3 Memories of Bowie
I don't think I have any special music knowledge and I don't think my taste is any better than anyone else's.
I am just really passionate about music.
When I woke up and heard, literally two days after hearing Blackstar (his new album that was just released last week), that David Bowie was dead at 69 it really floored me.
I am not sure I feel competent enough or up to the task of writing anything good enough for David Bowie.
Virtually every artist I love was seriously influenced by Bowie.
Bowie was one of the ONLY artists that garnered massive popularity and at the same time maintained both a mystique and an alternative credibility.
Bowie has been a part of my aural existence as long as I can remember, always somewhere out there, not always caring if anyone was looking, but like a benevolent music God, out there somewhere - behind it all.
Not sure I have fully regained my equilibrium.
So, before I go on, RIP and thank you David Bowie.
Here are some of my favorite recollections of Bowie in my lifetime. These are not intended to encompass Bowie or even try to explain him in any sense - these are just three things I thought about or remembered when I heard the news.
When I was in college, I used to frequent a club in Dallas called Mistral.
This was the 80's and Dallas, Texas so Mistral was the most over the top insane night club you could possibly imagine.
The decade of excess in the city of excess.
Mistral was adjacent to the Anatole hotel and was a massive structure. The interior had to have cost millions. It was Sodom and Gomorrah, to quote Stefan from SNL "It Had everything."
Anyway, every week, on the Drive in movie sized video screens, during the playing of the Bauhaus song "Bela Lugosi's Dead" (and they played it every weekend) they would play the video from the first ten minutes of the Bowie movie The Hunger.
Before any cinephiles get their comment fingers warmed up, The Hunger is not a great movie.
But the first ten or five or ten minutes is AMAZING.
It starts with one-shots of Bauhaus front man Peter Murphy shaking and shimmying behind a fence-like barrier as the other members of Bauhaus play the song as smoke billows around them.
Peter Murphy looks absolutely bad ass.
So the camera keeps following Murphy but does freezes as the credits come up.
And then, a quick cutaway to an absolutely devastating Catherine Deneuve smoking a cigarette - then back to Murphy - then cut to Bowie, all looking about as amazing as human beings can look.
I am not sure any single image has ever been sexier to me than that single cut away to Catherine Deneuve smoking a cigarette.
Slick, cool, European in that movie way probably never replicated in real life Europe.
You realize that Murphy is playing in a club, and eventually that Bowie and Deneuve are in a car with another man and woman on their way home from that club.
Then the music shifts to some high tension music and the scene shifts to seduction of the unknown couple by Deneuve and Bowie.
Eventually you realize that Deneuve and Bowie are vampires and that this unfortunate (or fortunate) couple is their prey.
Part of me always remembers that David Bowie, on the prowl, powerful and seductive - perfect companion for Catherine Deneuve (how many could pull that off).
I mean how could anyone ever compete on the coolness scale with Peter Murphy, Catherine Deneuve, and David Bowie.
Not happening, not ever.
Anyway, they would play the movie clip as the video for the DJ playback at Mistral.
I always looked forward to seeing it again (and I owned The Hunger on VHS - I could watch it anytime I wanted to).
And to say Bauhaus were influenced by Bowie is an understatement, they also did one of the best Bowie covers ever for Ziggy Stardust.
People forget how important Bauhaus was to alternative music in the 80's (and later Tones on Tail, Dali's Car, and Love and Rockets). Daniel Ash was and is one of my favorite experimental and noise guitarists ever and Peter Murphy was a spectacularly theatrical singer.
I have no idea why they seem to have disappeared from our collective music memories, but it is crazy that they have.
Anyway, the Bowie influence is pretty obvious, and I always think of Bowie and Bauhaus as coupled.
2) The Most Insane String Of Albums Ever
I am not breaking any new news here, but David Bowie had the most insane period of recording maybe in the history of recording Rock music.
In 1969 he put out Space Oddity (also known as David Bowie) In 1970 he put out The Man Who Sold The World In 1971 he put out Hunky Dory In 1972 it was The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars In 1973 was Aladdin Sane and Pin Ups In 1974 was Diamond Dogs In 1975 came Young Americans In 1976 Station to Station In 1977 both Low and Heroes (how crazy is that)
10 good to great albums in under 10 years. Amazing. And not like he was done after 77 either.
Who else can claim a period like that? Not sure anyone can, maybe The Stones or The Beatles? Maybe?
Just think of how genius the first song from the first of that long stream was for a few seconds.
In a music environment where virtually every song is about a break-up or love, this is a song about the last minutes of an astronaut stranded in space with no real hope of rescue.
I know exploring such different lyrical terrain had a HUGE impact on me, this was a different kind of artist, and a different kind of music. He talked about space, aliens, strange people, broken people, many things that I never heard about in most other places or from other artists.
3) Ashes to Ashes
Yes, this song takes on extra meaning this week, but it also has other contextual meaning for me.
Bowie is a great artist to listen to but more than almost anyone else that comes easily to mind he was also a fascinating artist to watch.
One of the videos I remember the most from the early days of MTV was Ashes to Ashes.
Every time I saw it I as just entranced (not just because it is a bookend with
Who else could do what Bowie does in that video and make it all seem like part of a normal narrative process?
I am still totally obsessed with this video, honestly.
Because it seems to be told from the perspective of a mental patient in a padded room it seems to retroactively re-frame everything about all of his characters and productions - and put everything in a frame of what he imagines contrasted with where he "really" is.
Is Bowie his characters, or is he Don Quixote and his characters are how he sees reality?
This may tie together why Bowie often reminds me of one of my favorite authors Jorge Louis Borges.
Borges constantly destabilizes and relocates the center of what he is writing about, one second you think you are in a mystery story (and in a sense you are) and the next second you are in stories within stories.
I often have this sense of being dislocated and relocated when my head is inside Bowie music.
But to bring out some of Bowie's humor, here is one of my favorite scenes from the TV series Extras:
Here are some more of my favorite Bowie songs:
How are you remembering Bowie today? I would love to hear your stories, please leave a comment!