Tag Archive | David Bowie

David Bowie’s Space Oddity: Cover

As obviously evinced from the many, many posts dedicated to him on my blog, I absolutely adore David Bowie, and his life, music and death have all, in turn, had a profound impact on my life.

[More on that here.]

Today, I covered his iconic hit, Space Oddity.

Have a listen here:

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Godspeed, David Bowie

Today, a normal Monday. Many of us woke up, went to work, listening to the man on our commute.

Two days ago, Blackstar. A seminal album for the ages, just as every single one of his others had been. Like many others, I enjoyed it, replayed it, enjoyed it again.

Two days ago, I was in a tattooist’s chair, having Aladdin Sane permanently etched into my clavicle in ink.

Today.

Sat down at work and got onto my laptop, got through some work, and logged on to Facebook.

Like all of us who are now utterly shattered, I read that David Bowie was no more.

I immediately called up a close friend who loves the man as much as I do. I spoke to him. “It’s not true.”

Both voices shaking. Neither wanting to believe.

Later, confirmation. From his son. That the great man was gone. No more. Just like that, snuffed out in an instant.

It wasn’t in an instant for him, or for Duncan, or Iman, or his daughter.

18 months is a long, hard fight, and in a sense it’s better that it was not longer.

But this was a loss the world was not, has not been, would never have been ready for. How can the immortal Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke, just leave?

My brush with Bowie began in my teens, when I first heard Life on Mars. It blew my mind in ways that I still remember today. Every bit revelatory, every bar of music, every single word of the lyrics touched my soul in a way that is truly indescribable and still, even using every word in existence, every emotion we know of, is somehow not enough.

It was the freakiest show.

Like a starved man who had tasted his first morsel of food, I, in my Teenage Wildlife, devoured his music. Lapped it up. Every single piece of it.

Each album brought out nuances, subtleties in music that one may have never believed existed. Themes and motifs all the writers of the world may not have been able to come up with even put together.

Every album behind a mask, behind a character  – or perhaps, written by it. The young, hollowed out Aladdin Sane wrote of himself, of Ladies Grinning Soul, with pianos that sounded like flamenco guitar.

The lyrics inspired even the least creative of minds to conjure up images they may never have seen. Lady Grinning Soul. A tall woman by a piano in a bar, perhaps, her body shrouded in mystery and feathers, her eyes afire as she held a microphone.

Who knows if that is the image he intended. But it was always the one it brought to my mind. It’s one that is vivid, as if it were in front of my eyes just now.

Drive In Saturday made me want to fall in love. Hard. And hold someone close, and kiss them harder. And not let go.

And know what it was like to hold them as we both fell away, tired, sated and still at peace.

It’s absolutely one of my favourite songs to this day, and I’m playing it as I write this just now.

A song, an album that opens parts of you you didn’t know existed.

To anyone who is reading this, please, just go, turn out the lights, and play Aladdin Sane. An album for the ages if there ever was one.

He covered Pink Floyd, The Beatles, his own friends – the Stones. He did the Kinks and did them beautifully.

But his sheer capacity for songwriting – across genre, subject, lyric, music, instrument, absolutely anything – cannot even be described as monumental. Bigger than the ever-expanding universe, even. For a slow, flamenco-meets-piano Lady Grinning Soul, there was a Starman.

For a Starman, there was an Ashes to Ashes.

For every poignant song that could evoke tears at a moment’s notice, there was a Kooks, written for his son, about going to school and being a normal father. No, scratch that, not a normal father, a wonderful one.

It made me want to be able to come home to my own dad and laugh with him as I ran home from school, and in a sense, as I grew older, I did sometimes have my mother to be able to sit after school with as we watched TV together, and I’ll cherish those memories forever.

Before Aladdin Sane came The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Written from the point of view of an earth-visiting Alien. AKA David Bowie himself. A truly otherworldly being. Not human, not religiously divine.

Just a mortal with the potential of a superman.

In my darkest, most suicidal days, I overplayed Quicksand over and over again. And the Bewlay Brothers, as I imagined my life gladly slipping away from me, wanting to end whatever pain I was going through. And even then, in that darkness, those songs were things of sheer and utter beauty and nothing else.

The album was also special to me in that the first song I ever performed in public, for an actual audience, was a little ditty named Moonage Daydream. I’ll be a rock and rollin’ bitch for you, David.

The memory of walking into that dim light as my friend Laura set up a stool and microphone for me, announced me in and allayed my jittery nerves, that memory is so vivid.Adjusting a microphone for me, and a microphone for my guitar as the low screeech of the feedback echoed.

The smell of beer, good and bad, the low hum of what was perhaps a semi-interested audience that cheered me on  as I sang and played on, and then it never stopped.

Memories of some of the best times of my life have become inextricably tied to David Bowie, to his music, to his legacy. The first time I ever tried to smoke a cigarette, I was listening to Life on Mars, and to this day it is reminiscent of that breeze, that smell, that burning ash.

I then introduced one of my young, closest friends to it, and she fell in love with it too.

Letter to Hermione, a wonderful gem off Space Oddity, holds a special place in my heart. On a date with a man I had fallen deeply for as a young woman years ago, he held my hand and sang it to me on a beach in the heat of mid-day and my young, impressionable mind that had never known love, opened up and soared, and melted into his arms.

I spoke to that man this morning as I cried, and he did not want to believe it either.

Even teenage me, wanting to die, holding a swiss knife to my wrist, listened to Quicksand over and over again, with no belief in or love for myself, and still somehow was able to enjoy the music with every fibre of my being, sink into the lyrics that spoke so deeply to my soul I felt like the man, the musician knew me, knew my fight, as I struggled to deal with being unloved, alone, bullied and hurt.

As I finally took to fiction, each story a cathartic experience, those were inspired by Bowie too. A homeless young girl (with the mousy hair). A Major Tom, who lost his mind.

Wanting truly to know the happiness that came from love, I listened to Kooks. Of a father who just wanted to put his son in the car and drive him around when homework got too much. A simple melody was Kooks, and still inspired so much happiness.

Lady Stardust. A transvestite. Playing into Bowie’s beautifully fluid gender idols. Androgyny. The male. The female. All one, and one with each other. And it didn’t matter if you were gay, straight, male or female. You were attracted to him, in love completely with a man, a being, walking music himself.

And he reinvented himself, year after year after year. After year.The Thin White Duke. Throwing darts in lovers’ eyes.

The Next Day was a new Bowie. The talent of and genius of old. The music of now. And his old personae came out to play.

Ever the consummate actor, Bowie was not just prolific in film as the iconic Nikola Tesla, whom he portrayed in The Prestige – perhaps his most well-known film role to date, but as the Man Who Fell to Earth (a must watch, if you have not already). Of Jareth the Goblin King, with a beautiful voice and a just-as-beautiful bulge.

An innovator in music, in writing in film, in truly every sense of the word was David Bowie.

And if you’ve ever watched his interviews, he was devastatingly funny (and handsome), disarmingly charming, honest, baldly open, just himself. And you couldn’t help but fall completely in love.

Only three days ago, Blackstar came out. His video, his song. Lazarus. The biblical character whom Jesus resurrected.

The musical character, the man, the  enigma, the riddle, the genius. Not a mortal at all, but resurrected in death to live for all eternity, just as that final video.

In a way, it is just as well that 18 months of hard-fought suffering have come to an end, but it is the sheer loss that we, as fans, as lovers in our heads, find it hard to come to terms with.

I guess we all just thought he was immortal. And in so many ways, he is, and he will be.

Now one with space and time and the energy of the universe, there really is a Starman out there somewhere.

Ashes to Ashes, funk to funky.

The Next Da(y)vid. Happy Birthday, Mr. Bowie.

Last year (2013 is ‘last year’ now), this genius released his latest album.

Musician. Singer, songwriter, guitarist, saxophonist, a brilliant, brilliant actor, sex object, teen-and-adult idol and Goblin King extraordinaire, David Bowie, is 67 today. Fifty years since the man has been making music and it only gets better.

Although most non-Bowie listeners will know him by ‘Ground Control to Major Tom‘ (which is actually Space Oddity, thank you very much!) his debut album was the eponymous David Bowie, released in 1967. For those who have heard a lot of Bowie’s later stuff – Space Oddity, Ziggy Stardust, Life on Mars (the usual suspects), David Bowie will sound rather unfamiliar. Less surrealist and folksy than the more mature Bowie-image that has come to be legend, a number of songs on the album are very 60s and represent London [London Boy, Maid of Bond Street (one of my personal favourites on the album)]. Love You Till Tuesday is wonderfully candyflossy, youthful, and in all honesty, downright adorable. A simple melody from a lover to the one he loves, about how smitten he is. The simplicity of the melody and the lyrics make you fall in love with them.

While David Bowie might seem unlike Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke, or even the David Bowie of today, it was not as detached as it seems. A special Bowie skill, one that one sees in very few musicians today, is the ability to  paint extremely vivid, almost tangible pictures with palpable emotions,  telling entire stories in song (or in Bowie’s case, extend characters through them, even).

This is evident in Come and Buy my Toyswhich has simple lyrics, some beautiful folksy fingerpicking in the background. Seemingly innocuous, innocent lyrics paint deeper, darker, sadder pictures than those that are apparent. Maid of Bond Street paints a picture of glitzy London, of an actress on the train from Paddington to Oxford Circus (while on that journey myself, I hummed the tune and grinned to myself. The man looking at me must have assumed I was a lunatic. Oh well), but in a few lines shows the emptiness of her life, of life itself.

Macabre images that one would see in later Bowie work (certain songs on Hunky Dory, a fair number on Aladdin Sane) began cropping up early on – a prime example is Please Mr. Gravedigger, just pure vocals and sound effects – the rain in the background. While nothing like it melodically, the lyrics are reminiscent of a beautiful song by a certain Paul McCartney, released only a year prior.

We Are Hungry Men steps into extremely dark realms, all the while beneath a melodic exterior that seems quick, rhythmic, and perhaps incongruous  with its lyrics that allude to cannibalism and explicitly refer to infanticide and slaughter.  He talks of a messiah, a persona that will crop up in his later music as well, along with the idea and nature of being detached from humanity, an observer from up above – whether an alien or an astronaut, an otherwoldly being, or just a starman.

The world, humanity, otherworldly beings talking about humanity: this album had pretty much everything you could ask for. Some amazing work on Five Years and Rock n’ Roll Suicide, which are by far the most acoustic tracks on the album.
Bowie had always been very androgynous (and the subject of various rumours that seemed to indicate that he rolled with some Stones), and his Ziggy persona served to magnify this. He was a pioneer of androgyny in the public eye, even – and Lady Stardust, on the album, illustrates exactly that.
A year later, 1973, came Aladdin Sane, Bowie’s next persona and album. The boy/man with the lightning scar, about 20 years before J.K Rowling and Harry Potter.The piano on the title track is exquisite – the entire album, though it encompasses several different genres, has an absolutely beautiful flow. Something to whet every genre-related appetite. John, I’m Only Dancing and Panic in Detroit are quicker rock, as is Bowie’s cover of the stones’ Let’s Spend the Night Together. Cracked Actor is hard rock, drug-fuelled, sex-crazed and the epitome of what the older generation considered ‘rock n’ roll’, perhaps. In sort of what may be a descending-order arrangement of the album, you have those faster, more traditionally ‘rock’ tracks, then Cracked Actor, followed by The Prettiest Star (the most romantic waltz in my head, coupled with Bowie’s breathy, romantic rock voice).
Drive-In Saturday is sex. Sex in a song. Genuinely. Please, go listen to it because no other description will do it justice.
Lady Grinning Soul is rather James Bond ballad-esque. If it were to be compared to one specific one, possibly Shirley Bassey’s rendition of Goldfinger, in the vibe that it gives off. The piano work on Lady Grinning Soul (and the title track of this album) is pristine. [both of those Mick Ronson.]
Aladdin Sane: who’ll love him? That is the only question I ask.
Post Aladdin Sane came Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, and then Station to Station, which brought out Bowie’s newest persona: the Thin White Duke (throwing darts in lovers’ eyes).
Dressed as a harlequin straight out of Pagliacci, he would appear on Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), which would yield the bouncing (yet rather dark), space-like, surreal Ashes to Ashes, which carried on the persona of Major Tom that had been created with Space Oddity; he was now strung out in heavens high, hitting an all time low. (Major Tom, that is.)
The era post this was largely experimental. Ashes to Ashes- and really ,a lot of Scary Monsters, had been heading a more electronic route, which he pursued, solo and with his band, Tin Machine, from whom he eventually separated.
Bowie then went on hiatus for a while. A long, long while, until it was announced, a year ago to the day, that he would be releasing new material (and the mice in their million hordes cried out in joy).
The Next Day is another one of those albums that you simply cannot pick a favourite track off. Genius, all around. It is a thing of beauty, of awe and wonder, that for 50 years (and counting),  David Bowie has managed to keep the essence of what keeps him going bottled up, untouched, and puts out beautiful, original music each time. Prodigious intelligence doesn’t hurt, either.
The title track and The Stars (Are Out Tonight) are two of the most iconic videos off the album- the former featuring Gary Oldman and Marion Cotillard alongside Bowie, and the latter his friend and another androgynous powerhouse of talent, Ms. Tilda Swinton.
My personal favourite is Love Is Lost, featuring a whole lot of David Bowie puppets. Very surrealist, and I would definitely recommend it. Honestly, just go buy the album. It’s wonderful.
I’d like to go into detail about how brilliant an actor the man is, but no words would do him justice and I have perhaps written too much anyway. All I will say is this: Go watch The Prestige if you have not already seen it. David Bowie aside, it is an incredible film (as it should be, it is a Nolan production). The cast is absolutely stellar and still, somehow, none outperforms the other. You will also never see a more convincing Tesla on screen.
Another recommendation is The Man who Fell to Earth. Now a cult classic, it was panned when it first came out. Something about the storyline fits its lead perfectly. If you like science fiction, this film is definitely for you.
Last but not the least, a film I love, one that 80s and 90s children have grown up with, and one one of my best friends and I have bonded over, something you can watch with your children, even: Labyrinth.
I’d like to ask what Jareth the Goblin King says: “What kind of magic spell do you use?”
Not only has the man been brilliant all this while, he’s married to an absolutely inspirational woman as well (she also just happens to be one of the most beautiful, successful women in the world)- the supermodel, philanthropist, activist and all-round driven career woman, Iman.
Happy Birthday, David Bowie. Here’s to 67 years of absolute brilliance. Thank you for making my life more livable, better, more special even.
To feeling like I could beat them, just for one day.
Play on, Ziggy.
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