Yes, this is the second appearance of David Bowie on Sunday Sounds, and I highly doubt it will be his last. In my first post, I accompanied the newly- and surprise-released “The Next Day” with a kind of fanboy walkthrough of Bowie’s musical and technical highlights, before dumping the album and calling it a day.
What I left out, was that after all this time, after three decades and over twenty albums, that Bowie managed to produce something entirely legitimate. With a lot of other aging musicians, there’s sort of a performance and output curve, the rise and fall of the arc determined by the amount of energy in that output. When they’re young, and defining themselves, and their place in the musical world, there’s an incredible amount of push out into the world. But as they age, that energy is conserved, and all the rowdiness fades away in favor of more subtle, and assumingly more skilled exhibition. That’s a natural curve, and it makes sense because it also follows the experience of aging, so when you find somebody who maintains that youthful push, you take notice. Many people, myself included, have been watching David Bowie do that for our entire lives. Suddenly losing that…it’s a shock to the system.
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I discovered the tip of the iceberg with David Bowe's music in the same place I stumbled on a number of pivotal musical moments: smoking in my car while skipping class in high school. 'The Width of a Circle' unfolded before me, simple yet elegant, and I was so rapt with his music that I missed my next class. Sure, it meant detention, but it was well worth it. Bowie's main focus for much of his life was his art, and most of that art was music. With each iteration, he created a new persona, a different sound, and enlisted an incredible roster of talent along the way. From Major Tom to Ziggy to the Thin White Duke, he really wound up moving from one icon to the next, never content to linger in one spot for long. He also challenged norms and ideas about gender, identity and sexuality at a time of heavy persecution of homosexuals and strong sexual repression. He may not have paved the way, but he certainly hacked through the reeds, and left a trail of glitter for others to follow. His legacy, then, is his embodiment of Spectrum. There were no fixed points, no cuts from one icon to the next, just a constant fluid metamorphosing figure. I don't believe we'll see another David Bowie, who takes the elements of modern music over the course of his life, and so deftly turns them into something all his own, from guitar rock to drum and bass to ambient to industrial techno and back. David Bowie, you will be missed.
Find “The Next Day” and play track ten, ‘Dancing Out in Space.’ That song gets me every time. But I’m not here to talk about “The Next Day.” I’m here to talk about his 2009 release, VH1 Storytellers, recorded at a studio performance in 1999.
Storytellers sees Bowie leading the crowd at the Manhatten Center in New York through an exposition of the songs, characters, events, and places that helped define him in his long career. Some are anecdotes about the German experience, as his story about Iggy Pop, while others are more like “David Bowie Fun Facts,” namely his first meeting with Marc Bolan.
His performances are still tight arrangements, but his lyrics and vocal stylings are dramatized, often bordering on crooning, or in some cases, after his story about Iggy Pop, adopting Pop’s distinctly middle-American accent with a strong emphasis on the trailing r’s in the lyrics. As a result, you now know what it would sound like if Iggy Pop ever covered “China Girl.”
He’s a perfect entertainer in this performance, and even though it’s a recording, it imparts this feeling that he’s got his arm wrapped around your shoulder and is telling you, personally, the stories. Like a friend. I was fortunate enough to see David Bowie play live, just once, in October 0f 1997 on his “Earthling” tour, and despite being a larger venue, it still felt like he was playing the music for me. Also, he was playing it really, really well.
It wasn’t ever just David Bowie, either. He surrounded himself with incredible talent, from the musicians to his engineers and legendary producers. He touched all of their lives, too, and pushed them up right alongside him.
So, this Sunday, you can really take your pick of your takeaway from David Bowie. Don’t be afraid to change, take care of the people around you, engage with people in a genuine way, and keep pushing out that youthful energy and create a full life experience along the way.
Check out his VH1 Storytellers performance below, and take a listen to my David Bowie Retrospective playlist as well. There’s a lot of gems in there.
Bowie’s influence is evident and apparent everywhere:
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I've been snapping photos of these sidewalk scribbles in the Stevens and Whittier neighborhoods in Minneapolis. I figured if I put them all in one place, I could fit them together like a puzzle and find a theme, or a message, some kind of common thread. It's been over a year, and I've found about a dozen, and the most likely thread is pop culture. In this case, it's a snippet of the lyrics to David Bowie's "Let's Dance." Found on the south side of 16th Street, across the street from the convention center. Nod to @timmpls by way of @startribune for their post reminding me of this, and to @davidbowie for the beautiful song, and, well, everything.