Delta Riffs, Texas Sagebrush, American Blues
David Bowie: One of My Biggest Influences
When I was in Kindergarten, back in the early 70's, there was a woman who came every week or so to play the piano. She played a lot of corny stuff like Hot Crossed Buns, Yankee Doodle Dandy and the like. One tune however, stuck with me and I asked her to play it every time she came. She would gripe a bit, but always played Somewhere Over The Rainbow for me.
What a fantastic song. It had a number of things going for it. The melody itself is magical, the chord changes, the bridge… To me the words were a bit sci-fi. You'll find me somewhere over the rainbow, above the chimney tops, in a land I've heard of once in a lullaby. WOW. That sounds cool! My fantasy-land. Sign me up.
This was the song that really got me interested in music. It somehow justified my wild imagination. Apparently it was okay to have your head in the clouds (as long as one foot was on the ground).
I realize that my love of David Bowie's music has a lot to do with the vibe of Somewhere. Space Oddity, Ashes To Ashes, Life on Mars, Five Years, Moonage Daydream, The Man Who Sold The World – all of these songs share an otherworldly character. We can escape and enjoy another place of our own making if we so desire, at least for a few minutes.
In my last blog I wrote about Lou Reed and his influence on me as an artist. Bowie's is certainly equal, if not a bit heavier. Isn't it interesting that they had a deep mutual respect for each other even though their music was so different? That is what is cool about the Transformeralbum- their brief influence on each other. Satellite of Love is a great example of Bowie's ethereal approach mixed with Lou's sensibility. "Satellite's gone, way up to Mars, Soon it'll be filled with parking cars." Lou rooted the fantasy with the mundane – parking cars on mars? Hahahahaha. Sounds like there's some Warhol influence in there- another way to frame the everyday objects we take for granted.
Bowie really took us out there, sometime to the point of no return. Like the movie The Man Who Fell To Earth- he takes us into a strange world where we get lost and never find our way home.
For a kid growing up in the Midwest among sprawling fields of corn, escape was damn attractive. Smoke some crappy Columbian bud, put the headphones on and drift off. At least until my Mom told me dinner was ready.
Early in Bowie's career, Mick Ronson was heavily involved in realizing the vision. I loved the guitar work on Ziggy Stardustespecially. That has to be one of the greatest rock albums of all time. Each song seems to have a couple of choruses! Incredible. Of course Mick was involved with several albums, including Hunky Dory. Mick's work on the string arrangement for Life On Mars is moving, as is Rick Wakeman's piano playing. This song reminds me of Somewhere Over The Rainbow quite a bit. Bowie described the song as "A sensitive young girl's reaction to the media… although she's living in the doldrums of reality, she's being told that there's a far greater life somewhere, and she's bitterly disappointed that she doesn't have access to it".
I think Bowie made sure that he had access to a greater life and changed his definition of that frequently. He reinvented himself in art-school fashion over and over again. He spent so much time over the rainbow that perhaps the real-world is now as fascinating to him. He lives in Greenwich Village with his wife Iman and daughter Lexi. Maybe family man is his current great adventure.
Speculation aside, his lyrics certainly conjure vivid imagery and leave you with more to consider than say, Highway Star by Deep Purple. (Luckily, there is a place for both in my collection!)
There have been some great songs on his last few CDs that warrant attention. Some of my favorites include Seven from Hours, Dead Man Walking from Earthlingand Days from Reality. In fact, Reality is quite good from start to finish. The song Days may have some of his most down-to-earth lyrics:
All I've done, I've done for me
All you gave, you gave for free
I gave nothing in return
And there's little left of me
All the days of my life… I owe you
Maybe this is for Iman? His children? I don't know, but it does seem uncharacteristically personal.
I have a new song coming out on my next CD called Tears In Rain. Originally I was going to riff of the line from the end of Blade Runner: "All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain". Somehow it morphed into longing for the love of someone who has passed away (perhaps a blues influence?). Looking at the lyrics for the song, it may have quite a bit of Bowie influence. "Moonlight reflecting on dust in the air, Our years have come and gone, Moments that we shared..." A coming together beyond the stars after our lives have ended. "Far beyond the edge of time, When the stars turn to grey, I'll be there with you to float away, Tears in rain." Like some of Bowie's lyrics, I am not sure what it means exactly. Maybe that's the point.
Listening to one particular artist for decades, I suppose you feel that you know them in some way. That is the success of their ability to connect to the listener. Though David Bowie's lyrics and music evoke the celestial and sublime, they have made a connection to me and my musical heart, if you will. The heart that lingers somewhere over the rainbow.