Sunday, March 20, 2016

David Bowie: The Prettiest Star

I was tagged by my friend Dan to post a Bowie song a day for seven days. This is day seven. Unfortunately for the chain letter effect, I don’t know any more Bowie fans to pass this on to for the next seven days. Anyone want to step up?

Ok, you knew this was coming.
This track isn’t *about* Marc Bolan – it just features him on guitar. According to standard Bowie lore, the “Prettiest Star” herself is Angie Bowie, back in those halcyon days when Angie was his girlfriend and both Bowie and Bolan were graduating from being hippies – fabulous clothes from Granny Takes a Trip, all the right friends in Ladbroke Grove, all the right gigs at UFO and Middle Earth – to full-fledged swans, all the satin and tat and cool visible to all but paddling like motherfuckers out of sight below the water, trying to get ahead.

The track was released as a single, a follow up to Space Oddity and it appears Bowie thought it would soar away. In fact it fell back to earth with a thud, selling (it says on Wikipedia) 800 copies. It’s remarkable that people we regard as natural stars like David Bowie struggled so hard for so long. The old adage attributed to Edison that “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration” certainly applies to popular music, though I’m sure Bowie would never perspire. “Glow”, perhaps, but not perspire.
Bowie redid the track shortly afterwards with Mick Ronson on guitar, though Marc’s chiming Beard-of-Stars guitar figures were deemed matchless and were re-played as is. The video above obviously isn’t that one, because I have my biases. It’s the original 1970 single cut. (I hope.)

David Bowie: Queen Bitch

In case I don't get round to Day seven of Seven Days of Bowie for a while, Dan, here's a stopgap. I came across it in Suzi Ronson's feed.
I have a theory about Rock and Roll. Here it is, the theory what is mine.
All rock and roll is by and about four men who have 10,000 watts of amplification,150,000 watts of lighting, 6 ex-con roadies-cum-heavies led a manager with ties to the Mafia, 5,000,000 record-buying fans supporting them from behind and 5,000 screaming, fanatical fans in front of them...and they're belting out a song putting down a nameless 16 year old girl who dissed them after school like ten years ago.
Many kudos for Bowie for riffing on that trope and seriously subverting it in Queen Bitch.

(I have to link to the Facebook post as the specific video is not available outside Facebook. If you don't like Facebook, and many don't, there are other versions available on YouTube.)

Video link [broken]
Posted by The Crazy Ones: The Mad Rock&Roll History on Wednesday, August 26, 2015 [link broken]

David Bowie: Memory of a Free Festival

I was tagged by my Facebook friend Dan to post a Bowie song a day for seven days. It's after midnight, but pretending for a moment it isn't, this is day six. 
I wanted to pick one of the singer-songwriter early songs and had a furious argument with myself over which one. David Bowie is probably the only person who fits the late-sixties/ early-seventies singer-songwriter mold that I can stand. I can cheerfully hate all the others, whether they're critically acclaimed or otherwise. From Giblets O'Sullivan through Joni Mitchell to Fat Reg from Pinner, I've switched them all off in mid-spate and walked out dreaming of proper music. Music with metal in it. 

But David Bowie, despite the lack of feedback and stratospherically-high stacks of Marshall amps on the backline, manages to hold my attention.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Web bloat woes

Reading the interwebs on a laptop is a miserable experience anymore.

I assume the pages have been optimized for reading on a phone screen (portrait orientation) which along with the gigantic amounts of cruft each page loads means there's almost no actual
information per page.

Screen capture from today

In the screen capture, there are 79 - seventy-nine - words of news story and about an acre of other stuff. It's not that most of the real estate is taken over by pointless stock photos (a problem on many other sites). In this case there's part of a real photo, two or three sidebars of other available content, a social media sharing widget that I can't work out how to minimize, a pop-up link to the video I skipped watching in case I want to share it with others (I don't, and I don't know how to get rid of the pop-up) and a banner along the top advertising yet more content, but this time in categories instead of titles. 

And I dread to think what it'd look like without AdBlocker switched on!

79 words per page. I think I was doing better than that with Compuserve in 1989.  Simply scrolling down enough screens to get the gist of the news story is wearing out my left-click mouse button. 


Eh, this one's even worse. 

No words in the news article visible for three screens down. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

David Bowie: Lady Stardust


I was tagged by my friend Dan on Facebook to post a David Bowie song a day for seven days. This is day five.
It's difficult to recommend a track from Ziggy Stardust. The album has reached such a saturation level that everyone has heard it, and worse, for the majority of Pop Pickers today, the album has literally always existed. It was released in 1972, and so for anyone under 43, it's part of the bedrock of society along with Mickey Mouse and the internal combustion engine. Some albums can escape this fate by being obscure - if I recommended J’ai Mal Au Dents from The Faust Tapes (1973), I could assume the vast majority of people have not heard it. But Ziggy Stardust is not a diamond from the hot and dark mine tunnels of ancient rock, a la Nuggets. It’s more like a large city limits sign on the Highway to Hell.

But it was once new. No punter had ever heard it before. Albums back then dropped with a couple of weeks notice, signaled only by hyperbolic wodges of text in the inkies (the weekly rock papers in England) either calling them out as better than the best thing ever or useless slabs of ruined wax by no-hopers who should just give up and go home. Yes, Bowie had played a few Ziggy gigs here and there, but you couldn’t watch them on YouTube, nor where there video cameras that could fit in your satin split-knee loon pants.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that when it was released, I had heard it was good (no one knew it was revolutionary until later) but I didn’t have the faintest idea what, exactly, was good about it. I’d be here all day if I gave an account of my reactions to it, so lets just concentrate on this one track. Lady Stardust. 

I don’t recall previously ever hearing a songwriter sing about himself in the third person. Star, the following track, is in the first person (“I could make a wild transformation as a rock and roll star.”) Lady Stardust is sung from the point of view a watcher. “Lady Stardust sang his songs of darkness and dismay.”

(It didn’t help that I assumed Lady Stardust was Ziggy’s girlfriend. Don’t laugh. I had *heard* of gay people and I knew rather more gay slang than most of my cohort, but for some reason the (no pun intended) straight reading fixed itself firmly in my brain and I imagined Lady Stardust (a combination of Elkie Brooks and Tina Turner) on the stage belting out Ziggy’s lyrics. (Ziggy himself being, obvs, the guitarist.))

It’s impossible to not believe the narrator is actually at the show and recounting what he’s seeing in real time - as though he was a video camera in loon pants. Even once I’d put two and two together and made one, so that the people who are staring “at the makeup on his face” are staring at Lady Stardust, not at her guitarist, the picture remains clear. I can almost remember seeing the boy in the bright blue jeans jump up on the stage, because the image is so bright it might as well be one of my own memories. And the way the narrator’s singing, it’s almost a lament. You surmise that something bad has already happened and Lady Stardust is not going to enjoy his fame for long, even if, as the narrator exaggerates for effect, the song seemed to go on forever. And that’s what special about this track. The words are plain and photorealistically descriptive; the melody is disconsolate and dejected, superficially because he cannot admit his love of the singer, but underneath it seems to be because the man he sees on stage does not really exist. He’s a projected image that will shortly disappear, perhaps lingering a while like the phosphor dot in the center of old TV screens as they were turned off.

Or not. There are other interpretations. One popular theory is that the song is about Marc Bolan (and you know how I love Marc Bolan). I can imagine Bowie thinking of Marc as a queen, but it doesn’t quite fit. His songs aren’t about darkness and disgrace, for one. For another, I don’t see Bowie looking at Bolan and thinking “animal grace”. If it is about Marc, the prediction still came true eventually, a little while after Ziggy’s own demise.

David Bowie: The Width Of A Circle

No interwebs today so this will have to be short. I was tagged by Dan on Facebook to post a David Bowie track a day for 7 days. This is day 4 (I think). 

This one seized my mind as about the filthiest track it would be possible to ever get past Mary Whitehouse. Today I'm not sure if it is about a sexual encounter or about a trip to The Chapel Perilous, though I suppose it could be about both. 

I hope it's the former as it sounds so much more memorable than today's ideal of "Netflix And Chill". We should all have it like this occasionally. 

This is the live version though frankly I prefer the unadorned album version - it's rawer. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

David Bowie: Standing Next To You

I was tagged by my friend Dan on Facebook to post a David Bowie track each day for seven days. This is day 3.

Everyone who knows me knows that I’m a Marc Bolan fan. I’ve been a fan since about the time I bought Electric Warrior hot off the presses back in 1971.

Marc, who had always wanted to be famous – he wanted to be the biggest thing since the Tyrannosaurus rex, he said, at least according to Jackie magazine – took to fame like a duck to water. In doing so, he alienated just about everyone he had grown up with, or who had helped him along the way. He famously stopped speaking to John Peel, a special friend who had supported him since the early days at the Middle Earth Club, when Peel did not consider one of his new pop singles worthy of his (determinedly non-pop oriented) evening radio show. Fellow DJ Whispering Bob Harris did not get cold-shouldered, but as best I can recall, he came to feel no need to continue speaking to the world famous object of T. Rextasy, as he’d become arrogant and needy. I didn’t really notice from down here in fandom, though I did notice in the movie Born To Boogie, Marc wears a t shirt with his face on it while standing in front of a larger than life-size cardboard cut-out of himself. 

His friend David Bowie also started to baulk at his pushiness. I remember reading a pull quote from Bowie, in 1972, that Marc was “prissy and fey and engrossed in his own image”, which at the time struck me as funny – Bowie was nothing if not fey and engrossed in somebody’s image, though I’ve never thought of him as prissy. That led to a minor high-schooler’s dilemma for me. Keep on liking David Bowie and sort of betray Marc Bolan’s trust, or drop Bowie? The latter, obviously, was the correct immature way to go, so I took it. 

I wasn’t one of Marc’s friends, but it did dawn on me after a considerable time that the Boppin’ Elf was not the sunny, dimpled hippy of his earlier incarnation, and even I eventually stopped buying T. Rex records in 1973, between Tanx in January 1973 and Zinc Alloy in February 1974. Ironically, not much later than that, everyone else started liking Marc again. He’d come through his own coke-and-red-wine addiction and gotten seriously into punk; and punk admired him back. He got his own TV show in Summer 1977, which he used to feature himself (natch – the show was even called “Marc”) and a few punk bands. Then, eventually, in September 1977, he featured David Bowie, back on his friends list once again. Bowie sang “Heroes” and looked quite fabulous.

The show was taped on the 7th September, and went out on 28th September. By the time it aired, Marc was dead, killed in a car crash. His second stab at fame was not to be. Since I’d stopped listening to him years earlier I wasn’t aware of his TV show, or of his revival amongst the punks until later. 

For his last live TV appearance, Marc and Bowie rehearsed a song called Standing Next To You together and then played it live on stage. About half-way through the song, Marc fell off the stage and the camera caught Bowie laughing at him. Although it was taped for broadcast later, the live gaffe was used in the show, when it finally aired, and played over the credits. It’s always been one of life’s little ironies that Marc’s last TV appearance is of him fucking up, but it’s wonderful that he was back to playing with one of his old mates, David Bowie.

The partial song as aired is on the second video, but you can hear the whole song (sound recording, with visuals added later) in the first link of them rehearsing. It’s clearly a Bolan song – who else would write that riff? Or that hook? – but it’s great to see Bowie smiling and working on playing his guitar here. 

Rehearsal of Standing Next To You

Highlights of the show as aired, with David Bowie singing Heroes, among other things. The new song starts at 6’ 10” in.

David Bowie: Heroes/Helden


I was tagged by my friend Dan to post a David Bowie song a day for seven days. This is day 2. 

This song has been around the block a few times and may be too well-known for some people. It wasn't a hit when it was first released, but it had so many versions, and was played live so often, that it became a legend in its own lunchtime. A cult hit by dint of hard work, maybe. 

I liked it from the get-go, mainly for its mood. It has some of the elements of Big Melancholy, a type of song that's usually too much for me - makes me feel too sad - but, straining and soaring against the dark ages of rock music ((c) Tony Palmer), it comes to a super positive conclusion. We CAN be heroes, but just for one day. 

I guess my thought process was: "Well, that's the best you can expect, innit. Who doesn't want to be Frodo or Paul Muad'dib or the Beastmaster, or whomever, and the time limit is a good thing, because then you can go back to huddling with your friends in solidarity, and not have to die or go to The West or generally become a demi-god, which is let's face it, a lonely profession."

And this is the German version, as played on the titular car radio of "Radio On", a deep film about deep things from a deep era that I also loved back then. German's usually a mild, quiet, sentimental language, but Bowie, god bless him, manages to bring the histrionics to it nevertheless. "Ich, Ich bin ein Konig, und du, du Konigin!" is so filled with hope and longing and anticip...ation and so forth that it completely rules, except the line about dolphins eclipses it in yearning majesty even though, lets face it, when you read it cold on the page, it's just a line about some dolphins. 

David Bowie makes it magic.

David Bowie: Sound And Vision


I was nominated by my friend Dan on Facebook to post a David Bowie song each day for seven days.
I don't have an extensive collection of Bowie deep cuts, so some of these are going to be old faves - but ones that mean something special to me. 

First up is Sound and Vision from the album Low.

It starts with a heavily-treated snare drum announcement - rat-tat..tat! and goes into a long instrumental introduction that struck me as perfectly worked out, like a song in the round, in that you could listen to it forever and it would always lead back into itself in such a way that there is no part where you could imagine getting off the ride. And I didn’t - when it first came out, after each listening I lifted the tone arm and dropped it again and again back at the start. There’s the bass playing - and that fine guitar - and that...thing...that takes the place of a crash cymbal with its unusual and yet perfect sound - tfff! and the two times Bowie’s voice seems to wake up to its (electric blue) surroundings with that delighted sigh - ah ah! and Mary Hopkin comes in as the (moon)colored girl who goes doo-doo-doo, and then, finally, Bowie comes in on an unexpectedly low register to tell us that he’s holed up in his room, waiting for the gift of sound and vision. Before you have time to wonder why he thinks he doesn’t already have it, he’s out of here, and it’s time to drop the needle at the start and begin it again. 

Having said that, I’m not sure you can hear much of that on a Youtube rip. Unless you have it on vinyl or CD, it’s probably best just to think of it as a nice choon. A lot of its iconic quality comes from its situation in its own milieu, in any case. The seventies, English world of Chris Petit’s Radio On movie, with the Man Who Fell To Earth similarly playing with film grammar, the fact that I was away from home for the first time, living in the Halls of Residence at university. Listening to Sound and Vision again, I can feel that time again, smell it and almost touch it. 


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