Monday, January 11, 2016

My David Bowie experience

[insert stoic Bowie photograph from the 70s (or 80s) here]

Like many Bowie fans, I was listening to Blackstar () on repeat this weekend. "Where the fuck did Monday go?", Bowie asks in "Girl Loves Me".

I was thinking about him a lot, especially that he turned 69. I watched dozens of his music videos and interviews on YouTube. I even edited Wikipedia articles to add some detail about some of the more recent videos. Also I highly suggest The Church of Man-Love.

I saw a 1999 interview where Bowie recounted a documentary about dirty bombs (and his dread of terrorism). He kept the conversation light though, but it was an eerie vision into what would happen the New York two years later. I saw another interview where he recounted his shaving of eyebrows in frustration with Mott the Hoople. I kept comparing his 2015 facial structure to that of the 2000's A Reality tour, when he looked much more animated and youthful. He still was a sex symbol, even close to the end.

As I watched some of his recent videos from the Next Day and Blackstar, I kept thinking, "I can't wait to see what he produces next". And, "he's not too old. He looks healthy in 'Lazarus'. How old is 69 anyway?" I was really looking forward, which is something all good artists teach others to do.

Saturday night they had karaoke at a work party. Nobody sang Bowie, but I was itching to try out "China Girl" to an unsuspecting audience of non-Bowie fans. They probably didn't realize there were "visions of swastikas in my head". I don't have the vocal range.

Bowie's songs always had some weirdness. He was really into eerie melodies and atonal music, and it's all over his singles. Either lyrics ("As they pulled you out of the oxygen tent") or melodies (check out "Life on Mars?" chord progression).

Sunday morning, when I drove downtown, the local public radio (KOOP) was playing covers of Bowie songs by Bauhaus and by other artists. It was a Bowie-celebration.

I learned of his death by a talk radio show. They were playing isolated vocals of  "Under Pressure". At first, I thought the Bowie-celebration was still going, which made me happy. Ten minutes into the tribute, I knew it was reality.

My parents introduced me to Bowie. They loved him. My dad had a US vinyl copy of The Man Who Sold the World. The cover was not the one that people remember:

My dad recounted to me that his mother (my Grandma) would often go into his vinyl collection and read the lyrics. She thought Bowie was on drugs. Even though he was, Bowie was genuinely weird, and definitely a one-of-a-kind trendsetter. A genius, most likely.

I remember exactly where I was when I first heard "Space Oddity". I was in junior high, and I was listening to a small college radio station in my hometown. I was in an unfinished basement, and the DJ introduced the song with a long delay of silence. Then, the two-chord intro came on. The lyrics hit my brain and inspired me. I was hooked after that.

Grantland wrote a really good "nobituary" in 2013 when there was a rumor of Bowie's death. It goes into great detail about some of the underrated highlights and career moves of the man. I suggest you read it.

Maybe that is what early January needs to be: a few days of Bowie retrospection.

If you haven't heard his non-hits and less notable releases, I would start with the electronic era of Earthling and Outside. There is some hard hitting drum-and-bass jams on there. "The Last Thing You Should Do" is a great song for a good car audio system.

Right now, if I had to rank some of my favorite tunes from the man, I would go:

5. I'm Afraid of Americans V1
4. TVC-15
3. Life on Mars?
2. Sound and Vision
1. Space Oddity

That's all I can muster right now. Check out the breaths Bowie takes on the Blackstar version of "'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore". I don't know why, but I like it.

Death can be inspiring. Take Kurt Cobain as an example; a whole cult of personality was built around him. Bowie, in life, already had a cult. To me, Bowie epitomized the cool. What will happen as times crawls on without Bowie? I'm still looking forward to the future.

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