(Trigger Warnings: Addiction, Disordered Eating, Pedophilia)
Countless articles have been written about David Bowie’s influence, especially as it relates to queer culture. I never had the opportunity to see him perform while he was alive, yet fate had it that the day after he died I saw a brilliant performer named Raquel Cion cover his songs in a tribute show already scheduled to celebrate his 69th birthday.
It felt cosmic since I wholeheartedly believe that seeing Raquel Cion perform Bowie’s songs is truly the next best thing and the closest one can now come to experiencing Bowie’s musical artistry alive and in person.
Cion is one of the most diehard Bowie superfans this world has ever known and a brilliant singer and performer in her own right. Her show Me & Mr. Jones: My Intimate Relationship with David Bowie seems an inevitable conduit for her idol’s spirit while wholeheartedly imbuing every song she covers with her own radiance.
As Raquel entered through the audience singing Moonage Daydream bedecked in her glam rock glory, I found myself weeping. Her sultry jazz voice paired with rockstar bravado was as undeniably captivating as her storytelling.
She spoke of how she spent her teenage years skipping school to avoid her classmates who yelled slurs at David Bowie’s visage painted on the back of her leather jacket and instead found refuge in back-alleys and bars amongst the sort of queer people her classmates antagonized.
Raquel tells the story of seeing her principal cruising for sex, and in her full Nina Hagen-styled punk getup waved hello to him. Yet what stayed with her most from that exchange was the young hustler she witnessed climbing into her principal’s car. She describes the boy in a way that conjured the Peter Hujar photograph Christopher Street Pier #2 (Crossed Legs).
“I do wonder if that feathered blond boy survived. I doubt he did. I hope he did. I doubt he did.”
As she spoke mournfully of this stranger, representative of an entire lost generation, and sang Teenage Wildlife medleyed with Heroes, illustrating the danger and precariousness of growing up at that time.
Much of the show was devoted to the concept of Limbic Resonance, the scientifically proven chemical reaction in the brain which can be triggered by music, resulting in the feelings of love, euphoria and feeling understood. Raquel reflects on how the concept relates to her relationship with “her david” as she calls him, and how experiencing David Bowie’s music to her is love. His is the voice that scores her life and that she has heard more than any friend, lover or even her own.
She sang Rock ‘n’ Roll With Me, colored by that feeling of limbic resonance and connection to David Bowie, resulting in the most heartfelt and relatable sort of love song I’ve ever heard.
Throughout the show Raquel reflected on instances of being told she cared too much about her David, feeling genuine concern whenever he seemed frail or in danger. She focused on his physicality in the film Cracked Actor and his antics on Dick Cavett show, gnawing on his cane. Cion spoke of how drugs endangered her David just as they affected her then lover, and although her and her lover parted ways, she watched as Bowie recovered and got clean.
Raquel hypothesized that in spite of David’s constant shapeshifting, the fact that he never legally changed his name from David Robert Jones kept him grounded enough to pull himself out of holes such as addiction. “I think that’s what saved him.”, Cion said.
As she continued, telling both David’s story and her own, Raquel spoke of how, when photos from the rehearsal room of the New York Theatre Workshop production of Lazarus surfaced that same dread and sense of concern once again arose. Much like his days of living on milk, red peppers, and cocaine, David was far too thin.
Raquel spoke of how she knew. Between the pictures and the cryptic messages woven into Blackstar, she knew before it happened.
As she elegized her David, singing Dollar Days she exited through the audience. When she left the space the feeling of losing David was palpable, both David Bowie, the monumental figure, and David Robert Jones, the constant cosmic companion in Raquel’s life.
Raquel returned without her rockstar armor- small and vulnerable, and spoke of her own Cancer diagnosis not long after David’s death. Her level of openness and resilience as she bared the truth of her chemo treatment and grief, antithetical to the bombast she began the show with, felt just as compelling and breathtaking.
Raquel spoke of how, even after death, Bowie’s spirit sustained her and kept her going through the David Bowie Is exhibit. She synthesized her continuous “soul love” with David with the song Days, singing:
“In red-eyed pain I’m knocking on your door again, my crazy brain in tangles pleading for your gentle voice. Those storms keep pounding through my head and heart I pray you’ll soothe my sorry soul. All the days of my life, all the days of my life- all the days I owe you.”
Since seeing this iteration of Me & Mr. Jones, I keep thinking back to what Raquel said of the rehearsal room of Lazarus during David’s final days. “If I was somebody I’d be in that room.” It breaks my heart that Raquel and her David never were able to collaborate since I truly believe that no other performer in this world is more worthy of being considered his progeny. She truly embodies the full scope of David Robert Jones’ legacy and then some!
I vehemently urge anyone with even a passing interest in David Bowie and his music to witness Raquel’s spellbinding love-letter when Me & Mr. Jones returns to Pangea this winter: December 15th and January 8th (David Bowie’s Birthday)
Theatre Kid / Actor / Playwright / Cabaret Performer / Dramaturg / Feminist / Playbill Rescuer / Queer / Nonbinary (They/Them Pronouns, Please)