself using Dylan repeatedly as a favorable reference point. Integrated sex: Despite Pennebaker’s expert and non-partisan support for any possible Bowie film projects, David abruptly decided to return to active touring upon the release of Diamond Dogs. In seven moths of almost non-stop road work, Bowie has devastated thousands of devotees and won enough new converts to become a certified gold album chart-topper. But more importantly, he’s almost completely changed his "image," his attitude, his band, back-up singers, and staging in mid- tour. He’s previewed superb but strange new songs for large crowds who didn’t know what to expect. Bowie’s become more at home with his audience even as he’s learned to loosen up and really roll with his rock. Tense dramatic effects have given way to interracial (but not radical) displays of sensual affection.   Three of Bowie’s rainbow hued crew are Vandross, a self-contained vocal group who perform several of Luther Vandross’ songs during the first part of the show. Jules Fisher has scrapped his own diamond dogs cityscape for a white-frosted Big Band set up. Throughout the evening at Davey’s disco, dapper erstwhile dog Warren Peace and the sensationally sepia Ava Cherry twist and shout, show and tell (all), almost stealing the show, except they all share it so well. Mike Garson’s piano and David Sanborn’s sax are a sweetly soulful contrast to Earl Slick’s ever sharper lead guitar. And Emir Kassan, Pablo Rosario, Dennis Davis, and Carlos Alomar cook up some incredibly complex but hypnotic rhythms. As engineer of this soul locomotive, Bowie beams like a hot pop boy at a cool cabaret. A jive Fred Astaire paired with the Jackson 5’s dancing machine, Bowie rearranges standards including "Changes," "Moonage Daydream," and "Suffragette City" to mesh seamlessly with brand new numbers like "Somebody Up There Likes Me." He thanks the audience for applauding his latest tunes, then with a sniff and a smile puts the silk jacket donated by a fan on Carlos. With unprecedented pep in his step, David struts across the stage with the evening’s fifth gift of flowers, tossing them to a believer in the third row. He spins and slides away as the overeager throng destroy the fragile souvenirs. Street style: Bowie’s new approach to rock theater may avoid the campiness and self-consciousness of earlier acts, but it still conveys his preoccupation with street style as the language of progress. While Bowie’s tailoring tarts up the thirties and his choreography echoes Motown’s miracles of the sixties, his timing is right on now, when black singles dominate AM radio and Soul Train has picked up where American Bandstand left off. Pennebaker was aware when filming Bowie that he was dealing with a vital and volatile entertainer, peculiarly tuned in to his time. "Bowie’s idea of a show is to astound you. That’s tremendous; it’s an element that’s very important in film-making – never be predictable. Bowie has a range from banal concepts to extraordinary ones, until even the words don’t really matter. There’s something beyond the words there." Pennebaker sensed a hard core of artistic vision in Bowie that he admired. "Bowie is like Dylan in that he’s found a way to crystalize something in front of people," Pennebaker proposes. "They both have a very good sense of themselves and what they do. Both have a very tough, spiritual center that holds them together. It’s very hard to stay on top of a big talent; it’s like walking on logs in the water. "It interested me to see a guy who was on fire onstage, but who could turn himself off before and after," Pennebaker continued, "Bowie brings an acting structure of mime and conditioned reflex to a performance. But I think Bowie’s got much more going on in his head than that, and that’s one of the things that brings him down. He probably did need to get off the stage for a while and go in another direction." Dietrich quality: "There is, of course, a Dietrich quality to Bowie that’s totally fashion," Pennebaker acknowledged, "but that’s just a small aspect of him. His younger fans aren’t even particularly aware of it. I don’t think the audience even sees some of Bowie’s best actions. He throws away perfectly done bits of business that are almost sculptural. He’s giving a whole message, not just giving the part of the message he thinks will look best. Every instant he’s on the screen he gives a full image; it might not be the words or even the music. But Bowie is always saying something." Tony Visconti thinks he knows what David is saying today. "Being black now is a culture rather than a revolution. By the time this album has been released more people are going to realize that." It doesn’t seem to have occurred to a lot of people who are looking so desperately for a new Beatles that they or he or she may not sound at all like the Beatles. But any artist who will mean as much to as many in the seventies as the Beatles did in the sixties is going to have to involve black listeners in the same way Stevie Wonder and Jimi Hendrix engaged whites. Now Bowie gets a crowd that has never even thought of dancing to the Allman Brothers, let alone Blue Magic, up and out into the aisles, where their god given arses have more room to shake. He turns "John I’m Only Dancing" from a psychotic mind rape into a seductive soul anthem, re-titled, "Jon I’m Only Dancing (Again)." It’s as if Bowie’s telling us: life holds in store many dances, many partners, many steps, and many stepped on toes. But there’s always more, both good and bad. No longer does David gloatingly prophesy nuclear disaster. The problems of his personae now are bills and too any babies. By walking with punk poise while talking like Barry White with a social conscience, David has come back to earth with all his poetic powers intact. "1984" and "Knock on Wood" are only a taste of the brown sugar David will stir into his next, as yet untitled, studio album. Recorded in Philadelphia, the home of contemporary supersoul, David’s tenth album will reveal him to be takin’ it harder, easier, and more right than ever before. RON ROSS   Circus Raves June 1975 - “Young Americans” Why he had to go Disco-Soul The slim young man sniffed a hit nervously and pulled a widebrimmed hat down farther over his shock of red hair. With a professional objectivity mingled with unfeigned pleasure, he watched a fascinating scene unfold at New York’s mammoth Madison Square Garden. A performer himself, he was backstage on one of his rare nights off to witness the Jackson 5, an incomparable act who had come the closest to inciting something like Beatlemania in the Seventies. Supporting the J5 on this soulful super-bill was another black group equally expert at working crowds into controlled hysteria, the Ohio Players. The frail jumpsuited figure was suddenly taken by an overwhelming urge to get dancing as the Players boogied through their then current hit, "Jive Turkey." And at the climax of their performance the syncopated strutters accomplished an orgasm of audience participation the like of which their guest in the wings had seldom known to unite a rock audience. Twenty thousand voices began to shout in unison "Par-tee!! Par-tee!!” while thousands of shrieking whistles punctuated their chant. A smile crept across David Bowie’s pale features as he instinctively began to flash on the images and sounds that would form the style and substance of his next musical identity. Bowie was about to turn his art inside out once again, and plunge himself with all the imaginativeness he could muster into the vibrant vital world of future-soul that he had heard pulsating all night long in discotheques and blaring from transistor radios on the street. If for Bowie, glitter had become genocide, then perhaps r & b could still rock his funky soul. Bowie must think it will, because the latest incarnation of the boy with the red hair is as earthy as Ziggy was spacey. His new album, Young Americans (on RCA records), is a stone funkified attempt to uncover the roots that the Ziggy persona eclipsed for so long. Startling as the new looking David Bowie is, should not come as a surprise to anyone who has followed David’s progression over his last eight albums. It seems that for David Bowie, changing his public image is as natural as changing his clothes. It is not, however, as easy as changing management. MainMan split?: About the same time David was going through the throes of his soul-oriented ch-changes other changes in the workings of MainMan started the rumor mills spinning in the press. Originally established to promote Bowie and a few other choice “artistes,” MainMan is headed by Tony Defries, who has managed Bowie since the Hunky Dory days. In what came as a surprise to many just a few months ago, David reportedly cut all ties with Defries. Rock Chameleon: Long before Bowie lurked in the neon-lit sewers of New York’s 82 club, where drag queens and transvestites did the funky chicken, long before Ziggy Stardust first showed his powder-masked face onstage, Bowie had declared that songwriters would change the world. The young songwriter changed his name from Jones to Bowie, after the famous knife. “I call myself Bowie,” he said as he gracefully slipped a lank of carrot-barbed hair off his forehead, “because at that time I was heavy into the philosophical and wanted a truism that would cut through the lies.” He didn’t notice, however, as one writer pointed out that, “a bowie knife is double-edged and cuts both ways.” Bowie was to be known as a faker as well as a great performer. He released an album, Love You Till Tuesday (called David Bowie on Deram Records). It went nowhere. He released the single, “Space oddity” which was a smash and the subsequent LP, Man Of Words/Man Of Music set him up as “the Dylan of Britain.” It did nothing in the U.S. Neither did The Man Who Sold The World, a crisp clean-sounding work, which contained the seeds of the sordidly wonderful visionary themes to come. Today David attends enormous celebrity parties at the late-night androgynous disco, Le Jardin, as he dances with the elite of the Black recording industry in a lavish acknowledgement of “peak” pop experience, the blending of the ambisexual, the gay and Black musical society. His glittering eyes now reflect back on his first fascination with New York 1971 – the glamor, the money. Unable to perform in the Big Apple then, he showcased himself in floor-length gowns, high heels and gobs of blusher and lip-gloss. He became the rage of the avant-pop-people. Clutching one limp flower then, he became the Garbo of Rock. Bowie delved further into the virgin psycholandscapes of bisexuality even though his manager Defries was afraid it would be bad for business, he wore satin caftans, had his nails done in brilliant hues of lacquer. He toiled mightily, crafting tight highly commercial tunes, and he released Hunky Dory. Again, the LP sold poorly in the U.S.  He took to the stage in the most outrageous exhibits of transsexual role-playing ever to attack the open-mouth rock masses. The post-Woodstockians were “not ready” for the identity crises Bowie was talking about and living. So again he had missed the boat on commercial stardom, while he created an archetype for the future. The next time around , though, he hit on a saleable image in Ziggy Stardust. Behind rehearsal doors, the poet-seer-bitch-rocker, according to friends, actually fought, to get his band to accept the Spiders from Mars idea. Ronson was the only one at first who was delighted with the spacey show. Ziggy, however, took Britain by storm. Appearing as an almost godlike figure to his English fans Bowie was soon equated with the image he created. To those people Bowie was Ziggy Stardust. To David, however, Ziggy Stardust was really a transient creature, who ultimately served as a vehicle for his songs. “A lot of my thing,” he explained then, as he lounged in a skin-tight quilted jumpsuit, “is that I’m continually aware that I’m an actor portraying stories and that’s the way I wish to take my performance.” Bowie’s hair had turned carrot orange, blown up in front like a flame, slicked down in back like a duck’s ass with sideburns that hung down like long sharp daggers. “What Bowie lacks in sincerity,” sniped one scribe, “he more than makes up for in image.” Please don’t theorize on Ziggy,” Bowie demanded. Having written it down, there are some things in it that are so personal that I find the whole thing has become a monster to me. And there are some things I never dreamed I would have to put in it.” The image was a gorgeous Frankenstein leaping out of Bowie’s control. Not even his retirement quelled the growing ranks. So Bowie returned to the stage with his “Diamond Dogs” tour. There was no doubt that he was now a certified international star. So what was he going to do for an encore? David’s new image was wearing thin – for him if not for his fans. And always there was the shadow of the Ziggy following him around. Clearly it was time for Bowie to investigate a new way to present his music. It was either change the Ziggy image, or be trapped in the character of Mr. Stardust for good. The image David decided to create for himself had a good part of its roots,strangely enough, in an acquaintance with another orange-haired cult hero – this one from Hawaii. Midler Madness: Highly regarded as one of New York’s zaniest pop personalities, Bette Midler has always been regarded as an accurate purveyor of new trends. So while Aladdin Sane was still on the racks, David took up a chase through Los Angeles after the highly mobile and highly elusive Divine Miss M. On one of their New York jaunts, Bette accompanied Bowie to a Jackson 5 concert where she let it slip that the next divine album would be recorded in Philadelphia. When David took his theatre-tour to Philly, about a year later(where the subsequent live album was recorded) he spent a full week checking out the famed studios and producers in that city. No isolated occurrence Bowie followed up his initial venture into New York’s r & b nightlife with a backstage visit to the Lockers, a group of progressive black dancers who were playing Radio City Music Hall. Sitting on foam cushions I a stuffy dressing room, a totally wasted Bowie rapped with the Lockers and assorted members of the Ohio Players and Graham Central Station, the two bands that were topping the bill. When asked what he thought of the Lockers, David could only whisper “Amazing!” Those watching the Grammy awards recently were treated to a rare public appearance of Bowie, blond roots and all, when he made a presentation of the music industry’s most coveted award. But even before news of his investigation of America’s rapidly expanding soul scene became known, the David Live album that documented his Philadelphia concert gave many of his fans a look at the shape of things to come out of Bowie’s next set of studio sessions. T.S.O.P.: After getting wind of the pure Philadelphia environment, Bowie settled down in Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios to start work on what was to become the Young Americans  with a group of sidemen that included Willie Weeks (fresh back from the George Harrison tour), Andy Newmark, David Sanborn and Mike Garson (from assorted earlier albums). With Tony Visconti at the controls, David cut enough tracks to complete a full album, although only four of them would make it to the final pressing of Young Americans. Anyone with half an eye on the pop music charts realizes the present advantage disco music has on radio airplay. Almost overnight, a relative unknown like Barry White has, not one, but three top forty hits on the charts at a single time. The discotheques – once no more than a place to spend a night of mindless dancing – have blossomed into launching pads for songs that no record company would have given half a chance of making the smallest dent in the charts a few years ago. Totally obscure names in rock circles like the Ohio Players, Carl Douglas, and the B.T. Express have become huge selling sensations, all because of the ever-growing disco scenes all over the country. David cashes in: So besides being an extension of Bowie’s soul roots, the disco-soul songs that appear on Young Americans might also endear Bowie to a whole different audience – the satin-sheathed crowd who might have been bewildered by the flaming Ziggy. But more importantly, disco, soul, satin funk, is what’s happening, and Bowie, in the shifting, mirroring reflections of his identity, has always looked for an image of the present, to wrap himself in. Soul music may just be closer to a “real” Bowie than any persona since his earliest street punk days, or, it may simply be Bowie’s way of being “now.” The album starts off with “Young Americans”,” the single that has as much of a chance cracking the soul charts as it does the rock charts. On first listening it’s easy to see why. Yet on the third, or eightieth, time around one begins to notice where David departs from the Philly-soul formula. David Sanborn’s sax opening is not funky-disco, but a traditional blues riff. Although the beat follows a disco-shuffle David’s quavering vocals and amazing Dada-esque lyrics in no progressive way relate to the “Do its” of standard disco. “Right,” the fourth cut seems to be a full blown, all stops pulled dive into sixties rhythm and blues. Sporting an echoed James Brown vocal , Bowie dips and slides around an endlessly looping riff, backed up by a troupe of female vocalists. The twanging electric guitar solo, built on a standard rock pattern, is the first clue, though, that the tune is not a long lost “self-help” track from the Isley Brothers. But again, after repeated listenings the chant takes on an intense personal tone, as if Bowie is convincing himself. “taking it all the right way… never no turning back.” Erotically inspired, perhaps the song is a renunciation of a past style: good sex is the only thing that still satisfies. Just like the slave Blacks knew all along. The lyrics on every cut are logically disconnected in terms of grammar, but grow into an intensely personal pattern as the soul beat weaves a sound sea around them. With “Win” Bowie creates a sinister, deadly cynical mood, made eerie with a slowly phased guitar and spacey mellotron. The zones of reality are drawn: either win or you lose, feelings don’t count here. The mood carries over into the brilliant texture of “Fascination.” The song has echoes of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” but only superficially, only on the arrangement level. Maybe the song is about attraction to a woman; maybe it is about a passion for something more dangerously addictive. Sex, drugs and fame are wound up like a tense spring behind the soul beat of this album. Side Two contains the guest appearance of John Lennon, (who looks like he’s becoming one of New York’s most sought-after session men), and an old Beatle song, “Across the Universe.”  But instead of the post-acid freedom of the original, Bowie’s version becomes a last romantic scream. The verses sound stiff, pompous, overstylized. But the chorus: “nothing’s gonna change my world,” is an angry, violent, desperate attempt to stop those relentless ch-changes. But immediately, Bowie slips from the universal into the personal with “Can You Hear Me,” a slow, beautiful love song that reveals an emotional side Bowie has rarely allowed himself to reveal before. A bare soul seems revealed; Bowie takes off his mask. The big gambit: As beautifully done as Young Americans is, it is in a totally different league from anything ever associated with Bowie before. Yet the themes of Man Who Sold The World can still be found under the soul skins. Critics contemplate Bowie like an enigma, a series of endlessly reflected mirrors receding into time, just as Bowie himself probably does. Rumors have it that Mr. B. is dangerously wasted by his life style, that the dozens of songs he has chocked away in the can are stored there, morbidly, for posthumous albums. That is romantic fascination with dying is overtaking him. But meanwhile the red-now-blonding-head can be found hither andyon on the streets of New York, sometimes at fashionable parties with the white-haired Black model Ava Cherry in tow, sometimes alone and pensive on a dark backstage. Other rumors say that Bowie is bored with music. He has collected a vast array of video tapes and movies which he views steadily for days on end. He plans to direct a movie, it is said, in which he will only play a cameo role. JOE BIVONA   Philadelphia Weekly 24 July 2002 - David Bowie’s Young Americans David Bowie recorded his Philly pop-soul classic nearly 30 years ago. The "Sigma Kids" were with him then, and they'll be with him again next week when he comes to town. Marla Kanevsky can't remember who made the first call this year, but when the phone rang she got that same old feeling. "I always think next time I won't do it," she says. "I won't get so excited. I won't start obsessing. But then Patti or Leslie are on the phone and it's the same thing all over again--David Bowie's going on tour. Nothing else matters." She laughs, because now other things do matter. But the announcement of an impending Bowie concert still holds the power to tear her in two. She remembers an August night in 1974 when Bowie invited her to a party! The night David Bowie held her hand! And she wonders if this year she will finally meet him as an adult, as an equal, as a 43-year-old mom. "I've met him, I think, seven times since 1974," she says. "And I always yell out, 'David, I'm a Sigma Kid!' even though I realize how pathetic that sounds. And if he talks to us, I am always just like, 'Can I take your picture, David? Can I have your autograph?' It's embarrassing." Nearly 30 years later, Marla Kanevsky is still a fan. Not an ordinary fan--a super fan. "He has been there through it all," she says. "The death of my parents, the birth of my son, my husband's accident. Everything." Just talking about all this reduces Kanevsky--or elevates her, if you're of such a mind--to tears. "I am such a wimp!" she hollers. Oh, but she is so much more. She's much more than a Sigma Kid, too, though once you know her story it's easy to see why she still identifies herself as that 16- year-old girl from Lower Merion. To this day the Sigma Kids can lay claim to perhaps the most beautiful and bizarre fan-star interaction in rock 'n' roll history. The Sigma Kids didn't just meet David Bowie. For one night they were his confidantes, his buds--underage kids for whom he bought wine and champagne! And fresh corned beef sandwiches! Sandwiches they were too nervous to eat! Yeah, and he played Young Americans for them--straight from the master tape--before RCA's label execs heard it and certainly before you heard it. You who weren't there to hear Bowie debut his version of the Philly Soul sound. But here it is, as best it can be laid down, given the smoke and white powder and years that obscure this tale: the Sigma sessions and the Sigma Kids, a story that ends with Marla Kanevsky's entire superfan life. Camping out for tickets seems like no big deal these days, but the Sigma Kids raised it to unparalleled heights. They spent two weeks straight sleeping in the streets so they could do things like watch Bowie walk from the Barclay on Rittenhouse Square to his limo. Then they'd dash off to their cars, driving as fast as they could to reach Sigma Sound Studios before he got there. "If he was already out of his limo when we were pulling up," remembers Patti Brett, "we would stop our cars in the middle of the street, get out and halt traffic just to say 'Hi' to him again." Over time the Kids got friendly with the studio staff and the Bowie entourage, especially guitarist Carlos Alomar. Sometimes Bowie would chat with them. He eventually learned their names: Marla, Patti, Leslie, Purple--about a dozen in all. No one remembers who made the announcement that Bowie had decided to throw a party for them when the sessions wrapped. What they do remember is that they were led into the studio late at night, their hearts thudding in their chests. Dagmar, a one-named rock photographer, documented the party. She remembers Marla Kanevsky because she was "a pretty little girl, and very emotional. You could see it was a very deep experience for her. She held Bowie's hand for a while. When he let go, she held hands with her friends." Kanevsky herself doesn't remember much, except asking Bowie to marry her. "It's awful, isn't it? So cliche, but I think that's why I said it. It seemed like what I should say. He said something like, 'You'll have to speak to my wife about that, love.'" For Bowie the night met two objectives: He got to reward some devoted fans, and he had a test audience for his new sonic experiment. The artist formerly known as Ziggy Stardust, the bisexual space alien rock star, had completed his transformation to white soul singer. These kids were his first listeners. At the party, he sat down in the back of the studio and bit his nails. No one spoke while the album played. But after the last note sounded one of the Kids yelled, "Play it again!" That broke the ice. The Kids got up and danced. Bowie did the bump. Bowie's approximation of the Philly Soul sound broke him commercially. He ascended from the 3,000-seat Tower Theater in July 1974 to the 16,000-seat Spectrum in '75. That's where stories about the Sigma Kids usually end, but their lives went on long after the party was over. Three decades later, the Sigma Kids arrive at Doobie's at 22nd and Lombard to down a few brews and reminisce. Patti Brett, a Sigma Kid who has run Doobie's for her mom since 1985, jams a bunch of tables together. A big, brassy blond, she changes from her work clothes into a black dress, lets her hair down and stands resplendent in bawdy maiden chic. It's a happy night, complete with a special guest star. Carlos Alomar, David Bowie's long-time right-hand man, is taking a night train from New York. While the Kids have interacted with Bowie only on rare occasions since 1974, most of them hurried, Alomar has become a friend. Before everyone else arrives, Brett and Leslie Radowill, both 46, look at pictures of Bowie going in and out of the studio in a variety of funky berets and glasses, flared trousers and shirts that billow around his skeletal frame. But they remember little in the way of specifics. "It's frustrating," says Brett. "Well, we smoked a lot of pot--and I know what pot does to brain cells," replies Radowill. Not long afterward, Marla Kanevsky arrives with her emotions in tow. A pretty woman in the midst of the Weight Watchers program, she has shed about 30 pounds. Still she hides her face behind big dollops of brown hair and keeps her sunglasses on indoors. She brings a journal describing the Sigma Studio experience and a sweet, strange petition she circulated in 1975 urging the singer to stop using drugs. The teenager wrote of the physical "ch-ch-ch-changes" Bowie had gone through that year, his cocaine-fueled drop to a reportedly corpse-like 80 pounds. "Remember I was just 16," she says. "I was a kid." Then she cries for a moment, right there at the table. Life has not been terribly kind to Kanevsky. In 1979 doctors discovered that her mother's back pain was evidence of a cancer that eventually killed her. (Lodger was the icy Bowie album of the moment.) About a year later, her father--who owned A&H Food Distributor in West Philadelphia--died from a massive heart attack. (The album was, fittingly, Scary Monsters.) Her future husband Paul--also a Bowie fan--supported her throughout these ordeals. Together they tried opening a deli, but the business failed and they lost most of the insurance money they had received from her parents' deaths. In 1991, when Bowie came to the Tower with his then-band Tin Machine, Paul got into a car accident before the show. He seemed unhurt, but the next day he went to a doctor. Almost a dozen years later he walks with a cane and can't stand for long periods of time, making it impossible to pursue his career as a chef. Kanevsky and her husband have a child, Zane, now 14, who is named after a lyric from Bowie's "All the Madmen." "I always said I would pop a kid out and sit him in front of a speaker," she says. "That's pretty much what happened." Kanevsky works as a teacher's assistant in Mays Landing, N.J., where she lives. The family scrapes by on her meager salary and Paul's disability checks. Of the dozen or so people invited into the studio that August night, only Kanevsky, Radowill and Brett continue to orbit, as a group, around Bowie. Phone calls among them--sporadic between albums--surge when the singer hits the road. They see far fewer shows than they used to, and they don't camp out for seats anymore. They'll see the local shows and maybe catch a gig in New York, but that's it. They have adult responsibilities. Radowill is unmarried and childless but tends to an elderly father. Brett got married a few years ago and has two stepchildren. Still, some things don't change. At one point Brett announces she's won a seat in a raffle to see Bowie perform on A&E's Live by Request, a two-hour TV concert. "I'm sorry," she says. "I didn't want to make anyone jealous." "Oh no," Radowill and Kanevsky respond in forced tones. "Have a great time!" (A week later Kanevsky gets on the phone and confesses her jealousy. "I feel so out of the loop," she says.)   With Bowie back on tour, it seems a time of confession for Kanevsky. She says her Bowie fandom feels like an addiction--confesses that she loves her family and her job, yet something is missing. She cries--a lot. But she doesn't seem like a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Rather, she seems nervous about a breakthrough. "I have attended about 75 concerts, and what has it gotten me?" she asks. "I had a good time, but for some reason I always expected more." Soon Alomar arrives in a bright summery shirt, like an arpeggio in cotton, and the troops head outside for an impromptu photo session. Kanevsky tries to hide in the back, her head bobbing above a sea of shoulders like a swimmer risen from the depths. She's lost a lot of weight, but she doesn't see it. Carlos Alomar served as Bowie's guitarist from 1974 to 1987, toured with him again in 1995 and plays on one track from Bowie's current disc, Heathen. He says he thought the Sigma Kids' behavior was a little weird at first. But the Kids told him they wanted to be close to David, and Alomar helped. He used Radowill's Instamatic to take photographs inside the studio, smuggled out tapes of the day's sessions and even invited them back to his hotel room where he and his wife, backup singer Robin Clark, became friends with this curious assemblage of young Americans. As Bowie moved from the tuneful but meat 'n' potatoes rock of the Ziggy years, his new rhythm guitarist--who had played with James Brown--was his connection to the music that would help his soul experiment work. Alomar says he still hangs out with the Kids on occasion because they are "campy, silly and fun." "Usually, people who sleep in front of a studio--it's about fucking," he says. "But with them it was about devotion." Though the Kids clearly had crushes on Bowie, there was no Sigma sex that August--only fidelity. Brett has the ticket stubs to the more than 120 Bowie concerts she's attended. She lost two jobs while following Bowie on tour, one as recently as 1995, but she'll tell you--with conviction--that it was worth it. "This is the choice we made," she says. Radowill raises more profound questions: "How would my life be different if I wasn't a David Bowie fan?" she asks. "Would I be married? Would I have children? Would I have gone to college?" A story like this, which deals in behavior bordering on the obsessive, must necessarily include some words from a psychiatrist. Those words are coming. But that doesn't mean something very powerful didn't occur in 1974, something that was felt both inside and outside the studio. Former WMMR DJ Ed Sciaky watched Bowie record "Win" for Young Americans at Sigma. "He'd sing three lines, then have the engineer play them back, keeping the first line every time," says Sciaky. "It was spectacular, watching him work like a painter, hitting every line the way he wanted." Around 7 a.m., Bowie asked the engineer to play the whole track from start to finish, twice. After the second listen, he nodded and said quietly, "That's it. It's done." As if on cue, the Kids outside started applauding--hooting and hollering up at the studio windows. "It was eerie," says Sciaky. "I don't know how they could have heard any of the music, let alone responded to what Bowie said. It was probably some kind of coincidence, but it felt like they knew, they heard, they were connected. Bowie looked stunned." Bowie has often told interviewers that he retains only fragmentary memories of 1974, '75 and '76, his cocaine years. When he returned to Sigma for a radio special in 1997, he signed his gold Young Americans album: "With fondest memories (I would imagine), David Bowie." The night that made local legends of the Sigma Kids may have left only small, residual traces in their idol's memory. But the Kids mean enough to Bowie that when Alomar arranged an impromptu reunion in 1995, the singer hung around even when his handlers tried to get him to leave. The meeting occurred in a tented area just behind the stage of Bowie's Outside tour. The singer jed with them about their advancing ages. Brett grabbed Bowie's graying goatee and said, "You've gotten a little older yourself there, mister." It was a wonderful moment--the walls torn down, the star Brett once worshipped now a person just like her and just as ripe for ridicule. Kanevsky couldn't believe Brett said it, though, and yelled at her to stop. "Marla!" Brett replied. "He's a person." Marla Kanevsky earns just under $11,000 a year as a paraprofessional assisting five- and six-year-olds with disabilities, both mental and physical, sometimes in basic tasks like going to the bathroom. "She's got the most unbelievable patience," says her co-worker Kathy Watkins. "Some of these kids act out all day long, and Marla soothes them and gets them focused. She's the best of us." Kanevsky's colleagues encourage her to attend college. The district would reimburse her for classes, but it's a no-go. The confidence isn't there. She tried photography school, but it didn't stick. Her work life has included a series of casino jobs, including cage cashier. Between class hours and before- and after-school day care, Kanevsky works from 7 a.m. to 6:15 p.m., five days a week. Often she brings in photographs from the Sigma sessions and her more recent Bowie meetings. She has plenty of them. At the reunion in 1995 Bowie got down on one knee and sang the "Zane, Zane, Zane" refrain from "All the Madmen" to her son. But all she could think to do was ask for another autograph, another picture. When Bowie started his Internet service, Bowienet, he assumed the screen name "Sailor" and sometimes even responded to Kanevsky's missives. She thanked him for a brief meeting outside a 2000 New York City gig; he said it was his pleasure. She invited him to Zane's bar mitzvah. "How sweet of you," he wrote. "Can't make it but what a lovely thought." Her husband's back injury has made it easier for Kanevsky to sit closer to Bowie when he's on stage. They are often able to score early admittance and special seating for Bowie's general admission shows. But as she says through still more tears, "I just know the other fans think we're trying to get over, but I would never see Bowie again if it meant my husband wouldn't have to be in pain." David Bowie might seem like a small thing to give up, but not for Marla Kanevsky. That she can even conceive such a thing may mean she's finally shedding the role of Sigma Kid after all these years. At one point she even throws down the gauntlet and asks if a reporter can find out why she's devoted so much of her time and energy to the pursuit of David Bowie. Dr. David Roat, a psychiatrist on Penn's faculty, says that when someone has a seminal event in life, like the Kids at Sigma did, "Energy may remain tied up in it. Whenever things go badly, they return there. It's similar to post-traumatic stress disorder, but they become fixated on a good experience." Losing her parents so soon after the event may have sent Kanevsky spiraling backward, to Sigma and to a time when the world seemed filled with limitless possibilities. Continued personal and financial troubles kept her there. Roat says Kanevsky's capacity to show regret signals that she may be closer to embracing her life. He even says that continued attempts to get Bowie's attention may be a good sign. "When someone has a powerful experience before they are old enough to process it, they might try to repeat it in some more controllable way. It's an attempt to gain some kind of mastery. For her to finally have a real conversation with Bowie outside the fan-star dynamic might be the best thing for her. She might finally be able to put him on the shelf where he belongs, shed her adolescence and get on with her life." Kanevsky's life is perhaps not so bad as her tears suggest. Last month, before she went home to celebrate her son's graduation, she took part in the school's yearly class picture ritual. One child, Jamie, has a condition called Fragile X syndrome. The slightest change in his routine, like a photograph session with his teachers, brings on tears and panicked, downcast eyes. Kanevsky approached Jamie, knelt in front of him, touched his shoulders and spoke in a soft, soothing voice. "We've had that child in school for a few years now," says Maureen Minton, another co-worker. "That's the first picture we ever got where he smiled and looked into the camera. It was Marla. She's such a wonderful person, but she doesn't always see the beauty in herself." Once Kanevsky calmed the child she performed her usual maneuver: She stood in the back and hid her body. "I don't know what I expect from Bowie," she says later. "But just once I would like to meet him and have some conversation other than 'You're so great.' I want to speak to him like an adult. And I think I'm ready. After all these years I believe I could finally have a mature meeting with him." STEVE VOLK