David Bowie: The Man Who Owned the World (One Year Later)

david-bowie-1976-billboard-650-500x331

ONLY THE BEATLES. That’s the sole comparison that comes to mind when compelled to name a musical act with similar impact and importance. The Beatles, as we all know, changed each year during their still indescribable run, effectively owning the ‘60s. David Bowie, on the other hand, built an entire career on changes, even as he became the peerless satellite so many others orbited around.

Also like The Beatles, Bowie put in his time before lifting off and then, once he really broke through, he kept on breaking, and changing, and winning. A great deal, understandably, has been said about these changes, with inevitable if ultimately reductive words like chameleon and shape shifter tossed into every encomium. David Bowie elevated reinvention to an art form; he was a genius of changing.

About these changes. They weren’t simply haircuts and costume changes (hello, Madonna); they were entirely new identities. And yet and of course, every new character was thoroughly and undeniably David Bowie. This, among so many other things, was what enabled him to remain an innovator who couldn’t be imitated (how can anyone imitate you if you never imitate yourself?). Nor were any of these characters cursory; Bowie transformed himself as well as his music. Although diminished by comparison, none of his better-known acolytes, from envelope-pushers like Eddie Izzard to opportunists like Bono, could have conceivably negotiated their alternately awkward and unabashed milieus without the example set by the Thin White Duke.

Champions of the avant-garde are often bored with, even incapable of conventional thinking. Bowie managed to be several steps ahead of the avant-garde, probably because even he couldn’t have imagined where he was headed next. The thing is, when most artists make profound, if indulgent changes (think Neil Young in the early ‘80s), it alienates fans and inexorably seems either forced or facile. Bowie? He changed the world and took everyone with him, and he did it year after year. Even someone unfamiliar with the music need only look at the cover art from album to album. That’s the same person? Well, yes. And no.

What was that all about? It seldom seemed calculated or strained; indeed, it’s as though he needed to jump-start his own peripatetic sensibility, and these often eccentric, always endearing identities were delivery devices for the brilliance bubbling beneath the pin-up pretense. Red, bleach blonde or brown, his hair—although forever awesome—was window dressing, his clothes more a nod to his impeccable fashion instincts. Make no mistake, it was always about the music.

About that music. “Space Oddity”, “Life on Mars”, “Changes”, “John, I’m Only Dancing”, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”, “Aladdin Sane”, “Diamond Dogs”, “Rebel Rebel”…these aren’t merely songs, or even (merely) anthems, they are cultural signifiers, queer escutcheons that at once shield and embolden the outcasts and “others”. Bowie, being the Alpha Outsider, was brave and brilliant, and adamant enough to become The Other, and the changes that followed changed others, allowing others to become something other than the others they might have otherwise been destined to be.

There are so many wonderful illustrations, any of which could make a case for why Bowie was more than a pop musician, why he mattered and why he’ll be so desperately missed. For me, it’s a deceptively simple track—from what may be his most consistently satisfying album Hunky Dory—that encapsulates everything he managed to be. “Oh! You Pretty Things”, his little anthem to oddness (and the inevitability of ch-ch-ch-ch-changes) continues to delight, excite and inspire me, even today, as a middle-aged straight white male. I can scarcely fathom how many confused and scared souls Bowie salvaged and empowered. What an artist he was; what a hero he’ll always be.

Significantly, Bowie was not simply a front-man, although to be certain he was one of the incendiary stage performers of the last century. He was a musician. Yes, he could play multiple instruments and he could write the songs (nevermind the singing and lyrics, which we’ll never tire of extolling), but his acumen was unassailable, if unconventional. Consider two easily studied examples: the direction he gave Mike Garson for the title track of Aladdin Sane, or the story behind how his uncanny collaboration with Queen during the “Under Pressure” sessions.

About those lyrics. Yes, they’re sometimes inscrutable, endlessly open to interpretation (intentional, obviously), but there can be no question that multiple meanings are a result of the layers: he was easily one of the most intelligent—and articulate—wordsmiths of our time. A random sample from the top shelf: “And the stars look very different today”, “Take a look at the lawman beating up the wrong guy”, “We passed upon the stair, we spoke of was and when”, “Battle cries and champagne just in time for sunrise”, “In the year of the scavenger, the season of the bitch”, “The shrieking of nothing is killing”, “It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about”…

Debate can—and should—now rage forevermore about what Bowie’s post-‘70s legacy means: did he exhaust himself or continue to make boundary-breaking music? A bit of both seems the safest and soundest answer, but opinions and mileage will vary, as they should. Let there be no question whatsoever, though, that he was utterly locked in during the ‘70s. Did anyone own the decade like David Bowie? There were historic runs by Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. The Who were going strong, at least until the air went out of the Moon; The Rolling Stones acquitted themselves nicely, for the most part. But from first to last, the string of masterpieces Bowie unleashed is unlikely to ever be equaled. Again, only The Beatles put out so many works with analogous import and influence.

Like The Beatles, Bowie didn’t only innovate; he wrought aesthetic and stylistic changes and, like an irrepressible Pied Piper, people followed him wherever he went. Secure prediction: time will only increase our collective appreciation for the extent of what Bowie achieved between ’70 and ’80. This music, for the most part, does not sound dated but remains utterly of its time—including the alternately surreal and intractable Berlin trilogy—and over time, it will define the times in which it was made, the way all our best art manages to do.

AS

Take “Aladdin Sane”, please. This miniature masterpiece employs everything brilliant about progressive rock (the musicianship, the audacity) and distills it into not only an accessible, but irresistible package. If one can hear Joy Division and Iggy Pop in the Berlin trilogy, it’s difficult to deny that many varied hitmakers were paying close attention to this uncanny freak with paint on his face. Prog rock started to wear out its welcome for a million mostly good reasons by mid-decade, but the wise ones, especially Ian Anderson and Peter Gabriel, were paying attention, if not taking notes. Across years and styles, it’s impossible to imagine groups (prominent in their own right) ranging from The Smiths and Pet Shop Boys to Duran Duran, onward to Radiohead and Lady Gaga, without Bowie’s blueprint.

Bowie was indefatigable and, seemingly, unconquerable. That’s why his death (from cancer, that most banal of diseases) not only astonishes, but offends. If Ziggy Stardust is mortal after all, heaven help the rest of us who may still be kidding ourselves. Where would-be epoch defining entities like John Lennon, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Kurt Cobain—all of whom forged specific connections with him, incidentally—didn’t have the luck or wherewithal to withstand Life on Earth, Bowie did: for himself obviously yet also, one suspected, because he understood it was all bigger than him. Remarkably, as beloved as he became, he got the joke and that was arguably the secret (so impossible, so perfect) to his longevity.

In our devolving era of social media attention spans and controversy stirred via electronic one-liners (often anonymous, natch), recalling the courage of Bowie’s convictions is instructive. First and foremost, the closet exodus heard ‘round the world: “I’m gay, and always have been.” That was 1972, and even if, in the moment, this was an act of calculated provocation, it’s the stuff revolutions are made of. Cheers to him for taking the piss out of Andy Warhol way before it was either safe or acceptable (much less imperative). Pivoting from glam to soul and becoming one of the first—and only—white artists to be considered cool enough to appear on Soul Train. Being brazenly ahead of the pack in calling out MTV for its congenital honky-itis in 1983. Appearing in movies by A-List directors like Scorsese (as Pontius Pilate (!) in The Last Temptation of Christ) and Nolan (as Nikola Tesla (!!) in The Prestige). And, all those years later, Bowie being Bowie while sending up an enchanted Ricky Gervais.

He was our Oscar Wilde, obviously. Or better yet, a postmodern Dorian Gray, through the glass brightly: bigger than Jesus and not dying for our sins but celebrating them, or else suggesting, quite convincingly, that there were no sins and nothing to be ashamed of. And speaking of shame, where the legions of imitators and fakers have gotten it wrong this millennium, mistaking shamelessness for substance, Bowie endures as s secular saint of the dispossessed. He will remain revered because he was unashamed, and encouraged others to be as well, whoever and whatever they might happen to be that particular day.

It’s sunrise and millions weep a fountain. The Black Star has returned to Space. Now he’s gone; now he’s immortal.

This article originally published at The Weeklings on 1/14/16.
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David Bowie: Ashes to Ashes

bowie

Sordid details following. It’s all in here: summing up practically everything from the ‘70s and previewing so many trends to follow in the ‘80s. Everyone heard this, even if they weren’t listening. In this one song you have punk melting down prog and fermenting new wave, done, typically, without a safety net. One flash of light, but no smoking pistol. Nothing by anyone else before or since sounds anything like this. Bowie made being beyond scrutiny a career move, yet if any individual song could summarize (yeah right) what he was about, “Ashes to Ashes” showcases the elements that made him so inimitable: the esoteric conceptualizing, the wit, the irony, the humor (!) and the ways he savors the English language, less a poet than a word painter. (Want an axe to break the ice: There’s an image a young listener can really get his mind warped around. To discover, later, it’s a cheeky riff on Kafka’s famous dictum? Mind = Blown.) So what’s it about? Like much of Bowie’s best work, it’s obvious and impossible to pinpoint a meaning or message.

Strung out in heaven’s high hitting an all-time low: a line leaving little to the imagination; it could be the elevator pitch for the movie, it could encapsulate the willful contradictions of Bowie’s career, it could be a commentary on science, capitalism or Art Itself. For starters. Certainly autobiographical elements abound (Time and again I tell myself, I’ll stay clean tonight), and with the name-check of Major Tom, a brilliant case of art imitating life or vice versa.

I’ve heard a rumour from Ground Control: Where “Space Oddity” which, incidentally, closed out the previous decade, manages to balance discovery and despair, “Ashes to Ashes” is all about wizened desolation (The shrieking of nothing is killing). And could any artist aside from Bowie execute this burnt-out holler from Beyond and make it swing? Fun to funky, indeed. A barren soul, a heavy heart, scared eyes following those green wheels: the diary of a madman, the madcap laughs, you’d better not mess with Major Tom.

I’m stuck with a valuable friend: I never done good things (I never done good things), I never done bad things (I never done bad things), I never did anything out of the blue, woah-oh (woah-oh). That last echoed “woah-oh”: deadpan, droll, disturbing. (Did we even discuss the video? The more said about it, the better.) No heroes, here. Now he’s gone and our planet’s glowing. I’ve loved. All I’ve needed: love. Maybe that’s the message. Of the song, of his life, of any of our lives. I’m happy. Hope you’re happy, too. What he said.

This essay appeared as part of The Weeklings’ tribute to David Bowie, published on 1/21/16.

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David Bowie: The Man Who Owned the World

david-bowie-1976-billboard-650-500x331

ONLY THE BEATLES. That’s the sole comparison that comes to mind when compelled to name a musical act with similar impact and importance. The Beatles, as we all know, changed each year during their still indescribable run, effectively owning the ‘60s. David Bowie, on the other hand, built an entire career on changes, even as he became the peerless satellite so many others orbited around.

Also like The Beatles, Bowie put in his time before lifting off and then, once he really broke through, he kept on breaking, and changing, and winning. A great deal, understandably, has been said about these changes, with inevitable if ultimately reductive words like chameleon and shape shifter tossed into every encomium. David Bowie elevated reinvention to an art form; he was a genius of changing.

About these changes. They weren’t simply haircuts and costume changes (hello, Madonna); they were entirely new identities. And yet and of course, every new character was thoroughly and undeniably David Bowie. This, among so many other things, was what enabled him to remain an innovator who couldn’t be imitated (how can anyone imitate you if you never imitate yourself?). Nor were any of these characters cursory; Bowie transformed himself as well as his music. Although diminished by comparison, none of his better-known acolytes, from envelope-pushers like Eddie Izzard to opportunists like Bono, could have conceivably negotiated their alternately awkward and unabashed milieus without the example set by the Thin White Duke.

Champions of the avant-garde are often bored with, even incapable of conventional thinking. Bowie managed to be several steps ahead of the avant-garde, probably because even he couldn’t have imagined where he was headed next. The thing is, when most artists make profound, if indulgent changes (think Neil Young in the early ‘80s), it alienates fans and inexorably seems either forced or facile. Bowie? He changed the world and took everyone with him, and he did it year after year. Even someone unfamiliar with the music need only look at the cover art from album to album. That’s the same person? Well, yes. And no.

What was that all about? It seldom seemed calculated or strained; indeed, it’s as though he needed to jump-start his own peripatetic sensibility, and these often eccentric, always endearing identities were delivery devices for the brilliance bubbling beneath the pin-up pretense. Red, bleach blonde or brown, his hair—although forever awesome—was window dressing, his clothes more a nod to his impeccable fashion instincts. Make no mistake, it was always about the music.

About that music. “Space Oddity”, “Life on Mars”, “Changes”, “John, I’m Only Dancing”, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”, “Aladdin Sane”, “Diamond Dogs”, “Rebel Rebel”…these aren’t merely songs, or even (merely) anthems, they are cultural signifiers, queer escutcheons that at once shield and embolden the outcasts and “others”. Bowie, being the Alpha Outsider, was brave and brilliant, and adamant enough to become The Other, and the changes that followed changed others, allowing others to become something other than the others they might have otherwise been destined to be.

There are so many wonderful illustrations, any of which could make a case for why Bowie was more than a pop musician, why he mattered and why he’ll be so desperately missed. For me, it’s a deceptively simple track—from what may be his most consistently satisfying album Hunky Dory—that encapsulates everything he managed to be. “Oh! You Pretty Things”, his little anthem to oddness (and the inevitability of ch-ch-ch-ch-changes) continues to delight, excite and inspire me, even today, as a middle-aged straight white male. I can scarcely fathom how many confused and scared souls Bowie salvaged and empowered. What an artist he was; what a hero he’ll always be.

Significantly, Bowie was not simply a front-man, although to be certain he was one of the incendiary stage performers of the last century. He was a musician. Yes, he could play multiple instruments and he could write the songs (nevermind the singing and lyrics, which we’ll never tire of extolling), but his acumen was unassailable, if unconventional. Consider two easily studied examples: the direction he gave Mike Garson for the title track of Aladdin Sane, or the story behind how his uncanny collaboration with Queen during the “Under Pressure” sessions.

About those lyrics. Yes, they’re sometimes inscrutable, endlessly open to interpretation (intentional, obviously), but there can be no question that multiple meanings are a result of the layers: he was easily one of the most intelligent—and articulate—wordsmiths of our time. A random sample from the top shelf: “And the stars look very different today”, “Take a look at the lawman beating up the wrong guy”, “We passed upon the stair, we spoke of was and when”, “Battle cries and champagne just in time for sunrise”, “In the year of the scavenger, the season of the bitch”, “The shrieking of nothing is killing”, “It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about”…

Debate can—and should—now rage forevermore about what Bowie’s post-‘70s legacy means: did he exhaust himself or continue to make boundary-breaking music? A bit of both seems the safest and soundest answer, but opinions and mileage will vary, as they should. Let there be no question whatsoever, though, that he was utterly locked in during the ‘70s. Did anyone own the decade like David Bowie? There were historic runs by Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. The Who were going strong, at least until the air went out of the Moon; The Rolling Stones acquitted themselves nicely, for the most part. But from first to last, the string of masterpieces Bowie unleashed is unlikely to ever be equaled. Again, only The Beatles put out so many works with analogous import and influence.

Like The Beatles, Bowie didn’t only innovate; he wrought aesthetic and stylistic changes and, like an irrepressible Pied Piper, people followed him wherever he went. Secure prediction: time will only increase our collective appreciation for the extent of what Bowie achieved between ’70 and ’80. This music, for the most part, does not sound dated but remains utterly of its time—including the alternately surreal and intractable Berlin trilogy—and over time, it will define the times in which it was made, the way all our best art manages to do.

AS

Take “Aladdin Sane”, please. This miniature masterpiece employs everything brilliant about progressive rock (the musicianship, the audacity) and distills it into not only an accessible, but irresistible package. If one can hear Joy Division and Iggy Pop in the Berlin trilogy, it’s difficult to deny that many varied hitmakers were paying close attention to this uncanny freak with paint on his face. Prog rock started to wear out its welcome for a million mostly good reasons by mid-decade, but the wise ones, especially Ian Anderson and Peter Gabriel, were paying attention, if not taking notes. Across years and styles, it’s impossible to imagine groups (prominent in their own right) ranging from The Smiths and Pet Shop Boys to Duran Duran, onward to Radiohead and Lady Gaga, without Bowie’s blueprint.

Bowie was indefatigable and, seemingly, unconquerable. That’s why his death (from cancer, that most banal of diseases) not only astonishes, but offends. If Ziggy Stardust is mortal after all, heaven help the rest of us who may still be kidding ourselves. Where would-be epoch defining entities like John Lennon, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Kurt Cobain—all of whom forged specific connections with him, incidentally—didn’t have the luck or wherewithal to withstand Life on Earth, Bowie did: for himself obviously yet also, one suspected, because he understood it was all bigger than him. Remarkably, as beloved as he became, he got the joke and that was arguably the secret (so impossible, so perfect) to his longevity.

In our devolving era of social media attention spans and controversy stirred via electronic one-liners (often anonymous, natch), recalling the courage of Bowie’s convictions is instructive. First and foremost, the closet exodus heard ‘round the world: “I’m gay, and always have been.” That was 1972, and even if, in the moment, this was an act of calculated provocation, it’s the stuff revolutions are made of. Cheers to him for taking the piss out of Andy Warhol way before it was either safe or acceptable (much less imperative). Pivoting from glam to soul and becoming one of the first—and only—white artists to be considered cool enough to appear on Soul Train. Being brazenly ahead of the pack in calling out MTV for its congenital honky-itis in 1983. Appearing in movies by A-List directors like Scorsese (as Pontius Pilate (!) in The Last Temptation of Christ) and Nolan (as Nikola Tesla (!!) in The Prestige). And, all those years later, Bowie being Bowie while sending up an enchanted Ricky Gervais.

He was our Oscar Wilde, obviously. Or better yet, a postmodern Dorian Gray, through the glass brightly: bigger than Jesus and not dying for our sins but celebrating them, or else suggesting, quite convincingly, that there were no sins and nothing to be ashamed of. And speaking of shame, where the legions of imitators and fakers have gotten it wrong this millennium, mistaking shamelessness for substance, Bowie endures as s secular saint of the dispossessed. He will remain revered because he was unashamed, and encouraged others to be as well, whoever and whatever they might happen to be that particular day.

It’s sunrise and millions weep a fountain. The Black Star has returned to Space. Now he’s gone; now he’s immortal.

This article originally published at The Weeklings on 1/14/16.
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This Week in Music, 1983 (Revisited)

murph83

I don’t know what you were up to but I was partying like it was 1983.

Due to the miracles of technology, we can see precisely how I was living, almost exactly thirty years ago.

Let’s do a quick analysis of that picture.

Grey Levi’s cords? Check.

Untucked blue oxford? Check.

R2-D2 light switch and piggy bank (both home made, neither by me)? Check. (For those playing at home, this was before Return of the Jedi was released, and I was still on board the Millennium Falcon).

Napkin with note and autograph from Dexter Manley? Check.

Feathered hair covering the ears? Check.

A little Toulouse-Lautrec up in there? Certainement!

Cozying up to my boy, Mr. Mojo Risin’? Check. (More on him HERE.)

Jimi Hendrix poster with feathered roach clip? You know this.

(About those roach clips: anyone else remember when those were souvenirs, or prizes, from the Langston Hughes fairs? We used to hang them on our Duron paint caps. We had no idea what they were really used for and, presumably, neither did my parents. They probably thought I was respecting our Native American heritage and hey, Hendrix had Cherokee blood…)

The obligatory black light poster that we used to buy at Spencer’s? Check.

A floor speaker and a bookshelf, two components that still comprise my personal arsenal.

But what really inspired this trip down memory lane was a “From the vault” entry in the latest Rolling Stone —a magazine I started subscribing to right around this time. This particular entry features the Top 10 singles from the week of May 12, 1983, and it is indeed a trip, in many senses of the word. I wonder if this will bring you back (and I mean waaaaay back) the way it did me: 7th grade lockers, Mr. Bryant & Reston Skateway (for my local peeps), getting to second base (allegedly), and a hundred other things. Let’s run it down from top to bottom and shoot the proverbial duck. Wherever possible, I’ve embedded the proper video from MTV. (MTV!!! Here’s a trivia question I bet even people who know me best would get wrong: I did not, in fact, have access to this epic channel back in the day. My parents would not allow it. Wisely. That does not mean I did not log quality hours –and I mean hours– at myriad friends’ houses.)

1. Michael Jackson, “Beat It”:

re. The King of Pop:

A confession. I was not necessarily a fan. I certainly was able to appreciate that dancing, and that song (and any male my age who attempts to deny that he desperately wanted to perfect the moonwalk is lying through the acne-glazed haze of adolescent recollection). It was a bizarre time to be a teenager: all the girls in school loved Michael Jackson and all the guys loved Jim Morrison. Oh wait, that was just me? Well, as corny as I would have considered it for any dude to have a poster of MJ, I am not particularly proud to reconsider the prominent spread of leather-clad Lizard King photos on my bedroom wall. I say this only to underscore the impact MJ had at the time: I was well tired of the non-stop hype and ceaseless radio play (seven Top 10 singles?!), and it was simply beyond human capability to separate oneself from Thriller’s impact. You may not have loved it (you may not have liked it) but I have never spoken to anyone who actually hated it. I’m sure there is someone out there, who also hates the Sistine Chapel and The Lincoln Memorial. Or Moby Dick (just kidding, sort of.)

A lot more on MJ, and the ’80s, HERE.

2. David Bowie, “Let’s Dance”:

Kind of amazing –and humbling– that David Bowie appears to have aged less in three decades than me (or anyone else on the planet).

3. Greg Kihn Band, “Jeopardy”:

When Greg Kihn was born I believe his parents stood over him the way the gods once did at Olympus (“Clash of the Titans” style) and said: “Your purpose on this earth is to form a band and make an album called Kihnspiracy. Mission accomplished. (What have you done with your life?)

4. Men at Work, “Overkill”:

5. Thomas Dolby, “She Blinded Me With Science”:

This song is just as amazing today as it was then. That is all. (And don’t sleep on this slice of heaven.)

6. Dexy’s Midnight Runners, “Come On Eileen”:

All I had to do was type the letters “D-E-X” into YouTube and this was the first thing that came up. Obviously.

7. Irene Cara, “Flashdance…What a Feeling”:

13 year old Murph would like to send my personal thanks to Irene Cara for helping me through some…hard times. If you know what I’m saying.

8. Prince, “Little Red Corvette”:

Ridiculous video, but apparently the Prince police have disabled everything on YouTube.

re. Prince: idiots, like me, were not prepared to appreciate him, but time has taught us that this weird dude is a genius. Duh.

9. Laura Branigan, “Solitaire”:

Two words: Couples skate!!!

10. After the Fire, “Der Kommissar”:

Perfect way to end. What an unbelievable range of sounds, cultures and styles –and these were the most popular songs in the country. This, my friends, when people ask why we are so nostalgic, is the answer. Because the ’80s, when all is said and done, did not remotely suck!

But don’t take it from me, ask John Cusack!

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In Defense of Good Sax, Part Two

SONNY

Wherein five jazz saxophonists “slum” and make truly indelible contributions to five well-loved and much-played rock songs.

Considering one of the all-time ALL TIME greats (Sonny Rollins) is on this list, an anecdote from the sessions seems in order:

MICK JAGGER: “I had a lot of trepidation about working with Sonny Rollins. This guy’s a giant of the saxophone. Charlie said, ‘He’s never going to want to play on a Rolling Stones record!’ I said, ‘Yes he is going to want to.’ And he did and he was wonderful. I said, ‘Would you like me to stay out there in the studio?’ He said, ‘Yeah, you tell me where you want me to play and DANCE the part out.’ So I did that. And that’s very important: communication in hand, dance, whatever. You don’t have to do a whole ballet, but sometimes that movement of the shoulder tells the guy to kick in on the beat.”

5. Ronnie Ross on Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side”:

4. Dick Parry on Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them”:

3. David Sanborn on David Bowie’s “Young Americans”:

2. Wayne Shorter on Steely Dan’s “Aja”:

1. Sonny Rollins on The Rolling Stones’ “Waiting on a Friend”:

Bonus insight from Jagger (EPIC!!!):

“I had a lot of trepidation about working with Sonny Rollins. This guy’s a giant of the saxophone. Charlie said, ‘He’s never going to want to play on a Rolling Stones record!’ I said, ‘Yes he is going to want to.’ And he did and he was wonderful. I said, ‘Would you like me to stay out there in the studio?’ He said, ‘Yeah, you tell me where you want me to play and DANCE the part out.’ So I did that. And that’s very important: communication in hand, dance, whatever. You don’t have to do a whole ballet, but sometimes that movement of the shoulder tells the guy to kick in on the beat.

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Mad Props to Open Culture

In the past week, I’ve seen links to not one, but two amazing clips.

I want to give all the credit to Open Culture, so please visit them for the stories behind each, so go HERE.

First, the isolated guitar playing of Eric Clapton on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

A lot of people may not even realize it was “God”, not George, cranking out those tasty solos. Once you get it, it makes all the sense in the world.

But you need to hear it, and you have to read the whole story. Do so, HERE!

Likewise, you MUST check out the story behind Queen’s collaboration with David Bowie.

“Under Pressure” sounds like the inevitable result of a mutual, positive meeting of the artistic minds. It was, in many regards, anything but. Again, I won’t steal any thunder. Check it all out HERE!

(Hearing this the first time, this is what I scribbled down: Starting at 1.58: we are in the presence of gods. If your heart doesn’t race and chills don’t thrill through your back you are not, in fact, alive. I’ll stand by that sentiment.)

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This Week in Music: 1983

I don’t know what you were up to but I was partying like it was 1983.

Due to the miracles of technology, we can see precisely how I was living, almost exactly thirty years ago.

Let’s do a quick analysis of that picture.

Grey Levi’s cords? Check.

Untucked blue oxford? Check.

R2-D2 light switch and piggy bank (both home made, neither by me)? Check. (For those playing at home, this was before Return of the Jedi was released, and I was still on board the Millennium Falcon).

Napkin with note and autograph from Dexter Manley? Check.

Feathered hair covering the ears? Check.

A little Toulouse-Lautrec up in there? Certainement!

Cozying up to my boy, Mr. Mojo Risin’? Check. (More on him HERE.)

Jimi Hendrix poster with feathered roach clip? You know this.

(About those roach clips: anyone else remember when those were souvenirs, or prizes, from the Langston Hughes fairs? We used to hang them on our Duron paint caps. We had no idea what they were really used for and, presumably, neither did my parents. They probably thought I was respecting our Native American heritage and hey, Hendrix had Cherokee blood…)

The obligatory black light poster that we used to buy at Spencer’s? Check.

A floor speaker and a bookshelf, two components that still comprise my personal arsenal.

But what really inspired this trip down memory lane was a “From the vault” entry in the latest Rolling Stone —a magazine I started subscribing to right around this time. This particular entry features the Top 10 singles from the week of May 12, 1983, and it is indeed a trip, in many senses of the word. I wonder if this will bring you back (and I mean waaaaay back) the way it did me: 7th grade lockers, Mr. Bryant & Reston Skateway (for my local peeps), getting to second base (allegedly), and a hundred other things. Let’s run it down from top to bottom and shoot the proverbial duck. Wherever possible, I’ve embedded the proper video from MTV. (MTV!!! Here’s a trivia question I bet even people who know me best would get wrong: I did not, in fact, have access to this epic channel back in the day. My parents would not allow it. Wisely. That does not mean I did not log quality hours –and I mean hours– at myriad friends’ houses.)

1. Michael Jackson, “Beat It”:

re. The King of Pop:

A confession. I was not necessarily a fan. I certainly was able to appreciate that dancing, and that song (and any male my age who attempts to deny that he desperately wanted to perfect the moonwalk is lying through the acne-glazed haze of adolescent recollection). It was a bizarre time to be a teenager: all the girls in school loved Michael Jackson and all the guys loved Jim Morrison. Oh wait, that was just me? Well, as corny as I would have considered it for any dude to have a poster of MJ, I am not particularly proud to reconsider the prominent spread of leather-clad Lizard King photos on my bedroom wall. I say this only to underscore the impact MJ had at the time: I was well tired of the non-stop hype and ceaseless radio play (seven Top 10 singles?!), and it was simply beyond human capability to separate oneself from Thriller’s impact. You may not have loved it (you may not have liked it) but I have never spoken to anyone who actually hated it. I’m sure there is someone out there, who also hates the Sistine Chapel and The Lincoln Memorial. Or Moby Dick (just kidding, sort of.)

A lot more on MJ, and the ’80s, HERE.

2. David Bowie, “Let’s Dance”:

Kind of amazing –and humbling– that David Bowie appears to have aged less in three decades than me (or anyone else on the planet).

3. Greg Kihn Band, “Jeopardy”:

When Greg Kihn was born I believe his parents stood over him the way the gods once did at Olympus (“Clash of the Titans” style) and said: “Your purpose on this earth is to form a band and make an album called Kihnspiracy. Mission accomplished. (What have you done with your life?)

4. Men at Work, “Overkill”:

5. Thomas Dolby, “She Blinded Me With Science”:

This song is just as amazing today as it was then. That is all. (And don’t sleep on this slice of heaven.)

6. Dexy’s Midnight Runners, “Come On Eileen”:

All I had to do was type the letters “D-E-X” into YouTube and this was the first thing that came up. Obviously.

7. Irene Cara, “Flashdance…What a Feeling”:

13 year old Murph would like to send my personal thanks to Irene Cara for helping me through some…hard times. If you know what I’m saying.

8. Prince, “Little Red Corvette”:

Ridiculous video, but apparently the Prince police have disabled everything on YouTube.

re. Prince: idiots, like me, were not prepared to appreciate him, but time has taught us that this weird dude is a genius. Duh.

9. Laura Branigan, “Solitaire”:

Two words: Couples skate!!!

10. After the Fire, “Der Kommissar”:

Perfect way to end. What an unbelievable range of sounds, cultures and styles –and these were the most popular songs in the country. This, my friends, when people ask why we are so nostalgic, is the answer. Because the ’80s, when all is said and done, did not remotely suck!

But don’t take it from me, ask John Cusack!

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In Defense of Good Sax, Part Two

Wherein five jazz saxophonists “slum” and make truly indelible contributions to five well-loved and much-played rock songs.

Considering one of the all-time ALL TIME greats (Sonny Rollins) is on this list, an anecdote from the sessions seems in order:

MICK JAGGER: “I had a lot of trepidation about working with Sonny Rollins. This guy’s a giant of the saxophone. Charlie said, ‘He’s never going to want to play on a Rolling Stones record!’ I said, ‘Yes he is going to want to.’ And he did and he was wonderful. I said, ‘Would you like me to stay out there in the studio?’ He said, ‘Yeah, you tell me where you want me to play and DANCE the part out.’ So I did that. And that’s very important: communication in hand, dance, whatever. You don’t have to do a whole ballet, but sometimes that movement of the shoulder tells the guy to kick in on the beat.”

5. Ronnie Ross on Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side”:

4. Dick Parry on Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them”:

3. David Sanborn on David Bowie’s “Young Americans”:

2. Wayne Shorter on Steely Dan’s “Aja”:

1. Sonny Rollins on The Rolling Stones’ “Waiting on a Friend”:

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