Friday, March 04, 2016

Back To Bowie

David Bowie died earlier this year--just two days after I gave him a birthday tribute.  I recently attended a show at a local art house theatre that played a lot of rare videos from his career, which got me thinking about him again.

Bowie was a big presence throughout much of my early years of listening to music.  He really wasn't like any other artist.  And I don't just mean all the characters he played--rock music was more a sonic experience than a visual one back in those days.  His music managed to be both commercial and way out there at the same time.  It had a mysterious quality to it, and even a whiff of the forbidden.  Yet, even as a cutting edge artist, here was a guy who'd appear on TV with Dinah Shore and Bing Crosby.

Bowie trained as an actor and mime, and at times he said he wasn't a rock star so much as an actor playing one.  It took him several years to make it in music, and I wonder if he wouldn't have become an actor--and turned his back on rock--if he'd hit that way first.  Anyway, as a rock artist, there was always a strong theatrical presence to him--in his appearance, but also his singing.  He eventually had a film career--like many rock stars--though it never mattered as much as his albums.  (His films, by and large, aren't much, though I am a big fan of his impersonation of Andy Warhol in Basquiat.)

Oddly, looking back at all those albums--and I own quite a few--there aren't many I really like from top to bottom.  Most of them just have two or three songs I really like.  That may sound like a putdown, but two or three songs that you listen to for decades means a lot.

He was big in England before he hit in America--breaking through with Ziggy Stardust--and by the mid-70s must have been as recognizable a rock star as there was (even as he changed costumes and makeup).  Each year there'd be a new album with new sounds and new revelations--Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, Station To Station.

He lived in America for a couple years (a dark period, he said, from which he remembered little), and then moved to Germany, making his "Berlin trilogy" of moody albums in the late 70s:  Low, "Heroes" and Lodger.   He was still making exciting music, but it was getting less commercial. 

Then he had a huge comeback with Let's Dance in 1983.  He wanted hits and he got them--it's still by far his best selling album.  He recorded plenty of music after that, and some sold well, but he'd peaked and his audience started drifting away.  (I admit I don't own any of his albums after Let's Dance.)  But that's how the music business works--that he was at the top for over a decade and for more than ten albums was a rare achievement.

So thanks, David Bowie (born Davey Jones, but he had to change that).  I think I'll listen to all your albums this weekend.  Who knows, I may pick up a few new favorite songs.

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