Memory of a Free Festival


No surprise that David Bowie’s attempt at a psychedelic sing along sounds like an apocalyptic nightmare. The Sun Machine is coming down and we’re all going to die. Weirdly enough this was actually released as a single; not weirdly, it flopped. David Bowie’s attempt at being a smiley-faced hippie also flopped, just like his trend-following Mod phase had flopped a few years prior. Which is not to say, as some critics do, that the entire decade was a total loss. Bowie made some fantastic music that just didn’t happen to fit in the niche he was trying to market it towards, and he looked stunning both as a Mod and as a hippie. He just didn’t have the personality to be either of those things successfully. Fitting into the psychedelic scene required a certain starry-eyed credulity that the more cynical (or in touch with their critical thinking capacities, if you prefer) just couldn’t muster. The Rolling Stones were never fully on board with waving daisies at each other and probably felt creatively vindicated when none other than David Bowie made it fashionable to sing about death and insanity. Bowie certainly never bought into the philosophy that free love and marijuana were all that you needed to bring about a cosmic new age of Aquarian peace and harmony. Bowie was one of a handful of artists who lived through the psychedelic years without really being of them, as was Lou Reed, and I would add Mick Jagger to that list as well. They all had the realization that idealistic dreams of peace, love, and harmony are kind of boring, while depravity is a lot more glamorous and fun to write about, not to mention closer to most people’s experience of reality. So when Bowie aimed to write a song in a Yellow Submarine-ish vein, he inadvertently came off sounding like the weary outsider he was, fantasizing about cold-shouldering Venusians and the advent of a mechanical sun. (An image which, just btw, I’ve always found singularly terrifying, probably based on something my WWII-damaged  grandmother might have told me about how the upcoming end of the world would be heralded by the arrival of a second, presumably man-made and nuclear, sun in the sky.)

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