Apropos. While women gather at the weeping wall to bewail their burden, yet again, here is David Bowie with his two cents. From beyond the grave, a reminder that he, the original woke one, pinpointed domestic violence as one of the evils of the world way back in 1979. Just one more ugly side to the infinite-sided prism of everything that’s fucking bad and wrong about mankind, as comprehended by a humanoid alien from Mars. Everything is bad and wrong, and the only redeeming things in the world are art, and those fleeting moments when two people somehow find the means to actually feel connected to one another. In that order. And not everybody even has that. The most harmful and tragic thing is those people who don’t know how to connect to someone without hurting them; they are literally souls trapped in hell.
Styx is one of those guilty pleasure bands for a lot of people, but really, how could you ever feel guilty about something that’s this much fun? You can point out that their hair is terrible and their rock opera worse, but you are missing the point. You shouldn’t take them that seriously, though the question of how seriously Styx should be taken has been asked by the members of Styx, and their internal disagreement about the answer is what led to their eventual breakup. Apparently the ones who wanted to write rock operas couldn’t stop bumping heads with the ones who just wanted to play lots of guitar solos and not think about it too hard. This was before the discord, though, when the band was, presumably, all on the same page in terms of balancing their proggy conceptual leanings with their big dumb rock band side. And frankly, it’s the fact that they did lean prog and had concept album ambitions whilst also being kind of dumb is what makes them so delightful.
This is it, this is the trouble with Harry. He was too bloody brilliant for his own good. You can’t immediately see it, but this is a great illustration of the duality between Harry Nilsson the serious artiste and Harry Nilsson the big silly self-sabotaging goofball. First of all, Harry had the voice of an angel and the ability to write songs like this one, which sounds like an old standard that somehow never made it onto the soundtrack of Casablanca. But this song is not from Casablanca; it’s from an album cheekily titled Son of Schmilsson, and later, the soundtrack of a Dracula movie directed by noted Hollywood visionary and film icon Ringo Starr. And therein lies the trouble with Harry: besides his notorious alcoholism, he was undone by his own inability to take himself seriously. If he could just keep writing and singing beauties like this, he would have had a career of solid gold. But he wanted to costar (co-Starr?) in Son of Dracula with Ringo, he wanted to record an old folks’ choir singing a novelty song about bed-wetting, he wanted to have a screaming contest with John Lennon that ruptured his vocal chords, and eventually, he wanted to retire from music entirely. Which, ok, that last part you can’t blame him for: he quit drinking, raised a lovely family, became involved in political activism and seemed pretty happy about it. But so many of his career choices were just so foot-shootingly misguided, you feel aggravated on his behalf, angry at him for being one of those people who sabotage their own best potential.
This should be everyone’s first glimpse of Roxy Music. Being the opening of their first album and of one of their first television performances, for many people, it was. It laid out the Roxy Music mission statement pretty clearly; weirdness as a glamorous pose. Eclecticism and eccentricity weren’t new to rock music, but they certainly needed sexing up. Roxy Music did that. Bryan Ferry in gold brocade, leaving chem-trails of sheer glamour. What a fantasy. That was about the most exciting thing an impressionable child could see, now as in 1972. If you were like me, you knew you had to ditch your life and go live in that world. Or at least invest in some baroque garments. Try queuing up Roxy Music videos when you’re dressing up for the night. You should feel inspired to march out into the underworld armed with nothing but bons mots and glitter.
This is more military terminology all in one place than has ever been written into a pop song. Why has Sparks been the first and only band to discover the tongue-twisting wordplay delights of that particular jargon? Who knows, but it’s right up their alley. All I know is, I wouldn’t want to play scrabble with these guys. They know how to spell potentate and subterfuge, and use them in a sentence.
It’s so bad out there in the world right now that it’s actually comforting to imagine a conspiracy where celebrities are lizard people homing back to their mother planet or secretly having their brains cryogenically frozen for future transplant. At least to conspiracy buffs, the world makes sense. Well, that’s something I could believe of Hugh Hefner, but not so much Walter Becker. Walter Becker is dead and he’s not having his consciousness uploaded to an external hard drive for safekeeping. There’s a special kind of sadness to losing guys like Becker, people who were decent schmucks who kept a low profile and created great things because they could, not because it would make them king of the world for a year or two. As you can see in the video below, Becker Fagen et al. were pretty much the most charisma-free collection of individuals to ever deliver an awkward and static performance on a television variety show. Those guys weren’t meant to be rock stars. They were musicians who sold music, not personality, and their virtuosity and perfectionism made their reputation. Steely Dan made some flawless records, a string of them, and they easily could have gone on doing that until the end of the world.
I’ve pondered why Lodger, in my book and it critics’, never quite gets the accolades of its nearest siblings. It’s just never been my favorite David Bowie album, and it’s never been the most acclaimed David Bowie album. Why is that, besides the unattractive cover? It’s one of David Bowie’s punkest albums. It’s got big hits. It’s got iconic videos. It’s got bold experimentation. It’s got things to say. Well, obviously, following on the heels of Station to Station, Low and “Heroes” is no enviable task. We’re nearing point when the jaded expatriate character gets towards the end of his arc and needs to retire. But, pondering it more deeply, I realized – after a lot of listening to this song in particular – that underneath all of the serious things, there’s a lot of…silliness. Like, childish silliness. I mean, this could almost be a children’s song, but with more feedback. Listen to the way he sings about sailing off to the hinterland “It’s far, far, far, far, far, far away….” Those are some Muppet-level lyrics, and it slides by only on the sheer conviction of being David Bowie and therefore impeccably cool. You can’t question David Bowie’s coolness or artistic seriousness. You didn’t question it when he was playing with instrumental soundscapes, and you don’t question it when half the songs are in gibberish or in Turkish. Of course, there’s still depths of meaning to be plunged into, the requisite existential angst, esoteric reference points, gender-bending nonconformity, everything we ask our god to provide. But there’s that element of silliness that suggests that the artist was about ready to head out to lunch.