Philly celebrates golden years of David Bowie

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David Bowie  attends a barbecue for his crew July 27

David Bowie attends a barbecue for his crew July 27

Just as the year 2016 is ending with so many celebrity deaths, Philadelphia is getting ready to mark the anniversary of  2016’s first major passing — David Bowie, who died on Jan. 10.

Philadelphia Bowie Week begins Jan. 6 with 15 events at a dozen venues, all related to the pop star — including listening parties, karaoke, cover bands, movie screenings, an art exhibition, and a reading of Bowie’s lyrics as poetry at the Free Library of Philadelphia. That week, cabaret star Martha Graham Cracker will work Bowie into her act.

There is a pile of evidence suggesting Bowie held Philadelphia close to his heart. The city embraced him early in his career with sold-out concerts. He reciprocated by recording a live album at the Tower Theater, and recording his 1975 album “Young Americans” at Philadelphia’s Sigma Studios.

During those recording sessions, a group of about 10 teenagers kept vigil outside the studio to catch a glimpse of their hero. He dubbed them the Sigma Kids. After two weeks, he invited them inside for a first listen.

“He told us everything was very rough — they had just finished laying down the tracks — but he wanted to know what we thought,” remembered Patti Brett, one of the Sigma Kids. “After hearing it for the first time, one of the kids screamed, ‘Play it again!’ He got excited, and said, ‘Really?’ We all said, ‘Yes!’ Then it erupted into a dance party.”

Brett now owns “Doobies,” a bar in Philadelphia’s Fitler Square neighborhood, which she likes to think of as a Bowie clubhouse. She keeps all his albums on the jukebox.

Almost immediately after his death, Brett’s patrons expressed their need for some kind of Bowie memorial, to collectively mourn their musical idol. “As soon as I was off the emotional roller coaster, I promised I would think about a fitting tribute,” she said.

Originally, it was to be a kind of low-key wake: watching Bowie movies at the bar, listening to records, maybe a Quizzo night. But it expanded to other venues, as artists, performers, bars, restaurants, movie theaters, and the public library all jumped at the chance to pay their respects to the Thin White Duke.

“The day that Bowie passed away, I opened early, I unlocked the doors — people just started to pour in. Some quite distraught, including myself,” said Brett. “Some people walked through the door and said, ‘I just didn’t know where else to go.'”

All proceeds from Philadelphia Bowie Week will be donated to cancer research at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Philadelphia also will confer one of its most hallowed honors to David Bowie: a beer. “Loving The Alien: a BlackStar Saison,” by Round Guys Brewing Company, will debut during Bowie Week.

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