Thursday, 18 February 2016

Let's Dance

While never ranked as my top performer, David Bowie was always there for me. I may not like him as much as I do Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin, but I unlike them he has been there, active, for the whole of my life thus far. Just like them (and only them), I carry the bulk of his discography on me all the time, which does say something.
Regardless, David Bowie death hit me hard. I thought I'd take the opportunity to analyse how this man and his music integrated with my life over the years.

You know that old RockWiz adage, the question they ask each participant? "What was the first album you ever bought with your own money"? Well, if memory serves me right, my answer to that question is David Bowie's Let's Dance. As ever, the full story is more complicated.
Times were simpler back then. Music was not half as accessible as it is now, a Spotify / Apple Music / YouTube search away. I had my older siblings record collection at my disposal, but for my own stuff I had to rely on radio, and that primarily came out of Israel's Reshet Gimel station top hits daily radio show at 3:00PM - "Chadash, Chadish U-mechudash". I recall it being anchored by Shosh Atari and produced by Tony Fine, bless them. That hour of music was our Top of the Pops of the time.
The times were times of conflict. Michael Jackson's Thriller controlled the scene, crushing all opposition. Us of the alternative aspirations were left to admit defeat. At least until a new combatant entered the scene, Bowie's Let's Dance. Nowadays we may regard that album as eighties pop, but it sure didn't feel like that at the time; it was the official rock n roll answer to Jackson's pop.
Everyone knew that year was Jackson's. Bully Jean was, and still is, a good song; definitely the song of 1983. But this was war, and in war all is fair. So when the yearly charts were scored, Bowie's local Israeli flocks all enlisted to help their singer of choice win "Israel's Official" yearly charts at Reshet Gimel. Modern Love had shoved Billy Jean into second place. Us cool people won.
For me, that meant spending the entirety of my savings on a piece of vinyl was worth it.
What I remember next was the sense of disappointment. It was cool for the album to start with the three hits I loved so much, Modern Love, China Girl and the title track; but the rest, they weren't as good. And Let's Dance itself didn't sound like it did on the radio; the album featured its longer version. Thus yours truly was initiated On the differences between a good album and some good hit songs.
Don't get me wrong, though, I was content with the music; it's just that this was the manifestation of all my savings, so I sort of expected musical nirvana. At least some type of nirvana.

Let's Dance was still the in album to listen to for a while. Until, that is, my best friend and next door neighbour LS (now a celebrity published author) told me the news: Let's Dance might be the latest fashion, but if you really want to know David Bowie you need to listen to Hunky Dory.
So I booked myself a visit and left him a blank cassette of mine (what evil pirates we were!). I couldn't say that Hunky Dory blew me off my feet, but it was good, and it definitely had more creativity to it. I liked it.
The most notable feature of Hunky Dory was the way I listened to it. Those were the days when cassettes (and tape players) would often fail, so I made myself a backup copy to actually listen to while the "original" cassette was well looked after. Only that those were the pre digital, pre double cassette player days; my playing copy was made by placing two cassette players next to one another, one playing and the other recording. Just in case anyone refers to those days as "the good old days".

Days went by, CD technology came in, and vinyl lost favour. I actually gave my [small] vinyl collection to a collector friend, Let's Dance included, as I started building my own substantial CD collection.
My next encounter with Bowie came during my university days. I was working on an assignment with a fellow student at her home while her husband, a substantial music collector of affluent taste (read: very similar to mine) played us his recent purchases of remastered David Bowie CDs. He played Hunky Dory, which brought back memories, but more importantly he played Ziggy Stardust. The latter left me smashed: that was awesome music!
I did what I had to do and added those two albums, and a few more classic Bowies, to my own collection. Ziggy Stardust quickly established itself to my Very Best Albums of All Time list, where I still consider it to hold third place. [If you have to ask, it's behind Dark Side of the Moon and Abbey Road.]

Yet, it has to be said that while I was re-finding Bowie's old classics, the man himself was busy producing new music that sounded pretty bland and unimpressive.
Even Bowie's 2013 effort was pretty mundane and forgettable. But Bowie is Bowie; he persevered, and come late 2014 he released an EP that finally made me pay attention to the greatness of Bowie once again. It was Sue's fault: jazzy, creative, wonderful.

Then came late 2015's Blackstar - the best thing to come from Bowie since, well, since Ziggy Stardust, if you ask me. Bowie was back in my life.
For good, as it turned out, since he died just a few days after I synced Blackstar [the album] to my phone.
Bowie was not the only one to mature with Blackstar. Listening to this excellent new album got me to revisit the Bowie catalog, noting things I was too young and inexperienced to notice before. Things like the aboriginal angle in the Let's Dance video. Or Omar Hakim's drumming in the Let's Dance album, clearly demonstrating his Jazzy roots (you may be acquainted with Hakim's drumming through Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms, too). Or Stevie Ray Vaughan's guitar, especially when considering that back in 1983 no one heard of Vaughan. Yet Bowie always had his eye on the future. And me, I'm so old and wise.

My personal David Bowie story might not sound like much, but it means a lot to me.
I recall repeatedly expressing surprise at just how badly I took my father's death. It was suggested to me that one possible explanation for that feeling is due to the fact my father has been there throughout my life; now that he's gone, it feels like an essential part of life has been removed. Frankly, I tend to think there is sound logic in that argument.
Well, the same goes For Bowie. David Bowie and his music have been there throughout my musical life, going through the normal cycle of ups and downs everything in this universe goes through. Unlike others who left an impression upon me , Bowie was there all along, evolving, changing with the times while others withered and failed. And now, music without Bowie, the permanent feature that was always there, feels the same as life without my father.
Ultimately, the question I ask myself is why. Why did Bowie bother being there for all these years, always trying to renew himself? I think Let's Dance provides us with an answer to that question, too. To quote from Ricochet,
And who can bear to be forgotten?
Don't worry, Mr Jones, I won't be forgetting you any time soon.

1 comment:

The Moshe from Mars said...

Watched him in Melbourne about 12-13 years ago. Great show. He will be sadly missed.