Roatan, Honduras 2002
Again, you know what your yard looks like. But it's so peaceful, I had to share with everyone else.
...and your guys, duuuuuh.
Cute enough? But of course!
Okay, love. I gotta call it a night. I have one more post I want to do for you, but I have to scan a photo to do it, soooo, a little patience. You and I, we have all the time. All time.
Here are some drawings from the back yard (I think Tina liked the last one best). Anyway, your garden is a peaceful respite and I'm glad Rich wants to keep the house and make it available for all who know you.
Over and out for now,
Dr. Hackenbush (Groucho Marx): [examining Stuffy (Harpo) with an auriscope] I haven't seen anything like this in years. The last time I saw a head like that was in a bottle of formaldehyde.
Tony (Chico): Told you he was sick.
Dr. Hackenbush: [pointing to Stuffy's neck] That's all pure desecration along there. He's got about a 15% metabolism, with an overactive thyroid and a glandular affectation of about 3%.
Tony: That's bad.
Dr. Hackenbush: With a 1% mentality.
Dr. Hackenbush: He's what we designate as the crummy moronic type. All in all, this is the most gruesome looking piece of blubber I've ever peered at.
Tony: Hey doc. Hey doc!
Dr. Hackenbush: Huh?
Tony: You gotta the looking glass turned around, you're looking at yourself.
November 1977, Rockport, Massachusetts and there’s a knock on the door to my sister and brother-in-law’s place. You asked if they were in and I believe they had gone into Boston. I didn’t know when they’d be back and you asked if you could leave some stuff while you strolled into town and did some shopping. Naturally! You’re Rich’s sister and that’s plenty of bona fide right there. You left, and I returned to the Marx Brothers.
You came back. I vaguely recall we chatted for a bit and decided we were hungry. This would be the first of many meals over many years where we’d chat until we couldn’t. What did we talk about? Hell, if I remember, but it was good and true and I hope funny, if not witty. I saw you again before I left New England. I think by then I’d pretty much figured out you were in my life for good. You asked me in one of your first letters, if not your very first, if I thought men and women could just be friends. I said yes, though not that succinctly. My first letter to you was 18 pages long. You found that remarkable. Trust me, it was logorrhea inspired by love.
I made a special trip up the following summer for three or four days. I don’t remember where we met up or what we did, though I’ll lay odds it involved eating. And talking. I want to say we met at the Harvard Bookstore Café when that was open on Newbury Street; it would make some kind of sense since we spent more than our share of time and money in bookstores and cafes. I was gobsmacked, I know that. I had a crush on you but couldn’t quite figure out the nature of it. Not all crushes are created equal. But holy shit, I enjoyed your company; I determined I’d have to figure something out to get back up here.
Not for the first time, though, my hormones got the better of me and I wound up in love and living with an older French woman back in Houston. I was a horrible thing to inflict on someone. I really was; but hey, I thought turning 21 should have its perks and if falling in love and living with a French woman was a perk, I might as well seize the moment. Poor her. Man, I was a self-absorbed shit. We lasted, what, five months? All I remember is that I was coming back up in January of 1979. I took a train from Houston to Chicago and from there to New York and then, Boston.
I took a room on Newbury Street for $33 a week. I hung out in the city for a bit before heading up to Rockport to bother Tina and Jim and made frequent trips back to Boston. I’d come into town and we’d do lunch or hang out at your place on Comm Ave. I recall feeling extremely at ease and at the same time, trying to figure out if I wanted to live in Boston or what. It was fun meeting artists and trying to get a sense of what the city held. I even tried to decide if maybe I wanted to go to college. I visited UMass Amherst, hung around BU for a few days and decided that my educated peers were twats.
It wasn’t even that I thought myself superior to them – I didn’t – I just didn’t want to be a member of that club. If anything, I felt then, as I do now, that education would have been wasted on me. I’m slow, and utter crap at exams; everyone I met was far more educated than I and I could never understand why anyone ever thought I’d attended college. It occurred to me that my contemporaries, at least, had decided that it’s what you’re supposed to do. I had it in my mind that you should only attend college if you were really interested in a subject and wanted to learn it. I wasn’t. I was an artist and had been for much of my life. It didn’t make any sense to me to go to school for something I was already doing. Not that I’d have done at all well, but in my naiveté I figured I’d just continue learning by doing and hanging out with my artist friends.
Then there was the sense, too, that there was a degree of self-delusion or a bit of a con that kids fell who decided that college would make them into adults or more grown-up or what you will. I kind of had the sense that almost everyone I’d met who was going to college was somehow conning themselves; that the world was prepping them for a lifetime of soulless drudgery and stunted aspiration. But not you. Emphatically not. I had the sense I was in the presence of someone who was utterly unafraid and well aware of what the next step was. I was never more certain of anyone’s direction than yours. Lord knows, I had none!
Do you remember seeing Offenbach’s “La Gaité Parisienne” at the Opera House? I can’t remember how that came about. You had tickets, I know that and Offenbach, while not one of my faves, was okay, and the show itself turned out to be really well done. Why didn’t I drag you to Roxy Music at the Orpheum? Oh, yeah, because I believe you’d already begun your cross-country journey.
I got back to Houston in time to find your letter asking me if I had anyone you could stay with. Your roommate Lisa had a place to stay in Conroe, I believe. I got you squared away with Jon and Paul and a splendid time was had. To a point. That one night we went to the Galleria to see “The Killing Fields” and were so shell-shocked we thought going ice-skating would take the edge off. Unfortunately, they were closing the rink by the time we got there. Well, if you can’t ice skate, you can get ice cream and it was off to Udder Delight on Westheimer to grab a cone and sit outside. Except that I had to lick my cone and watch my scoops plummet to the sidewalk. Bummer.
I remember duing the course of the film – one of the most heart-rending ever – there was the scene where Walken’s character is asked what his name is in the sanatorium and he doesn’t respond. I made the mistake of looking over at you and seeing a tear streaking down your right cheek. Mistake for me because I blubber like an idiot easily. I think I managed to keep the sniveling and sniffling down, but I don’t know if I was more wrecked by the movie than by seeing you tearing up. In any case, ice cream on the sidewalk on a warm, damp Houston night seemed appropriate.
The only thing that could possibly improve the night would be to have one of my best friends start groping at you in my presence back at his place. Jesus Christ on toast, this is when I hate being a guy. We were sitting on the couch under a blanket going over the flick (and for anyone who might be reading this, yes, fully clothed, you) when Paul came in and positioned himself to start in on you! I popped him pretty hard and you were pretty shocked. Not appalled, though; as you said, Paul was charming and as he explained to me afterward and I never told you this, he thought you and I had already had a – ahem, tryst – and he thought maybe we’d want to, um, er, do it again with him in for a third. Kind of like bridge but different.
He was shocked and I explained to him later that his attentions weren’t welcomed by you (or me). After all, this was a young woman who had written me that “sex without love is a barren activity”. I don’t know how much you revised that later in life; but I know that at the time, it made sense and that the idea of a random sportfuck with two guys probably wasn’t on your list of sites to visit in the Space City. However, that whole incident and the conversation and kisses we shared outside Paul’s apartment had me wondering what dating you would be like.
Fortunately for both of us, I thought far too highly of you to pursue that. I think the two of us had established something quite a bit deeper than most relationships and that became pretty sacred territory for us later.
San Francisco didn’t quite do it for you as I recall and you and I both wound up back in Boston. You to live, I to work (and not untypically stay). You returned to the Christian Science Publishing Society and discouraged me from pursuing a job there, saying that I’d have to be dedicated to the place and that it couldn’t just be another job. That didn’t square with the tales I’d heard about what went on around the center among the workers and I wound up working for the Harvard Coop at MIT’s student union building.
I fell for a woman with a masters in English lit and a great voice and you and I would chat every so often. Reagan had assumed office and you were pretty adamant about leaving the states. Which, go figure, you did. I stuck around till May of 81 and returned to Houston, to continue art and running bookstores and oh, getting married. That was fucking nuts. I won’t totally slag it, but it was fucking nuts.
For six years, we wrote letters off and on. You had begun your first forays into Latin America, learning Spanish in Guatemala, if I recall. You shared a couple of your “byzantine tales” with me later and this only served to reinforce that your balls were much, much bigger and brassier than mine would ever be.
After separating from my wife and re-establishing bachelor status, I held tight in Houston as the economy began to tank, thanks to the lack of regulation and oversight in savings and loan banking, real estate, and petroleum industry backroom planning. Well, thanks, Ronnie, I owe you a solid because your policies led to me leaving Texas for the most part for good. After a summer of teaching, I got the call that a bed and breakfast in Rockport needed a manager.
You came back to the states to visit for the holidays and you called and said you were coming up to Rockport; would I meet you for lunch? In a word, duh. I introduced you to my girlfriend who took off to work and you rather intimated that’s as it should be. I concurred and you sang the praises of the Land of the Maple Leaf and we slagged the current administration with unbridled contempt. As you do. As we do.
I left for Europe the following spring, returned that summer and moved in with another girlfriend that fall. After the new year, we moved to Brookline and you had called to say you were back in town but could we get together without the girlfriend around. This would be the first time you’d make that request explicitly and it’s just as well. We were on the outs and I was about to enter a pretty tenuous period in my life.
This would be the pattern for years to come. You’d come back to the area, we’d meet and chat until voices cracked and life would continue apace. The world would stop when you came back and a kind of insularity that doesn’t characterize any other of my relationships would assert itself as a lovely cocoon for us to parlay in for hours and sometimes days at a time. During the nineties, you moved to Peru and I returned to Houston after my mother took ill. Once she was fine and Jim and Tina had returned to the city, I elected to return to Massachusetts and began a period of recovering from a period of wandering and relative darkness.
I’d been in the restaurant business for altogether too long and decided it was time to cast about for something else. I turned to temping and working on the fringes of the tech community. You asked why I didn’t visit you while you were in Peru and I never had the wherewithal to say that I was basically, pretty fucking poor. I could scrape together enough to get out for my niece’s wedding, but I’d pay dearly for that. Things changed a little when I did a temp gig in San Francisco and returned to better assignments and better wages in Boston. It was around this time that I fell bonkers over someone again and began to realize that I really suck at relationships. After that breakup, I decided it made more sense to save the dollars for traveling. So if I missed you in Peru, I hope I made up for some of that with visits to Honduras and Costa Rica.
You asked me recently about what I remember as highlights of our time in Honduras. There were so many; meeting Dan and Robyn, Walkey and Patti, the trips to Copan and Roatan. Antigua and Lake Atitlan were good times, as well.
I’m going to put this aside for a bit. I want to savor these moments, these memories. You’re present in them and with them and I hold you in my heart a little differently that way. Differently in the sense that of late, I’ve held you in a more absolutely essential state of heart.
I’m not nostalgic nor do I see that likely to become the case. That doesn’t mean I’m a coldhearted bastard; it means that I still feel the warmth of your sun. I’ve watched your star rise over Latin America and the Caribbean and then how you fell in love with Africa. When you said that South Sudan was the most devastated area you’d ever seen, I had a feeling that you might angle a way to go back a little more. I know how much you loved Haiti, so this didn’t surprise me.
On the other hand, I could kind of see that you were getting close to tired of working fulltime and retirement seemed increasingly alluring and living in Florida would afford you proximity to Kate. Let’s face it: your niece and nephew are two other stars whose flames burn pretty dern brightly. Must take after their auntie.
I don’t really want to end this. But I’m pooped. Just a little. I’ve been slightly off my game since you flew off. Not critically shaken, not shaken to my fundament. Nope. I’m a bit better than that; but there’s the crummy sense of not being able to email you or take you out to dinner or chat with you randomly.
I’ve been watching a lot of comedy lately and at first, I didn’t know why. I thought it was just that I was enjoying Ricky Gervais and Craig Ferguson. But I haven’t been able to get back in the groove of sitting and meditating quite as regularly. The past month has been dreamlike, surreal in the way a Delvaux (as opposed to a Dali) painting is surreal. Things look almost normal but they’re not; the veneer of actuality is suspect and solidity more and more illusory.
I’m enjoying laughing; it’s not a matter of trying to hide from the pain of your departure. It’s almost a celebration. Robyn tells me that OFDA is having a happy hour memorial for you on May 20. Wish we could be there to chime in, clink some glasses and share stories.
Hey, remember this one: http://archive.boston.com/ae/music/articles/2009/02/25/three_girls_without_their_buddy_strike_a_chord/. We did see and hear some great music. The Offenback was great, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, stuff at the Paradise and Johnny D’s….
Okay. It’s time for sleep. I’ll write more tomorrow.
Recently, a friend posted an article about Scientology’s non-profit status being revoked and I had to admit, I was intrigued. I clicked on the link that took me to ABC News. More accurately, it took me to a site called ABC News with the url abcnews.com.co. A number of things jumped out at me.
The logo was a lackluster black and white version of the ABC logo we now know and the article was pretty weirdly written. It had the surface look of a legitimate piece of reporting but after reading through it, I wondered why ABC would print it and why wasn’t there a video attached to it, I wondered if the writer was drunk. The more I read it, the more I wondered why this topic wasn’t in my newsfeed. I went to Snopes and sure enough, the article was bogus.
Then reality kicked in more. Looking at the overall structure of the page and the site, it started to deconstruct quickly! Appearance: really stupid ads that I’m sure are not part of ABC-approved sponsors and general lackluster (that word again) layout. Too unsophisticated and static. Content: clickbate! Woohoo! Donald Trump tweets a picture of his dick! NSFW!!! This doesn't seem very much like the American Broadcasting Company I know...
Got me good. Who the hell is this that has the balls to run a page that practically screams lawsuit? I clicked on Contact and got this:
Address: 3701 SW 12th St, Topeka, KS 66604
For the record, the image is labelled Fred Phelps obit.jpg and the address is the Westboro Baptist Church. Now I was laughing my ass off!
Scrolling down more on the contact page brings this gem:
OH BOY! OH BOY! OH BOY!
“Dr.” Paul Horner is one of the premier geniuses of the interwebz when it comes to pranking the net with fake news and skewering people’s expectations. I love this guy. Well, I hate him when I fall for it (not really; it reminds me to check my assumptions and basically, admit to being as easily duped as the next person) and love him when I don’t. 'Cuz I think it's funny...easily duped, easily amused.
If you’re not familiar with “Dr.” Horner, please head over here: http://newsexaminer.net/paul-horner-news/paul-horner-news-internet-news-satirist-writer-news-examiner/.
In the meantime, I realize this is the second time in three days that I’ve fallen or almost fallen for fake news. Friday, a friend posted on Facebook this picture:
I won’t bore with too many details, but for more information, off with you now to Snopes: http://www.snopes.com/make-america-white-again-trump/#.
But what I will bore with you is that we’re all too primed to accept at face value that which we agree with. This is basic Buddhist epistemology and Psych 101. I like to pride myself that I’m not one to get carried away by everything I read/see/hear, particularly on the wonderful world wide web. However, I’d be lying if I said it never happened!
These are two great examples and as much as I’d like to find out that Scientology had its non-profit status revoked or that Trump’s followers are so clueless and tone-deaf to produce racist t-shirts, after a little bit of reflection and consideration, it begins to dawn that one’s preconceptions are driven by one’s own bias.
Whether on the right or the left (or in the middle!), atheist or believer, and so on down the line, it’s utterly fantastic - in the truest sense of the word - how easily we are led by our own projections. It’s sometimes disturbing how much we base our lives on preconceived notions and then find out that, whoops, missed that one. For me, this serves as a reminder to think again, observe again, and more deeply, next time.
Come down off your throne and leave your body alone
Somebody must change
You are the reason I've been waiting so long
Somebody holds the key
Well, I'm near the end and I just ain't got the time
And I'm wasted and I can't find my way home
Come down on your own and leave your body alone
Somebody must change
You are the reason I've been waiting all these years
Somebody holds the key
Well, I'm near the end and I just ain't got the time
And I'm wasted and I can't find my way home
- "Can't Find My Way Home", lyrics by Steve Winwood
I miss the physical act of opening a gatefold album cover, carefully letting the vinyl slide out of the slip cover to hold gingerly in my hands (avoiding palms transmitting oils onto the album surface) and lowering the LP onto the spindle to its resting place on the turntable. I miss watching the arm raise and lower the needle into the groove and then hearing the magic, no less tactile than auditory, of the music issuing forth from the speakers.
I miss to a lesser degree, cassettes and CDs. But I still miss the interaction with materials to achieve hearing music sought after. While I appreciate modern digital technology, I feel that it's too immediate and too disembodied; so much so, that I have to be careful not to let this accessibility lull me into a sense that music is only one more digitally produced and available commodity.
Sitting in a cafe and hearing any number of songs come over the speakers is a joy, particularly if it's a new song or piece I'm not familiar with. Typically, I fire up Soundcloud, get the name of the tune, research it and then, well, buy it. Would I go back to the days of having to trudge around town to find the single or the album? Do I miss the hunt? Maybe.
Today, I heard Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home". I remember buying the eponymous Blind Faith album in high school. It was still in print, but relatively hard to find (and I think I sprung for the import). It's a great album, certainly, but even at the time, I appreciated the whole organic process, the ritual of playing an album. I could hear each guitar string, each contact of drum stick, and each time I played it (or any album, for that matter) there was something else to listen to in the mix.
I can't listen to music as background noise (and I appreciate Eno's theories on ambient music and love a lot of that genre); music asks us to be part of it. I can adapt in a different setting, like a cafe or a bar, where music is meant to be part of the environment. However, it's more than "part of"; music provides a context for the conversations or the reading, or whTever else is going on at the time.
I don't know that I want to hear Blind Faith from a digital source. What was playing today was a CD, by the way. Read those lyrics at the top of the page. Does the medium alter the work? I think it does.
Even reading on a device has a kind of unphysical/non-visceral engagement with a work. This is somewhat related, but I'll just mention it cursorily here: do you miss the tactile sense of thumbing through the pages of a book? Of taking time to linger over a passage on the page before you, with which you have a direct - felt - connection? Reading a poem on a digital device isn't teleologically different; but reading a book of poems on a device is not the same for me.
Music perhaps more so.
I have Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited, King Crimson's Red, Leonard Cohen's I'm Your Man, and obscure Gamelan music on an ancient MP3 player. Oddly enough, I like listening to those on this someday-soon-to-die device more than, say on my computer or iPad. Why? Because, there's a little more of an effort to make. Also, it's this same player that I've had with me in all over the world. Admittedly, my iPad has traveled extensively with me, as well, and I love that it has almost all of my music library on it (I have a lot backed up elsewhere to Google Drive), but it's weird that I don't listen to music while I'm writing a blog post or when I'm working out (never really liked that; never listened to music when I ran, either). But I do listen, and deeply when I'm walking (the aforementioned King Crimson album in India was a revelation while I was ambling about in the mountains...just sayin') or sitting quietly at home.
In that way, not much is different and contradicting myself (do I? Then, I contradict myself), it's still a wonderful way to enjoy one's time on this planet. But I find it funny that it's more of an effort for me to want to hear, say, Beethoven's Sixth Symphony off the iPad, than Massive Attack's Mezzanine. Having said that, once I do get the symphony under way, I acquiesce to its charms and considerable joys.
I think I need to go back to my original point. Maybe it's not the end result of hearing a work that is at issue; it's the ease and method of delivery that I'm wary of. I can't relate to music as product. It used to come presented in a more (sometimes less) artful package that you enjoyed for itself before or while settling into a listening groove. Now, I can find some obscure piece I heard in 1979 with minimal fuss and call it "mine" in mere moments.
I was and still am, on a Bowie memorial jag and when I listen to the stuff I had on either vinyl or CD, it evokes memories of specific times and places. I couldn't tell you where I was when I downloaded Heathen, Reality, The Next Day, or Blackstar.
Well, no. Not totally: I was at home in bed when I downloaded the rest of Blackstar (but I had no memory of getting "Lazarus", the single when it was offered back in the fall).
I have no particularly meaningful moments associated with much of the digital downloads that are new to me. Mainly, I got them because I heard them first and they meant enough on their own strengths that validated hearing them repeatedly. Still, there's a sense of disembodied discovery. It's rather like being in the bardo prior to rebirth where you have no body until you see you future parents and through a near-Freudian urging find yourself coming together in an incarnate form.
Similarly, let's take something like Diego Garcia's Laura. Strong album, good writing, and a keeper. But the seller for me was the single "You Were Never There". I downloaded that in a Starbucks (couldn't tell you which one or where, though) and listened to it repeatedly. But it was months before I took the plunge to check out the rest of the album. Glad I did, but the process seemed so distant from contact.
I didn't hear about Luna from a friend, I wasn't doing anything memorable at the time (probably reading), but there was something about the song that resonated. But I didn't have to struggle to find, acquire, and listen to it.
I wonder what it's like to have never had to chase music down? Right now, they've been playing a lot of Miles, Gil Evans, and Brubeck. You grow up with listening to stuff and saving up money to go out and buy a physical product to listen to as often as you can. Whereas, now, it feels more "deployed": I don't know that the medium is the message in this instance, but the medium by which the message is transmitted is increasingly ethereal. To play devil's advocate with myself, maybe that's not a negative.
Bucky Fuller wrote that technology trends toward the invisible. He theorized, rather neo-neo-Platonically, that the physical was ultimately the result of metaphysical principles. I think he would have been over the moon, then, with wireless downloads and the immediacy of social media. To be sure, I can't say that I don't appreciate where we've gone technologically (and I don't disavow enjoyment with the resulting convenience), but I feel we've lost something with the immediacy of fulfillment.
Maybe it's the little Buddhist in me that reacts to the idea that immediate gratification leads to increased craving or that facile aquisition of pleasure results in laziness and complacency. Or maybe, I should just go out and buy a turntable, amp, and a couple of speakers.
I'm sitting in Pavement Coffeehouse, my favorite cafe near Fenway. Bowie's "Five Years" is playing and I'm looking around at kids who wouldn't look the way they do without Bowie, conceivably who couldn't be the way without his work, without him. For that matter, I'd say many of my contemporaries would be more constrained without his having been here.
What happened to my generation? We could have been beautiful and left the world in better shape. We had, arguably, the benefit of the sixties' lessons; both the good and the bad. We saw a corrupt president driven from office and if we weren't the idealists of our old brothers' and sisters' years, did we have to descend into such utter cynicism?
Bowie could build a dystopia like no one else, but I don't think he was ever cynical. At his most nihilistic, there still felt like there was a glimmer of light.
We're on "Starman" right now and I may just lose it. This could be his epitaph ("let all the children boogie" included, for sure.)
Admittedly, my-my-my generation was called the Me Generation for a reason, given to self-help books, encounter group therapy, and naval gazing that would shame the best (worst?) narcissist. On the other hand, we kind of wised up to the dead end, or some of us did, of solipsism. We started to glimpse that the self isn't what we think it is and that there are more ways we're connected that short-circuits the idea of billions of little islands out there in existence.
I owe Bowie a reassessment of my influences. We both read Nietzsche. I wasn't a fan when my friend Andrew asked me to read the lyrics to "Oh! You Pretty Things" and he asked me if it sounded like Bowie understood Nietzsche. I replied fairly non-committally, if memory serves. I seem to recall saying that without really talking to the guy, I couldn't say, but sure, why not throw in some allusion here and there. If I could go back in time to the pretentious teen fuck that I was, I'd tell my younger self that Bowie was probably living Nietzsche. Screw reading him! (Besides, the better question is: you're sixteen, punk...you know Nietzsche?)
Yeah, I appreciated Bowie, more than actually liking him for most of the seventies. His public image and eccentricities seemed to overshadow what was doing and I was too stupid and unsophisticated to get it, anyway. I was into serious artistic brooding, not this effete affectation of retro rock cabaret that I took to be the sole extent of Bowie's creativity.
That changed quickly around 1977 when "Low" came out and I realized just how big an idiot I was. In the space of a few weeks, I devoured his back catalog. It didn't hurt that Eno's cache helped enormously with this. I was in Massachusetts when "Heroes" came out and I realized that I lived in remarkable times. I got back to Houston the following year and within a day or so of having returned, found out that Bowie was playing at the Summit, where the Houston Rockets played and where I'd seen the Who two years before. I think my ticket was 7.50. I walked right up to the box office and experienced what remains the finest concert of my life. From the first note of "Warszawa", I was treated to some of the most remarkable music ever performed. But more than that, it was the first time I felt the love of the performer for the audience. It's arguable that that's simply projection, but for the duration of the concert, I felt like I was in one of the most honest, intimate relationships an audient can have. And simply put: Bowie fucking kicked ass. There's a YouTube video (well, audio) of the concert out there and I promise I'll check it out someday, but my memory is what it is and I'd rather not have it overlaid with a secondhand view.
Around this time, Bowie had cleaned up and was on his way to the eighties ahead of the rest of us. A lot of what I thought about was that the world was grim, but there was grace and joy abounding, that we weren't really divorced from what is good and true and beautiful. Then Reagan sailed into office and John Lennon was murdered and oh, God, how incredibly fucked up the world got.
We swung to the right and drew the sabers. The Cold War escalated to ridiculously shrill levels. By this point, the paranoia from David Byrne to William Burroughs was palpable. The rise of greed and the supremacy of market driven policy was only just beginning. Bowie's "Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)" was an appropriate response. The anger and frustration in "It's No Game, Part One" mirrored mine and everyone else I knew. "Up the Hill Backwards" painted the Sisyphean tasks ahead of maintaining the dignity Bowie had mentioned on "Lodger" in "Fantastic Voyage."
Between the Clash and a handful of other politicized musicians, music held a relevance that kept despair in check. When "Let's Dance" came out, I remember a bunch of us artists were dancing in a congo line in Frank Williams studio in Houston. It was the fluffiest album Bowie could have made, but Jesus, it was fun! And not without weight, but the gears had shifted into Fun and maybe that's the prescription Major Tom decided we needed. Plus, Nile Rodgers never met a groove he couldn't use to good effect!
On the subway, I write.
At this point, Bowie seemed to be omnipresent in a way he'd never been before; embraced by the mainstream. Yet, unlike other artists, it didn't feel like selling out so much as vindication. As Sean O'Neal points out, the issue is more complex than that, but however we look at it, a broader swath of society at large was finally recognizing one of its most vital and influential artists. Acceptance into the broader popular culture only meant that he was legitimized, not defanged (and we'd see evidence of that throughout the rest of his career) and he didn't cease subverting cultural norms or speaking up for rights of others. Despite his dalliance with the trappings of fascism in '76, it's unlikely he genuinely believed what he was spouting. He was too much at the forefront of bending gender norms and social convention to be convincing as a true believer of National Socialism.
The 80s were, nonetheless, an interesting time for a Bowie fan. He was multimedia; acting on Broadway, in films, and even acting in music as "just a band member" in Tin Machine. From what I gather, the Glass Spider tour was a remarkable, if calculated (some say soulless) affair, but it brought him to an even wider public if such a thing was possible.
In the meantime, his musical descendants were all over the map. From the pretty boy neo-glam New Romantics like Duran Duran to less memorable bands like Icehouse, the baritone croon and gated drums were aped and repurposed to varying quality and dubious meaning. By the nineties something gave.
When Bowie married Iman, we got a lovely present in the form of "Black Tie, White Noise", an entirely too much overlooked gem. It's got some clunkers, but it shows him regaining control of his music. Sorry, Bowie could never be just another band member. Soon enough, he'd be back to absorbing new trends, trying them on for size and if not completely reinventing them, coming close enough. If nothing else, he explored enough to show others what could be done.
His forays into jungle, with bass and dub, and even with the Reznorian electronica he helped create weren't always successful, but when they were, ooooh, baby. There are singles on each album in the nineties that shimmer; and if, say, "Outside" isn't quite the revelation we'd hoped for (after all, Bowie + Eno = not boring), I defy anyone to not fall in love with "Strangers When We Meet" or "'Thru These Architects Eyes." Oh, and "I'm Deranged" and "The Heart's Filthy Lesson".
"Hours..." boasts some beauties, as well ("Thurday's Child" is one damn song that makes me break down and cry); and to be sure, it seemed that if his work seemed less urgent, it was the voice of a man now on the other side of fifty taking stock of his mortality. There is a poignance in his work that begins around here unlike anything else in his oeuvre.
The next day: "Heroes"
Back at Pavement and "Heroes" is playing (not nearly loud enough and why isn't everyone here either weeping piteously or dancing their asses off?)
Here's a quote from Julius Kassendorf at The Solute (in the comment thread...the article is lovely.)
"I spent a bit of my day today looking over the various tributes and I was really taken aback by the breadth of Bowie's influence. A lot of artists have a relatively narrow audience, but Bowie is one of those who seem to have spanned across generations and cultural barriers. Vibe had an article of 12 Rap Songs that Sampled Bowie. I retweeted Guillermo Del Toro's response last night. I saw a lot of friends with very conservative tastes lamenting the loss. Queer people saw him as an icon bending the rules of sexuality with a confidence and ease. I saw men and women equally sharing their favorite aspects of his work. On MTV's posting of that infamous "why don't you show black people?" interview, so many people said that was a key moment when they really took notice of him as a person and an artist.
There are few artists who seem to have reached the universal range that Bowie was able to reach. Not that he reached every single person, but his fans seemed to include somebody from most walks of life. Losing that is heartbreaking."
It's not just that we won't see his like again; it's that we need more now. What to do? Try to be "heroes"; write a poem or a play, volunteer like a boss, take your passion and nurture it. Make some music, we can't have too much. Make love, it's in short supply sometimes. Maybe if we spent more time just trying to care for each other, we'd see a more heroic world.
After the heart attack and what seemed like retirement, it still felt like the cracked actor would surprise us one more time; at the very least, it was enough that he was still with us. "Heathen" and "Reality" were each heralded as his strongest work since "Scary Monsters" and then, silence. Sure, there were a couple of appearances, but the silence was noticeable.
Seemingly from nowhere, in 2013, "The Next Day" hit. There was a the video of "Where are We Now" and the album itself dropped. Tony Visconti and the band worked in utmost secrecy and one of the finest works of the decade comes out. It was a vast piece of work for me that I needed to unpack over the year. It yielded its cosiderable pleasures slowly and would leave me shaking at its audacity and import. It's not a young man's work, though it it's as energetic as anything a twenty year old could come up with (if that twenty year old was possessed of genius beyond his years); it's ripe with a worldliness and a kind of dizziness at the reach of a vista of a life. I wonder if Bowie himself was dazzled by what lay in his wake.
It's dark, but again, with Bowie, the darkest aspects point to something else.
Then, another surprise. The Bowie exhibit at the Albert and Victoria Museum traveled to Chicago, which I found revelatory, and seemed to herald a new chapter in the man's life, at once valedictory and celebratory and we hoped, promising more work.
Who knew? A few days ago, an even greater work sees the light of day and then, a few days later, the light goes out.
Or perhaps it's more accurate to say that the light has returned home; it's still shining and in some ways, more brightly. I haven't choked up that much because all this seems like a perfect whole. Bowie wrapped everything up very nicely for us; here, he said, one last parting gift.
During the interview with Robert Fripp for "David Bowie: Five Years" (2013)
...a question was asked, answered, and edited out of the documentary.
Q: Why was Bowie so influential? (paraphrase).
A: He spoke on behalf of what is highest in all of us.
I've driveled enough. Your turn. Write your heart out below and feel free to share freely as free as you can be.