Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Angels Have Gone (A Late-Stage Bowie Retrospective)

I didn't come to Bowie in the way most people do.
It seems to me that a lot of people hear Bowie's 70s work (mostly the Ziggy/Aladdin/Diamond Dogs trinity). They find solace in his theater of the gender absurdities. Those performances/personae make the dispossessed feel they have a place to belong. I won't wax on and on about this, the film "Velvet Goldmine" already did that (and way better than I ever could). I only bring it up to say that most people come to Bowie's work through that pipeline. Later, older, they discover the minimalist cool of records like "Low" and "Station to Station." Or there's the other pathway, through the 80s hits. Bowie still saying all the same things about politics, gender, sexuality, etc., only with the disguise of dance music. They come for "Let's Dance" and stay for "Queen Bitch."
And I wish I could say I came through either of those pathways, sometimes. It's easier, there's more of a sense of family.
Instead, I came to Bowie blind. I'd been raised in a household that listened to old school country (my mother's music). What little of my father's music I listened to was so late in life (he didn't really become interested in music until after he and my mother divorced)--he was fond of the late-80s revival of Texas Blues. His CDs were Bonnie Raitt and Stevie Ray Vaughn. And there's nothing wrong with that. From my cousins, I inherited hair metal, like most kids my age. There was Bowie in what Motley Crue was doing, but I wouldn't come to realize that until much much later.
Then I moved back to Alabama with my mother. To say it was devastating would be the understatement of the year. But at some point the mourning has to stop and a person has to try to build a life, yes?
I started to go to the library a lot for the first time in my life. This was just about the time they started to build CD collections. And that's where I discovered 90s Bowie and the album "Outside"

It was like a punch to the gut with the most incredible fist ever invented. Reeves Gabrels and Bowie worked with Brian Eno to make this amazing concept album full of this science fiction neo-noir that was popular during the mid to late 90s coming off of the tail end of cyberpunk. You can ask anyone who knew me at the time, this revolutionized my life. I became a poet (I don't claim that I was a good one, but I did dedicate myself to writing, which is why we find ourselves here, yes?), absolutely entranced by this idea of free-association verse in that neo-noir mode--a kind of Maltese Falcon set in the New York of "Blade Runner." I eventually grew out of that, but it is still one of my all-time favorite flavors (see also: early Jonathan Lethem).
The next record Bowie put out was Earthling, an experimentation with the Drum'n'bass movement, which was in its early upswing at the time. From that moment, I was hooked on Bowie. It was then that I went backward and started to investigate and my lifelong obsession with Bowie was born. So you see, Bowie's least liked period, the 90s...THAT is my period. Much like Doctor Who, it seems to me that whatever period you encounter Bowie in, that is forever your Bowie.
My Bowie is the over-the-top, heavily Scott Walker influenced 90s Bowie.
Which brings us to our point: most people stopped listening after Tonight (because of "Loving the Alien," the major single). And that kills me, because to me, this late stage Bowie is not only my Bowie, to me it's the most amazing period of his career.
So, in keeping with that, I've decided my way of sending the old boy off is this: Here's a list of the best tracks from these late-stage albums. My hope is that you'll use it as a way forward into this period instead of ignoring these later works. I know that not everyone has the obsession or the on-hand cash to go record by record, though, so at the very end is what I'm calling an Uberlist. Two tracks from every record (except one that gets three) as a kind of "Late Stage Bowie Greatest Hits" for you to put on your iPod or what have you to be able to say that you are familiar with the best works of late stage Bowie (my Bowie). So we go chronologically album by album. You'll notice some tracks have an * next to them--those are what you might call "alternate cuts"...things I like, but I recognize they may be too far out there for anyone but me. Approach those with an open mind and heart and I hope you'll see what I see in them.
Here you go:

Black Tie White Noise (1993)
 “Jump They Say”
“Black Tie White Noise”
“Nite Flights”
“You’ve Been Around”*

Outside (1995)
“The Motel”
“No Control”
“I’m Deranged”
“Strangers When We Meet”
Segue: Ramona A. Stone/I Am With Name*

Earthling (1997)
“Little Wonder”
“I’m Afraid of Americans”
“Dead Man Walking”
“The Last Thing You Should Do”
“Telling Lies”*

‘Hours…’ (1999)
“Thursday’s Child”
“Something in the Air”
“If I’m Dreaming My Life”
“What’s Really Happening”*
“The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell”
“New Angels of Promise”

Heathen (2002)
“Slow Burn”
“I’ve Been Waiting For You”
“5:15 The Angels Have Gone”
“Heathen (The Rays)”

Reality (2003)
“New Killer Star
“Pablo Picasso”
“Never Get Old”
“The Loneliest Guy”
“Fall Dog Bombs The Moon”*
“Bring Me The Disco King”

“A Reality Tour” (2010)
“Loving the Alien”

The Next Day (2013)
“The Next Day”
“Dirty Boys”
“The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”*
“Love Is Lost”
“If You Can See Me”
“I’d Rather Be High”
“(You Will) Set The World On Fire”

Blackstar (2016)
“’Tis a Pity She Was A Whore”
“Sue (in a Season of Crime)”
“Girl Loves Me”*

“Jump They Say”
“Black Tie White Noise”
“No Control”
“I’m Deranged”
“I’m Afraid of Americans”
“Telling Lies”
“The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell”
“New Angels of Promise”
“5:15 The Angels Have Gone
“New Killer Star”
“Never Get Old”
“Bring Me The Disco King”
“Dirty Boys”
“I’d Rather Be High”
“’Tis A Pity She Was a Whore”

So that's it, then. While, as I work to get myself into my later life, to let go of the anger and hurts of adolescence, I admit that I am more taken with U2's work, Bowie (especially that neo-noir post-cyberpunk Sam Spade hypercycle poet Bowie of Outside) has been and always will be the architect of my writing. 
Someone tweeted that Bowie hadn't really died, just gotten bored with this dimension and moved on to the next. 

That sounds about right to me. 

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