David Bowie

by Henry Farrell on January 11, 2016

Comment on his career seems superfluous and almost impertinent. I have difficulty thinking of another recently living musician who so defined the contours of the world I grew up in and lived in. The one thing that’s noticeable to me (at least for the music I know, which is obviously far from everything), is that while you can trace his influence on musicians of pretty well every subsequent generation, it’s hard to discern any significant backlash against him. He was sui generis.



Doug Henwood 01.11.16 at 1:51 pm

I started listening to Bowie in 1972, when I was a college sophomore (yeah, I’m almost as old as he was). Many of my classmates thought we were really weird to like his music – to them he was a novelty act, a joke. Funny how he became such an icon. I haven’t stopped listening to him; listening to Blackstar now in fact.


Henry 01.11.16 at 2:12 pm

Many of my classmates thought we were really weird to like his music – to them he was a novelty act, a joke.

There was that moment some years ago (if my memory was right) when he promised to do an Internet poll for a song that he would guarantee to perform on tour, and was then forced quickly to clarify that “The Laughing Gnome” was not an option. And you can see the quirkiness in the first album and the BBC demo tapes. But then, he really summoned a ferocious discipline, which seemed to last even during the years when he was quietly going a little crazy in other ways. And yes – he’s one of the few people who you keep on listening to even when you picked him up in your teens.


engels 01.11.16 at 2:53 pm

it’s hard to discern any significant backlash against him

Rock against racism?


oldster 01.11.16 at 3:27 pm

Bowie was and is awesome, and his legacy is immense. That’s what I came here to say.

So I feel a bit bad picking on this line of Henry’s instead:

“he’s one of the few people who you keep on listening to even when you picked him up in your teens.”

Doesn’t that get things backwards? Isn’t it pretty well established that the music you listen to in your teen years is *exactly* what you listen to for the rest of your life?

In any case: to see one aspect of Bowie’s genius, have a look at his cameo on “Extras” where he makes up a song to ridicule Ricky Gervais. Bowie looks so old at the start. But when he sits at the piano, he is transformed.


Chris Bertram 01.11.16 at 4:40 pm

Americans (on the whole) didn’t get Bowie at the time (too radical for them).

“The Ziggy revue landed in America in the fall of 1972. The toast of trend-setters in LA and New York City – the sorts of places where influential people actually read British press clips – the show elsewhere was greeted with scepticism and, in many parts of the country, sheer indifference. In the United States, despite massive publicity, Bowie’s recordings sold only modestly well…. Meanwhile, back in England, where misleading press releases recorded Bowie’s overseas progress, and helped reinforce the impression that he was a global superstar, popular fascination with Ziggy continued to grow …” James Miller, Almost Grown, pp. 301-2.


Kiwanda 01.11.16 at 4:51 pm

Experiments don’t always work, and sometimes filler was too easy, but at his best, wow. It was so helpful to know that weird and cool and feeling, all together, was possible.

Less obvious (if not exactly obscure) favorites:



Rakesh Bhandari 01.11.16 at 4:55 pm

Don’t know why but remembering now how Lars von Trier used Bowie’s “Young Americans” in “Dogville” and “Life on Mars” in “Breaking the Waves”. And most of all I remember this lovely live performance, one of his last (I think).


Lee A. Arnold 01.11.16 at 5:23 pm

Saw the Ziggy Stardust tour in Philly. Outstanding concept and great numbers.

My favorite Bowie song came later: “Somebody Up There Likes Me”. That’s a great lyric: the whole inner psychology of a politician in an R&B elegy.

“Leaders come, and all the people know that given time, the leaders go…


Daragh 01.11.16 at 5:37 pm

It’s the rare pop star indeed who can plausibly add ‘helping to bring down the Berlin Wall,’ and generally be regarded as having made a positive contribution outside of their music, without also devolving into the sad spectacle that is U2 and Bono in later days.

@Chris – That’s a really interesting story on the nature of ‘fame’ before instant communication, and the artifice that not only surrounded Bowie’s characters but his career itself. It’s also interesting that despite all the hoopla he was apparently a thoroughly decent human being.


Corey Robin 01.11.16 at 5:52 pm

Chris Bertram:

I wonder how long into the 1970s that remained true. I ask b/c when I was in junior high in the late 1970s, I was already listening to Bowie and a huge fan. Now I was more on the theater/arts end of things back then, it’s true — I was introduced to Bowie at a summer theater and arts camp I used to go — but my friends and I were fairly conventional. It didn’t require any elaborate alienation to be a fan of his. By high school, a lot of us were listening to him. Not just the contemporary stuff either.


js. 01.11.16 at 6:16 pm

The music is amazing enough that not much needs to be said about it, but this is really making me want to rewatch Velvet Goldmine.


Rakesh Bhandari 01.11.16 at 6:28 pm

I am told that Simon Critchley has written a book on Bowie…http://thequietus.com/articles/16414-david-bowie-simon-critchley-biography-extract-2
Also being reminded of the Luther Vandross and David Bowie connection.


Marshall Peace 01.11.16 at 7:32 pm

Twyla Tharp Cathrine Wheel composed and performed by. “What A Day That Was!!!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5L83KTSOFNM

… his music is awfully twisted for Americans … not KennyG, not Bill Halley. These days we’re more used to noisy music but the real stuff is still a minority taste, I think.


Roger Gathman 01.11.16 at 7:44 pm

Chris, Nick Kent disagrees. He was working for Creem in 1973, having come over from England to do so. Here’s his take on Bowie and America:

“… over in Detroit Bowie’s followers were like something out of Fellini’s Satyricon: full tilt pleasure seekers devoid of anything resemlbing shame, limits, caution and moral scruples. I distinctly remember a local lesbian bike gang riding their bikes into the foyer of the concert hall and revving them loudly just prior to Bowie’s arrival onstage. This had not been pre-arranged.. Meanwhile, the toilets were literally crammed with people either having sex or necking pills. The whole building was like some epic porn film brought to twitching life. Back in London’s West Side, the best loved theatrical presentation of the hour was an asinine farce called No sex please we’re British, a title that pretty much summed up the United Kingdom’s awkward embrace of its libidinous potential even during the so called permissive age. Put that reticence down to a mixture of instilled Catholic guilt, cold showers, single sex schooling and steady on old boy stoicism. Our young american cousins had no such inhibitions to curb their lust… This was not lost on David Bowie, whose new Aladdin Sane songs were clearly part inspired by their composer coing into direct contact with the Babylonian sexual frenzy of young America in the early seventies.“ – Nick Kent, Apathy for the devil


Roger Gathman 01.11.16 at 8:49 pm

And continuing on the reception of Bowie in England – this hilariously don’t get it piece from Martin Amis, who seems to have borrowed his daddy’s ear horn to go to one of David Bowie’s Ziggy concerts: http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/cultural-capital/2015/04/archive-martin-amis-mild-fad-david-bowie

What is amazing is that I thought Amis lost his talent in the 90s, but it appears that even back in the seventies, there was an Amis pundit aching to break through the comic genius and pronounce about everything in the plummiest way possible.


Bloix 01.11.16 at 9:13 pm

I first heard Bowie on the juke box in the coffee shop of my little liberal arts college. Space Oddity and Changes got a lot of play. Eh. It was pop. I went back to my room and put Springsteen on the turntable. Dire Straits. Steely Dan. That was rock and roll.
What I didn’t get until much, much later was that there were a hell of a lot of closeted gay men at my college in the mid-70’s. Bowie spoke to them.


The Anti-Wanker Wonker 01.11.16 at 9:20 pm

Eno is God.

Since God doesn’t exist, it seems Eno doesn’t exist.

World of pop music wankers. Bowie existed, did some good sbit with Eno, but otherwise just made $$$ for the wankers.

Wonk on.


js. 01.11.16 at 9:20 pm

Bowie’s actually an interesting case for me because I were listing my top ten favorite this or that, Bowie probably wouldn’t be on the list. (Well, Low or Hunky Dory would probably make top ten 70s albums.) Still, e.g. I like the Stooges a lot more than what Bowie was doing 69-70; if I want glam, my first stop would be early Roxy Music or Electric Warrior rather than Ziggy or Diamond Dogs; and I’d take Marquee Moon over Low for arty rock from ’77 (maybe not a great comparison, but you see the point). But you put all of that together, and it’s fucking mind-boggling. Just so much that’s so good! Add to that the fact that Hunky Dory is I think utterly glorious and maybe criminally underrated (e.g. as compared to Ziggy or Low), and it’s hard to even know what to say.


engels 01.11.16 at 9:29 pm


AcademicLurker 01.11.16 at 9:51 pm

engles@19: I seem to recall he apologized for that in what seemed to be a pretty sincere way. He didn’t try to defend it, but did say, among other things, something like “Keep in mind, I was doing so many drugs during those years that there are entire months I can’t remember.”


The Temporary Name 01.11.16 at 10:07 pm

The music is amazing enough that not much needs to be said about it, but this is really making me want to rewatch Velvet Goldmine.

Bowie didn’t much like that and refused to have his music in it.


engels 01.11.16 at 10:11 pm

Quite a lot of people do drugs when they are young but don’t go around around telling people that ‘Britain is ready for a fascist leader’. The article wasn’t only about Nazism either:

Bowie is back in the news for accepting a Brit awards and chipping into the vote for an independent Scotland by ending his thank you speech, “Scotland, please stay with us.” As one wag put it: “Fuck off back to Mars.”


Plarry 01.11.16 at 10:19 pm

Re: 13
The Catherine Wheel is David Byrne (Talking Heads), not Bowie.


js. 01.11.16 at 10:23 pm

TTN @31: I am well aware, and the film casts the Bowie character in a rather problematic light, so it’s perhaps not surprising. Still, (a) it’s an amazing film, and (b) I can’t think of a better take on what Bowie and that era meant.


Chris Bertram 01.11.16 at 10:25 pm

@Corey … well, I can’t discount that James Miller (the same guy who is/was editor of Daedalus, author of books on Rousseau, Foucault and Sartre) had his own agenda here. I doubt whether you were typical of American youth of the time though.


Chris Bertram 01.11.16 at 10:28 pm

I’m sure @engels will enjoy this defence of Bowie from the IMG, back in 1977



Tabasco 01.11.16 at 10:30 pm

Quite a lot of people do drugs when they are young but don’t go around around telling people that ‘Britain is ready for a fascist leader’.

Maybe they do, but nobody cares what they say.


The Temporary Name 01.11.16 at 10:32 pm

The Catherine Wheel is David Byrne (Talking Heads), not Bowie.


Somewhere in that period Tina Weymouth was complaining that if he had his way Byrne would sit in a room with Eno and Bowie and they’d just talk. That sounds like a heroic ideal to me.


ZM 01.11.16 at 10:32 pm

I only realised David Bowie’s eyes were different colours last year when it came up in conversation. I really like this film clip made in Australia, it’s very Australia in the 80s and is political too


“In a 1983 interview with Rolling Stone, Bowie didn’t mince his words.

“As much as I love this country, it’s probably one of the most racially intolerant in the world, well in line with South Africa,” he said.

He was 36 and almost two decades into a prolific career that defies comparison.

“It occurred to me that one doesn’t have much time on the planet, you know? And that I could do something more useful in terms of … I know this is very cliché, but I feel that now that I’m 36 years old, and I’ve got a certain position, I want to start utilising that position to the benefit of my … brotherhood and sisterhood,” he told Rolling Stone.

“I’ve found it’s very easy to be successful in other terms, but I think you can’t keep on being an artist without actually saying anything more than, ‘Well, this is an interesting way of looking at things.’

“There is also a right way of looking at things: there’s a lot of injustice. So let’s, you know, say something about it. However naff it comes off.””


ZM 01.11.16 at 10:33 pm


Bruce B. 01.11.16 at 11:07 pm

For what it’s worth, I’m two years older than Corey and have the same recollection – by the mid-1970s I was routinely hearing a bunch of Bowie on the radio, and not only on KROQ. He did “Golden Years” on American Bandstand in 1975, a moment with Google tells me. And Dick Cavett in 1974! Huh. Both Dinah Shore and Soul Train in 1975 as well, and the duet with Bing Crosby in 1977.


PlutoniumKun 01.11.16 at 11:12 pm

I’m not sure its true to say there wasn’t a backlash. I think there was a time in the late 80’s/ early 1990’s when it seemed that he’d run out of creative juice and was threatening to turn into a bit of a self parody (he didn’t, but it seemed like that might happen) when I recall reading quite a few snide articles in the music press about him, and it was momentarily cool to disparage him. The gist of the snideness was that he was something of a parasite, finding cool, talented people and using them for his own ends. It was true of course that he was brilliant at identifying collaborators and picking up influences, but you can’t write songs like he did without having a genuinely great musical talent. But he did have the good sense and grace to disappear for a few years when he seems to have felt he didn’t have much to say or do. Its wonderful that he left us with one final great album.

Incidentally, Martin Amis made something of a fool of himself when he wrote about Bowie back in 1973 in the New Statesman. He couldn’t have been more wrong:



Bloix 01.11.16 at 11:25 pm

#15 – “this hilariously don’t get it piece”
Oh, he gets it. Just because he’s homophobic as hell doesn’t mean he misunderstands what he’s seeing. His prediction that “Bowie himself is unlikely to last long as a cult” was wrong – although his implicit prediction that Bowie would die of a drug overdose came close to happening – but his follow-up that “it is hard to believe that the feelings he has aroused or aggravated will vanish along with the fashion built round him” was right on the money.


Roger Gathman 01.11.16 at 11:34 pm

33 – no, to get it he’d have to strip out the tone, the unearned condescension, and actually see something. I see no seeing or hearing going on in that piece. He could have phoned it in, because he saw exactly what he wanted to see, which of course meant he saw nothing. The idea that rock stars are cults was already one of the hoary cliches of the time, although Amis brandishes it like it was newly minted. Amis was so young, and yet he already suffered from the constipated vision of his pa. Too bad.


The Temporary Name 01.11.16 at 11:36 pm

I think I liked David Bowie at about the same time Corey did, and I had a circle of friends who also thought he was pretty good. He got a lot of radio play. Nevertheless we got beaten up a lot for being fag punkers.


Alan White 01.11.16 at 11:51 pm

There have been so many deaths of cultural icons of my generation in the past few years.

This one staggers me. I still remember the original broadcast of Bowie and Bing Crosby singing the Christmas hymn Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth. Bowie’s weaving of harmony and contramelody was outstanding. I understand Crosby didn’t live to see the broadcast (I didn’t remember that.)


Changes, Oddity, . . .but Let’s Dance is one of my purely musical favorites. In the age of videos when it was released–can you really hear Money for Nothin’ and not picture the video?–I can’t remember a thing about the video for Dance. (Thanks ZM for the reminder–though I’m not inclined to watch it.) Pure beat and pure voice–a high water mark for the 80s for sure. I’m listening to Bowie tonight.


Shylock Homeslice 01.11.16 at 11:53 pm

I think it was somewhere in the lon g 3-part interview that starts here where Bowie seemed to touch on the fascist thing, saying that he had gone through a period where he would say outrageous things that were consistent with people’s perception of him, to his regret. Something like that. And that he was “absolutely apolitical.” I recall him explaining elsewhere that the so-called Nazi salute was really just a photograph of him waving to his fans. I’m inclined to believe him, and likely the coke played a part in all this, but anyway the overwhelming impression I’ve got from interviews and comments from those who knew him from throughout his career is of a decent and level-headed person.

Here’s a tweet that came up in @Plantsmantx a little while ago:
David Bowie once called out MTV for not playing black artists http://bzfd.it/1OL6qxm

I also recall him being among a selection of musicians of various kinds who were interviewed by Downbeat on Coltrane’s influence, and his response was that when he was a growing up he thought it would be cooler to be into someone who was a little less-known, so he picked up on Rollins and Kirk, with Kirk ultimately winning out it the end but of course Coltrane was absolutely superlative. Something like that. FWIW.


Bloix 01.12.16 at 12:02 am

#34 – I read an article by a guy who (1) hates gay men, and (2) is contemptuous of drug-fueled celebration of celebrity and “glamor.” And he noted Bowie’s fascination with Nazism (“SS-lightening flashes) a couple of years before it became a public scandal.

The homophobia pollutes the whole thing from the first line (“flounced”). Which is a shame, because that’s a stain that doesn’t come out.


Ronan(rf) 01.12.16 at 12:11 am

Bowie seemded to be attracted by the aesthetics of Nazism, rather than the politics. Which seems excusable. Related to some of the above, I did have a friend who used to rant favourably about Bismarck when on drugs, so Im not sure it’s very unusual.


Roger Gathman 01.12.16 at 12:17 am

He doesn’t seem to note that the whole ziggy stardust thing is a send up of cults – of the kind of fanbase charisma held by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, to mention someone you’ve mentioned.
But Bowie’s fascist aesthetic was undoubtedly on display at this point. It went in and out of what he was doing at the time. And then he broke with it. I find the “I was too drugged to know what I was doing” excuse not very pertinent to a man who is making his best albums. He was fascinated by cabaret culture, which comes out in his doing Baal – which of course is by the anti-fascist Brecht. Basically, a fascination with the inhuman and the charismatic.
The eulogies make Bowie much too simplistic. I think he is a much better artist than he is being portrayed as. A much better artist, of course, than Martin Amis.


Bloix 01.12.16 at 1:03 am

#39- “the whole ziggy stardust thing is a send up of cults”
Irony is a dangerous game.

“A much better artist, of course, than Martin Amis.” I carry no brief for Martin Amis. Truth be told, I’ve read none of his novels. But you don’t have to be an artist to be a critic. And Amis in the 1973 article accurately identifies a number of unappetizing themes: an obsession with drugs, a celebration of glamor for its own sake, a flirtation with the aesthetics of Nazism (of course not its ideas, ideas in the world of glamor are for chumps). Amis got that right. But it’s all hopelessly contaminated by a revulsion for gay sex.

No one on this thread has mentioned Bowie’s most unusual characteristic: he was beautiful. Stunning. Mesmerizing. He used that beauty in the service of his art: whatever he decided to look like, people – men and women, gay and straight – were unable to take their eyes off him, would want to be like him. For me, a lot of what he wanted to look like was not very attractive past the surface appearance. So I have some sympathy for Amis’s reaction to him, although Amis in 1973 (like me!) was too square to see that Bowie’s sensibility was not a fad – it was the coming thing. We are all gay now.

Alan White at #36 notes that he can’t remember a thing about the music video for “Let’s Dance.” Of course he can’t. The social consciousness of the video is whitewash – the song is about clubbing, full stop. It’s about how tragically hip Bowie is.

Maybe there’s a Freudian slip in AW’s reference to Money for Nothing as a video he does remember. I like Dire Straits – Knopfler’s guitar pierces my heart like nothing Bowie ever did – but Money for Nothing is a gross little song, particularly in its homophobia. If I were asked to honor Bowie – not likely, I admit – I would say, he helped make a world that doesn’t contain any more hits like Money for Nothing.


Jeremy 01.12.16 at 1:05 am

@40, since you mentioned Brecht:
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ibH-BkZg0o&w=560&h=315%5D


Matt 01.12.16 at 1:11 am

I was a fan though never at all what you could call a devotee. But, I’ll say that “Let’s Dance” (linked above) and later “Jump, They Say” were two of my favorite music videos of all time.


js. 01.12.16 at 1:48 am

If I had to pick one song as my favorite Bowie song, this might be it, only because I could have that guitar hook playing on a loop for the rest of my life and I would not get tired:


ZM 01.12.16 at 2:14 am

Alan White,

I hope you change your mind and watch the Lets Dance film clip, its really good. Its the sort of film clip that makes me like the song more. I actually never thought about it before today, but I guess it must have been made in response to the “fascist chic” David Bowie thing which I never heard of until I read the article linked to above. David Bowie is dressed finely with the blonde hair from the “fascist chic” period, then there are Indigenous Australians and white Australians in an outback pub and the desert who are dressed in a kind of “naff” way, but it works well in a juxtaposition of types of 80s fashion sort of way, and juxtaposition of city and country, white and black. And the dancing and happy faces in parts of the clip can’t fail to bring a smile to anyone’s face and a tap to the foot as well, I think.


Alan White 01.12.16 at 2:15 am

Nope Bloix–I’m totally with you on Money for Nothin’ iff the song were anything but satire. But I deny the iff. Dire Straits didn’t pander, but got the benefit of overestimating the intelligence of rockers.

Anyway, listening to Bowie now. Peace to all.


Alan White 01.12.16 at 2:18 am

Thank you ZM–you convinced me. Just one more glass of wine beforehand.


Alan White 01.12.16 at 2:49 am

Oh one more thing ZM–not only were Bowie’s eyes different colors, but look at most close-ups of him. His left eye is frequently almost twice the dilation of his right. Literal embodiment of the unusual that leads to his soul.


kidneystones 01.12.16 at 2:51 am

I’m a fan of just about everything Bowie, but found his Tin Machine phase utterly forgettable. Lined-up, listened, and left early. Henry has it right to say that comment is almost impertinent, but Bowie would be the first to agree that almost leaves a lot of room. Managing his fan base, not to mention his money, was just one of his many talents. There are lots of good bios available on You tube, none perfect, but taken together encapsulate the chap nicely. The music and stagecraft survive. He’ll be missed.


Dean C. Rowan 01.12.16 at 5:35 am

The loss of Bowie, like that of Lemmy and Paul Bley and Pierre Boulez, is quite palpable. Both were “sui generis,” and at some point I suppose we could identify a vast club of the “sui generis.” But why would comment on his career seem superfluous? His (their) career(s) is (are) rich and varied and unpredictable and happily surprising — okay, maybe not Lemmy so much — and invite(s) comment, which ought to be uttered. I have a shit-ton of LPs, only one of which is Bowie’s (David Live), but I know his work better than I know Brahms’s, of whose recordings I have many, many more. I am therefore not a fan, but his career has damn well impressed me.

We *need* to comment on his career. Otherwise, he gets filed away with Eno (I predict his aura will soon wane), Byrne (a poseur from the get-go), and Fripp (geez, lighten up, schizoid man) as a merely eclectic, trendy, edgy pop star. Bowie, the person and the music, commanded and sought comment. Don’t treat his work as so pure and precious.


Dean C. Rowan 01.12.16 at 5:43 am

By “both” I of course meant “all of them.”


Neville Morley 01.12.16 at 7:38 am

At the risk of gratuitous annoyance (though maybe not as much as if I confess that I like the first Tin Machine album…):

I’ve been imagining the death of Dylan – so that I can try to imagine my reaction to it. Lots of parallels, in terms of regular reinvention, risk-taking, evasion of definition etc., and I own substantially more of his records than I do of Bowie’s – but I can’t imagine feeling the same degree of emotion. Is it the abruptness of the whole thing, dying before we had a chance to get to grips properly with Blackstar in its own terms? Or the sense that he still had new and exciting music in him, still pushing at boundaries? Or simply his preservation of the enigmatic legend, whereas Dylan – equally heroically – seems determined to give his a good kicking? There will be the same amount of coverage, undoubtedly, and a lot more Christopher Ricks, but I’m not sure it will be the same.


S. Kohn 01.12.16 at 8:55 am

I have often thought that the only thing that saved me from utter ruin while growing up was the fact that I lived in a college town. A case in point was one weekend Spring day in 1973. My friend and I somehow ended up spending the day riding around Starkville, Mississippi, with some undergraduates in their Cutlass Supreme. I don’t remember who they were or even which friend I was with.

What I do remember is that we listened to Ziggy Stardust the entire day on the 8-track. Over and over and over. The power chords in “Ziggy.” The rock of “Suffragette City.” The coolness of “Moonage Daydream.” Over and over and over. I couldn’t wait to get my own copy.

When I got back to high school the next week, everyone was a bit taken aback by my infatuation with Ziggy, and several of my male friends warned me to “be careful” about expressing too much enthusiasm for such things. But I didn’t care. And I never cared.

I wonder how many people have a similar tale to tell.


Igor Belanov 01.12.16 at 12:24 pm

I suspect that I am a generation younger than most commenters here, so I wasn’t struck by Bowie in his prime.

It seems to me that his success was based on eyecatching changes in style and image, coupled with rather inoffensive music. As I think someone has commented previously, most of his work was thoroughly mainstream pop. As such, parents might have thought he looked ridiculous, but they would have been unlikely to say ‘why are you listening to that racket?’

In terms of his influence, it is mainly a matter of style and performance. Most pop artists would kill for his profile and recognition, but I don’t see an awful lot of his music reflected in what has come since, certainly nothing at all avant-garde or alternative.


engels 01.12.16 at 2:04 pm

Chris – ha! – interesting – but strictly speaking I think it’s less a ‘defence of Bowie’ than a plea not to dismiss his music on account of his politics. (I agree with the principle but not the evaluation of the music.) Also of interest perhaps, Cornelius Cardew’s case for prosecution at the Musician’s Union:

“This branch deplores the publicity recently given to the activities and Nazi style gimmickry of a certain artiste and his idea that this country needs a right wing dictatorship. Such ideas prepare the way for political situations in which the Trade Union movement can be destroyed, as it was in Nazi germany. The spreading of such ideas must be considered as detrimental to the interests of the Union and any necessary steps should be taken to prevent such ideas from gaining credence in the community. We propose, therefore, that any member who openly promotes fascism or fascist ideas in his/ her act or recorded performance should be expelled from the Union.”

“When a pop star declare that he is ‘very interested in fascism’ and that ‘britain could benefit from a fascist leader’ he is influencing public opinion through the massive audiences of young people that such pop stars have access to. Such behaviour is detrimental to the interests of the Union,since it prepares the ground for a political system in which the Trade Union movement can be smashed, as it was in Nazi Germany. This Central London Branch therefore proposes that any member who uses his professional standing or stage act or records to promote fascism should be expelled from the Union.”


novakant 01.12.16 at 2:22 pm

Oh give it a rest, engels, every Bowie fan knows this stuff inside out and backwards – people are mourning here.

Regarding the eyes:



Retaliated Donor 01.12.16 at 2:35 pm

Bowie’s eyes weren’t of different colors. One pupil was permanently dilated, the result of a adolescent fistfight. http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/remarkable-story-behind-david-bowie-s-most-iconic-feature


engels 01.12.16 at 2:40 pm

Okay Novakant just let me know when the ‘mourning’ is over and it’s permissible talk about the fourth richest singer in the world without airbrushing out his hardon for the Third Reich.


novakant 01.12.16 at 2:58 pm

Nobody is airbrushing anything, everybody who knows anything about Bowie is aware of this period in his career and Bowie himself acknowledged and explained it, as far as that was possible. You’re just trolling.

Great artists are sometimes politically idiosyncratic and often they become rich because people like their art, duh.

And yes, at least I am mourning because Bowie has been a significant cultural figure in my life since I was young.


engels 01.12.16 at 3:09 pm

Great artists are sometimes politically idiosyncratic and often they become rich because people like their art, duh.

Ground control to Novakant


novakant 01.12.16 at 3:22 pm

Here’s a list of Bowie’s favourite books:



Igor Belanov 01.12.16 at 3:57 pm

“people are mourning here.”

Either the man had a huge circle of family and friends or there is something a bit exaggerated about this statement.


dave heasman 01.12.16 at 4:03 pm

Old enough to recall Lulu singing “The Man Who Sold The World” I’m surprised to not see “The Carefully-Considered Rape of the World” by Shepherd Mead on the book list. It’s the basis for “Oh You Pretty Things”.


dave heasman 01.12.16 at 4:09 pm

Oh and Roland Kirk was much bigger in England than John Coltrane. Even I saw him a dozen times in the 60s.


novakant 01.12.16 at 4:29 pm


Roger Gathman 01.12.16 at 4:48 pm

53, you are confusing the 50s and the 70s. In the 70s, parents were too busy swapping mates, watching porn, or divorcing to worry about their kids music. Being born later, you were a part of the cohort that reacted to the seventies by the opposite extreme, getting in their children’s lives to the maximum. I don’t think children – I’m talking of the middle class, which still existed then – were ever given the independence that children were given in the seventies in any other decade. So musical taste was not dictated by shocking mommy and daddy. Who cared about that?


The Temporary Name 01.12.16 at 5:04 pm

It seems to me that his success was based on eyecatching changes in style and image, coupled with rather inoffensive music.

The music and the image were very hard to separate. He was singing about transgressive things in transgressive ways.


AcademicLurker 01.12.16 at 5:16 pm

I know nothing of Bowie’s actual sexuality, but in bland suburbia of the late 70s/early 80s, it was taken for granted that he was bisexual, and he was one of the first famous people to introduce the idea that, not only could a man sleep with other men and still be super cool, but that fact could actually be an inseparable aspect of his coolness.


Rakesh Bhandari 01.12.16 at 5:17 pm

And just to tie this back to the the thread on rentiers–it seems that in the end Bowie did not create an asset for them. From Bloombergview:

‘In 1997, when securitization was limited to relatively standard assets such as mortgages and car loans, “rock ’n’ roll banker” David Pullman persuaded the singer [Bowie] to securitize future revenue from his catalog.

Bowie needed the deal to buy back rights to his songs from a former manager who had taken advantage of him while the rock star was more interested in cocaine than finance. The securitized royalties came to be known as Bowie bonds (Pullman even registered that as a trademark, hoping to build a line of business in such instruments). In effect, Bowie sold his future revenue from 287 songs to Prudential Insurance, offering 7.9 percent interest (1.53 percentage points higher than 10-year U.S. Treasuries paid at the time) on the $55 million he received.

Although other artists including James Brown and the Isley Brothers also sold music-backed bonds, Pullman’s “Bowie bond” business never took off because the music business tanked. Future royalties are being sold even now, but none of the offerings are as expensive as Bowie’s catalog was. So Bowie’s deal with Pullman presaged both the disintegration of the traditional music industry (“take advantage of these last few years”) and the exotic securitization boom that helped bring about the global financial crisis (1997 was the year the first synthetic collateralized debt obligation was issued).

The “Bowie bonds” were downgraded by Moody’s to one notch above junk as industry revenue plummeted, but Prudential held on to them to redemption, and Bowie didn’t lose the rights to any of his songs, so the insurance company was likely paid in full from the revenue of the special purpose company that held the rights to the catalog for 10 years. Both Bowie and his investor did well out of the deal.’


Rakesh Bhandari 01.12.16 at 5:35 pm


giotto 01.12.16 at 7:30 pm

Those who love the music might appreciate this blog, which looks at Bowie’s songs, song by song.

The blogger’s take on Heroes, which is by far my favorite Bowie number, is excellent. Though, as the post notes, you want the original, longer version, not the shortened version: the edited single reduces the lyrical complexity, which may partly explain how it eventually became a routine, uplifting anthem.

I am particularly fond of the description of Fripp getting the sound he wants:

“While most guitarists that took on “Heroes” had to use an Ebow to get Fripp’s sound, playing a sustained run of A notes, Fripp had worked out the feedback patterns on foot, literally. Standing in Hansa’s Studio 2, his guitar routed through Eno’s EMS synthesizer, Fripp marked with tape the places on the studio floor where he could get a feedback loop on any given note. So four feet away from his amp was an A, three feet away was a G, and so on. Fripp stepped and swayed through the song, his sound owed to a simple cartography.”


novakant 01.12.16 at 10:00 pm

Thanks giotto, what a great site.

My favourite, among many, is:


The lyrics are wonderful. People tend to forget that Bowie was a very talented musician who wrote and arranged most of his songs himself (one reason he ended up being rich fwiw).


Kiwanda 01.12.16 at 11:55 pm

It seems to me that his success was based on eyecatching changes in style and image, coupled with rather inoffensive music.

Indeed. And this was a general problem: the drab commercialism of Stockhausen, Ornette Coleman, and Metal Machine Music filled the airwaves. Where was the really *interesting* music?


engels 01.13.16 at 3:07 am

The Times: Rock’s great rebel owed it all to capitalism
Daniel Finkelstein
David Bowie showed us that, far from being polar opposites, western consumerism and creativity go hand-in-hand


The Temporary Name 01.13.16 at 3:13 am

If David Bowie had had the contrarian instinct of engels he might have been a Nazi in a sea of hippies.


Joseph Brenner 01.13.16 at 8:26 am

PlutoniumKun @ 32: “I’m not sure its true to say there wasn’t a backlash. I think there was a time in the late 80’s/ early 1990’s when it seemed that he’d run out of creative juice and was threatening to turn into a bit of a self parody (he didn’t, but it seemed like that might happen) …”

He did a medley of hits as a duet with Cher. That’s like announcing your retirement and shuffling off to Vegas.

“… when I recall reading quite a few snide articles in the music press about him …”

A bunch of Bowie projects weren’t that well-received. Personally, some complaints I can understand (“The Glass Spider Tour” was a weak job, and badly timed), many of them seem fairly weird to me.

Why would anyone take the trouble to complain about Tin Machine? There were a couple of good Tin Machine tracks (e.g. “Pretty Pink Rose”). Considering that Bowie recorded (and inexplicably, got a lot of radio play) with that theme to the movie “Absolute Beginners”, why bother about Tin Machine?

Bowie covered so much ground it complicates talking about him: different people have different Bowie’s in mind. His hit singles were often (not always) minor pieces of work, and someone who calls themselves a Bowie Fan is almost invariably thinking about stuff that got nowhere near the Top-40. Sure, _Ziggy Stardust_, but particularly _Hunky Dory_, _The Man Who Sold the World_ out of the earlier releases, and I think _Low_ tends to loom a little larger than even the heroic “Heroes”.

I think it’s interesting that as of the late-70s, if the Ziggy Stardust material had gotten any airplay, I hadn’t heard it, and yet “Suffragette City” was a must-play for any dorm party out at Stony Brook.

By the way, back in the distinctly un-networked 70s, information was distributed in fairly uneven ways, and I remember the local Long Island teens being only dimly aware of Bowie’s reputation as a bisexual wildman…

But anyway, I’ve got two main things to say about Bowie:

(1) he was incredibly slippery. By his own admission, he was playing his characters offstage as well as on, so any interview he gave is more performance than truth. Stuff like that flirtation with fascism followed by a “it was just the drugs, man” could easily have been calculated on both ends. Or not.

(2) he was a pretty brilliant song-writer, and I think he occupies a turning-point in the transformation of science fiction from a reviled sub-genre to a major part of the mainstream culture. Songs like “Saviour Machine”, “Starman”, “Pretty Things” and so on are really tightly crafted pieces of science fiction. Other songs like “Life on Mars” and “Moonage Daydream” directly address what that the kind of imaginative mindset meant to that particular youth culture.


engels 01.13.16 at 12:19 pm

Good people have made good art. Good people have made bad art and bad people have made bad art – and that’s before we even get close to defining ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in artistic and moral terms. However, I don’t think that the attitudes should be forgotten or overlooked. With Bowie, everyone from the Prime Minister to the Archbishop of Canterbury (perhaps Eton had a copy in the prefects’ Beatings Chamber) was quoted without reference to Bowie’s mid-seventies stance


engels 01.13.16 at 12:24 pm


Stephen D. 01.13.16 at 1:39 pm

I don’t think that Bowie’s attitude towards fascism in the ’70s can be defended but equally it can’t be said that it was a position he held throughout his life and it wasn’t a particularly consequential stance. No-one has ever said “I used to believe in racial equality, representative democracy and the rule of law until David Bowie turned up at a railway station and gave a fascist salute, at which point the scales fell from my eyes. Heil Hitler!”

To paraphrase dsquared on Foucault (IIRC), the definitive biography of Bowie is not: Born, Flirted With Fascism In The Seventies, Died.


engels 01.13.16 at 2:19 pm

the definitive biography of Bowie is not: Born, Flirted With Fascism In The Seventies, Died.

[reads last rites to mortally wounded straw man]


engels 01.13.16 at 3:29 pm


casmilus 01.13.16 at 3:32 pm

He was the glam rock Wyndham Lewis.


Rakesh Bhandari 01.13.16 at 4:12 pm

Perhaps someone should show up to the Yale Halloween party next year dressed in black, riding in a rented black vintage Mercedes drop head and ‘waving’ with a stiff-arm?


Rakesh Bhandari 01.13.16 at 4:14 pm

Here’s some love from Greg Tate, the kind of love that I have heard expressed since he passed.


Shylock Homeslice 01.13.16 at 4:20 pm

I just got around to checking out Tin Machine for the 1st time and I thought the 1st album totally kicked ass, and Bowie was in his best voice. Not the most memorable songs he ever wrote, but totally kicking ass is nothing to sniff at! Very reminiscent of his work with Iggy, and his voice even sounds Iggyish at points.

The 2nd one wasn’t so hot. The songs were more interesting, if not great, but it seems that they’d lost all that energy by the time they recorded it; however they sound very strong on the live album (as I know because the concert is available as a video on youtube).

Anyway, I remember all the negative press at the time, but to my ears that 1st album and the live one have aged better than most of his later work.


Shylock Homeslice 01.13.16 at 4:23 pm

Sloppy pronoun use in the 2nd paragraph; I meant “those songs sound very strong on the live album.”


Roger Gathman 01.13.16 at 7:56 pm

Among the heavy hitter rock critics of the 70s – Greil Marcus, Christgau, and especially Lester Bangs – Bowie was either despised or treated with enormous condescension. Bangs in particular called him an asshole, a pretentious poseur, a twerp, etc. etc. They were all into the idea of rock and roll as a progressive, humanistic force, and much preferred people like Springsteen, or Black singers who could be “authentically” disco. But of course rock and roll was never a progressive, humanistic force. I think Bloix;s posts are continuing in that vein, but his own preference for Springsteen shows the problem with thinking in this way. While no neo-Nazi group I have ever heard of or can conceive of has used Rebel Rebel or Jean Genie as a theme, in 1984, Reaganites hijacked Born in the USA very neatly. Springsteen was outraged, but it is easy to see why the Reaganites could credibly do itt. Springsteen’s performance persona is very much a right wing populist kind of thing, the tyro with the electric guitar, who really works up a lather up there. The actual lyric content of Born in the USA was less important than its performative effect, the uplifiting intro. Bowie’s performance, which is inseparable from his work, was always alienating, always undercut any fascisst anthemic strain. He was much more in the cabaret tradition than the woody guthrie tradition. Boix points out that nobody has mentioned his fascist incarnation. Nor has their been a lot of talk about his Brecht incarnation. Bowie was the perfect Baal. In fact, Bowie always”incarnated” – he always presented a persona. The decadence cycle, which was strongly influenced by the films of the period – Visconti’s the Damned, Joel Grey in Cabaret, etc. – was about a mythologized Weimar, one in which the SA recruited handsome blonde gay men who made fetishistic love to each other in the barracks. That was always nonsense. I think Bowie is not ever going to be an important figure for those looking for the humanistic, progressive line in music – he’s always going to be a stormtrooper or something. However, that was simply one persona. With someone like Brian Ferry, a similar singer, it is different. He ended up supporting the fascist UKIP because that is exactly where he was tending all along, using a romantic ideology that was close to Bowie’s, but lacked Bowie’s aesthetic cruelty – his ability to simply cancel a persona and move on. In this, Bowie does resemble Brecht.


engels 01.13.16 at 8:22 pm

Roger, I very much agree with you about Born in the USA (though I’m not sure what else). It seems to me that even the IMG ‘defence’ of Bowie linked above is less full-throated than yours


engels 01.13.16 at 9:03 pm

Bowie’s performance, which is inseparable from his work, was always alienating, always undercut any fascisst anthemic strain

If by “performance” you mean “delivery” I don’t understand this; if you’re referring to his stage shows, surely it was “separable” – and separated by the millions of people who’ve heard the anthems in question without seeing the shows

But shall duck out and ‘let the children boogie’ – apologies for raining on people’s (Nuremberg) parade at such length…


Shylock Homeslice 01.13.16 at 9:04 pm

I like his music.


PatrickinIowa 01.13.16 at 9:42 pm

One of the things that’s interesting to me is how non-visual my appreciation of Bowie was at first. In the summer of 1972 I had the album covers, pictures in the rock ‘n’ roll press and a snippet of film here and there. What I remember seeing when I first heard Ziggy and Hunky Dory, were the huge speakers my best friend had.

However, and this is important, you could hear the eclecticism, the fascination with style and the craft in the music from the get go. I don’t know about Bowie, who strikes me as too all-encompassing an artist to have neglected any avenue to an audience available to him, but I do think that in 1972, the balance between visual presentation, absent the internet, cable television and concert dvds, and the sound on the records was different.

In fact, a lot of the commentary in the rock press was precisely about how Bowie (and the Stones–Jagger, mostly–and a few others) were foregrounding image and stage presence in ways that the authenticity police found disturbing. I do believe Brecht got name-checked here and there, and rightly so, but the link to Nazi aesthetics (let’s not forget how close those were to other modernisms and modernists) was there and commented on as well.

Sometimes I used to think that Bowie was who this guy wanted to be, but Morrison either wasn’t quite smart enough, or the substances got him before he could get there: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DX42_3ZKv8c&list=RDDX42_3ZKv8c&index=1


Bloix 01.13.16 at 10:18 pm

“Boix points out that nobody has mentioned his fascist incarnation.”
Not me. I pointed out that nobody has mentioned that he was drop-dead gorgeous.

“But of course rock and roll was never a progressive, humanistic force. I think Bloix;s posts are continuing in that vein, but his own preference for Springsteen shows the problem with thinking in this way.”
I was talking about what I thought in 1973. But I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.


novakant 01.13.16 at 11:56 pm

What’s most striking about Bowie is his insatiable intellectual and cultural curiosity – in this, the intellectual detachment that Roger mentioned and the resulting diversity of his output he was quite similar to Kubrick. And for this they were both hated with a passion by smaller minds and critics who demanded “authenticity”.


LFC 01.14.16 at 2:29 am

What I remember about Bowie is not the music (I was never that interested in or even aware of most pop music, and the couple of bits posted in this thread that I listened to don’t impress me all that much). Rather, what I mostly remember, to the extent I remember anything at all, is his performance in the movie ‘Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence’, which for some reason I saw on its release in, the computer tells me, 1983. He played a p.o.w. in a Japanese prison camp in WW2 and at one point was tortured by being buried up to his neck, as I recall, and that’s about all I remember of the plot. (Not sure whether he made other movies that didn’t involve music or whether that was his only ‘dramatic’ role.) A sort of weird movie, iirc, but I do remember having gone to see it, even if I couldn’t quite remember the name or release date (unassisted by search engine, that is).


tony lynch 01.14.16 at 2:31 am

I have just listened to Blackstar. I’m still recovering. What a hell of a way to go.


js. 01.14.16 at 3:46 am

LFC — You should check out The Man who Fell to Earth, at least if you’re ever in the mood for a particularly weird head trip. It is objectively amazing.


LFC 01.14.16 at 12:16 pm

@js. — ok. Will try to do so sometime; I did hear refs to it in the obits but I’ve never seen it.


reason 01.14.16 at 2:44 pm

Can’t say I ever liked Bowie much – nothing to do with his politics (which I tend to think probably didn’t exist as I wonder whether there really was a person under the persona – at least then) – it’s just that it seemed all so fake to me, and I wasn’t into fake.

But what does fascinate me is that he came from Brixton – but what I always remember about Bowie is that he sounded posh. Now that is interesting in my view.


Bill Benzon 01.14.16 at 3:17 pm

@js #96: I was wondering when someone would mention The Man Who Fell to Earth. For whatever reason I never paid that much attention to Bowie’s music. Oh, was certainly aware of him as a shape-shifting performer, but just didn’t listen to the music. But I saw that film when it came out, and was stunned. Have watched it once or twice since, and it still haunts.

And then there was his small role in Absolute Beginners, which is the only film I’ve seen that had some Mingus tunes on the sound track.


Chris Williams 01.15.16 at 12:13 am

As part of the day job, I get to help commission academics to write short articles for the Open University’s website, Open Learn. This week, as you might imagine, the subject was Bowie. I didn’t need to twist any arms – lots of people from a variety of departments were keen to write about Bowie, and the effect he’d had on them. It seems that a surprising number of researchers got their initial inspiration from his work, or perhaps more important, the work he inspired them to get into. You can get to most of the articles from here: http://www.open.edu/openlearn/tags/david-bowie

A couple of them focused on Bowie’s farewell. I’m actually quite surprised that although ‘Blackstar’ came up in this thread, no-one’s specifically mentioned ‘Lazarus’ yet. It’s amazing, horrible, and incredibly brilliant, all at the same time. A great artist who is dying makes a video about what it feels like to be dying. He dramatises the process of racing with the angel of death to make that final statement.

He released it four days before he died. I’m hoping that if ever the Long Now gang get into the business of flinging time capsules into interstellar space, they will include this video on some diamond-based medium. Look, look at what us puny, mortal humans could do. Look at how well one of us could understand his own mortality and make it art. Pretty cool, eh?


engels 01.15.16 at 1:01 am

But what does fascinate me is that he came from Brixton – but what I always remember about Bowie is that he sounded posh

Not really. Iirc he grew up in Bromley (born in Brixton) and didn’t sound posh, but lower-middle-class


Guano 01.15.16 at 12:08 pm

“But what does fascinate me is that he came from Brixton – but what I always remember about Bowie is that he sounded posh”

Bowie lived in Stansfield Road, Brixton, London SW9 up to when he was six, then the family moved to Bromley. Stansfield Road is an area that has undergone many changes in the last 70 years so it is difficult to know exactly what it meant to live there 65-70 years ago. The houses are large terraced houses that tend to have been converted into flats many years ago; such streets in the area have gone up and down the social scale over the years. At present the area has a lot of people from Portugal. Bowie’s family left just as the Windrush generation of immigrants were moving into such streets (because they had been billeted in old air-raid shelters under nearby Clapham Common and because there was usually flats to rent cheaply in such inner London areas from WW2 up to the 1980s). And now the area is gentrifying rapidly – the bicycle coop opposite the end of the street is being forced to move out two weeks from now due to “regeneration”.


So you shouldn’t make any assumptions about what “born in Brixton” meant in class terms.


engels 01.15.16 at 1:05 pm

I’d be uncomfortable calling his background poor or working class (in the British sense) but he definitely wasn’t privileged. He was a suburban kid from modest background who went to art school – so perhaps an example of the kind of social mobility which existed still in 70s but, after three decades of narcissistic self-absorption, political quietism and financial wizardry, has now been abolished.


kidneystones 01.15.16 at 1:17 pm

@ 103 REM, Talking Heads, the B-52s – all grew out of art school, liberal arts colleges. Lucius – Berklee School of Music. My tastes don’t include much in the last decade, but the million dollar hit still exists. Downloads have complicated matters and forced bands to go live both in the real sense and on the tubes. Oh yeah, Squeeze. Music remains one of the ways the disenfranchised can get something right.

Keith Richards tells a story about how there where no venues for artists to break into during the 90’s. His reply: if you’re good, someone will come and hear you. Here in Japan, buskers can and do get to the top. Aren’t there a bunch of TV shows now specifically designed to take talented unknowns and propel them into the spotlight?

Capitalism. Great stuff.

Course, in communist countries the state still decides whether an artist can record and profit from her/his talent. Criticize the state? Against the laws.


engels 01.15.16 at 2:15 pm

Criticize the state? Against the laws.

I guess Bowie would have been alright then


kidneystones 01.15.16 at 2:21 pm

105 You’re bright and I respect your take on lots of issues. None of that, however, papers over the fundamental differences between states that safeguard liberties, including the right to make money, and those that do not. Bowie could just as easily have embraced a life of poverty, railed against the state, (Clash), profited by posing as anarchists (Sex Pistols), or churned out state propaganda.

We’re exceedingly lucky we weren’t born in one of the workers’ paradises. I’m certain you know it.


engels 01.15.16 at 3:13 pm

<I the fundamental differences between states that safeguard liberties

Agree but unsure of relevance to singer/finance-capitalist who early in career enthusiastically advocated for a right-wing regime that destroys such liberties before settling in to a total withdrawal from politics which would have improved the stress levels of any dictator


engels 01.15.16 at 3:15 pm

But as I said above, I’ve probably gone on a leetle bit long…


kidneystones 01.15.16 at 3:19 pm

107 Good point. I’m not sure it applies to Bowie, but I’m almost equally unsure it doesn’t. I’m in the midst of reading a first-class dramatization of the Dreyfus affair. Hard to ignore the enthusiastic embrace of anti-democratic ‘patriotism’ and hatred of the unter-mensch.

I grew up around a large community of the ‘Wogs start at Calais’ Brits. Not all bad, of course, but once Europeans start blathering about the beastly, bloody Belgians it’s time to reach for the Monty Python, or head for the exits.


engels 01.15.16 at 11:24 pm

“A special memorial night will be filmed for ITV, with Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund singing a duet of “Under Pressure” with Sepp Blatter. Michael Portillo will present a Bowie special of his train journey programme in which he travels from Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads. …”


js. 01.15.16 at 11:39 pm

BB @99 — I’ve only seen it once (maybe about a decade ago, give or take), and thought it was utterly amazing—but I am not sure I am entirely ready see it again (yet).* Haunting is right, I think.

*Admittedly, more than one Nicholas Roeg film falls into this category for me.


The Temporary Name 01.15.16 at 11:41 pm

As payback for the laugh at 110…


I asked [Bowie] if it was true that the reason Stevie Ray Vaughan wasn’t on the tour was because the Texan had asked for more than the $350-an-hour musician’s union rate that he had been offered. (Vaughn had been replaced by guitarist Earl Slick days before the tour began.)

“What kind of question is that?” asked an annoyed Coco Schwab, his long-time personal assistant, who abruptly ended the meet-the-press event and hustled Bowie out the door.

Oops, I thought to myself as Bowie was whisked away in a golf cart.

Later, when Stevie Ray Vaughan was playing in Vancouver, I told him about the question I posed to Bowie and the response. Sitting backstage at the Commodore, Vaughn reached for a bottle, poured me a drink and toasted me.

“Good for you,” he said, laughing.


The Temporary Name 01.15.16 at 11:42 pm

Blockquote fail is mine of course. All that follows the link is from it.


PatrickinIowa 01.16.16 at 12:32 am

@112 Huh. A similar story was told about Jeff Beck w/r/t a Mick Jagger tour. I figured it was apochryphal, if only because the cost of building a stage big enough for those two egos would have been prohibitive.


Jim Buck 01.16.16 at 10:39 am


Hidari 01.16.16 at 11:42 am


anon/portly 01.16.16 at 6:40 pm

Re 112 Coco was a real person? I’ll be darned.




engels 01.17.16 at 2:09 am

I think he occupies a turning-point in the transformation of science fiction from a reviled sub-genre to a major part of the mainstream culture

…as if there weren’t enough reasons to hate the bastard


Shylock Homeslice 01.17.16 at 3:04 am

I just happened to read an article that nicely summarizes his main appeal to me.

Bowie was successful, and valuable as an artist, not because he was a ‘chameleon’ who changed characters and reinvented himself — as we have been lectured endlessly. Plenty of bands and artists have done that change-of-image business and failed lamentably. He was important because he had a quite remarkable melodic imagination, one which was not tied to the stultify-ing confines of rock music. The chord changes of his verses were often unorthodox and the melody line skittered around them with enormous range — miles away from the root chord, which elsewhere in this staid and conservative medium defines the tune. Then a swirling and unexpected chorus would sweep you off your feet — often a very non-rock-song chorus. ‘Starman’, ‘Oh You Pretty Things’, ‘Changes’, ‘Drive In Saturday’, ‘The Prettiest Star’ and more, even than these, the song he gave away to the band Mott The Hoople, ‘All The Young Dudes’. Hell, this last may be his best-ever song. How did he come up with such a chorus? A chorus that defies prediction.

The simple truth, I reckon, is that Bowie, for six years at least, wrote very good songs, songs that were not drawn from the medium with which he came to be associated. And that is why they still have resonance now.

The title of the article happens to be “David Bowie once praised Hitler… but he was always changing his tune.” As I say, I’m confident that that stuff was just trolling, but you can take it as you like. It’s a free country.


tony lynch 01.17.16 at 3:26 am

As you will have seen Chris Williams #100, many here more interested in the sound of their own voice than listening to the extraordinary Blackstar. Not the first time.


Bruce B. 01.17.16 at 3:45 am

It feels odd to me to read discussion of Bowie as removed from humanism or progressive thought. That’s partly because my context for thinking about Bowie is a heavily queer one, and among queer sf/f/horror fans my age (50) and to maybe 30 or so, Bowie looms large as a life-saving presence. He gave a lot of marginalized folks reason to think of themselves as valuable, no matter how unusual they might be, and also to believe that reinvention was both possible and a genuinely good idea sometimes. And there’s a really strong correlation between folks of this sort deeply into Bowie and folks out doing practical things to build a better world, from running for office and staffing campaigns to shelter and rescue work to field research of the sort that’ll be shaping policy down the road.

It’s not like they’re all that purely because of Bowie. But many of them would not have found their paths without his presence in their lives at moments of great need.


js. 01.17.16 at 7:09 am

SH @119: That seems pretty dead on to me (except for the idiotic preference for McCartney over Lennon). Thanks!

(And engels @118 made me laugh — admittedly not an SF fan, me.)


js. 01.17.16 at 8:17 am

This is extraordinarily off-topic, but seems like an OK place to note that not long back, I read William Gibson’s Neuromancer, on IIRC a recommendation from Bruce B. (but perhaps some other CT commenter). And I thought it was great. So, thank you! Unfortunately, it’s probably not going to turn me into an actual SF fan, but still, I did really enjoy it. I then also happened upon Lethem’s Gun, With Occasional Music, which I really loved, but I’m guessing that actual SF fans don’t even consider that SF.


Shylock Homeslice 01.17.16 at 9:52 pm

Yeah, I’m a Lennon man, too, and of course he could be a lot more sophisticated than that article implies

BTW, to be anal for a moment, I know what a chord root is but I’m guessing that by “root chord” he means tonic chord. Here’s an article that included some similar observations about “Starman,” in addition to a lot of other interesting stuff. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v34/n07/thomas-jones/so-ordinary-so-glamorous

Also, “All The Young Dudes” was not actually his best song. That would be “Life On Mars,” even though I’m not nuts about the lyrics to the 2nd verse.


Shylock Homeslice 01.17.16 at 10:05 pm

I guess I should have added “more accurate,” in addition to “similar.” I’ll just leave it at that.


Bruce B. 01.18.16 at 2:57 am

js: Cool, glad you enjoyed it! I figure that it’s a good thing to know that a genre includes some stuff you can really like – then you can get on with whatever your usual may be, but with that bit of knowledge.

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