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Portland Musicians Remember David Bowie

Dave Depper, a life-long Bowie fan, pays tribute at Baby Ketten Karaoke.

Dave Depper, a life-long Bowie fan, pays tribute at Baby Ketten Karaoke.

April Baer/OPB

Bowie fans of all stripes were letting off steam this week. On Tuesday, fifty people crowded into Baby Ketten Karaoke at Mississippi Pizza.

Just a couple of days ago, producer, drummer and DJ Scotty McGee had watched the new Bowie video, “Lazarus” with his collaborator and fellow Bowie fan, Ural Thomas.

“And afterwards he says to me, ‘Scotty, it’s like he was telling me his whole life story in this video.’”

McGee seemed a little dazed:  a final Bowie album, recorded in secret while the artist fought an 18-month battle with cancer, released two days before the announcement of Bowie’s death.  

“To me it feels more like he’s disappeared than he died, which is the coolest artistic exit.”

McGee’s choice for karaoke? “Kooks” from 1971 – Bowie’s love song to his newborn son.

Scotty McGee says, "It’s not too difficult to see [Bowie's recent album release] as his parting gift to the world."

Scotty McGee says, “It’s not too difficult to see [Bowie’s recent album release] as his parting gift to the world.”

April Baer/OPB

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It was no surprise to find multi-instrumentalist Dave Depper getting ready to rip through “Young Americans.”

A veteran of bands like Fruit Bats, Menomena, and Death Cab for Cutie, Depper is one of the Portland music scene’s most notorious Bowie fiends.

“I’ve got all the Bowie records at home,” Depper said. “He’s my No. 1 favorite artist of all time, by far.”

Depper was at work recording a new project when saw the news. He started to realize that the new Bowie record he loved so much, “Blackstar,” was a cycle of farewell songs.

“I’d listened to that album constantly over the weekend before he passed. Listening to it again and locking those lyrics, it was like the end of “The Sixth Sense” or something. The whole story changed. I was sobbing most of the time listening to it but I started laughing to, like, ‘Goddamn it, You played us all! You really did it.’”

Back East, Portlander Matt Sheehy was in New York to perform with the band El Vy on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.” He arrived several days early and had managed to score tickets to Bowie’s sold-out off-Broadway play, “Lazarus.” Sheehy is a lifelong fan.

“When I got to the ‘Colbert Show,’ everybody was talking about it and in shock,” Sheehy says. “One of the producers of the show asked if it was possible to play a song, potentially involve the house band. The answer was yes immediately. Then we had 45 minutes to learn our parts.”

Bowie (Center) backstage with Grandaddy. Jason Lytle says, "To this day, I don't know why he made the connection, [but] he got it."

Bowie (Center) backstage with Grandaddy. Jason Lytle says, “To this day, I don’t know why he made the connection, [but] he got it.”

Courtesy of Jason Lytle

Jason Lytle of indie space-rock band Grandaddy recalls a night in the early 2000s when the band was powering onto bigger and bigger stages. A rumor was going around that Bowie was a fan. Lytle wasn’t buying it. Then came the show in New York where Bowie was in the audience.

“I had other people tell me this: he was singing choruses and calling out names of songs, like a fan requesting songs. He ends up backstage. And he was so normal and so sweet. And he knew names of the band members; he’d done his research already and was talking to individual people. I was trying not to get too freaked out about this.”

The Dandy Warhols also first met Bowie because he was singing along. They developed a close relationship over time.

In Glastonbury in 2000, the band looked to the side of the stage during their set, and there was Bowie and his group, in their black suits, belting along. He invited the Dandies to open for him at the Meltdown Festival in London.

“He and I were emailing,” says the Dandys’ Courtney Taylor-Taylor. “And he said, ‘Shall we do a song together?’ And I said ‘Yeah!’ an he said, ‘Which one?’”

After some agonizing, Taylor-Taylor finally settled on the Velvet Underground’s “White Light, White Heat.” Bowie approved. During the set, Bowie informed the crowd he had played the same song, thirty years prior, with Lou Reed, right there in London’s Festival Hall.

After that, Bowie took the Dandy Warhols along on a European tour in 2003 and visited them in their Portland warehouse to jam and play pool. Peter Holstrom says they learned of their friend’s death on the way back from Chile.

 “The first thing I thought,” says Taylor-Taylor, “was how bizarre and unbelievably fortunate we were to be friends with someone of that brilliance and magnitude and vision. And to have him really love what we do. He was onto us early. The [Rolling] Stones found us later.”

“Through their kids,” chimes in bass player Zia McCabe. She adds the posthumous public recognition of Bowie’s work is “a good opportunity to appreciate. I’ve never witnessed a global wake,” she says.

Watch soon for an extended interview with the Dandy Warhols on the State of Wonder page.

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