7 – Blog 06 – Bowie’s Boys

Mike and I skip to the patisserie and buy a dozen croissants. By the time we get back, the Knobs are gathering in the kitchen, worse for wear from a night of drug-fueled debauchery. The ten-cup coffee carafe soon revives them. Jim keeps the coffee flowing. He leaves with two cups for the master bedroom. Bowie stayed the night. The croissants are still warm and soon devoured. Everyone has two. We run to the shop and return with four for the super stars, plus two for the ‘Personal Assistant.’ Jim claims to be watching his waistline. Mike & I split the extra one. Jim disappears into the master bedroom. Life at the Lake House.

Freddie comes flying into the kitchen, with several newspapers in his grasp.

“Reviews,” he announces. “Read them and weep.” He tosses the papers on the island in the middle of the kitchen.

Billy reads aloud,

‘Who is Queen???

Last night saw the amazing transformation of the stadium rocker Queen to a pickup band of merry minstrels playing their rock anthems by the Montreux lakeside in front of the disco club Taboo. For an hour and a half Freddie Mercury wowed a huge following with the Queen standards played by a backup band previous known as the Queen roadies, plus Super Star David Bowie playing keyboards, mixing the songs and joining Mercury for duets. Also on stage was Montreux Music Festival founder Claude Nobs. The band is now called Freddie and the Nobs.

It is notable that every Queen song was written by Mr. Mercury, with no songs by the missing musicians who are supposedly holed up in London. It is rumored they are unhappy with the songs Mercury has recently penned. To make things more interesting. Freddie ran into Taboo and pulled out a flock of gay fans who danced to the new Queen song’s debut last night, ‘Another One Bites the Dust.’ That may be a warning to the missing musicians that their place in the band as Queen founders may be written in the ‘dust.’ While Freddie was gathering the gays, David Bowie brought up two unknown Americans and all three sang “Young Americans.’ The energy seems to come from overseas. Last night it was Montreux that was the center of the rock universe. The question is, will Montreux lose its festival founder if the Knobs go on the road?

Warning to Brian May: the roadie who took your place knew all your licks as well as many of his own.

We saw a new, more scrappy version of Queen last night. The question is whether they are enough like the Queen of yesterday to retain their old fans’ loyalty?’

Freddie bounces around like a boxer warming up in the ring. Mike and I jump him and it becomes a dog pile of wimpy musicians pretending to be scrappy. We all whoop and holler, slapping Billy on the back.  The phone rings. It is our hero, Henri.

“You knocked it out of the park, Henri,” Billy forgets he is not American, or maybe now he wishes he were. “Sure. I’ll get Freddie for you.”

They discuss business. The upshot is we need to record the new single, ‘Another One Bites the Dust,’ and get it to BBC 1 for today’s John Peel drive-time show. Bowie agrees to be the producer. I worry that the Knobs are not ready to record in the studio. David’s answer:  Laz will play all the instruments, with Mike on backup and Freddie doing all the singing. Bowie’s multi-track studio will be the magic that makes it all come together.

“You can do it, Laz,” David is my new coach. “Paul McCartney plays all the instruments and just uses Wings for live concerts.”

“Yeah, like I’m in the same league with the Beatles.”

“It’ll be fun. You’ll love doing it. And I’ll mix it so it soars.

“If I can be funky enough.” I worry.

The Knobs look bereft, replaced by a teenager.  It is called the Rock n Roll Circus.

Recording the one song takes less than hour. Freddie does the vocals and Mike & I join him on backups. I play all the instruments. All that fancy equipment and the final mix version is put on 2-track cassette and flown to London in time for the drive-time show.

When we get back to the Lake House, the disgruntled Knobs ignore us. They are all hanging around the pool. No one even asks Mike and me to simulate dolphin sex. Suddenly Henri bursts their bubble with reaction from London. Henri comes running up the deck.

“They love it. We’re booked on ‘Top of the Pops.”

All is forgiven. The Knobs plan their victorious return to London. Mike and I cannot go. No passport for me. No hiding MJ’s identity in the City. Bowie says we can stay at his castle while the Knobs are gone. He is not going. It is all about Queen.

“I am not going to London,” Freddie throws a monkey wrench in all these plans. “Tell them we’ll broadcast live from Montreux.”

“They are pretty specific about performing on their stage,” Henri argues.

“Tell them to contact Brian and the boys through Jim Reid. Tops of the Pops is always lipsynched. They’ll have to pretend to play what we recorded. That will put them in their place. They’ll be a Queen drag show tribute band.”

“Why can’t you go to London, Freddie?” Henri asks.

“Reid says I’m subject to punitive UK tax regulations. I’ll owe millions.”

“Is there some reason your manager wants to keep you out of the UK?”

“Why would he want that?”

“Perhaps he is juggling the books. So many bands get robbed by their managers.”

“Elton hooked him up with us. He trusts him.”

“From what I’ve seen, Elton John does not manage his money very well.”

“What do you suggest?”

“Get a lawyer to represent the band and have him ask that the books be audited.”

“Anyone you recommend?”

‘You already know Jim Beach.”

“Yeah, ‘Miami’ Beach.”

“We’ll all meet in Claude’s office Monday morning.  We’ll know by then what Brian May and the others feel about your new song and you playing in the streets without them.”

‘They’ll be shaking in their boots, defintely.”

“I’ll get an auditor from our London office to access Reid’s books. If he refuses your request to see them, we’ll walk in on the meeting with a court order.”

“I’ll fire his ass. First he wanted me to break up the band by going solo. Now he wants Brian and the boys to kick me out.”

“Talk with Beach. He should be your lawyer and also the band’s representative, if they agree.”

All this legal talk about the music business is boring and gives me a headache. The Knobs are spaced out while Freddie negotiates the return of the original Queen members. Something about Miami Beach strikes a nerve. Mike and I decide to go swimming and change into bathing suits.

We drop into the pool. I hold him up with a hand on his belly while he thrashes his arms to propel toward the other side of the pool. I give him pointers on how to cup his hands and stroke his arms to push the water backwards. I teach him to kick his legs while holding on to the side of the pool. He lifts his head out of the water instead of turning to breathe, causing his legs to sink. I steady him again with a hand on his stomach. I cannot resist tickling him. He goes into hysterics which only encourages me. Soon we are splashing and pushing each other under water. Freddie yells at us to go play elsewhere. We grab towels and walk down to the lake front.

“How come you never learned to swim?” I ask as we walk toward the lake.

“Black people don’t swim,” is his excuse.

“Once you find the knack of staying afloat, it feels like you are flying above the bottom.”

“Black people sink. Our bones are too dense.”

“That’s not the only thing that’s dense,” I mock him.

He ignores my teasing.

“Did you listen to what Henri told Freddie?”

“Pretty much. He can’t go to London and their manager is trying to break up the band.”

“One thing I learned from Joe Jackson is never trust the manager. My dad always kept the money ‘in the family.’ I got an allowance of first $10, then $25 per week.”

“What? You’re a super star. You earned millions.”

“The family got it all. Even Mom is on an allowance for food and clothing. The compound in Woodland Hills cost a million. It has a pool but I’m not allowed to swim. Thanks for the lesson today.”

“You’re a quick learner. Ready to swim out into the Lake?”

He looks terrified. I tickle him. Terror turns to horror. I realize MJ never enjoyed being a kid before.

“How come you don’t want to grow up? Sounds like your youth was pretty glum.”

“Yeah. My lost boyhood means I want to make up for it now. Just like you lost the last two years, I never was just a kid. I would see happy kids, carefree at the shows we put on, and felt jealous and cheated.”

“No time like the present to be a kid.” I drop my towel and run into the water. MJ just stands there.

“Com’n. The water’s magic. It brought me back to life.”

“All it does is mess up my Afro.’

“In case you forgot, you now have dreadlocks,”

 I walk back to him, grab a handful of sand and rub it in his hair. The dreads mat into stringy rat tails. He chases me into the water. I swim out just a bit over my head. He gives chase. I float just past where he cannot touch the bottom. He swims right to me and grabs me around the neck when he fails to touch the bottom. He looks a bit panicked.

“Just relax and lean back. I’ll keep us afloat.”

His smile is so magnetic, as I swim breaststroke further out into the Lake. He lays back fully relaxed. He totally trusts me not to let him sink. We circle back and soon he can touch bottom.

“That’s fun,” MJ exclaims.

“Wanna do the dolphin undulations?” I ask him.

He checks to make sure no one will mock our fishy fucking simulation. I guess I am a pretty good swimmer, able to hold up the bone-dense dead-weight pop star.

Again, we are far from shore. MJ totally relaxes, trusting I will keep him from sinking straight to the bottom of Lake Geneve. It worries me that he may slip away from me. I go directly back to where we left our towels.

We lay out to warm up.

“Be careful not to get a tan,” I kid him.

He rolls over towards me. “I always tan evenly,” he claims.

“This is so much better than listening to the music business talk,” I claim.

We lay in the sun until I almost fall asleep. Mike pushes me just as I am about to go under.

“Let’s go back in the water.”

“Now I’m your slave,” I complain about dragging him around the lake.

“That’s reversal of history,” he jokes.

I start to sing ‘Young Americans.’ MJ adds his high alto

‘Do you remember, your President Nixon? (ooh)
Do you remember, the bills you have to pay?
Or even yesterday?

Have been the un-American? (ooh)
Just you and your idol sing falsetto (ooh)

‘Bout Leather, leather everywhere, and
Not a myth left from the ghetto
Well, well, well, would you carry a razor (ooh)
In case, just in case of depression? (ooh)
Sit on your hands on a bus of survivors
Blushing at all the Afro-Sheeners
Ain’t that close to love?
Well, ain’t that poster love?
Well, it ain’t that Barbie doll
Her hearts have been broken just like you and…

All night
All night you want the young American
Young American, young American, you want the young American
All right
You want the young American

You ain’t a pimp and you ain’t a hustler
A pimp’s got a Cadi and a lady got a Chrysler
Black’s got respect, and white’s got his soul train
Mama’s got cramps, and look at your hands ache
(I heard the news today, oh boy)
I got a suite and you got defeat
Ain’t there a man who can say no more?
And, ain’t there a woman I can sock on the jaw?
And, ain’t there a child I can hold without judging?
Ain’t there a pen that will write before they die?
Ain’t you proud that you’ve still got faces?
Ain’t there one damn song that can make me
Break down and cry?

All night
I want the young American
Young American, young American, I want the young American
All right
I want the young American, young American
Young American, young American, I want the young American (I want what you want, I want what you want)
All night
You and I
I want you, I
Young American, young American, I want the young American
All right
And all I want is the young American
Young American, young American, I want the young American’

Songwriters: David Bowie

Young Americans lyrics © BMG Rights Management, Tintoretto Music

Several kids stop and listen.

Someone young asks in English. “Etes-vous Americain?”

“Oui, d’accord,” I reply.

“Were you at the Queen concert last night?”

“Oui.”

“You sang that song with Bowie, yes. We saw you.”

“Bien sur.”

“But, you really are friends, Black and white?”

“We have our dues to pay. Remember President Nixon?”

“We’re Swiss but want to be Young Americans, like you two.”

“We’re now Swiss Americans. You guys can be American Swiss youth.

Swiss hauteur disappears and both of us get hugs and three kisses on the cheek.

Diplomacy through rock and roll. Youth rules. We all sing ‘Young Americans’ together. By the end a whole crowd is singing. Old people just shake their heads.

“Are you doing more free concerts with Queen?”

“Stay tuned. The BBC wants us to play Top of the Pops.”

“You are going to London?”

“Freddie wants to do it here. That’s the issue that caused the old Queen players to leave. Queen is headlining the Music Festival this summer.”

“We can’t afford that.”

“Well, the new guys need to play more free concerts to get ready to headline. We’ll come swim here often and let you know.”

More hugs and kisses – Europeans love anything free.

We go back in the water. Mike swims on his own near to shore to show what he learned and is improving. I do sidestroke beside him. He swims to me, clasping from behind. We butterfly out over his head as far as I can go without getting tired. I roll him onto his back and place his hands on my shoulder. It makes it easier for me to swim breaststroke. We soon return to the shore. We dry each other off. His dreads remain clogged with sand, stretched to his shoulders.

“You’re a long haired hippie Rasta man now,” I laugh.

“Thanks for ruining my look.”

“Now you’re recovering your roots as a Bushman.”

He scowls, and then laughs, “I am in the movies now. I play the Scarecrow in The Wiz with Diana Ross. It comes out this fall.”

“The Scarecrow with straw for brains?”

“Just like you – bad brains.”

“That’s not fair. I just have no memories from before I was revived.”

“I’ll get Diana to cure you.”

“I’ll cure you from trying to impress an old lady. If Diana complains about your dreads, you may have to wear a wig at the premier.”

“I idolize her.”

“Get her makeup team to work on your hair. You kinda look like her, just not so old.”

“I try to look like her. You can tell?”

“You’ve been staying with Bowie too long.”

“Let’s go tell him how we sang his song on the beach and got kissed.”

We return to the Lake House. Everyone is still talking business at the pool.

Freddie spots the ruined dreadlocks. “What did you do to your hair?”

“Laz threw sand in it at the beach. I call it my rat-tail Rastafarian dreadful doo.”

Everyone laughs. We are so cute.

“Let me show you what Laz taught me,” Mike jumps in the pool. He swims across and back, looking like he knows what to do.

“Very good, Mike,” Freddie smiles. “What else did you do there?”

“We sang ‘Young Americans’ and Swiss boys kissed us both for being a biracial couple.”

“You boys are a couple now,” Billy is quick to label our friendship.

“No. We’re a couple of boys who like to sing together. Don’t get your hopes up.”

“Can Jim drive us back to Lausanne. We want to tell David about singing his song,” I pipe up.

“You’re no longer my slave?”

“Of course I am, but can I have the night off?”

“He’s your slave?” Henri looks distressed

“Just in his own mind,” Freddie explains. “Otherwise, he’s mindless, not even knowing his own name.”

Henri drops the interrogation, not wanting to learn too much. The Swiss remain neutral by turning a blind eye.

“Just be back for the meeting at Claude’s on Monday. You can take the train from Lausanne. I need you to deal with Reid.”

“Your crooked manager.”

“Not for long.”

“Did I miss something.”

“You’ll get up to speed on Monday. Just go to Claude’s office at nine.”

“Yes, master.”

Everyone laughs, except Henri looks worried.”

“So, you played the Scarecrow in the Wiz?”

“That’s me, straw for brains.”

“Me, too. You heard them say it, I have no brain. I’m a scarecrow too”

“Mindless idiots caught up in the great rock n roll scandal.”

“We do better without thinking.”

“It worked great Friday night.”

“You get real bossy, just so ya know.”

“Someone has to take charge.”

“It is fun to watch. The Knobs are the really clueless ones.”

“Yeah. The better they play, the more likely they’ll get replaced.”

“Queen is what Freddie makes it. He was depressed until we came up with the Knobs so he can perform.”

“A performance junkie?”

“Performance may not be the only drug he’s addicted to.”

“Sex and drugs and rock n roll.”

“We seem to have skipped the sex and drugs.”

“Ian Drury is a midget?”

“Too much drugs and no sex.”

“Midgets have sex?”

“There must be laws against it,” I contend.

“Sex laws rule.”

“At least we’re not midgets.”

Jim comes up and asks if we’re ready to go to David’s.”

“Get some clean clothes so you can stay until Monday.” MJ orders

“This is it. I have no other clothes.”

“What? You are a slave. We can share. It’s no problem. David took me shopping when I arrived with nothing from LA.

“You should tell me the story of your escape from Woodland Hills. Did Bubbles cry when you left.”

“No. But I did.”

“How sweet.”

“Shut up.”

Jim chats us up as we drive to Lausanne. We opt to ride up front with him in the Rolls.

MJ digs for gossip about me and Freddie.

“I hear you have Freddie’s ear and keep track of everything going on at the Lake House,” MJ is all ears for any dirt, especially about me.

“No fair,” I complain. “The Knobs always make up crap about my sexuality. Now you think something interesting is going on.”

“I can assure you that Freddie never sleeps with the musicians, including Laz,” Jim clears my name.

“How disappointing, Mike whines.

“Why are you so interested. Maybe you should go through puberty before you get to know details about other people’s sex lives.”

“Well, you deny all. I feel sorry for you.”

“And you?”

“I’m getting over sexual abuse.”

“That explain Bubbles?”

“Boys. No one wants to know about your teen fantasies. I’ll tell you one thing, Laz. Freddie is head over heels about you, but only due to your musical abilities.”

“Yeah, I’m the one man band that Freddie thinks will get the boys back from London. I doubt he’ll have me in the band once they return.”

“That song Mike wrote and you produced blew Freddie away. He’s a big disco queen but knows Brian will not let the band go disco.”

“I call it electronic dance music. If it gets air play on BBC-1, maybe EMI will release it.”

“Don’t expect much from the label.’

I sing the Sex Pistols’ EMI

“They said you were a punk rocker. Don’t expect Freddie to go punk.”

“I have great hopes for Bowie. He’s a chameleon, always changing his image.”

“You said you don’t want to be a punk,” Mike reminds me of my decision to not look at my file.

“Not the kind of punk that the news portrays – skinhead racist nihilist scruffy bores.”

“Do you know Bowie’s latest hit  ‘Heroes?’ It came out on last year. It has a verse that is just like us, Mike sings

‘I, I wish you could swim

Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim

Though nothing, nothing will keep us together

We can beat them forever and ever

Oh, we can be heroes, just for one day’

Written by: Brian Peter George Eno, David Bowie

Lyrics © TINTORETTO MUSIC, Universal Music Publishing Group, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

It describes our swimming sessions. But punk is about ‘no heroes.’ Maybe that’s why Bowie says it won’t last.’

“It’s called ‘Heroes?”

“Yeah, ‘just for one day.’

“Let’s show Bowie our swimming tandem routine. I bet he gets it.”

Jim describes the genesis of the song, ‘He wrote it in Berlin after seeing lovers at the Wall.”

“That’s what makes it sad,” Mike says.

“Maybe he’ll write a song about us that isn’t tragic.”

“You think we’re tragic?”

“Only if we were lovers. That’s a formula for tragedy.”

“Okay, we’re all about comedy when anyone implies we’re lovers.”

“Cause we’e lovers and that is a fact,'” he sings.

“’No, we’re not lovers, and that is that,’” I sing back at him.

We sit there holding hands. That is tragic.

Jim laughs, “You boys are so much fun.”

We approach the Bowie Castle gates. The Rolls is waived through. The Thin White Duke meets us at the front entrance.

“So, you’re back. Not ready to join the Queen circus.”

“I missed you,” Mike hugs Bowie, kissing him three times on the cheek.

“Where’d you learn to be so European?”

“We’ll tell you the whole story, but first can Laz stay until Monday morning?”

“Only if you entertain me. Of course, he’s welcome.”

“Let’s go to the pool, so we can show you what we learned this morning.”

“Change into your swimsuits. I’ll meet you there. Let Charles know Laz is staying with you.”

I follow Mike to his bedroom.”

“Who’s Charles?”

“He’s the valet.”

“Is he a Valley Boy like you?”

“I call him a Personal Assistant, like I had on the movie set. And, no, he’s Black like me.”

“Your own a slave.”

“Are we having our first fight?” I kid him.

“Don’t be ordering him about. You should learn some manners from him. Not all Blacks feel they are slaves.”

“No, but you need to listen to me. We’re singing ‘Heroes’ before swimming like dolphins for David. It came out last year when you were dead.”

I have no memory of that song. “Sing it to me.”

“It’s slow and repeats itself a lot. Just sing back up to me, if you can control your need to always be in the spotlight.”

“I can be the star in the pool. But teach me the song.”

A Black man of indeterminate age is waiting by Mike’s room.

“Charles, this is Laz. He’s staying with me for a few days. We need to learn one of Mr. Bowie’s newest hits. Can you set up a record player? It’s on last year’s ‘Heroes’ album.”

“Nice to make your acquaintance, Laz. Let me know anything you need. I’ll set up the player in the second-floor lounge.”

“Later we plan to sing at the pool. Could you find two bathing costumes for us.”

“Of course. Does Master Laz have luggage?”

“No. We will share my clothes while he’s here.

“Very good,” Charles gives me a superior look. I am not happy to be referred to as ‘master.’

We watch as Charles sets up the record player and selects the LP album to play the title song/track. It opens with the dolphin verse.

‘I, I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim
Though nothing
Nothing will keep us together
We can beat them, for ever and ever
Oh we can be Heroes, just for one day’

Songwriters: Brian Eno / David Bowie

Heroes lyrics © Warner/chappell Music Scandinavia Ab, Tintoretto Music, E.g. Music Publr. Ltd., Wolf Cousins

It blows me away. It is slow but that draws out my emotions. First time through I am crying, especially because the dolphin swimming reference is exactly how Mike and I have bonded.

“Don’t cry,” Mike has tears in his eyes. “We will sing this for David. I bet we get him to sing with us. Then we will all dolphin in the pool, hoping he joins us.”

We hug and dry each other’s tears. We sing along to the record. I let Mike take lead and echo the end of each line. At the end we will all sing together – just for one day.

We are all smiles as we meet David at the pool.

“Ta dah,” we jump in front of him with our arms spread wide.

Mike tells our tale, “Laz was teaching me to swim in the Lake. After talking about us being slaves to Freddie and you, we sang ‘Young Americans.’ by the Lake this morning. Your fans recognized us as the Americans on stage with you.”

“The gay boys from Taboo?”

“No way. A teen recognized us from the show and asked how we could be friends, one Black and the other White. Then he kissed us both like we just did. We promised to return.”

“I can hardly wait. I need younger fans.”

“We changed the lyrics to ‘We are the Young Americans.’” I explain.

“The fans liked you?”

“We sang about ‘the dues we have to pay.”

“Were any fans young like you two.”

“They all were. They want to be Young Americans, too.”

“That’s not the point of the song.”

“They don’t care about the point. They just want to have fun.”

“How shallow,” David complains.

“They saw us having fun. Then we did the dolphin verse from ‘Heroes.’”

“You sang that?”

“No. We went in the Lake and acted like dolphins. Wanna see?” Mike wants to show off his newly acquired swimming prowess.

We get in the water and sing the intro through the dolphin verse.

‘I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can beat them just for one day
We can be heroes just for one day

And you, you can be mean
And I, I’ll drink all the time
‘Cause we’re not lovers, and that is a fact
No, we’re not lovers, and that is that

Though nothing will keep us together
We could steal time just for one day
We can be heroes forever and ever
What d’you say?

I, I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim

Though nothing, nothing will keep us together
We can beat them forever and ever
Oh, we can be heroes just for one day’

Written by: Brian Peter George Eno, David Bowie

Lyrics © TINTORETTO MUSIC, Universal Music Publishing Group, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

“You changed the lyrics,” he notes.

“Only so it is about us. ‘We won’t be lovers but just for one day,’” Mike sings.

We sway in unison as we sing. After the dolphin verse, Mike clasps me around the neck. I push off the bottom of the pool and swim butterfly with him on my back up and down the large pool. We undulated in unison. Bowie is entranced. It is a cheesy Esther Williams act.

We sing the rest of the song, with Bowie now in the pool and taking the lead. He grabs me around the neck and I pull him up and down the pool, undulating like a dolphin and stroking butterfly. We hug at the end. Mike insists on another ride. We hug when done. I am exhausted but feign nonchalance. I collapse onto a pool chaise. Charles arrives with lemonade for the young Americans and a mojito for David. He lets us sip the rum drink and Charles comes back with mojitos for us as well.

“Thank you for the entertainment. I seldom enjoy doing my own songs. Your version is certainly refreshing,” he toasts our performance. “What’s next?”

Such a demanding host.

“Can we write a song together,” I am inspired.

“You’re non-stop,” David complains.

“Strike while the iron is hot.”

“We’re just young and both of us lost some of our youth. We need to make up for it.”

“So, we will write about being young?”

“Right. For the boys we met at the Lake.”

“That means we can’t be slow and ponderous,” I insist. “It makes us move, if not exactly dance.”

“You sayin’ I’m boring?’

“’Pin-ups?’”

Bowie looks pained. “I had six albums in the charts when that came out. I may have been a bit inspiration fatigued.”

“A bit? What happened in 1973 to ‘Space Oddity?’”

“Not every song is going to be a hit.” Mike to the rescue.

“Sure, when an album has to have 14 tracks, you can skip the losers, like Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’ on The Dark Side of the Moon.”

‘Okay, let’s not write a loser.”

“It’s a single. It has to stand or fall on its own merits,” I declare.

“Brian Eno from Roxy Music helped me write ‘Heroes.’ He has this box of 3 x 5 cards with specific musical phrases. He pops them into songs to provide bridges and choruses.”

“Like paint by number art?” I laugh.

“It works. Mike says you cried the first time you heard ‘Heroes.’”

“I cried because the dolphin lyric speaks to my heart. It was the words, not the musical phrasing that got to me.”

“You want to write the lyrics before we have the music?

“I don’t want to fit words to the music. The words should create their own music.”

“It’s more like a feedback loop: the words create a mood; the mood creates a tonal resonance; the tone creates more words; et cetera,”

Bowie has been writing songs for over fifteen years with scores of charted hits. Maybe he likes to collaborate, my only hope for writing with him.

“Let’s sit here and come up with the basic idea or ideas for a song before going into the studio. The lyrics and music can be added there.”

“Where do we start?”

“Okay,” I grab the bull by the proverbial horns. “1. We know who we are writing for – the boys at the Lake who already love you. 2. It will be about their lives, not ours. 3. It has to make them move. 4. It is three chord rock n roll, not all jazz and saxophones. 5. It is short and sweet. 6. It sounds like kids wrote it. I guess that’s it,” I know what kids want.

“Since you are kids, you two will write it?”

“No. This is a song for all the Bowie kids, like us. We know what we want. We want you.”

“Give me a line to work with.”

“Okay, ‘When you’re a boy’…” Mike starts.

“’Other boys check you out,’” I add.

“’Nothing stands in your way,’” Mike knows.

“’Life is a pop of the cherry,’” David adds his English twist.

“You’ll pop her cherry,” Mike is a wise ass.

“Stop,” Bowie rejects the inuendo.

“Okay. ‘You get a girl.’”

“Boys always work it out,’” I break the rhythm.

“All that is good. Now we need a bridge,” David moves the song along.

“’Life just kissed you hello, when you’re a boy.”

“Try, ‘Luck just kissed you..’ Boys always want to get lucky,” David laughs.

“Now the chorus,” he orders.

“’Boys…Boys…Boys always work it out.’” Mike sings.

“That’s it. Let’s sing it and adlib new lines as we sing. Then we’ll add the guitars and drums in the studio.

“Do you remember all the lines,” Bowie asks.

“I do,” we both answer. We all laugh. All of us are singers in our own bands (I think I must have a band somewhere). Words just come to us. This song was so easy. Now we cannot screw it up in the studio. I am tingling with excitement. We really are a band with our own song about ourselves. The music will come from the excitement

David has the studio set up by the house engineer. We sit and write down the lines we already have. Then we arrange the order that makes more sense. Bowie puts two lines together, ‘Boys keep swinging, Boys always work it out.’

We set up. Me on drums, Mike on keyboards to add the bass, and David has this hollow base acoustic guitar.

“No, David. Get that SG you wouldn’t let me play. This song is for kids, not hippies,” I scold him.

“But I play this guitar best.”

“Get over your old Davie Jones self. This is for kids. Play like Johnny Thunders.”

He shakes his head but goes back for the rockin’ guitar.

Finally we are set. The first time we are hesitant about playing and singing. Each take we add a new line or two of lyrics. We like it better and better. At first we start with ‘Boys..Boys..Boys always work,’ but then we move that  to the middle section of the song. About the fifth take, we settle into a comfortable rhythm. Whenever we slow down, I thunder on the drums to keep up the fast pace.

David calls me a ‘bloody punker.’ I laugh. He’s a perfectionist which has nothing to do with punk. Finally we have all the lyrics we need. David adds an intro that starts the song with a military march beat:

‘Heaven loves ya
The clouds part for ya
Nothing stands in your way
When you’re a boy


Clothes always fit ya
Life is a pop of the cherry
When you’re a boy
When you’re a boy
You can wear a uniform
When you’re a boy
Other boys check you out
You get a girl
These are your favorite things
When you’re a boy


Boys
Boys
Boys keep swinging
Boys always work it out
Uncage the colors
Unfurl the flag
Luck just kissed you hello
When you’re a boy
They’ll never clone ya
You’re always first on the line
When you’re a boy
When you’re a boy


You can buy a home of your own
When you’re a boy
Learn to drive and everything
You’ll get your share
When you’re a boy


Boys
Boys
Boys keep swinging
Boys always work it out’

Songwriters: David Bowie / Brian Eno

Boys Keep Swinging lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Tintoretto Music

“We can add a screamin’ sax at the ending. It’s too short,” David decides.

“No!” I scream. “We can just play it again.”

Well, David wins that argument, but promises ‘no saxophones’ at our live performances.

Now all we need is to get the Knobs to do another pop-up, so we can play it for the kids there.

We finish by making a tape of the new song.

“We can play it for the kids by the lake when we go swimming,” Mike suggests.

“Why not play it live at the Lake tomorrow?” David needs a performance fix.

“Bring your acoustic guitar, keyboards for me, and bongos for Bongo Laz,” Mike loves showing off his swimming expertise.

“Sure. Why not?” we all agree. I wonder how far we can go doing free performance before his manager/agent tells David it is not allowed. If it is fun, I believe he wants to do it. But we do not want to blow MJ’s cover.

I go into the storage closet and take out the spare SG. I cradle it; it feels so comforting. I feel I must have played an SG in my forgotten past.

 I rip the Johnny Thunders’ lead to ‘Personality Crisis.” David matches my leads.

MJ jumps on the mic. His high alto vocals lack the David Johansen growl but match the screams of our two guitars. We play the whole song through.

“Do the Jackson 5 play real rock when not on stage?” I ask Mike.

“No way. I am a closet rocker.”

“Here, try the bass. It’s just like the keyboard, all major chords. Just upside down.”

He plugs in and starts off ‘Shake Your Body’ with the chorus.

‘Shake, now shake

Shake your body’

We are in hysterics.

“We’ll call our song, ‘Boys Keep Swinging,’ in homage to the Jacksons,” I suggest.

We switch the lyric, ‘Boys..Boys keep working’ to ‘Boys.. Boys keep swinging, Boys always work it out.’

We take a break by the pool again. Mike jumps into the deep end and sinks right to the bottom. I watch him struggle to swim to the surface, finally jumping in and pulling him up.

“I was drowning,” he gasps, hanging tightly around my neck.

“Let’s stay in the shallow end from now on,” I suggest as I swim breaststroke toward the shallow end. He leans back with his arms tightly hanging onto me.

“That’s exciting. Maybe I need to hire a lifeguard,” David is concerned.

I have Mike swim on his stomach. As long as he propels himself forward he does not sink.

Time for dinner. I suggest we eat fish.

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