Welcome to America:
A conversation with Michael Oberman
Roger Griffin • November 2017
Bowie is met by Ron Oberman at Washington Airport, January 1971
Michael Oberman: Happy to see that my brother Ron and I made it into your book on David Bowie. I was devastated when I learned of his death...and honoured that he spent his first day in the U.S. with my family.
You were indeed one the first friendly faces that David Bowie found in America. He’d already been called a ‘fag’ in the airport!
As a music columnist from 1967 to 1973, I interviewed over 300 artists including Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jeff Beck, Otis Redding and, well, hundreds more. Bowie was so special. It really felt like a family dinner and then back at my house in Takoma Park, Maryland, Bowie saw his first bong. We had bamboo and plexiglass bongs at my house and David was curious about them. It seemed as though he hadn't seen one before... but that might not have been the case. He didn't partake.
There was a band called Sky Cobb hanging out at my house that night and they had the bongs going. I had no idea there was a party going on and the band had no idea who David Bowie was. The drummer in the band went on to play with Emmylou Harris in her Angel Band. He is now a well known photographer in L.A. and still embarrassed that he pretty much ignored David that night.
Not surprised DB didn't partake. He didn't like grass and was very put out by the Rochester bust five years later, since the stuff wasn't even his.
Michael and Ron Oberman at their parents' house with Bowie
People always ask me if David was holding a joint in the photo taken in my parents’ living room. I explain that it was my father’s business card. My father was regional manager for a brewery and that was part of the pre-dinner conversation.
Did he check out your dad’s brewery?
There wasn't enough time. He did look at some photos of the brewery and photos of celebrities holding cans and bottles of National Bohemian Beer. David also got to see my 1955 Dodgers v Yankees World Series ticket with Lauren Bacall's and Humphrey Bogart's autographs on it. The brewery had given us a trip to NYC for the 1955 World Series. I was only eight years old. Bogart and Bacall were sitting in the row in front of us. My mother told me that if I asked nicely she was certain they would autograph my ticket. I did and they did.
When did you shift from journalism to photography?
I left writing to work for Warner/Elektra/Atlantic Records. Left WEA to manage artists and at age 50 embarked on my photo journey. I am also working on a book that incorporates some of my interviews with stories that I couldn't write for [The Washington Star]. My weekly column was limited to 500-700 words, and I had to leave out the "good stuff." My first piece on Bowie was August 2, 1969. My second piece was around the time of his visit.
You can see some of Michael Oberman’s beautiful work at www.michaelobermanphotography.com