David Bowie

I used to play a pirated copy of “Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego?” on my DTK 386 back in, say, 1994. This was when “pirated” meant you just copied the files onto one of those 3.5″ floppies that AOL sent in the mail every two days. Since it was a pirated copy, I didn’t have the Fodor’s Travel Guide that you were supposed to use to answer the final question to move on to the next level. It was always “What State is on page {foo} of the travel guide? Me being me, I made a list of all 50 States, and slowly worked my way through via guesswork until I had most of them down.

Now if you remember this game, you had to track down criminals based on contextual clues left behind as to who they are, and where they are going. It assumes some level of geographical and pop culture knowledge. Geography I had down. Proud winner of the 8th grade geography bee, here. Pop culture… not so much. One of the contextual clues was a David Bowie cassette tape. You had to know what kind of music he made. I never could remember. (it was “rock”).

A year or so later and I start getting mail from Columbia House and BMG. Notice I didn’t say junk mail, because for me, Columbia House and BMG were pretty much my sole method of obtaining music that was new to me. I got into Led Zeppelin, Stone Temple Pilots, 311, and, on a whim, decided to find out who this David Bowie person was. You could say I was sheltered. That would be very tactful of you. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars sounded like a good start, because I was and am still a huge science fiction nerd. It arrived, and, just a bit through the half way point of the opening track “Five Years” my mind was blown.

The album itself was nearly 25 years old at that point, and there’s little young me, poleaxed. I couldn’t tell you how many times I listened to it. And every month, when my BMG or Columbia House mail would arrive, I’d get more Bowie. This was a good time for it, even though I wasn’t aware, I was getting the remastered Rykodisc versions that were chock full of outtakes with different lyrics, or rare live performances. I still have them all: Diamond Dogs, The Man Who Sold the World, Aladdin Sane, Pin Ups. Those albums all received mad play time. Low, Lodger, Scary Monsters and Super Creeps, and Let’s Dance significantly less so, though now I have a more mature appreciation for what’s going on in those albums.

Earthling came out in 1997. The first album of his that I had the opportunity to purchase in its natural milieu. I have to admit I had basically no idea what was going on with that electronica drum & bass madness. I still don’t. I’m okay with that. It’s a great album for zoning out on a road trip. 1997 is, incidentally, the year I went to the National Catholic Youth Conference in Minneapolis. I got a chance to do a little shopping at a big city record store. On that trip, I picked up Bowie’s Outside. Certainly his most macabre, grotesque, baroque work. The least appropriate Bowie album to pick up while in town with a ton of Catholic teenagers. Incidentally, on that trip I also learned that Tolkien calendars exist.

I managed to see him in concert, on the Area 2 tour with Moby, when he was touring for his album Heathen (in my opinion, his best work in these later years). I eagerly picked up Reality in 2003 when I was working in New York, and I remember playing it on the Bang & Olufsen sound system owned by the family I was staying with at the time. The first song immediately called up memories of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, and the whole album it an amalgam of songs sifted from Bowie’s long career and new work.

For years I’ve been unable to decide which album I like best between Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs, but I’ve finally decided that Diamond Dogs is my favorite album. The 8 – 9 minutes of Sweet Thing/​Candidate/​Sweet Thing Reprise is my favorite chunk of music.

The version from David Live is amazing:

And I really like the alternate lyrics to Candidate (released on the aforementioned remastered Rykodisc release):

Bowie has been a constant intrigue and challenge to me as I’ve grown older, and he’ll continue to be as long as he keeps putting out albums. I learned about Jean-​Michel Basquiat by seeking out the movie made about him merely because Bowie played Andy Warhol. I discovered the horrible sack-​swinging fascination of his role in Labyrinth, and developed a little crush on Jennifer Connelly. I became a fan of Nicolas Roeg after watching The Man Who Fell to Earth. I’ve become a fan of just about every band he’s ever covered.

David Bowie was my gateway from small town Indiana to the rest of the world. This young dude carried the news, so hey, man. Thanks.