Wednesday, September 18, 2013

CD Odyssey Disc 551: David Bowie

Ladies and gentlemen, you are reading the blog of a World Record Holder.

This weekend I went on my annual guy’s trip to Seattle to see the 49ers battle the Seahawks on Sunday Night Football.  The crowd at the game registered as the loudest stadium ever at 136.6 decibels, and there was an official from the Guinness Book of World Records to record the event.

Three days later, I’m still a little hoarse due to all the yelling to help get the record, but it was worth it, since the 49er players couldn’t hear themselves think and the Seahawks beat them convincingly 29-3.

Also, the Dolphins won and we’re now 2-0 for the season.  Yeehaw!  OK, enough football – on to music.

Disc 551 is…. Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars
Artist: David Bowie

Year of Release: 1972

What’s up with the Cover?  Ziggy Stardust steps out of his flat and into the deepening gloom of the city streets, armed only with his guitar, ready to do deliver his dread message to the doomed people of the earth, or maybe just soak in their adoration.

How I Came To Know It:  When I was about thirteen or fourteen my Aunt Karen bought me this album on vinyl.  I was horrified.  Not only was it not in my preferred format at the time (cassette), it was by David Bowie.  Having no interest in anything but heavy metal, I decided to give it to a punk girl named Nancy who rode my bus.  She was thrilled and decided she had to pay me for it, continually slipping money into my locker.  Each time I’d find a clever way to return the money claiming (honestly) the record had no value to me. 

In point of fact, I never even listened to it, nor did I ever do the logical thing and ask Nancy out (despite her being a year older and six inches taller).  Truth be told, with her spiked hair and multiple ear piercings Nancy intimidated me, despite my riding the bus with her every day and knowing that she was both sweet and personable.

So chalk two mistakes up to youthful indiscretion.  Years later, Sheila introduced me to the album (and this time I listened) and I loved it.  This time I fully embraced both Bowie and the girl who loved him, and it has all worked out for the best.

How It Stacks Up:  We have three albums by David Bowie (all Sheila’s).  This one is far and away his best, so number one.

Rating:  5 stars

Delayed satisfaction is satisfaction all the same, and “Ziggy Stardust” satisfies me like few records can.  If I foolishly ignored it for a few decades, then I am happy to be making up for lost time now.

The record captures David Bowie at his weirdest, which is saying something.  Bowie is a man who sometimes seemed more intent on the weirdness than the music; wanting to be famous more than he wanted a reason to be famous.  So when he decided to do a concept album about an alien who comes down to earth to become a rock star it had all the potential of a massive, overwrought disaster.

Instead, the musical excellence of “Ziggy Stardust” matches the grandiosity of its themes note for note. If there is a self-absorption to the music, it is only because there would be no other way to do the concept justice.

The music is classic early seventies rock, a mix of rock guitar licks, otherworldly organ and horn touches and the tattered remnants of sixties hippy music that has been twisted, folded, and folded again until it will hold an edge.

The whole record reminded me a bit of the Rocky Horror Picture Show with its combination of camp and rock and roll majesty, except perfectly delivered and musically far more rewarding.

The “Ziggy Stardust” story had me thinking a lot of Robert A. Heinlein’ “Stranger in a Strange Land” which has a similar theme about an alien coming to earth and becoming a messiah to the planet.  Maybe it is because Sheila introduced me to the book as well, which I also loved.  Certainly great art will often make you think of other great art.

I don’t love Bowie’s voice, which is a bit thin in places, but he sings these songs with great phrasing, and the right measures of emotion, disconnect and sexual ambiguity that the material calls for.  He may not be Freddie Mercury in terms of range, but he knows how to work what’s he got, and it is perfectly suited to the material.

Every song is great on this album, and it’s hard to single any out for specific mention.  Obviously the title track has one of the most iconic guitar riffs in rock music, so I’d be remiss not to comment on how many times it made me look foolish for air-guitaring along with it at a street light walking to work this week.  I regret nothing, however; not playing that riff on air guitar would be an affront to whichever muse filled Bowie’s head with it.

Beyond that, I’ll just say every song is great, and appears in an order where you can’t imagine it any other way.  Similarly, I won’t quote any lyrics.  In isolation they are gloriously over the top, but even so they’d lose something for being pulled from their place in the full “Ziggy Stardust” experience.

Instead, I encourage you to listen to this album from front to back as I’ve just done (twice) and grok it in its fullness the way it deserves.

Best tracks:  all tracks

1 comment:

Gord Webster said...

Oh dear! Your world record has been broken!