Over at the best music blog going, Pushing Ahead of the Dame, the wonderful commentariat that’s built up there over the years have announced plans to listen to a Bowie album every day of the month, like visiting the Stations of the Cross. So that’s what I’m doing too, and I’m writing about them every week.
I’ve not talked about it much on this blog, or indeed any blog that I’ve pretended to run, but David Bowie is my favourite artist by a considerable margin. I reviewed his albums for assignments, I ate up all the mythology and trivia surrounding him, I stole liberally from him for my Masters dissertation, and my contribution to Litmus 2015 was a lengthy essay about what he meant to me. My reputation as an amateur Bowie scholar (which is a polite way of saying I have no social life) meant that, after his death was announced, I got texts and messages from friends and family checking to see I was alright, as if I’d lost a beloved uncle.
There were no tears on my part. However much I listened to his albums or read about his life in Brixton and Berlin and Switzerland, Bowie would never be someone truly close to me. On top of that, at the time I dug into his work, he’d been out of the public gaze for years, delivering messages to the world via Tony Visconti, so it was easier for me, a younger fan, to adjust to the fact that David Jones was gone.
But it felt weird nonetheless. You can trace Bowie’s influence throughout so much of modern music, and throughout pop culture in general, that he’s like background radiation. He’s there in Jarvis Cocker, in Lady Gaga, Adam Lambert, East India Youth, Annie Lennox and Kanye West. He’s there when you dye your hair, when you sexually experiment, when you’re stuck indoors waiting for inspiration to hit and for scars to heal. Traces of him can be found in Watchmen, Matt Fraction’s Casanova, Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, Gillen & McKelvie’s The Wicked + The Divine; Michael Fassbender in Prometheus, Denis Lavant in Mauvais Sang, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Velvet Goldmine, RuPaul’s entire performing career. It’s still weird to wake up in a world without the original Bowie, the river from which all these tributaries sprang.
Funnily enough, I’ve never actually sat down to listen to his complete catalogue before. Most of the albums in my collection are from his Imperial Phase during the 70s; the likes of Tin Machine and Never Let Me Down and ‘hours…’ loom ahead like Devon mires. I’m excited, maybe a little nervous, especially since Spotify can’t provide everything I need for the month. So here’s how I’m going to do this:
1) Standard editions only.
When you get a film’s Deluxe Edition, maybe you get an extended version of the film proper. Not so with an album. While I’ll always appreciate extras, running orders are there for a reason, and putting more songs there feels like clouding the water.
2) No live albums.
This is a real shame, since some of Bowie’s songs get their definitive version in a live setting, but they’re more diaries or chronicles, and aren’t really essential to the whole thing. For every Live in Santa Monica ’72, which really captures how ferociously good the Spiders from Mars were, there’s a David Live where he sounds like zombie Scott Walker.
3) No soundtracks.
This one isn’t set in stone depending on how quickly I can get some of this done, but right now, I’m limiting myself to studio albums only rather than soundtrack tie-ins. The Baal EP and the five songs off of Labyrinth aren’t on the same level as The Buddha of Suburbia, where the compositions got drastically altered into a full album-length statement. This would also open the floor up to every soundtrack contribution, and frankly I don’t have nearly that amount of time.
4) A new post every week.
Being brutally honest, I only found out about Bowibury today through PAOTD, so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. A post every day won’t be possible at this stage, and I’d rather not rush things.
If you want to listen along, or at least see where the road takes you, here’s the Bowibury schedule, as laid down by Galdo over at PAOTD:
- David Bowie (1967, Deram) and David Bowie/Space Oddity (1969)
- The Man Who Sold The World (1970)
- Hunky Dory (1971)
- The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)
- Aladdin Sane (1973)
- Pin Ups (1973)
- Diamond Dogs (1974)
- Young Americans (1975)
- Station to Station (1976)
- The Idiot (1977)
- Low (1977)
- Lust for Life (1977)
- “Heroes” (1977)
- Lodger (1977)
- Scary Monsters (1980)
- Let’s Dance (1983)
- Tonight (1984)
- Never Let Me Down (1987)
- Tin Machine I + II (1989, 1991)
- Black Tie White Noise (1993)
- The Buddha of Suburbia (1993)
- Outside (1995)
- Earthling (1997)
- ‘Hours…’ (1999)
- Toy (2000, the “lost” album)
- Heathen (2002)
- Reality (2003)
- The Next Day (2013)
- Blackstar (2016)
As you can imagine, this is quite a lot of music to get through. Recommended reading would be Starman by Paul Trynka, The Complete David Bowie by Nicholas Pegg, and Rebel Rebel by Chris O’Leary. Enjoy, and be good to one another.
Image: Helen Green, “Time May Change Me”, 2015.