Happy Intergalactic Bowie Day!

bowie2_blogToday is David Bowie’s 69th birthday. Today David Bowie released ★ (“Blackstar”), his 26th studio album in his five decade-ish career. And Seattle’s KEXP has declared today Intergalactic Bowie Day.[fn]

I’m not part of the Bowie cognoscenti. I mean, I’m familiar with him in the way that anybody who’s part of American culture is familiar with him—I know about Ziggy Stardust, I’ve seen Labyrinth, I’m familiar with his classic rock radio staples, I laughed at Vanilla Ice’s claim that “Ice Ice Baby”‘s baseline differed in some substantial way from Queen and Bowie’s “Under Pressure,” but I never really dug in deeply to Bowie’s oeuvre.

But then, Tuesday night,  I read the New York Times’s article on the upcoming “Blackstar.” That Bowie, enamored of Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” had decided to use a jazz quartet as the center of his band. Intrigued, I listened to Donny McClasin’s “Casting For Gravity.” Over and over. McClasin and his band were really, really good—groove-based, but really outside.

Rock musicians playing with jazz musicians is nothing new, of course. Joni Mitchell worked with Charles Mingus and the musicians from Weather Report in the 1970s. When Sting went solo, half of his band came from Wynton Marsalis’s group.

“Blackstar” strikes me as different, though. It’s not a jazz album, but neither is it a traditional rock album. Bowie’s singing, for the most part, is simple, melodic, and calm. But underneath, the band skitters, enters, exits, grows, and shrinks. It’s harmonically interesting and rhythmically interesting. I don’t want to say the music contrasts with Bowie’s singing, because his singing integrates seamlessly with the music, but together, they create restless, uncentered world, a world that doesn’t land or stop, but just keeps moving.

I don’t know where exactly this fits into Bowie’s discography; I suspect (based on the many reviews I’ve read) that it’s a departure from anything he’s done before. But Bowie’s career seems to be constant progression, constant departure. And just because he’s 69, it appears, he hasn’t decided to comfortably land.

Know that the two catchiest songs on the album (“‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore” and “Girl Loves Me”) are marked “Explicit” by Apple Music, and probably deserve it. (I mean, they’re not Kendrick Lamar, but there are some bad words).

But you really should celebrate Intergalactic Bowie Day by listening to “Blackstar.” It looks like you can stream it on Amazon Prime, Spotify, and Apple Music, at least. And once you’re done, go to KEXP.org to listen to other periods of Bowie’s work.

[fn] Yeah, there’s not really any Mormon connection here. But Bowie!

Comments

  1. I highly recommend the Seu Jorge covers from the Life Aquatic. His Life on Mars is great. Also, Blackstar is a GREAT album.

  2. A friend pointed out to me that there may be an attenuated Mormon connection for Bowie. Not that it matters, because Steve’s right that this is an amazing album—I’m on my third listen so far, and it’s only getting better.

  3. I suspect that it requires knowing/being one of the inside group of posters here to appreciate these non-relevant posts? I am not, so I don’t “get it.” Nor, Bowie.

  4. fbisti, I hope it doesn’t. We all—bloggers and readers alike—have interests outside of Mormonism. (See, for example, the Star Wars Countdown widget in the sidebar.) Sometimes we like to talk about other things. Like this Bowie album.

  5. Clark Goble says:

    It’s because Kulturblog more or less died. So now BCC is the only place to post things like this. I say keep on with it.

    BTW – haven’t listened to this album yet but my favorite Bowie song is still Absolute Beginners from a movie soundtrack back in the 80’s. My second favorite is his going quasi-grunge/techno with Nine Inch Nails with I’m Afraid of Americans.

    And a discussion of Bowie wouldn’t be complete without Flight of the Conchords. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yc4efBM_9JM

  6. Clark Goble says:

    Argh. My post is in moderation because I linked to YouTube?!?

  7. Clark Goble says:

  8. Okay, Clark, you’re out of moderation.

  9. Last Lemming says:

    fbisti,

    What you don’t get is that “David Bowie” was once the secretary of the Elder’s Quorum of which I was president. I’m sure he is thoroughly enjoying his intergalactic day.

    https://www.uaa.alaska.edu/english/faculty-staff/david-bowie.cfm

  10. This album is amazing, but it’s gonna be really alienating to people who aren’t familiar with Bowie’s output from the second half of the ’70s (from Station to Station through Lodger), as well as the jazz-phobic.

  11. John Mansfield says:

    Last Lemming, was your David Bowie a significant participant in internet Mormon stuff twenty years ago? Or maybe Clark is the one to ask.

  12. Clark Goble says:

    John, I don’t recall him on old school mailing lists, but wasn’t he involved in the satellite teams at Los Alamos when you were there? I could have sworn I saw him in the cafeteria singing acoustic jams of Space Oddity and checking timing on various high tolerant cables.

  13. Last Lemming says:

    My David Bowie hosted a “Obscure Mormon Documents” site (or something like that–it included the infamous oral sex directive) while he was in graduate school.

  14. There was a lovely Mormon woman, Tamara Mumford, who sang the part of Smeaton in Anna Bolena at the Metropolitan Opera last Tuesday night. And she’ll be singing that same part tomorrow on the regular Saturday radio broadcast. Check your local listings.

  15. Tim Jones says:

    Not a big opera fan, but I’ll verify that Mumford’s LDS. I grew up a few doors down from her husband and went through scouts/PH with him.

    As far as Bowie goes, I’m having a hard time liking his new album. But I decided today to take a listen to some of his classic stuff. Really enjoying The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. Should’ve started listening to this stuff a long time ago.

  16. David Bowie, RIP.

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    Yeah, this post turned out to be timely. Apparently he had quietly battled cancer for the last 18 months. RIP indeed.

  18. Tim Jones says:

    Sad day.