Bowie Odds and Ends

Posted in Because he's David Bowie, that's why on January 22nd, 2016 by bill

Bowie flanked by Cook and Moore, 1973.

A few random thoughts about David Bowie, before I begin to think about considering the possibility of maybe turning my attention to other topics.

1. The great actor Alan Rickman had either the misfortune or the great good luck to die just a couple days after Bowie. I guess you have to say that dying is always a misfortune. But speaking strictly in terms of timing – on the one hand, his demise was completely overshadowed by DB’s; I only just learned he was dead a few days ago. On the other hand, he gets to go down in history as part of Bowie’s Celebrity Death Triad (the third, according to my calculations, is legendary soul singer Otis Clay, who died on Jan. 8). That’s quite an honor.

2. Earlier this week I came to the horrifying realization that, even as we speak, producers are pitching Bowie biopic projects to movie studios. There is only one, very specific way in which such a project could go right: an “I’m Not There”-style film where many different actors play many different Bowies, directed by someone who’s properly empathetic to the subject (perhaps Bowie’s son Duncan Jones). There are about a million ways it could go wrong, some of them obscene; imagine someone like, I don’t know, Justins Bieber or Timberlake being cast in the role. Any attempt at such a travesty will have to be stopped, by any means necessary.
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Let the thousand Bowies bloom

Posted in Because he's David Bowie, that's why on January 16th, 2016 by bill

As I’ve worked through the seven stages of Bowie grief this week I have been pondering how best to respond to the departure of the Great One from this bardo. (I may have done the stages out of order; I hit Depression earlier in the week, then Anger after listening to one too many shallow “tributes” from people who had no idea what they were talking about.) And today I think I finally reached the last stage, Hope/Acceptance, and found the right attitude, which goes something like this:

Yes, the singular human being we call Bowie is gone. But the spirit of Bowie will be with us always (not unlike Obi-Wan Kenobi). He was one of the most recorded, most photographed, most documented people in the history of the world. The art, the evidence, the inspiration is all still there. And more to the point, a little bit of Bowie lives on in every one of us who loved him.

So. It is our turn to be Bowie now. And it’s going to take all of us, because we can’t do it as well as he could – maybe not even a millionth as well – but if we all work together, we can at least take a shot at it. And that means, starting today, being the most creative, confident, generous, and glamorous version of yourself.

Start that project you’ve always wanted to do but been afraid of. Or think of a new one and get cracking. Give your self-doubt a rest, and when inevitably it rears its ugly head again, think of David – who always and above all else believed in himself. If ever you find you can’t believe in yourself, believe in the Bowie that lives inside you.

And when I say glamorous, I don’t mean wear glitter makeup – though by all means do that if you want to – I mean hold your head up, put your best face forward, and walk out proudly into the spotlight that is the world. Help others to do the same.

David would have wanted it that way.

So softly, a super-god dies

Posted in Because he's David Bowie, that's why on January 11th, 2016 by bill

So long, Mr. B.

In my logical mind, I knew that someday David Bowie was going to die. But in my heart, I believed that he would live forever – or at least find a way to outlive me, even though I’m 21 years younger.

Instead we are faced with the dreary prospect of a world without Bowie in it. That’s the bad news. The good news is that his music, image, and influence have pervaded the world so thoroughly that he will always be with us. Which is of course a cliche thing that gets said about every artist who dies, but in his case it is very true. Bowie is all around us, all the time; you just need the eyes to see.

When I walked into the coffee shop in Eureka this morning, “Space Oddity” was playing on the stereo. The one barista who’s always a little glammed-up was especially so, with bright pink hair and a colorful shirt and pants. As I walked in he was telling someone, “David Bowie taught me how to be myself.” Pointing to his plumage, he added, “He’s responsible for all this.”

Can it be true?

Posted in Because he's David Bowie, that's why on January 11th, 2016 by bill

People are telling me that David Bowie is dead. I find this hard to believe, for many reasons, but perhaps it is so. More later.

I Can’t Answer Why

Posted in Because he's David Bowie, that's why on January 10th, 2016 by bill

So…two days later and I have listened to each of the new Bowie songs a couple of times, but I still haven’t sat down and listened to the whole album all the way through. I’m going to do that right now.

1. “Blackstar”: This is a monumental piece of work. Ominous and grandiose, but also kind of sly and funny. Although I’m led to believe that’s a human drumming, the percussion makes obvious reference to the drum’n’bass stylings of Earthling (not to mention “Sunday”).
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He’s a Blackstar

Posted in Because he's David Bowie, that's why on January 8th, 2016 by bill

It’s a big day for Bowieists today: David turns 69 and releases his 26th studio album, Blackstar.

There may or may not be time for a detailed consideration today. Consider this a placeholder. Or, if you prefer, a black spot – an empty space to be filled in later.

In the meantime…

Some of My Favorite Shows (Part 6)

Posted in Dancing about architecture on January 2nd, 2016 by bill

This New Year’s Eve found us at the Fillmore in San Francisco, where the evening’s entertainment was provided by Patti Smith and her group, the, um, Patti Smith Group. (It’s possible that they’re not actually calling themselves that anymore. I’m fuzzy about a lot of things from that night – not, as is usually the case, because of overindulgence, but because details seem beside the point. It’s all about feeling with Patti.)

Having purchased our tickets on StubHub and ridden from our AirBnb to the show in an Uber, we were feeling like fully habituated citizens of the 21st century, but the feeling inside was rife with nostalgia. Old hippies and aging punk rockers intermingled, sometimes within the same body. The pre-show soundsystem rocked Television, the Dead Boys, the Ramones, the MC5, and Lou Reed (“Satellite of Love,” sounding even better than usual as we stood staring at the net full of balloons hanging from the ceiling). It was a groovy scene.

And it got even groovier when four hippies wandered onstage and kicked into “Eight Miles High.” This turned out to be Patti’s backing musicians, who for the occasion I believe were calling themselves “The Nuggets,” and were going to play set of classics from 1967. Which got me to thinking…hmmm…1967…wouldn’t it be great to hear Patti Smith belt out “White Rabbit”? Really, it seemed like too much to ask for, especially after the band followed “Get It Together” and “Last Train to Clarksville” with a ripping version of “Somebody to Love.”

Oh well, I thought, there goes their Jefferson Airplane moment. But then, without even waiting for the last notes to fade, Jay Dee Dougherty lit into that martial drumbeat. A gray-haired lady in a hoodie appeared at the back of the stage, and a big, dumb smile appeared on my face.

At the end of the song, when Patti repeated the command to “Feed your head!” four times instead of two and the whole place sung along, I got chills. If that was all we’d gotten for the night, I would have been perfectly content. But that was just the beginning.
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Your Mid-December Updates

Posted in Because he's David Bowie, that's why, Golden (State) Years on December 13th, 2015 by bill

A quiet Sunday in mid-December seems like a good time for an update on some of my ongoing obsessions.

The Warriors
I hoped to be sitting here today writing that the Golden State Warriors are still undefeated at 25-0. And I guess I just did, but that was not intended to be a factual statement. Playing their last game of a 7-game road trip, fresh off an exhausting double-overtime victory against the Boston Celtics, the Dubs finally succumbed to reality and lost in Milwaukee last night. That leaves them at 24-1, for a tidy .960 winning percentage. Good enough.

Once Upon a Time in Shaolin
There was an interesting twist this week in the saga of the Wu-Tang Clan’s Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, the only copy of which which was finally sold recently, for what was reported to be something in the $2 million area. The identity of the buyer was not disclosed until a few days ago, when it turned out to be: Martin Shkreli, the capitalist supervillain who’s gotten a lot of bad press lately for acquiring obscure pharmaceuticals and drastically raising the prices. (Here’s one sample headline: “‘Most hated man in America’ raises drug prices again.”) This prompted RZA and co. to say they were going to donate most of the money to charity. Which, whatever, that’s nice. My hope, though, is that Shkreli – who’s badly in need of some good PR – will do the right thing and share Once Upon a Time in Shaolin with the world (my understanding of the legalities is that he is allowed to give it away, but not to profit from it). So come on, Martin, let’s do this thing.

Bowie
Meanwhile, Mr. David Bowie released a new single recently: “Blackstar,” which at 9:59 clocks in as the second-longest song in the Bowie oeuvre (behind only “Station to Station”). And it is quite a piece of work, starting as some kind of dark electronic chant, then morphing into a middle section that’s by turns sweetly melodic and aggressively funky, which in turn is slowly swamped by the return of the original theme. There’s a hell of a lot in there; after a dozen listens, I feel like I’m only beginning to unpack its contents. “Blackstar” is seriously strange, hauntingly beautiful, and even kind of funny. It’s David Bowie. It’s 2015. I like it.

Vigoda
With 2016 on the horizon, Ave Vigoda, age 94, against all odds remains alive. I for one take comfort in that.

Goodbye Mr. T

Posted in Dancing about architecture on November 14th, 2015 by bill

In a reversal of the usual situation, Allen Toussaint is in the foreground here, with Dr. John in the background.

We lost one of the greats this week: Allen Toussaint, legendary New Orleans songwriter/producer/pianist and all-around musical genius, who dropped dead of a heart attack shortly after finishing a show in Madrid.

Toussaint was not exactly a household name; he mostly stayed in the background, I think by design. But his influence on American popular music was broad and deep. He recorded with everyone from Fats Domino to Elvis Costello, Etta James to Dr. John, The Meters to Paul McCartney. All his work – with the possible exception of that Wings album – shared a common vibe; not just funky and groovy, but soulful and positive and uplifting. In short, some of the best music ever made by humans.

Many of us came to know him through his work with Lee Dorsey, which the kind of stuff you know even if you don’t know you know it. Toussaint and Dorsey recorded “Yes We Can Can,” which later became a big hit for the Pointer Sisters; “Workin’ in a Coal Mine,” which I came to know first in Devo’s cover version; and of course “Everything I Do Gonh be Funky,” famously referenced by the Beastie Boys in “Sure Shot.”

I don’t know if everything Mr. Toussaint did in his life was funky, but his average was surely among the highest out there. The world will be measurably less funky without him.

(I’ve only scratched the surface here; for a deeper dive, I recommend this article by Mike Powell.)

Some of My Favorite Shows (Part 5)

Posted in Dancing about architecture on October 26th, 2015 by bill

There have been many versions of Pere Ubu over the years, but this is something like the version that I saw in 93.

In related memories, there was the time I saw Pere Ubu at Slim’s in San Francisco in 1993. The common thread here is legendary Cleveland underground band Rocket from the Tombs. After a brief but influential tenure in the mid-70s, which produced a few singles and many live performances but no actual album, RFTT splintered into two factions. One became the Dead Boys, featuring Stiv Bator, later of Lords of the New Church. The other, including David Thomas – known as Crocus Behemoth during his time with RFTT – and the soon-to-be late Peter Laughner, became Pere Ubu.

Ubu recorded a number of strange and innovative albums in the late 70s and early 80s, and in the late 80s returned in a somewhat more accessible form. I was not really aware of them until I saw them open for the Pixies at the Warfield in 1991, but when they came around again in support of 1993’s The Story of My Life, I was right there at the foot of the stage.

They opened with the first song from Story of My Life, “Wasted,” a slow-moving number that starts with just voice and accordion. But a minute or so in they stopped. David Thomas indicated, quite clearly, his displeasure with the way the accordion sounded; there was a pause in the action.
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