TAKIN' CARE OF BOWIE
and the END OF ROCK & ROLL
David Bowie performs "Isolar I" on the Mid-South Coliseum stage in Memphis, TN on March 6th, 1976. I thought this was the last Bowie Memphis performance. Fitting, since Bowie's Memphis performance's fit so perfectly before the death of the King of American Pop Culture.
I was wrong.
Thanks to some key information from Michael Jewell, who specifically collects artifacts from Bowie's "Isolar II" Tour (The "Stage" Tour), I was told that Bowie performed "Isolar II" at the Mid-South Coliseum on April 14, 1978, nine months after the death of Elvis. Michael even offered up a ticket stub. This particular concert had been mentioned in the Elizabeth Dollarhide "Super 8" essay that I had just published, but the "Isolar" term was "alien" to me, other than "solar" seeming to have affiliation with "sun". I admit I passed over it because it fell after the death of Elvis, and therefore seemed less important to me.
Regardless, Bowie returned to Memphis one last time following the death of Elvis to play the Mid-South Coliseum. Elvis's last date in Memphis had been at the Coliseum on July 5th, 1976. That moment in time just happened to be the 22nd anniversary of the night Elvis stepped into Sun Studio and recorded "That's All Right" with the Blue Moon Boys, his unconsciously astral-named band (Bowie's band had been from Mars). Anyway, this may have been the last important numerological event in Elvis' life, except of course for the date of his death.
Meanwhile, Bowie, also on RCA, and also the user of the lightning bolt icon (as "Aladdin Sane) might have hoped that Elvis was in the crowd for Isolar I. He could have been. Elvis did not leave for his Spring tour for another week or so. Unfortunately lightning did not strike twice.
I did not know what "isolar" meant, so I looked it up...
isolar (first-person singular present indicative isolo, past participle isolado)
Bowie wants to perform music in this period which sets himself apart from the Glam Period, though "Heroes" (as much as a single song than an album) has been said to end Bowie's Glam period in 1977. But in 1978, Bowie is still using a tour namesake that began in 1976. That is striking. Especially from someone who prided themselves on an ever-changing identity. The "Isolar II" tour brings his complete period of German recordings into a live setting, and deep in the American Mid-South.
Elvis had a German period (beginning in 1958) which did not yield a musical revelation, but did begin twin addictions: Isolar I: a 14 year old girl named Priscilla. Isolar II: his introduction to amphetamines. (Ironically Bowie had gone to Germany to get away from drugs - while Elvis was turned onto speed by his army sargent). Bowie is as much doomed as Elvis from being the "identity" of a certain period in rock and roll. However, Bowie regains his musical footing in Germany. Bowie is European to begin with. Perhaps Bowie's trip from London to Germany has displaced similarities to Elvis moving from Tupelo to Memphis.
All willing, imagine a pop culture world that demands film footage of Bowie shaving his eyebrows, as we have with Elvis getting his head shaved.
Regardless, Elvis loses his original appeal with that army haircut and forced "isolation" across the water. This physical move may have triggered the death of his mother Gladys, "isolated" in a hospital room back in Memphis.
I state that the death of American Rock & Roll begins with the twin occurrences of Elvis leaving America, followed closely by the death of his mother. Imagine if you will, the next time you see the footage of Elvis reacting to the death of his precious mother, that he might subconsciously be reacting to the death of rock and roll. The "isolation" of the Army has forced Elvis to grow up and face responsibility.
BEFORE and AFTER
If a musical tour from an outside source could seemingly predict and react to the death of Elvis, "Isolar I" and "Isolar II" are subconscious bookends. Bowie performs "Isolar I" in Memphis before Elvis dies, and mere months before Elvis will take that very same "stage" for his last performance. Bowie returns to the same "stage" following the death of Elvis for "Isolar II", to bring the curtain down.
Is this a gift from one Capricorn to another? Elvis and Bowie shared the same January 8th birthday - as well as troubled relations to a brother; Elvis's brother, Jesse, was "isolated" in death, and Bowie's brother, Terry, was "isolated" in life). In retrospect, the Memphis Isolar "twin" tour dates function as religious rites, on either side of Elvis's life and death - and the death of American Pop Culture.
Following the death of Elvis, Bowie may have insisted that the "Isolar II" Memphis date be added. Isolar 2 is then performed as a wake (and recorded as the record "Stage"), Elvis' having died only nine months earlier. I, like Michael Jewell, would love to hear this particular show. I am curious if Bowie acknowledged Elvis's death from the stage in Memphis that night. At the time, I was fourteen and living one hundred miles away in Mississippi, "isolated" on a gravel road.
If "isolar" means secluded and isolated, then Bowie was merely attempting to describe Elvis' everyday situation as the alpha rock star turned quintessential lonely man, slowly dying and withdrawing from the American public. Bowie saw Elvis in Vegas in 1972. But Bowie's hope's that Elvis would drive ten minutes over to midtown to catch his show were never to be realized.
September 28, 2013
Note: I state that Rock and Roll's death occurred in the Fall of 1973 and was heralded by the October end of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in London - and the October 1973 Divorce of Elvis and Priscilla Presley in Los Angeles/Memphis. In Memphis, Bowie plays Ellis Auditorium until 1974 where he switches to the arena facility of the Mid-South Coliseum. Raw Power (1973) is the last Rock & Roll album (produced and disowned by Bowie for it's un-produced garage-like clamor). ROCK music begins in 1974 with Kiss's first record, Queen's second and third record, and the "attitudinal switch" for arena "rock" shows with no black influence in the music (no "& roll") which would soon open the doors for METAL. This is why the Stones are exiled on main street. Raw Power also becomes the first punk record. "Rock & roll" survives under a punk rock identity until punk ends in 1977 when the Ramones enter the charts, the Pistols cover rockabilly, Bowie ends his creative cycle with "Heroes", and Elvis dies. The aftermath keeps rock & roll music interesting until 1984, which covers the majority of hardcore punk music.
After the death of Elvis, Western pop music becomes more than what it needs to be and less than what it was.
Note: Rockabilly was as specifically regional to the South in 1954/1955 as Glam was specifically regional to London in 1970/71. When Elvis signs with RCA in November, 1955 (receiving more money than any recording artist ever), Rockabilly ends by going national. Rock and Roll begins between November 1955 and the release date of Elvis's first RCA record. When Bowie brings Ziggy to America, I believe that Glam ends and is assimilated into the American identity of what Rock and Roll needs to be to stay alive. Even Bowie, affected by the "changes" shaves his eyebrows and becomes "Aladdin Sane"in America - which he said is "Ziggy in America". Most causal fans of Bowie don't even realize that Ziggy Stardust had a different (more down to earth?) physical appearance in the beginning (before he came to America). Even though Elvis was already in America, he came from the South, which 90 years earlier had fought the United States. Therefore Northern (yankee) critics hailed Elvis as something from outer space, whereas for Bowie, it became an identity.
Note: Bowie "Isolar II" Tour.
Also known as the "Low","Heroes" or "Stage" Tour".
Memphis: Mid-South Coliseum Manager, Edward Bland, Concert promoter, Bob Kelly.
Bowie's band stayed at The Airport Hilton, 2240 Democrat Rd, Airways Blvd.
Special Thanks to Michael Jewell. Please send any artifacts or information regarding the Bowie Isolar II tour (1978) to email@example.com