On the unassuming outskirts of Glendale, nestled between the SR-134 and I-5 freeways a few blocks west of the Americana shopping center, the Moonlight Rollerway has kept its doors open to devout skaters since 1950. The venue often holds themed nights, whether it be based on an era or an artist in particular, but Thursday evening’s sold-out “Skate Night for David Bowie” made for a colorful and high-speed celebration of the artist’s multigenre career after his passing earlier this year.
Since his early career in the ‘60s, the multi-instrumentalist’s catalog has spanned musical styles like pop, art rock, electronic, R&B and funk. He even waded into the experimental realm, as demonstrated on his chart-topping final album Blackstar which was released mere days before he died, leaving fans simultaneously mourning and analyzing the album’s complex lyrical foreshadowing of his death.
Bowie’s immense influence over music listeners all over the world manifested itself in countless tribute events that have cropped up since his death on Jan. 10 — and continue into February with no end in sight. L.A. County has been home to vast amounts of these commemorative events, from movie screenings to cover band performances, and one such gathering that landed on alternative publication L.A. Weekly’s radar was the skate night in question. Shortly thereafter, self-styled goblin kings and suffragettes travelled in droves to snap up tickets in person, selling out the event in a few days.
Of course, the right music is essential to any roller rink. Skate Night for David Bowie was proposed, crafted and soundtracked by the Moonlight’s own resident DJ, Tavis Balkin. His involvement at the rink began with a flyer advertising an opening for someone who could DJ and skate, and in the short time it took to get his foot in the door, Balkin learned how to do both, from scratch. Throughout his time as a disc jockey, he’s fine-tuned his selections for the optimal skating experience.
“Most [DJs] tend to play Top 40, which I avoid. I play mostly seventies disco and funk, eighties new wave and synthpop, and some nineties music,” Balkin said. “It makes for a more propulsive soundtrack.”
One day after Bowie’s death, Balkin thought up his tribute, and texted his manager to inquire if anyone had yet claimed a Bowie night. When he got the green light, Balkin put together a Facebook event page, the guests of which ballooned to over 3,600 “attending” and 10,000 “interested” – no wonder spots went fast. Balkin credits the event’s popularity to Bowie’s own musical prowess.
“So many people came out since Bowie has a far-reaching influence that transcends pop music,” he said.
The evening saw guests of all ages and skating levels congregating under the neon-colored fluorescent lights – just one aspect of the Moonlight’s kitsch charm. Balkin’s exclusive medley of all-Bowie tracks included hits like “Rebel Rebel,” “Let’s Dance” and “Sound and Vision,” providing the tempo to which captivated skaters strode and sang along.
Besides roller skating, guests of the Moonlight had much to occupy themselves with throughout the night. A selection of arcade games attracted the attention — and coins — of many a young Bowie fan, just tall enough to barely peek over the machine’s edge. The bustling snack bar offers roller rink mainstays like pretzels, pizza and popcorn at prices that look like they haven’t changed much since the venue’s inception in the 50s, to hungry guests’ delight. The highlight of the skating soirée, however, was the costume contest inspired by the late musician’s multiple stage personas over the years. As many of the attendees came in dressed full Bowie regalia — portraying characters like the electrifying Aladdin Sane and the slicked-back Thin White Duke — it was quite the competition.
As the event was sold out, navigation became a slight issue — novice skaters saturated the rink, gliding every which way and taking others down with them.
Despite the minor setbacks, such as the lack of an online ordering system, Skate Night for David Bowie was a tremendous success, and achieved what it set out to do: draw in all the Bowie lovers of Southern California to revel in his unprecedented musical career in a historic building. Like many in attendance, the DJ paving the way felt the solidarity on a grand level.
“I’m glad to see people this excited to be skating and this excited about Bowie and his legacy,” Balkin said.