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. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 80
    Paulito on 23 Jan 2016 #

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

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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?

  10. 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.

  11. 87
    Ed on 24 Jan 2016 #

    OK got you. Thanks!

  12. 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…

  13. 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).

  14. 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.’

  15. 91
    Tom on 25 Jan 2016 #

    From Alec Guinness to Alice Cooper, the list of people who’ve narrated Peter And The Wolf is pretty amazing. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_and_the_Wolf – obviously I don’t know where DB ranks, but he does a decent job of it.

    (The version I had as a child – not the Bowie one – terrified me and I felt very sorry for the duck.)

    And today’s album is Stage.

  16. 92
    Rory on 26 Jan 2016 #

    @91 We bought our kids the Dame Edna recording. It’s wonderful, possums! (This comment brought to you on Australia Day.)

  17. 93
    Tom on 26 Jan 2016 #

    For anyone else who wants to listen/comment along, here’s the projected rest of the schedule (as things start to get a little tricky soon).

    26/1 – Lodger
    27/1 – Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
    28/1 – Baal
    29/1 – Rare (for personal reasons i.e. haven’t heard since I was 14ish – generally compilations are out of scope with one other exception)
    30/1 – Let’s Dance
    31/1 – Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture
    1/2 – Tonight
    2/2 – Labyrinth OST
    3/2 – Never Let Me Down
    4/2 – Tin Machine
    5/2 – Tin Machine II
    6/2 – Oy Vey Baby
    7/2 – Black Tie White Noise
    8/2 – The Buddha Of Suburbia
    9/2 – Live In Santa Monica ’72
    10/2 – 1. Outside
    11/2 – Earthling
    12/2 – hours…
    13/2 – Heathen
    14/2 – Reality
    15/2 – VH1 Storytellers
    16/2 – A Reality Tour
    17/2 – The Next Day
    18/2 – Nothing Has Changed (the exception to the compilations rule)
    19/2 – Blackstar, which will be the first time I’ve heard it.

  18. 94
    Cumbrian on 29 Jan 2016 #

    Lodger: I have always found this record a struggle despite the only real Bowie-head in my life swearing it’s a work of genius. It’s definitely doing interesting things and I imagine it might well reward a lot of repeated and involved listening but I still can’t get over the fact that almost none of it sticks in my head. No hooks, for mine, and that’s probably why it’s the one of his albums that I own that I have played the least – and probably means I am trapped in a self fulfilling circle with respect to my opinion of it.

    Scary Monsters: I’ve a bit more time for this. Hooks for starters – but also Fripp’s guitar textures jump out and grab me in a way that the instrumentation on Lodger never really manages to do. Peversely, given that, the one I really love on this record is Because You’re Young, which features Pete Townshend. The opening in particular is really evocative, edgy, stuff – I could imagine it in the soundtrack of a thriller or something similar.

    I’ve got Let’s Dance but don’t have any of the rest up to The Next Day. The reputation of some of these records is not great either – and when you look at reviews like the TPL one on Tonight, I wonder whether it is worth my while catching up on those records, even though they’re likely to be poor. I guess it will give me a more complete picture of Bowie as an artist and allow me a more informed opinion. At the minute, I am the archetypal “70s and early 80s and nothing else” listener, which isn’t exactly an intellectually curious position. That said, I don’t think I can trust my own opinion on relatively lightly regarded albums off just one or two spins. Might be time to cog back on this thread and read more informed takes than mine.

  19. 95
    Tom on 29 Jan 2016 #

    A lot of the later albums are new to me too, to be honest. I thought it was important to give everything equal weight, even if some of it is awful.

    Lodger is a strange one – I never enjoyed it that much as a kid, I found some of it too near-the-knuckle and other parts too abstruse to really get a grip on. The ones that stood out for me at the time were “African Night Flight” and “DJ”. Listening to it as part of this sequence I appreciated it a lot more, perhaps because I’ve played it so little, perhaps because there’s a lightness and will to experiment which is missing from the next few.

    Scary Monsters is much better than Let’s Dance but has the same problem – very fully realised ‘sounds’/’aesthetics’, of which DB only has half an album of A-Grade material apiece. Side A of Scary Monsters is one of the best runs of songs in his entire career (and yes Fripp is amazing on it), Side B is fine but slides right away from that level of quality. On Let’s Dance the gap is even more noticeable – aside from the 3 big singles, “Without You” is the only track I really like on it – just gorgeously weightless.

    Memories when young: the “Ashes To Ashes” video is my first conscious glimpse of Bowie – made a colossal impression, as it did on masses of people, I followed it to the man’s disciples rather than the man himself though. Only heard Scary Monsters at 14, exactly the same time as I found a bric-a-brac shop in Winchester with a longbox full of semi-recent Alan Moore Swamp Things for cover price (40p!), so the title track is forever linked with John Constantine for me. My friend liked “Up The Hill Backwards” so much he filled 45 minutes of a C90 with it on repeat.

    Let’s Dance was my first actual Bowie album, borrowed from Leatherhead Library about a year before that (so 1986 or so): “Modern Love”, “Cat People” and “Ricochet” impressed me most at the time. I was amused to read Chris O’Leary’s “Ricochet” entry about how it’s Bowie going through the art-pop motions: it certainly is, but it kind of worked on me. (Enough for me to go back and borrow Tonight from the same source.)

    Also listened to – Stage, which is better than David Live but that’s not difficult: not as compelling as the Nassau 76 gig on Station To Station. And Baal, which was my first time hearing it and gosh, what an unusual little record. Don’t feel I know enough about Brecht to make a first-timer comment on it beyond that though.

    Tomorrow – David Rare, delayed because it’s only on my PC at home, having been acquired by underhand means.

  20. 96
    Izzy on 31 Jan 2016 #

    I love Baal, it’s Bowie using all of his ham acting gifts. The delivery of some of the lines – «Baal in silence dines on vulture soup» – is simply joyous.

    The film itself is a real curio. It has the same stagey-as-opposed-to-film production as every no-budget Shakespeare featured in my school’s library, and which I’ve never seen since. Baal at least has a few props and a little dressing to soothe the eye. Sadly the quality of my copy is so poor that I can’t really assess its worth, but it all makes for tough watching.

  21. 97
    Mark M on 31 Jan 2016 #

    Radio 4’s Archive Hour of assorted Bowie interviews cut together to make a ‘Bowie in his own words’. Especially good on Bowie’s ’60s. Also you can hear that early ’70s Bowie using that peculiar precious hippy English voice (hear also Peel at the time) – later on he sounds MORE suburban London/Kent*.

    *He refers to Beckenham as Kent, which of course officially it was during his childhood (Greater London came into being in 1965). Locals hold on to that identity.

  22. 98
    Phil on 31 Jan 2016 #

    I’d never worked out quite where Beckenham (of the Arts Lab) was, and I’m amused to find that it’s Bromley, which is practically Croydon (which is or was Surrey, theoretically). Not a lot of hop-picking there. This also explains the Momus lyric
    What if one day in Bromley, Kent
    I live my nightmare and I’m sent
    To sing for blonde suburban women?

    If I could be him

  23. 100
    Rory on 1 Feb 2016 #

    @94 Re “I wonder whether it is worth my while catching up on those records”: my catching-up over recent weeks has been more scattershot than Tom’s, hopping back and forth across Bowie’s eras, so I’ll have a bit to contribute to the next couple of weeks’ discussion. I still haven’t listened to “Hours” (apart from the tracks on the Nothing Has Changed 3CD set, which is great, but more on that anon), but have listened to the other studio albums from LD onwards (Tom – what about the Labyrinth soundtrack?). I don’t want to bunny the thread (gnome the thread?), so I’ll restrict myself to the following.

    My earliest Bowie albums were a C90 of LD and Tonight taped off a friend, which quickly fell off my playlist, so when I re-listened to Tonight it must have been for the first time in 30 years. And no wonder I gave up on Bowie at that time: I completely agree with Punctum that it was his absolute nadir. But it got better from there, including the much-maligned Never Let Me Down (not saying it’s great, but it’s not as bad as Tonight). Tin Machine had been a stumbling block for me at the time; I even gave away the CD to a friend. Re-listened to it last night: not perfect, but not as bad as I’d remembered. Listened to Tin Machine II for the first time: it feels like a lost Bowie album, and it’s good. After that, things get better and better, including at least one genuine classic in his ’90s work, and a very strong 2002-onwards.

    If you like his cover of The Pixies’ “Cactus” I think you’d get a lot out of his post-1990 work.

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