Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie - Station To Station (Deluxe Edition) (3 Discs) (RS500 - #323)


I was up fairly late last night - I've recently been having a little trouble falling asleep before midnight. At around two a.m., I received a Skype call from my old buddy Rob, who'd just returned to Christchurch after spending the past few days mountain biking near Arthur's Pass. I've mentioned Rob on occasion in this blog; he's been one of my best friends for over twenty years now, and in that time we've had some hilarious adventures and fun experiences together in both New Zealand and America.

In addition to being my friend, Rob is one of the most rabid, knowledgeable David Bowie fans I know. He was into Bowie before he reached his teens; the first album he ever owned was Changesonebowie, given to him by his mother on his birthday in 1976. By his own admission, this introduction to Bowie's music changed Rob's life. He quickly morphed into a dedicated follower, and fell in with a small but selective group of hard-core Bowie fans in Christchurch, cutting his hair and dressing in flares in emulation of his musical idol (much to the amusement of his infinitely patient and devoted mother . . . and the chagrin of his staunch, straight-laced career Air Force father, who didn't have the faintest notion as to why his son was acting so "crazy"). Rob was amongst the crowd who attended the legendary concert at QE2 Stadium on November 29th, 1978 on the Australasian leg of his Isolar II Tour that year, Bowie's sole South Island show for the entirety of his career.

In the years that followed, Rob's fandom never waned. He managed to assemble quite a Bowie collection, probably the best in New Zealand - rare albums and bootlegs, books, photographs and lithographs. His travels around the world have taken him to places renowned in Bowie-lore; Rob has posed in front of the gate to Château d'Hérouville in France, where most
of Low was recorded, and made a special trip to Berlin to tour the Hansa Tonstudio and stand in the exact spot where "Heroes" was recorded. For over forty years, he remained a devoted Bowie fan, and over time he has greeted each new release, no matter how poorly reviewed, with genuine adoration and enthusiasm. Just as The Fall are my all-time favorite artists, David Bowie has long been Rob's Number One.

Anyway, last night, Rob began to tell me about his weekend and a minor sports injury he suffered while riding around, but our Skype chat was interrupted when he received a call via his regular phone, so he asked me to hold for a couple of minutes. I whiled away that time sifting through my email messages and browsing the news on the Web, nothing major or out-of-the-ordinary, just another night. So I was jolted when I suddenly came across the headline "David Bowie Dead at 69".

I instantly thought "This has got to be bullshit." After all, David's latest album, Blackstar, had just been released two days prior on his birthday, to rave reviews. Plus, there hadn't been the slightest hint or warning in the news that he had been ill. I figured that it was a album release publicity-driven hoax, and began to dismiss it from my mind . . . but I started checking into the story anyway, just to be sure.

It didn't take long to find that the news was not specious, but accurate - David Bowie had died a couple of hours earlier. "Jolted" is an inadequate word to describe my initial thoughts and feelings once I received confirmation of this story . . . with my second thought being, "How am I going to break this to Rob?" I knew it was potentially devastating, heartbreaking news, and I wasn't looking forward to telling him . . . but he had to know, as soon as possible - and it's always good to find these sort of things out from your friends. I sent him a quick text message telling him to get off the phone as quickly as he could, as there was some important news I had to tell him . . .

When Skype resumed, I told Rob the news, in a way that let him know I wasn't screwing around or pulling his leg. I've known this guy a long time . . . and I have to say I've never seen him more stunned. We spent the rest of the call reminiscing, commiserating, and reflecting on the life and work of Bowie, and what he's meant to us over the years.

To be honest, I didn't know that much about David Bowie until I was well into my teens - my first full-on encounter with all things Bowie occurred in late 1979, when I saw him perform on NBC's Saturday Night Live. As I alluded to an earlier post, in much of America of the 1970s, Bowie was considered a "weirdo", a cross-dressing English fop with a flair for flamboyant, garish makeup and outlandish rock 'n' roll alter egos. Of course, by the late '70s, he'd long left a lot of that stuff behind - Bowie was constantly modifying and experimenting with his sound and his look. But the majority of Americans didn't keep up with his ever-changing moods, methods and influences - in this country, first impressions meant a lot. And the impression that the majority of Middle America still had of Bowie - the otherworldly Major Tom and Ziggy of the late '60s/early 70s - was the impression that still lingered as the Eighties approached.

But long before his SNL gig, Bowie had begun taking steps to make himself more accessible and acceptable to the American public at large. The original concept behind his 1973 album Pin Ups was to present an album of cover songs by '60s British rock and pop artists (The Pretty Things, The Merseys, Them) to an American audience that might not have been aware of them. This was to have been followed by another album covering American artists from the same period (the second
part of this plan was eventually scrapped). After 1974's Diamond Dogs, Bowie permanently moved away from glam and on his next album, 1975's Young Americans, he began showcasing his latest musical influences, American R&B and Philly soul. His plan seemed to be paying off here; Young Americans went Gold in the States and produced his first U.S. #1 hit "Fame".

And of course, a big move was his appearance on Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas holiday special on 30 November, 1977. As I mentioned in an earlier post:
"People forget nowadays, but back in the mid-70s Bowie was considered to be an out-and-out freak by most of Middle America . . . so it was somewhat of a shock and an enlightenment for a lot of people seeing the friendly, polite, 'normal' family man Bowie warbling Christmas carols with Mr. Wholesomeness himself."
So the stage was pretty well set for him to continue his assault on the U.S. market through his Saturday Night Live appearance, his first national television performance. David made the most of this opportunity.

Bowie's appearance on SNL was in many ways a concise summation of his career up to that point. He and his band (supplemented by up-and-coming (but then generally unknown) New York performance artists Joey Arias and Klaus Nomi) opened with "The Man Who Sold The World", from his 1970 album of the
same name (The Man Who Sold The World is regarded by many music critics as "where the [Bowie] story really starts", with the artist abandoning much of the folky, acoustic music of his first two '60s albums and moving into the hard rock/glam rock genres). Later in the show, he blazes through "TVC 15", off of 1976's Station To Station (by this album, he left behind his early '70s glam rock personae of Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane and the "soul boy" funk leanings of his previous album, 1975's Young Americans, and began forging a
hybrid sound combining his earlier influences with that of German electronic music). And the song Bowie closed the show with, "Boys Keep Swinging", from Lodger released earlier that year (Lodger was the last of Bowie's celebrated "Berlin Trilogy" (along with Low and "Heroes") of abstract, minimalist albums with collaborator Brian Eno, but was considered the most accessible and commercially successful).

Here's a clip of the first song from the show, "The Man Who Sold The World":

video


I thought the costume that Bowie wore for this song was amazing; basically a rigid Bauhaus/Dada-inspired shell tuxedo that held him immobile - Arias and Nomi had to carry him out to
his place on stage. Apparently, I wasn't the only one affected by his getup; Nomi was reportedly so impressed with the costuming that he adopted a variation on the huge plastic tuxedo Bowie wore as his own signature look, wearing one on the cover of his first album, 1981's Klaus Nomi, and performing in it until his death from AIDS in 1983.

What followed later in the show was "TVC 15", with another stunning and androgynous costume change that Bowie pulls off flawlessly, a 1940s-style Lennon Sisters wide-shouldered dress suit and sheath skirt:

video

And who could forget the pink poodle with the monitor in its mouth, and the herky-jerky backup singing?

The strangest performance occurred at the very end of the program, just before the host/cast farewells and closing credits. For "Boys Keep Swinging", Bowie's head is shown atop what appears to be a man-sized wooden puppet body, which during the performance cavorts and bounces around the stage in a very weird, off-putting yet mesmerizing way:

video

Bowie was pissed that the NBC censor bleeped out the "other boys check you out" line during the song, but he got his revenge and the last laugh - take a close look at what happens to the puppet's pants at the end of the tune! All in all, it was truly a strange, surreal "WTF?" moment in television history. I didn't know what to make of it; you can tell by the studio audience reaction that they didn't know what to make of it all either.

In any event, as strange as it was to see unusual performances like this on American national TV, I was entranced and impressed by Bowie's art, and finally realized what I'd been missing all those years. December 15th, 1979 at 1:00 AM was the moment I finally became a David Bowie fan - a decision I've never regretted.

I spoke with Rob again for a bit this afternoon. "Mate," he said, "I don't normally like to admit this, but I'm feeling a little . . . weird and vulnerable since I heard the news last night." I know exactly what he means. The passing of an entertainment icon is normally a cause for acknowledgement, appreciation and tribute from fans and contemporaries. But in the vast majority of these instances, this "moment of reflection" is just that - a short-lived moment, and after which, we all go on with our lives. Perhaps all of this is too recent to make a truly subjective determination, but David Bowie's death feels . . . different, as though something has definitely changed in the world.

I've had conversations with other friends today regarding his passing, and they all feel the same way. The recent deaths of Lemmy and Natalie Cole were sad, but they haven't been lingered over, analyzed and eulogized in the press and on social media as Bowie's has been. I think that may be due to the nature of the man and what he brought to the world for the past fifty years. To quote Rob: "Bowie didn't write music; he made accessible art." In those words lies the essence of what made Bowie so great, why he will be missed, and why his absence will leave such a void.

During our conversation late last night, Rob and I asked one another not what our favorite Bowie album is, but even more narrowly, what our favorite Bowie SONG is. Here's mine - the 1973 alternate demo version of "Candidate", included as a bonus cut on Diamond Dogs:


Rob's all-time fave is "Always Crashing The Same Car", from Low:


Enough of all of this - there have been more than enough tributes today, and there are certain to be tons more coming in the next few days. I don't expect my reflections and memories of David Bowie will have that much import or impact in the grand scheme of things. I just felt the need to pay a small tribute to a visionary artist who is now no longer with us. We may not see the likes of David Bowie again . . . but isn't it great that, in the millions and billions of years that this planet has existed, we all were lucky enough to share this planet at the same time with him?

In honor of the life and memory of David Bowie, for my buddy Rob, for myself, and for you all, I proudly offer the deluxe edition of the 1976 album Station To Station. This is the September 10th, 2010 reissue, which includes not only the original album, but the entire show at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York on March 23rd, 1976 (on two bonus discs).

In addition, also offered here are the three performance videos from Saturday Night Live shown above, in .mp4 format. These are notoriously hard to find on the Web; NBC and Lorne Michaels are vicious about keeping SNL content off of free sites like Vimeo and YouTube. The ones included here are burned off of my SNL DVDs I purchased upon their release many years ago; I own the first five seasons of the show, which are really the only seasons anyone needs to care about.

Anyway, enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.

Farewell, Thin White Duke.

Please use the email link below to contact me, and I will reply with the download link(s) ASAP:
Station To Station (Deluxe Edition): Send Email

Saturday Night Live performances, December 15th, 1979: Send Email


[Hmm . . . it appears that the performance videos I embedded above aren't being displayed in this post anymore; I guess Blogger.com has an issue with having them be seen here. No matter - the download links are still available, and I'll be happy to send them along to you.]

17 comments:

  1. Thanks for the documentation and for providing the links.
    This version of the album is very interesting.

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  2. thank you, sir, for sharing your thoughts, your memories and this wonderful music.

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  3. and thank you for the SNL performances!

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  4. Thank You I've been wanting to listen to him since he passed

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  5. thanks for the links

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  6. thanks for the links

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  7. Thanks for the links!

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  8. Thanks for the links - I've always been mesmerized by the title track.
    Also thanks for your post - the news hit me also completely unprepared...

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  9. Comment from i.sedition: "Whoa. This is a beautiful thing that you did, Thank you so much. And I am STILL grieving and will be for quite some time. Go to DavidBowie.com; the guys who did the artwork for Blackstar released it under A Creative Commons liscense and you can download the various stars and symbols and make tattoos etc. It is great."

    Here are the web addresses to the Blackstar symbols/fonts that i.sedition referenced above:

    http://www.davidbowie.com/news/barnbrook-releases-artwork-elements-55631

    http://www.bowieblackstar.net/

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  10. Many Thanks for the Station To Station set. While having various versions of the recording, I didn't have the extra live recording. It's great. Thanks again!

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  11. Bowie's greatest production was himself, wasn't it.

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  12. Thanks very much for the kind service you provide. Looking forward the hearing the live recordings.

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  13. I'm still trying to wrap myself around Blackstar. I'm unsure if I like it. That's one of the things about Bowie's work, it could really make you think. Thank you.

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    1. I hear you regarding Blackstar; some Bowie albums go down a bit easier than others - some take a while and many listens for you to fully absorb and appreciate. But Bowie rarely released anything that wasn't ultimately though-provoking and worthwhile… which is one of the most important reasons why he will be missed. Thanks for the excellent comment!

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  14. Killing it with these records. Love the Klaus Nomi comparison too. Thanks!

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