[A note from Tim Jackson: John Tarnoff is one of the clearest and most compelling thinkers/communicators I’ve ever encountered. I asked John if I could share his poignant memory of meeting David Bowie. He graciously agreed. More about John and a link to connect with him follows his remembrance below.]
I met David Bowie once. It was for a meeting about a film that Greg Coote and I wanted to make (and ended up making) at Village Roadshow called THE DELINQUENTS (1989) which went on to star Kylie Minogue and Charlie Schlatter. Bowie held the rights to the underlying novel and had been developing the project with producer Alex Cutler and his partner. It was a small, moody period teenage working class love story set in the 1950s in Australia, and we liked it, but we wanted to jazz it up a bit and make it – as we say in Hollywood – “more commercial.”
Greg and I wanted to persuade Bowie to work with us, and his manager set up the meeting as he was in town. We met at the bar at what is now the Sunset Tower, then newly renovated as the St. James Club. When Greg and I arrived, Bowie was waiting for us. It was late afternoon and the bar was deserted. He was sitting alone on the banquette against the far wall facing out into the room – it might as well have been a throne and we were the courtiers coming to beg for an indulgence.
I was struck by how thin and pale he was – the “thin white duke,” indeed – and how relaxed, humble,friendly and engaged he was. We talked about the project, and he was very clear and very firm about the way he saw the story. Surprisingly, though, he was very open to letting us proceed to make the movie our way – but without his participation. Perhaps he had lost interest in the property, or realized that the tiny art film he envisioned would be too hard to finance. Perhaps he had other projects that were occupying more of his attention and it was just time to let this one go. Alex Cutler might want to weigh in…
Whatever the case, I remember leaving the meeting in a bit of a daze. Maybe it was just from simply having had a sit-down with “Bowie.” Maybe it was how incongruously “normal” the meeting had been. Looking back, I realize that, like with most if not all stars, we confuse them with their art. We think they are their art, but of course they’re not. “Bowie” was the vehicle through which, David Jones created what he was compelled to create. Perhaps that’s what struck me that day – that I had had a meeting with David Jones, not David Bowie; that I had actually had the privilege to meet with the artist behind the persona.
Greg’s gone. Now Bowie’s gone. Little bits of life getting chipped away… And those of us who are still around (for the moment) trying to find meaning.
As an executive in the motion picture industry John Tarnoff oversaw films as diverse as DINER, THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY, PINK FLOYD (THE WALL), and BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE. He co-founded Village Roadshow Pictures. John was a pioneer in the digital space and worked alongside Jeffery Katzenberg as an executive at Dreamworks Animation before turning his attention to teaching at Carnegie Mellon and imagining a fresh approach to helping Baby Boomers reinvent their careers after age 50. Find out more at johntarnoff.com and check out John’s soon to be released book at boomer reinvention.com
About the David Bowie photo: Janet Macoska has been a keeper of the flame for Rock & Roll and a documenter of it’s many manifestations in Cleveland for over 40 years. She graciously provided the photo in this post. Check out Janet’s remarkable book, All Access Cleveland here: www.allaccesscle.com