Hopes and bones

There’s something really special about finding yourself in the presence of something artistically unique that hasn’t been discovered by many other people. It’s not that I don’t like sharing things.

Well –

Okay, I don’t mind sharing things, but there’s nothing more irritating than a casual enthusiast, is there? Like how everyone’s a Bowie fan now, and those of us who actually bothered with him when he was ‘dead’ and know full well that he didn’t go off the radar for even remotely ten years don’t get any credit for it. Because now everyone‘s an expert, aren’t they? Like the ‘expert’ DJ the BFI got in for their Bowie party, the one who told me I wasn’t allowed to request ‘Look Back in Anger’ because it’s an Oasis song. Yeah, if you’re going to share, share, but don’t just nibble at the edges, right?

– but it’s not that I don’t like sharing things.

There’s just something nice about getting there before everyone else.

One such special moment was when, many many years ago when I was youthful and optimistic and rehearsing what turned out to be merely the first work-in-progress run of The Rise and Fall of Deon Vonniget, my co-star (yes, it was still a two-hander back then!) introduced me to a man called Archie Colquhoun, and a small group of us sat in a candlelit cafe and listened as he recited, in lyrical Scottish tones, some unexpectedly beautiful and brilliant poetry. I blogged effusively about it at the time and, in a sideways kind of way, compared him to Dylan Thomas (well, ‘a Dylan Thomas’, whatever that means – how many Dylan Thomases were there, Lark?).

I mention it now because a couple of days ago I received an email out of the blue from somebody who has videoed Archie reciting some of his poems. He was kind enough to think I might be interested to know about it, since I once compared Archie to Dylan Thomas (or a Dylan Thomas).

I feared that, what with the candlelight and the generally emotional state of being a) youthful and optimistic and b) doing a show, I might have exaggerated quite how magical this man was. So what a delight to discover that both the poetry and the delivery are every bit as wonderful as I remember.

Watch it now, below.

See? I like sharing things.

We'll dance in the dark

This is curious: here’s young band covering a Bowie song from 2002, which gives the lie to the myth that Bowie ceased to be influential (or write decent songs) after 1980.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/31687200

Now, for my money they’re doing a pretty good job – certainly there are worse Bowie covers out there. Far, far worse.

But is it just me, or does the cover – all wall-of-sound guitars and U2-bass (i.e. where the bass plays every note 16 times in a row) – already sound dated?

Particularly when you compare it to the original, with its throwback “Heroes”-era bass thrust into a grungy rhythm mixed with New Orleans trumpet interjections plus a vocal verging on Shirley Bassey-esque, yet with a transparent sound that lets you hear it all – which somehow manages to sound bang up to date nearly ten years after its release:

Happy birthday, ma'am

Bowie

David Bowie turns 60 today, though you wouldn’t necessarily know it to look at him.

I am part of the generation which, some would say unfortunately, was first introduced to the Dame in Jim Henson’s film Labyrinth. I still think it’s a fabulous film, but it was rather late in the day when I became aware of the man’s true significance. A key moment for me was watching highlights from Glastonbury 2000 on television and seeing Bowie give an awesome – and I still reckon possibly his best ever – performance of “Heroes”.

Not that I became an instant fan. As the many 60th birthday retrospectives of his work point out with tedious regularity, a hallmark of his career has been the many unexpected changes of direction his music, appearance and career have taken. I went through a long period of listening to Bowie albums I hadn’t heard before and being disappointed because they were nothing like the last one I’d by then started to like. It was several years before I learned to love 1. Outside, an album which I now consider to be one of his finest pieces of work (an opinion which looks likely to remain a minority, so I get to feel like my point of view is a bit special). And to this day I can’t say I really like Young Americans, I have a love/hate relationship with The Man Who Sold the World, I think Low is overrated and I actively dislike most of Let’s Dance. (The more excessive 80s albums that most people hate I actually quite like, because they’re – well, excessive 80s albums.)

But this ability to do the unexpected and the persistent desire to experiment with new ideas is one of the most appealing things about Bowie. His ability to write perfectly-crafted pop songs would have been enough to cement his reputation, but instead he continuously took risks and pushed his (pretty extensive) musical talents to their limits – the reason why I think his work should be treated more seriously by the musical establishment as a whole.

The scale of his talents as a musician are often overlooked, too – aside from being a great songwriter, he’s comfortable playing half a dozen different instruments, he’s a superb singer, a great lyricist and has a stage presence most rock stars would kill for. He actually learned to orchestrate for his (now pretty much forgotten) debut album. But he’s also a true rennaissance man – not just a fine musician, but well-read and lucid, a painter (I don’t know much about art but I know that his work appeals to me), and people who still don’t think he can act should check out his impressive albeit understated performance in The Prestige.

It’s a bit of a pity then that all of the radio coverage I’ve heard has been rather inclined to go for the obvious glam rock tracks and ignore the weightier stuff. I like “Life on Mars?” as much as the next man, but for the sake of balance here are my top ten recommended tracks which you almost certainly won’t hear on the radio this week, in chronological order:

1. All the Madmen (from The Man Who Sold the World)
2. Quicksand (from Hunky Dory)
3. Time (from Aladdin Sane)
4. Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing reprise (from Diamond Dogs)
5. Station to Station (from Station to Station)
6. Always Crashing in the Same Car (from Low)
7. Look Back in Anger (from Lodger)
8. Teenage Wildlife (from Scary Monsters and Super Creeps)
9. A Small Plot of Land (from 1. Outside)
10. Bring me the Disco King (from Reality)

There you go, you’ve no excuse – get on iTunes and open your mind.