Thoughts	  on	                                                                                  David	  Bowie	            ...
Backgrounder	  •    1950’s	  -­‐	  Artsy	  youth	  in	  a	  stoic	  English	  home;	  introduced	  to	  jazz	  by	  his	  ...
1970’s	  Pre-­‐Ziggy	  •    Connects	  with	  Tony	  Viscon?	       (producer)	  and	  Mick	  Ronson	       (guitarist)	  ...
Ziggy	  Stardust	                               •     Declares	  he’s	  bisexual	  in	  1972	  in	                        ...
The	  Thin	  White	  Duke	  •  Moved	  to	  US,	  sound	     changes	  direc?on	  toward	     soul,	  funk	  	  Diamond	 ...
Berlin	  Period	  •  Three	  years	  spent	  living	  in	  Berlin,	  producing	  the	     experimental	  electronic	  albu...
A	  New	  Musical	  Language	   “I	  got	  :red	  of	  wri:ng	  in	  the	  tradi:onal	  manner	  that	  I	  was	  wri:ng	 ...
Château	  d’Hérouville	  •  For	  a	  chateau,	  not	  that	  old	  (1740).	  Decamped	  there	  aker	     Sta?on	  to	  S...
An	  Experiment	  •  Recorded	  with	  no	  promise	  that	  it	  would	  be	  released	  –	  a	  true	  experiment	  •  T...
About	  Low	  •  Low	  profile,	  low	  mood	  •  Influence	  of	  Krautrock	  •  Cover	  taken	  from	  The	     Man	  Who	...
What	  it	  Sounds	  Like	  •  Mental	  struggle,	  anguish;	  imploded	  aggression	      –  The	  music,	  while	  guita...
Close	  Read:	  	               “A	  New	  Career	  in	  a	  New	  Town”	  •    2	  minutes	  and	  52	  seconds	  of	  ma...
The	  Response	  •    RCA	  didn’t	  like	  it:	  “Please	  make	  another	       Young	  Americans!”.	  	        –  Regre...
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David Bowie: Low

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A presentation on David Bowie's long player from 1977, Low. For the album club by swedishoxers.tumblr.com.

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David Bowie: Low

  1. 1. Thoughts  on   David  Bowie   And  his  long-­‐player     from  1977,  Low.  A  presenta?on  for  The  Album  Club  by  Swedish  Oxers  (yes  I’m  a  dork)  
  2. 2. Backgrounder  •  1950’s  -­‐  Artsy  youth  in  a  stoic  English  home;  introduced  to  jazz  by  his  f-­‐ ed  up  brother  Terry,  first  instrument  was  an  alto  sax  •  1960’s  -­‐  Many  releases,  many  record  labels,  liTle  success   –  Meets  Lindsay  Kemp,  goes  to  mime  school,  joins  “the  circus”  of   Bohemia   –  Manager/lover  Kenneth  PiT  makes  film  Love  You  Till  Tuesday   –  Breaks  up  with  first  girlfriend,  Hermione  Farthingale,  pushes   Bowie  into  a  deeper  emo?onal  space  shown  in  songwri?ng  on   Space  Oddity   "He  lived  on  his   –  “Space  Oddity”  was  released  5  days  before  Apollo  11  launch;   emo:ons,  he  was  a   became  his  first  breakout  hit  but  the  album  flopped   wonderful  influence.   –  Starts  Beckenham  Arts  Lab  with  his  lover/lodger,  Mary  Finnegan   His  day-­‐to-­‐day  life   was  the  most   –  Leaves  Mary  for  Angela  BarneT;  they  marry  within  1  year   theatrical  thing  I  had   ever  seen,  ever.  It   was  everything  I   thought  Bohemia   probably  was.  I   joined  the  circus.”  
  3. 3. 1970’s  Pre-­‐Ziggy  •  Connects  with  Tony  Viscon?   (producer)  and  Mick  Ronson   (guitarist)  •  Departs  from  folk-­‐rock  sounds   of  Space  Oddity  on  The  Man   Who  Sold  the  World  (1970)  •  During  US  promo?onal  tour  for   MWSTW  he  assumes  and   exploits  full  androgyny   •  Meets  idols  Lou  Reed  and  Iggy  Pop;  conceives  idea  for   Ziggy  Stardust  based  partly  on  Iggy   •  Releases  Hunky  Dory,  pays  homage  directly  to  idols   (Warhol,  Dylan,  his  new  son  Zowie)  
  4. 4. Ziggy  Stardust   •  Declares  he’s  bisexual  in  1972  in   Melody  Maker  interview;  first  rock   star  to  openly  discuss  his  sexuality   •  Announced  his  re?rement  at  the   peak  of  his  fame  on  the  Ziggy   Stardust  tour   •  Tours  were  spectacles  on  a  new   level  –  millions  of  dollars   He  was  once  a  scruffy,  honey-­‐haired  folk  singer.   Then  the  foppish  leader  of  a  Beatles-­‐prototype   pop  band,  The  Buzz.  Then  an  adamantly   bisexual  balladeer.  Then  a  spacey,  cropped-­‐red-­‐ haired  androgynous  guitarist  backed  by  a  band   called  the  Spiders  from  Mars.  Then  a  soul   singer.  Then  a  movie  actor  .  .  .  David  Bowie,  its   safe  to  say,  would  do  anything  to  make  it.  And   now  that  he  has  made  it,  hell  do  anything  to   stay  there.     Cameron  Crowe  
  5. 5. The  Thin  White  Duke  •  Moved  to  US,  sound   changes  direc?on  toward   soul,  funk    Diamond  Dogs  •  Cocaine  addic?on,   manorexia,  paranoia  •  Success  becoming  “black”   like  few  white  rockers  had  •  “Plas?c  Soul”    and  Young   Americans  (1975)  yields  first   #1  hit  •  Introduces  the  thin  white   duke  on  Sta:on  to  Sta:on   (1976)  •  LA  decadence  •  More  cocaine  addic?on  in   Switzerland  
  6. 6. Berlin  Period  •  Three  years  spent  living  in  Berlin,  producing  the   experimental  electronic  albums  Low,  Heroes,  and  Lodger.   Known  as  The  Berlin  Triptych.  •  A  response  to  “always  crashing  in  the  same  car”     –  Los  Angeles  was  a  downward  spiral  for  Bowie.  He  was  shut  away   and  hiding  from  celebrity-­‐obsessed  culture,  suffering  from  coke-­‐ fueled  paranoia,  reading  about  black  magic  and  fascism  •  ATracted  to  the  austerity  and  anonymity  of  Cold  War  Berlin   –  “Find  some  people  you  don’t  understand  and  a  place  you  don’t   want  to  be  and  just  put  yourself  into  it.”   –  A  retreat  from  fame;  space  to  re-­‐invent  his  music  again   –  Poli?cal/social  tensions  influenced  the  edgy,  experimental,   alienated  music  
  7. 7. A  New  Musical  Language   “I  got  :red  of  wri:ng  in  the  tradi:onal  manner  that  I  was  wri:ng  in  while  I  was  in  America,  and   coming  back  to  Europe  I  took  a  look  at  what  I  was  wri:ng  and  the  environments  I  was  wri:ng  about  and  decided  I  had  to  start  wri:ng  in  terms   of  trying  to  find  a  new  musical  language  for   myself  to  write  in.  I  needed  somebody  to  help   with  that  because  I  was  a  bit  lost  and  too   subjec:ve  about  it  all.”  (1978)  
  8. 8. Château  d’Hérouville  •  For  a  chateau,  not  that  old  (1740).  Decamped  there  aker   Sta?on  to  Sta?on  tour  to  record  Iggy  Pop’s  The  Idiot  •  A  lab  for  trying  new  things,  making  new  noise  •  Mastered  in  Berlin’s  Hansa  Studio,  where  later  Depeche   Mode,  Siouxie  and  the  Banshes,  Nick  Cave,  and  U2   recorded  Achtung  Baby  
  9. 9. An  Experiment  •  Recorded  with  no  promise  that  it  would  be  released  –  a  true  experiment  •  Thought  they’d  end  up  with  demos,  not  an  album  •  Tony  Viscon?  recorded  everything,  and  surprised  Bowie  with  songs  that   sounded  album  worthy  •  Viscon?’s  Event  Harmonizer  that  “fucks  with  the  fabric  of  ?me”  –   influenced  drumming  forever  •  A  synth  housed  in  a  leather  briefcase  and  manipulate  by  a  joys?ck  •  A  symphony  of  rejected  instrumenta?on  •  Many  collaborators,  many  instruments   –  Personnel:  David  Bowie  (vocals,  guitar,  cello,  strings,  harmonica,  saxophone,  horns,  piano,  chamberlin,   keyboards,  ARP  synthesizer,  vibraphone,  xylophone,  percussion);  David  Bowie  (various  instruments);  Iggy   Pop  (vocals,  piano,  organ,  background  vocals);  Mary  Hopkin  (vocals);  Eduard  Meyer,  Eduard  Meyerm   (cello);  Roy  Young  (piano,  organ,  Farfisa);  Peter  Himmelman  (piano,  ARP  synthesizer);  Roy  Young  (piano);   George  Murray  (bass  guitar);  Brian  Eno  (vocals,  guitar,  piano,  chamberlin,  keyboards,  synthesizer,  mini-­‐ Moog  synthesizer,  Moog  synthesizer);  Mary  Viscon?  (vocals,  background  vocals);  Ricky  Gardiner,  Carlos   Alomar  (guitar);  Dennis  Davis  (percussion).  
  10. 10. About  Low  •  Low  profile,  low  mood  •  Influence  of  Krautrock  •  Cover  taken  from  The   Man  Who  Fell  to  Earth  •  Manic  synth-­‐pop  songs,   chilly  atmospherics,   brooding  electronic   instrumentals  •  Eno  gets  a  lot  of  credit   but  only  co-­‐wrote   “Warszawa”  •  Sound  and  Vision  was   the  “hit”  single  
  11. 11. What  it  Sounds  Like  •  Mental  struggle,  anguish;  imploded  aggression   –  The  music,  while  guitar-­‐based  and  harsh  and   aggressive,  never  rocks  out.    •  A  demented  soul  record,  a  future  sound   “The  rhythms  of  Low  some-mes  emulate  factory  floors  and  chemical   labs.  Drums  crash  like  steam  shoo-ng  from  a  vent  pipe;  the  bass   burbles  lightly  like  a  toxic  substance  in  a  glass  beaker  being  purified   over  a  Bunsen  burner.  The  guitars  come  in  cold  and  impossibly  mellow   and  the  misfit  synthesizers,  especially  on  the  more  modal  second  side,   float  every  empty  sonic  space  like  a  new  pollu-on.  It  all  shakes  and   bends  like  it’s  being  played  by  hand  and  not  machines  but  feels  riveted   together,  a  modern  machine.  “                            -­‐Marc  Spitz  
  12. 12. Close  Read:     “A  New  Career  in  a  New  Town”  •  2  minutes  and  52  seconds  of  mania  –  down  up  down  and  up  again  •  Starts  moody,  confused,  unsure.  Drumbeat  paTers  irregularly.  Synths  are  haun?ng,   whining,  momentarily  distorted  and  off  kilter.  •  36  seconds  in,  the  sun  pokes  through  the  clouds,  the  mood  changes,  the  key  goes   major,  becomes  almost  celebratory  with  a  wailing,  yearning  harmonica  and   tenta?vely  op?mis?c  chords  •  Harmonica  is  the  purest  instrument  on  the  album  •  1:22  returns  back  to  dark  place.  Wondering,  can  I  do  it?  •  15  seconds  later,  returns  to  the  op?mis?c  chorus  and  stays  •  Scary  but  you  can  do  it!  Glimmers  of  light  •  Steady,  almost  jovial  bass-­‐line  •  Fades  out,  as  if  the  fight  con?nues  •  Does  it  make  me  happy  or  sad?  I’m  not  sure  •  Sad  music  makes  me  feel  my  spleen  •  Many  say  it’s  about  his  experience  in  LA,  but  could  also  be  about  his  Berlin  period  
  13. 13. The  Response  •  RCA  didn’t  like  it:  “Please  make  another   Young  Americans!”.     –  RegreTed  leaving  him  unsupervised  for  so  long   –  Issued  a  best-­‐of  instead  (ChangesOneBowie)  •  Finally  released  in  January  1977,  a  week   before  his  30th  birthday  •  Cri?cs  gave  mixed  reviews,  some  were   baffled.  Later  hailed  as  a  masterpiece.  •  Musical  Impact   –  Use  of  synthesizers  influenced  genera?on  of   post-­‐punk  bands:  Joy  Division,  Magazine,  Gang   of  Four,  Wire   –  Synths  took  a  front  seat  for  the  first  ?me  even   though  viewed  with  a  s?gma  by  rock  purists   –  Provoked  genera?on  to  explore  new  sounds   –  Raised  the  bar  for  all  musicians  to  pioneer  

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