What’s Really Happening?

99seattle

What’s Really Happening? (demo with guide melody).
What’s Really Happening? (Internet Tonight, studio footage, 1999).
What’s Really Happening? (Bowie studio vocal takes).
What’s Really Happening?

Being a pop music fan is transactional. You buy the records (well, you used to), and if you like them, you join the fan club: pay your dues, subscribe to the newsletter, and maybe you get an autographed picture in the mail, or an exclusive Christmas record, or first dibs on concert seats. If you’re a member of the fan club in good standing, you could win a contest to go backstage or have lunch with the star, or maybe his drummer. The more time and money you devote, the further you can go into the circle (but only so far). It’s a one-sided relationship seemingly designed for abuse: fan clubs milked for cash by managers; female fans sexually propositioned by roadies, bodyguards and hangers-on for backstage access.

What was hopeful about the first generation of Internet pop music fandoms was that (sometimes) both parties, fan and star, seemed to want a less exploitative relationship. BowieNet was among the brightest of the new worlds: for a relatively cheap subscription, you got a number of actual exclusives and chances to “talk” to Bowie online. And the site was serious, for a time, about keeping up its participatory half of the deal. BowieNet members got to vote on single mixes and cover art; most of all, fans competed to write a lyric for a Bowie song.

This was a gimmick: “What’s Really Happening?,” the first “Cyber Song,” with Bowie singing the fan-written lyrics in the studio while being filmed via webcam and a Lucent 360 “BowieCam.”* The webcast provided “a ground breaking “insiders view” into the studio session,” as per the breathless PR copy.

The contest ran from 2 November to 15 December 1998. Bowie claimed he read through most of the reported 20,000-25,000 entries (“there were a lot of potty ones,” he told Chris Roberts: one wag rewrote “Laughing Gnome” to make it fit Bowie’s melody, another sent in “Wind Beneath My Wings” unaltered). He found many fans contributed work in the vein of the as-yet-released ‘Hours,’ “very soul searching and angst-ridden” stuff. There were some funny contributions too, “so flip they’re almost successful, because they were written with such a lack of responsibility attached. Often things work really well when you don’t feel the pressure of having to make them good. To play at something is often more productive than earnestly striving.”

He (and BowieNet voters) narrowed the entries down to 25, then he picked a 20-year-old Ohioan, Alex Grant, as the winner. “It was impertinent, it scanned well, and it was easy to sing,” he said of Grant’s lyric. Hoping to reduce the number of “Cygnet Committee”-style rants, Bowie had offered as a template to would-be lyricists a wordless top melody rough track: three sets of four lines, mainly seven syllables each (the end phrases shortened to five). Grant’s lyric tightly fit the metrical constraints and shifted from an AAAB rhyme scheme (box/locks/clocks/mind) to an AAAA one (eyes/bye/lie/cry) to an ABAA second verse (glass/sinking/past/last).

Grant wanted the lines to question the medium that created them. “When I first logged on three years ago, [the Web] was this beautiful magic thing but after a certain amount of time I was getting stuck inside of that, my whole life became the Internet,” he said in an interview at the session. So the opening verse is a look at “virtual” life, our personae now grown inside Dell desktops or iMacs, with the natural mechanics of our bodies reduced to “outdated clocks.” This idea went a bit astray in the last verse, with its sinking glass clouds “falling like the shattered past,” though this stanza was the most Bowie-esque, with a clunky mixed metaphor that seemed derived from a cut-up.

For his troubles Grant got a $15,000 publishing contract from Bug Music, the complete Bowie catalog on CD, a $500 gift card to the internet retailer CDNow (in its last year of independent existence), subscriptions to BowieNet and Rolling Stone magazine and the raw envy of other Bowie fans.

wrhh

They’re amazing kinds of people…I’ve been through the fan sites of other artists and I’m really proud of my lot…Because it’s produced a kind of a community feel, that one doesn’t become the focus of everything all the time. It’s amazing how much you get into their lives and find out about what they’re doing and what’s interesting them other than just being part of the BowieNet site.

Bowie, 1999.

The “What’s Really Happening?” contest was reminiscent of Todd Rundgren’s No World Order, a 1993 Rundgren project in which fans were producers and engineers: you could alter the tempo of tracks, choose different mixes, make bars a capella or dub in guitar lines. You could make Rundgren’s record your own, veto his decisions. This was the Nineties’ idea of 21st Century pop: you, the fan, would help make the music; you would become an aesthetic minority shareholder of sorts.

Yet by encouraging fan participation at a lyric-writing or mixing-stage level, was the artist consigning her work to communal mediocrity, making it a slush of good intentions? Would you want to hear Something/Anything, the work of one weirdo locked in a studio playing nearly every instrument, or No World Order? Was the artist giving away too many magic tricks? The night Bowie and Grant recorded “What’s Really Happening?” BowieNet fans had a real-time comment thread as they watched the session: “Bowie’s drinking a Zima!” “What a boring song!” “Reeves is a Teletubbie” “Whoever wrote Shinin’ Star wasn’t an experienced songwriter either :)” “Coco [Schwab]: how did you get the nickname Coco?” “you haven’t missed anything except David wailing the same line incessantly“). (It’s archived here.) Imagine a live thread while Bowie and Eno cut “Warszawa” (“wtf is this in Portuguese?” “I MISS RONNO”) (cf. the Sermon on the Mount scene in Life of Brian).

It’s telling that “What’s Really Happening?” was a dead end: never again would Bowie offer this degree of fan participation. As I wrote in the BowieNet piece, Bowie now uses the Internet as a one-way distribution hub: putting out product, letting fans respond to it and hype it as they will. Where the creative fan impulse went, where the sense of community went, are the Bowie fansites on Tumblr. Occasionally something from my site gets reblogged 100 times, sending the quote or photo off into this seemingly endless run of Bowie fans, who make GIFs of his various incarnations, who write poems and limericks about him, who annotate and snark at and love him. This, as it turned out, is 21st Century fandom: not artists ham-handedly trying to make their fans Official Contributors, but fandom on its own branching off into thousands of bottle universes, forming and breaking off like atoms. It’s about as happy an ending as one could hope for.

wrh

“What’s Really Happening” as a composition and recording gets lost in these sort of discussions. So a brief consideration: it’s a basic G Dorian song whose verse melody is a Sixties mingle (2 cups “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” 1 cup “Pictures of Matchstick Men”) and whose main guitar riff comes off as a tribute to late Britpop (see Space’s “Female of the Species” or Suede’s “She’s in Fashion“). The hectoring chorus, with its glum accumulation of major chords (D-C-B-A), was among the dreariest he’d written in a decade, with Bowie reduced to recycling a line from Tin Machine’s “One Shot.” (It’s ironic that while Bowie likely kept control over the chorus to ensure his “Cyber song” at least had a hook, one wonders if Grant could’ve improved it).

Some backing tracks had been cut in Bermuda, while during the “Cyber” session in New York Reeves Gabrels cut some lead lines and Mark Plati, producing the session, did some bass overdubs (Grant and a friend, Larry Tressler, sang some backing vocals). Comparing the demo version to the final cut shows a decision somewhere along the line to clutter up the mix, perhaps in the hope of distracting from the fact that the song’s basically over at the two minute mark, with Bowie having to repeat half of the first verse and the intro (there’s a brutal cut at 2:36, suggesting they just looped the original intro) before we get to Gabrels’ outro shreddings.

Initially Bowie said “What’s Really Happening?” was going to be a Web exclusive (the contest rules didn’t specify that the track would appear on the album), but he later chose to include it on ‘Hours,‘ and fairly prominently (it was the lead-off track of Side 2 for the dwindling number of cassette buyers). Its tempo and guitars served as a good dividing point between the somber “Side 1” songs and the “Side 2” rockers. A time-stamped curio, “What’s Really Happening?,” more than any other Bowie track, is also the product of noble intentions.

Recorded (backing tracks) Seaview Studio, Bermuda, April-May 1999 and Looking Glass Studios, New York; (guitar and bass overdubs, lead and backing vocals) 24 May 1999, Looking Glass.

* Everything under the moon in 1997-1999 apparently had a “Bowie” prefix; you wonder if Looking Glass Studios had a “BowieLoo.”

** Bowie cracked to Roberts that “I can now nick 25,000 songs over the next few years. It’s all done for me, no prob. It’s all fitted out, I got it in a big store room. Change the odd word, nobody’ll ever know, who cares?” When Roberts joked that the songs would all have the same chorus, Bowie replied: “So what—all this shit is up in the air. Intellectual property? Don’t make me larf!

Note: I tried to track down Alex Grant for this entry, as he’s never been interviewed for any Bowie bio or magazine piece, and I thought he’d provide some fresh perspective. Given his relatively common name and a lack of Internet footprints (BMI lists him only as the co-composer of “What’s Really Happening?”) I had no luck. Mr. Grant, if you by chance read this, please contact me and I’ll put up any response/recollections you’d like to make (even if it’s “wow, your site sucks”).

Top: “Doctors With Patient,” Seattle Municipal Archives, 1999; “What’s Really Happening” BowieNet page, 1999 (captured via Wayback Machine).

52 Responses to What’s Really Happening?

  1. James says:

    I just sifted through the online chat transcript, oh boy …. everyone was bored out. The song was bad that’s for sure. A miss for a great man. Alex Grant drifted into obscurity also. The whole thing was a bit nerdy. nothing to do with rock n’ roll.

    • Sykirobme says:

      In defense of the commentariat for the recording…studio sessions are incredibly boring if you’re not a participant. At least they didn’t have to sit through the engineers trying to nail down a drum sound!

      “Hit the kick. Again. Again. Ok, hold on. Ok, hit the kick. Again. Again. Is the room mic picking it up? Hit the kick again? Ok, now the snare? Ok, kick. Kick. Again. Right, now the floor tom…”

      • col1234 says:

        they can be inc. boring if you’re a participant, too. Ask any drummer once basic tracks are laid down

      • Sykirobme says:

        True enough. I’m a bass player…thank god I have a hand in vocals and overdubs in my current group!

  2. fluxkit says:

    I enjoy this song, alright. He should have probably let Grant give it a go at writing the chorus, though, too. I’m not surprised the chat room banter went negative. That seems to be the general spirit of internet commentary in most respects.

  3. s.t. says:

    I am privileged to leak the original lyric sheet for this song! Here goes:

    A killer tune from the Supremes,
    Reeves’ squall controlled and lean,
    Now with some production sheen
    This might be the One.

    All we need to have a hit
    Are some words to go with it.
    Verbasizer, what’s this shit?
    It sounds like Brooks & Dunn:

    [“What’s really happening. What tore us apart. What’s really happening.”]

    It’s not Yeats but it’ll do,
    Now just write a verse or two,
    Perhaps detailing seppuku?
    I haven’t got a clue.

    [“What’s really happening. What tore us apart. What’s really happening.”]

    Oh what the hell, I’ve done my best,
    I’m too old to grow obsessed,
    I’ll advertise a song contest,
    Some bloke will write the rest.

    [“What’s really happening. What tore us apart. What’s really happening.”]

  4. MC says:

    The more we go through Hours, the more it seems to me that its the logical bookend for Tin Machine 2, both musically and in its place in DB’s artistic life. That’s partly why I found the charge of cynicism in the Dreamers entry a tad harsh. Dull as that song is for me, I think it represents, like much of Hours and TM 2, its maker at a crossroads, trying very tentatively to wend his way forward, in this case by drawing on materials from the past, both his own and the collective rock & roll past (something he would have a lot more success with on the album that followed)
    The other road ahead for Bowie at the time, it seems, was to tap into the creative possibilities offered by the Brave New Connectivity of the Internet, and this is where some more cynical calculation might have been called for. I find it hard to see why some of the excellent B-sides from the Hours sessions were left off the album in favour of this.I think it may have represented a goodwill gesture towards the fans; I suppose DB also felt Hours needed its token millennial dread song. Whatever the case, Grant’s lyric is the least annoying thing about the track. A decent intro aside, it seems to me that its the album’s nadir, with a pretty excruciating vocal performance (and I think most of the chances DB takes with his singing on Hours work, but boy, they don’t here).

    Still, an excellent piece; great evocation of the period. I assume you’ve saved the best songs for last.🙂

  5. AB says:

    Bowie hinted he was reaching back into his past for this album, yet we ended up with this track, as uninvolved and uninspired as anything on ‘Tonight’. It fatally wounds the album for me, and it never recovers. It’s in my Top 5 worst Bowie songs.

  6. jack lope says:

    I always loved the song! Yes, it was one of my early favourites of “hours”😀
    (and I still like it)

  7. Brandon says:

    I’ve always disliked most of Hours, but this song I just detest. Putting aside the mediocre lyric (if you’re going to outsource the lyric writing, surely something better could have been picked), the verse melody has always struck me as a bland rip-off of Diana Ross’s “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” I agree with what AB posted: this is absolutely in my “worst of Bowie” list. It’s hard to think of one that’s worse. (Maybe that one they pulled from Never Let Me Down.)

  8. crayontocrayon says:

    I can’t help but think what the live commenters would have been saying had they known about the years of silence that were to come. What fans would give for that kind of opportunity now! It is quite painful to read through some of those chat logs- The sheer volume of banal comments and questions allowed Bowie to hide in plain sight.

    The song is kind of nothing, just very bland. The vocal doesn’t get out of first gear and it really shows even in comparison to the albums other more relaxed performances.

    The lyric contest is certainly the most interesting aspect. Unfortunately, rather than being a b-side or oddity that is interesting for that very reason, it brings down the rest of hours. The only logic behind including it being that he was convinced it was good PR to promote BowieNet.

    • Mr Tagomi says:

      “kind of nothing” sums it up.

      It’s seems to me like just a ghost of an idea that was never developed.

      I feel that the lyric contest and online recording placed him in a creative straitjacket.

      Left to his normal processes I imagine that he would either have ditched this at demo stage, or used it as the germ of something worthwhile.

      Gabrels sounds like he’s busting a gut trying to turn it into something, but he doesn’t pull it off.

  9. col1234 says:

    unrelated question to this post: anyone have a recording of “The David Bowie Story”, the 1976 Radio 1 documentary by Stuart Grundy? or Goodier’s “Golden Years,” from 2000?

    • twinkle-twinkle says:

      Yes.

      Fragile, well played dusty C120’s of the 1976 doc, one snapped but probably repairable, and the 2000 ‘Golden Yrs’. If no one offers you better quality recordings, I’ll dig them out.

      Sheesh! I only came on to say, ‘Wow your site sucks’, lol. What happened?

      I honestly thought this track would be one of your faves, lol, it’s one of mine. Reminds me of something off R.E.M’s ‘Monster’ – ‘Crush With Eyeliner’, feat. Thurston Moore?

    • Galdo says:

      Unrelated question again, but I really curious about it: Did wordpress send a report with the most visited posts in 2013?

  10. Bruised Passivity says:

    When I first began listening to hours… I had just finished trying to absorb Bowie’s fine collection of 80s albums so my first impression was that it’s an innovative and comparatively creative album. This mindset actuality allowed me to enjoy this track for a while but now its just painful.😦 The most interesting aspect is that it was co written with a fan via an internet contest; when a song’s provenance is more interesting than it’s music there’s a problem.This is the weakest track on the album and it’s not because of the fan’s contribution. Bowie must have had his “80s brain” in while writing this because its bland and uninspired and Reeves guitar efforts just doesn’t add any interest. If you replaced the 90s distorted-techy production with a glossy-pastel 80s production you’d be right back in Tonight territory.

    When I began writing this comment I thought it would sound like a cheeky criticism and instead it turned into to a disgusted rant. (as a Canadian I feel compelled to apologise for my lack of restraint. lol)

    I offer high praise to Alex Grant for his lyrics and fingers crossed he gets in touch with you Chris. Now onto greener pastures…

  11. Not a big fan of this track. Interesting write up all the same.
    For the record I would also love to get hold of/have a recording of “The David Bowie Story”, the 1976 Radio 1 documentary by Stuart Grundy if anyone can recommend access?

    • twinkle-twinkle says:

      Hi, pb,

      Although I hope someone will find a nice clean version of the 1976 BBC Radio 1 db Story, perhaps putting it on the web somewhere, I am looking into having my dusty tapes digitized just in case col still needs them.

      I’ll let you know if/when my copies are sorted.

      Cheers.

  12. gcreptile says:

    Maybe during this episode, Bowie grasped the future of the Internet and the music business in general and recoiled. The easy access and multimediality turned stars into celebrities. This song was probably the definite end-point of “hip Bowie” trying to go with the times.

  13. Momus says:

    1. “Never again would Bowie offer this degree of fan participation.” This is certainly true, and it’s interesting that the lyrics competition happened on an album that was an offshoot of another interactive medium: a computer game.

    2. You get the impression that the advent of the internet and digital culture in the 90s was — for Bowie, as for most of us — perhaps the most exciting cultural leap since rock’n’roll happened in the 1950s (or, for younger people, since the 1970s, when punk rock expanded rock’s reach by telling non-musicians that they too could participate).

    3. There are pregnant cultural moments when the arrival of a new medium, technology or attitude sends everything suddenly up into the air, making culture seem ownable, writable, jackable. Punk was one such moment, and the 90s internet was another: a heady but brief whiff of freedom. The punk moment blossomed into post-punk then faded out as the 80s settled into formatted chart pop and MTV; the internet morphed its initial dizzy liberties into a much more phatic and trivial thing called “social media”.

    4. The New York multimedia creators I knew in the late 90s (the people behind the Blam! CD-ROM series published by Bob Stein’s Voyager company, for instance) were using a cynical slogan: “Interactivity is a lie!” They were already, in other words, disillusioned with the pseudo-democratic idea of engaging with the punters. They saw that as a step towards dilution, mediocrity, tokenism.

    5. Bowie has always been very contradictory in his attitude to this. On the one hand, he’s always endorsed “reception theory”, saying that his work basically has no meaning until the fans put their own creativity into making one. And he’s by nature a very enthusiastic, encouraging and enabling person, always willing to nurture and salute creativity in others — especially his loyal core following — and help people “find more interesting characters in themselves”.

    6. On the other hand, Bowie has been, at times (and not uncorrelated to his white powder consumption) a self-confessed “elitist” who likes to order people about, work quickly and decisively in the studio, and “set trends rather than following them”.

    7. I suppose there’s no contradiction in this case: opening up the writing of a single song to his fans and documenting the whole thing on the web *was* ahead of the curve in 1999. It was also generous. Unfortunately, in the end, the results are no more inspiring than “Jump: The David Bowie Interactive CD-ROM” had been back in 1994.

    8. It might seem that Bowie has since retreated entirely from democratic engagement, abjuring even top-down interactions like interviews and concerts. But I have to say that my own experience in 2013 gives the lie to that idea: David Bowie still cares, still engages, and still encourages. (Forgive me if I get a bit gushy here.)

    9. I was a member of Bowienet in the 90s, and entered the 1999 competition with a lyric which has thankfully since been swallowed up by some long-forgotten data disaster. I also managed to pose a question to “Sailor” about his preferences in art magazines in a Bowienet webchat.

    10. That was all pretty exciting back in the 90s, but not nearly as exciting as having Bowie’s website run a (completely unexpected) feature on my Where Are We Now? YouTube cover last year. And I wasn’t the only one! So I’d just say that — despite his media silence, and his terse “testicular” response to things like the V&A exhibition — David Bowie really does still seem to care about responding to creativity in his audience. And precisely because of his silence elsewhere, today’s unstructured but not unappreciated “fan participation” feels a lot more special than it did back in the 90s. (I did warn you I was going to gush.)

    • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

      Momus, regarding Bowie “seem(ing) to care about responding to creativity in his audience”:
      In 2007 I wrote and self-published a novel called “Catch a Falling Star”. Set in the 1980’s, it was a fictionalised account of how I, as a young Bowie acolyte, tried to form a world-conquering band with a bunch of deadbeat musicians, and failed spectacularly.
      Published by Lulu, an online print-on-demand outfit, it featured a Ziggy-referencing cover, with a photo of me standing under the famous K West sign.
      To publicise the novel, I contacted a load of Bowie fansites, who were all very generous and helpful, including BowieNet. As well as writing a blurb about the book on the site, the guy who ran BowieNet offered to forward a copy of my book to Bowie in New York. You can imagine how excitedly I scribbled my contact details and a personal message into the jacket of a copy and posted it off to BowieNet in London.
      In 2010 my novel was picked up by a small publisher here in Melbourne, and an expanded version, properly line edited, with a beautifully designed, Ziggy-referencing front cover appeared. It garnered good reviews in several newspapers here. Chris has read it, and told me he found it entertaining. Disappointingly though, I never heard a word from Bowie. I still love the guy, and get irritated when people run down the man and his music. But I find these days that I don’t love him as unreservedly as I once did.

      • twinkle-twinkle says:

        Hi, my friend,

        I totally understand your excitement and disappointment at getting so close – and well done for getting such attention from Bowie net – but, as Eno noted in his Diaries back around ‘Outside’ and the tour, even he never quite knows if his messages to db get through.

        I can see many accidents and hurdles which could have interfered with the progress of your novel into those golden hands. (Just imagine how many people worldwide want his attention).

        With all the rumours around his health in those years, it may simply be that he had put a block on a great deal of hopeful correspondence from outside his immediate circle.

        Anyway, just remind me what the title of your novel was again? I have such a terrible memory these days. Is your novel still available? If so, where might I acquire a copy?

        All best wishes.

        P.S. Do I get a free copy for that last paragraph?

      • col1234 says:

        I may have said this before, but yeah any Bowie fan would greatly enjoy Peter’s book, “Catch a Falling Star”

        http://www.davidbowie.com/news/read-excerpts-catch-falling-star-22646

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        Yeah, it’s still floating around out there, a bit like Major Tom.
        I’d be happy to send you a copy if you e-mail me your details.

    • twinkle-twinkle says:

      I would just like to say that I don’t think you need to apologise for your posting, Momus. It seems to me you have, as usual, made very astute and pertinent observations. I would like to say that, but I fear it would just seem like I was, eh – gushing? So I’ll just say, ‘nice’.

  14. david says:

    At the time, I remember thinking that the David Bowie I held dear, was -no offence- wading with us peasants doing this sort of thing, and wished he would get down to the business of releasing Contamination.

    In retrospect now, I see it as a natural progression of his embrace of that whole democratization of web community thing, and possibly reading through the chat transcripts, he realized the dirge of online chatter was just that-the dirge of online chatter, and retreated from webmaster duties afterwards.
    On another note, the thing that interested me in this article, was his comment to Roberts-“So what—all this shit is up in the air. Intellectual property? Don’t make me larf!“
    This might be a notion he would later revisit, looking at some of the song titles and melody appropriations on The Next Day.

    • col1234 says:

      to be fair, DB had been appropriating all sorts of intellectual property since the mid-’60s

      • david says:

        You are absolutely right Chris, except I feel like there is a specific and particular remit with this album, that has something to say about collective cultural memory, and I think with things titles like “I’m a rocket man”,”Born in a UFO”, “Atomica” “Boss of me” and even the direct use of Beatles and Iggy melody’s and the Apache thing, he is appropriating (or re-appropriating) songs with the purpose of subverting there provenance and exclusive identity from a specific predisposition….that of the relationship of a song title with an identifiable artist.
        This is all jumping ahead of course, but I’m really interested to see your take on it when we get there.

      • Mark Shark says:

        Off the wall but the intro to Strangers When We Meet always reminds me of Gimmie Some Lovin’ by Spencer Davis Group. I’m sure there’s thousands of those little familiarities in Bo’s catalog.

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        One such “little familiarity” that to my knowledge nobody has ever picked up on before is the similarity between Speed Of Life and Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again by The Fortunes.

    • Anonymous says:

      I have a feeling that by the end of the Bowienet interactive era, DB must have been left feeling something like George Harrison after visiting Haight-Ashbury:

      “Somehow I expected them all to own their own little shops. I expected them to all be nice and clean and friendly and happy … [instead of] hideous, spotty little teenagers.”

      In DB’s case it would not have been hideous, spotty little teenagers, but just the endless banality of Internet chatter. Small wonder that he got tired of it.

  15. Maj says:

    Okay, I’m now fascinated by the lalala demo. Fascinated. I’ll have to look if I have it.

    Great write up, Chris, thanks! And thanks for the footage link, not sure if I’ve seen it before.

    I don’t have any strong feelings about this song, I mildly like it, I guess. Definitely don’t hate it. But indeed, abt 70% of Bowie’s catalogue is probably better than this.

  16. I love that you managed to slip a Todd Rundgren reference in there. Now there’s a guy who could spawn a fascinating (if exhausting) song-by-song blog of his own.

  17. afterall says:

    Yes net utopianism – we were all swayed by it to some extent and there is a heady moment when the cards are all thrown up in the air and for a moment all the old entrenched barriers and hierarchies fall away and there is a chance for new patterns and ideas and artists to emerge. So it seemed with the web offering potential new models – now we are paradoxically back to people releasing cassettes and vinyl.

  18. Mike F says:

    I think Bowie didn’t go far enough with this concept. The entire album should have consisted of songs written by BowieNet members, sung by Bowie impersonators. At least it would have been an interesting disaster. Better than the dull disaster Hours turned out to be.

    The Rundgren references in Chris’ post are a little off. I can explain later if someone is interested. Right now it’s bedtime.

  19. Brendan O'Lear says:

    I’m not sure of the exact statistics, but there seems to be a pretty strong correlation between the weakness of a song and the number of comments. I think we first hit a ’50’ around Tonight. A useful rule of thumb may be that any song that reaches ’50’ is an official dud. This one’s at ’49’ …

    • s.t. says:

      It’s testable in principle, but you’d need an objective measure of song quality—perhaps by ratio of yay to nay comments?—not to mention some kind of correction for entry date, since earlier songs like Cygnet Committee and The Laughing Gnome didn’t have nearly as many readers when originally posted. Not impossible, but thorny enough to prevent me from doing something like that for a lark!

  20. D says:

    I will always wonder why Grant’s lyrics won. They weren’t exciting or special. Were the rest of the entries really that bad? I somehow can’t imagine people sending Bowie such boring stuff, but then again, he wasn’t as “prized” in `99 as he is now.

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