PHOTO: David Bowie visited the Oberman family in 1971 at this house on Admiralty Dr., Silver Spring, MD between Holy Cross Hospital and Georgia Avenue. Photo by Mary Ellsworth, Jan. 12, 2016.
BY BILL BROWN
Rock star David Bowie, who died Jan. 10, spent an evening 44 years ago this month visiting Silver Spring and Takoma Park, Md.
Michael Oberman posted a first-hand account of the January 1971 visit on his Facebook page Jan. 12, 2016. Bowie, he said, visited his family in their Silver Spring living room, dined at a local restaurant, then stopped by Oberman’s Takoma Park residence, where a bong was passed around. Bowie did not partake, wrote Oberman.
Oberman’s story and photos surfaced shortly after Bowie’s death, becoming an Internet sensation. The photos had been previously posted to Oberman’s Flickr account, and featured in a 2012 Silver Spring Singular blog post. The blog post was rediscovered and linked to by Facebook users following Bowie’s death.
Oberman authored a weekly interview column in the Washington Star from 1967 to 1973. He is now a photographer living in Washington, D.C., according to his Facebook page.
“I interviewed over 300 major artists including Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, The Doors, James Brown, Led Zeppelin and, of course, David Bowie. My first column on David Bowie was in August of 1969.”
Michael Oberman’s Facebook statement about David Bowie’s 1971 visit. The images include the two photos of Bowie with the Oberman brothers and Michael Oberman’s Washington Star Aug. 2, 1969 column featuring David Bowie, who was relatively unknown in the United States at that time. The column also mentions the then-upcoming Woodstock Music and Art Fair.
“My brother Ron was Director of Publicity for Mercury Records (Bowie’s American label at the time). David was already a star in Great Britain and Europe … but he hadn’t really broken big in the U.S. Ron decided to bring David to America to do a promotional tour and meet the press, DJ’s and others who could help David’s career in the U.S.”
The Oberman family met Bowie at Dulles Airport. A photo shows Bowie with Ron Oberman at the airport. Bowie was delayed by customs for a few hours because of his outré clothing. In the photo taken in the Oberman’s living room Bowie is seen wearing tight maroon corduroy pants, tall black boots, wide belt, dark maroon sweater, and shoulder-length blonde hair.
“This was David’s first day ever in the U.S. He was delighted to spend it with an American family,” wrote Oberman. “We spent a couple of hours chatting in my parent’s living room. A lot of the discussion was about the theater and stage acting.”
The photo shows the three young men, Michael and Ron Oberman and Bowie, relaxed on a green sofa in a tidy living room. Michael at the far end of the sofa waves at the camera. All three lounge with their legs crossed identically—left over right. A couple of short drinking tumblers sit on a TV tray in front of them.
Bowie is in the foreground, holding a small white object close to his face. It looks a bit like he’s holding a smart phone. But, of course, the only phones in 1971 were land lines. It seems to be an object the shape of a business card or credit card, held sideways. It is not a marijuana cigarette, wrote Oberman in response to commentators noting a resemblance.
Following refreshments, the family and Bowie went to Emerson’s Restaurant in Silver Spring.
“The hostess at the restaurant seated us in a booth and proceeded to close the curtains on our booth. We all had a good laugh over that.” said Oberman.
“After dinner,” he said, “we took my parents back home. David, my brother and I went back to my house in Takoma Park.”
Michael Oberman co-managed a band called Sky Cobb, he wrote.
“When we got to my house, the members of Sky Cobb were in my living room—passing a bong around. The band didn’t even try to communicate with David, something that some of them regret to this day. David had never seen a bong before—and, no, he did not partake of the substance in the bong.”
Bowie went to his hotel in D.C. late that night and left the next day.
Oberman said that later Bowie visited Mercury Records headquarters in Chicago. He said “Mercury had signed an oddball artist from Texas named the Legendary Stardust Cowboy. My brother played David a song by that artist. The song was a minor hit called “Paralyzed.” David was intrigued. My brother arranged for David to fly to Texas to meet the Legendary Stardust Cowboy. David was blown away and adopted “Stardust” for his new persona, Ziggy Stardust. Rock-and-Roll history was made.”