A personal reflection on David Bowie!

Recently, I lost a childhood friend. Going through his online memorials I was struck by a thought. The relationships we have when we’re young always seem to be the most powerful; having influence far beyond nights spent looking at stars. The memories linger as a reminder of who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be.

Like the news of my friend, the news of David Bowie’s passing hit me with a great deal of force. Through a challenging adolescence, his music had been a soundtrack, a lifeline, a confidant and a means of reassurance to me that things could get better. Like many, Ziggy Stardust had been my entry point; it was a record steeped in mythology, despair, futility and ultimately, hope. Although, I fully admit that I projected my own life’s trials onto his music, like the best albums, you connect to it on some kind of transcendent level. It didn’t matter that I really didn’t understand Bowie’s depth at this point, it only mattered that somehow I didn’t feel alone for those minutes the cassette was running through my Sony Walkman or the crappy 80’s tape deck on a no-name 60’s stereo.

The magic of Bowie was that his genius wasn’t temporary or fleeting. Not only did he reinvent himself every few years, but his artistic vision remained intact. Even when he went in directions that were less accessible for many fans to follow, no one ever believed it was due to a loss of talent. He was the king of ‘other’, a person who revelled in the fringe and gave voice to the weird and disenfranchised with heroic nobility; his personas all broken and in vivid technicolour. He took influences from all directions and warped them into something very much his own. Sure, he was a sponge, taking the sounds of the Velvet Underground and the Stooges and mixing them with soul, funk and tunes that were genre defining in the moment; but he also added colours and textures that outshone his contemporaries.

For my part, the best example of this was found not in those classic albums hailed as the greatest LP’s of all time, but in his covers record Pin Ups. Bowie took the artists who had inspired him and turned their songs into something new. While most covers done today retain much of the tone of the original, Bowie sought only to capture their energy while honouring the artists with a piece of his own vision. The original Kinks version of “Where Have All The Good Times Gone” is full of angst and confusion. Bowie turns it on its head, adding a sense of vitriol and sarcasm. If the original was despair, Bowie brought to it a sense of sanctimonious anger. It was the last line used against the person who made you feel like shit in the first place.

In the last few hours, I’ve found myself reading the memorials to David Bowie; articles bestowing accolades on the importance of his artistic achievements. They mention his music, his style, his accomplishments; all playing into the personification of a genius. It is well deserved and you’ll get no argument from me. However, as I sit back, those things are not what draw my hand toward the volume on the stereo. They are not what I think of as I watch the record spin. When I listen to Bowie, I hear the possibility of individual growth. I see the idea that even the most fucked up amongst us can accomplish something meaningful… beautiful even. Listening to Bowie, I’m not content to look at the stars. I want to reach for them. And should I fall, then let it be spectacular. Let it be epic. Let it be with that sly smile, a wink, and the gracious goodbye that one has after a life well lived. I mean come on… did you see “Lazarus”. How can you not be inspired?

Thank You David, for just sharing a bit of your life with us.

Oh Come On Now! Or David Bowie – Five Years 1969 – 1973

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Just a couple days since I wrote a piece on David Bowie’s Pin Ups and bang! The Big Announcement!

Bowie is releasing a giant box set entitled Five Years 1969 – 1973. The first in a series of new sets, this one will be a 10 albums featuring his first 6 studio records, 2 live albums, plus The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars 2003 Ken Scott Mix. In addition there will be a companion book featuring memorabilia, rare photos, hand written lyrics, press reviews and essays from the original album producers. It will all be available on CD and 180 gram audiophile vinyl.

Just to spell it out, you get:

David Bowie (aka Space Oddity), The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, Aladdin Sane, Pin Ups, Live Santa Monica ’72, and Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture Soundtrack.

It will be released on September 28.

Not that I know anything about these things, but if he follows Springsteen’s example, but you can expect the newly remastered Space Oddity, The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory and Pin Ups to get individual releases on Black Friday/Record Store Day. Either way, start saving now folks!

Like Green Eggs and Ham… or David Bowie – Pin Ups

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Funny how some albums by the world’s biggest artists just don’t get given the respect they are entitled; or funny that some records can find reverence in one place and not another. Then there are those that are outright discarded or left out of the conversation because they don’t fit the mystique and narrative created by the artist themselves. Pin Ups is just such a record on all those levels. It was merely considered adequate by critics, and casual fans of Ziggy and Aladdin just seemed confused. It charted on three different occasions in the UK, but did little (by Bowie standards) in North America. Bowie’s  grand design to record two covers albums with songs from first the U.K. (Pin Ups) and then the U.S.(Bowie-ing Out) fizzled and the second record never materialized.

This might explain why as a teen I had avoided the record. Sure, I was a Bowie fan but I didn’t have cash for something I wasn’t going to really like. However, during a visit to my trusted used record store I picked up a copy, and found out that – I really do like this record. Like Green Eggs and Ham, I guess I should have tried it.

Now I find myself wondering if I can get my hands on a “collectible version.” The copy I purchased came from a batch of regular black vinyl that was released in unison with that new technology, the compact disc back in 1984. But… it wasn’t the only vinyl Bowie released that year. A series of limited edition and numbered picture discs also came out. The series included Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Pin Ups and Diamond Dogs. Amazingly, you can get mint copies of it still for about $60 American and used copies around $40. (However, Ziggy has asking prices over $250 in case you started thinking about it.)

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The next remaster did not occur until 1990 and things got a little complicated at this point. Pin Ups was released worldwide by EMI, but in North America RYKO got hold of the remaster job, and they did things a little differently. Rather than the black vinyl with gatefold cover as EMI had done, RYCO released a limited edition numbered copy in clear vinyl. For comparison sake, you can get the EMI version for about $30 but the RYCO vinyl will set you back about $100 plus shipping on the reseller market.

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Of course, any crate digger out there will tell you they can get an original in decent shape for a fraction of all those prices… so, give it a listen on whatever handy device you have. Then you can decide on a budget, because if you’re anything like me, you’ll want a copy.