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.

Ezra Furman – Perpetual Motion People or The Ballad Of The Distracted Squirrel

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The wheels roll on as I jerk my car to my left to avoid a squirrel bouncing across the road without it giving a thought to its near death experience. I’m not sure if it was too busy to notice me or it simply didn’t give a shit, but it just kept hopping along without so much as a casual look in my direction.

Ezra Furman reminds me of that damned squirrel, and I’m happy about it. Shock, surprise, and from out of seemingly nowhere (ok, it’s his third record… so nowhere is somewhere) he arrives with a record that is cohesive and yet genre hops. The influences are recognizable but like smoke you can see them but never hold it.

His vocal phrasing is like a cross between Gordon Gano (Violent Femmes) and David Bowie while musically there is a whimsical quality that seems to cross early rock ‘n’ roll with the soundtrack for The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Add to this the kind of playful lyrics that would make Jonathon Richman, David Lowery (Cracker & Camper Van Beethoven) or Paul Westerberg swoon, and you get an idea of how difficult it is to place Furman within a defining genre box.

He has a maddening ability to be so direct you don’t know whether to laugh, cry or throw your arms up in rage as his observational storytelling is seemingly both turned inward towards his anger/humour, and outward at people who can’t seem to mind their own frickin’ business.

Take “Body Was Made”, it is both empowering for those who can grasp his refrain and angry at people who judge based on body image. It begins with an understated Modern Lovers vibe and then rips into a solo sax reminiscent of the Spiders From Mars as Furman sings “My body was made this particular way / There’s really nothing any old patrician can say / You social police can just get out of my face / My body was made.”

Like early Bowie, Furman seems to relish changes in identity, except rather than do it from album to album Perpetual Motion People is a record that does it from song to song, and sometimes, within a single song. “Haunted Head” deals with one’s own self inflicted torment. “Can I Sleep In Your Brain” seeks respite from torment with a wish to become co-dependent. In turn, “Lousy Connection” hides themes of emotional distance behind old sounds of Doo-Wop and killer saxophone leads. To a certain extent, Furman makes being screwed up sound fun in his unique version of a poetic stream of consciousness.

What you have here, is an artist who is so into his music that you’re not sure if there is any attention being placed in the here and now. And really… who cares? If he keeps putting out music as fulfilling as Perpetual Motion People, you’ll prefer geek dancing over analysis of muse.

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!

Oh, I get it! David Bowie – Aladdin Sane

Ziggy invades America, less a space alien and more a genuine rock star. While it is easy for most of us to see the classic The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars as the peak of a string of amazing records, it was Aladdin Sane that solidified his rock god status and was the real beginning to his conquest of the States.

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So now it has been 42 years since its release, and I’m searching through the various vinyl editions that can be had, when I come across these pieces of magical wax.

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Here I was thinking that a 180 gram re-master would be the best thing I can get, but… what the hell is the story with this little gem.

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You see, I got it new at a very nice price which to me meant it was a 2013 version, but it has bonus material from the 2003 30th anniversary set. Well, it seems that it has sailed over from Japan and   is a promo copy for 2013 that is not dated. According to Discogs, the only two coloured vinyl disc version of Aladdin Sane to see official release came from Japan on an “undetermined date.” What is weird about it, is that for such a cool limited imported promo pack, the price on e-bay has remained relatively low. In fact, there seems to be a few such Bowie albums on the market that fill a similar niche. If your a Bowie fan that wants stuff on vinyl, check it out.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/David-Bowie-The-Rise-and-Fall-of-Ziggy-Stardust-2XLP-COLOR-VINYL-W-2-INSERTS-/251898411747?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item3aa650bae3