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.

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