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. 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.

  2. 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.)

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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.

  10. 101
    Rory on 3 Feb 2016 #

    Looking at Tom’s schedule at #93, I now see that the Labyrinth OST is right there, and was scheduled for yesterday. Reading comprehension fail by yours truly at #100.

  11. 102
    Tom on 3 Feb 2016 #

    It was scheduled for yesterday and listened to on schedule! It was an amusing detour – Bowie sounds like he’s having fun on “Magic Dance” which isn’t the case on many of the records either side of it. I should have probably chosen a general “80s soundtrack Bowie” playlist and thrown in “When The Wind Blows” and “Absolute Beginners” too, but Labyrinth was entertaining.

    I have also listened to Tonight and Never Let Me Down. I borrowed both these records from Leatherhead library and listened to them A LOT, in the way people listened to records a lot in that palmy golden age when they couldn’t hear them for free. I must have been entertained by them. I think Chris O’Leary’s line on them is broadly right – Tonight is knackered, Never Let Me Down is a mess, but has more signs of life. In fact I think I’d be kinder to NLMD than that – it’s a full blooded stab at an 80s corporate rock record which has enough oddities (and flashes of good songwriting) to make it an interesting, enjoyable listen on this particular journey. The run of songs from “Time Will Crawl” to “Glass Spider” was particularly satisfying. Of course, I have a lot more time for that 80s style percussion-collage production than many do – the title track reminded me of the production on Scritti Politti’s 80s hits, which I love to bits.

    Tomorrow through Saturday – DAVE AGAINST THE MACHINE! I’ve kind of been looking forward to it.

  12. 103
    lonepilgrim on 3 Feb 2016 #

    The BFI have recently announced that they are planing to release most (if not all) of Alan Clarke’s TV work from the end of March, including ‘Baal’

  13. 104
    Tom on 4 Feb 2016 #

    My first listen to Tin Machine has left me with the uncontroversial opinion that they were Not Very Good.

  14. 105
    Rory on 4 Feb 2016 #

    Yes, the first album is exactly the sort of thing I wouldn’t have expected you to like much, given what you did and didn’t like about the number ones of the ’80s. Plastered with a heavy guitar sound that bears little relation to previous Bowie work, but which has a lot in common with the end-of-’80s rock of Jane’s Addiction and Guns’n’ Roses. This wasn’t the first time that Bowie no longer sounded as if he was ahead of the pack – Never Let Me Down, as you said, was an ’80s corporate rock record.

    It has its moments, but I could still see why I ditched the CD at the time. The opening song is okay, if too long, but the title track is hard to get past. When you do, there are some more painful moments ahead: I really don’t like the John Lennon cover (and 1988 was when I discovered and adored Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band album, so I must have hated the cover then), so that’s 2-for-2 for Bowie-covering-Lennon-badness.

    But I quite liked (this time around) “I Can’t Read”, “Under the God”, “Amazing”, “Bus Stop” and “Baby Can Dance”. And “Video Crimes” was fascinating to hear in late January 2016, for reasons that will become apparent when you reach the end of your Bowie marathon; it shares its DNA with one of the ★ songs.

    TMII is patchy, and has a couple more godawful moments on it, but its highs are better, and the guitar is toned down a fair bit.

    Reading Chris O’Leary’s Tin Machine entries tipped me off to this Reeves Gabrels solo track with a Bowie vocal recorded alongside the first Tin Machine album. Much better. Imagine yer “Let’s Dance” fans wrappin’ their ear’oles around that.

  15. 106
    Tom on 4 Feb 2016 #

    Philosophical musings on ver Machine here: http://freakytrigger.co.uk/ft/2016/02/the-machine-stops/

    I liked “Bus Stop”, it was jaunty. “I Can’t Read” seemed like it might be a good song if I stuck at it. And, for my sins, I thought the title track was very funny. That kind of levity was a welcome surprise after 1 song, after a dozen I’d have loved it.

    (I can see the Janes Addiction thing – they are a band that I suspect doesn’t fit my expected taste, but I really like Nothing’s Shocking.)

  16. 107
    Tom on 5 Feb 2016 #

    (The Bowiethon has been suspended for a day because my copy of Tin Machine II is on my PC at home. So I’m listening to Earth Wind & Fire instead.)

  17. 108
    Rory on 8 Feb 2016 #

    I’m going to be away for the last part of the Bowiethon, so I’ll just park this here (for the list of ratings at the beginning; the rest is adapted from comments on this very thread).

  18. 109
    Pink champale on 8 Feb 2016 #

    @106 On paper Jane’s Addiction are the worst band that could possibly exist – bombastic neo prog funk metal with a singer who fancies himself as some sort of sex shamen and has a moral philosophy that sits on the disturbing borderline where universalist hippy self actualisation tips over into fascism.
    But despite being like the result of some Experiment IV style project, they were frequently fantastic.
    I’m sort of surprised Jane Says has never gained an afterlife as an alt 90s ballad classic like Iris or Under the Bridge.
    As for Tim Machine, I think the title song sort of illustrates the problem. 1 minute of nice Pixies parody, several minutes of ugly in a bad way “experimental” blues noise.

  19. 110
    Tom on 15 Feb 2016 #

    Time to catch up on this – I have missed a day here and there but it goes on (I have got all the way to hours…)

    Tin Machine II is a better record than Tin Machine I by quite some way, I think. It does give the lie to some of my hypothesis in the “The Machine Stops” post that he was groping towards a contemporary indie rock sound, in that the lead track off it (“Baby Universal”) sounds very much like contemporary indie rock to me. There’s an irony in Steve Sutherland’s supposed mission to “rescue” Bowie from the Machine by sending him a mixtape full of the likes of Adorable – in that on that song TM had got there all by themselves anyway.

    It was still a relief and a pleasure to move back onto the solo records, though. (I skipped Oy Vey Baby in the end, so my ritual is incomplete.)

  20. 111
    Cumbrian on 22 Feb 2016 #

    Have I kept up with this at all? No. Though I note Tom might well have finished by now. I’m still playing Blackstar on the regular though.

    I did give Tin Machine a go – oddly, commenters writing that it sounds like The Pixies was the spur to have a listen – and some of it, particularly Under The God, sounds like it could actually be The Pixies (Reeves Gabrels guitar sound on that track in particular really could be Joey Santiago). Sadly though, I couldn’t stick it out through an entire record. I only listened to bits of TM1 and, for a bloke who was capable of incredibly constructed records, it sounds awfully slapdash – not what I would want from a Bowie record.

    At some point, I should give the 90s stuff a go. Reading Pushing Ahead Of The Dame, there’s a few interesting pieces about the Buddha, Earthling and …Hours albums that give me pause.

  21. 112
    Phil on 22 Feb 2016 #

    Blackstar sent me back to Nite Flights & from there to ‘Til the Band Comes In, a progression which I can’t entirely explain. My own chronological Bowiethon started with Aladdin Sane, then doubled back to TMWSTW, HD & TRAFOZSATSFM, then stopped (I haven’t got Diamond Dogs, and Pin Ups wasn’t an inspiring prospect). Hunky Dory is an amazing album, though, and Aladdin Sane comes closer than I remembered.

    I read through a stack of early reviews of Blackstar the other day. Only a couple of them comment on all the death imagery, and even they don’t hazard any guesses as to the state of health of Mr Bowie (as the New York Times called him). Listening to it now, the Mortality Klaxon is honking loud and clear in almost every track – especially “I can’t give everything away”, a title which (now at least) seems to express the agonising consciousness that the actual experience of his death was going to be his alone. “I know something’s very wrong…” The FT reviewer thought it was something to do with global warming.

  22. 113
    Kinitawowi on 18 Mar 2016 #

    Bowie has just made his first appearance on a Now! album since the 7th; Heroes (perhaps inevitably) was declared the tribute to appear as last track on disc 2 of the 93rd edition. (Which must surely claim some sort of record for gap between consecutive appearances.)

  23. 114
    Girl with Curious Hair on 23 Mar 2016 #

    @109 Very true about Jane’s Addiction. I really like them despite the fact that, by all rights, they should really be dreadful. There reaches a point where you’re confronted by a 10 minute song, starting off as spoken word, about the singer’s smack-fueled threesomes in which he calls himself the Erotic Jesus, and all you can do is shrug and think fair fucks. Sheer chutzpah can take you a long way.

  24. 115
    flahr on 24 Mar 2016 #

    #113 I actually researched this not too long ago! I believe the previous record holder is a-ha, who didn’t appear after Now! 9 until Now! 63.

  25. 116
    Auntie Beryl on 25 Mar 2016 #

    Michael Jackson, I believe.

    Nothing from Farewell My Summer Love on Now 4 to Love Never Felt So Good on 88, due to Epic/Sony getting involved with Now only recently.

    Somebody should write a book about such ephemera.

  26. 118
    Nelly on 9 Mar 2017 #

    Ooo. I LOVE apricots. Love ‘em. I think my friend and I are going to do a jam night and make this next week. Hopefully, we can still find apricots at the maknet.Thakrs for sharing! Love your snazzy blog and beautiful pictures.

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