Kristofferson as Bowie
Photo by Taylor Balkissoon

By Adam Lerner
Photos by Taylor Balkissoon
Published Issue 026, February 2016

Kristofferson: Did you know David Bowie personally?
Adam: No, he was in the stratosphere.

But you’re a fan, right?
Of course. I used to have a magazine ad for the Ziggy Stardust album on the wall of my office.

 Wait, as an adult, you hung up a magazine ad? You do know that most art curators put art on their walls.
Yes, I know that. It’s a little silly but you remember The Laboratory of Art and Ideas at Belmar, the experimental place I founded in Lakewood, Colorado? (Kristofferson nods, pretending to remember) When we moved into a new building, I wanted to decorate the walls of my new office with the things that inspired me, not necessarily just art. On eBay I found a 1990 magazine ad for the re-issue on CD of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. You know there are people who razor ads out of magazines, put them in plastic sleeves and sell them for a living.

 And apparently there are people who buy them. (Rolls eyes)
People in my office made fun of me as well. But I was completely taken by this ad. It appeared 18 years after the album was initially released and the headline read: “Whether You Know it or Not This Album Changed Your Life.”

Did it change your life?
 Even though I always loved the album, I wouldn’t have put it that way until I read that line. The record came out before my time so it felt like a testament to an era when people thought music could change the world, an age of belief.

 I’ve always felt that it captured the malaise of the 1970s. Its message is that the malady of the world is so great only someone from outer space could heal it.
Yes, with rock music. And just now are we starting to see that rock music as a whole might have a finite life span, even though in Bowie’s day it seemed like it was an inevitable part of the future.

 It’s interesting you say that because I’ve been thinking that in the war of rock versus disco in the 1970s, it’s clear now that disco won.
Only if you think Beyoncé belongs to the legacy of disco. But with the benefit of distance we see that differences between time periods are much more profound than distinctions between categories of music in the same period. You are right to point out that the Ziggy Stardust album carries with it the misery as the counterculture neared its end. But it’s embrace of the countercultural project of changing the world is partly what gives it urgency and bigness. What else could summon The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars? Its scale was mythic because it was part of a world-project. And I think I was drawn to the ad made 18 years later because it carried some of that bigness. It said: No matter who you are, your life is not the same as it would have been had this never existed. It’s is an incredibly strong assertion about the power of art and the durability of ideas. And I like to think that Bowie did in fact change my life in ways that I am not entirely aware.

 I am sure he had a role in making contemporary life more theatrical.
Oh, that’s interesting. What do you mean?

Bowie dressed up. And dressing up is now more a part of our our lives than it has ever been. In an age where standards for how to dress are increasingly up for grabs, when there is no longer a widely understood proper way to dress for work, school, or leisure, then we are all, in a sense, dressing up. Like Bowie, we develop the costumes for the roles we want to play in the various segments of our lives. It’s revealing that the 1972 album spoke to changing the world and the 1990 headline addressed changing your life. Bowie is a harbinger of an age where life is style.
It seems like you’ve learned something from these little conversations we’ve been having.

Kristofferson as Bowie
Photo by Taylor Balkissoon