Bowie awarded honorary doctorate by Berklee College of Music
May 8, 1999
On May 8, 1999, David Bowie was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachussetts. Bowie was also the commencement speaker at the graduation, and gave a 15 minute speech to the new graduates. On the prior evening, Bowie was also the guest of honour at a concert performed by the Berklee students.
Report by David E..
The Friday Concert: I drove into Boston and arrived at the Berklee Performance Center to see a large line out front, which quickly filed in. I stood out front for a while begging "anybody have a ticket to sell?" and finally got somebody to sell me an extra for $25. I'm in!!
Rushed down to the front and grabbed a 5th row seat, and settled in for what I hoped would be an incredible evening. For those of you that tuned into the web cast, you can see you didn't miss all that much really. The whole thing could have been tremendous had Bowie and Wayne Shorter got up to do Black Tie White Noise (which I kept praying for) but it was not to be. Instead we got two hours of Bowie karaoke from the cast of Fame. Not to be unkind, but to listen to these Berklee students sing these songs with the man sitting right there (!) was, to say the least, frustrating. Some of the numbers were OK; Fame, BTWN, were good, but had he got up and sang even one number it would have been great.
The upside to all this was that as we were waiting for the show to begin, I turned around to see all these people with cameras in the aisle, and in came David and Iman, who took their seats five rows behind me! Boy, if there's a better looking couple on the planet, I haven't seen them. That was exciting, and I spent a good part of the show looking behind me. David was all smiles and seemed to really be enjoying himself. He was dressed sharply in a a jacket, and looked great. They introduced him at one point, and he stood up to large applause from the capacity audience. Again, it was exciting, but a disappointment that he didn't join in on stage.
After the show, I tried to get over to him for an autograph, but he was quickly led out the side door, and despite hanging around afterward, it was apparent that Mr. Bowie had left the building. Oh well, there's always tomorrow for dreams to come true.
Saturday: Got into the Hynes at around 8:30 am, and spent the next hour just hanging around in hopes that I might see him enter the building, but it was pretty clear that was unlikely. So I took my place in line, meeting up with a couple of folks from last night (one true fan who flew in from England (!) and another hard-core fan whose name I'm sorry to say I forget). Anyway, I went and got a really good seat to the right, near the podium, and they came and joined me. We saw Iman come in and take her seat, and two seat from her was who we are pretty sure was Joe. This was at the Hynes Auditorium in front of around 2,500 people.
Finally, the music began and the procession or cloaked Berklee scholars marched down the aisle, and the dignitaries continued up to the stage, and THERE HE IS - Bowie in cap and gown, standing, and smiling and taking the whole thing in. I started filming on videocam and taking pictures at the same time (no easy feat).
The highlight was certainly David's speech, with his references to "Rockers, Jazzers, Samplers" (alluding to a past video presentation about the Berklee student experience presented by two students). I believe the Berklee website has the complete text of his speech. He remarked comically on Reeves ("I haven't forgotten that $900 I owe from my last semester"), spoke of Eno's calling himself a "non-musician", did a joke on "How does a tuba player answer the telephone? Hello, Domino's." He said that any advice he gives to musicians usually ends with "If it scratches, see a doctor." In all, he was his usual witty charming self, flashing the occasional killer smile, and it was just really cool. His remarks on John Lennon were very heartfelt, as was his his bit about, "this may all seem dispassionate, but every time I listen to a great solo on the fade out on a CD, I still go and and turn it Up to hear the last note." His continued love of music was the one theme he tried to get across.
I'm writing this on Monday, and trying to be brief yet inclusive of the highpoints. A bit after Wayne Shorter's very moving speech, they presented Shorter and Bowie with their doctorate degrees, and photo opportunities. Lots of cameras and press vying for position. It was a pretty big deal and very special. Then came the handing of diplomas, where the Berklee president, Shorter, and several others handed each and every diploma down the line, as the 600+ students marched up to get their diploma and a handshake and a smile from the man himself.
I filmed part of this, and then decided, I had to try again to get an autograph and figured my best bet was to see him leaving the building. I went outside around 12:00 (the whole thing was scheduled to end at 1:00, and David had to stay until the end for the marching out). I saw the two black cars that you could tell were on the call. Iman and Joe had already left at this point. So, along with the woman from England and the other guy, we hung around for over an hour, anxiously awaiting Dr. Bowie's exit, Sharpies and paraphernalia hopefully in hand.
Finally, around 1:20, I looked inside the doors, and could see a group coming out of the elevator. There was about 25' between the doors of the Hynes and the cars. And once again, in a sharp suit, there's Bowie, walking toward the doors with about 6 people surrounding him. Play it cool. I walked gently over and though they tried to block my way, I got as close as I could without being obnoxious about it, and said, "Please David, just a quick signature" and handed him my graduation invitation and marker. He went out of his way to grab it, gave a quick "BO__ 99" before handing it back and saying "Here you go mate." YESSSSS! I was so ecstatic. "Thank you Dr. Bowie!" Meanwhile, the woman from England and the other fellow just stood back, and I wanted them to get an autograph so bad, after all this woman had flown from England for god's sake, and the other guy was obviously a huge fan as well.
David walked to his car and I think stopped for one more autograph before getting into the car. I shouted "We love you David!" and off he went. And so it went. I went back home, proudly clutching my signed invitation to watch the video which, despite some jumpy moments, came out great. All in all, a very exciting couple of days and a very unique opportunity.