What started out as a post, turned into an all-star concert

david bowie photo
David Bowie

In the immediate wake of David Bowie’s passing, fans worldwide rushed to social media to commemorate the  genius by posting statuses with lyrics to favorite songs, iconic music videos, and favorite Bowie moments.

In New Orleans, drummer Carlo Nuccio took to his Facebook page the morning following the news of Bowie’s death to share his own Bowie eulogy after finding words when there really are none: “If ever a single entity, force, art form or man existed, that seemingly ripped away the before and painted a new now, that presence was David Bowie,” he wrote.

Nuccio went on: “His music didn’t so much address the politics of the world stage, rather those within. In a time that most rockers needed a voice, he became a screaming monstrosity of a bullhorn.”

Nuccio’s words of grief and praise went viral after resonating with those who found it amid the influx of Bowie posts that morning. Many thanked him for his ability to say what they couldn't.

He spent a day remembering Bowie and reading celebrity reactions, post-mortem speculation on his final album Blackstar, which surfaced as a premeditated, autobiographical requiem. He watched impromptu televised tributes. By the end of it, Nuccio posted, “If a David Bowie tribute is done in New Orleans and I'm not the drummer, whoever is the organizer will feel my wrath.”

Nuccio thought little of his wisecrack, but it gained traction. The comments section filled up with fingers pointed at Nuccio to make one happen. Singer Debbie Davis joined those who wanted Nuccio to take the lead when she wrote, “I was hoping you would be at the helm of such an operation. Keep me in the loop if you hear anything.” Within 23 minutes, Nuccio replied to Davis announcing that he’d already started.

That show, titled "Painting a New Now," takes place Monday night at the Civic Theatre.

Once he committed to the project, support came quickly from local musicians, many of whom eagerly offered up their talents. Part of the fun for Nuccio is that it many of the performers are associated with New Orleans music. “All of these people you would think never really listened to David Bowie came out of the woodwork saying, Oh my god, you don’t know what this would mean to me,” he says.

For Susan Cowsill, the project seemed like a natural. In recent years, she's established herself as much as an interpreter of music as a writer of it, with her Covered in Vinyl series giving her an opportunity to perform music by others. She thinks Bowie’s ability to transcend genres explains his appeals to local artists. Bowie influenced her artistically as much as Elton John or Cat Stevens: “His versatility was pretty amazing," she says, "He could do a straight-up pop song and then he could do something absolutely out of the box, and I think for a lot of us it it brought out our musical spectrum.”

Cowsill says that Bowie’s non-conformity--his trailblazing, gender-bending, fabulously glam alter egos--is his fundamental connection to New Orleans. “Bowie exemplifies individuality, fabulousness, and eccentricity,” she says. “Bowie is a kindred spirit, a son of New Orleans in all those fashions. You saw that second line for him here in town. That said it all as far as David’s impact here.”

Cowsill will be joined by resident musicians Debbie Davis, Reverend Spooky LeStrange & Her Billion Dollar Baby Dolls, Michael O’Hara, and many more New Orleans favorites.

Tony award winner Michael Cerveris will be flying in from New York City to pay tribute to Bowie.  The Broadway star owes his lucky break to Bowie after singing “Young Americans” in two auditions, which landed him his first breakout roles in the TV show Fame and in the starring role in The Who’s Tommy.

A shared vocal range cemented a bond between Bowie and Cerveris, who noticed when growing up in the '70s that Bowie’s baritone voice was just like his. Because of that, he credits Bowie for being his first rock 'n’ roll teacher: “After years of singing along in my bedroom into my hairbrush and pretending I’m a rock star, I think it had a real influence on how I sing in general,” Cerveris says.

Growing up in a small town in West Virginia, Cerveris described his relationship to Bowie as sacred because “there wasn’t a lot of support for my Bowie habit among my family and peers.” In private, he binged on Space Oddity, fascinated by Bowie’s new, trippy symphonic sound which opened up this whole other world for Cerveris as an adolescent:

“That [was] what Bowie was for me, besides the musical gateway drug that he is. For me and for a lot of people, he opened the door to alternate lifestyles and ways of seeing the world. I connected with that world of outsiders and fringe kind of people. I was made a bigger person by exploring his music.”

The tribute performers' stories all involved an adolescent memory of Bowie where some sort of musical epiphany occurred at first listen: Lena Prima, daughter of music legend Louis Prima, said she was 19 and in a rock band when her bandmates asked her to sing “Suffragette City.” After this introduction to Bowie, the New Orleans singer's obsession didn’t stop. “I was an ‘80s rocker chick but I loved all his hits from that time, like 'Young Americans,' 'Rebel Rebel,' and 'Changes.'  'Fame' was my favorite.”

Danny McGough played in the first incarnation of The Continental Drifters with Nuccio, and he [remembers working at a record store called Licorice Pizza when he was 14, where he was able to indulge in all of Bowie’s latest music: “I would buy a record I hadn't  heard every week,” he says. When Diamond Dogs was the newest album popular among his friends, “I bought Hunky Dory.”

Nuccio summed up his lifetime experience with Bowie’s influence in his Facebook farewell. Before Bowie, the drummer says, there was a cookie cutter status quo: “Black suits, white starched shirts, glossy shoes, nice little dresses, good manners and dainty little lives,” he wrote. After his emergence? "A new now--a  world painted over, where “even the wind seemed to be in color.”   

As the project moved from conception toward presentation, Nuccio's excitement grew. In a recent status update, he wrote, “Just returned home from an absolutely surreal rehearsal for the big David Bowie tribute, at the Civic Theater, this Monday. This is going to be one of the most amazing shows I have ever be lucky enough to be a part of. Everyone was there with homework in hand and delivered their A game. I am honored and eternally grateful to have such genius musicians in my life. Thank you all for letting me push this operation and thank you David Bowie for being such an inspiration to us all.”

If you're thinking of going to the show, buy tickets through the links on this page and My Spilt Milk will get a piece of the action from Ticketmaster. Thanks.