Index: David Bowie


For Your Pleasure 2019

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The year in boss tuneage began with a magical gift of the uncanny – Chris Connolly’s Bowie channelling collective Sons of the Silent Age full-dress live rendering of Scary Monsters and Super Creeps at the Metro in Chicago…. an album Bowie himself never toured. Amazing!  — the searing opener “It’s No Game” with the Japanese verses live, while Connelly, in full sci-fi Pierrot makeup, screaming while a guy who looked like Martin Freeman dressed like Robert Fripp played the shredding Robert Fripp leads. I bought Scary Monsters when I was a kid and this song, especially, was, I’m certain, the weirdest piece of music I had ever heard and it stuck the weird in me deep, a weird which has never left me. I’ve loved it to pieces ever since.

Let me be measured here in my praise — Mary Timony has cast off her earthly bonds and risen Phoenix-like as the flame-winged incarnation of radness itself. Her accomplice in raditude, Betsy Wright, serves as the royal ambassadrix of Rock & Roll to the entire, ever-expanding, universe. Together in Ex Hex, their new record has given me more pure unalloyed rock pleasure than anything in years. It shreds, it rips, It’s Real. The record of the year doing donuts in the parking lot behind the mall of your teenage dreams.

Let “A Shot at Love” by VR SEX, from this years’ re-issue of an out of print cassette EP, Horseplay, stand in for the new VR SEX EP, Human Traffic Jam, as well as the terrific new Drab Majesty record Modern Mirror. All these are snaky tendrils and foggy manifestations of Andrew Clinco, finally having achieved escape velocity from mere gothy, synth-punk revivalism into a glorious trajectory of his own. Rushing over from seeing Bryan Ferry that same night, the killer live set Drab Majesty delivered was a revelation —  a Saturnalia of weirdness packed to the gills with weird kids weirding all over each other.

Two 80’s hardcore titans delivered mind-blowing, and distinctly definitive, live shows. Flipper, with a feral David Yow on vocals, conjured the vibe of a classic DIY basement show – a reminder that before they became a thing shows like this were motley, random, shambolic, wet, sloppy, scattered, immediate, joyful, confrontational, and above all – super fucking weird. Speaking of which, it’s worth remembering just how super fucking weird the Misfits were back in the 80’s. Because for all of his subsequent goofiness and cult popularity, Glenn Danzig was as much a foundational hardcore pioneer as Henry Rollins, Ian Ian Mackaye or HR. It’s why their recent sellout of Madison Square Garden and stadium show at the Wells Fargo Center here in Philly was felt like such a triumph — because the weirdest band of all the hardcore weirdos took it all the way to the top of the heap (and because for all the preposterous Liberace robo-demon costumes and flaming pumpkins onstage, as song followed song it became clear that Glenn Danzig might not have written a single bad one) Hearing a stadium full of humans bellow “There’s some kinda love, and there’s some kinda hate. The maggots in the eye of love won’t copulate” in ecstatic union suggests there may be hope for the species after all.

2014’s Welcome Back to Milk by Du Blonde began began as a nervous breakdown, exploded like an estrogen fueled roman candle, and was my favorite record that year. Waited, bated, and finally Beth Jeans Houghton issued another beautifully rendered sizzler, Lung Bread for Daddy, but this time she did everything herself. This record is so primitive, so primal that it reminds me less of other musical references than of, of all things, the lone wolf artist Joseph Beuys, wrapped in his grey thick felt sculpting sublime forms out of raw animal fat. Primitive like that. Weird like that. Art like that.

Mittageisen (named after the German version of Siouxsie’s “Metal Postcard”) belongs to a quirky subset of now beloved records that I bought, unheard and unknown, solely on the basis of the record cover. This one flashed its weird in all the right ways and delightfully delivered — moody, Swiss cold wave soundscapes of intense instrumental impact.

There’s a limit to how many rock and roll basket cases you can healthily adopt, and I’m constitutionally resistant to the skeezy charms of heroin junkie pirate types… let someone else feed the memory of Johnny Thunders, or genuflect before Keith Richards’ skank-ass skull ring, blah blah… but I happened to hear this, second recent record by the Only One’s Peter Perrett and I gotta say, pretty charming skeez from this legendary heroin junkie pirate.

Another archival score this year was discovering Boys Next Door, Nick Cave’s disowned, or at least disparaged embryonic stage of the Birthday Party. I get it I guess, from his Olympian vantage its nervy scribblings must seem oh-so-conventional… but the weird was there from the beginning. Hearing the band playing their way out from under post-punk and new wave forms, almost literally song by song, arriving by the end of the record at “Shivers,” — the first acknowledged Birthday Party classic — is thrilling. No such anxious complications get in the way of Shellac’s meticulous vinyl re-issue of their Peel/BBC sessions. Now comfortably settled into a beloved institution for the converted, the initial four song session from 1994 is a stunning reminder of their live-wire novelty.

Ladytron become one of my favorite bands largely during their absence so their return to active service was a cause for celebration down our way, where this reunion record was played repeatedly at loud volume, occasioning appreciative gestures, head nodding, rhythmic tapping of nearby objects in time to the various fat beats of its excellent grooves… also, many additional groovy moods throughout this year were accompanied by the bleeps, blips & bloopy pleasures of Xeno & Oaklander.

“it was the late ’80s…. Everything that was popular then in Los Angeles was starting to irritate the shit out of me. I was getting really bummed. Stuff like the Red Hot Chili Peppers were happening and I was like, ‘I fucking hate them so much, I have to write the anti-Red Hot Chili Peppers songs’” Goodbye Kim Shattuck, thank you Muffs.

DOWNLOAD THE COMP HERE.

 

Blackstar

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So, Bowies’ Blackstar arrived, finally — ordered while Bowie was earthbound, listened to when he wasn’t. Let me see if I can get this exactly right — it’s the first & last classic Bowie record since Let’s Dance.

Bowie played rock like Duchamp-ian chess. Each classic Bowie album occupied & held a square on the board. The records are “about” the move, so they work as self contained experiences — they point inward, ultimately.

This is why the whole “best album since Scary Monsters” critical framing misunderstands Bowie. Although he released some great salvos since Let’s Dance, they didn’t represent moves to a new square. Sometimes, like Earthling, he deftly rode a cultural or aesthetic wave, othertimes like Heathen or even The Next Day they were grand & vital reprises of old glories.

Blackstar is, before it is anything, a bracingly new statement. The avant-jazz hybrid he’s synthesized here is — once again, like all classic Bowie — an occupying move. The album refers, thrillingly, only to itself. There’s a new sound & vision here — skronky, sinewy, dubby… What a triumph!

Honestly, I was wary of listening, & crabby that I hadn’t the opportunity to hear it at at least once as the work of a living artist. I shouldn’t have fretted. Rather than a melancholy encomium, a stately funeral parade, it was the best & most unexpected gift of all — The last classic Bowie album: Space Oddity, Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory, Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, Station to Station, Low, Heroes, Scary Monsters, Let’s Dance, Blackstar.

Turn and face the strange

English singer, musician and actor David Bowie, 1974. (Photo by Terry O'Neill/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

There’s a reason when the news hit that so many of us instinctively reach out and gather our memories of first hearing ChangesOneBowie / Because that wasn’t a record, it was a door. A magic door. Here’s how it was magic. Because if you knocked on it, it opened easily, and you could go in and just boogie. But. But. If you pushed on it just right, if you were bent, just so, you tumbled through — and you never stopped falling. And as you fell, year after year, your freak flag just kept unfurling. And as you fell & flew you wondered — when do I get to the bottom? And there is no bottom. It’s just Bowie all the way down. Today every freak flag flies at half mast. Goodbye David Bowie.

Cherry Vanilla

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[Reposting this jem in light of two things – finally happening upon the 7″ of “The Punk” in a dusty box under the counter at the endlessly magical Molly’s Record and Book Store in Philly’s Italian Market, and the publication of Lick Me, Vanilla’s deliciously lurid memoirs. Cheers.]

At the Rock n Roll High School cafeteria, Cherry Vanilla was the wild tag-along little sister who sat with the Ramones whenever they decided to attend, and never got over the one time the New York Dolls asked her to share a cigarette behind the gym. But what she really pined for was the part of Magenta in the class production of Rocky Horror Picture Show.

At first, The Punk, her greatest (and single) moment, seems plugged into the same outlet that powers Sheena is a Punk Rocker and Personality buy vicodin 10mg online Crisis – all buzz-saw chords and pounding keys. But what really beats at the heart of this corker is The Time Warp. That is what makes this song so awesome, its utter fakery, its schmaltz. It’s not gutter rock, it’s musical theatre. It’s a prime exponent of the other great strand of New York Punk, the hammy glammy one that gave us Rocky Horror, the Mumps, Klaus Nomi, etc…

Cherry Vanilla was David Bowie’s publicist until the mid 70’s. After they parted ways she embarked on a short lived rock bender. (In a wonderful footnote, she’s also the object of Blondie’s catty classic Rip Her to Shreds) All of which is perfectly fitting. “The Punk” is punk written by a publicist – insanely enthusiastic but utterly inauthentic.

Cherry Vanilla — The Punk:

 

Bright Young Things, Pt. 2: Bowie Edition

Fascinating! So, I’m searching online for some an image along the theme of “bright young things” to accompany last week’s post of Muriel Sparks’ poem The Yellow Room. I come across a fragmentary result identifying Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies as the wellspring for David Bowie’s theatrical, spent, and off-kilter masterpeice Aladdin Sane (Vile Bodies? a hilarious, disjointed 1930’s Bright Lights Big City about the careening, hedonistic society set in the 20’s… excellent overview here.)

…the notion seemed familiar, like I had read it somewhere, but vague. The link led to a lovingly preserved recreation of a mesmerizing article from a July 1973 Circus Magazine. (On the cover Alice Cooper, Uriah Heep, free Robert Plant calendar, Seals and Crofts, and Marc Bolan)

The article was entitled “Bowie Sees America in Flames – the inside story of Aladdin Sane” This is relatively familiar territory for Bowie-philes… discussing it he’s always framed the album as Ziggy goes to America (The Velvet shout-outs, Detroit, Sunset & Vine, etc…) and discovers an near apocalyptic decadence.

In the Circus article, though Bowie, says flat out that the idea for Sane burst from him nearly fully formed while reading Vile Bodies, as the full circus of American rock celebrity and decadent notoriety is erected around him.

David Bowie sat in an overstuffed armchair in his suite aboard the ship Ellinis, returning to London from his first triumphal tour of the States. His delicate brows knit in a look of perplexed recognition as he read Evelyn Waugh’s “Vile Bodies” – a 40 year-old, futuristic novel about a society of “bright young things” whirling through lavish parties in outlandish costumes, dancing, gossiping and sipping champagne.  Suddenly David lowered the book to his lap, picked up the spiral notebook and pen sitting on the small mahogany table at his side, and began to write the words to the title song of his new LP, Aladdin Sane

“The book dealt with London in the period buy vicodin prescription just before a massive, imaginary war.” David would later confide, touching one finger, with its green-painted nail, lightly to his chin.  “People were frivolous, decadent and silly.  And suddenly they were plunged into this horrendous holocaust.  They were totally out of place, still thinking about champagne and parties and dressing up.  Somehow it seemed to me that they were like people today.” But who was the frivolous, romantic young man Aladdin Sane?  At first David merely cupped his hands in a fragile cage and said “I don’t really think he’s me.”  Several days later, Bowie realised who – or rather what – the song, and in fact the entire album, were about.  “It’s my interpretation of what America means to me.  It’s like a summation of my first American tour.”

Knowing this goes along way towards explaining a distinctive stylistic coloring to the record – a dandyish swing that now makes perfect sense in light of the disjointed flapper flamboyance in Vile Bodies. (Songs like “Prettiest Star,” the title track, and especially “Lady Grinning Soul”for your pleasure, below –  are fuller, fed by their associations with the novel.)

Watching him dash away, dragging
an old bouquet-dead roses
Sake and strange divine.
Um-m-m-m-you’ll make it
Passionate bright young things,
take him away to war-
..don’t fake it.
Who’ll love Aladdin Sane
Battle cries & champagne just in
time for sunrise…

The whole article is a must read. There’s a great Philly shout out, highlighting that Bowie was “one of the even fewer rock performers to attract a following so large in one city (Philadelphia) that he was forced to play there nine nights in a row.” Also, there are walk-ones by Andy Warhol, Lou Reed, Wayne County, Iggy Pop, Cyrinda Foxe and, my personal fave, punk publicist Cherry Vanilla. (profiled a year ago on the blog, here) Seriously, read it.

David Bowie: Prettiest Star [download]

[audio:http://shepelavy.com/audio/PrettiestStar.mp3]

David Bowie: Aladdin Sane [download]

[audio:http://shepelavy.com/audio/AladdinSane.mp3]

David Bowie: Lady Grinning Soul [download]

[audio:http://shepelavy.com/audio/LadyGrinningSoul.mp3]