The Internet is full of reminders today that David Bowie died exactly one year ago. As if I could forget. Gentle friends, it’s time I came clean and confessed. You see, it’s my fault. I may have killed David Bowie. Kind of. Probably. In a way.
I didn’t mean to! It was an accident, I swear. Let me explain.
One year ago today, I took the train from Zürich to Montreux, Switzerland, a charming, small town that spills down the side of a mountain into Lake Geneva. Montreux is a mecca for music lovers and historians, for many reasons. It is the home of the eponymous Montreux Jazz Festival, as well as the Montreux Casino (see box note, below), which sits right on the Lake’s edge, and used to house the world famous Mountain Studios where the likes of the Rolling Stones, Queen, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Phil Collins, Yes, Duran Duran, Sting, Michael Jackson, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King, Marvin Gaye, and, of course, David Bowie came to record music history in relative peace.
The band Queen bought Mountain Studios in 1978 for tax reasons, and owned it until 1995. Queen had recorded many albums there, even before they bought the studios. Indeed, their album Jazz was named as a hat tip to the Montreux Jazz Festival. Queen and David Bowie—who lived nearby in Blonay at the time—wrote and recorded Under Pressure in a spontaneous, one-night jam session at Mountain Studios.
Freddie Mercury recorded his final tracks there in 1991, just before he died. They are some of his most emotional, transcendent vocal achievements; astounding, especially, given his weakened state. The cover of Queen’s subsequent album, Made in Heaven, features the breathtakingly powerful statue of Freddie that now stands on the shore of Lake Geneva at Montreux, “the place at which Freddie had written and recorded his last songs, and which had so inspired and influenced him.”
Now, Mountain Studios has moved, and in its former place inside the Montreux Casino is the Queen Studio Experience, an exhibition of a dizzying array of Queen artifacts, including the recording deck where Under Pressure and all of Freddie’s last songs were recorded. Proceeds from the Queen Studio Experience go to The Mercury Phoenix Trust, funding education, research and outreach projects fighting HIV/AIDS in honor of Freddie Mercury.
Okay, so…back to me killing Bowie.
A big fan of Queen, Freddie Mercury, music in general—and, of course, David Bowie!—I had to stop in Montreux for a few days on my way to the Matterhorn. As you can imagine, many of the lodging options in Montreux are music themed, for the entertainment of the thousands of visitors that come for the Jazz Festival, as well those, like me, who come to see the glittering shrine to Freddie Mercury that is the Queen Studio Experience. I stayed in one such place, the TraLaLa Hotel.
Every inch of the TraLaLa is covered in music memorabilia and photos of music luminaries who have graced the shores of Lake Geneva at Montreux for the Jazz Festival. Each room at the hotel has a theme inspired by a particular musician. Given the fob on my room key, I thought I was going to sleep in the Prince Room (who, I swear, I did not kill).
But, lo! When I opened the door, I realized I was in the David Bowie suite. It was a special room, too, because Bowie is a very popular local figure around Montreux. Not only did he, as I mentioned above, live very close by in Blonay for many years, but, he married Iman in nearby Lausanne, and had a home there as well. He was good friends with Claude Nobs, founder and director of the Montreux Jazz Festival, and even designed the 1995 Festival’s promotional poster. He only performed at the Festival once, in 2002, but it was a very memorable show, locally, as he jokingly invited the whole audience back to Nobs’ house afterwards. So, it was an honor to stay in the David Bowie room, let me tell you.
There he was, Mr. Z. Stardust and his spooky, different-colored eyes…staring intensely, right at me as I lay in bed, trying to sleep. (Yes, I know his eyes weren’t really different colors, but just looked that way because one pupil was dilated from an injury during a boyhood fistfight over a love triangle. But, still, it’s creepy when those eyes are boring holes into you while you are trying to sleep.) I even posted on Facebook to my friends about it. They had a good laugh at me.
Clearly, it was me! It’s my fault! I inadvertently voodoo’d David Bowie by suffocating his image with a blanket. How careless of me to not recognize the mystical musical and Bowie-specific vortex that is Montreux, and to do such a reckless thing there. To be fair, though, I didn’t know he was sick. No one did, he kept it quiet. But, still…I feel responsible. Go ahead and blame me, I deserve it. I feel terrible.
So, I am sorry, Starman. I’d take it back, if I could, if it would bring you back to us. We miss you so much. For what it’s worth, wherever you are, I don’t mind if you want to watch me sleep. I’ll keep the blankets on the bed this time, I promise.