But apparently there is some kind of relationship between the two.1Chris O’Leary says so, and he’s (almost) never wrong.(There are no coincidences in Bowie World, just planned accidents.) The latter was written by Speedy Keen, Pete Townshend’s former flatmate. Keen had previously composed “Armenia City in the Sky,” which Wikipedia says “was the only song The Who ever performed that was specifically written for the group by a non-member.”
After some consideration I’ve decided to just write a bit about each of the songs on hours… in order. Nothing too fancy. It’s a rainy and quiet Thursday here, nothing much is going on, so let us begin.
I’m actually a little hesitant to write about “Thursday’s Child” because it is very close to my heart. In the dark days of 1999 — which wasn’t a horrible year, necessarily, just a strange and confusing and sort of lonely one — it was a beacon of hope. And now, as I sit here thinking about where I was then and where I am now… well, just take a good listen to this thing and you’ll probably understand where I’m coming from.
This is the rare case where I disagree with Chris O’Leary, who calls the character in this song “a loser in love.” I can understand that, given the generally dour mood of hours…, it’s hard to take the apparent optimism of “Thursday’s Child” at face value; but I’ve listened to it many times — five times just today — and I can’t hear anything in it but sincerity.
My favorite thing about hours… may be its artwork. In the 3D cover image, an angelic-looking Bowie, clean-shaven and long-tressed, cradles the head of a short-haired, scraggly-bearded version. It’s a cheeky take, as Chris O’Leary points out, on “Michelangelo’s Pietà, with Bowie’s new somber majordomo persona cradling the dying ‘rave uncle’ of Earthling.” Sort of like Doctor Who if the old Doctor died when the new one appeared.2I never thought of the Doctor/Bowie connection before and now I’m rather pleased with it. David was very much like a series of different manifestations inhabiting the same body; and that would make him a Time Lord, which seems about right.
On the back cover there are three Davids, two icily aloof and one distraught:
This is Bowie leaning into what I would call his benign narcissism. There is no question that he liked to look at himself; a picture of him graces the cover of every album up to The Next Day, where he is mostly obscured by the white title box. (On Blackstar, recorded as he slowly faded out of existence, he is noticeable by his absence.)
So here we are again at the shortest day of the year — “The Return of Light,” as the Tao Te Ching calls it, because tomorrow will be slightly longer, and the day after a little longer still, until at last spring arrives in all its glory.
Yesterday there was a 6.4 earthquake that shook Humboldt County around pretty good but left our house mercifully intact, though without power until late in the day. Today is foggy and gray, as good a day as any to note the passing last week of Angelo Badalamenti, composer extraordinaire.
Angelo lived 85 years and did a lot of stuff, but most of us know him from his work with David Lynch. Says the NYT:
His best-known work was the “Twin Peaks” theme, recognizable from its first three ominous, otherworldly notes. He won the 1990 Grammy for best instrumental pop performance for the number, which was, according to the Allmusic website, “dark, cloying and obsessive — and one of the best scores ever written for television.”
In 2015, a Billboard writer described the theme as “gorgeous and gentle one second, eerie and unsettling the next.” It was, according to Rolling Stone, the “most influential soundtrack in TV history.”
But for today, his 1998 collaboration with David Bowie seems like the right thing to listen to.
I’ll be honest, I’m not 100% sure it was a good idea to turn the Gershwins’ gossamer bauble into a gothic cathedral of sound. But if we posit that it was, certainly Dave and Angelo did a fantastic job. In their version the sun doesn’t come bursting through the clouds; we glimpse it briefly behind a layer of relatively thin fog, and then it’s gone. We know it’s there, and have the idea we’ll see it again, but who knows when?
On the Bowie front, there are a few items to cover before we move on to …hours. For one, I either didn’t know or had forgotten that for a while in the late Nineties his live sets included a version of Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman.” Gail Ann Dorsey did the lead vocals and DB contributed harmonies and saxophone.
On a musical level this is a mixed bag; the drum’n’bass framework is a bold choice, but not what I’d call a good one. Still, the song as a whole works better than it seems like it should, and I remain awed by the chutzpah it took to trot out a nine-minute version of a weird (if popular) art number from the early Eighties for what looks like a festival crowd.
Next up on this thread is “Moonage Daydream,” which also happens to be the name of Brett Morgen’s recent Bowie feature-film extravaganza. I finally saw it this weekend; of course I loved it, and of course there are a million things I could nitpick about if I were so inclined. But I’m not, as I realize that Bowie is simply too big a subject to be contained in one movie, even one as long and ambitious as this one. Choices had to be made, and Morgen made them, which is every artist’s prerogative.
He used more footage from the 50th birthday concert than I would have expected, though his sequence for the title song is (quite properly) focused on a Ziggy-era performance featuring Mick Ronson. Back in the day “Moonage Daydream” was a showcase for Ronson as much as Bowie, or maybe even more, with epic guitar solos that gave the singer a chance to catch his breath.
The 1997 version is economical in comparison, with Reeves Gabrels acquitting himself satisfactorily in the limited space he’s given. Dave is in fine voice and looks pretty happy, possibly thinking of the first time he conquered the Earth, all those years ago.
“Daydream” is followed by band intros, a round of “Happy Birthday” led by Gail Ann Dorsey, and a cake presentation. Bowie thanks the audience and tells them, “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise I won’t bore you.” Which was mostly true.