Writing this week's column I realized it would be posted on September 11, a day that can never be the same for those of us that experienced that tragedy. A tragedy that seemed so long ago, yet sometimes feels like it happened just yesterday.
An essay about art today seems so small and trivial when I think about those dark days nineteen years ago. That I didn't know anyone personally who perished in the towers was a miracle in itself, but in the days and weeks ahead, every lost life seemed so personal. My dad was a retired fireman and I remembered how he sat in his recliner watching the endless funerals of the fireman and policeman on TV with the same honor and respect that he had for the men he worked with; a true brotherhood.
So I decided to pass on writing this week because, although I could not imagine a world without art, this one day of the year is about remembering and honoring those who left us on that September morning.
But...sometimes the muse sneaks in through the back door and shows us something really worth sharing.
While at the studio yesterday I heard a brief story on the radio about rock legend David Bowie and his incredible relationship with his local Tribeca firehouse. If you don't know who Bowie is, google him. For those who do, it is safe to say he is regarded as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. Over the decades David Bowie would recreate his persona for almost every album, his most famous as "Ziggy Stardust". Ziggy was an androgynous rock star who is sent to Earth. Bowie's album "Ziggy Stardust and the spiders from Mars" would be his most iconic creation both theatrically and musically, while launching him into the realm of super rock stardom in which he would always be known as the Starman.
I can't answer how or when Bowie became so enchanted by the life of the local fireman, but he was all in. The rock star who could still fill stadiums well into his sixties now was cooking Spaghetti and lobsters weekly for the guys in the Tribeca firehouse.
September 11, 2001 would become the darkest day in the history of New York's finest. New York would lose over 412 emergency workers, 343 of them firefighters. In those days and weeks ahead David Bowie was right there cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, even attending funerals. The dedication and passion that made him perhaps the greatest entertainer ever, was now converted into service for those who put their lives on the line every day, and he did it joyfully.
Okay, if you're saying, "Touching story, Mike but how does this tie into art?" Alright here's the payoff and worth waiting for!
Bowie owned an incredible private art collection of paintings, sculpture, and various other collectibles. His collecting was not financially motivated. He was motivated by his love for art. Among his many musical and theatrical talents, David Bowie was an accomplished painter as well.
A few months after Bowie's death in 2016, his wife Iman and their lawyer contacted the eight firemen from the firehouse who had survived 911. They were informed that David had left each one a very valuable piece of art from his collection. Each painting was worth over a million dollars. His only request was that they did not tell the press about it.
Perhaps art cannot take away the pain of that tragic day, but in the weeks after, musicians including Bowie came together for the “Concert for New York City” raising millions of dollars for the families affected by the attack. For a little while Americans were distracted from the tragedy with some great music and entertainment. Sometimes the artists job is not to just entertain, in fact they are at their best when they serve others.