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The Other Side of Everything

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Written on March 31, 2005, and categorized as Secret and Invisible.
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When digital audio hit, a lot of tracks were “remastered”. What this often meant was going back to the quarter-inch electro-magnetic master tapes, and recording these onto the nearest available digital system. Often, beginnings and endings were changed, deemed to be too poor quality to survive the transition, once the digital playback mechanisms like CD and DAT made hiss and scratches things of the past. Some tracks became far less impressive as a result, having their subtle fade ins and outs artlessly chopped and curtailed. Neil Young once referred to the first 10 years of digital music as a lost decade.

I still have the first two 7″ singles I bought in 1970, as a wee South London bairn from a family surviving on 2 old pence a year. One of them is Space Oddity by David Bowie. My vinyl version is vastly better than the remaster. It begins with the sound of the stylus hitting the groove and falling into place. Then out of the analogue scrape drifts in the acoustic guitar, as the song begins it’s countdown “10… ground control to Major Tom… 9…8… commencing countdown, engines on… 7…”

It’s a classic songwriter’s ruse to cash in on the news, and such a calculated song that it should be charmless, but Bowie being the South London fruitcake he is puts such a strange twist on being an astronaut, and the song is so very stoned, that it still works in it’s spacey, mellotron-soaked, rock-opera way.

David Bowie’s really good work came later, a great swathe of writing and recording throughout the 70s and early 80s, from Aladdin Sane to his last great album, Scary Monsters, after which he made Let’s Dance. This gave him the perfect opportunity to sell out, which he promptly took, and to be honest, he hasn’t done anything as good since.

I don’t blame him for selling out though. His close friend, John Lennon, the man with whom he co-wrote Fame was shot dead. In Scary Monsters Bowie refers to it, almost giving prior warning of his intentions of slipping into something more casual. Reagan was voted in, Russia invaded Afghanistan, Central America was in flames, the Cold War was reaching it’s tense denoument, the 60s advances were being rolled back, and it really was no game anymore.

It’s No Game (Part 1)
Shiruetto ya kage ga
Kakumei o miteiru
Mo tengoku no giyu no kaidan wa nai

Silhouettes and shadows watch the revolution
No more free steps to heaven
It’s no game

Ore genjitsu kara shime dasare
Nani ga okkote irunoka wakara nai
Doko ni kyokun wa arunoka
Hitobito wa yubi o orareteiru
Konna dokusaisha ni iyashime rareru nowa kanashii

I am bored from the event
I really don’t understand the situation
But it’s no game

Documentaries on refugees
Couples ‘gainst the target
You throw a rock against the road
And it breaks into pieces
Draw the blinds on yesterday, and it’s all so much scarier
Put a bullet in my brain, and it makes all the papers

Nammin no kiroku eiga
Hyoteki o se ni shita koibito tachi
Michi ni ishi o nage reba
Kona gona ni kudake
Kino ni huta o sureba
Kyohu wa masu
Ore no atama ni tama o buchi kome ba
Shinbun wa kaki tateru

There’s always tomorrow when people have their fingers broken
To be insulted by these fascists – it’s so degrading
And it’s no game

Shutup! Shutu…

David Bowie, from Scary Monsters

Bowie has written so many great songs it’s impossible to give just one of them as a good example. He was influenced and knew all the greats from Burroughs to Eno, worked with cut-ups and randomised text to inspire unusual word collisions, invented production techniques that were widely copied, but he always seemed to find a populist way of being an arty pretentious git that made you love the songs and remember the lyrics.

Fame was a wonderful one-off collaboration between Carlos Alomar, Bowie and Lennon, which still has a fabulously modern New York disco-funk sound.


Fame, makes a man take things over
Fame, lets him loose, hard to swallow
Fame, puts you there, where things are hollow

Fame, it’s not your brain, it’s just the flame
that burns the change to keep you insane

Fame, what you like is in the Limo
Fame, what you get is no tomorrow
Fame, what you need you have to borrow

Fame, “Nien! It’s mine!” is just his line
to bind your time, it drives you to, ah, crime

Could it be the best, could it be?
Really be, really, babe?
Could it be, my babe, could it, babe?
Really be, really, babe?

Is it any wonder
I reject you first?
Fame, fame, fame, fame
Is it any wonder
you’re too cool to fool
Fame, bully for you, chilly for me
Got to get a rain-check on pain

ba ba be
ba be ba be
ba be ba be

ba ba ba ba
ba ba
baby, baby
What’s your name?

Feelin’ so gay
Feelin’ gay

David Bowie / John Lennon / Carlos Alomar

But the Bowie song I really like is not well-loved, it has a strangely ponderous, unconnected production, and an almost throwaway delivery. From the Heroes album, with all of it’s declamation and opiate-inspired electronics and strange Germanic saxophone, I give you:

Sons of the Silent Age

Sons of the silent age
Stand on platforms blank looks and note books
Sit in back rows of city limits
Lay in bed coming and going on easy terms
Sons of the silent age
Pace their rooms like a cell’s dimensions
Rise for a year or two then make war
Search through their one inch thoughts
Then decide it couldn’t be done

Baby, I’ll never let you go
All I see is all I know
Let’s take another way down (sons of sound and sons of sound)
Baby, baby, I’ll never let you down
I can’t stand another sound
Let’s find another way (sons of sound and sons of sound)

Sons of the silent age
Listen to tracks by Sam Therapy and King Dice
Sons of the silent age
Pick up in bars and cry only once
Sons of the silent age
Make love only once but dream and dream
Don’t walk, they just glide in and out of life
They never die, they just go to sleep one day

Baby, I won’t ever let you go
All I see is all I know
Let’s take another way down (sons of sound and sons of sound)
Oh baby, baby, baby, I won’t ever let you down
I can’t stand another sound
Let’s take another way in (sons of sound and sons of sound)
(Sons of sound and sons of sound)
Baby, baby, baby, fire away!

David Bowie, from Heroes

This came from a time when, though he may have been all messed up, on drugs, adopting a quasi-fascist pose he later regretted, Bowie was unafraid of controversy and creatively at a wonderful peak. Later on, he withdrew from making grand artistic statements, changed the drugs, and instead, became by his own admission, an “entertainment artist from the vaudeville tradition”. Yet, when he was aiming impossibly high, unafraid of the assassin’s gun, at least he was hitting an artistic target rarely achieved. On this basis, I can accept the occasional howlers and the 20 years of bollocks since then.

Thank you, Mr Jones of Beckenham, for making me totally unafraid to be utterly pretentious in my work, and limitless in the scope of my ambitions for it.

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This thing has 5 Comments

  1. transience
    Posted 31 March, 2005 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    my first sexual experience happened in my parents’ living room. i was a child watching labyrinth. david bowie was too compelling. and when he started to sing, “dance, magic, dance…” i knew i was changed.

  2. RuKsaK
    Posted 31 March, 2005 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Great Bowie tribute/review. I’ve always been a huge fan of him. Great level of British pretention he has and I love him for that. Anything he touched in the 70s was pure gold. He did sell out in the 80s and like you, I don’t blame him at all – he’d proved himself.

  3. karma
    Posted 31 March, 2005 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    i loove that bowie album! ‘Planet earth is blue, and there’s nothing I can do…’

  4. Blog ho
    Posted 31 March, 2005 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    My newest favorite song by DB is Disco King. I love it.

  5. Laurie
    Posted 2 April, 2005 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    I’ve enjoyed your lyric theme almost as much as your love theme. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

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