CLEVELAND, Ohio – Mike Garson has made it his mission to celebrate David Bowie since the singer’s death in early 2016, just two days after his 69th birthday.
And he’s not letting a global pandemic derail him, either.
Since 2017, the keyboardist, who worked with Bowie from 1973 to 2004, has been touring with alumni and guest singers. The 2020 tour and this year’s editions, of course, were derailed by COVID-19, so Garson pivoted in virtual space, and in a big way.
âA Bowie Celebration: Just For One Day,â airing Friday, January 8 (which would have been Bowie’s 74th birthday), will feature over three dozen alumni as well as longtime Bowie producer Tony Visconti , joined by a corps of guests who include Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins, Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople, Joe Elliott of Def Leppard, Gavin Rossdale of Bush, Adam Lambert, Lzzy Hale, Perry Farrell, Oscar winner Gary Oldman, Macy Gray, Duran Duran and others.
The company had Garson, 75, in his studio for weeks, spending 15 hours a day putting together files for almost 40 songs – and somewhat impressed with what he did.
“You know, I thought I’d just do a Mike Garson little piano party and play and talk, and all of a sudden he’s a freak.” I don’t know how it happened, âsaid Garson, surrounded by instruments and computers, laughing over Zoom from his home studio in California. âMaybe it’s because the virus has humiliated us or everyone is sitting on their asses doing nothing, but all I know is it’s the simpler question.
âI ask people to go on tour and they don’t want to go out (to play) six nights a week, but it’s easy. It’s like Live Aid in the virtual world, or Woodstock.
And Garson is well aware that the ease is due to a universal high regard for Bowie, a chameleon icon best known for music (27 studio albums and 128 singles) but also for acting, fashion and painting as well as for pioneering work online – such as the BowieNet 1998 Subscription Service – and in finance, with its 1997 Bowie Bonds titles.
âPeople don’t do it because of me. They do it to celebrate David. We all have David in common, âadmits Garson. âThere have been so many phenomenal artists over the past 50 years, but there’s something about (Bowie) that transmutes over everything else. Its influence on actors, singers, producers, songwriters, fashion people, performances – it’s different in the way it passes through the generations, and the effect of that.
âMany of these artists worked with him or knew him well, and then there are even some who were not born. It’s very heartwarming, and it’s very, very deep.
It’s deeply personal to Garson, of course. The New York native received a classical education and notes that Bowie’s music âis not the soundtrack of my life,â which in his case was jazz and the Great American Songbook. But from the moment Bowie heard Garson through experimental artist Annette Peacock and brought him on board for the final leg of the Ziggy Stardust tour in 1973, they found a soul mate. Bowie has harnessed this spirit for 10 studio albums – starting with the 1973 title track “Aladdin Sane” – and over 1,000 concerts with 14 different Bowie bands.
âWhen David passed away, it was hard for me. More than I expected, âGarson recalls. âWe haven’t dated much, but when you’ve been in a 40-year relationship and you’ve played together as much as we have, there’s a closeness. It’s like a wedding of music. His talent was so phenomenal … I feel like I have to honor him and make sure people still have a chance to hear this music. It’s as classic as Gershwin or Cole Porter, you know?
Garson is hoping that âJust For One Day,â which airs for 24 hours – and raises money for Save the Children Fund, a Bowie favorite charity – will eventually be released commercially. In the meantime, he continues to compose his own music and plans a 2022 tour to celebrate Bowie’s 75th birthday – not necessarily as involved as virtual extravagance, but just as heartfelt and, Garson hopes, entertaining.
âYou know, there’s only one David Bowie,â Garson notes. “If I could resuscitate him, I would bring him out and do his songs.” But the second best thing is to have people who love it, who are very sincere in their interpretation of music, and who work very hard.
“This is the best substitute I can find.”
âA Bowie Celebration: Just For One Day! Â»Premieres at 9 pm on Friday, January 8 and streams for 24 hours. Tickets through rolllivestudios.com/bowie. Tickets start at $ 25, with merchandise packages available. Part of the profits are donated to the Save the Children Fund. Updates via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.