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New Directions in Broken English


Let’s remember David Bowie.
«Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)» was the first album I heard.
It was 1980, a mate of one of my older brothers had brought along
some new LPs he had bought.
They listened to music and drank some beer before going to a nightclub.
I remember hearing «Funkytown» by Lipps Inc. Not Bowie.
I thought it was a cool disco song.
When they had gone, I went in to listen to music.
The stereo was in the basement room.
They were six years older than me, I was not welcome when they partyed.
I noticed that my brother’s mate had left the records behind.
And interested in music, I browsed them.
As far as I can remember it was «Emotional Rescue» by The Rolling Stones,
«Uprising» by Bob Marley and the Wailers, and «Guilty» by Barbra Streisand.
All good albums. But it was the adventure of hearing
«Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)» by David Bowie
for the first time that intrigued me the most.

«It’s No Game (No. 1)». It’s the opener.
It’s a pretty wild song which alternates between a woman
who speaks the lyrics in Japanese and Bowie who screams it in English.
I was captivated by the sheer volume of his voice.
And the frantic guitar playing. It’s Robert Fripp of King Crimson.
I admire the imagination he plays the electric guitar with.
It’s pure art.
It creates friction, tension, Bowie’s powerful vocals wrapped in barbed wire.
There are some irresistably catchy songs on the album,
«Fashion» and «Ashes to Ashes», but they are given the art rock treatment.
Later, it surprised me when I heard people say that David Bowie was all image,
because when I heard «Scary Monsters», I had no idea what he looked like.
It was only a drawing on the cover. I was mesmerized by his voice,
and the music.
I thought it was a fantastic album. I had not heard anything like it,
and by the age of 13, and pre-internet, I had heard quite a lot of music,
because I had older brothers who collected records.

In the early 80s, a new generation got into David Bowie.
In 1982, it was as if every 14 year old schoolmate was a fan.
«Under Pressure», his duet with Queen was a hit in 1981,
and the soundtrack single «Cat People (Putting Out Fire)» was popular in 1982.
I’m not sure what gathered the momentum. In 1972, there was «Ziggy Stardust»,
a huge hit album and a flamboyant controversial character.
The only ‘character’ we had in 1982,
was the EP «David Bowie in Bertolt Brecht’s Baal».
It was not a standard release. It was offbeat.
The early 80s were generally a low-key period for Bowie.
He had a film role in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983).
And the soundtrack to Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo (1981).
It’s the best film about drug addiction I’ve seen.
But the music he contributed was 70s Bowie.
There was little new music, so we checked out ‘old Bowie’, as we called it.
At that age, it meant anything older than the current year.
We talked about his characters; Ziggy, Halloween Jack and The Thin White Duke.
We learned about them from his 70s fans. They were the hardcore base.
And to be honest, I didn’t understand the characters.
For me, he had dressed up.
I hated it when I was a kid. Dressing up was for girls, I thought.
I was not interested in clothes.
But I thought he had a fascinating face. And his crossdressing
on the cover of «The Man Who Sold the World» was unusual.
It was creepy for us kids, but we liked it.

He was a performance artist. Aestically pleasing,
but the musicianship in Bowie’s music is top notch.
He made fantastic records. Aurally pleasing, creatively stimulating.
First and foremost I am a music fan who listens
to records on the stereo. That’s how I discovered music,
even though I covered my bedroom with posters of favorite artists in my teens.
For me, music I like is an adventure. I close my eyes and go on a journey.
«Let’s Dance» came out in 1983. The biggest hit in his career.
To me, it seemed like a momentum and a backlash all at once.
Bowie’s older fans yelled sellout! And slow as I am,
I did not even know what it meant. He sold out?
I got money from my mother to buy the album on the day it came out.
It was quite an event. It was his first album in three years,
and the first Bowie album
I had the pleasure of buying on the release date.
Something I continued with until his last album «Blackstar» in 2016.
Fortunately, he was inactive in the period 2003-2013,
a period where I was mostly broke.
But I’ve bought records instead of buying food and paying the bills before.
It wouldn’t have been a problem.
Physical records are more important than me.

I played it on the stereo, I was home alone, everyone was at work.
I played it loud. When the drums kicked in on «Modern Love», I was sold.
I thought it was amazing music. It had an insistent groove.
And the guitarist played like he was soloing all over it.
It appealed to a young air guitarist.
It is Stevie Ray Vaughan. He had not yet released his first solo album,
but was a blues legend by the time he died in 1990.
I could dance to the record, or just sit and listen to the musicianship.
When people say «Let’s Dance» is Bowie’s disco album,
it’s just part of the story. It is produced by Nile Rodgers.
Bowie’s earliest recordings in the 60s were rhythms & blues.
It was hip in the young British beat music movement.
It was not successfull but well worth a listen. «Early On (1964–1966)»,
released on CD in 1991, is my favorite compilation with recordings
from this period of David eh.. Jones.
The music on «Let’s Dance» was a kind of back to roots,
but performed with the sleek professionalism of an established artist,
and informed by contemporary music. It’s a melting pot.
It’s the R&B answer to the soul music of «Young Americans» from 1975.
Bowie’s biggest hit in America next to «Let’s Dance».
«Fame», written with John Lennon was a Billboard number one single.

In June of 1983, I went to Gothenburg in Sweden with a couple of mates
to see David Bowie live at Nya Ullevi stadium.
We slept in a tent outside the stadium and partyed with the others who were there.
I had been to concerts before but this was my first major artist, so to speak.
We were fascinated by Bowie. The success of «Let’s Dance» would in a way normalize him.
He was accepted in the mainstream,
and for a couple of years he tried to live up to a role as an all-round entertainer.
He calmed down the spooky weirdness, and the cocaine.
Eventually he would distinguish between performing the greatest hits and making records.
Bowie was interested in music, he was a rock fan at heart.
He was not like other artists who are only interested in their own music.
He had an open mind that appealed to me. I recognized my own tastes in his music.
It was a great moment when he entered the stage at Nya Ullevi.
Bowie was already a legend. A myth.

He appealed to the imagination. Not just the music, but the person.
We studied the cover of «Heroes» (1977) and the two different pupils.
One large and one small. Some said they came from drugs,
others said it was because he was insane. «Aladdin Sane» – a lad insane.
It was before Wikipedia, trivial facts about artists did not exist.
The music on «Heroes» was disturbing. It was a new language in music.
The title song only became a classic after it was performed at Live Aid in 1985.
He was scary, in an exciting way. We listened to «The Man Who Sold the World» from 1970,
and it was dark and unsettling, with songs about insanity.
All his phases. Bowie was innovative. It was fascinating.
The variation in styles. From glam rock to soul and ambient music in three years.
The beautiful ballad «Life on Mars», the catchy glam pop of «Starman»,
the instrumental b-side on «Low», to the joy of «Let’s Dance».
On «Pin Ups» (1973), he recorded a tribute album to the 60s with all cover songs.
To admit that you liked «The Laughing Gnome» from 1967 was as fun as it was embarrassing.
Even Bowie distanced himself from his earliest music.
Over time, I have become fond of Bowie’s pre-success music of the 60s.
His non-rock 1967 debut album «David Bowie» is imaginative.
It is partly cabaret and comedy and salvation army music.
It has a silly sense of humor that you find in later interviews with Bowie,
but not so often in the music. I dig it for what it is.
I have never felt at home in genres. I’ve partied with everyone from rockabillys
to hard rockers and goth rockers, but like Bowie,
I’m more at home playing with a genre than adapting to it.

In the mid-80s, Bowie was at a popular high, but at a creative low.
We knew that «Tonight» and «Never Let Me Down» was not as a good as «Hunky Dory»
and «Station to Station», but we listened to them anyway,
along with «Labyrinth» and «David Bowie Narrates Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf»,
and not just the classics via «Diamond Dogs» and «Low».
If you’re a fan, you follow the artist through obscurity, and thick and thin,
it’s the least you can do. It’s where you find the hidden treasures.
His creative roll between 1969 to 1980 from «Space Oddity» to Scary Monsters»
is what made Bowie ‘important’ and cultural significant in the world of music.
I saw the Glass Spider Tour live at Eriksberg Shipyard Docks,
in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1987.
It’s my least favorite Bowie tour. To my taste, there was too much focus
on theater and dancing and too little on the musical aspect.
There were more dancers than musicians on stage.
When he came back with Tin Machine in 1989, a four piece band,
it introduced the saying ‘best since «Scary Monsters»‘.
It was a rock band with wailing guitars and hard hitting drums.
It was an attempt to step down from the stadium concept.
Or at least an attempt to make a difference between making new music
and performing old hits.
In between the two Tin Machine albums released in 1989 and 1991,
in 1990 he was on a solo Sound and Vision World Tour
that I attended at Jordal Amfi in Norway.
He wanted to be a rock star, but only on stage,
not in the recording studio, there he wanted to be free to experiment
with music.
«Tin Machine II» is the weakest album in the Bowie discography,
in my opinion. It’s all posing, he did not have much to say.
It was a ‘tired of Bowie’ period.
Maybe it’s ready for a re-evaluation?

«Black Tie White Noise» was his first solo album in six years when it came out
in 1993. Tin Machine had broken up the year before. Nile Rodgers produced it,
but from the opening track, the intrumental «The Wedding», it was perfectly clear
that it was not meant to be a Let’s Dance part two. It was a jazzy album,
filled with great musicians.
Some people consider it Bowie at his middle-aged most lazy and complacent.
A ‘rock holiday’ album. I can agree, but I think it’s a good album musically.
And Bowie had impeccable tastes in music,
with cover songs by Scott Walker/The Walker Brothers on «Night Flights»,
Morrissey on «I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday», and «I Feel Free» by Cream.
The soundtrack to «Buddha of Suburbia» came out later in the same year.
Bowie has expressed his likeability for it, that he thought it was
undervalued. I’ve never played it a whole lot myself.
I rank it at the lower reaches of Bowie’s disocgraphy.
He would re-record «Strangers When We Meet» for his next project.

On «1. Outside» (1995), Brian Eno was back with his soundscapes
on a Bowie album for the frist time
since the late 70s Berlin triptych «Low», «Heroes» and «Lodger».
It’s not a great collection of songs, it’s a themed piece of work,
a concept album, it is influenced by 90s industrial rock,
it was Bowie taking ‘risks’ again, it was music for music’s sake,
not for an audience. It feels a bit overloaded on information,
but on the other hand it fits the theme, the chaos in a dystopian world.
«Hallo Spaceboy» became a live favorite on future tours.
I attended a concert with Bowie at Oslo Spektrum, in Oslo in 1995.
Many fans think it’s the best Bowie album of the ’90s,
but personally I prefer the next album «Earthling» from 1997.
Bowie was bandwagoning what the young people were doing at the time
when he made a drum & bass album, but unlike DJ’s, he had a real drummer
and a band to back him up. It’s an album that is as danceable
as it is avant garde.
When he returned with a more conventional pop rock album with ‘hours…’
in 1999, it was welcomed after a decade of experimental music.
The production is a little too sterile for my taste,
but it has some of his most melodic songs since the 80s, with
«Thursday’s Child», «Seven» and «Survive».

I’ve never been on the ‘best since «Scary Monsters»‘ hype.
Possibly because I consider «Let’s Dance» a top notch Bowie album,
even if it is not hip to say so. On «Heathen» from 2002, Tony Visconti,
Bowie’s producer from his classic 70s era was back
in the producer chair
for the first time since «Scary Monsters».
I thought it was a wonderful album when it came out.
Instead of cutting edge, it was referential, as if they had made
an album influenced by Bowie’s past. It was not nostalgic,
it was made with contemporary tools, but by nature
it sounded like a classic Bowie album.
And once again, he is paying his dues with cover songs.
This time «Cactus» by the Pixies, «I’ve Been Waiting for You»
by Neil Young, and «I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship»
originally by the Legendary Stardust Cowboy.
«Reality» in 2003, felt like a new album to justify a tour.
It has highlights, my favorite is «Fall Dog Bombs the Moon».
I love the guitar and the nonsensical lyrics.
He covered «Pablco Picasso» by The Modern Lovers,
and «Try Some, Buy Some», written by George Harrison
for Ronnie Spector in 1971.
If he doesn’t nail them, I’m a big fan of his choices,
the songs and the artists he chooses to cover.
On A Reality Tour, he suffered a heart attack in June 2004,
and the rest of the tour was cancelled.
If I was to pick a favorite live album by Bowie,
I would choose «David Live» from 1974. It is musically progressive,
and serves as the transition between the glam rocker
on «Diamond Dogs» and the soul phase on «Young Amercians».

Bowie’s comeback in 2013 and his first album in ten years
with «The Next Day», came with a sigh of relief.
The music scene felt empty without him. Had he retired?
There had been rumours of poor health, The Flaming Lips with Neon Indian
released a song in 2011 called «Is David Bowie Dying?».
When Bowie released a teaser to the forthcoming album
with the tender «Where Are We Now?», it was moving.
I had never heard David Bowie so fragile before.
In a way «The Next Day» was a natural conclusion of
what he had done with «Heathen» and «Reality»,
although the first two albums were released one year apart
and the third ten years after.
It was another self-referential album.
Ten years had passed, but when you’re a recluse,
the next decade and the next day are much the same.
There is no difference between Wednesday and Saturday.
You’re out of the game and the clock tick-tock.

I was physically and emotionally in an unbearable place
on January 8, in 2016,
when Bowie’s latest studio album «Blackstar» was released,
but I tried to make the best out of the situation.
My oldest brother was visiting, and he drove me to town
so I could buy the new Bowie album, on both CD and Vinyl.
I thought it was amazing, it was Bowie at his most progressive.
It was jazz, but not really, it was rock, but not really.
It was otherworldy. It was a new beginning.
When I walked into the kitchen on January 10
and my brother said they had reported in the news that David Bowie had died.
I was shocked. Dead? He released a new album two days ago!
When I played «Blackstar» again, it took on a new meaning.
«Look up here, I’m in heaven», he sings in «Lazarus».
It was a requim, and a culmination, from starman to blackstar.
Bowie had made an album about his own death.
The artist who invented characters to express himself,
ended the career with his most personal album.
I thought it was a brave move. If you are a fan of an artist,
you become emotionally attached to them.
They sing out their joy and their pain, and I sing along.
I followed his career for 36 years. We communicate,
in the musical world of David Bowie.

august 13, 2019 - Posted by | New Directions in Broken English

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