I didn’t understand what ‘once in a lifetime’ meant in 1987; not truly, and nor for a long time after. Maybe not even, really, until today.
I met David Bowie in ‘87, working the ‘Glass Spider’ concert in Brisbane. Not like it is today, but like it was then. Contact direct with the artist.
Hosting the first two concerts of his Oz tour, the Entertainment Centre was not even two years old, and Brisbane had never experienced anything close to Bowie’s ‘Glass Spider’ rock-theatrical extravaganza (nor had the world, if derisive reviews of the time are a reference). Brisbanites sat in their seats, stunned, agog, able to put their hands together in applause, but barely little else.
Bowie was devastated.
He came off stage confused and pacing. He walked in circles around one of the backstage rooms, head bowed, looking at the floor, his questioning going something like this: “What is wrong with them? I just gave the concert of my career and it’s like they’re dead. Didn’t they like it?”
His manger leaned casually against a bench, arms effortlessly folded, cool and serene, but with a fixed stare firmly in our direction. An answer was expected. I looked at my boss and she at me and one of us, I can’t remember who, threw out something along the lines of, “no, no, they’ve just never seen anything like this before, but they really like it; listen, the applause is still going.”
Bowie cocked his head, listened, seemed unconvinced but more calm, and between he and the manager agreed we were like a ‘Japanese audience’ – polite and reserved; wildly different to what he’d experienced at Lang Park previously I suspect, possibly because of this concert’s thought-twisting trailblazing theatrics, possibly because of our new state-of-the-art venue, possibly because of a bit of both.
Either way, Australia missed out on being included on seven of Bowie’s subsequent world tours and didn’t play here again until 17 years later, in 2004. His last.
Despite burning the stage after the last concert in New Zealand – ‘a relief,’ he said – ‘Glass Spider’ went on to be recognised, years later, for its ingeniousness as well as its influence on the ‘bigger, bolder, better’ gig get-ups we’re used to today.
Like almost everything else he did, David Bowie set the tone. His Stardust. It’s too hard to say goodbye, so instead, Let’s Dance.
Suzanne Snape is a Brisbane-based publicist and was head of The PR Company until 2013.