Or any day, really. But today especially.
My first non-Star Wars LP purchases, if memory serves, were both Gibb-related. One was Andy Gibb’s Shadow Dancing, which I got only for the title track; I couldn’t name another song from it without consulting The Google, which I don’t care to do at the moment. The other was the two-LP soundtrack from the movie Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which starred the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton.
It is a painful but true fact that the latter served as my introduction to quite a few Beatles songs. I never listened to it much, though; I like to think that at some level, even at that tender young age, I recognized that it was an abomination. The Aerosmith version of “Come Together” was pretty good, I think, and the fact that “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” was covered by Steve Martin is an interesting little quirk of history; but on the whole the existence of that movie and the music from it it something that everyone, including those directly involved, has long tried to forget.
Somewhere in here the 70s finally petered out and 1980 rolled around. I was 12. When Scary Monsters came out, it got a lot of play on my local rock radio station, which also prominently featured the Cars. At that point I knew who David Bowie was, but I didn’t know who he was; I had not yet learned to distinguish his voice (the original) from that of Cars vocalist Ric Ocasek (the acolyte). I may actually have thought that “Ashes to Ashes” was a Cars song, may David forgive me.
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Like latter-day Scott Walker, Diamanda Galas is one of those artists who I respect tremendously without really wanting to listen to. She has been pursuing her harrowing vision of what constitutes music for something like 40 years now, and deserves credit for being a singular artist who does not compromise. It’s not anything I need in my regular rotation, but more power to her.
She was profiled in The New York Times this week in advance of her first live performance there in several years, and one of her pronouncements on the state of music, and art in general, struck me in its HST-like incisiveness. As Steve Martin said, some people just have a way with words.
“To be an artist is to be equal to the present. Because mediocrity is so largely rewarded and broadcast ubiquitously, like a swarm of mosquitoes, by obese and tone-deaf accountants, the public is unable to learn about, let alone hear, see and digest the art of the present.”
Correspondent Runnin Buddha writes, “I know the Warrior fixation is strong, but I anxiously await your Prince post.” And he’s right, Mr. Nelson deserves more of an epitaph than the two words “Prince died.” I must admit that his passing did not affect me personally the way Bowie’s did, but he was a titan of an artist, a talent of so many facets that it’s hard to know where to start.
Like Bowie, Prince was more than just a musician — though he was one hell of a musician. He was known for playing all the parts on many of his albums, and though he could apparently play any instrument, some of his most remarkable work was on the guitar. Check out this clip from the 2004 Rock’n”Roll Hall of Fame Inductions:
It takes purple brass balls to even think about competing with Eric Clapton’s famous solo on this song, but Prince kills it. I’m not sure what’s my favorite part: the bit where he tips over and gets pushed back up; the look of sheer amazed bliss on Dhani Harrison’s face; or the moment at the end where he throws the guitar into the air and it never comes down. The man just had style.
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In May of 1977 I was about nine and a half years old – dead center in the middle of the perfect demographic for Star Wars, which premiered on the 25th.
I wish I could say I vividly remember the first time I saw it. In fact, all of the viewings – and there were many – blur together in my mind. For awhile there my highest priority in life was watching Star Wars over and over again. I had no interest in seeing any other movie, at least until Close Encounters of the Third Kind came out six months later.
No obsession that I’ve had as an adult rivals my complete fixation on Star Wars over the last years of the 1970s. And though at this remove it seems a little over the top, I don’t guess I can really blame myself. Star Wars had everything a boy that age could want: sci-fi whiz-bang, the hero’s journey, an overlay of mysticism to give things a certain flavor, and a cute brown-haired princess.
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Sir George Martin passed away yesterday, which is certainly worth noting, though I don’t have anything particularly original or useful to say about it. I think we can safely say that without his guidance, the Beatles as we know them would not have existed, and for that alone we all owe him a vast debt of gratitude. And I think he deserves a tip of the hat, as well, for his underrated contributions to the field of comedy; as producer of key British comedy records by the likes of Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, he had his influence on the Beatles of comedy – Monty Python’s Flying Circus – as well.
Fare thee well, George. You served well and long.
Frequent commenter Merle pointed me to this video, which I find delightful on many levels:
First off, it’s a pretty good tune, surprisingly funky with nice guitar tones. But the video really makes it. The nuns – are they nuns? – in short white dresses. Some of the worst miming of playing instruments I’ve ever seen. The creative/trippy editing style. Whatever weird ritual they’re doing at the end there. And the 70s-porn-quality production values, which keeps making you think a whole different kind of scene is about to break out. Or maybe it’s just me.
Happy Sunday, everybody.
So in the interest of putting my money where my mouth is, I am reviving a long-dormant project: writing about my favorite albums by way of saying a few things about, you know, life, the universe, and everything. But first, a bit of (pre)history.
Having been born in 1967, I have no real memories of the 1960s. My earliest musical memory is of CCR’s “Looking Out My Back Door,” recorded in 1970, heard by me somewhere in the next few years. Coincidentally, this song would turn up much later in one of my favorite movies:
I also remember B.J. Thomas’ “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” which apparently I used to sing in a manner that some considered cute. I did not know at the time that this song came from the soundtrack of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and it still strikes me as odd. But facts are facts:
On the whole, I was not in any way in control of my musical environment for the first half of the decade. My exposure to music came through my parents or the radio. My mom favored pretty things like John Denver and Simon and Garfunkel; my dad liked gospel and a bit of soul, and had a pretty decent collection of rock records spanning 50s 45s (Little Richard, Bill Haley) and 60s LPs (Dylan, The Beatles).
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1. The wonderful 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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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.