“Ziggy Stardust”

Standard

I don’t know if this is the end of my Bowie-fest, but it is the end for this week.  All in all, it’s been a really bad year for the entertainment industry so far–yesterday it was announced that Celine Dion’s husband died after his long fight with cancer, and today was Dan Haggerty (children of the 70s know him best as Grizzly Adams).  I know the beginning and end of years tends to be a bit of a clearing out time, but this is just kind of depressing.

I’m a little afraid to look at the news, frankly.  I’m trying to hold on to my optimistic feelings about a new year, but it’s been hard in the face of all this public tragedy.  I think I’ll have to start over again with the Lunar New Year in February; it’s the year of the Monkey, after all, and I happen to be a Monkey (keep your comments about that to yourselves 🙂 ).

I think ending the week with “Ziggy Stardust” is appropriate, since that’s the character/persona so many of his fans associate Bowie with the most.  It was certainly his most distinctive character.  And the music from that period still stands as some of his strongest.  With Mick Ronson on guitar, Bowie was as sharp and smart as he ever got.

“Under Pressure”

Standard

BFF and I saw David Bowie in concert back in 2004.  (She’d bought tickets as a birthday present for me, in spite of our crappy track record buying tickets to events for each other for birthdays–there were a lot of cancellations before that Bowie show.)  It was a great concert, marred only by the extremely drunk people in front of us (do not ask).  The highlight was when Bowie performed “Under Pressure” with his bass player taking on Freddie Mercury’s part.

This clip is obviously not from any concert, but I liked the performance.  Bass player Gail Anne Dorsey does a terrific job singing (and playing) the song.  She’s not as strong a vocalist as Mercury was, but she owns her performance.  I remember listening in rapture to this at the Greek Theater.

“Under Pressure” is the only duet Queen ever recorded with anyone, and it says a lot that they did it with David Bowie.  It’s one of my favorites by either artist.

“Modern Love”

Standard

All Bowie, all week.  He is owed that much.

I gotta admit, one of my favorite things about this song is the opening riff played by the incomparable Stevie Ray Vaughan.  And it gives me some comfort knowing that at the Great Concert of the Afterlife, those two get to play together again.  And Bowie will be reuniting with Freddie and Lennon and Luther Vandross and Mick Ronson and Lou Reed, and the music is fabulous.

“Heroes”

Standard

I am just wrecked.  Last night, I couldn’t even get the toothpaste onto my toothbrush.  David Bowie’s death has really shaken me to the core.

I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m no Bowie superfan, but the music of his that I enjoy is music that I really love.  And my taste in his work spans most of his career; name anyone else you know that owns the first Tin Machine album.  He was  a consummate artist in every sense of the word.  He made music that influenced generations, that gave voice to the fear and angst of so many, that helped shelter all of us misfits.  His fearless androgyny and chameleon style showed everyone that it was okay to be yourself.

I stayed up watching CNN for a little while last night, and the one thing that struck me was that they couldn’t quite describe Bowie adequately.  Part of that was because the news was maybe an hour old at that point and no one had time to prepare anything.  But I think the bigger part of that was the fact that David Bowie simply defied description.  He refused to be pinned down to one genre, one style, one persona.  They kept referring to Ziggy Stardust as if that were the only persona Bowie created for himself.  But no one mentioned Aladdin Sane or the Thin White Duke.  They didn’t talk about his crossdressing or fluid sexuality.  They mentioned a bit about the different musical risks he took, but there was more talk about his retreat from the “spotlight,” as if being out of the public eye was a bad thing.

Thing is, we never really got the real David Jones from Brixton.  We got Bowie and all his alter egos.  He was a guarded and private man who generally preferred to keep his personal life off the stage.  I respect that.  Like Bob Dylan, David Bowie created a public face that protected his private self.  But where Dylan has always remained the same infuriatingly cryptic smart ass, somewhat tempered by age and humor, Bowie was almost literally a chameleon.  He blended in with the background so effectively that no one knew where one ended and the other began.  That was clearly by design.  When he essentially retired from music in the early 2000’s, that was cool.  He and wife Iman lived their lives quietly, venturing out once in a while, but mostly content to let the machine rattle on without them.  His sudden return in 2013 was welcomed, but not hyped.  When Blackstar was released last Friday, it was a happy event, but no one could have ever anticipated what it foretold.

I’m a little angry about that, honestly.  While I try very hard to respect the privacy of the public figures I admire, I expect some kind of announcement about big life changes.  Weddings, babies, divorces, etc. should be acknowledged.  So should illness and impending death.  I feel like Bowie cheated us somehow by keeping his illness to himself and not directly telling anyone (see the major themes of Blackstar for the obvious indirect acknowledgement).  I have no right to feel that way, but I do.  I don’t like being blindsided like this.  Like I said at the beginning, I’m just wrecked by this news and I know I’m not the only one.  But it isn’t really surprising, given Bowie’s tendency toward privacy.  Freddie Mercury did pretty much the same thing; he announced his illness and died a few days later.  Freddie and Bowie were friends, so maybe he just took a page from that book and rewrote it to suit his needs.  In that sense, this sudden news is really quintessentially Bowie.

“Under Pressure”

Standard

While this is a great song, it’s not quite what I intended for today.

I was checking out Dangerous Minds (as usual), and I came across a post today about technology that can make music visible.  I’m not even going to pretend I understand any of the technical stuff, but I watched the video they embedded in the post, and it looked pretty impressive.  It of course made me think of one of my favorite itunes features: the visualizer.

Visualizer is a setting in itunes that essentially plays a screensaver-like show of colors, shapes, and lights in time to whatever song happens to be playing.  (Click here for an example of what it looks like. I recommend going full screen.)  Of course, the visualizer harkens back to the old days, when venues like the Fillmore East would project a light show on the screen behind the performers that looked a bit like a lava lamp (an effect created with mineral oil, coloring of some sort, and alcohol moving under the heat of a lamp).  It was cool stuff, one of the few aspects of Psychedelia I actually appreciate.  But the patterns created in the liquid light show were pretty random.  I can’t imagine anyone operating the projector and slides would be able to exert that much control or rhythm over a bunch of floating colors.

How this led to “Under Pressure” isn’t really clear, except that I think this song lends itself very nicely to viewing on the visualizer.  The opening notes pulse with energy, and the whole song just soars.  Whoever directed the video for this song did a nice job of creating images that support the combination of David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, and music.  But I bet the Fillmore light show would’ve made it seem even more special.

Freaky Christmas: “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy”

Standard

From the first moment I saw this video on MTV way back when, I was a little flummoxed.  I like the duet, but it’s probably the strangest musical pairing ever.

The combination of the two songs is really well done.  And David Bowie’s voice melds nicely with Bing Crosby’s.  But it’s just so weird!  It was filmed for a TV  Christmas special Crosby was making in 1977, just a month before his death.  Bowie has moved on from his serious gender-bending and Ziggy, but he was still pretty out there for the older, conservative crowd that was Crosby’s primary fan base.  I’m sure CBS just wanted to get as many eyes on their program as possible, appealing to the widest demographic they could; ratings make strange bedfellows, I guess.

Although strange bedfellows also often leads to unexpected success.  “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” circulated as a bootlegged cult classic for a few years after the special aired, and was finally released as a single in 1982.  It’s gone on to be one of the more popular Christmas duets.

It’s still weird, though.