Sunday, August 24, 2008

Leon Takes Us Outside

In terms of influence on me, there hasn't been anything in my life that was as influential as the album 1.Outside ( at Amazon) by David Bowie. It's from his Reeves Gabrels period (my favorite Bowie period, I confess, though I know that's not the one most people dig). What I like most about that period is the rawness that Gabrels introduces to Bowie, who (this comes from a place of love) can sometimes sound over-produced. Gabrels stripped that all away an encouraged Bowie to try out jagged, sometimes very ugly compositions (which he'd flirted with earlier, but never to this level).

The reason this album was so influential on me was because of the mythology surrounding it. In interviews, Bowie says that he got a randomizer program that, when fed any text, would then randomize the words and spit back out all sorts of new and interesting combinations. So, he says he fed it all the literature he loved; poetry, bits of novels, song lyrics, etc. He said that when the sheets came out of the printer, there seemed to be a story hidden in the randomness. So he took the bits and pieces that were the most coherent of the chaos, and organized them into what he called a "hypercycle": a set of inter-related stories told through their seeming disconnects...which is sort of an update of Burrough's "cut-up" method in a lot of ways.

I hadn't known anything about that method, though, or postmodernism, or the prevalence of cyberpunk as a genre, when I first heard the record (which I bought on Tape when it first came out--I'm dating myself horribly, here). All I knew was that there was something in me that responded in a visceral way, and it came out in my writing. I began to let go, to allow whatever words came to go to the page, no matter if they made sense or not. The poetry from that time is probably some of my favorite, though I'd be the first to tell you there isn't a lot of substance to it. Sometimes I fish the old notebooks out (I used to write poetry out longhand in notebooks that I thought of as, this is the wayback machine, isn't it?) and look through them, and of all the notebooks, the ones from this period are the ones I gravitate toward. The wildness of it, the crazy juxtapositions, all surrounded by the darkness I was feeling--it all seemed to fit so well with who I was at the time.

I tried to express to others just how this record resonated with my self at the time, but most of them just looked at me strange. Tool was the big band at the time, and compared to Maynard's darkness, Bowie's seemed trite to most I talked to. Still, it was enough to get Trent Reznor's attention, and the two eventually toured together and then collaborated (that's an upcoming entry, because it's not just my favorite Bowie song, it's on my top 5 songs of all time).

The single from the album was (by no means the best track on it, though) "The Heart's Filthy Lesson":

(official video)

(live, if you prefer your poison that way, at Bowie's 50th birday concert)*

*=by the way, the bass player that Bowie has worked with for a while (you can see her in the video) is Gail Ann Dorsey, who often gets confused for Meshell Ndegeocello . Gail has a solo carreer outside of working with Bowie for four or five albums, and she's fantastic, too.

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