Tag Archives: david bowie

RIP, David Bowie

11 Jan


BBC tribute to David Bowie

This way or no way
You know, I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Now ain’t that just like me

“Lazarus,” Blackstar


One of my favorite blog topics is how rock musicians reckon with aging in a profession that celebrates youth, recklessness and commercial certainty. Many pop stars who made their splash decades ago are perfectly okay with hauling around on the tour bus to sing their top 10 hits and hawk $100 hoodies over and over again. Others continue to produce new material and perfect their signature style, wearing it like a battered leather jacket that still has its original shape but has become more comfortable and recognizable over time.

Then there’s David Bowie. He’s in a universe by himself.

His last weeks were remarkable in their creative breadth and quality: releasing Blackstar, his critically acclaimed 25th studio album; launching his musical Lazarus off-Broadway;  getting delightfully spry portraits taken by a favorite photographer. The news that he had been diagnosed with cancer eighteen months ago throws all of this into a more profound light. He created these works knowing full well that his days were numbered, and still he pushed into new territory instead of standing in one place.

Blackstar’s producer Tony Visconti confirms that the album – and the music video for its song “Lazarus – was created as a “parting gift” to fans soon after his diagnosis to be released as he approached his death:


As Bowie intended, the imagery and lyrics are chilling, eerie and perfect.

Although this is as graceful an exit as any artist (or human being) could have, I’m still greedily wishing we could have seen him decades from now as a nonagenarian, still disrupting our notions of age, style, beauty and art. That’s a baton others will have to pick up.

When I heard about David Bowie’s death early this morning, I immediately posted a video of him performing “‘Heroes'” at Neil Young’s 1996 Bridge School Benefit – an alternate version of my favorite song of all time:


Yet the rest of the day, I couldn’t get “Life on Mars” out of my head. It’s not an upbeat story – few of his songs are – but as the song title makes you realize, there are other worlds to aim for and better realities to create:

See you on the flip side …


The Next Day

4 Mar

None of us are getting any younger, and this has to be the plague of a rock star’s existence. In addition to hip replacements and grandkids and whatever other worries they share with the common folk, they also have to make peace with the fact that they aren’t who they were when they became famous. An image of themselves at the peak of fame – young, leather-clad, sexy, invincible – must stare back at them like a mournful ghost every time they look in the mirror.

David Bowie did himself a huge favor by 1) being a musical and marketing genius 2) making well-publicized overhauls to his performing persona over time so he didn’t get stuck in one he couldn’t maintain and 3) being comfortable enough with himself to stay out of the limelight until he had something he wanted to say.

Bowie The Next DayHe waited until his 66th birthday last January to release “Where Are We Now,” the first single from his newest album, The Next Day.  This took pretty much everyone – fans, the press – by surprise. Since a serious on-stage heart attack in 2004, he’d kept a low profile and hadn’t made public that he was recording new material.

The album artwork is simply brilliant: a clean white square obscuring one of his most iconic images, the cover of his 1977 release, “Heroes.” You can’t see his two-tone eyes or his youthful glamour or his stunning black hair. That’s past; that’s been done; you can’t access it anymore. It’s time for something else.

I am just beginning to absorb the album, which will stream on iTunes until it’s available for purchase in a few days. I’ll leave it to the critics to  put it in its proper place in Bowie’s musical canon, but I truly like it. It’s got a great deal of perspective and depth without being inaccessible or arty. While I appreciate his more recent albums, especially Heathen, The Next Day seems warmer, more compassionate. Bowie – a performer who specialized in putting a dramatic distance between himself, the characters he portrayed and his audience – connects to the listener in a very human way.

Always fond of  his visual impact, it’s no surprise that two of the songs have been released via video. “Where Are We Now” is rather strange and subverts his glamour from the get-go: he appears only as a distorted face projected on a two-headed doll. (It’s David Bowie singing mournfully about Germany … what else would you expect?) The other, “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” mangles his past identities into a freaky Mobius strip that turns fame in on itself. He’s supported by kindred spirit Tilda Swinton – who, by being in the same room as he is, proves they really aren’t the the same person after all – and a couple of  young doppelgangers:

(It must be noted that there is some half-naked carryings on in this film … but if you look carefully you’ll see that the only one naked to the waist is a man … isn’t he?)

As a man and a musician, David Bowie makes us hopeful. We have more than one chance; we have any number of lives to live, full of discovery and challenge, unbounded by age yet informed by history. Each next day gives us a clean white page on which to begin anew.

Added bonus: In case you haven’t seen the Lincoln-sponsored web ads, Beck produced a remarkable concert version  of Bowie’s “Sound + Vision.” He employed an impressive bank of more than 150 musicians–gospel singers, electric guitarists, strings, percussion, even a yodeler and a singing saw–standing in a ring around the seated audience. There’s a whiz-bang 360-degree video experience, which (if you have the bandwidth) uses your computer’s webcam to follow your eyes as you focus on any element of the concert you wish. Or you can enjoy the standard definition version shot more like a typical concert video–which is still pretty nifty. Grab your earphones and give it a listen and don’t worry: no one’s half-naked in this one.

See you on the flip side …

School of Rock

7 Aug

“The Boston gig has been canceled … I wouldn’t worry about it though, it’s not a big college town.”

My teenage daughter is going to be a senior in high school come September. Next week, I will accompany her up and down the East Coast for her first college tour … or as she sees it, the Bataan Death March of the Soul. As much as she wants to flee parental control, she is leery of jumping into the arms of the academic establishment due to the cost, the pressure, and the likelihood that she’ll have to do her own laundry.

I told her that going to college means one thing for certain: great music. Even dinky campuses get any number of bands traipsing through town to build up their rabid following, one underclassman at a time.  Occasionally, they spring up from the students themselves: Talking Heads at RISD, MGMT at Wesleyan, Vampire Weekend at Columbia.

To prove my point, and perhaps to make it worth her while to set foot in Providence, I looked up the concerts in the New York and Boston areas when we’ve got free nights. And there is NOTHING. No thing. Nada. (There is a Marina and the Diamonds concert in but it’s 18 and over. As her mother, I can’t exactly help her get a fake ID so we can catch a concert.)

Of course,  Bruce Springsteen is playing Fenway Park while we’re in Boston. Call me un-American, but I have absolutely no interest in seeing the Boss in concert.  I wish him no ill. I’m glad he’s in the world, and he is nothing if not sincere. If someone offered me tickets to his show, I’d go. But otherwise, it would be like me going to a Latin mass when I’m only a diffident Protestant: I might recognize some of the melodies and get the gist of what all the fuss is about. Not being a true believer, though, the fervor of the faithful would be dumbfounding. (Maybe if I had gone to Rutgers …)

I was looking forward to catching a show. I saw all of three concerts in the Boston area during the eight years I lived there:

  1. Elvis Costello and his ill-conceived “Spectacular Spinning Songbook”, where he spun a wheel to choose the next song, making the show seem like it went on for days. When 10 p.m. came around and he hadn’t landed on “Alison,” he gave up and just shoved the ticker over.
  2. David Bowie’s “Glass Spider” tour at Foxboro Stadium (speaking of ill-conceived).
  3. The Fine Young Cannibals’ only appearance at Great Woods; they performed their three songs respectably then promptly broke up.

Of course, I want to see a show with her for reasons beyond just redeeming my Boston-based concert roster. With the advent of her senior year, it’s hitting me that there aren’t that many more opportunities for my daughter and me to share music together here at home. I’ll start feeling the emotional impact as we head to the airport and I hand her my iPod to select what she wants to hear in the car. It’ll rear up again when we’re packing her turntable in bubble wrap so it’ll arrive on campus safely. And it’ll knock me flat when Airborne Toxic Event comes through Detroit and she’ll be seeing them on another stop on the tour.

There are still Marina and the Diamonds tickets left. Anyone know where in New York I can get my daughter a fake ID?

See you on the flip side …

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