What’s Really Happening?

I never joined BowieNet (David’s branded internet service provider, launched in 1998) back in the day — I guess I was (as per usual) behind the curve, and maybe it was a bit pricy? If I had I might have entered the contest to provide lyrics for “What’s Really Happening?” (The title and chorus were already in place; the challenge was to fill in the verses.) Even without me, there were about 25,000 entries; the winner was one Alex Grant, a 20-year-old Chicagoan. As I look at them now, his lyrics are pretty minimal — two verses and a pre-chorus:

[Verse 1]
Grown inside a plastic box
Micro thoughts and safety locks
Hearts become outdated clocks
Ticking in your mind

Now it’s time to say goodbye
Now it’s time to face the lie
That we’d never cry

[Verse 2]
All the clouds are made of glass
And they’re slowly sinking
Falling like the shattered past
Were we built to last?

But good for him. He got a $15,000 publishing contract, the complete Bowie catalog on CD, a $500 gift card to online music site CDNow, and — coolest of all — the opportunity to be in the studio when Bowie recorded the song. Producer Mark Plati remembers the session, which was streamed live on BowieNet,1like this:

That was a fun session. Alex was great. He was there with a friend, and they seemed a bit numb just being in New York and in a recording studio, especially that particular session. There were lights, cameras, journalists, and catering…. But Alex was fine with David, and a good sport. He and his friend ended up singing background vocals on the track. Still, he seemed to be in a state of disbelief the entire session.

Well of course he was! There’s David Bowie in the studio with you, singing words you wrote. It would be a hard-to-replicate high point for anyone, and must have been for Grant, who seemingly has disappeared from the face of the Earth. (When writing about “What’s Really Happening?” Chris O’Leary tried to find him but couldn’t.) Hopefully he’s had a good life.


Bring Out Your Dead, 2/19/2023

When Jerry Lee Lewis died last year, I wrote that “he was the last survivor of that first generation of rock stars.” But I was not aware at the time that Huey “Piano” Smith was still alive. Huey passed this week at the age of 89 — surprisingly young, considering that his big hits were in the mid-1950s. But he got started early, playing clubs and making records at the age of 15.

He was not quite as famous (or as infamous) as the Killer, and I’m not 100% sure that his music technically qualifies as rock’n’roll; it hews pretty close to New Orleans funk rhythms. But for that reason it is absolutely timeless and still sounds great today. I’m partial to “Rockin’ Pneumonia & The Boogie Woogie Flu,” but for our purposes here, let’s go with this lip-synced performance of “Don’t You Just Know It” from 1958. That’s Huey on the left.

Also on the Reaper’s list this week: Raquel Welch née Tejada. We don’t generally think of Raqual as Latina but she was; her father’s name Armando Carlos Tejada Urquizo. Most of us probably also think we saw her naked, but apparently she never appeared nude in any photographs or movies. Playboy pursued her for many years, and she did eventually appear in its pages — in a bikini bottom with one arm tastefully covering her breasts. “She declined to do complete nudity, and I yielded gracefully,” said Hugh Hefner, probably lying; I’ll bet Raquel left a lot of money on the table in that deal, and good for her.


Bring Out Your Dead, 2/12/2023

Sunday seems like the best day for this feature, but is also the laziest day of the week. Today I am going to resolve this tension by the doing the minimum amount of work that allows me to post something, so I can feel better about myself while wasting four hours watching a stupid football game.

Burt Bacharach died this week and my initial reaction was, well, he’s a legend and all, but that’s not really my area. Then I was reminded that he (and his partner Hal David) had written “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” which is probably the first song I remember hearing as a wee, wee lad. I had no idea it was from Butch Cassidy then (or for many years), and even now I can’t put much of a context to this song, or even say definitively whether I really like it or not. It’s beyond that, among the deepest-seeded imprints that I could never shake off even if I wanted to.

Also reaching the end of the road2this month: the Boeing 747, which debuted in 1968, right around the same time as “Raindrops.” Back then traveling by airplane was something people actually enjoyed doing; in a eulogy of sorts for the 747, The New York Times says:

The four-engine airplane was much larger than any other and could fit hundreds of people in rows with up to 10 seats across. The upper deck, reachable by a spiral staircase, hosted a luxurious lounge. American Airlines had a piano bar installed in the main cabin.

Nowadays such luxuries are reserved for the private jets of billionaires; the rest of us are happy for a seat that reclines three inches. The 747 won’t go away for awhile, as there are many still in service, especially in Japan. But the last one left the factory at the end of January, so the end is in sight.



The time scales in Bowie songs range from “Five Years” and “Seven Years in Tibet” all the way down to the one day we get to be “Heroes.” In the track from hours… just called “Seven,” when David sings:

I got seven days to live my life

You might think that he has only 168 hours till he dies. But another way to look at it is that we all only get seven days to live our lives: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. None of us has ever lived a day that wasn’t one of those, at least as our civilization reckons them. Curious how this came to be, I started poking around and came across an article in The Atlantic entitled “We Live By a Unit of Time That Doesn’t Make Sense.” It begins thusly:

Days, months, and years all make sense as units of time — they match up, at least roughly, with the revolutions of Earth, the moon, and the sun.

Weeks, however, are much weirder and clunkier. A duration of seven days doesn’t align with any natural cycles or fit cleanly into months or years. And though the week has been deeply significant to Jews, Christians, and Muslims for centuries, people in many parts of the world happily made do without it, or any other cycles of a similar length, until roughly 150 years ago.

From there it goes into the history of how the seven-day week came to be, but the details are less interesting to me than the fact that it is completely arbitrary.2A week could just as easily be five or ten days or whatever we wanted it to be, and we would perceive time differently as a result. A longer week, for instance, might make time seem to pass more slowly, because two Mondays – or whatever we called them — would be farther apart.


Life Is a Carnivore

A while back I was listening to the Band’s song “Life Is a Carnival”:

And, you know, sometimes Ls sound like Rs, and Levon’s drawl makes the vowels a little squirrelly, so for a moment I heard it as “life is a carnivore.” And I thought to myself: What a great title. I want to use that as the title for something.

So now I have. That’s it. That’s the post.