If you’ve read my Sigma Kids recollection (http://bit.ly/293BtGs), you already know I was friendly with David Bowie and members of his band, during the mid-Seventies.
Bowie et al returned to Philadelphia in late 1974, as part of the tour introducing the world to Young Americans and the singer’s new direction. As could be expected, I attended the concerts. Before one show, Elaine, a very attractive Sigma regular but not one of the small group eventually invited into the studio, introduced me to her acquaintance Debbie,
So, our story picks up after said concert, outside the Barclay hotel, where David and the musicians are once again lodging. To my surprise, Debbie, who I’d never seen at any of the Bowie fanatic activities in the past, showed up at the hotel. To my dismay, it was minus Elaine.
Still, Debbie was cute, we were both single, the ice had already been broken via the earlier introduction, and we were mildly flirting. Bowie guitarist and super-nice guy Carlos Alomar came out of the hotel, greeted me and then informed us (presuming Debbie was my girlfriend, I suspect) “Don’t tell anyone, but we’re having a party at a place called Artemis, if you know where that is. And you can come as guests.”
I most certainly was familiar with Artemis, a Center City side-street watering hole where the lights were always way down low (read: “cheaters bar”.) The narrow establishment had an upstairs area with a full bar and sound system, occasionally rented out for private parties and never open to the public.
And as you can imagine, I was not about to blow off such a superlative invitation.
Jump forward one hour. David and his paramour Ava Cherry were seated at a table with a few others from his entourage, so I didn’t get much change to interact with him beyond a wave and a “hello.” Nonetheless, drinks were flowing, good music was playing, and Debbie and I were among those dancing, the overall mood being quite festive.
Until the Philadelphia Police Department decided to crash the party.
This was during the Police-Commissioner-turned-Mayor Frank Rizzo era, when the cops were as hard-nosed as their boss and had a national reputation for playing rough. Music suddenly stopped, lights turned up and strapping lads with guns and badges at the door had everyone on edge.
I was under the legal age to be drinking alcohol in a bar, had a joint in my cigarette pack, and my pocket contained a taped-up chain I carried for protection at the time—otherwise known to the legal system as “carrying a concealed weapon.” Backup singer Tony Hinton was terrified, telling me he had not registered for the military draft, a federal offense.
Nobody had the slightest idea what to do.
Even the normally very composed Bowie looked (understandably) nervous and frightened. As he snaked through the crowd as though looking for another exit, I called out “David” when he got near, eliciting a highly out-of-character curt “What?”
When he looked over and saw it was me, I went “You’ve got…” miming “something on your face,” it being a lipstick trace. Knowing I could be trusted, due to the whole Sigma party secrecy pledge, his tone softened as he asked if I wouldn’t mind wiping it off. After I complied (yes, fans, I have touched David Bowie’s face), he smiled slightly and said “You’re all right!” which just about made my decade.
We all essentially stood around or meandered, no one wanting to run the risk of antagonizing the police by attempting to slip out. It remained a mystery why they were even there. The music was not loud enough to disturb the few neighbors, there were no fights or similar security issues, Artemis was fully licensed, and it’s certainly not against the law to throw a private party.
Granted, a few of us were underage. However, since there wasn’t any “probable cause” for the cops to intrude, any resultant arrests would have been thrown out of court.
But who the hell wanted to spend the night in jail, regardless of celebrity company, and have to hire a lawyer to sort out the mess?
Ultimately, the Artemis owner worked his magic with the police, and we—nerves frazzled, tired and resentful over the unwarranted intrusion that sucked all the life out of the room—were “allowed” to leave, none of us in handcuffs.
Oh, and after such a hot “first date,” Debbie did become my girlfriend. At least until she returned to her coven in Salem.
(This completes my “Bowie trilogy.” The first being the aforementioned Sigma recollection; the second, found here: http://bit.ly/29ahKUM. Oh, and there’s also a brief story about spending time in David’s hotel room, it within this article: https://bit.ly/2JxkHCn)