I found myself listening to Young Americans yesterday, and being amazed by it. It may not be Bowie’s best album—I’d give that to either Ziggy Stardust or Station to Station, although it’s hard to ignore Hunky Dory, and Diamond Dogs begs to be included in the conversation—but in a way it’s his most remarkable. Here is Bowie in 1975, coming off the noisy art-rock of Diamond Dogs, right in the middle of his cocaine psychosis era, and he decides he wants to make an album of Philly soul. He’s out of his depth, out of his idiom, out of his country, and out of his mind; and yet somehow he pulls it off. Crazy.
Anyway, without further ado, here are the answers to the birthday quiz:
1. What was David’s original last name, and why did he change it?
David Jones; to avoid being confused with the Monkees’ Davy Jones.
2. Why are his eyes two different colors?
In high school, he was punched in the face by his friend George Underwood, apparently in a dispute over a girl.
3. What was the first instrument he learned to play?
50 Foot Wave/Golden Ocean
Julian Cope/Citizen Cain’d
Question: To what extent does one have the responsibility to report the bad news, and to what extent is it better just to keep it to yourself?
For instance, we have here two albums by artists that I’ve been quite fond of in the past, but whose latest work leaves me cold. Should I write about them, or in the interest of being positive, should I leave well enough alone? My initial instinct was the latter, but I decided to listen to them one more time through just to be sure, and doing so raised the question that I started with.
January 8th is a big day for rock’n’roll birthdays. Elvis Aron Presley was born on this day in 1935, and Bill Graham in 1931. There will be a big to-do at Graceland today, no doubt, and a two-day concert is planned at the Fillmore to celebrate Graham’s 75th.
But to some of us, the one that really matters is David Bowie, who turns 59 today. To us, Bowie is more than just a rock star; he’s the living embodiment of all we aspire to. Some people have Oprah, some have Donald Trump, some have L. Ron Hubbard, and we have Bowie. You’re either on board or you’re not, and if you’re not, we really don’t have much to talk about right now.
According to the information I have, Syd Barrett — born January 6, 1946 — turns 60 today. Much has been written about Syd, probably too much, and I don’t have anything to add. Still, I wanted to make a note of it.
Handsome Boy Modeling School/White People
These two albums have a lot in common: Both are the product of concept bands fronted by imaginary characters; both are follow-ups to highly successful debuts; and both were made by a core duo augmented by numerous guest stars.
Handsome Boy Modeling School is the creation of superstar hip-hop producers Prince Paul and Dan the Automator, who for the purposes of this project wear fake moustaches and call themselves Nathaniel Merriweather and Chest Rockwell. The first Handsome Boy album, 1999’s So…How’s Your Girl?, was a star-studded mix of hip-hop, trip-hop, and comedy inspired by an episode of the Chris Elliott sitcom “Get a Life.” White People is even more star-studded, almost ridiculously so; at times it seems less like music than a way for Nate and Chest to show off the contents of their rolodexes. (Wait a minute…nobody uses rolodexes anymore…I mean the contents of their Blackberries, or their cell phones, or their assistants’ cell phones, or wherever high-powered producers keep their phone numbers these days.) Don Novello a/k/a Father Guido Sarducci reprises his role as Handsome Boy’s most successful graduate, while Tim Meadows does a version of the Ladies Man on between-song skits. Del the Funkyhomosapien, reggae star Barrington Levy, and Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos all appear — on one song, “The World’s Gone Mad.” Julee Cruise, who we last heard from on the “Twin Peaks” soundtrack circa 1989, duets with uber-hip Pharrell Williams on “Class System.” There’s not enough room on the Internet to name everybody else who shows up here, but a partial list would include De La Soul, Mike Patton, Cat Power, Jack Johnson, the RZA, John Oates, and two of the guys from Linkin Park.