In 1993 David Bowie had married the model Iman Abdumajid. (Several songs on Black Tie White Noise were inspired by her and the blessed nuptials.) Among those in attendance was David’s old pal Brian Eno, and — legend has it — Bowie used the wedding sound system to play Eno some new music he’d been working on. Eno was intrigued, and so the partnership of the two titans was rekindled.
In March 1994 they went into the studio with a small group and started improvising all day long, with Bowie the bandleader and Eno the provocateur/irritant, creating characters for the musicians to play and applying “strategies designed to stop the thing from becoming over-coherent.” The intent was to do something truly different. “We don’t want to make another record of songs,” Eno said at the time. “There’s got to be a bigger landscape than that.”
As they stockpiled hours and hours of material, their ambition grew. At one point the project was going to be a 3-CD set of lengthy, formless suites — an idea that may or may not have been an artistic success, but was almost certainly commercial poison. If Bowie had been at the pinnacle of his career at the time — or if Bandcamp had existed then — it probably would have gone down that way, for good or ill. But he was without a record company and no one wanted the stuff, so it languished in the vaults, with a few bits and pieces repurposed for what eventually became the Outside album.
Thanks to some unknown bootlegger, we can get a glimpse of what this material was like through three 20-minute-plus excerpts:
After I read the main obituaries in the Sunday Times, my eyes wander over to the smaller ones with the tiny, tiny type. If I were a perfect reading machine I would absorb all of these — the lives there summarized are often as interesting as the ones that get the big writeups, and since they are paid for by the word, every column inch is a testament to the fact that someone was beloved (or at least wealthy).
Usually I pick one or two that catch me eye. This week I was particularly struck by one headlined “DEAN—Joe.” Apparently these little ones aren’t available online, so here’s a picture:
I think this may be the perfect obituary. Warm and genial expression? Check. Age-appropriate but not horrifying picture? Check. Terse, to the point text that makes every word count and praises its subject without getting all flowery? Check. I’d like mine to be similar if possible.
This week I’ve been listening to the album This Is Sumo, which dates from the halcyon days of 1998 but is completely new to me. I only learned about it while reading up on the career of Patrick Guy Sibley Huntrods — a.k.a. Pat Fish, a.k.a. The Jazz Butcher — following his recent departure from this mortal coil. In the late 90s he had decided to abandon the Jazz Butcher name and formed a new band with a bunch of younger musicians, which they named Sumosonic as (I assume) a pisstake on Semisonic (then topping the pops with “Closing Time”), no doubt to much intra-band hilarity.
Maybe I’m a sentimental fool, but I think this is great stuff. The sound is very much of its time, but the songwriting is top-drawer and, though Pat let others handle some of the vocals, his stamp is all over the thing.
The song that most caught my ear was one called “God’s Green Earth,” in which Mr. Fish was already contemplating his mortality:
Last Friday night I was sitting outside at the Oakland Athletic Club watching My Golden State Warriors thump a hapless-looking Chicago Bulls when Andre Iguodala bent the fabric of spacetime and threw a basketball through it.
In one sense this was just another play in another regular-season game in another long, long NBA season. In another sense it is the most stunning example you will ever see of split-second decision-making combined with physical dexterity and sheer chutzpah. As Willard said of Kurtz, “He just thought it up and did it. What balls.”
Today Godfather of the Blog Xian shared a great review of Van Morrison’s Latest Record Project Volume 1, which makes some of the same points I did but much more coherently and with much more context. By resharing it I feel like I am in some way closing that circle and fulfilling my duties, and I can go on to enjoy the rest of my Sunday. Which is scheduled to include, inshallah, Stephen Malkmus and the Traditional Techniques band at the Alberta Abbey in Portland. It could be a good day.