Arts & Entertainment

Bowie’s legacy, lasting in Philly

The day David Bowie invited Patt Brett and her friends into Sigma Sound Studios for an early listen of the artist’s ninth studio album, “Young Americans” was the best day of Brett’s life.

“Even better than the day I got married,” Brett told The Temple News of the special moment in 1974.

Brett, along with thousands of teens across America during the 1970s, was a “Bowie kid,” utterly devoted to Bowie and his music. Brett and her friends would wait outside a hotel where the artist stayed or a studio where he recorded to get his autograph.

Decades later, the “Bowie kids” of Philadelphia responded to the Jan. 10 death of their icon with tribute shows and memorials across the city. Venues like The Electric Factory, The Theatre of the Living Arts and The Tower Theater, where Bowie recorded “David Live,” all displayed signs in memory of him.

Tim McCloskey, a writer for Philadelphia magazine and an avid Bowie fan, saw a need for a city-wide celebration of Bowie back in 2011. That year, McCloskey started a petition on Change.org asking the mayor to declare a ‘David Bowie Week’ in July.

The petition did not receive much attention until now, 5 years later. As of Monday afternoon, the petition has amassed 605 signatures. McCloskey hopes the petition will create enough momentum for the mayor to declare a week-long tribute for Bowie, an artist who had an immense appreciation for Philadelphia.

“Anyone who followed [Bowie] knows that there are three or four places that really impacted him, McCloskey said. “Philadelphia is one of them … he spent time here recording to get away from where he was. Philadelphia’s WMMR used to be a very powerful radio station, one of the most influential radio stations in the country, and they were one of the first stations in America to show support for David Bowie.”

Former WMMR radio host DJ Michael Tearson worked at the station that helped Bowie’s career take off. After Bowie’s death, Tearson put together a tribute podcast for Bowie as part of his Marconi Experiment show, which airs on iradiophilly. The 90-minute show features songs from the artist’s studio albums, as well as live versions and songs released under Bowie’s side project Arnold Corns.

“I just thought that this was a mercurial, incredibly creative person from early on,” Tearson said. “Then it all broke out of Philadelphia worldwide off the stage at the Tower Theater, and we at WMMR were very much at the eye of the hurricane on that.”

“We were the ones who were wailing on that record and it was catching on in Philadelphia like crazy,” he added. “Those shows at the Tower Theater were the first place where he found an audience that was completely sympathetic to his vision, which is why he kept coming back.”

Brett, who followed Bowie extensively and saw him live more than 150 times, remembers his shows in Philadelphia as “a lot more special than most places. He showed an outpouring of love for Philadelphia.”

Most memorable was his ninth studio album “Young Americans” which he recorded at Sigma Sound Studios in 1974.

After Sigma Sound closed in 2003, the 6,200 master tapes from “Young Americans” were donated to Drexel University’s Audio Archives as part of its Sigma Studios collection. In addition to the master tapes, two reels from that same studio session were sent to Drexel to be digitized by Toby Seay, project director of the Audio Archives. The tapes remain in Drexel’s archives as an important part of Philadelphia and Sigma Studio history.

“Philadelphia was always very much a lucky charm city for [Bowie], this is where he really took off worldwide and he had a real appreciation of that,” Tearson said. “The Bowie-and-Philadelphia relationship was so deep and positive for him and for the city and the recognition that we got from him, it would be most appropriate for the city to recognize that.”

Emily Thomas can be reached at emily.ralsten.thomas@temple.edu.

CORRECTION: In a version of this story that ran in print Jan. 26, Michael Tearson’s podcast was misidentified as a weekly show on WMMR. In actuality, Tearson’s podcast streams on iradiophilly’s website. 

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