In high school, I worked at a small butcher shop. One of my coworkers was a bit of a screw-up. Nevertheless, we hit off an unlikely friendship. He was a high school drop out with anger issues working for minimum wage with anger issues. I was a nerdy, acne-ridden, self-fancied intellectual whom puberty hadn’t yet slimmed down to a decent human shape. We had some sort of understanding of each other.
One day, he was short on cash and likely looking to buy weed. He grabbed a CD binder out of his car and offered me any two for five bucks. I selected two; one Johnny Cash and the other which proved to be completely forgettable. After a couple of hours, as we were leaving the store, he handed me two more discs, one of Pink Floyd’s lesser albums and a mid-seventies Ziggy Stardust era David Bowie bootleg from Cleveland, Ohio.
I never got very deep into Bowie’s music, but fell in love with his legend. (In fact, that more or less sums up my feelings about glam rock, death metal, cabaret, and the rat pack. Basically any music where the performance is as important as the song itself.) I listen to his albums from time to time, but more out of a sense of responsibility than enjoyment. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it; it’s just that there are other albums I’d rather be listening to.
This responsibility comes from a deep admiration for Bowie’s true lack of care for the thoughts of others. He’s toured as a alien, released soul music, turned himself into an actor (before it was a common second career for musicians), formed a band at the height of his solo fame, and opened for Nine Inch Nails when he decided he was into industrial. He has both the talent and resources to do almost what ever he wants. And he does.
was about a week and a half ago that I again felt the need to get into Bowie. I decided the best way to go about it was to listen to every album he’s released, in order. I fired up the internet to get started. I made it a full fourteen songs. I never stood a chance.
In 1967, Bowie released a self titled debut album, as was the style. This is how I imagine the conversation with the studio executive went:
“David, you’re hip with the kids, right? How about you release an album for them?”
“Yeah. I’ve been playing some rock and roll for a couple of year now. I think I can do some good things with it.”
“Nope, we’re not doing that. The Beatles are going to blow over. Why don’t we try something a
little more conservative with some staying power?”
“Well, I have been kicking around some songs that sound like nursery rhymes but they’re about cannibalism, a strange uncle, the magical land of children, and a transgender soldier-slash-ghost.”
“Sounds great. Just remember, no sex, drugs, or rock and roll.” *Winks and finger guns*
“So long as I can be utterly insane.” *Records albums*
Bowie wrote all the songs on the album, and there’s no indications of label interference. In fact, there’s no indication that anyone at the label listened to it. The end result sounds like an album for hated children.
The final song is a duet (of sorts) between Bowie and a foley artist. It’s a rainy, deceptively dark song telling the tale of minor grave robbing, murder, and witness intimidation. There isn’t an instrument to be heard, but instead a steady downpour, a couple scrapes of a shovel, and well-placed sneezes create an eerie atmosphere as an unworldly voice spins the yarn.
Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, David Bowie is a true weirdo of music, and apparently always was. One of these days I’ll come to appreciate his music. Until then, I’ll just have to enjoy the fact that he started with an album crazier than a bag of cats and has managed to keep that up for some four decades.
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