David Bowie

Remembering David Bowie

I woke up this morning to see the sad news that David Bowie had passed away yesterday after an 18-month long bout with cancer. It hit me hard – along with the rest of the world, it seems. From what I’m reading in my social media feeds today, David Bowie appears to have been nearly universally beloved among my music loving friends. And although we are collectively mourning the loss of this artist that meant so much to so many of us, it has been heartening to see how we’re also celebrating his lifetime of musical gifts that touched our lives. (You can read more about Bowie’s life and music, and listen to and watch some performances, at the links below.)

David Bowie Stage LP

Listening to “Heroes” on my vinyl copy of the double live album ‘Stage’ released in 1978.

David Bowie came into my life in the late 70s (when I was about 12 or 13 years old) through FM radio first, of course, and then through listening to his albums on a friend’s turntable and then as part of my own record collection. I had heard his hits on the radio in southern California but didn’t own any of his albums and didn’t know his music beyond those songs. I remember sitting there listening to Young Americans for the first time in 1976 or 1977 and being caught up in the lush and soulful sounds coming through the speakers. It’s a great album, and it’s probably good that I started with that one. After listening to Young Americans, I heard some of his earlier albums – Diamond Dogs, Aladdin Sane, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars – and became a fan. Those albums had their edgy moments and opened up my ears to other performers like Roxy Music, Brian Eno, the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and King Crimson. His various personae did seem strange to me – a young, fairly straight-laced, middle class kid growing up in the San Fernando Valley of southern California, but I suppose that was part of the fascination with him. Here was someone constantly testing the boundaries and pushing against the norm. I was intrigued by that. Bowie’s albums of the later 70s, the famed “Berlin Trilogy” – Low, “Heroes” and Lodger – were something else again. Those albums took me out of my comfort zone, but I later listened to them intently. I think my affinity for Bowie’s music led directly to my becoming a huge fan of the Talking Heads around 1980. (The fact that Brian Eno had a hand in each of their sounds was certainly a factor as well.) As New Wave swept through my musical world in the early 80s, Bowie put out several excellent albums and accompanying music videos that solidified his reputation for the MTV generation of listeners, too.

I had a late night radio show in the late 80s, and at first it was a mix of classic rock and newer rock, but it evolved into mostly modern rock over time. When I started to think of what constituted “modern rock,” the mid 1970s music of Bowie gave me my somewhat blurry definition. It’s still a distinction I use to this day. Bowie and some others around that time changed rock and roll forever. I’m grateful to have experienced that.

What also made me a fan of Bowie was the fact that he wasn’t just a brilliant songwriter and accomplished musician, but he was also a music producer, painter, actor and more. He did a little bit of everything, it seems, and he stayed artistically expressive throughout his whole career. I always admired that in him. My wife, who is a few years younger than I am, fondly remembers his iconic role as Jareth the Goblin King in the 1986 fantasy film Labyrinth, as do many people of a certain age.

I didn’t listen to Bowie’s new music as much in the 90s and early 2000s and it appeared he went into musical retirement after 2003. But he surprised us all when he released the critically acclaimed album The Next Day in 2013. The album had been recorded in strict secrecy and even the record company’s PR department only learned of it days before its release to the public.

And then Bowie released Blackstar just last week, on January 8, 2016 – his 69th birthday. I had been hearing a lot of buzz around this album, and rightly so. It’s really good. Go listen to it. Blackstar features a couple of very fine jazz musicians that I’m familiar with, Donny McCaslin on horns and Mark Guiliana on drums, among others, and his longtime cohort Tony Visconti once again co-produced the album with Bowie. It should come as no surprise that one of the songs on the album, “Lazarus,” opens with the now haunting lyrics, “Look up here, I’m in heaven…” It was not widely known that Bowie had been battling cancer for the past 18 months, so it was a bit of a shock to wake up this morning – three days after the release of his latest album, to learn that he had died. But how else would you expect someone who lived such an artful life to leave it? Bowie planned it this way, knowing he was dying. Visconti said this today in a statement on his Facebook page,

“He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life – a work of Art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn’t, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry.”

Thank you, David Bowie for your music and art. Now I think I’ll go listen to some of more of your music…as I have been for nearly 40 years.

OBITUARIES – you can find much more information following the links found on these obituary pages.

New York Times obituary

The Guardian obituary

MOJO magazine obituary

BBC News obituary

NME (New Musical Express) obituary

 

MORE

Watch the the official video of “Lazarus” from the album Blackstar – released the same day as the album: Jan. 8, 2016. Bowie’s last hurrah…

New York Times review of Blackstar and how Bowie came to use jazz musician Donny McCaslin’s band for the recording.

NPR Music review of Blackstar

Listen to Bowie’s Fresh Air radio interview with Terry Gross from 2003

1973 video for the song “Life on Mars” from the page of older EMI Music official Bowie videos on YouTube

David Bowie VEVO official page on YouTube

 

 

25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 1

So, you think you like Christmas music? How much? Most people who like Christmas music probably like to listen to it, but they probably don’t collect it obsessively. And, of course, there are those people who don’t like Christmas music at all, for one reason or another, perhaps from being subjected to some endless stream of saccharine holiday tunes against their will? I love Christmas music. I love to listen to and collect Christmas music. How much do I love Christmas music? A lot. This much.

My crate o' Christmas vinyl.

My crate o’ Christmas vinyl.

That’s my collection of vinyl Christmas albums and singles. Between them, that’s 109 distinct records (I do have duplicates of several things, but I only counted them once.) There are likely a few more records lurking in a stack of 78s that I haven’t sorted through properly yet. {Update: after going through those 78s, I did find 5 more Christmas records; so that makes 114 records.} Not pictured are the 21 cassette tapes and 104 CDs of Christmas music that I also own, which makes for a total of 239 recordings – of Christmas music. Fa la la la la! I guess it goes without saying that I also love the Christmas season. Sure, it can be hectic, hurried and over-commercialized. Maybe that’s part of why I love Christmas music so much. Music helps me pay attention to the moments that matter. Those moments can be rockin’, swingin’, funny or simply quiet during Christmas-time. I love ’em all.

For the next 25 days, I’m going to share a record a day from my Christmas music collection: some of my favorite albums and songs, from traditional carols to contemporary takes on time-worn pop Christmas standards, along with some interesting novelties, oddities and curiosities that I’ve come across over the years. There’ll be beautiful tunes, brilliant musicianship and a sprinkle of schmaltz. You can’t talk about Christmas music without coming across a little, or sometimes a lot of, schmaltz! I’ll limit the exploration to my vinyl collection. Maybe next year I’ll break out the cassettes and CDs. And I’m sure there are many people out there who are even bigger fanatics and have even more Christmas music in their collections than I do. I’d love to hear about them. Let’s go dashing through the musical snow…

25 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS RECORDS – DAY 1:

David Bowie/Bing Crosby – “Peace On Earth/The Little Drummer Boy.” (RCA Records PH-13400, 7” single, 1982.)

Bowie:Crosby Single

The record that started it all for me… (click on an image to enlarge it.)

This is the song that started my obsession with collecting Christmas music. It was recorded in 1977 for Bing Crosby’s Christmas special that year. I actually watched it with my family when it aired on TV, and I remember my Mom making a comment along the lines of “I can’t believe that awful David Booey [her pronunciation] is going to be on the show.” She was not really a fan of rock music, except for maybe some middle of the road Beatles tunes, and up to that time Bowie had been quite the strange-looking glam rocker. But when the segment with Bing and Bowie came on, it was pretty amazing. Bowie comes in as the guy who lives down the road and talks with Bing about Christmas music and traditions, all played very nicely within the conceit of the show, and then they go into this really sweet duet where Bowie’s clear voice is allowed to shine along with Bing’s unmistakably warm crooning. Apparently, the counterpoint song that Bowie sings, “Peace On Earth,” was written specifically for the show because he wanted to sing something other than “Little Drummer Boy.” It worked brilliantly, I think. And I have to give my Mom credit for praising Bowie’s voice after it was over. She thought it was nice, after all. This was also one of the final recordings that Bing Crosby made; he died 5 weeks after making this TV special.

Part of what made this song stick with me was that it became a part of my Christmas-time memories. Although I had heard it first in 1977 when the Crosby TV show aired, the song did not become commercially available until RCA released it as a single five years later in 1982. You have to remember, kids, that back in those days we didn’t have access to things like that at the press of a button! VCRs weren’t even around yet. I only had my memories of hearing the song when it first aired and didn’t hear it again until it came out as a single in 1982 and I bought my own copy. I had remembered the song fondly and was really excited when they put it out. It still moves me and it’s one of my favorite Christmas music performances. And thus an obsession is born. Or let’s say a passion.

Take a listen (and look) at it here.

I especially like seeing the interaction between Bowie and Bing before they sing. The whole bit is nostalgic, sentimental and warm, with just a little schmaltz. Perfectly Christmas-y.

Cheers, friends. Welcome to the 25 Days of Christmas Records!