The first Bowiemas I attended was held in a warehouse of questionable structural integrity overlooking Gasworks park. A few of my then-teenage friends (thank you, Rose, Lyle, and Sterling) began the event as small, private annual celebration of the shapeshifting rock legend’s life, work and aesthetic(s.) My friend Stella and I stenciled angular 80’s slashes and zig-zags of pink makeup onto each other’s faces with duct tape, stepped inside and were overwhelmed. Hundreds of people dressed as every incarnation of Bowie crowded the warehouse, dancing to an exceptionally well-curated Bowie playlist until four in the morning.
It became a party I looked forward to all year. I realized at some point that I hadn’t cared about Thanksgiving or Christmas since I was a kid because these holidays were no longer relevant to my life. I can eat the field roast celebration roast I looked forward to all year as a kid any time (I once found five of them in a dumpster and ate all of them myself over the course of a month—I REGRET NOTHING) and I’m not religious. Also, kids crave Christmas morning’s presents and endless access to sugar—teenagers crave sex and any scenario that might result in it.
Santa isn’t real, but Bowie was real and as far as I’m concerned performed real magic. Like most people I grew up with, Bowie represented to me a realm of sexual and creative freedom. He he transcended gender and appeared to fearlessly explore his desires. One night a year, hundreds of shy teenagers transformed like glittery werewolves and entered a realm embodying Bowie’s endless possibility.
Particularly for queer kids, Bowiemas was empowering and cathartic. It was a place to explore without fear—I danced with girls and boys and everything in between, and on one memorable night, while dressed as the Thin White Duke, fooled around with two other eras of Bowie at once.
The event grew until it had to relocate to the Underground Events Center in Belltown. There were gorgeous printed tickets and door people and an actual bar. Fortunately I was 21 by this era, when carding was instated. I texted a Bowie-loving woman I was madly in love with how I wished she were there for “Let’s Dance,” and her response was better than any Christmas I could remember. I came home to find my roommate passed out on the couch, covered in salad and plastic jewels.
You can imagine the feelings of everyone involved when the creators of Bowiemas moved to San Francisco and took it with them. Seattle has since been without a Bowie birthday party until this year, when the “Hero Worship” series hosted a Bowie edition at Chop Suey. I was eye patch Ziggy Stardust and my girlfriend was Kansai Yamamoto-wearing Bowie from the Aladdin Sane tour. The best part of it was witnessing the DJ’s joy (the DJ was Victoria, Seattle’s biggest Bowie fan) or actually dancing with a woman I’m madly in love with to music that has represented magic to me for years.
It was that woman who told me two days later that he had died. We both cried of course—the entire following week had a pallor—but I felt fortunate I had the opportunity to celebrate my hero’s birthday at a big happy party one last time before he died. I now wish there’d been such a party for Lemmy, and most recently motherfucking Prince, and everyone else who has taught shy teenagers to manifest magic in their own lives.