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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