Monday, January 11, 2016
Bowie's in space
I'm thinking about the bands and solo artists who put out one great record after another in the 1970s that also mean a great deal to me (Bowie put out great stuff before and after the '70s, but the '70s were his most creatively explosive period) -- Neil Young, Stevie Wonder, Brian Eno, Joni Mitchell, CAN, Marvin Gaye, Roxy Music, Curtis Mayfield, Patti Smith, Alice Cooper, Blue Oyster Cult, Kraftwerk, Neu, Fela Kuti, Chic, Van Morrison, Faust, T. Rex, Big Star, Black Sabbath, Harry Nilsson, just to name a few (and I haven't even mentioned the great bands who only put out a few records or who were just getting started or who ran out of gas in the middle of the decade or who dominated the '60s and put out a few great records in the '70s or the people I'll be hitting myself for forgetting) -- and I'm astounded that I can hear and see all these people in Bowie's songs and sounds and looks as they bounce around, refract, distort, and filter through the carnival rides, lenses, funhouse mirrors, and processors in Bowie's one-of-a-kind head until they come out sounding like Bowie and only Bowie. He had all the contradictory elements you need to be a great artist: theatricality and sincerity, privacy and exhibitionism, originality and theft, human frailty and alien otherness, etc. I could keep going on about this but I'm starting to sound like a blabbering idiot. ("Starting to?" some of you are saying.)
I am so glad I got to see Bowie live on his last tour, especially considering that tour ended earlier than planned due to cancellations caused by Bowie's heart surgery, some nerve problems in his shoulder, and an accident that killed a member of the lighting crew. The tickets were a little out of our price range, but my wife and I said, "It's David Bowie!" and bought them anyway. Wikipedia tells me that show was April 27, 2004. Bowie was not a nostalgic artist, but the set list was primarily a greatest hits-style encapsulation of a career, with a band that consisted of a mix of Bowie veterans like Mike Garson and Earl Slick and younger session musicians like Gail Ann Dorsey and Sterling Campbell. Bowie was so good, and I'm not just saying that with the rose-tinted glasses of 12-year-old memories. He was one of the best singers and performers I've been lucky enough to see, and the show had the odd effect of humanizing him instead of turning him into even more of the alien superhero rock god I had mythologized. I was shocked and delighted at how many goofy, corny jokes Bowie told during the stage banter portion of the show, and how he would crack himself up with these silly jokes while his band rolled their eyes and grinned. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed seeing the joy he took in goofy puns and vaudeville-style old-fashioned jokes in between scorching everyone's faces off with some of the best rock songs ever written. I also loved seeing the pleasure and joy he took in watching his band perform, especially when bassist Gail Ann Dorsey took the Freddie Mercury parts on "Under Pressure." This guy loved musicians.
Just picking two of my favorite Bowie songs, "Station to Station" and "Teenage Wildlife." Holy fuck. There are undiscovered countries in those songs. You can go back to those songs over and over again and never exhaust them.
Even Bowie's death is inspiring. Here's a guy who finds out he's dying of cancer, so he makes an album with a group of younger jazz musicians he's never recorded with before, and he keeps his illness a secret even though the shit-rats at TMZ have at least three trash-parasites stationed in every famous person's underwear drawer. I'm glad I got to share 38 years on the often-disappointing planet of Earth with David Bowie, and I'm going to keep playing his wonderful, beautiful, scary, fantastic records until I'm a lifeless tube of meat.