Living with…David Bowie…for a week
Bowie Ancient and Modern
Bowie has been around for so long that we have all joined him at different times. For my sister, her first encounter was as the strange blonde man introducing The Snowman and The Goblin King in Labrynth who could only be reached through the bog of eternal stench. For me it was when I was ready…
Hunky Dory (1971)
Bowie was for the cooool guys, and I wasn’t quite there in the 70’s still stuck with Herman’s Hermits (see last week) and less knowing music. I knew he was there but he was for other older cooler people.
Then in 1983 he created a sound that was playing on all the radio stations and I listened as I worked – Let’s Dance, China Girl and Modern Love. Suddenly I was paying a bit of attention.
It was another couple of years before my relationship with Hunky Dory began – a long car journey down from the Midlands to the South Coast and a friend sharing the car slipped in this cassette (obviously sick and tired of my own music) and put on this amazing album. I fell instantly in love with this stylish sound – it’s early stuff looking backwards to Velvet Underground and forwards towards classic material such as Ziggy Stardust. And comparatively, it’s relatively easy listening but it is pure magic from end to end.
You could just say after the first half that it’s a Bowie unplugged but then Queen Bitch comes along and screams out raw Velvet Underground and future glam rock at the same time. For the main this album is peculiarly quintessentially weird British rock. Who would live in the world of Life on Mars?
Fighting in the dance hall.
Look at those cavemen go.
It’s the freakiest show.”
Several times this week, P just paused on a car journey and said “this is weird”. But didn’t ask for any Justin Bieber, so that has to be a plus.
Of course, I must choose Life On Mars?, the video a study of weirdness if ever there was one at the time. And there was such a fuss about Boy George ten years later.
The Next Day (2013)
Firstly, it’s great to see that Bowie hasn’t retreated in to that supposedly safe zone for returning older artistes of a stripped back raw sound, ‘going back to basics’. He could be excused that – it worked for Johnny Cash and Tom Jones to name a few of many. He has instead delivered a complex array of styles and sounds in The Next Day. Not necessarily new or revolutionary but not simple either.
I have to say on first listen I struggled to grasp on to anything beyond the single Where Are We Now? And then after a few listens songs began to grow on me. The Stars (Are Out Tonight) is probably my fave with that classic Heroes quality, (You Will) Set the World on Fire is going back to that glam rock edginess, Valentine’s Rock the type of campus rock sound I’ve always loved.
But this is generally not a happy sound – it is a morose and wistful world delivered very straight without the humour I always found in earlier Bowie pieces. For all his pretensions Bowie would also smile at himself through his lyrics. Instead we seem to have glum musings on the state of the world both wider and personal.
“I can see you as a corpse/ Hanging from a beam”
He sings. But that’s not to detract from a brave sound with some great moments and given the journey I’ve been on with this album I think I may return. After all he did say in 1971
Pretty soon now you’re gonna get a little older
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time
I said that time may change me
But I can’t trace time”
An interesting take on age and, of course Bowie’s infamous andogyny in this video of the excellent The Stars (Are Out Tonight)