There’s always a Lowell connection, right? Farewell, David Bowie, rock star, pop star, culture star, endlessly inventive artist. When I heard the news today, I was reminded of a story told to me by Lowell singer-songwriter extraordinaire Bob Martin. He was breaking into the music business in the early 1970s, paying his dues in clubs and coffeehouses right around the time the top record companies all wanted the next James Taylor, who had hit big in 1970-71 with “Fire and Rain” and “You’ve Got a Friend.” As the cliche goes, timing is everything, and it looked like Bob was catching a wave after a few years of playing the Cambridge hotspots like Club 47, later Passim, church basements, and folkie round-ups. In 1972, with Nashville musicians he recorded his first album, “Midwest Farm Disaster,” for RCA, one of the heavyweights.
And I hope I have the details right here. His record company brought him to New York City for a showcase event with a line-up of artists who had new work. Bob played his set, drawing a strong response from those listening. Next up on stage was something different. A young Englishman. It was David Bowie introducing “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” Bob said he just knew when he saw this glam-rock act that the music buzz was was going to change. It was going to be platform shoes and glitter make-up instead of work boots and faded denim.
But Bob survived the shift of taste and kept making songs and playing music, a half-dozen albums worth and still going, touring coast to coast and into Europe. He told me one time that as a kid he had saved a small piece of brightly colored wire from one of the carnival trucks that had set up in Lowell. He kept that hunk of plastic-covered wire as a kind of magic link to the traveling world of entertainers and performers who brought the carnivals to all the small places in America. He wanted to go where the carnival was going. He wanted to be in that vivid truck bashing down the highway to the next show. He and David Bowie both chased the carnival and caught up with it. And we all got something good out of it from them. Bob, thanks for the music and the stories.