There was never a moment in my childhood that I thought about being a male model. Yet, by my mid 20s, I was featured in some of the biggest fashion campaigns, billboards, magazines, runways, and commercials of the 90s and early 2000s. It literally became an accidental career that has spanned for 23 years and counting. Modeling has also managed to co-exist with my acting career….kind of like a couple that stays happy because they’ve learned not to judge each other.
My modeling career began in the middle of an epic hangover. I had recently returned from touring Europe in the Broadway Musical, Hair. I was living in the East Village of Manhattan with my soulmate…a black lab named Cambe. I was the lead singer of the rock band, Hundred Pound Head, and the male half of two of arguably the craziest bartenders Black Star has ever had. I only worked the bar on Saturday, so I spent my free time auditioning for theater, going on long walks with Cambe, and writing music. Ok, and nursing hangovers just like the one on this day.
It was winter in New York. I was gently woken by the cool sensation of Cambe’s wet chin on my arm. On my late mornings, he would wake me by tapping his chin along my arm or leg until I opened my eyes. I raised up to let him out while I got dressed and started coffee with the percolator. My apartment at that time was an artist’s den. I was renting a basement level studio with a large back patio. It was large enough to accommodate about 12 people, 3 guitars, and a $12 Kingsford grill. It often did. The patio was a private little, magic cove because it was the perfect spot for Cambe to pee in a corner while waiting for his sluggish, best friend to go for a walk. It was also enclosed by an 8ft wooden fence that held no challenge for two branches that loomed over it, gifting us peaches in the Summer, and mystery grapes in the Fall. The yard on the other side was void of human life, but occupied by an abandoned nursery of fruit trees.
I believe that your Life is a composition designed by the elements you infuse from the directions you choose. These elements are constantly berating our senses as we travel on our paths. Picture running down a hallway with mounted paint sprayers shooting thousands of color combinations from every angle. This may actually sound fun and exciting for some, or just very messy for others. Either way, you can take off your clothes and wash the paint from your body. In Life, the elements don’t just wash off. They seep into your brain, skin, even your Soul as they influence the shape of You. They develop the filter through which you experience things, and people…how people and things experience you.
So Cambe and I walk 3 blocks north on 1st avenue to Commodities. This was (as far as I know) the first raw food grocery store in NYC. I tie Cambe’s leash to a tree. We have our usual conversation with deep eye contact, where I tell him not to bother with time. Know that I love him and I will be back. He gets it, but still gives me the saddest eyes he can muster. I grab some green tea, mixed nuts, and an avocado, then make my way to the checkout line. It was unusually busy and the line was moving so slowly that I had to keep stretching my neck over people’s heads to check on Cambe, who by now is convinced that he’s been left stranded forever. As I exit the store and head to the excited pup I am intercepted by a man in his mid 20s who looks as if he’s been running for blocks. In between heavy breaths he manages to say, “Sir. Would you mind if I took your picture?” This didn’t surprise me. Quite frankly I had been approached this way several times in my life. What he said next is what threw me. ” I am working for a casting director on a Brooks Brothers campaign. My boss would like your picture.” In my adult life I had never even owned a suit. Brooks Brothers was something I associated with the male elders in my family. Not only that, at the time I was wearing a thrift store deer skin coat, loose fitting jeans and timberlands. Let’s not forget that I’m hungover and probably still smell like bourbon. The guy sees that I’m staring through him as I’m pondering all those factors. He adds, ” Please sir. If I don’t get your photo I may well get fired.” That snaps me out of my self consumed trance. I say, “If that’s the case, go ahead and take it.” He snaps away while Cambe barks in protest. We go our separate ways.
Two days later I receive a call from the casting agent. Apparently, the Brooks Brothers ad team needs to meet me. Up until now, I had been on stage sets, music videos, tour buses..etc. When I say 90s models were treated like ROYALTY, I’m not kidding. I arrive at a Chelsea studio. I’m greeted by an assistant who takes my coat, then leads me to a craft table. I had a boiled egg and a piece of toast for breakfast. This table was lined with ahi tuna, roast beef, lemon and herb chicken, cous cous, grilled vegetables, caprese salad, and broiled asparagus with parmesian shavings. I remember this exactly, because it was my first experience with real craft service. I immediately wrap some ahi tuna in a napkin, to save for dinner later….survival instincts. Then I make a proper plate to eat while I wait to be called on. One thing I’ve always noticed is that the women working as crew and office personnel for the fashion industry are always hotter than the models. I think it’s because they are wearing the same high end fashions as the models, yet behaving in a practical way. That’s frigging sexy! Maybe it’s just me.
Peter Lindberg is one of the premiere fashion photographers in the World. When I got to the set, which was a blocked off section in the Wall Street area, Peter said “David I’m going to follow you around. Just be you.” I had no idea what I was doing, so that at least made things easy. The makeup people, however, screwed my mind because they didn’t touch me, except for chapstick on my lips. They thought my hair and skin were perfect. This was my first experience with physical ideals vs personal self talk. Uh…Ladies? I immediately equated it to the “woman experience”. These complete strangers thought I was beautiful. They believed that my image would cause their brand to grow. That’s some deep shit.
What if I was born looking different? Then this experience would have never happened?
We continue to shoot. At one point, Peter says something like, ‘your smile could make you famous.’ So, as a journeyman and self proclaimed warrior, my first thought was “Eww!” Then my second thought was, “bring it motherfucker. I can do this all day!” Yeah, sometimes my second thought is a drunk chick that is talking shit and hoping she doesn’t have to walk her talk. It’s kind of crazy cause I’m a pretty strong guy and could probably do serious damage in any physical confrontation. So let’s not tell anyone about the second thought chick? Cool!
I’m now on billboards around the World. I’m being flown to various cities in the U.S. only to walk a runway once in a suit that is tailor-made for me. Banana Republic picks up on my apparent rise. I’m now the BR guy. I’m flown to France to do a Celio Men layout. Remember, I’m an East Village knucklehead with a beautiful black lab, and an awesome guitar. I already traveled Europe as a dirty hippie (zero code here). Now I’m being flashed around the World as this classy, well dressed dude who exemplifies success. Meanwhile, my favorite thing to do is roll around on the floor with my dog. This entry is not about the discomfort that comes with being a household face and a regular guy at the same time….different entry, different time. I did, however, have to alter my public behavior. People expected things. To be honest, it was pretty cool to be recognized by fans of designers, or products. Lots of free drinking and attention. The thing is, it never stopped. It became a career. To this day, random people stop and stare and point at me like I’m a Zoo animal.
I try in every public situation to be a positive Model Citizen. It doesn’t always work. At times, I’m actually really bad at it. I’m selfish. Starting this entry has opened me up to so many more angles I should be addressing about being a Model Citizen. I don’t want to become confusing to the reader; I know you’re more than a reader. Your intellect is as boundless as your imagination. I fucking salute you. I love you. I totally know that psychologically, this is going to affect someone positively. I will sleep well tonight. I pray the same for you. Stay tuned……