The day my dad scolded Bowie: 'I'm a poet, you're just a rock star'
Goh Poh Seng recalls conversation poet dad had with David Bowie that sparked decades-long friendship
The late Cultural Medallion winner Goh Poh Seng almost went bankrupt when he sponsored and promoted the Singapore leg of David Bowie's Serious Moonlight tour in 1983.
Staging a rock concert in early 1980s Singapore was very challenging, said Dr Goh's son, film-maker and poet Kagan Goh, 46.
In the end, only about 1,000 people turned up at the show.
Despite this let-down, what ensued was a warm and long-lasting friendship between Dr Goh and the late rock star, said Mr Goh from Vancouver, Canada, where he is now based.
Ms Christine Lim-Labossiere, the chief executive officer of Merging Media Production, helped The New Paper reach him there.
After that initial meeting in 1983, father and son met Bowie again 21 years later in 2004.
It was Bowie's final Vancouver show, held at GM Place as part of The Reality Tour.
Dr Goh, who was living in Vancouver then, wanted to see Bowie again.
Said Mr Goh: "By then, my father was already suffering from Parkinson's.
"We went to the concert and later tried to go backstage to meet him. The security and the organisers were sceptical when this old Chinese man and his young son claimed to know the rock star."
Dr Goh Poh Seng. PHOTO: ST FILE
Despite the long line of rich and famous people waiting to meet Bowie, it was Dr Goh and his son who were asked to go in.
"You should have seen the shocked faces of these rich and famous socialites as we were ushered in to see Bowie," Mr Goh said.
Then the man behind the classic Space Oddity did something totally unexpected, which touched the Gohs deeply.
He embraced Dr Goh and when told he was suffering from Parkinson's disease, Bowie held his friend and kept him steady throughout the meeting.
"He also gave me a hug when my father introduced me," said Mr Goh.
"He asked what I was doing and when I told him I was a film-maker, writer and poet, he asked to see some of my writings. He even invited both of us to visit him and his wife Iman in their home in Switzerland any time we wanted to."
Mr Goh recounted how this friendship that "lasted over distance and time" had actually begun with a rocky start.
Only about 1,000 people attended Bowie's concert in Singapore. But the English singer was the consummate performer, giving his all despite the rather poor turnout, he added.
Bowie’s Serious Moonlight tour in Singapore in 1983. Only about 1,000 people attended the concert at the National Stadium. PHOTO: ST FILE
"My father had invited Bowie and his musicians to our home to listen to a live performance by classical Chinese musicians," Mr Goh said.
Although his band turned up, Bowie himself declined.
"He sent a note through his personal assistant, saying that he did not 'fraternise with concert promoters'.
"My father sent Bowie a message through the same personal assistant, telling him that he is 'only a rock star. I, however, am a poet'," Mr Goh said.
He remembered Bowie turning up later, "hat in hand".
"He apologised for his rudeness. I remembered they sat down later and talked. They talked about art, literature, music, poetry and freedom of speech.
"My father told Bowie that while people in the West take freedom for granted, poets and writers in Asia had been imprisoned for their writing. I guessed he was fired up by my father's words - he and his band kicked off the concert like a squad of guerilla soldiers on the rampage," he said.
Bowie also left a deep impression on Mr Goh, who was then 14.
"I remembered this really tall blond man in a baby blue three-piece suit smoking a cigarette. He came through the airport in Singapore and planted a kiss on my high school friend Bernice Heng's cheek...
"I also remembered how I was unnerved by his intense stare. I was following the band around while they were making a short clip," he said.
"I felt he could see my very core."
He apologised for his rudeness. I remembered they sat down later and talked. They talked about art, literature, music, poetry and freedom of speech.
— Mr Kagan Goh (above), on what happened after his father, the late Cultural Medallion winner Goh Poh Seng told David Bowie off for declining his invitation to visit
David Bowie, the rock 'n' roll legend
ROCK STAR: David Bowie performing in a 1999 photo. PHOTO: REUTERS
David Bowie was born David Robert Jones in Brixton, England, on Jan 8, 1947.
Known as a musical chameleon for his ever-changing appearance and sound, Bowie was exposed to the world of rock music by his older brother Terry.
His first hit was the song "Space Oddity" in 1969, inspired by Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. The song resonated with the public, both in Britain and the United States.
His next album, The Man Who Sold the World (1970), further catapulted him to stardom.
As the original pop chameleon, Bowie became a fantastical sci-fi character for his breakout Ziggy Stardust album, signalling a new age in rock music.
By the mid 1970s, Bowie had undergone a full-scale makeover. Gone were the outrageous costumes and garish sets.
He later co-wrote "Fame" with John Lennon, which became his first American No. 1 single in 1975.
His interests didn't just reside with music. His love of film landed him the title role in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). In 1980, Bowie even performed on Broadway in The Elephant Man.
Bowie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.
He kept a low profile for several years until the release of his 2013 album The Next Day, which went to No. 2 on the Billboard charts.
The following year, Bowie released a greatest hits collection, Nothing Has Changed, which had a new song, Sue (Or in a Season of Crime).
Last year, he collaborated on Lazarus, an off-Broadway rock musical, which revisited his character from The Man Who Fell to Earth.
He released Blackstar, his final album on Jan 8,, his 69th birthday. Bowie died from cancer two days later, on Jan 10.