Jan 112016
 

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Just read that David Bowie died. Just this Saturday I was watching the Ziggy Stardust concert film and marveling at how fiercely his fans connected with him. I have spent years poking at the fact that, although I acknowledge his music is great and I love much of it, that I still couldn’t embrace Bowie. On New Year’s Eve this came up with old friends. I was reminded of the fan club insert that came with my copy of ChangesOne, one of the 3 greatest greatest hits albums in rock His fashion/mime thing never appealed to me and explained every gross misstep I would spot in a mostly excellent catalog. I used to wish he could just play music and stop making proto-Zoolander faces. What I’ve learned in just the last few years is that his entire Bowie thing wasn’t for my benefit – and that was OK. I finally realized how beautiful his thing was for the people he served. Beyond his excellent catalog, I’m glad to have him as a guide for people near and dear to me, and even as a guide for my own alien self.

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  40 Responses to “David Bowie”

  1. 2000 Man

    It was quite a bummer to wake up this morning to hear this. Bowie was the first artist that I found on my own, loved to death and then met or turned on other fans. He was really polarizing back when I was a kid and it seemed you either liked Bowie and new things OR you liked Ted Nugent and beating people up.

    That may not be true but that’s how I felt. I wasn’t a big Beatles fan so John and George passing was just another celebrity death, but Bowie was and still is the kind of music that got itself into my DNA. I’m even more than okay that he has a lot of music I don’t even like. I don’t feel like he ever let me down and when he went in a direction I didn’t care about it seemed like he knew that some of us weren’t going to follow his musical journey anymore, but that it was okay because people who didn’t care about the parts I cared about were going to get their turn to be Bowie fans. I think the world is a lesser place without Bowie in it.

  2. Some random thoughts, which I’ll update as they come to me – and which I hope you will do as well.

    Think about how much Bowie’s work and our perceptions of it added to our discussion here in the Halls of Rock. The archives are rife with passionate, funny pieces on the subject. The guys was a titan.

    As I had breakfast I switched the dial from my usual 2 sports-talk radio stations and our NPR station to our Classic Rock station. I figured they’d be playing nothing but Bowie and having DJs call in with stories about past concerts and late-night meetings. No such luck. It was corporate, analytic playlist as usual, as “Gimme Three Steps” blasted away.

    “You guys make fun of me for listening to sports-talk radio,” I said to one of my sons, “but if a sports figure as huge as Bowie died today that’s all that would be on the air.” It really bummed me out that radio wasn’t serving that purpose. Later, on the car ride to work, I realized that WXPN, our AAA station out of the University of Pennsylvania, was playing all Bowie and letting the staff mourn. The 30-year-old DJ lost me when she played a run of tracks from the Let’s Dance album, which I believe will suck no matter how long Bowie is dead, but I did get time to ponder whether any overdub sounds more out of place than Stevie Ray Vaughn’s pure Strat-through-Fender amp solo on the otherwise massively artificial sounding title track. Later I tuned back in for a mournful introduction to a song that got the DJ thinking about how sad Mick Jagger must have been. Yes, it was nice to get a laugh out of this sad news.

    The first 2 Bowie memories that came to mind for me:

    1) Gettysburg College, pt 2. Our band had just completed its second gig at some frat. A few of us celebrated the second set that night by tripping before returning to blaze through our remaining songs then branch off uncontrollably into half-baked covers. Following the set we retired to a frat member’s room to hang out. He had painted a huge version of the ChangesOne cover. It wasn’t a bad painting for an amateur, I guess, but it wasn’t by any means great. The perspective was a bit off, not to mention our perspective. We had to stifle giggles and the desire to cut up on the painting in front of the kid for over an hour, before one of our bandmates went off the deep end with a classic Bad Trip. We spent the rest of the night trying to keep him with us until everything wore off. I still need to stifle a giggle when I think of that painting.

    2) When our younger son was about 4 or 5 years old he became obsessed with Bowie’s music. We were stuck on tarmac in New York, waiting to fly to Italy. We sat there for an hour. The natives were restless. Spontaneously, our son broke out in the chorus of “Changes.” A group of guys across from us were amazed and gave him high fives. People started laughing. It was at that point that a lot of my hangups with Bowie started to drop off.

  3. 2000 Man

    I’m not friends with my kids (who are adults) on Facebook because I think they should have fun hanging with their friends without their dad knowing what kind of crazy shit it is that they do. We do have mutual friends so I occasionally see one of their posts. It made me feel good to see my oldest say that he wished he was waking up in a world with David Bowie in it. They don’t always listen to music I like but my kids always felt music was important, and I think Bowie had something to do with that.

  4. I wasn’t typically a fan of Bowie the Actor, but The Man Who Fell to Earth is the best movie role he ever did and one of the only Nicholas Roeg movies I fully like. I don’t know how it came together, but I was thinking this morning whether any movie, excluding a documentary, was so dependent on the inclusion of a particular actor as The Man Who Fell to Earth seemed to be in terms of Bowie’s participation. Although it’s sci-fi film, of sorts and should have been open to our imagination, the entire film hinges on the actual career and persona of Bowie. I don’t think the movie would have worked if any old actor had starred in it and it were simply an allegorical sci-fi movie, not informed by the actual David Bowie.

    On the other hand, I’ll never forget chickenfrank’s complaint about Bowie’s appearance in The Last Temptation of Christ. He was bugged that all the negative characters were tipped off by their British accents. Bowie isn’t terrible in that small part as Pontius Pilate, in my opinion, but he does chew up some scenery.

    Unrelated to movies, my favorite Bowie song? It’s a toss-up: “Changes” is eternally moving, while the production of “TVC15” puts me in a trance.

  5. BigSteve

    I bought Blackstar Friday morning, and I had just started digesting it. I can’t think of many other artists whose album I would buy on the day it came out. I hope it made him happy to see it through its release date.

    I was late getting into Bowie, because the androgyny/sexuality thing freaked me way out, and anything related to glamour and fashion gets in the way of music for me But Starting with Station to Station I’ve been on Team Bowie.

    I’m still coming to grips with all this. He was only six years older than I am. I’m just glad he was able to come out of retirement and prove he still had it.

  6. The first thing I ever heard by Bowie must have been an odd little song called “Rubber Band”, which was played a few times on the local AM rock station early in 1967. It took a few years, though, to make the connection with Bowie/Ziggy/what-have-you. That makes 49 years since I heard my first Bowie song. I haven’t heard Blackstar yet but I will soon.

    I’ve been (most of the time) a Bowie fan for several decades now (the jury is still out on stuff like Tonight and Tin Machine). I’m still a little bit stunned by his passing. He seemed to be one of those indestructible survivors destined to live to be 100. I won’t even try to sum up his musical legacy and his influence in a paragraph except to say that both were monumental.

  7. misterioso

    Damn. A world without Bowie is undoubtedly a less interesting world. He was clearly a guy bursting with ideas from day one. Some of them worked, some didn’t. Some worked spectacularly: recently I’ve been listening to the new Five Years collection, and really he had a whole decade of incredible work. If he lost his way in the 80s, well, so did a lot of other giants. I haven’t heard much of Blackstar yet but I thought The Next Day was very good, the best thing he had done in a long time, and made me hopeful that he might achieve a later career revival a la Dylan. I didn’t own a lot of Bowie until the Ryko reissues around 1989 or so and at that time I spent an awful lot of time making up for last time, and especially listening over and over again to Hunky Dory and wondering how it was possible that I’d never listened to such a magnificent record! Anyway, it’s obvious that his influence was huge but none of that matters to me, he was sui generis as far as I am concerned.

  8. alexmagic

    What I’ve learned in just the last few years is that his entire Bowie thing wasn’t for my benefit – and that was OK. I finally realized how beautiful his thing was for the people he served. Beyond his excellent catalog, I’m glad to have him as a guide for people near and dear to me, and even as a guide for my own alien self.

    We reach!

    This, I think, is one of the great realizations any of us can have as adults. Knowing that even if something isn’t for you, it can still be great, especially when it really speaks to the intended audience.

    I am, of course, firmly in the pro-Bowie camp. I think he’s the greatest rock star that has ever been and (though this is probably less of an accomplishment given the “state of rock”) will ever be.

    History will show that there are more than 30 Great Bowie Songs – the number that all great artists must cross, as proven by science* – and I have a genuine and abiding love of his music, but for me, Bowie ticks all the boxes for Greatness as it has always been measured here at The Hall. Look and stage presence of the highest order. A champion of winner rock and a master of loser rock as the feeling moved him. And his willingness to challenge the ol’ sincerity fallacy, arguably the lynchpin of his act, embracing that rock is performance, it’s show, and taking that to the logical end point.

    But what makes him for me, is when he reversed those expectations. Because that’s that the real truth of rock, and art in general: it’s all fake until it ain’t. That’s Bowie’s real legacy for me, and something I especially came to appreciate in recent years, the Bowie of “Rock ‘n Roll Suicide” who realized what he had become for a lot of people and maybe had an inkling just what he was about to become once that record hit. And in that moment, in that song and the sentiment behind it, he went away from the easy “I am not a role model” path and owned it, sent out a message for everybody out there who needed it that if you can hear that record and see that guy and it speaks to you then, just like he yells at the perfect moment like the consummate showman he was…you’re not alone.

    “Just turn on with me, and you’re not alone.”

    That’s art in a nutshell to me. That’s why people make songs, write books, paint things. A message from one person to some other person they’ll never meet and maybe doesn’t exist, saying “I felt this, and I think maybe you felt this, too.”

    *Mod indulging us and actually delivering his list of 29.75 Bowie Songs He Loved is one of my favorite RTH memories, and Bowie giving hopeless rock nerds like us dumb shit to pretend to argue about for 40+ years with no end in sight is yet another facet of his greatness. As always, Mod, my thanks for giving us a space to argue about things that don’t matter, which are often the things that matter most.

  9. diskojoe

    I found out this morning & my first thought was that Bowie almost planned for this to happen, especially since no one really knew that he had cancer. I got into him in high school, listening to him on WBCN & the listening sessions that I had w/my old friend John @ his room after school, where I first heard Roxy Music & Lou Reed. Although he wasn’t successful sometimes, when he was he proved to be pretty influential. My fave rave Bowie song is “Changes” & my favorite album is Alladin Sane, although Hunky Dory comes rather close behind. I enjoyed that Brazilian sailor singing Bowie songs in Portuguese in “The Life Aquatic”

  10. trigmogigmo

    I feel like I know so much of Bowie’s music, but I know there are realms I have yet to even be aware of. Sometimes it’s a small thing you realize you missed or misunderstood. Here’s a lyric I never caught until seeing it posted today, when it is so obvious and crystal clear.

    http://theimpossiblecool.tumblr.com/post/137106416088/never-look-back-walk-tall-act-fine-david

  11. H. Munster

    What are the other two greatest Greatest Hits albums?

  12. misterioso

    Just for the record, as it were, I think ChangesTwoBowie is pretty terrific as well, although I’d have opted for any other cut from Station to Station over “Wild Is the Wind.”

    I’m still somewhat puzzled, though, by Mod’s remark “His fashion/mime thing never appealed to me and explained every gross misstep I would spot in a mostly excellent catalog.” That is, I get not being into the fashion/mime thing so much, but 1) that stuff, not forgetting the “proto-Zoolander faces,” is not readily separable from almost all of his greatest work and 2) I can’t see where it explains his missteps. I think most of his missteps were either the flipside of his greatest strength, which was his willingness to try anything, or else (later) his labored efforts to “keep up with the times,” which in the 80s meant making sucky, overproduced, underwritten records.

    • Remember, misterioso, I was bringing my full self over the years into that paragraph I crafted on my phone yesterday morning. Younger, harsher Mr. Moderator was not as wise and all-knowing as he thought he was. Although the entire Bowie package will probably never be exactly what suits my soul and although I now acknowledge that his proto-Zoolander poses are not removed from his successes (you’re right!), I stand by my belief that his reliance on artifice often was the root cause of all the songs and albums that hold no interest for me. I think all artists need to find a way to step back and simply kick out the jams now and then, clear away the mythology they’ve build up around their works. That will forever be my criticism of my beloved and soul-satisfying Joe Strummer, as he got himself lost in name-checking Zambian DJs.

      Please don’t think I’m taking some ridiculous didactic stance or think that artifice is a bad thing, but beginning around the time of Station to Station (maybe earlier – I don’t know his albums inside and out), I think he relied on the notion of musical gesture (as in the term that I believe some painters use) more than traditional forms of songcraft. “TVC15” is one of the most amazing songs ever recorded – the production of it is like a beast taking over my brain. Some other songs on that album work that way, too, even some of the long, boring, crooning ones, but god…there’s a lot of long, boring, crooning songs in his catalog from that point forward. The Heroes album is unlistenable beyond the title track every time I try to listen to it. Sure, this is my taste or lack thereof, but to my ears it just sounds like Bowie leaning one way or another and committing to that initial gesture for 5 or 6 minutes at a time. It’s amazing that he could do this. Yesterday, I listened to the long title track from Blackstar. It’s pretty great. It’s not great like “Suffragette City” or even “TVC15,” but it’s like the aural equivalent of a full-length movie, like The Last Temptation of Christ, complete with the Peter Gabriel soundtrack. (Granted, I listened to the track while watching the Last Temptation-inspired video.)

      In short, that bit about explaining the missteps was an honest recounting of Young Me and my uncivilized efforts to explain away all the songs and albums that bored me. Older Me is more mature and savvy. I’ll just tell you “it’s not my cup of tea” and let the traces of Young Me carry out the dirty work, if that’s what you need from me. I watched those Blackstar videos yesterday and simply admired how much Bowie saw through his vision – HIS vision, not mine. I’m not being funny about this.

      • misterioso

        Sure, ok. Well, we agree about TVC15, anyway.

        It might be that “musical gesture” means something that is beyond me, but it seems to me that Bowie’s entire career was built on “musical gestures” as well as “artifice,” sometimes with brilliant results, sometimes not. I think the most genuine thing about Bowie was his artifice.

        As for “all the long, boring crooning” songs on Station to Station–there’s only 6 songs on the record! So I take it you have in mind “Word on a Wing” and “Wild is the Wind,” with their spectacularly confusingly similar titles. I would concede that one of them would have been plenty, and that one should have been “Word on a Wing” which is moving and powerful whereas “Wild is the Wind” tends to wear out its welcome.

        • All right, my “gesture music” concept is not a direct correlation with gesture painting, which is a term used to describe the likes of Pollock. What I’m getting at is that Bowie tailed off on writing great verse-chorus-verse-middle eight songs. The lines between verses and choruses got obscured. Eno can talk for 12 paragraphs about how wonderful this sort of development in music making is. I’d rather listen to songs from ChangesOne. Rather than balk at little things and count the number of songs on Station to Station (2 songs that take up half the album), how about you lay it on the line and tell me what songs you actually listen to without getting anxious over being done with on Heroes other than the title track?

          Man, it’s sad we have come to this so soon after the great man’s death! (Not really, although really…)

          • misterioso

            I am not as married to the concept of verse-chorus-verse-middle eight songs as the be-all and end-all of musical existence as you are, Mod. If I were, I would have to (for starters) chuck out most of my Dylan collection, which, by the way, I am not going to do. Any verse-chorus-verse-middle eight songs on Highway 61? Nope. Which isn’t to say I don’t like a good verse-chorus-verse-middle eight as much as the next guy. I think I’d have to chuck out quite a bit of Hunky Dory, too. I think one of the many things Bowie learned from Dylan is that there are a lot ways to write songs that aren’t verse-chorus-verse-middle eight.

            As for “Heroes”, well, that’s a different discussion than Station to Station, as I am sure you’d agree. I don’t actually listen to it that often. But I think you have to take it as a whole or not at all. On that basis, once in while is good enough and I like it just fine. It’s an album: not a hits compilation. But I am sure you knew that.

          • I’m fine with breaking from that traditional structure too, if the result engages me. Too often, when Bowie does that stuff (eg, side 2 of Low), I get bored. That’s not the case with many other artists. We’re good again, right? I’m not asking you to agree with me, and now that Bowie is dead I don’t feel like getting into a bunch of crap along the lines of, “How can you people listen to all of Heroes and actually enjoy it?” That’s too easy to get into, and it serves none of us any purpose in 2016. If anyone is fine with liking the boring Bowie songs at the point, that’s cool by me! #biggerman

          • misterioso

            Cool, of course we’re cool! Anyway I think it’s highly commendable how much you’ve come around on Bowie even though you don’t actually like most of the things that made him distinctive and great. Heh, heh.

  13. BigSteve

    “Heroes” was the first Bowie album that clicked for me, and side one is still my go-to fav rave. Side two runs out of steam a bit, but not bad enough to make me stop the CD.

  14. ladymisskirroyale

    As the week has gone by, I’ve been feeling increasingly sad about his death. I wasn’t a huge Bowie fan, I’d never heard a whole album of his until a few years ago. I could sing along to many of the singles but couldn’t tell you about his musical chronology, his Looks (other than there were many), his musicians. I can tell you that growing up in AZ, he earned thumbs up evaluations from many of the stoner musicians I hung out with (I can remember them arguing about which were the best of his albums from the 70’s). And one of my English cousins loved him. I did see him live on the Serious Moonlight tour but my main recollection was that there seemed to be something wrong with the sound, as he was either singing too high or, if I was being cynical, the tape was sped up to quickly.

    Now, looking back at his work, I’m amazed by how much he accomplished, how many interesting musicians and producers he worked with, and I wonder why I didn’t pay more attention to him in the 70’s and 80’s. I think, ironically, when I was in high school and college, he seemed too old fashioned, and since I was discovering music, I was in to discovering The Next Big Thing.

    What is really apparent to me now is how he truly melded Sound and Vision. His lyrics, the sound production and orchestration, his Look, his choreography were so well integrated (even during the dud tracks). From looking at the Blackstar video, he was a man who came to the music video form a bit too late; he would have used video in a way that David Byrne or Thom Yorke would have envied.

    On a much lighter note, from watching a bunch of videos, I’ve enjoyed tracking the Progress of David Bowie’s Dental Modifications. The man had some good orthodontists.

    • misterioso

      Say what? Came to the music video form a bit late?

      • tonyola

        Yeah, really. Bowie was something of a video pioneer, having made promos since the late 1960s. His video for “Ashes to Ashes” was a big 1980 landmark.

        • ladymisskirroyale

          Ok, I didn’t explain myself very well. I’ve been so crappily busy at work that I feel I don’t have sufficient bandwidth to respond in an articulated manner.

          That said: You are right. He was a video pioneer. What I meant was that the use and focus on the music video as a mass marketing, more greatly developed art form, came later in his career. Video in 1980 didn’t reach as many people as it did in, say 1990, 2000, and beyond.

          • misterioso

            Understood. Wasn’t trying to bust your chops per se. It’s an interesting point: Who actually saw those early Bowie videos in their time?

        • tonyola

          Before there was MTV, HBO used to show videos between features. That’s where I first saw Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” and “Boys Keep Swinging” videos.

  15. A hilarious video of Bowie talking about The Rutles

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4bQtHeQhU7I

  16. misterioso

    You know what’s crazy? I’ll tell you what. I had no idea that in the 1970-1980 golden years Bowie had a grand total of three (3) top 40 hits: “Young Americans” (#28), “Fame” (#1), and “Golden Years” (#10), all in 1974-75. I mean, how could “Rebel Rebel” not even crack to Top 40 or–Good Good–“Heroes” not make the Hot 100? Crazy. I’m not saying this was entirely Glenn Frey’s fault, by the way. Just partly.

  17. In the run-up to the Super Bowl, I’ve been hearing about Peyton Manning , should he win, retiring like John Elway before him with the Broncos. Which led me to thinking of walk-off home runs. Which led me to think about Bowie.

    I haven’t heard Blackstar but it has been getting great reviews, even before he died. Is this the rock & roll equivalent of a walk-off home run? A brand new record with great reviews is released and two days later, you die.

    I was trying to think of other examples and the closest I could come was Lennon with Double Fantasy.

    Tomorrow is the day the music died. Had Buddy Holly or the Big Bopper or Richie Valens just released anything?

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