Young Americans came on the radio on the drive back from dropping my daughter off at school this morning. When this album was released in 1975, I was a DJ in my hometown’s first disco, The Hideaway. This song, along with Fame from the same album, were my favorites in the stacks that autumn. They had an authentic, organic sound grounded in Philly Soul, and thoughtful lyrics that went way beyond most of the rest of what we played, which I found to be repetitious and trite.*
I’d heard lots of Bowie before, of course, and couldn’t resist the hooks in songs like Space Oddity or Suffragette City or Rebel Rebel, but his persona put me off and frightened me. I was under 18 and living in a conservative Evangelical Christian home. David Bowie and people like him were threatening and dangerous – worldly, seductive, transgressional. In the case of Bowie, that was obviously his intention.
The Young Americans album changed me. It began to change my view of the world. It wasn’t the only influence in this regard, but it helped to make me more questioning of conformity, more interested in things under the surface and more accepting of others. It prompted me to recognize and confront my own homophobia for the very first time. Allowing myself to enjoy the music pushed me to consider how silly it was to feel frightened by another human being merely because they weren’t quite the same as me. Aren’t we all different?
By the time Patti Smith’s Horses came out later that year, I was ready to listen .
* …if sometimes plenty of fun. Remember That’s The Way (Uh Huh, Uh Huh)?