Wednesday, January 13, 2016

In Appreciation of: David Bowie (1947-2016)

Karen: This is the sort of post you never want to have to write. Or you wish you had written it sooner, when the subject of your admiration was still alive. Instead, you find you've waited too long, and now you have to come at it from an angle of loss and regret. Inevitably, it colors what you have to say.

Karen: David Bowie, the artist who had perfected the ability to transform himself and his music in strange and unpredictable ways, is gone. It almost seems impossible -is it another metamorphosis? -but no, even he could not find a way to mutate and change to avoid death. And yet even though he was struck down by cancer, he utilized the knowledge of his impending death to craft his last album, Blackstar, which was just released, mere days before his passing. It seems so calculated and so completely Bowie.

Karen: He was always an artist in complete control, quite aware of what he wanted and unafraid to take risks and try new things. "Try new things" -that's putting it mildly. He would race from one style of music to the next, not as a lark, but as a sincere student/admirer, immersing himself fully and working at his craft until he mastered it. The term genius is thrown around perhaps too casually  but the man deserves to be called that, and a large part of 'genius' is putting in the work.

Karen: You can't separate Bowie from the stage personas he created and in some ways,  he always seemed like an actor playing a part; he was always a little distant. Did we ever really know the man or were we always seeing some carefully crafted creation? I think there were times the man was glimpsed and certainly the themes found in his songs -of alienation, longing, striving -gave us some small access to him. 

Doug: About the only things I can add, that wouldn't simply duplicate some of Karen's thoughts, are two distinct memories of Bowie from my childhood. The first was the initial time I laid eyes on Bowie, which was also my introduction to his androgyny - it was somewhat alarming to young Doug. But just a few years later, there he was singing "Little Drummer Boy" with Bing Crosby, looking normal. But as Karen has remarked, that was part of the chameleon nature of David Bowie.

Karen: He leaves us his songs which is a huge gift. So much to listen to, to enjoy and to ponder. His lyrics typically offer a lot of room for interpretation. I've been listening to "The Bewlay Brothers" (below) for years and I go back and forth on what I think it means.

Karen: I haven't listened to Blackstar yet. I don't think I'll be ready to for a while. But I have been listening to some of my favorite Bowie songs today, and I am posting a few below. 


ZIRGAR said...

David Bowie was as vast and primordial as the ocean and as close and intimate as a whisper. To paraphrase Jeff Buckley, "He's the tear that hangs inside our souls forever." I will miss him. I already do.

Edo Bosnar said...

Yeah, can't add much to all of the praise and sadness expressed here and well, pretty much everywhere on the internet and the world at large. It really came as a shock when I saw the news, since I had no idea Bowie was even suffering from cancer.

Doug, your memories of being alarmed when you first saw Bowie and the way he often challenged the conventional gender binary brought a smile to my face. The first time I saw him, at about the age of 10, was when he was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live in 1979. I wasn't so much alarmed as rather puzzled, but also fascinated: it's not just that the songs were excellent, but the performances were so wonderfully staged, making it a visual experience as well. It was truly memorable, and I later learned, pretty typical Bowie.
Since Karen provided links for some excellent songs, I thought I'd share one of my own, something I hadn't heard in years until Monday (when someone on Facebook linked it): the live version of The Width of a Circle, which also features a masterful performance by another great musician taken away too soon by cancer, guitarist Mick Ronson.

Humanbelly said...

It's another case where it was never not going to be too soon to lose someone. Such an incredibly cool, smart artist who managed to perpetually jump OFF the "envelope" entirely (let alone push it), and managed to do it without being a complete jerk. Or heck, even a little bit of a jerk, as far as I can tell.
I've appreciated his music much more as an adult, I must say. As a youth in the early/mid 70's in our homophobic little corner of Michigan, the whole androgyny/bi-sexual aspect was something my peers and I simply were not (in our narrow, mid-western, bedrock-solid world-view)able to look past. Pal Bryan's older brother had that early album w/ Bowie dressed in full maxi-skirt regalia (IIRC), and we couldn't bear to look at it for long. Sooooo confusing. (Ha! As was a 60 Minutes segment about him, which also interviewed his then-wife talking about helping him pick out the best outfits. When you're, like, 12 to 14 years old, you just don't know what to make of ANYTHING like this. . . )
His actual vocal instrument is probably the thing that it took me the longest to acquire an appreciation for. It's a very, very unconventional, unique sound that he clearly cultivated to be completely his own-- but it took years for it to register as pleasant to my own ear. What helped in the long run was recognizing that his own ear and vocal musicianship are really darned, darned good. That particular voice would not work without a very good musician behind it, y'know?

Man-- would have liked to see him do more movies, too. . .


J.A. Morris said...

I love all of his greatest hits (Changes, Space Oddity,Golden Years that you hear on "Classic Rock" stations. But since his death, I've been gravitating towards album tracks, b-sides and outtakes.

Like 'Memory Of A Free Festival', a great track from his hippy-dippy/folk rock period. I love how the song opens with him speaking "Maybe I should announce it?":

And I think this demo of 'Lady Stardust' is superior to the over-the-top Ethel Merman-esque album version, just Bowie and a piano:

Garett said...

I like his lyrics from Changes:
"And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They're quite aware of what they're going through"

My band's doing a couple of Bowie tunes at this weekend's gigs as a tribute. I always liked Space Oddity and Bowie's experimental nature.

Martinex1 said...

I enjoyed David Bowie’s music in all his incarnations. And he will be so missed. I heard some of Blackstar this past week, and again it seems like he reinvented himself one last time. Heartbreaking.

I saw a tribute that Conan O’Brien did on his show, replaying clips of interviews with Bowie, and it showed a side of him that I was not familiar with. He was very funny and seemed happy. Hearing him sing “Hickory Dickory Dock” was really charming. It was a really nice montage to honor his character.

Anonymous said...

I always preferred his older stuff, but Karen's right about how he kept changing on pretty much every album, which is certainly a more interesting approach than just rehashing his successes over and over.

My favorite Bowie songs? Probably Young Americans (I love the lyrics, although I'm not exactly sure what they mean...maybe that's why I love them?) and Life on Mars.

Mike Wilson

Unknown said...

I was hooked on Bowie the first time (as an 11 years old) I saw him on "Top of the Pops" in the UK signing "Starman" - I remember the next day our newspapers being full of stories about him looking so strange ("was he wasn't" he type stuff) and how he put his arm around Mike Ronson's shoulder and sang to him (which says more about how staid we were in the UK at the time) all I remembered was how cool he looked (I was sure he was from space) and how good the song was - next day at school (and I'm from Glasgow, in the 70's a hard living macho city) all the kids just loved him. Above all and despite his fame and fortune Bowie seems to have been such a down to earth kind and decent English bloke that liked a good laugh and loved his family above anything else. I miss him already I can only imagine how painful this must be for his 2 children , friends and lovely wife. And "Blackstar" is amazing I think he wrote his own obituary in that LP.

Anonymous said...

I listened to the fantastic Blackstar for the first time on Sunday evening... a little eerie to then hear some of the same music again the following morning on the radio when the news came through....
Other artists have their passing commemorated with their best known material, the greatest hit(s), but Bowie's death is marked by new work thats as good as anything else he's done.


Graham said...

Growing up, I liked every song of his that I heard on the radio. The fact that he changed styles so many different times made it hard for me to get into him at the time. I was pretty focused on one or two particular styles. I liked his R&B phase in the late 70's and his "Let's Dance" period as well (I really appreciate him using my future favorite guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan on that album), but I came along too late for the Ziggy Stardust stuff. In retrospect, I've come to realize what a pioneer he was in music and how many different artist he influenced that I really enjoy listening to.

Karen said...

I appreciate all of you sharing your thoughts about Bowie. I read that all of his music is selling like mad on ITunes and Amazon now, and I am hoping that it's not only old fans buying it, but people who have never listened to him, getting turned on to him. Perhaps that's a positive thing to come out of this.

The New York Times had an article with Iggy Pop discussing his friendship with Bowie -"He resurrected me" -which was at turns touching and funny. Basically, it was Iggy. A nice reminder that Bowie also worked in roles beyond being the man in front of the microphone, and was a pretty nice guy. Here's the address (since I can't figure out how to post the link directly:

Edo, glad you mentioned Mick Ronson because I have always adored his guitar playing and he really should be talked about a lot more when people reel off the names of great rock guitarists. He gave those early Bowie songs the fire and verve that they needed -I guess you could say he brought the yang to Bowie's yin. Terrible that we lost him to cancer too. I am so sick of that damned disease.

Edo Bosnar said...

Karen, re: "I am so sick of that damned disease." Hear, f-ing hear - I can actually count on the fingers of two hands the number of my friends and acquaintances who've been taken down by cancer over the past decade or so...

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