David Bowie – The Stars Look Very Different Today

David Bowie was 1 of the 1st ppl to make weird acceptable for the masses & give kids who didn’t connect w/ 60’s do-op, someone to connect to – Frances Bean Cobain tweet.

I hadn’t planned on posting today. But for the record, David Bowie died today at 69 years old of cancer. To say I’m in shock hardly describes it. He literally just put out an album (‘Blackstar’) which I guess will now be his epitaph. I don’t believe it was well-known that he was sick but apparently he’d had it for 18 months. (For the record, like Joni Mitchell, you see him in a lot of photographs smoking. It catches up with you).

I first heard Bowie during what the rock press – who have to label everything – called the glam rock period. Wikipedia describes it – not inaccurately –  as “a style of rock music first popular in the early 1970s, characterized by male performers wearing exaggeratedly flamboyant clothes and makeup.” I can tell you that people did not know what to make of Bowie’s androgyny, especially in the somewhat macho world of rock music. But even his detractors know he was a talent to be reckoned with.

One of my all time favorite Bowie tunes is “Space Oddity.” It works on so many different levels. It’s about being lost, alienated. But in space? Or on drugs? Or within oneself.

Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you “Here am I floating round my tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do.”

As a performer – as an artist – Bowie went through many incarnations – Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke, R&B singer, actor, performance artist. And rocker. And he was a great, great rocker. I just recently learned how to play the riff from “Rebel, Rebel” on the guitar as well as maybe my favorite Bowie song of all time, “Suffragette City.” Wham bam thank you mam! This song fucking rocks and I listen to it just about every time I work out. Pumps the blood you know. Love the guitar by Mick Ronson.

As an actor, Bowie played The Elephant Man on Broadway to generally good reviews. He was in some other stuff too, notably a movie called “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” parts of which it just so happens I recently saw. It’s an oddball sci-fi film with a cult following. I remember Bowie saying he’d never acted but the director told him to just keep doing what he was doing. The song “Starman” is not from this movie but the title makes me think of it. It cropped up in the recent film, “The Martian” and just has one of those great can’t get-it-out-of-my-head melodies.

Bowie was by no means a bluesman but he was at heart an R&B singer, even once going to Philly to record there and pick up that sound. (He was fond of going to different places to pick up on the ambient mood. Some of his most successful work was done with Brian Eno behind the then Iron Curtain in Berlin.)

I mention this in part because it’s notable that while Bowie did not discover Stevie Ray Vaughn, he certainly did much to popularize him. Bowie heard him at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982 and was so impressed with the guitarist he later said “[he] completely floored me. I probably hadn’t been so gung-ho about a guitar player since seeing Jeff Beck with his band the Tridents.” (Note to self – find out more about the Tridents).

A song from this album that features SRV – who as a blues obsessive was barely familar with Bowie’s stuff –  is the title tune, “Let’s Dance.” This album was a huge hit and I like to think that Stevie Ray was a big part of that.

There’s too many Bowie songs I have to leave out (“Heroes”, “Changes”, “Stay”, “The Jean Genie”) but this is, I think, a reasonable representation, at least for me. As a white male, I was hardly an outsider. But as Kurt Cobain’s daughter said in the quote at the top, Bowie made it ok to be different, ok to be an outsider. And for me, that and his music are his greatest legacy.

And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
(Turn and face the strange)
Ch-ch-changes
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it

RIP David Jones. You were one of a kind.

9 thoughts on “David Bowie – The Stars Look Very Different Today

  1. Really sad about this. But such a rich legacy. Just the night before he died, I hadn’t been listening to any of my Bowie albums for a few months, and just decided to put on Low, just as a kind of passing background music, but it struck me just as powerfully as it did the first time as intensely beautiful. My favourite track is New Career in a New Town. That album is probably the best music representation of the stark, depressing beauty in those parts of Europe at that time. Great post 😉

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  2. Yeah, I was so, so shocked. I knew he had just put out an album and so – wow! And so he did it as his legacy. I don’t know if you’ve seen it but one of the videos (Lazarus?) he did shows him bound and blindfolded on a bed and then he walks into a closet and…gone. In typical Bowie fashion he “performance arts” his own death.

    I’d been hearing the song ‘Blackstar’ on the radio and liking it. It’s odd, but good. Yesterday I listened to the whole album on Spotify and liked it. I hadn’t listened to much of his more recent stuff so I was glad to see I enjoyed it. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

    As to Low, yes with anybody else, going to Berlin and making albums would seem like a pose. With him, it didn’t. Isn’t Heroes from that era? I think so. “If we could be heroes, just for one day.” I love that song.

    I saw a cool thing on the news yesterday. A group of people had shown up somewhere in, I think, London at some square or something. They had some guitars and all spontaneously started singing “Starman.” What an impact this guy had! A friend of mine who is way into music but who had never said much about Bowie texted me and said,”He was an ARTIST.” Indeed.

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  3. It’s amazing sometimes how much you didn’t realize how much you cared about someone or their art till they’re gone. I felt pretty gobsmacked – as the Brits say – by Bowie’s death. I remember when he first came around my friend and I found him so bizarre we thought, “What’s up with THIS guy?” But his talent and artistry overcame any objections.

    I’ve been watching tributes online and listening to Sirius a fair amount. I also already knew a handful of his songs on the guitar – most recently Suffragette City – and just this week, Starman. My good voice imitating Bowie? Not so much. But that hasn’t stopped me. 😀

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  4. Yeah, don’t even get me started on John Lennon. As to Bowie, coincidentally in the past month I had learned “Space Oddity” “Suffragette City,” “Stay” and “Rebel Rebel” on the guitar. (This is just for my own entertainment. I’m not in a band or anything.) Just today I was learning “Starman.” I felt I had to do something. I wish I’d been in Brixton singing along with that crowd. I’m not even 100% sure why I felt so strongly. I guess he affected me more than I thought. Cool thing is that “Starman” was used in The Martian so I’m hoping they do some kind of tribute on the Academy Awards show.

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