You and I and George (The “Jean Genie” Variations)

You and I and George (Red Kelly, with the Stan Kenton Orchestra, 1959).
You and I and George (Rowlf, 1977).
You and I and George (Bowie, live, 1990).
You and I and George (Bowie, live, 1996).

The “Sound + Vision” tour, 1990: an 108-show, seven-month venture that opened in Quebec City in early March, shuttled back and forth across the Atlantic for months (and across the Pacific to Japan for a week) and closed on a late September night in Buenos Aires. As it’s the only occasion that I’ve seen Bowie play live (see “Changes”), the tour is tainted with nostalgia for me, a nostalgia leavened by the fact that I can barely recall the show now.

It was the first time since 1968 that Bowie had toured without promoting a new album. Instead he meant to sell the past, to promote his Ryko boxed set and CD reissues, with the hook being Bowie’s public announcements that this was it: the last time he would play the hits. (It wasn’t, for the most part.)

Bowie had kicked around the idea of a greatest-hits revue for years, and had provisionally committed to such a tour even before making the first Tin Machine album in late 1988. Once he’d signed with Rykodisc in spring 1989, Bowie began planning in earnest and soon locked in Adrian Belew as his lead guitarist and arranger. The two spent months determining how to arrange the songs essentially on a budget. Bowie envisioned the tour as a minimalist response to the bloat of Glass Spider: no horn sections, no backing singers, no dancers,* only a small band. So instead Bowie and Belew “put the orchestrations into a sequencer,” Belew recalled to David Buckley. “We kept adding more and more sampling, and we kept buying more and more samplers!”

It was audacious in a way: Bowie, if he wanted, could sample a trademark hook of some past hit on stage, whether David Sanborn’s saxophone on “Young Americans” or Mary Hopkin’s vocal line on “Sound and Vision.” The tour would be a traveling museum exhibit, complete with period sound samples. He and Belew would come out on stage and unveil the old treasures, one by one, set to elaborate light shows and film clips, the latter projected upon a diaphanous screen that hung behind them.

Audiences ate it up (the opening “Space Oddity,” Bowie emerging on stage alone with an acoustic guitar, was a phenomenal moment, I can attest—you could feel the auditorium shake), but there was something of a funereal air to the shows as well. It was as if Bowie was performing a rolling public eulogy for his past, with concertgoers as happy mourners. “Sound + Vision,” the genial obverse of the Tin Machine project, had the same intention: it was a firebreak between Bowie and his past selves, his past music, so that Bowie could enter the Nineties unencumbered.

The setlist was allegedly democratic, with songs chosen by fan votes, a herald of the Pitchfork People’s List.** Bowie said he assembled the 30-song setlist from roughly equal proportions of vote-winners from the UK,*** the US and Europe (the Americans had pushed for the recent hits, the Europeans loved “Heroes,” which Bowie introduced as “a song for Europe!” onstage at Linz—he sang the chorus in German, too).

It’s evidence that democracy is at heart bland. There was nothing from the Sixties besides “Space Oddity.” Nothing from Man Who Sold the World. Only the singles from Diamond Dogs and Young Americans. Nothing from the “Berlin” trilogy except “Heroes,” “Be My Wife” and “Sound and Vision” (& the latter likely wouldn’t have made the cut but for being the tour’s theme song). Only the Top 10 hits from the Eighties, with Bowie pretending, as perhaps some of his audience did, that he’d made no music after Tonight, except for the newly-released “Pretty Pink Rose,” which was a sop to Belew.

Bowie seemed ambivalent to singing some of the hits again. He told Paul du Noyer that he had no problem revisiting some of them, like the Station to Station material, but songs like “Rebel Rebel” (“written for a particular generation“) had no relevance to him anymore and he felt odd singing them. “I find I’m throwing them away a bit. I hope it doesn’t show.” He cut “John, I’m Only Dancing,” another faded generational manifesto, from setlists by the end of the first run of British shows.

The band was Bowie on rhythm guitar and occasional saxophone, Belew on lead guitar, the ever-ready Erdal Kizilcay on bass, and, from Belew’s group, Rick Fox on synthesizers/keyboards and Michael Hodges on drums. There was a clear hierarchy—Belew and Bowie were the stars, the rest of the band was backup (literally, as the band played behind the projection screen for much of the show)—and it grated. The backstage mood could be sour at times (“[Bowie] wasn’t very happy on that tour. Something wasn’t working. It was a weird atmosphere,” Kizilcay told Marc Spitz). Fox eventually checked out. His main job was to monitor the samplers and sequencers and ensure they were in sync with the performances, so he took to eating his dinner while at the keyboard, and was once found (according to Belew) listening to the Beatles on headphones during a concert.

Kizilcay said he found the inclusion of a Labatt’s ad midway through the Canadian sets (Labatt’s was a tour sponsor) to be crass and that it spoiled the crowd’s mood. Once Bowie blew up when Kizilcay mistook a Bowie hand gesture and rushed forward on stage to start dancing, which allegedly threw Bowie off enough to make him miss a vocal cue (the best recollection of the argument has Bowie screaming backstage and hurling his puffy shirt at Kizilcay: “take it, Erdal! take it and sing in my place!”). The tour was draining, with Bowie losing his voice at times (a fan who attended the Modena show in September recalled Bowie balking at playing “Station to Station,” killing the song after a few bars, then starting “Fame” in rough voice, throwing away his guitar and groaning “fucking nightmare!” into the mike).

Even the genial Belew could be frustrated with the sound and the performances. With so much of the music programmed (“Young Americans” was built on lots of samples and backing tapes, from the saxophone to the vocals), there was little room for improvisation. “Stay,” the funk centerpiece of the 1976 and 1978 tours, sounded anemic compared to its predecessors.

Still, the “Sound + Vision” shows were generally strong, the performances tight, and the tour remains the last time that Bowie fully gave the people what they wanted. The concerts served as a collective goodbye—a singer divesting himself of his past, casting it out to a crowd each night. The crowd watched enormous video projections of the singer, while at times ignoring the man standing underneath his giant reflection. It was an extended disappearing act.

“Sound + Vision” was tightly choreographed—one critic recalled noting a roadie standing offstage whose apparent job it was to light a cigarette for Bowie at a precise moment. Only in a few places per show, most often “Jean Genie,” did Bowie apparently indulge his whims. Often playing “Genie” as an encore, Bowie and Belew would extend the song out over ten minutes and throw in covers during the middle of it. Bowie had done that with “Jean Genie” years before, stuffing it with “Love Me Do” during his last performance as Ziggy Stardust. Now he threw in a variety of old favorites—pieces of Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s a Gonna-Fall,” Them’s “Baby Please Don’t Go” and “Gloria” (the latter performed with Bono one night), “Maria” from West Side Story, “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Baby What Do You Want Me to Do,” “I Am a Rock,” Parliament’s “(Not Just) Knee Deep” (tragically unbootlegged), Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line.”

And on 21 May 1990, playing at the Tacoma Dome near Seattle, Bowie offered Red Kelly‘s “You and I and George.” Likely only a handful of people in the crowd knew that Bowie was paying homage to a local hero. Kelly was a Seattle shipyard welder who taught himself to play bass during World War II, assuming correctly that there was a shortage of bassists (though there’s always a shortage of bassists). He played with Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Red Norvo, Charlie Parker at Birdland (he recalled Parker hugged him one night “so it must have been okay”). Kelly had retired to Tacoma: only the year before Bowie’s performance, Kelly had run for mayor on a platform of bringing back cable cars to Tacoma and starting up riverboat gambling. He got 10% of the vote.

Kelly wrote “You and I and George” in the late Fifties, when he was playing with the Kenton Orchestra, and the song was immortalized on the 1959 concert LP Kenton at the Tropicana. There Kelly, shuffling up to the mike and speaking in a doleful voice, offered what would become the song’s founding joke: that it was written by someone else, who preferred to remain anonymous as the song was so lousy. (The joke was too good—“George” has been described as a “traditional” song in several Bowie resources.) The distinguished bluesman Rowlf, playing “George” on The Muppet Show in 1977, said that the song only sold two copies: “I bought one and George bought one. Where were you?” In Kelly’s words, “George” was the product of a hungover songwriter who’d finally realized that people didn’t care about lyrics. It was just one sad verse: a trio walks along a brook, George falls in and drowns himself, the girl/guy winds up with the singer, who’s obviously his/her second-best choice.

Bowie honored the tradition: “You boo it when you’re fed up with it!” he told the crowd (see again Rowlf: “my own mother turns down her hearing aid when she hears this song!“). But in its few public incarnations, “George” had a small mordant beauty; it’s a sap’s love song. And Bowie’s vocal that night in Tacoma, somber and even mournful, seems in part a burlesque of his performance of “The Drowned Girl.” He sang “George” once more at the Bridge Benefit Concert in 1996.

The tour ended tensely, with some police aggression affecting the final South American shows (Bowie was playing Chile when Pinochet had only just relinquished power and was still commander in chief, while Argentina had had a spell of government-toppling riots in 1989). Bowie and Belew parted ways, Bowie promising to give Belew a call soon for further work (Belew told Paul Trynka in the late 2000s that he was still waiting for the call!). A few days after the last show in Argentina, Bowie went on a “blind” date with Iman Abdulmajid, who he’d met a few times backstage during the tour. He would marry her within two years; his next solo record would be a shrine to her. But first there was the Machine to put to rest…

Bowie’s “George” was recorded 21 May 1990, Tacoma, Washington (unreleased).

* Bowie had intended to use the dance troupe La La Human Steps but as the scheduling didn’t work out, he instead used video clips of lead dancer Louise Le Cavalier.

** Only about 20 of my picks (the obvious indie ones) made the People’s 200.

*** Cue the very, very shopworn anecdote about the NME trying to rig the poll by pushing for “The Laughing Gnome.”

Top to bottom: various photos and souvenirs from the 1990 tour, with the top photo coming from the show that I attended, Hartford, 23 July 1990 (it’s by Bonnie Powell). Most are from the essential Teenage Wildlife.

54 Responses to You and I and George (The “Jean Genie” Variations)

  1. gnomemansland says:

    Its funny I was just thinking when reading your (as always wonderfully detailed and well written) entry if I had come to Bowie in the 1980s or 1990s would I even have liked him? Growing up in the 1970s and seeing him live in 1978 it was easy to forgive all that came after but if one had first been exposed to Bowie when he was churning out such bombastic dross I think I might well have walked on by. Not that he would give a damn of course…

    • Brendan O'Lear says:

      Exactly what I’ve been thinking since somewhere around Baal. On the one hand, I have great admiration for those who came to Bowie later; it must have taken much more of an effort. But on the other hand, I sometimes wonder why.

      • sigmata martyr says:

        Isn’t it a certain kind of music anorak that would dig deep in to Bowie at any point in the chain? Even those fans that came in on the front end had to decide at certain points to get off, stay on or hold on through his career when most “normal” people took the singles at face value and didn’t pay mind to anything else.
        I recently bought Slovenly’s Riposte on cd after hunting it down and locating it in Germany, since my vinyl has skips in it. It was a cut out but unopened and contained a pristine folded price sheet for SST’s catalog. A time capsule so unexpected and lovely that I really did feel my eyes well up. To be young enough to have music be everything, to remember waiting for the new Option Magazine to come out, to pull random egghead facts about music to the little crew of arty kids at the lunch table, and swap records between classes and walk through the schoolhalls with them slung under my arm to put them in a locker seething with band photos and art postcards. The luck of having three college radio stations during the year and two others that could only come in properly at the height of summer. Buying what I heard during the week on a Saturday morning,splurging on pricey NME and the Face… all that and more fooding back and so far away now. The dear friend I saw S+V with is dead these ten years and the namesake of one of my children, vinyl is a curiosity, CDs are fast becoming a curiosity, There were never that many of us. There were never that many who felt the music to that degree, whatever the genre. We are the others. The maladjusted types who feel music when most people simply hear it. The ones who search it out and push past the shiny fronts of things to find out more. The people who NEED to. Most poeple don’t need or want more. Kids now have information coming at them so quickly that this sort of fandom is a relic. Internet culture gives such quick results that one doesn’t have to dig around like we used to have to. Kids can do what I did with a fraction of the effort involved and some do search out things. Instead of pronouncing their tribe affiliation by the records under their arm, they have their headphones on, they make a Tumbler page, tweet, blog. They have their own way now and even I can use the technology to replace some old vinyl, and type this out now, but I’m happy to have ridden the last gasp of the 20th century, to hitched to Bowie’s train through analog to digital and feel happy to be an 80s girl as you all are happy to have come up in the 60s and 70s.

    • Maj says:

      And similarly…I started listening to Bowie 2 years before he released his last album…and by that time it was easy to overlook the 80’s. He had become a living legend by then so when buying his discography I just omitted the 80’s & Tin Machine at first just the way magazines instructed me.
      Would I get into Bowie 10 years earlier, had I been born in ’77? Don’t think so, but what do I know.
      Those guys definitely had it harder than those of us who were there when the good stuff was all happening or came late enough for it to already be a legend.

  2. Patrick says:

    Here’s the incident mentioned when he gives up on STS live and tried Fame. Throwing the guitar away in anger. (Starts at approx 6.38)

    • col1234 says:

      ha! i didn’t know it existed on film! So to correct–DB throws the guitar away *before* he starts “Fame,” evidently.

      • Roman says:

        I read somewhere that the guitar he flings away actually shatters and splinters off stage and hurts one of the roadies – thus afterwards Bowie had to apologise in person. When it rains . . .

    • Maj says:

      this is priceless. he’s not quite an Elton John in the tantrum department but boy, can he burrrrrrn! πŸ™‚

  3. Patrick says:

    Weird bit of chance.I only just came across that clip on YTube just
    what, an hour or so before reading your mention of it here. I never knew anything about it til I saw that clip . Never seen him so angry.

  4. PH says:

    I remember the preamble for the tour about how the set-list would be determined by the fan’s votes. I was very excited at this prospect, as I thought the shows would be geared towards real hardcore fans like myself who would choose some of the lesser-known gems like “Lady Grinning Soul”, “After All”, ‘We Are The Dead” or “The Bewlay Brothers” which never received a public airing. But when it just turned into another greatest hits tour, it was, as you say, evidence that democracy is bland. Anyway, it’s all academic for me as, like -sigh- the Ziggy, Diamond Dogs, and Station to Station tours before it, Bowie never brought the shows Down Under. That’s what you get for living in a cultural backwater.

    • Mother says:

      I didn’t miss him at all on this tour. We got the top-of-his-game ’78 tour and Glass Spider’s Big Brother, All the Madmen, Sons of the Silent Age, Time etc.

      I acknowledge the nostalgic aspects but this was not a good period for Bowie. Wheeling out a ‘greatest hits’ package for the fans completely goes against the grain of what Bowie the adventurous and ground-breaking artist was all about – and he knew it. You can tell he was not into it from his general grumpiness in press conferences and (the above) concert footage.

  5. Patrick says:

    More a case of Sound & Fury at times rather than Sound & Vision.

  6. MC says:

    At the time, I loved the show; I felt, especially after Glass Spider, that it was an artful way to present his past “characters”, with what seemed to me an elegant application of the Tin Machine aesthetic: the emphasis on the guitar band, just like in the Spiders days, and the stark blacks and whites (bringing to mind as well, of course, the Isolar tour – and let’s not forget the repurposed Thin White Duke outfit). As a Montrealer, I naturally felt a great deal of civic pride in the use of La La La Human Steps; at our gig, we even had lead dancer Louise LeCavalier come out for some insanely athletic leaps and twirls during Sufragette City.

    I wondered for a while why there was no tour video released, and I’m afraid, looking back now, that it’s all too clear why: the music, especially the funkier numbers, which suffer badly in the absence of an Alomar. I was literally shocked by how poor some of these arrangements sounded sampled on You Tube, even on a few tracks you would expect to be natural winners like Be My Wife. Belew may be some kind of genius, but I think the challenge of performing DB’s hugely diverse songbook was probably too much. (Though PPR and Gunman are pretty great – I second the posters who suggested that a Belew-Bowie album might have been a good idea.)

    BTW, I had the idea that Gloria was a standalone track, at least when DB did it with Bono. I never heard You And I And George before this minute, and it works surprisingly well – it may even be a tour highlight, surprisingly.

  7. Momus says:

    Samplers on stage, a tour to promote a CD back catalogue re-release programme… this is really pop music entering its archival dog days. On its way to becoming a repertory artform like classical music, where interpretation is more important than origination.

    It’s sometimes tempting to say these things are Bowie’s personal responsibility, but as usual he’s very much a weathervane twitching in response to the zeitgeist. As Chris points out, he’s a weathervane with two sides: Tin Machine represents a defiance of the repertory tendency, Sound + Vision an acceptance of it. And it’s partly that his age and the spirit of the age match: he’s the same age as pop music’s core demographic (the “pigs in the pipe”, the Gen X boomers, who were by now becoming affluent, nostalgic, and comfortably slack at the waist).

    I saw the S+V tour in a big hangar out in London’s Docklands, an area of Victorian waterside warehouses (places where things had once been made) refurbished in the Thatcherite 80s as postmodern office space and “luxury accommodation” for yuppies. Reached by a driverless monorail, the Isle of Dogs felt ghostly and vacant, as did the tour, with its semi-empty stage. Even Louise Lecavalier was holographic and archival; she’d been flesh, sweat and blood on the stage of the Dominion Theatre for Bowie’s Intruders at the Palace event two years before.

    Bowie once described David Live with the line “David Bowie is alive and well and living only in theory”, but it fits the 1990 tour much better, with the caveat that something had made us all a bit like that by then. And what happened next was a gigantic, ghostly archive called the internet.

    • Momus says:

      It was very clever of Bowie to do the archival thing by claiming to be laying his archive to rest, by the way. It was a lie, but it allowed him to preserve the Bowie-Innovator image while performing self-as-repertory. Hedging, I think they call it.

  8. gnomemansland says:

    Did music end in 1981? Of course on one level that is an absurd western-centric (and possibly narcissistic) view but in terms of the pop/rock music trajectory that takes us from the late 1950s, through the 1960s and then the progressive music of 1970s, and finally Punk which was more coda than rebirth it would seem to reach some kind of full stop in 1981. Bowie, Kraftwerk, ENO release nothing of any real merit post 1981. Perhaps Throbbing Gristle were prescient when in 1981 they sent out a card stating “the Mission is Terminated”

    • Patrick says:

      I can’t remember who said it but there was a comment I read once about pop/rock music being fundamentally no different in form during say the last 50 years. Yet in 50 years 20th century art would change almost beyond recognition. Guess that tells you one difference between the two. But to some extent the same might be said for say, film. It’s increasing about recognition not innovation like Momus’s point about rep and interpretation.
      Of course another point is that rules and conventions within art forms still persist with evolutions rather than revolutions. Cubism was radical but still mostly painting on canvas. But like cinema the real excitement and innovation seemed to mostly come in it’s early years. Most likely in pop music , the thrill of the 1960-80s ( a mere 20 years or so ) will never be equalled and within that Bowie’s most fertile and creative decade during the 1970s. After , it is often easy to forget, so so many false starts to his career before that.

    • Brendan O'Lear says:

      On one level, that IS an absurd view but on another level there is a lot of truth in what you say. I don’t think the music ended in 1981; it was just that the world didn’t the music any more. We all found other things to do.
      By the way, I take it that you didn’t like the English National Opera’s 1987 production of Britten’s “The Rape of Lucretia”?

      • Momus says:

        By about 1990 there was such a body of canonical work in rock-pop (which, unlike rap, wasn’t really going anywhere new) that each new gesture meant progressively less, and it became increasingly difficult to displace back catalog material with new material, or match the success and impact of the work of your youth, in Bowie’s case. Maybe “incumbent gravity” would be a way to describe it: new records, to the extent that they were good, seemed to hark back to classics, reconfirming their status as rock’s “classical music” via the paradox that the genre’s key innovation happened in the past. The past was alive, the present was dead, therefore current artists had a ghostly, insubstantial aura.

        That line from “Five Years” comes to mind: “My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare, I had to cram so many things to store everything in there”. After a while, releasing new material felt like “cramming”. The canon couldn’t easily be added to, especially after about 1997. CD gave rock-pop a brief new lease of life as people re-bought their album collections in the new format, but by failing to do what rap was doing and create an entirely new grammar of sound, rock sealed its own death warrant. The new rock magazines of the 90s that would have the biggest success would be retro titles like Mojo, harping on past glories. Bowie’s foray into drum’n’bass is entirely understandable in this context, but it couldn’t save either him or the medium from the general conservatism of the “pigs in the pipe”.

        More on the “incumbent gravity” problem (with statistics!) here:

  9. Pinstripe Hourglass says:

    The whole concept of a greatest hits tour to promote a back catalog reissue just seems incredibly crass. As good as the tour might have been… the concept is just miserable. It shows how low Bowie had gone – he was thinking like a stockholder, not a rock star.

    (PS: little lesson for the kiddies – pick up a bass. You’ll never be short of work in rock and roll. Everyone wants to be Mick, no one wants to be Trevor!)

    • David L says:

      I remember Bowie coming under a lot of critical fire at this time for being a sellout, for trotting out all the old songs for a big payday. And I remember him replying defiantly in one interview, “sellout? These songs are my LIFE!”

  10. Pinstripe Hourglass says:

    The puffy shirt is alright, though.

  11. Patrick says:

    Jeez! 108 shows. Seven months. I guess that was to go toward his pension fund.
    Along with all the other tours and reissues.

  12. Maj says:

    7 months. Holy shit. That’s one long tour for someone who gets bored of touring after one show!
    I knew it was long but forgot just how long. Poor thing (and everyone who had to work for him on it).
    Also he was totally pulling a Lennon before the S+V version of this song in the video above. Yeah, he was clearly bored.
    Rick Fox listening to the Beatles during the show is priceless. This man is my hero now. Hehe.

    Thanks for the write-up, Chris!

  13. Diamond Duke says:

    I’ve read about Bowie performing this number on various occasions in Nicholas Pegg’s The Complete David Bowie, but until now I never bothered to check it out. A very funny little ditty, and quite charming in its oddball way!

  14. col1234 says:

    It’s interesting that ever so often we have this debate about whether pop music is over—it seems to be triggered by some particularly dispiriting moment in Bowie’s life (pretty sure “Tonight” sparked a similar discussion).

    i don’t really map out overarching themes for this thing–it’s pretty much living off the land, just moving forward haltingly. But it’s obvious that one of the big themes of DB’s Nineties will be whether you can still go forward after a certain point in your life/career, whether you can still be a pop music revolutionary at 50, or whether it just becomes embarrassing–if the idea of constant change and revolution, a central facet of DB’s being, no longer fits the key of the time, whether the culture itself has changed and no longer needs a “Bowie.” if DB becomes The Bogus Man after all.

    so there’s a lot to process—the end of the album and the hagiography of the Great Album, which begins subtly with CDs and comes to a boil with the iPod, for one. the end of the “heroic” age of pop in favor of something else we haven’t defined yet. I did find that when I drew up my list of favorite records, 1996-2012, for the P’fork thing, the stuff that stuck with me were quieter mood pieces, quirky “small” albums, oddlot stuff that didn’t have any grand statement or grand revision of how to see the world. but then again, I am also getting old.

    • Ofer says:

      Well, another, more specific question is weather the key bowie element is the change-thing. I really think it isn’t, I think something deeper and more basic then the spirit of times (and even more basic then the musical freshness) departs bowie’s 70’s from his 90′, but there’s probably gonna be a better entry for that discussion (Maybe when you get to BTWN).

  15. Maj says:

    Well I have to say…I was born in ’87 and I kind of hate the notion pop music had been already dead for 6 years by then.
    Just because there is nothing new happening in pop/rock doesn’t mean these genres are dead.
    I listen to a lot of “oldies” (my local oldie station used to be 50’s – 70’s, now it’s playing 60’s – 80’s, go figure) but for every “old hero” ala The Beatles, Bowie or bless her, Kate Bush I keep finding “new” interesting artists who definitely started their careers after 1981. Jack White, Amanda Palmer, Rufus Wainwright…what they do is not necessarily ground breaking-ly new but it’s definitely clever, exciting…and…just plain great.
    But to each their own…just don’t tell me pop music is dead. πŸ˜‰
    While listening to the aforementioned oldies station I’m always baffled by how many “shitty” songs there were in the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s. Those were the hits then, so why the hell would today’s hits be non-shitty? πŸ™‚
    There is plenty of exciting music happening these days. And yes, you could probably track most of it down to an artist of a previous generation but you can do the same with most of Bowie’s ground-breaking material too, if you want to and try hard enough.
    Elton John would be able to tell you more on this topic, he knows “old” music waaaay better than I do and he most definitely listens to current music much more than I do. (I mention him as someone who literally lives music in many ways and who doesn’t seem to want to look back and be grumpy about the state of pop music. He can be grumpy about many things but not this.)
    I just remember a story someone told me when I was a kid: after Bach and HΓ€ndel died music experts said there was nothing new to be “discovered” in music. Now, were they wrong or were they…basically right? πŸ˜‰

    • col1234 says:

      Oh no I quite agree there’s a lot of great pop music being made right now and that there was plenty of crap in the 60s and 70s. There’s nothing as wretched as Frankie Valli or Whitesnake, to pick a few random hates of mine, on the charts today.

      • Diamond Duke says:

        At the risk of completely alienating my fellow posters, I actually like Whitesnake! Hey, like I said before, I was a hard rock/heavy metal fan back in high school in the late ’80s, poring over copies of Hit Parader and Circus. And while my tastes have broadened a bit – a bit, mind you – I still regularly keep in touch with my inner metalhead! Incidentally, I don’t suppose anyone else here is aware that Earl Slick once played lead guitar on David Coverdale’s 2000 solo album Into The Light? Sorry, but I feel compelled to point out those sorts of inconvenient truths sometimes. Like when somebody says something negative about Yes (one of my all-time faves), and I feel compelled to point out that Steve Howe is the favorite guitar player of Keith Levene and Pat Smear. It doesn’t pay to be too cool for one’s own good, y’know. πŸ˜‰ (And I trust I needn’t point out keyboardists RIck Wakeman and Tony Kaye’s respective stints with the Duke…)

      • Patrick says:

        I always smile when I remember a classified ad in the back of Sounds or NME way back for a lead singer, which clearly stated
        ” No Coverdales”.

      • col1234 says:

        no offense meant to Whitesnake fans, living or dead. Just not my thing.

        Frankie Valli fans, though: God help you.

      • s.t. says:

        How can anyone not like “Sherry?”

  16. Momus says:

    I was going to say that the important thing for the health of a genre is to see real innovation in the mainstream, not just happening around the edges. I suppose that does still exist: Skrillex’s Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites has 98 million views on YouTube — mostly from people, I’d imagine, who don’t even get the Bowie reference — and has a certain novelty to its sound, though it’s not my cup of tea.

  17. piffle says:

    Does it seem like Bowie just gave up on the S&V tour to anyone else? In some bootlegs he’s barely even singing the songs, strumming away on a guitar which either makes no sound or mysteriously carries on playing even when he’s not touching it.
    In my opinion this is the lowest point, not Tin Machine or Tonight.

  18. Anonymous says:

    this is all i’ve got to say about this

  19. humanizingthevacuum says:

    Interesting reactions. The Pegg book is quite high on this tour.

  20. Sean says:

    I wrote a big long thing and just decided to delete it. I saw this tour (and the 2 tours before it). Probably the least impressive of the 3 but who cares it was amazing. We’re all going to be forgotten in the end but while we’re here let’s not forget this fellow. Glad to be here among friends.

  21. Stolen Guitar says:

    Excellent blog…you’re re-writing history, something that Bowie himself would surely appreciate and approve of. I’ve been around for much longer than you and Bowie has been an indispensable and vital part of my life since I was 14; you’re doing this much better than I could. I’m envious. Well done. He may have shuffled off to his well deserved and equally well rewarded retirement but for nearly two decades his star shone more brightly and brilliantly than anyone elses. I believe your writing captures the essence of Bowie’s brilliant and bewildering intangibility; how could the creator of StationtoStation also be the same person in the extended Blue Jean video? You’re doing the Master justice. Thanks.

  22. Momus says:

    >how could the creator of StationtoStation also be the same person in the extended Blue Jean video?

    A contract with Satan was no doubt signed in 1976 naming 1984 as payback year.

  23. Jeremy says:

    Despite this tour’s flaws I wish that he’d brought it to Australia!

    • PH says:

      No, I could take it or leave it. The one I really regret him never bringing to “these here waters” was Ziggy Stardust.

  24. Brendan O'Lear says:

    It’s late on Saturday night over here and something’s been bothering me all day … I can’t let the Frankie Valli bashing go unchecked. “You’re Ready Now” is up there with the very best.

  25. Sean says:

    >A contract with Satan was no doubt signed in 1976 naming 1984 as payback year.

    Well the extended video wasn’t all that hot but the single was amazing. I’ll never back down from that opinion.

    • Stolen Guitar says:

      Fair point, Sean. Blue Jean was a good single, given that it was made in his execrable 80’s doldrums! Of course, I’m not refering to Modern Love, though, in that decade of decline- that’s one of the greatest songs from the second half of his career.

      Still, can’t forget the sad decline that Blue Jean video so cruelly highlights; from Ziggy to the bloke (David Jones?) who can’t get the girl! Why, David, why?

      Oh, and I should imagine he signed lots of contracts with Satan in the 70’s-how else to explain The Lord’s Prayer at the Freddie Mercury Memorial? I could go on…

  26. Dr Brian says:

    I think overall that the Reality tour was a much better career retrospective and populist event than Sound and Vision. He certainly gave people what they wanted on that tour – a mixture of the hits and the inspirational songs that were not hits. Maybe I’m biased – I went four times!

  27. Patrick says:

    While many gig goers for other seasoned performers at least want to hear the hits mostly , (here’s a new one ….groan from audience) The S & V tour seems to have been rather cynical as mentioned, almost his Sinatra period, his version of a predictable Vegas residency. There was a period when FS was almost skinny as the Thin White Duke.
    Speaking of which , is there any truth in the notion that on hearing DB was in line to play Sinatra in a film bio, the Rat Packer said:
    “No weirdo’s gonna play me!”

  28. Diamond Duke says:

    According to the tale, I believe that Sinatra’s exact choice of words may have been a tad stronger! That is, of couse, providing there’s even a hint of truth to the story. Remember, a lot of ideas for film projects involving Bowie had been bandied about back in the ’70s. A few of them apparently would have had him playing a Nazi, and others included a long-rumored adaption of Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land and an Egon Schiele biopic co-starring Charlotte Rampling (now Bowie and Rampling would have made one killer screen couple!), as well as a Bowie film rumored to be directed by Ken Russell with a screenplay by William S. Burroughs! (The mind boggles there, frankly…)

    According to Marc Spitz’s Bowie biography, however (or at least I think it was Spitz’s – these bio’s all tend to blur together, y’know), Bowie and Sinatra had actually met around the time of the Station To Station sessions in Los Angeles and apparently became quite friendly. Supposedly, Frank had been so impressed with David’s rendition of Wild Is The Wind that Bowie decided to include it on the album…

    Note to col1234:
    I just recently heard Fatima Mansions’ cover of Scott Walker’s Nite Flights on YouTube recently. Bowie’s version is not bad, but frankly, Cathal Coughlan and company totally kick the crap out of it! (No topping the Brothers’ original, however…)

    • col1234 says:

      the sinatra story (what’s verifiable of it) is addressed on the “Wild is the wind” entry i think

  29. SeanMacGabhann says:

    That Fatima Mansions version was even better live

    But the again so was Bowies on the Outside tour

  30. Ramzi says:

    The Modena incident is tucked away at the end of a youtube compilation entitled “David Bowie gets annoyed”

    It sadly gets cut off before “fucking nightmare” but you do get to see quite an impressive chuck of the guitar. Very rock’n’roll.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Am I right in stating that The Life Pursuit was #1 on your Pitchfork list? (Link seems to be dead).

    I’m coming close to naming it my favorite album after another listen this morning and no one else seems to bump it above ‘minor classic’ status.

    So I find the unintentional support of, well…some random dude on the internet (but a great writer whose opinions I respect) to be somewhat heartening .

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