Jan 16

Gnome Man’s Land

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I wrote a thing for here about David Bowie and how I felt about him and what he meant to me, but then Pitchfork kindly decided they wanted to run it, so it’s below. (Original title: He Could Be Dead, He Could Be Not, He Could Be You). And to any other good pieces I see, or that you want to point me to, or memorial threads.

My Pitchfork piece
Chris O’Leary’s Pushing Ahead Of The Dame memorial thread
Alfred Soto’s obituary, for Spin
Ann Powers ‘Reflections Of A Bowie Girl’ for NPR
Rory (of Popular)’s memorial post

Meanwhile this feels like it deserves more than an RIP on a Popular entry, so by all means use this thread too to post, comment about Bowie, list your favourite songs, fit him into your history or pop’s history. Whatever, really.

David Bowie: RIP


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  1. 51

    intriguing speculative piece on the (possible) roots of the sleng teng rhythm: https://axischemicals.wordpress.com/2016/01/11/david-bowie-digital-reggae-kingpin/

  2. 52
    Cumbrian on 15 Jan 2016 #

    David Bowie with the final release of his lifetime becoming a #1 album, owning 25% of the placings in the Top 40 album chart and 13 singles in the Top 100.


    01 – Blackstar – RCA
    05 – Nothing Has Changed – The Very Best Of David Bowie – Parlophone
    11 – The Best Of 1969/1974 – Parlophone
    14 – Hunky Dory – Parlophone
    17 – The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust – Parlophone
    18 – Best Of Bowie – Parlophone
    23 – Aladdin Sane – Parlophone
    25 – The Next Day – RCA
    31 – Low – Parlophone
    37 – Diamond Dogs – Parlophone
    42 – Let’s Dance – Parlophone
    45 – “Heroes” – Parlophone
    55 – Station To Station – Parlophone
    59 – The Best Of – 1980/1987 Parlophone
    60 – Young Americans – Parlophone
    61 – Scary Monsters – Parlophone
    89 – The Man Who Sold The World – Parlophone
    95 – Space Oddity – Parlophone
    97 – Five Years – 1969-1973 – Parlophone


    12 – “Heroes” – David Bowie – Parlophone
    16 – “Life On Mars” – David Bowie – Parlophone
    18 – “Starman” – David Bowie – Parlophone
    23 – “Let’s Dance” – David Bowie – Parlophone
    24 – “Space Oddity” – David Bowie – Parlophone
    43 – “Under Pressure” – Queen & David Bowie – Virgin
    45 – “Lazarus” – David Bowie – RCA
    49 – “Changes” – David Bowie – Parlophone
    61 – “Blackstar” – David Bowie – RCA
    62 – “Ashes To Ashes” – David Bowie – Parlophone
    65 – “Rebel Rebel” – David Bowie – Parlophone
    76 – “Ziggy Stardust” – David Bowie – Parlophone
    97 – “China Girl” – David Bowie – Parlophone

  3. 53
    Jeff W on 15 Jan 2016 #

    Geeta on DB, “Part 1”:


  4. 54

    tsj’s tribute (featuring a couple of FT regulars):

  5. 55
    Tom on 17 Jan 2016 #

    A final Then Play Long entry from Marcello. http://nobilliards.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/david-bowie-blackstar.html

  6. 56
    Tom on 17 Jan 2016 #

    Aladdin Sane yesterday, PinUps today. PinUps mostly interesting as an exercise in contrast – Bowie demonstrating how he wouldn’t really have fitted into rock’n’roll, freakbeat, etc. Even that’s a stretch. Mark S pointed out somewhere last week that Groovy Greil Marcus thinks this is the ONLY GOOD BOWIE RECORD, an imperial challops. Tough going now, as it was when I first heard it, mostly because of the vocals slipping back into bad old habits. It was the record I first heard “See Emily Play” on, and I like Bowie’s fairly faithful take, so that gets the Favourite Track pick.

    Aladdin Sane is magnificent. Someone was saying upthread that Ziggy is Mick Ronson’s LP. I think Aladdin is even more so – in terms of how good it sounds, anyway, louder, richer, with that gorgeous thick guitar sound I think of when I think of “glam”. At school I liked it more than Ziggy, it had more mystique to it, it seemed bigger and nastier. More grown up too – that was mostly a case of me deciphering the slang on Aladdin more easily, I think, but the cabaret touches all through too. Hard to pick a standout but it’s probably “Drive In Saturday”, which (it hardly needs saying) does more interesting things with the past than PinUps manages.

  7. 57
    Phil on 17 Jan 2016 #

    I remember buying Aladdin Sane in Croydon as soon as it came out in 1974, but I remember erroneously – it was released in April 1973, at which point I wasn’t even in England. But I still remember the creak of the gatefold as I opened it for the first time, the weight & finish (and the smell) of the white card sleeve, the look of the navy blue card inner sleeve… The whole package was stylish and clean-looking, but opulent with it – no expense had been spared.

    The music is full-on in a similar way – the guitars are louder than any I’d ever heard, but they’re part of a big, full, lush sound. It’s a really achieved album.

  8. 58
    mapman132 on 18 Jan 2016 #

    Blackstar is now the number one album in the US – one of the few chart accomplishments David Bowie hadn’t yet achieved:


  9. 59
    Phil on 18 Jan 2016 #

    I’ve been listening to Aladdin Sane, and I’ve been absolutely blown away. Mike Garson’s piano on the title track is astonishing, and everyone in the band – Ronson, Bolder, Woodmansey – is playing right at the top of their game. (That melodic bass line on the title track, right up the neck like something by Hugh Hopper! Those manic hurry-up fills on Watch That Man!)

    I find myself noticing little signposts and foreshadowings of what was to come: Panic in Detroit is obviously(!) from the same person who made Young Americans, and what’s that in the last minute of Cracked Actor – two separate guitar parts consisting entirely of feedback? Hmm. Amazing to realise that YA was only two years away, and Heroes only four and a half – seemed a lot longer at the time.

    Astonishing album. I’m looking forward to side two.

  10. 60
    lonepilgrim on 18 Jan 2016 #

    I’ve always felt slightly out of phase with Bowie for most of his career although I’ve mostly liked his work and ambition.
    I first heard ‘Space Oddity’ in 1969 when Apollo moon shot fever was at its height at my Primary school and I liked the song. Earlier that year I’d been to see 2001 for a friend’s birthday and I liked the wordplay. In my mind David Bowie was the singer who told Sci-fi stories which was a GOOD THING as I liked Sci-fi stories.
    By 1972 I had begun to listen to pop music more avidly. I watched TOTP regularly and begin to buy singles with my pocket money and get LPs for presents. I saw DB singing Starman – another sci-fi story VG – but I’d already fallen in love with first T. Rex and then Alice Cooper.
    In 1973 my sister wanted to buy Jean Genie but I persuade her to pool her pocket money with me and we get the ‘Top Of The Pops’ LP with that track and several others for almost the same price (we didn’t realise that these were cheaper copies of the songs). I read an interview with DB in my dad’s paper where he compared himself to Alice Cooper. No comparison I scoffed.
    I started Secondary School and made friends with lads who introduced me to Prog rock. The boys who liked Bowie in my class were a bit leery and sneaky so that put me off him as did the fact that girls liked him too. I still liked the singles although I found his ‘theatricality’ a bit scary. Aladdin Sane is the first album I can remember seeing promoted in our local record shop along with Pinups, which was released only a few months later. ‘Drive In Saturday’ was (and still is) a particular favourite – more Sci-Fi, VG. I liked ‘All the young dudes’ and ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ without fully realising Bowie’s involvement. The BBC ‘Cracked Actor’ documentary made me more interested in him and I went to see ‘The Man who fell to Earth’ and loved it. My first girlfriend was a huge Bowie fan and lent me Ziggy and Low to convert me and seemed a bit miffed that I preferred the latter. We broke up soon after. I can remember being impressed that the NME featured two contrasting reviews of Low, suggesting what a divisive album it was at the time. Punk and Disco were happening around the same time and their pleasures were more immediate and accessible at the time. The singles from ‘Heroes’ and Lodger were favourites at parties but I felt no urgency to investigate the albums until later. ‘Ashes to Ashes’ and the ‘Scary Monsters’ album was the point where Bowie and I came into sync. I loved the singles and kind of enjoyed the album. I caught up with ‘Heroes’, Aladdin Sane and Station to Station. I bought and enjoyed Lets Dance single and album as a party soundtrack and lost interest as his work became unfocused. The last new music I bought was ‘This is not America’. After that I vaguely followed his output with less and less interest – although his occasional ‘live’ appearances on TV were usually good value. Through this site I discovered the Pushing Ahead of the Dame blog which has helped me to appreciate some of his later work as well as earlier stuff that I had forgotten. I was touched when he returned with the first song from ‘The Next Day’ but didn’t feel compelled to listen to or buy the album. I was more stimulated by the songs leading up to the release of ‘Blackstar’ and so actually bought it when it was released. There’s a lot I like about it, there’s stuff I find perplexing and irritating but I want to keep on listening to it – so a return to form.
    Apologies for being so autobiographical but its a way to process my response to the man and his work. More may follow

  11. 61
    Tom on 19 Jan 2016 #

    No need to apologise, Lonepilgrim!

    Yesterday was Diamond Dogs – which I wrote about in the piece I did for Pitchfork, its status as a kind of Prog Zero, right at the centre of my teenage sci-fi obsession. The title track has a good claim to be my favourite Bowie song full stop, its garish joy in Armageddon a shot of pure thrill-power. It’s just a fantastic album straight through – amazing to realise (reading Chris O’Leary’s entries on it) what a hodge-podge it was, scraps of ideas Frankensteined together by a man who must have seemed on the edge of burnout. One of the reasons I love DD so much, I only realised on this play, is that it’s where Bowie hits on his best (IMO) voice, dropping the high register that dominated Ziggy and Hunky Dory for something nastier and beefier.

    One weird thing about Diamond Dogs is that the cassette version (which was all I knew) messed around with the sequencing, so the canonical Diamond Dogs in my head has “1984” as the final track – pointing the way to Young Americans – and “Big Brother”/”Chant” leading off side 2 in macabre triumph.

    David Live today, a send-off to the glam era.

  12. 62
    mapman132 on 19 Jan 2016 #

    And on this week’s Billboard Hot 100:

    40 “Lazarus”: Bowie’s first US Top 40 since 1987
    42 “Space Oddity”
    45 “Under Pressure”
    78 “Blackstar”

    I’m sure there’d be more, except that Billboard’s policy is to only show older tracks on the Hot 100 if they’re in the top 50.

    Also a record 21 of the 50-position Hot Rock Songs chart, led by “Lazarus” at #3.

  13. 63
    swanstep on 20 Jan 2016 #

    Bowie’s presence in the New Zealand Top 40 Charts this week:
    1. Blackstar
    4. Nothing Has Changed – The Best Of
    6. Best Of Bowie
    14. The Best of Bowie: 1969-1974
    16. The Best of Bowie: 1980-1987
    20. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust
    22. Let’s Dance
    30. Hunky Dory
    31. The Next Day
    37. Station to Station
    38. The Best of Bowie: 1975-1979

    32. Heroes
    39. Space Oddity
    40. Let’s Dance
    Lazarus is the ninth best-selling ‘heatseeker’ (single outside the top 40 that has yet to appear in the top 40)

  14. 64
    Rory on 20 Jan 2016 #

    The ARIA Albums Chart (Australia) for 18 January is a thing of wonder:

    1. Blackstar
    3. Nothing Has Changed
    9. Best of Bowie
    14. The Best of David Bowie 1969/1974
    21. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars
    23. The Next Day
    30. The Best of David Bowie 1980/1987
    35. Aladdin Sane
    37. Let’s Dance
    41. Diamond Dogs
    42. “Heroes”
    45. Hunky Dory
    49. The Best of David Bowie 1974/1979

    31. Space Oddity
    36. Heroes
    42. Under Pressure

  15. 65
    Cumbrian on 21 Jan 2016 #

    Have followed along with the listening exercise but missed albums out I don’t have, etc. Still been listening to Blackstar a lot.

    Of the old albums, the one that has surprised me most is Young Americans. I get the impression that this is pretty well regarded in the USA (maybe – more so than in the UK?). I remember buying it a while ago and not being that impressed and put it away. After that I came across Somebody Up There Likes Me and Fascination on the soundtracks for Grand Theft Autos 4 and 5 respectively, so maybe it’s wormed its way into my subconscious a bit as a result of that. Now, on returning to it, I can’t understand why I didn’t like it much to start with. So lush, decadent and full of great musical moments across the album – this is the one where Carlos Alomar first comes on board right? Title track and Win are brilliant. The cover of Across The Universe is the only thing on it that I’m not into at all. A very pleasant surprise and one I’ll come back to more frequently in future, I suspect.

    I’ve only got a couple of Pin Ups tracks (from the height of my Bruce Springsteen obsession, I downloaded the two covers from those sessions). I think I like the Bowie version of Growin’ Up more than the original. Not convinced by Hard To Be A Saint though.

  16. 66
    Tom on 21 Jan 2016 #

    #65 Yes, Young Americans was the only 70s Bowie album neither me or my friend had on tape, so it was terra incognita for me for some time and it’s still the ‘classic’ Bowie record I know least well. Which is a good thing – bits of it can jump out and really startle me, like the snapping, duelling vocals on “Somebody Up There Likes Me” when I played it yesterday. The title track is (I think) my wife’s favourite Bowie song. My favourite is “Win”.

    The listening exercise proceeds – best not to mention David Live, which is turgid. Station To Station today and the Nassau Coliseum 76 former bootleg, which Spotify have helpfully tacked onto the end and makes a considerably better case for David Bowie, live artiste.

  17. 67
    Rory on 21 Jan 2016 #

    #65 The New Yorker obituary called Young Americans Bowie’s “first masterpiece”, which I found baffling, given what comes before it. There’s plenty to like on YA, of course, though “Across the Universe” falls flat for me too, but it seems such a slight on Hunky Dory, Ziggy, Aladdin Sane

  18. 68

    Yes, I’d be interested in seeing Hilton Als — who’s a pretty great writer (though much less about music these days) — expand on this. He’s coming at Bowie from the heart of black American music, of course: soul and disco and hiphop were his beat* at the Village Voice iirc [*adding: this gives the impression he was primarily a music writer — which I’m not actually sure he was, I think he mainly wrote about art and photography? He’s the theatre critic at the New Yorker.]

    Here’s a blog post he wrote about Bowie a few years back: http://www.hiltonals.com/2011/07/ava-cherry-and-luther-vandross/

  19. 69
    Tom on 21 Jan 2016 #

    Might it not just be that YA was his actual American breakthrough? There’s an occasional tendency in US critics to underrate the stuff that happened before or after America noticed someone.

  20. 70
    Rory on 21 Jan 2016 #

    I can understand one’s first Bowie album holding a special status in one’s mind; when I was 15 Let’s Dance came out, so for a long time I thought that was “the” Bowie album. That seems mad now; it doesn’t even have YA’s benefit of being good of its kind, it just has some big hit singles on it. But I didn’t have the resources to buy up the old albums to see what I’d been missing, and LD (which I didn’t even own, but heard via friends) wasn’t enough to prompt me to try. Nevertheless, once I actually heard some earlier Bowie, I quickly demoted LD to the lower reaches in my personal ranking, and didn’t think much about it again.

    YA is much better than that, so I understand how it could hang onto its special status for Als, but to declare it Bowie’s first masterpiece in one of America’s journals of record surely needs more justification than even calling it a masterpiece would. It can’t only be because it was the first one America paid much attention to, can it?

  21. 71
    Rory on 21 Jan 2016 #

    (Whoops, my final rhetorical question posted before I saw Tom@69.)

  22. 72

    maybe [i.e. maybe yes to tom’s proposed reason], but if so it’s slightly more interesting than that makes it sound — the (white) rock critic gang in the US were already well aware of DB pre-breakthrough, and had been pronouncing on him, pro and (mostly) con: but YA as his breakthrough coincides with his engaging with current black american music (the musicians he was working with, the sound he was making) and — to some extent — a black american audience (including als*): notoriously james brown ripped off the riff** from “fame” for “hot (I need to be loved)”

    so — esp. based on the blog post i linked — als admires this record precisely because of the way it’s doing this engaging with (black) music’s immediate present, which can’t be said of any of the earlier records so much, except possibly man who sold the world, which is full of ronson’s play on cream and the idea of the rock trio (so the engagement with black american music is a. second-hand there and b. already somewhat backward-looking)

    *(adding: also — as noted a bit confusedly above — als is and was never primarily a music writer: asking around a bit i’m learning he’s covered fashion, nightlife, books, art and photography, as well as music now and then and more recently theatre; he was a staff writer at the village voice, with i think a bit of a roving beat, and went on to vibe magazine) (which was founded, irrelevantly, but i only just discovered this, by quincy jones)
    **(actually the riff was carlos alomar’s own, which he brought to the YA sessions and helped bowie turn into “fame” — alomar previously having been a JB sideman)

    ^^^x-post with rory

  23. 73

    meanwhile, the indefatigable ned raggett has put together a collection of bowie-relevant links here: http://www.nashvillescene.com/nashvillecream/archives/2016/01/20/neds-atomic-link-bin-20-must-read-david-bowie-reactions-and-remembrances

  24. 74
    lonepilgrim on 21 Jan 2016 #

    #65 and following – my problem with YA as a masterpiece is that it features Bowie’s dire version of Across the Universe. Had he kept one or more of the tracks originally recorded for the album it would have had a consistently high quality.

  25. 75
    Tom on 22 Jan 2016 #

    Station To Station yesterday (and the Nassau Coliseum set, which is GRATE, even the comically huge drum solo on “Panic In Detroit” – I think if that had been my introduction to “live albums” I would have far more time for them, as it was it was David Live…)

    Anyhow, I’d somehow never read the excellent Pushing Ahead… entry on “Station To Station” itself, which means I’d never got that he’s singing “…from Kether to Malkuth”. Not that I’d have made much of that as a teenager anyway. STS was my first Bowie album, or rather the first Bowie album I owned rather than borrowed/taped off friends. I got it for Christmas in 1987, and because it was mine it became a quick favourite and I stayed very loyal to it, even though (for a new listener) it’s a very weird, stylistically uneven record. It took me a long time to ‘get’ what Bowie was doing on “Wild Is The Wind”, for instance. As a grown-up it’s probably the classic record which shuttles up and down in my estimation the most – in the right mood it can be a superlative epic, in the wrong one a slightly frustrating hodge-podge of moods and ideas. It was the last Bowie record I listened to before his death, on my first commute of the new year, and it sounded like the latter. Playing it yesterday it fortunately sounded monumental. And onto Low.

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