A million stones, a million bones


After observing the federally mandated waiting period, I am finally ready to name my album of the year for 2009.

There’s not a lot if suspense here, at least in my mind. All along I thought the Decemberists’ The Hazards of Love would be pretty hard to top, but I had to hear a few other things (Devendra Banhart’s latest, e.g.) before I could be sure. Now, with February safely in the rear view and springtime in the offing, it’s time to make it official.

Bowie and Bolan Whitewash an Office

David and Marc, older, richer, and more coked-up

David and Marc, older, richer, and more coked-up

This month’s book club selection is Bowie: A Biography by Marc Spitz. (Is he any relation to Bob Spitz, author of the gigantic Beatles book it took me the better part of a year to get through? I am mildly curious, but not enough to actually do any research.) My favorite factoid so far: In the years while David was still David Jones, his friend Marc Feld, later known as Bolan, briefly toyed with the name “Bowland.” It would have been Bowland and Bowie, and then maybe Iggy Stooge would have changed his name to “Bowery” and they would have formed a trio.

I also loved this anecdote about the first time they met:

It’s now hard to believe but the meeting of these two rock icons was as humble as it could have possibly been. Les Conn, managing both Bolan and Jones, had promised both future icons some much-needed spending money to whitewash his office.

“Both Marc and I were out of work,” Bowie would later recall, “and we met when we poured into the manager’s office to whitewash the walls. So there’s me and this mod whitewashing the office and he goes, ‘Where’s you get those shoes, man?’ And I asked, ‘Where’d you get your shirt?’ We immediately started talking about clothes and sewing machines. ‘Oh, I’m gonna be a singer and I’m gonna be so big you’re not gonna believe it, man.’ ‘Oh right. Well I’ll probably write a musical for you one day then ’cause I’m gonna be the greatest writer ever.’ ‘No no, man, you gotta hear my stuff ’cause I write great things and I knew a wizard in Paris!’ It was all this. Just whitewashing walls in our manager’s office.”

This is the kind of image that amuses me no end, two young, skinny, overdressed aspiring rock stars doing manual labor and talking shit. To quote another famous Bowie associate, “Those were different times.”

Valentine’s Day in reverse

In front of a restaurant on College Ave., an employee is erasing the Valentine’s Day messages from the windows.

“Be Mine” becomes “Be Min,” “Be Mi,” and, with a flourish, just “Be.”

And then nothing at all.

Seven Thousand Different Melodies

The Metal Machine Music 8-track, which Lester Bangs used to play in his car.

The Metal Machine Music 8-track, which Lester Bangs used to play in his car.

I’ve been rereading Lester Bangs’ classic Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, and as a result thinking a lot about Lou Reed, Lester’s idol and nemesis. Odd that all these years later Lester’s long gone while Lou improbably remains alive, or at least not certifiably dead, and still an enigma wrapped in a paradox: the misanthrope’s misanthrope, also author of such transcendently beautiful and human songs as “Candy Says,” “Pale Blue Eyes,” and “I’ll Be Your Mirror.”

He is also the creator of the infamous Metal Machine Music, which is the subject of not one but two pieces in Psychotic Reactions. The first, “How to Succeed in Torture without Really Trying,” describes MMM this way:1

What we have here is a one-hour two-record set of nothing, absolutely nothing but screaming feedback noise recorded at various frequencies, played back against various other noise layers, split down the middle into two totally separate channels of utterly inhuman shrieks and hisses, and sold to an audience that was, to put it as mildly as possible, unprepared for it. Because sentient humans simply find it impossible not to vacate any room where it is playing. With certain isolated exceptions: mutants, mental patients, shriek freaks, masochists, sadists, amphetamine addicts, hate buffs, drug-numbed weirdos too walled off by chemicals to feel anything, other people whose nervous systems are already so bent out of shape that it sounds perfectly acceptable, the last category possibly including the author of this article.