The best of Bowie, to mark his passing

As I’m fighting a cold, my sleep has been fitful anyway, so I didn’t need my phone to be making little noises on the bedside table through the wee hours. Eventually, I reached over to see what it was on about. Oh. David Bowie’s dead.

I had not known he was ill, although in truth, he never looked all that robust.

I was never a big fan, but perhaps some of you were, so I thought I’d provide this opportunity for you to comment.

The above video is my favorite song of his, although I could do without the visuals. I always found his theatricality a bit on the excessive side. As you know, I have a different notion of how musicians should look. I like the casual, look-at-my-music-not-at-me approach. I want them to look cool, not overwrought.

Oddly, possibly because I was not a fan and didn’t listen to his albums (back in the ultimate period of album-oriented rock), I was unaware of this one song until the last few years, when it formed such an inspirational part in the British TV series “Life on Mars.” Here’s what I said about it awhile back:

I could swear to you that this song did not exist before I first watched, on DVD, the British time-travel-cop show of the same name (sans question mark). I had zero memory of it. Of course, I wasn’t at all into Bowie in his initial iteration, but still — I had heard and enjoyed “A Space Oddity” and heard other songs of his in the background. But I had completely missed this. Even now, I’m not sure if it’s just that the song itself is so great (which it may be; a critic in The Telegraph listed it as the single greatest song of all time, with “Let it Be,” one of my personal favorites, in second place) or it’s just the way it shaped the wonderful opening scene in which the protagonist of the TV show is transported back to 1973 that imprinted it so favorably on my mind. (Wonderful touch — the song begins the scene playing on the character’s early iPod, which itself now looks dated, then ends up on an 8-track.) In any case, I listen to it a lot now. Oh, a word in your shell-like: Don’t bother putting the American series based on this into your Netflix queue (despite the presence of Harvey Keitel in the cast); just watch the original. (Best bit:37 seconds into this clip, as the character “wakes up” into 1973 and the music reaches its climax.)

Oh, and sorry, but that clip with the best bit is no longer available. The Beeb had it taken off YouTube.

4 thoughts on “The best of Bowie, to mark his passing

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Nobody wants to talk about Bowie? Wow, next thing you know, no one will want to talk about football…

    This post goes under the heading of “resonating,” as we used to call it at the paper. It was our term for writing about something that didn’t have any policy implications and therefore under our usual sense of priorities wasn’t worth spending ink on, and yet was something our readers were currently interested in and would expect us to say SOMETHING about.

    Cindi and I — Cindi especially, I a little less so — were terrible at resonating. Cindi didn’t, and doesn’t, like for a single second of her well-organized day to be spent thinking about something that doesn’t have important policy implications. Pop culture? Fuggedaboudit. As you know, I can at least take an interest in pop-culture stuff.

    So when there was something out there that demanded some resonance from the editorial page, we turned to other folks on the board. Back in the day, both Claudia Brinson and John Monk were very good at it. After they moved back to the newsroom, it fell to Nina Brook, Warren Bolton or Mike Fitts to say the appropriate words at certain times.

    You may find it surprising that John, best known as a tough investigative reporter, was good at empathizing and such. But he was great at it. My favorite such instance was when Princess Diana died. I was of the same view as Her Majesty — why should the people expect me to say ANYTHING about this? Talk about something where we had no dog in the fight, this was the ultimate. But John, playing the Tony Blair role in the saga, volunteered to write an editorial expressing the proper sentiments, to show that we weren’t totally heartless. So I said OK. A bit later, I poked my head into his office to see how he was coming on it. He was in the zone, listening to Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” as he wrote. Now THAT’S what I call resonating!

    Anyway, since she doesn’t have any of us to do it anymore, when resonance is called for, Cindi has to do it (although Associate Editor Paul Osmundson sometimes pitches in these days). She’s very game about it. I’m rooting for her each time she makes the attempt…

  2. JesseS

    Found out about it the night before last and I’m still mulling it over. Bowie is a weird one. The only other entertainer I find myself comparing him to is Orson Wells. He was a guy with a lot of talent and good taste, and a desire to shake their given field but deep down there was something else that made them remarkable. He wanted to be a world class con-artist, but like Wells he didn’t lack all the scruples (or had too large an ego to go for a common shell game) so they had to aim it somewhere else.

    One story that came up yesterday was about Bowie selling “Bowie Bonds” in the late 90s. Essentially he sold bonds to investors that would pay off based on his royalties. He made a cool $55 million on it and Prudential Insurance bought all the soon be junk.

    Years later when asked why he did it, he said the writing was on the wall. No one would be buying music in 10 years. That’s David Bowie. Not the music, not the weird movies, not the ageless guy hiding behind the mask in a nice suit, but the man who was one step ahead of the cultural con game.

    F is for Fake; B is for Bowie.

  3. Norm Ivey

    I was never a big Bowie fan, and if I had to pick a favorite song, it would be Changes. I haven’t dug deep enough into his catalog to speak about most of it.

    I always thought he was more interesting as a persona than as a musician. He was always changing, and always branching out into other areas–fashion, business, acting. He was always an interesting interview on TV and in magazines. He just seemed to be into a little bit of everything, and was apparently a gentleman–I’ve never heard of any boorish behavior out of him (unless you count his stereotypical cocaine habit in the 80s).


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