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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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)

  4. 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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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/

  9. 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.

  10. 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?

  11. 71
    Rory on 21 Jan 2016 #

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

  12. 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

  13. 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

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 76
    Izzy on 22 Jan 2016 #

    72: Alomar’s riff was originally incorporated (in a 12-bar structure!) as part of another discarded song, Footstompin’, which I saw for the first time last night tacked onto the end of the famous Dick Cavett 1974 appearance, in a kind of Cabaret style. It’s pretty excellent!

  17. 77
    Cumbrian on 22 Jan 2016 #

    I’ve already claimed my love for Station To Station on this thread – I think it’s wonderful, it hits loads of things that, in isolation, I love in other artists but collides them and produces an amalgam with which I cannot find any fault at all – but I will say that looking into the stories about how this album came about actually made my opinion of it increase. Bowie’s so out of it on coke that he didn’t remember any of the sessions and, somehow, in amongst that he manages to produce this? Confirmation bias likely on my part but when I think of albums made in a blizzard of coke, I usually think of things that really don’t work at all, so when I hear this my primary thought is “how the hell did he manage this?”

    Minor shout out to the E-Street Band’s best musician, Roy Bittan, who had time to fill in on piano due to Bruce’s legal troubles keeping him out of the studio in late 1975/early 76. Love his work emphasising Bowie’s dramatic reading of the lyrics in Word on a Wing in particular.

  18. 78
    Phil on 22 Jan 2016 #

    According to the Angus McKinnon interview, Bowie’s longstanding interest in occultism & the Nazis* had been amplified by the experience of working on The Man Who Fell To Earth**, to the point where he genuinely felt like his immortal soul was in danger. Hence Word on a Wing, a prayer for salvation from somebody who thought he needed it (and it is addressed to God, not – as I’d always assumed – to some loved one or other).

    I’d also like to apologise to my little sister for the time when I walked in on her to ask her to bloody well turn it down, not only in the middle of the title track but at the very moment the vocal comes in. Murder’s been done for less.

    * Cf. Quicksand.
    **And all the coke.

  19. 79
    lonepilgrim on 22 Jan 2016 #

    cosign on the Station to Station appreciation – it’s tied with his next album as my favourite and Stay is one of his best tunes IMO

  20. 80
    Paulito on 23 Jan 2016 #

    As it happens, Station To Station was released 40 years ago today. It’s aged remarkably well.

  21. 82
    Mark M on 24 Jan 2016 #

    Re81: Watched that commencement speech linked to in that link. Bowie very funny but the students clearly totally baffled by many anecdotes, esp Shirley Bassey & working men’s club.

  22. 83
    Tom on 24 Jan 2016 #

    The listen-through continues – Low and Heroes. Interesting that Low, when I got into Bowie, had a reputation as being a difficult and obtuse piece of work whereas Heroes was one of The Classic Bowie LPs. The two are structured very similarly and the instrumental work on Heroes – especially the skronky “Neukoln” – is a lot more forbidding than any of Side 2 of Low. What a difference a hit makes! (Unless you want to credit “The Secret Life Of Arabia”, Bowie’s very own “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others”)

    These days Low has overtaken its younger brother, reputationally. I wouldn’t change a note of it – my favourite Bowie album and one of my most beloved LPs by anyone: a big reason for deciding on one album a day is that I wouldn’t have been able to deal with it shortly after he died. The first side is a beautiful and concise argument for songs being only and exactly as long as they need to be. The second side elegantly demolishes that notion. Heroes, on the other hand, I’d always pegged as one I liked less, so rediscovering it yesterday was an enormous pleasure.

    Today’s record is, naturally, the third in the famous trilogy, David Bowie Narrates Prokofiev’s Peter And The Wolf.

  23. 84
    lonepilgrim on 24 Jan 2016 #

    I think Low owes its ‘difficult and obtuse’ reputation to how it was received when it was first released. IIRC it was so divisive that the NME had it reviewed by two writers – one for and one against. It’s hard to recreate how strange it sounded – both in comparison to Bowie’s previous music and to the early manifestations of punk (and the accompanying celebration of ‘authenticity’ and connection to the audience) that were beginning to be championed in the paper. The album and the lead single initially sounded uncannily bland and closed off from the visceral thrills associated with rock. Bowie’s vocal took so long to appear on ‘Sound and Vision’ that when the song was played over the closing credits of TOTP he got cut off just as he began. By the time ‘Heroes’ arrived listeners had adjusted to some of the strangeness and it helped to have some more stomping songs interspersed between the moody instrumentals.

  24. 85
    Ed on 24 Jan 2016 #

    ‘(Unless you want to credit “The Secret Life Of Arabia”, Bowie’s very own “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others”)’


    How so?

  25. 86
    Tom on 24 Jan 2016 #

    It was a semi-gag based on it being a bouncy, light-hearted (for Bowie) track at the end of a gloweringly intense LP. I’ve always felt it does a tension-relieving job, and “Some Girls…” is similar in that regard.

  26. 87
    Ed on 24 Jan 2016 #

    OK got you. Thanks!

  27. 88
    Phil on 24 Jan 2016 #

    Side one of Low still sounds weird to me – both in that writing three-minute pop songs was a weird direction for Bowie to take at that time, and more directly because of the sound of it. The tracks sound raw and underworked, with what sound like bare-bones arrangements – almost like demos – while at the same time sounding ostentatiously processed and artificial (the Eventide Harmoniser, courtesy of co-producer Tony Visconti, takes much of the credit or blame here). It’s like putting a rough sketch in an ornate frame – at some level you think “a lot of work’s gone into this, but why didn’t he put the work into developing the song or the arrangement?” Even Sound and Vision sounds more like a hasty parody of an elaborate arrangement than the thing itself, with those abrupt drop-ins (Mary Hopkin’s vocal and Bowie’s consistently awful sax) which are then never heard again. I love it, but it is weird (as in baffling) – whereas “Heroes” is merely weird as in unexpected and challenging.

    And then you play side two…

  28. 89
    Cumbrian on 25 Jan 2016 #

    Of the two, I think I just about prefer Heroes, which is probably why I reached for it on the journey which I reported back in the (faintly embarrassing) #2 post on this thread – this is principally because of the strength of Side 1, to be honest, I think both Side 2s are very good but much of a muchness – but I just about prefer Joe The Lion, Beauty and the Beast and the title track (which even now stills retains loads of power, even though it has been played to death over the years) to Sound and Vision, Always Crashing, etc. Which is not to say that Side 1 of Low is rubbish – far from it. These two, plus Station to Station, are the ones I return to repeatedly (with YA now in the mix following Bowie’s death).

  29. 90
    lonepilgrim on 25 Jan 2016 #

    re 24 Nik Cohn in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday writes: ‘Every so often, amid the dross of what’s now called classic rock, there came a glint of gold. Jimi Hendrix was one, Gram Parsons another. Still hung up on singles, I found my fix in black music, as soul melded into funk and country; burrowed deep into James Brown and Sly Stone, George Jones and Merle Haggard; and tried not to notice the Grateful Dead. Then David Bowie showed up. Here was someone who understood and cherished pop myth, and turned those myths into art. More to the point, he made great singles.’

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