Bowie’s 50th Birthday Bash, Part 2

“Fashion” is followed by “Telling Lies,” another frenetic drum’n’bass number from Earthling that was much loved by its creator, if not by anyone else. This is a good performance, though, and visually notable as the first appearance of the weird screen heads that would return many years later in the “Where Are We Now?” video. And the big bouncing eyeballs are cool.

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For “Hallo Spaceboy” David is joined by the Foo Fighters, at the time a pretty new band. By now they’ve been fighting Foo for more than 25 years, and do you know, I still couldn’t name a single one of their songs. Dave Grohl seems like a nice guy but is one of the most boring frontmen in the history of rock’n’roll. At least here he’s behind the drum hit where he belongs:

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The three-drummer lineup is excessive but it’s the right kind of excess for this song. The result is not unlike drinking a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, which in turn is like “having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick.” (We miss you, Douglas.)

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Bowie’s 50th Birthday Bash, Part 1

Because I’m at that point in revisiting his career. I found myself watching David Bowie’s 50th birthday concert yesterday. I seem to remember that back in the day I had mixed feelings about this show. While it was of course cool to see, for instance, Frank Black on stage with the great man, there was something rather embarrassing about Bowie’s naked grasping for relevance with The Kids. It’s even worse when he cozies up to Billy Corgan or Dave Grohl. And there was way too much emphasis on material from Earthling, which was a pretty good album, but come on….

Watching it again 25 years later, though, I’ve decided I love it. Everything about it that’s overbaked or perverse or shameless… well, that’s David Bowie, innit? Of course he’s going to force everyone to listen to his new material when they really just want to hear the hits. Because that’s how David do. You don’t like it? Go see Billy Joel or whoever. If you want to see Bowie, you’re going to sit through “Little Wonder” and “Dead Man Walking” before you hear “Heroes” or “Under Pressure,” and you’re going to like it.

In that spirit, I’m going to write a few posts about this because at the moment I truly have nothing better to do. This might be a good time to say that though I love and treasure every reader of this blog, I wouldn’t take it personally if you unsubscribed. Most of my effort these days goes into Kiss the Culprit, and this blog has once again become a repository for random thoughts with nowhere else to go.

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Basketball Season Is Over

I didn’t write about the Warriors at all this season, and I feel OK about that, because look what happened? Last night they won their fourth title in eight years, and this one might have been the sweetest of all. “Holy cannoli,” said Klay Thompson, who came back from the two worst injuries that can happen to a basketball player — torn Achilles and ACL — to win himself another ring. And he was right, you know?

Conspicuous in his absence was Kevin Durant, who left after the 2019 season to play in Brooklyn, choosing Kyrie Irving over Steph Curry as a running mate for some reason that still mystifies me. In his place was Andrew Wiggins, the former #1 overall pick who everyone had given up on, and was at the times the best player on this team. Which, let me repeat, won the championship.

I’m happy for them all, especially My Personal Savior Steph Curry, who started ugly-crying before the game clock even hit 0.0. The idea that it meant something that he’d never won MVP of the Finals was stupid to begin with, and can now thankfully go away for good. And Klay and Wiggins and Jordan Poole, and Gary Payton II, who has been bouncing around the league for years and finally found a home with the Dubs, making key contributions down the stretch despite having his elbow broken in the first round of the playoffs.

And Draymond. Draymond, my wayward son. Loudmouth, lightning rod, provocateur, basketball genius. The Celtics fans were chanting “Fuck you, Draymond” during the games; his teammates did the same while spraying Champagne around the locker room post-game. These are the kinds of strong emotions he inspires. Without him, Steph is probably another great player who never won a title.

Most of all though, I’m happy for myself. I spent the whole season telling anyone who would listen that we were going to win it all. I didn’t just have a feeling — I did the math. (Nate Silver, BTW, can kiss my ass. Wrong again!) I got some funny looks in return, especially when the W’s were stumbling through the end of the regular season. So, I cannot tell a lie: It feels good to win, and it also feels good to be right. I have to love myself for that.

The only downside is, now basketball season is over. How shall I be entertained? Your suggestions are welcome.

The Princess of Puréed Peas vs. the Most Famous Baby Penis in the World

Last week one Ann Turner Cook passed away at the age of 95. You probably don’t recognize the name, but you might have seen this drawing of her as a baby:

Most likely in a context like this:

Says the NYT:

Ms. Cook was the bona fide Gerber baby, the winner of a nationwide contest in 1928 that has since seen her portrait reproduced on billions of jars of baby food and other items sold round the world.

In 1990, The New York Times described the sketch, by the artist Dorothy Hope Smith, as being “among the world’s most recognizable corporate logos.”

As a baby, Ms. Cook was in very much the right place at the right time. As an adult, however, fearing ridicule for her long-running role as a princess of puréed peas, she did not disclose her identity for decades.

Ms. Cook, who received no royalties for the use of her image, profited from it by precisely $5,000 over some 90 years. That sum — a settlement she accepted from Gerber in 1951 — let her make the down payment on her first home.

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Happy Election Day

Spent some time this weekend going through the California Voter’s Guide, and this was by far my favorite thing in it. I didn’t vote for Mando, because he is clearly insane, but I am a fan.

“Earthling” Revisited, Briefly

When Earthling came out the critical consensus was that Bowie, once the most audacious of pioneers, had been reduced to a follower of musical fashion. And this narrative is not necessarily wrong: Earthling is clearly an echo, a couple years after the fact, of the great drum’n’bass/jungle/trip-hop boom of the mid-90s.1

At the same time, it reflects the Catholic tastes and ingrained idiosyncrasies of its maker, a man from another time and another planet. Earthling is an album that only David Bowie could have made, and he gives it his best effort. But try as he might — and his enthusiasm for the material is palpable — he can’t quite keep the ship afloat.

Earthling is not without its charms but dilutes them. Each individual song is too long, and the album as whole is waaaay too long. In fact it was originally slated to be an EP, and probably should have stayed one. I’d keep “I’m Afraid of Americans,” “Looking for Satellites,” “Seven Years in Tibet,” and maybe “The Last Thing You Should Do.” As a wise person once said, “Brevity is, in almost everything, a virtue.”

Bauhaus Report 2022

I was nervous in the lead-up to the Bauhaus show last Thursday, sure that something had to go wrong. And sure enough we almost got Munsoned out there by a huge accident on I-5. Only quick thinking by my brilliant wife saved us from a multihour delay that might not have kept us from the show, but surely would have occasioned much stress and angst.

After that it was all pretty easy. The opening act was a guy called Soriah who combined Tuvan throat-singing with tribal percussion to intriguing, if sometimes soporific, effect. During the set break I sort of spaced out, and next thing I knew someone was playing the opening drumbeats to “Rosegarden Funeral of Sores.” Then Peter Murphy appeared, now completely bald but with magnificent Shakespearean whiskers, shaking his feathered shoulders as he spat, “Virgin Mary was tired.”

And there was Daniel Ash, glamorous as always in glittery coat and remarkably intact wall of hair. Stage right was David J., eternally cool and understated in black suit. Little brother Kevin was a whirlwind of activity behind his kit, and if the drum parts he wrote as a young man are difficult for a sixtysomething to keep up with, he didn’t show it.

There were no real surprises. They stuck mostly to the oldest stuff, doing five songs from In the Flat Field and three from Mask. In the gradual winnowing of their set list over the years, only “Silent Hedges” and “She’s in Parties” have survived from the last two albums.

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Back on the Bowie Train

On the Bowie front, I’m done with Outside and bound for Earthling. But along the way I was compelled to revisit that awkward period when David had allied himself with Nine Inch Nails, looking for a little cachet with The Kids. I was at one of the shows they did together in 1995, and my opinion then was that Trent Reznor is a medium talent at best who compensates for his lack of range with vulgar histrionics.

Watching the footage didn’t change that opinion. Bowie manages to maintain his dignity beside Trent’s flailing, but only just. Was it was worth it? NIN did bring quite a few young folks into the shows, but many of them left when Bowie came on. The two bands did a few songs together during the changeover and their “Scary Monsters” is not half bad, but on the whole this footnote to Bowie history is one I’d prefer to forget. (Trent’s a grownup now, and a film composer of some renown. Hopefully he’s mellowed out a bit.)

Looking for music from this period I came across a show from later in the tour, post-NIN, that was much better than I expected. By this point Bowie had grown weary of tepid responses from audiences unfamiliar with the new songs, and started mixing in more classics. And while I salute and admire his decision to challenge himself and his fans with fresh material, I don’t at all mind hearing this band tackle “Diamond Dogs” or “Moonage Daydream.”

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They also do nice versions of “Breaking Glass” and “Lust for Life,” though in the process inadvertently reveal them to be more or less the same song. “Heroes,” on the other hand, fares poorly. Reeves Gabrels should not have been allowed within 100 miles of this song; his compulsive wanking makes a mockery of Robert Fripp’s cerebral elegance. All these years later, Gabrels’ long tenure in the band continues to puzzle me; it may have something to do with personal loyalty stemming from his having helped DB get sober.

Anyway, this show has a happy ending: any bad taste in the mouth is erased by a winning run through “All the Young Dudes,” and we’re ready for whatever’s next.

A Few Words from Nick Cave

A while ago I subscribed to Nick Cave’s “Red Hand Files,” where he answers questions from fans when the mood strikes him. The latest one is so good that I thought I’d share it here. I don’t think Nick would mind; this is the kind of message that begs to be promulgated.

Following the last few years I’m feeling empty and more cynical than ever. I’m losing faith in other people, and I’m scared to pass these feelings to my little son. Do you still believe in Us (human beings)?
—Valerio

Dear Valerio,

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You are right to be worried about your growing feelings of cynicism and you need to take action to protect yourself and those around you, especially your child. Cynicism is not a neutral position — and although it asks almost nothing of us, it is highly infectious and unbelievably destructive. In my view, it is the most common and easy of evils.

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I know this because much of my early life was spent holding the world and the people in it in contempt. It was a position both seductive and indulgent. The truth is, I was young and had no idea what was coming down the line. I lacked the knowledge, the foresight, the self-awareness. I just didn’t know. It took a devastation to teach me the preciousness of life and the essential goodness of people. It took a devastation to reveal the precariousness of the world, of its very soul, to understand that it was crying out for help. It took a devastation to understand the idea of mortal value, and it took a devastation to find hope.

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Unlike cynicism, hopefulness is hard-earned, makes demands upon us, and can often feel like the most indefensible and lonely place on Earth. Hopefulness is not a neutral position either. It is adversarial. It is the warrior emotion that can lay waste to cynicism. Each redemptive or loving act, as small as you like, Valerio, such as reading to your little boy, or showing him a thing you love, or singing him a song, or putting on his shoes, keeps the devil down in the hole. It says the world and its inhabitants have value and are worth defending. It says the world is worth believing in. In time, we come to find that it is so.

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Love, Nick

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