Tuesday, January 10, 2017

David Bowie: One Year Gone



A year ago today, David Bowie shocked the world yet again, this time by dying. Then, over the course of 12 months, so did everyone else. Too many literally, and many, many more figuratively. Bowie seemed to fuck up 2016 for all of us.

"Ziggy Stardust" was one of the first records I latched onto that was outside of my little pop circle of The Beatles, Beach Boys and AM radio. This led me to "Mott" by Mott The Hoople, "The Slider" by T.Rex and then, well it all exploded. I went as far ahead as I could, until I had no choice but to go back and discover what I had missed. But it was Bowie, and that opening drum beat of "Five Years" that rattled me in the best possible ways.

I recall a day at my shop, around the time of Bowie's 1997 release "Earthling." My friend had come in before I officially opened the doors. We started listening to "Earthling," he as he shopped, and me as I priced CDs. As each song finished, he would look my way from the floor of the store, and we'd both just shrug our shoulders. By the 4th or 5th song, he finally asked, "What do you think?" I said, "I don't know yet." 20 years later, with a fairly recent release of "Earthling" on vinyl, I paid it a new visit after not hearing it for years. I still don't know yet. I've lived with his final recording "Blackstar" for an entire year. I've played it dozens of times and I still don't know yet what I think.

This is not a bad thing. I do know I enjoy just about every note I hear on all of his records, even if I don't know yet how much.

I've been complaining for years how new music from new artists simply doesn't move me in the ways it used to. When I hear something, when someone says, "You should listen to the new record by....," I know, right away, it ain't happening. I know. I have no desire, there is nothing moving me to go back.

Bowie's music, from the earliest, Anthony Newley pop of his 60's, to the classic recordings of his 70's to the most commercial and biggest seller, "Let's Dance," and even the weakest music he made in the late 80's and early 90's, still wants me to come back to it and I have no problem doing so. David Bowie's records, all of them, including the ill-fated Tin Machine records, and especially the records of the new millennium, which contain some of the man's best work, have something to offer. Bowie's music begs you to pay attention, even if you hate the man. "Earthling" may have tapped into the electronica and jungle beats that had already been popular in the clubs, but Bowie somehow managed to make "Earthling" sound original. That's the key. He made music you can recognize, yet kept it just far enough outside so that you needed to work as hard as he did in order to get inside.

At least that's how I feel about David Bowie's music.


8 comments:

cmealha said...

"He made music you can recognize, yet kept it just far enough outside, you needed to work as hard as he did, in order to get inside." Perfect encapsulation. I remember the impact that Ziggy had on me as well. I don't think he ever captured that for me again but there was always something new and different to keep me engaged in his work over the years. "Black Star" was a perfect ending. I keep going back like you. There's something haunting about it that keeps calling me back.

buzzbabyjesus said...

"Ziggy Stardust" was one of the first records I latched onto that was outside of my little pop circle of The Beatles, Beach Boys and AM radio. This led me to "Mott" by Mott The Hoople, "The Slider" by T.Rex and then, well it all exploded.I went as far ahead as I could, until I had no choice but to go back and discover what I had missed. But it was Bowie, and that opening drum beat of "Five Years" that rattled me in the best possible ways."

That's my story, too.

I'm not sure I'll be revisiting "Outside", which he and Eno rendered unlistenable. Definitely "Hours", though.

I love "I Can't Give Everything Away" from "Black Star". That last album somehow reminds me of "Diamond Dogs" in it's singularity of sound and purpose.

I wonder if the cancer first showed up as a "black star" on an x-ray.

kevin m said...

One of my biggest regrets is that I only saw Bowie once and that was during the Glass Spider tour. From my nosebleed seats at Giants Stadium, it was not a good experience. Would have loved to have seen him again when he was touring in the early part of this century.

As a teenager, Scary Monsters was the first Bowie record that grabbed me. Almost 40 years later, it still does. Last week, I listened to Station to Station from start to finish and it still blows me away.

David, wherever you are, I hope you're happy.

Anonymous said...

Great piece, Sal. I agree with you about his later records, I keep going back to Heathen, Reality, The Next Day, and Blackstar. I'm not sure any rock star of a certain age ever had such a strong late-period run as that, and I'm a fan of late Dylan, McCartney, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Elvis C. (memo to self: listen to the new Neil Young record)

Weirdly, the record that got me into Bowie was Pin Ups, which I still love. Whatever works!

Bruce H

buzzbabyjesus said...

"Pin Ups" got me more interested in '60's music not made by the Beatles or Stones. It might have been the first time I heard "See Emily Play".

Eric said...

I've been listening to blackstar daily after only listening to it once upon its release....it's rather unique in that it grows on you rather than overwhelms you as his great stuff did...(and i honestly ditched my obsession with him after scary monsters save for the opening cut of tin machine (heaven in here?)...strangely I find Blackstar peaceful as if it was a recorded obituary...

dogbreath said...

You've expressed my feelings about Bowie's music much better than I could have managed! Although I confess to dissing "Pin Ups" on release (is that the correct use of "dissing"?) I've derived a great deal of pleasure from playing it in the last 12 months since his death. And there was still much more to come, I think, listening to the extra "Blackstar" tracks on the new ep. A very fine article which I've re-read a couple of times. Cheers!

peabody nobis said...

Eric's observation that "Blackstar" was a "recorded obituary" rings true to me, as that is what I believe Bowie intended it to be. Prior to his death, it was a mystery; afterwards, it was clearly obvious.