March Artist – David Bowie (Part 2)
This post is part of my Deep Dive Music Project. This month I’m listening to some music by David Bowie. Be sure to check out the David Bowie playlist I have on Spotify. This post has all my thoughts about the music I’ve listened to this month, and is broken up into two parts including this one. Click on the link below if you’d like to read the other sections.
Random thoughts on some of David Bowie’s discography that I’ve listened to (so far). This will be a bit chaotic.
One problem with this project is I know I’m missing huge swaths of Bowie’s career. And part of me wants to listen to the albums I didn’t include, but I won’t have time to do it all in a month. Like part of me wants to listen to Hunky Dory, or Blackstar but it’d just be too much to cover in one month. But I can tell already that David Bowie is definitely one of those artists whose work I could deep dive into for several months and not get bored.
So far I’ve listened to the first four albums (David Bowie [aka Space Oddity], The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Station to Station, and Low) on my list. I still have to listen to the albums “Heroes” Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) and 1. Outside (The Nathan Adler Diaries: A Hyper Cycle).
Sometimes I go into this project thinking I know what will resonate with me, and so many times I’ve been surprised. Because I expect one album or song to be the one I repeat, but often it’s something different. Like I expected to really get into Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars, but it’s been Station to Station I can’t stop listening to.
The first album is a lot more folky sounding than I expected. Also, I keep being amazed that a song like “Space Oddity” became Bowie’s big breakout hit (least in the UK). I mean I love “Space Oddity” but it wouldn’t be the song I’d pick out as being the big single…guess it doesn’t have that radio friendly sound to it, which seems weird to say in 2021 knowing that it’s been played on the radio since then. But I imagine at the time it was a bit different to hear or maybe it wasn’t. I wasn’t alive then so I can’t say.
I’m not listening to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars as much as I thought I would. It is a really good album, but it’s kind of like how I was with Prince and Around the World in a Day. I’ll probably get into this album later on. Did want to mention that “Five Years” has this awesome jazzy opening and then this descent into madness at the end is great.
I wrote a Facebook post about listening to “Starman” on headphones with other headphones hooked up to my piano keyboard and trying to play the song by ear in real time. I think I got most of it figured out, but my ear training is rusty. But I can say for anyone learning about intervals when Bowie sings the word Starman in the chorus, this is a perfect octave in F major.
The album I’m repeating a lot is Station to Station. Both the song and the album. And speaking of the song “Station to Station” I’d heard part of it before but not the full thing. Maybe it was in a movie or something. I can’t place it, but I know I hadn’t heard the full 10 minute song before this project, but part of it did sound familiar to me. There’s a part in “Station to Station” where it sounds like it might fade out, but it keeps going for several minutes. Then all of a sudden “Golden Years” is on and you’re like “woah time is such a garbage construct we put on ourselves.”
“TVC15” sounds like a pretty upbeat song at first, but it’s based on an experience Bowie had with Iggy Pop. Iggy was on drugs and hallucinating that the TV was eating his girlfriend, and so Bowie turned this idea into a song. I imagine seeing that experience or having those hallucinations was not fun.
“Stay” has this guitar part at the beginning, which I love.
The opening for “Wild Is The Wind” kind of reminds me of the song “Superstar” by The Carpenters (later covered by Sonic Youth). I’m not crazy, right? Tell me you hear it too. I don’t know what to make of this because I can’t imagine David Bowie listening to The Carpenters, but maybe that’s not true. I keep making these weird assumptions, but who knows Bowie could have been a huge fan of The Carpenters. Or maybe he’d never listened to their music. I can’t say, but the intros for those two songs are similar, except the Carpenters “Superstar” sounds like it’s in a major key and “Wild Is The Wind” sounds more minor. But I checked and “Superstar” is in F Minor, but it sounds happier to me, maybe it was just Karen Carpenter’s light and clear voice that makes it seem happier. Side note: poor Karen Carpenter, her story is so sad.
Okay just found out Bowie’s “Wild is the Wind” is a cover song. Originally it was by Johnny Mathis for a movie called Wild is the Wind, but the song has also covered by several artists including Nina Simon. I guess if anything “Superstar” might have been inspired by “Wild is the Wind.” Can’t say for sure, but there is a tone that’s similar in both songs. Also Bowie’s cover of this song is great. I love when a cover puts it’s own spin on the song without sounding completely different from the original, and I think Bowie’s version achieves this.
I was not expecting Low to be primarily an instrumental album. In the previous post I wrote David Bowie was a singer-songwriter and that’s true but he also play several instruments including keyboard, guitar, saxophone and harmonica (obviously I updated the post to mention that Bowie is multi-instrumentalist). This album is very different than what I expected. Like I know David Bowie was a pretty innovative artist and I feel like I should expect the unexpected and not find this surprising, but it through me for a loop. I’m enjoying Low, but it’s not what I’d imagined a David Bowie album to be.
There’s a lot to that could be said for the characters Bowie created and often played like Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke, and many more. This isn’t something I’m delving into because it would be too much to get into in this short time frame. I did want to acknowledge that some of the songs and albums I’m listening to use characters David Bowie created, but analyzing this separate from the music would just be too much for me to do.
The important thing I want to note is that I was reading through David-Bowie.fandom.com and was surprised to see Jareth the Goblin King in there (character he played in the movie Labyrinth). With the other characters that the site lists my understanding is that they were part of the music. There Bowie played the character on stage, they were mentioned in a song (like how Thin White Duke is mentioned in “Station to Station”), or were a major part of the concept for the album (Ziggy Stardust is probably the most obvious example). But I don’t think Jareth the Goblin King is mentioned on any music of Bowie’s aside from the movie soundtrack. He did several songs for the soundtrack, but it wasn’t a full Bowie album, and I don’t believe he played Jareth the Goblin King in concert. But if I’m wrong and there is a David Bowie concert where he’s playing Jareth the Goblin King, well that is just the best damn thing I’ve ever heard of and I would like to see that very much. Thank you.
Finally I’ll end with a story.
One time my friend and I were at a back to back screening of the Back to the Future movies (it was a rerelease sometime in the 2010s). Anyway in between each movie there was a small intermission. An usher would come in and ask the audience trivia questions where you could win prizes like movie tickets. During on of these intermissions the usher asks us “what is the name of the Canadian actor who gave Marty the note from Doc at the end of the second movie?” And folks my hand shot up right away cause obviously it’s comedic actor Joe Flaherty, often known for his work on the classic Canadian sketch series SCTV. He points to me and I say “Joe Flaherty.” Correct. Yeah bitch, why wouldn’t I know that? Then we’re handed two tickets to see Labyrinth, a 1986 musical fantasy film starring the one and only David Bowie as Jareth the Goblin King. And that’s the true story of how I saw Labyrinth at the movie theater for free.