The 10 Days of David, Part 7

Most of the songs on Blackstar were labored over — demoed, rehearsed, recorded, re-recorded. But apparently Bowie wrote “Dollar Days” one morning, played it for the band on acoustic guitar, and tracked it that afternoon. “I can’t even recall in my head what song that is,” one of the musicians later said.

It feels important though. Maybe it’s the line about “the English evergreens,” which conjures a bit of nostalgia for Dave’s native land that seems out of character. Maybe it’s the way he says

I’m dying to push their backs against the grain
And fool them all again and again

This is Bowie the magician, the one who in the next song — the last one on the album — will tell us that he intends to take his secrets to the grave.

Or maybe it’s those three words, “I’m dying to.” When he repeats them out of context, they become “I’m dying, too.” So I guess he did tell us.

read more…

The 10 Days of David, Part 6

“Girl Loves Me” is a pretty straightforward title, but David’s song is a big, looping curveball with lyrics in three languages. One is English; the others are Polari (“a form of slang or cant used in Britain by some actors, circus and fairground showmen, professional wrestlers, merchant navy sailors, criminals, sex workers, and, particularly, the gay subculture,” says Wikipedia) and Nadsat (“a fictional register or argot used by the teenage gang members in Anthony Burgess’s dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange”).

Bowie was familiar with both Polari and Nadsat from previous lives. Says Chris O’Leary:

He’d loved Clockwork Orange in the Ziggy Stardust days, with Stanley Kubrick’s film a sartorial guide for the Spiders From Mars, and Nadsat [is] heard in “Suffragette City” (“say droogie don’t crash here!”). “The whole idea of having this phony-speak thing — mock Anthony Burgess-Russian speak that drew on Russian words and put them into the English language, and twisted old Shakespearean words around — this kind of fake language… fitted in perfectly with what I was trying to do in creating this fake world or this world that hadn’t happened yet,” Bowie recalled in 1993. “It was like trying to anticipate a society that hadn’t happened.”

He’d picked up Polari from the mid-Sixties BBC radio comedy Round the Horne and its Polari-fluent camp pair “Julian and Sandy.” And more directly, from being a young, beautiful man at the hub of Sixties British gay life — the London-based theater and music scenes — and the intimate of gay men like the mime Lindsay Kemp and the composer Lionel Bart.

read more…

The 10 Days of David, Part 5

“No Plan” is another song written specifically for Lazarus the musical — according to O’Leary, it is

one of the spotlight songs for [Sophia Anne] Caruso’s character, Marley, known mostly in the play as The Girl, a not-quite-dead murder victim who becomes the guardian angel of the exiled alien Thomas Jerome Newton. Singing “No Plan” is how she introduces herself, stating the terms of her confinement while Newton pours himself another drink.

The version from the play sounds very much like a show tune, not necessarily in a good way:

The lyrics of “No Plan” are pretty minimal, especially compared to the logorrhea of “When I Met You”:

read more…

The 10 Days of David, Part 4

In my haste to get yesterday’s post up, I neglected to read the last paragraph of Chris O’Leary’s entry on “Lazarus” in Ashes to Ashes. It describes the following scene (line breaks are added for dramatic effect):

Bowie is at an early run-through performance of Lazarus [the musical].

The bandleader Henry Hay asks for his thoughts: “Is everything OK? Would you like anything else?”

“Yes,” he [Bowie] says. “I think I’d like a sing.”

A keyboard intro, a call to attention on the snare. David Bowie sings before an audience for the last time in his life. A performance that’s the memory of a few actors, musicians. lighting techs, stage managers. He sings “Lazarus.” The song of a dying New Yorker, a pop poet of the downtrodden. A beggar in heaven, a twice-dead man, an outlaw. An exiled alien, living on Twinkies and gin.

Look up here, Bowie begins, the musicians there to back him up. I’m in heaven…

That would be a pretty good final scene for a Bowie biopic:1He sings his last song, graciously acknowledges the applause of the tiny audience, and exits stage left.

The next song up in the queue is one that didn’t make the cut for Blackstar, appearing only on the posthumous No Plan EP. And frankly I find this decision baffling, as IMHO “When I Met You” is one of terminal-stage Bowie’s best songs.

read more…

The 10 Days of David, Part 3

David never told us he was dying. Then again, he sort of did:

“Lazarus” was the title track of the Bowie musical that premiered in 2015, the main character of which is an older version of Thomas Jerome Newton, the alien David played in The Man Who Fell to Earth. Newton would like to die but can’t — this idea had been an obsession of Bowie’s since “The Supermen” — whereas the biblical Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus.

In the video David emerges from a cabinet that, in this context, can’t help but resemble a coffin. At the end he goes back in. What does it all mean?

Like I know. I never saw the musical, and I’m not sure I want to — I heard the soundtrack and was not impressed, and as far as I can tell there’s no plot to speak of. It does not seem to be available for viewing in any case. I remain a little curious, and maybe someday it’ll pop up in some form; indeed do many things come to pass.

read more…

The 10 Days of David, Part 2

The companion piece to “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)” is “Tis a Pity She Was a Whore,” which was initially a home demo that Bowie liked and decided to include on some versions of his 2014 compilation Nothing Has Changed.

As with “Sue,” he ended up recording another version for Blackstar:

And again I have to admit: I do not love this song. It has some energy, it’s different, but I do not find it worth the attention that Chris O’Leary lavishes on it, both in Ashes to Ashes and on Pushing Ahead of the Dame. His writing is good though! I shan’t waste any more of your time, or mine, trying to expand upon it; there will be more to say tomorrow.

The 10 Days of David, Part 1

As 2024 dawns, I am finally approaching a major personal milestone: reaching the end of Chris O’Leary’s Ashes to Ashes, which I have been working my way through for longer than I care to admit. Around the same time I will finish adding all of David Bowie’s albums to my computer’s music library, which has also been a long time coming.

In commemoration of these great events, I will be posting about David’s last ten songs over the next ten days, in the runup to our observations of his birth and then his death. After that the Bowie thread will be done. For now. It will never really be over as long as I’m living and writing.

The first song on the list is “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime),” a song that I respect more than I like it. I think it’s great that Bowie finally fulfilled his ambition of playing with a jazz band, and that he clearly seemed to enjoy playing with his new toy. But the result was not anything I would listen to for pleasure.

read more…

Reading Report, December 2023

Books Acquired:
The Velvet Underground and Nico (33 1/3), Joe Harvard

Progress Made:
Ringo: With a Little Help, Michael Seth Starr

Books Finished:
Cyber Way, Alan Dean Foster
Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, Alan Dean Foster
Bagombo Snuff Box, Kurt Vonnegut

In his introduction to Bagombo Snuff Box, Kurt Vonnegut says:

A short story, because of its physiological and psychological effects on a human being, is more closely related to Buddhist styles of meditation than it is to any other form of narrative entertainment.

What you have is this volume, then, and in every other collection of short stories, is a series of Buddhist catnaps.

I think 23 Buddhist Catnaps would have been a better title than Bagombo Snuff Box, which has a certain elan but tells you nothing of what lies within. It was a great read, though. My experience of the book was just as Kurt describes his experience of the Saturday Evening Post as a teenager:

While I am reading, my pulse and breathing slow down. My high school troubles drop away. I am in a pleasant state somewhere between sleep and restfulness.

Over and over I would crack open Snuff Box and time and space would drop away. Only once it was over would I return to the cafe or the sofa or whatever. I was bummed to finish this book. A rereading of Welcome to the Monkey House is probably next.

read more…

Darkness Increased by One (redux)

So we have arrived again at the Great Turning. The days will now start getting longer, and not a moment too soon.

I always like to post something on this day, and yesterday the powers of the random shuffle reminded me of a music mix that I previously shared… let’s see… can it really be seven years ago?

It leans into the idea that it is healthy to wallow a bit in darkness before pivoting to face the light, which dovetails with the observation of Festivus two days hence (the airing of grievances and whatnot). If you want the full package, just scroll down a little.

But if you prefer to jump straight to the uplift, and/or don’t have an hour to waste, this is where things are going to end up:

Whenever I’m feeling glum about the state of things in this benighted land of ours, where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, I reach for Funkadelic to pull me out of the funk. “Everybody Is Going to Make It This Time,” which rings more prophetic now than ever, always triggers a lil’ stirring of hope. Any country that can give birth to such a thing can’t be all bad.

read more…

My Statement on Draymond Green and the Golden State Warriors

“That brother needs help.”
—Josef Nurkic

A lot of people (hi Mom!) have been asking where I stand on the current situation in Dub Nation, which is, to put it succinctly: tire fire.

For those of you who are mercifully oblivious, my team currently stands at 10–14, and the truth is worse than that. Not only have they blown numerous 20-point leads this season, but their bellwether, their heart and soul, my wayward son Draymond Green is at the lowest ebb of his career. Just a few games after returning from a five-game suspension for going all Derek Chauvin on Minnesota’s Rudy Gobert, he whacked the Suns’ Josef Nurkic in the side of the head with a flailing arm and is now suspended indefinitely.

It’s bad. I’m always the first to defend Draymond, but I’m having a hard time doing it anymore. About all I can do is sigh and shake my head.

Having said that, here is my official position.

read more…