Jewel

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Jewel (Reeves Gabrels with Frank Black, Bowie and Dave Grohl).

If I wanted to play on baked bean commercials, that’s what I’d do. I’m already past that. I’m working on my vision, dammit. It might not be a good one, but it’s mine.

Reeves Gabrels.

Erdal Kizilcay’s recent interview cast fresh light onto Bowie’s icy professional side: nearly every collaborator has a story of receiving a “your services are no longer required” notice, from Woody Woodmansey, Trevor Bolder and Mike Garson to Carlos Alomar and Kizilcay (“[Bowie] changed his way of being with me at the end of the recording of Outside. I don’t even know why, for what reason.”).

Reeves Gabrels was one of the few Bowie collaborators who quit.1 His last performance with Bowie was a VH1 Storytellers set, filmed in New York on 23 August 1999. You can try to read the impending break into their brief exchanges (the only moment with any slight tension is a crack about Tin Machine), but from most accounts Bowie was blindsided when Gabrels told him four days later that he wouldn’t tour, causing Bowie to scramble to find a new lead guitarist (Helmet’s Page Hamilton, as it turned out).

Gabrels has given a few reasons for his resignation over the years: exhaustion from dealing with Bowie’s management and advisors, as he’d had to scrap for every bit of songwriting credit and an acceptable pay rate (“A lot of it didn’t have to to with David as much as…just dealing with some of the people around him,” he told Paul Trynka); some personal entanglements (he was having a child with Bowie’s wardrobe mistress). And as in 1995, he’d cut a solo album but now was supposed to set aside his promotion for Bowie’s. Further, Gabrels’ album was meant to have had a number of songs that wound up on ‘Hours.’ His professional life had gone lost in the shadow of his partner:

It is always a bittersweet compliment to me when fans, writers and reviewers say that my “unique” guitar style was important in defining the sound of any of the records I did with David. The reason for that is the fact that on most every album I have done with him, I also co-written the majority of the songs and co-produced,” he told Music Dish in 2003. “I may be overly sensitive to this issue, but I am continually amazed by the number of musicians, fans and music critics who seem to be unaware of the amount of songwriting I did with David or my involvement as a producer.”

He’d also lasted long enough in the ring to know when Bowie’s mood was turning. Tony Visconti was coming back into the picture; Bowie’s next record was going to be Pin Ups 2 (My Life As a Mod); the Ziggy Stardust 30th anniversary CD/film/musical boondoggle was still being talked up. Bowie was discarding his pre-millennial interests in jungle and, increasingly, the Internet. “I always tried to be aware of David’s legacy,” he told David Buckley. “But a big part of that legacy is the pursuit of the new. When I became more aware of the desire to do more old songs and eliminate the sequential information and loops from our new music2, I realized that what David wanted from the music was quickly diverging from what I needed…I was ready to move on, take control of my life and pursue my own course.”

If Gabrels had stayed, he felt it would have been for a paycheck and residual fame. He feared becoming a bitter guitar hack who stood on stage replicating Mick Ronson lines on “Suffragette City” and “Jean Genie” each night, “becom[ing] everything I had disliked in musicians I had known…or I was gonna die because I would be so miserable I would just drug myself to death,” he told Trynka. He was calling his solo album Ulysses: a lost man who needed to make his way home.

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So he left (the press was told that Gabrels was taking a break from the promo tour but would be back for the next album). For a time he and Bowie kept in touch but there was a fairly sharp break around the mid-2000s. His departure was welcomed by some quarters of Bowie fandom: Gabrels, to some fans, had come to symbolize everything they disliked about Bowie’s new music, from his shabby Berkelee professor look on stage to his skronkfest guitar solos. His leaving signaled a return of the classics, a welcome resumption of taste: it was safe to go to a Bowie show again.

Bowie had met Gabrels during one of his lows. He was isolated in a comfortable Swiss exile, feeling like a cossetted indentured servant to his label, wondering why he kept at the pop music racket after the drubbing he took for Never Let Me Down and the Glass Spider tour. A decade later, it was Gabrels who was lost, Bowie who knew in which direction he needed to go.

Gabrels, more than any other Bowie sideman, was someone who didn’t seem to buy the myth. When Bowie risked making himself look the fool, Gabrels called him on it, and he likely spared us a few disasters. Interview after interview in the Nineties will find Gabrels busting Bowie’s chops on something. He had the audacity to believe that his work, his insights, were as vital as Bowie’s: he made Bowie’s music fit his sensibilities as much as he worked within Bowie’s frames; he didn’t kowtow to celebrity. This attitude could make for hard stretches of music: his solos, at their most punishing, seem intended to kill the songs they’re housed in. And he wanted credit: he wasn’t going to be consigned to the fate of a Ronson, an essential contributor without a single Bowie song credit to his name.

You could argue that Gabrels was the only true creative partner, besides Eno and Iggy Pop, that Bowie has ever known. Bowie had spent his youth destroying the bands that he joined because he couldn’t abide compromising with others. He killed off the Spiders because they were casing him up in a box. He finally wound up adrift. So in 1988, he let an obscure post-punk shredder from Boston start bossing him around. Looking back at his professional life, there’s no one else who Bowie seemed to respect more than he did Gabrels at times. Gabrels was his loud conscience (or an extended middle finger), and the best of Bowie’s Nineties music is inconceivable without him.

tincrop

Ulysses (Della Notte) was the album Bowie had wanted ‘Hours’ to be, distribution-wise: it was a 21st Century release in 1999, available solely as a download. Gabrels signed an agreement with CDDB, which for a flat fee distributed MP3s across a variety of platforms, including RealJukebox, WinAmp and MusicMatch.”The Internet lets me make my music available to listeners within a week of completion. And these songs are coming out unaltered or remixed by a record label’s A&R department. What you hear is what I wanted you to get. No compromises,” he said at the time.

Bowie contributed to one song on it, a big honking collision of a track called “Jewel” that also featured Frank Black, Dave Grohl and Mark Plati. It’s as if they all got together over drinks one night to write a song that would sum up “the Nineties” for their children: it’s such a garish example of “alterna-rock” that it sounds like it was made a decade later as a spoof by someone like Andy Samberg.

Its origins were, unsurprisingly, casual: Black, Grohl, Gabrels and Bowie hung out after Bowie’s 50th anniversary show in 1997, and Grohl, possibly joking and in “some sort of stupor” (Gabrels), said they should form the alt-rock version of Blind Faith. “Just do one record, one tour and be done with it,” Grohl said. “We’d have a great time.” (This was per Gabrels’ recollection: “[Grohl] probably doesn’t even remember this.”)

Later, Black and Gabrels got together to write a song and, recalling Grohl’s “Blind Faith II” conceit, they got Grohl to drum and sing backup, then roped in Bowie to sing a verse: Grohl recalled Bowie scribbling lines on sheets of paper spread across the studio floor. Black took the first verse; Gabrels got the refrains, sounding like a more doleful J. Mascis. Bowie’s verse, which he sang in a series of erratic voices, was his last go at being an embarrassing “rave uncle”. He seemed to be leering throughout it.

“Jewel” was a nose-tweaking farewell to a decade of riches—the last time that a group of weirdos like Black, Bowie and Gabrels would be funded by major international labels. It was a perfect way for Bowie and Gabrels to go out: tastelessly, and not acting close to their ages. Play it loud and bother your neighbor. Bye, Reeves.

Recorded 1999? earlier?. Released on Ulysses (Della Notte), first issued as a download on 4 November 1999 via CDDB Inc. and as a CD in 2000.

1: It’s still tough to conclude whether Mick Ronson jumped or was pushed: a bit of both.

2: One irony was that Gabrels soon had his own traditionalist turn. For his Rockonica, he went analog. “Having spent the previous six years using Logic/Pro-Tools on everything I wrote or produced…I was pretty tired of the “man alone in front of a computer” thing. In fact, that whole treated-drum-loop-electronic-rock-band-vibe that I was into in the middle of the last decade seemed soooo tired out to me,” he told Music Dish. “While you can’t fault the technology (computers don’t make boring music, people do), I just felt like to record digitally would have been so very, very nineties.”

Top to bottom: DB and RG, 1999; 1996; 1989.

55 Responses to Jewel

  1. I think I’m going on years now of wishing I’d give the time to considering Gabrels’ career on its own and dig through his catalog: maybe it’s finally time. He really was better than we all knew at the time, wasn’t he?

  2. James says:

    OMG this is one of the worst song I’ve ever heard. But your article is very interesting. Alomar was also a Bowie basher. For good reasons.

    • James says:

      Gabrels complains now about lack of credits but he must have been aware of this from day one. Alomar and others have done much more (Golden Years comes to mind) with no credits at all.
      That’s how it went with Bowie.

      • col1234 says:

        of course he was: that’s one of my arguments. He was determined not to be a Ronson or Alomar, and the tension of this w/ the likes of Corinne Schwab eventually became toxic (or so he’s said)

  3. MC says:

    First time I’ve heard this. Not much of a song, perhaps, but good enough to remind me why I love the 90’s (or at least The Pixies).

    Reeves, goodbye, we hardly knew ye. I share the feeling that his work with DB deserves a mass reconsideration. I’m gonna go play Tin Machine…

    • fluxkit says:

      Yes, it does deserve reconsideration. I think it’s all pretty good. Listening to Tin Machine now, it’s hard to understand the derision. I mean, sure, some of the lyrics on TMII are pretty bad, but no worse than some other things… and you can sort of ignore them when they are bad. But like Reeves said in the Storytellers performance, DB wrote those (minus the 2 Sales tracks, anyhow). I love Earthling. I love Outside. I’ve grown to appreciate hours… so, it’s really a great period of music as far as I’m concerned. I always liked “119 Years Ago” by Reeves, but that was the only song I knew by him (because he did it with Frank Black). I’m interested in hearing the solo albums now.

  4. s.t. says:

    Yes, such mixed feelings about Reeves. His shamelessness, his audacity, his lack of restraint: it’s all so easy to criticize. And yet when those qualities are transferred to Bowie post-NLMD it seems so much more inspired. Reeves’ curse was Bowie’s saving grace in the 90’s. But it’s mostly a case of perception on our parts, and it’s not fair to Reeves. He really was a muse for quite some time.

    But what about his actual musical contributions? We’ll never really know about what he added to the songs attributed to Bowie. One thing, though: I think the blandness of Tin Machine has more to do with Bowie’s hiring of the Sales Brothers than with Reeves’ input. Reeves’ brought some interesting tones and textures to an otherwise tired blooze rock sound…even a dud like You Can’t Talk is interesting sonically. And their first work without the Sales Brothers—the rework of Look Back in Anger—points to a possible alternative incarnation of Tin Machine as doing more Branca-type experiments. Oh, if only…

    At the same time, nothing I’ve heard from Reeves’ solo albums sounds as fresh or as inspired as what he’s played with Bowie as a partner–so maybe just as Lennon needed McCartney’s prodding to give a fig about sound and style, Reeves needed Bowie to realize his full wacky potential. And when Bowie was onboard to be wacky, they made some real magic together: Leon and Outside alone house some truly wonderful pieces to savor.

    Cheers to you, Reeves, for helping a fallen man reclaim his dignity by writhing defiantly in the mud.

    Here are my top Reeves guitar contributions:

    1) Look Back in Anger 88
    2) I Can’t Read
    3) Run
    4) You Belong in Rock n Roll (lovely subtle guitar shades)
    5) You Can’t Talk (terrible song)
    6) Shopping for Girls
    7) Now (prog wankery, I know)
    8) The Enemy is Fragile (love that screech!)
    9) A Small Plot of Land
    10) Looking for Satellites (his noodling the only highlight for me)
    11) We Shall Go to Town
    12) Something in the Air

  5. Mr Tagomi says:

    RG deserves more respect than he got as a collaborator, and probably as a talent in his own right.

    But at the same time, I think his guitar style was probably a little bit too distinctive and imposing for the DB creative partnership to profitably continue much longer. It kind of demanded that every song be a certain sort of song.

    I love Earthling, and quite obviously Earthling could not possibly have been what it was without him. Same goes for Outside.

    But I think that Hours would probably have been a better album without him.

    • Mr Tagomi says:

      “Overall” a better album, I should have said. He did some stuff I really like on Hours too.

      And of course that’s just his audible contribution. Only part of the story.

  6. gcreptile says:

    Well, what to say? The future will only remember Gabrels because of his association with Bowie. And he did what he was paid to do and would have been foolish to expect more. The world can be very cruel sometimes. This song here is a big nothing. Gabrels’ guitar is the highlight, of course, but he wasn’t born to be a frontman. He was just born to be a thorn in Bowie’s side.

  7. StevenE says:

    I’m a big Reeves fan – but I wouldn’t have said that before I started reading this blog. It’s only once you start taking Bowie apart – piece-by-piece – that the weight of his contribution becomes evident. The weight’s probably still not evident.

  8. Charlie says:

    Reeves has a reputation for overwhelming Bowie’s music and lacking discipline. But my favorite contributions by Reeves are so simple or subtle that people don’t realise it’s him or ignore them because they don’t fit the cliche of Reeves’ playing.

    For example: his arpeggio on ‘Voyuer of Utter Destruction’, his dirty little riff on ‘The Hearts Filthy Lesson’, his restrained but fitting solo on the end of ‘The Motel’ and his parts on ‘Survive’ which Chris wonderfully describes as ‘a puff of hope uncorked from a bottle’.

    There’s plenty more like that plus plethora of examples of when he proves to just be a great straight guitarist, akin to Ronson, like his riffs for ‘Shopping for Girls’ and the original ‘You’ve Been Around’.

    And yes, his more indiscreet stuff divides opinion but when at his best I’d say he’s incomparable (see this solo at the end of this performance http://youtu.be/Xup_RSisiWQ ).

  9. Ididtheziggy says:

    I can’t remember if it was Gabrels or Alomar that mentioned in an interview once that, while it is a collaboration, you are ultimately working for Bowie. You get paid, noteriety and a chance to do things on your own that probably never would’ve come up without the experience.
    Still, Bowie does play fast and loose with sharing writing credits or rather, not sharing credit. But they worked for him, what can they do?
    That said, Bowie has given Gabrels credit for pulling him out of the creative funk and for that we can all be thankful.

  10. Maj says:

    Great post, Chris. I’ve never had strong feelings about Gabrels one way or another and I think this blog didn’t change anything. I don’t mind his guitar playing, I rarely love it…..and what else he brought, I just take it as part of history. It happened, and that’s it.

    The song, won’t play it again but it wasn’t that bad, actually.

    As for Bowie and his collaborators…I heard this story abt the McCartneys…as you know, Linda handled a lot of the management stuff during Wings & Paul’s solo career. And apparently when one of the musicians working with him asked for a pay rise she told him he should be paying them for having the opportunity to work with The Macca. So…Bowie and his crew are hardly an anomaly. What can you do.

    • col1234 says:

      oh absolutely. the DB organization is no different from anyone else in prof music, I’m sure (except maybe Fugazi)

  11. Ididtheziggy says:

    Now I’m imagining some sort of Travelling Wilburys super group with these guys. David Bowie is obviously Roy, Reeves is Jeff Lynn, Frank is Bob Dylan and Grohl is George Harrison. Now all we need is our Petty. Maybe Eddie Vedder? Let’s make this happen, imagine the mediocrity it could create.

  12. twinkle-twinkle says:

    Mark Radcliffe asked Bowie, “Whatever happened to Reeves, did he just explode?”

    I rather liked his Uncle Fester look towards the end, but I think part of Reeves problem was his weight and hairline. Bowie’s guitarist, especially one so prominent, should be beautiful like Ronno, or stay modestly discrete.

    I don’t think Reeves was dangerous or difficult musically for fans per se, I just think on the never ending ‘Outside/Earthling’ tour, Bowie was playing music Reeves loved and many fans didn’t. He was the guitarist from that Tin Machine who liked drum ‘n’ bass, and the sooner he was gone the sooner Bowie might get back on track.

    Sadly for Reeves, whom I liked, not only do many not know of his contribution – it is hard to read liner notes on CD’s – but he will never, despite his best efforts, be remembered like Ronno, even I suspect by the very young who have yet to discover Bowie.

    I hope Reeves is happy, I hope Ronno enjoyed his too short life, but neither set the world on fire with their solo careers. I chose not to see the solo Ronson tour, because ‘Slaughter on 10th Ave’ was a bit disappointing. I had seen Mott in ’73, and I saw Ronno and Ian Hunter on their first tour after Mott split. Devoid of glad-rags and Bowie, Ronno seemed quite ordinary, while Hunter oozed charisma.

    It puts me in mind of the mighty Fall. No super group, or occasionally impressive 2nd division combo, has been formed by the legions of disgruntled ex-band members. The Fall magic seems to emanate from Fuhrer Mark E. Smith.

    • s.t. says:

      I dunno, “Growing Up and I’m Fine” is a swell song.

      Oh wait… 🙂

      • twinkle-twinkle says:

        Lol.

        ‘Only After Dark’ is great, and that includes the original Mk1 Human League version.

        53? I thought you were a bit younger for some reason. Do you find it peculiar up here? Apart from ones knees, and one isn’t shaving, you can almost feel 15 – in your head.

        When I grow up…

      • s.t. says:

        Ah, You mistook me for Sky Possessing Spider. I get that all the time…

        I’m 32, so kind of in the middle of the age range here. Of course, I still feel like I’m 18, it’s just that my hairline disagrees.

      • twinkle-twinkle says:

        Ha-ha-ha!! So sorry – I do sometimes have to stop and think. No idea why, except you’re my two friendliest strangers and I must have morphed you together, lol.

        But, I mean, visually – s.t. is sooooooo short, and SkyPossessingSpider is so clearly not you! Sorry Spider.

        All I can say is it’s late in the day, late in the week and I’m so goddam caught up in col’s Bowie web again. lol!!

    • twinkle-twinkle says:

      Of course I meant, Reeves should have stayed more ‘discreet’.

  13. Sky-Possessing Spider says:

    hhhmmm Chris, I have to take issue with you about “Ulysses (Della Notte)” being available solely as a download. Back in the day I bought my copy the traditional way, by plonking down my money at a music store. As an official old fart (53 this year), I still don’t do downloads (I do get others to do them for me though, this new-fangled technology is a bit of a stretch.)

    • col1234 says:

      it came out as a CD in 2000—you got in ’99?

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        I’m pretty sure I would have bought it as soon as it came out, as I’m very completest about anything that Bowie contributes to. So yeah, most likely ’99.

  14. Brendan O'Lear says:

    Just as they say we all have at least one great song in us somewhere, all of us who regularly contribute here have at least one overlong, incoherent post in us. Here’s mine.
    I can’t stand Reeves Gabrels. (Not the man. I don’t know anything about him, but I do have my doubts about any middle-aged man who would think there’s something edgy or interesting about playing a guitar with a vibrator.) No, I can’t stand what he represents in Bowie’s career.
    I’ve never bought the narrative – but it may have some validity in the US – that Bowie was some kind of artist on the fringes who lost it in the pursuit of filthy Let’s Dance lucre. Truly world-changing Bowie was always firmly middle-of-the-road and centrestage. What made him so interesting was that he didn’t belong there. And then what Low and “Heroes” so exciting was the sight of a man with his feet firmly clamped to the middle of that road trying to get out of the way of the oncoming, speeding truck. With the exception of some annoying flutes in the background of Aladdin Sane, there’s barely a false note as far as Low.
    After the post-Let’s Dance fall from grace, the narrative begins that Bowie needed to get back to his ‘edgy’ or arty roots. The result was Reeves Gabrels. Actually, the rot had set in much earlier. Bowie becomes lazy in his songwriting in that instead of using his craft as a songwriter to bash his half-formed ideas into shape, he goes to the default noisy guitar. For much of his post-“Heroes” work, the screechy guitar is Bowie shorthand for “I have a life now and I can’t be bothered to finish this song myself.” And that’s why I can’t stand Reeves Gabrels; he allowed Bowie to believe his own excuses for the failures of Tonight and Never Let Me Down, and he allowed Bowie to become lazy as a songwriter.
    There’s an offhand Bowie comment somewhere about his disgruntled ex-sidemen, where he says the best thing to do is check their work without Bowie. Without Bowie, I’m not sure Reeves Gabrels could afford to be so sniffy about the baked beans commercials.
    So, thanks Chris for setting up this open goal to bash Reeves Gabrels. Next we need one so that we can praise the truly creative guitarist in Bowie’s career.

    • twinkle-twinkle says:

      I think you’re spot on about Bowie when you say,

      ‘I’ve never bought the narrative that Bowie was some kind of artist on the fringes who lost it in the pursuit of filthy Let’s Dance lucre. Truly world-changing Bowie was always firmly middle-of-the-road and centrestage. What made him so interesting was that he didn’t belong there.’

      I’ve always seen the extremes of ‘Outside’ and to a lesser extent ‘Low’, ‘Heroes’ and ‘Lodger’ as exceptions to what Bowie was/is. Bowie is a warped pop artist.

      People commented on how Bowie seemed tired by the end of the ‘Earthling’ period. Physically, perhaps. Maybe also tired of being harangued by Reeves and Eno to make the music more to their taste.

      Bowie seemed rejuvenated by ‘hours…’ and the promotional gigs and TV appearances.

      Why do fans and critics rate ‘Low’ more highly than the other two in the trilogy? Well, despite the painful emotional content, it’s a great pop album, more than half finished before Eno arrived.

      ‘Heroes’ is more uneven and less pop, and has more input from Eno. And ‘Lodger’ is patchy, because Bowie wanted songs and Eno wanted more experimentation.

      Look at ‘Scary Monsters’, chock full of unusually shaped pop. That is the real Bowie, I feel. The bisexuality, make-up and clothes just made him seem extraordinarily ‘out there’. The world – especially the Bowie kids – caught up, and soon everyone would be doing the things which made him unique in the first place.

      I don’t know that he became lazy as a song writer, although I think he lost his place and what to write about, what to be. Possibly he lost confidence because wearing a nice suit and singing a tuneful song with interesting lyrics wasn’t enough for some people anymore, well not from him anyway, (although that is what he was doing in 74/75/76).

      Well, Dave Grohl likes Bowie in a suit. Grohl loves ‘David Live’. I loved Tin Machine, so…

      We all have our favourites, lol.

      • Brendan O'Lear says:

        Maybe ‘lazy’ was the wrong word. Perhaps just ‘less committed’. And that’s a good thing for Bowie the man, because he starts to get a more fulfilling life outside the recording studio. But I do think that as a consequence in many songs, rather than endure a punishing schedule to create something from scraps, eg Station to Station, his approach becomes more like “Just put some noisy guitar somewhere around here while I go off and take care of some other business.”
        I agree that Bowie is a warped pop artist but he’s also a highly polished, professional one. His basic training was to be an all-rounder a la Tommy Steele. When he uses that skill set, he’s at his best. At least for me. I suspect that for others, that is not the case.
        You loved Tin Machine? I loved the duets with Cher and Marianne Faithful …

      • twinkle-twinkle says:

        Yeah, I can see what you mean. But I also think the noisy guitar becomes his satin ‘n’ tat substitute, his ‘I’m still edgy’. And, I do think he just loves the noise.

        Cher and Marianne… and Bing? And ‘Tonight’! NLMD, no. A poet friend told me of his standing in a queue for the toilet at a 60’s house party behind Mick and Marianne, he had so many stories like that. Marianne’s so small, but now as round as Reeves, lol. I wanted to ask her how she felt being more cool than the Stones, but I chickened out

        Anyway, very exciting you voicing thoughts I’d been thinking just recently, cheers.

      • twinkle-twinkle says:

        Also, I meant to say in relation to Bowie’s love of guitarists and him being a very white bloke – I’ve often wondered which he’d choose; play guitar like Hendrix, or dance like James Brown?

        I’d guess ‘guitar’.

      • s.t. says:

        I think some of the charges of laziness have merit. As Chris has noted in previous entries, once Bowie ditched Visconti, he got a habit of leaving his producers and session musicians to do most of the work. Intentional or not, he got lazy in the 80s. Tin Machine was a way for Bowie to stick it to his image as a pop megastar, but it was also a way to continue his reduced creative input via TM’s rock band egalitarianism. “What lovely songs you have, Hunt…”

        And then, even when he took back the reins and had his creative re-awakening, otherwise strong songs were sometimes marred by pointless sonic gloss and vocal overdubs. In terms of arrangement and production, he’s been a bit lazier in his later years. This very likely has to do with the fact that he has a full, happy life now, and he’s just not quite as engaged with (or enslaved by?) the music making process as he was in the 70s.
        So I can’t really begrudge the man for not always getting the perfect 10. But yes, the issues of inspiration (hunger vs satiety; access to new sounds of the day), confidence, and other factors were likely at play as well.

        I myself am a huge fan of Bowie’s more outre flourishes, but I can’t pretend as if he isn’t a fairly conventional rock star, albeit one who usually at least flirted with edgier sounds and ideas. His ceding some of his spotlight to Reeves’ squall from Tin Machine to Hours could perhaps reflect the creative disengagement mentioned above, but also I think that Bowie, like Lucy, knows what the noise can do…

      • twinkle-twinkle says:

        I see your point, but I’d also say Bowie had a very full social life outside the studio in the 70’s too, so I’m not sure that can be blamed. The length and hard prep for the 80’s/90’s tours don’t suggest absolute laziness.

        (His album output from the last 20-odd yrs equals Radiohead – fresh young talent and a band to boot – and they have only made three, maybe four, essential albums during that time. Compare their 90’s output to Bowie’s 70’s).

        I still think much of his apparent ceding the reins and spreading the work load was his ‘not feeling it’ like he used to and finding ways to paper over or avoid that truth. It’s clear he kept trying to get fired up and excited to the max again, seeking out inspiration, but somehow couldn’t reach it anymore (tho’ he would eventually); Iggy at the end of ‘Tonight’, ‘Blah Blah Blah’, Tin Machine, Reeves, Eno etc.

        Film projects did creep in in the 80’s, but maybe they were also a distraction from his apparent lack of musical ideas. Bowie found himself a very rich and successful man at the end of the Serious Moonlight Tour, (finally it seemed, he wasn’t going to suffer the financial fate of his father), but did that also highlight a certain emptiness in his life? Bowie was still single, and finding love has seemed to be important to him.

        In the previous few years he’d seen Elvis die trying to maintain his crown. Friends like Bolan and Lennon were gone, one from the randomness of fate, the other from the dangers of fame. And, of course, his brother’s suicide. Under all the apparent sheen of stardom and success, I can see a perfect storm of where to go, what to do, and why? After all the struggles and creative outpouring to get there, I can understand why he got becalmed creatively.

        A proper five year musical break after ‘Scary Monsters’ or even ‘TSMTour’ would have been the best plan, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. When you think of where Elvis and Lennon were creatively at age 40/42yrs and how Bowie was shaking himself up at a similar age, whether you like the results or not, I think his attempts were admirable.

  15. Mike F says:

    In my opinion, the two best Bowie guitarists were:

    Alomar – in the background. Subtly supporting and enhancing the song.

    Fripp – in the foreground. Standing out but every note he played for Bowie improved the song.

    Reeves operated mostly in the Fripp mode but he lacked Fripp’s good taste and had no self-restraint. He played whatever the fuck he felt like at the moment. Occasionally it was brilliant, often it was over the top and irritating. He didn’t give a rat’s ass about the song.

    The fact that Reeves was given so much leeway indicates Bowie’s uncertainty in his own direction. Reeves took the opportunity he was given and became more of an instigator than a collaborator. It’s surprising that he lasted as long as he did.

  16. crayontocrayon says:

    For me Reeves Gabrels is an essential Bowie collaborator along with Ronson, Alomar and probably Visconti, More important than Eno, Fripp and many of the other names that get more readily associated with Bowie, especially in the press.

    It’s ironic that Gabrels got full co-writer/producer credits on the album that has the fewest of his fingerprints. I think he recognised that the business relationship had taken over the artistic one(and possibly their friendship). The intentions of the music were more important than the end result for RG and I’m thankful that it gave us such vibrant and interesting albums as Outside and Earthling. Gabrels was simultaneously the most and least cool person in the Bowie set up, which probably didnt work in his favour.

    As for this song, it bears the mark of many guitarist turned solo artist projects. If it were good enough Bowie would have snaffled it for himself, but is happy to turn in a B grade performance as a mark of solidarity and the marketing boost that a “feat.David Bowie” gives.

    As a side note, the 50th birthday party that gave rise to this song was also the seed of Reeves’ current gig with the Cure, where he seems to be quite happy being the sideman(likely due to Robert Smith being a fine and interesting player in his own right)

  17. twinkle-twinkle says:

    Sorry, some points re Bowie’s collaborators which bubbled up from my old brain while working today.

    Re the apparent ease with which Bowie seemed to drop Tony Visconti from the production of ‘Lets Dance’. Tony made light of his talking to the press about Bowie’s private life at the time – ‘he’s famous, people ask questions’.

    However, in his autobiography Tony reveals his – Tony’s – growing drug habit at that time. Perhaps his ‘chattiness’ back then was helping pay for his recreational needs and this made him an unreliable helpmate for Bowie?

    With recent talk of the BBC’s ‘The DB Story’ from ’76. I remember Tony saying how forgiving Bowie was as a friend. Tony did concentrate more on Bolan’s success after, ‘TMWSTW’. Tony says ‘Ziggy’, like the ‘Space Oddity’ single, was too blatantly commercial for his tastes, but I’ll bet he’d still love them, along with ‘Hunky Dory’ and ‘Aladdin Sane’, on his producing CV/resume.

    I think it was in those same ’76 interviews that Bowie said Ronno left because he wanted to get into more ‘legitimate’ rock ‘n’ roll, and Bowie was interested in ‘illegitimate’ r’n’r. I understand Ronno turned down the ‘Diamond Dogs’ tour in the U.S.

    Going ‘legit’ seemed to involve Ronno not setting the world on fire as a solo artist, being a bit too much of an aloof star during his short time with Mott the Hoople, (thus contributing to their demise), and being employed by, then put on the subs bench, by Dylan. Ego’s – we/they all have them.

    In his Diary from the mid-90’s, Eno suggested that Bowie’s ‘Outside’ band had too many musicians, that some of the music needed a little more ‘space’. Bowie seems to have taken this on board and thus we had the much slimmer ‘Earthling’ combo, minus Carlos Alomar. (I used the word slimmer for you to add your own Gabrels jokes).

    Reeves did also say that there were many times when Bowie would come up with guitar parts and he – Reeves – would think, damn, I’m the guitar player, why didn’t I think of that? I think that’s it for now.

    And so to bed…

    • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

      I think with the time delay between the Northern and the Southern hemisphere, we’re a bit like those “morning Sam, morning Ralph” sheep dogs in the Warner Brothers cartoons. I start my shift as you clock off.
      Anyhoo, re Ronno: It’s interesting when you say he left the Bowie entourage to get into “legitimate” rock’n’roll, and more or less went straight to Dylan’s Rolling Thunder revue. This kind of touches on something I was discussing at the end of the “Seven” thread, where Maj was listing her (his?) favourite lyricists, and I mentioned my friend the Dylan fan who dislikes Bowie’s “gimmickry”. He’s always at pains to tell me how Ronno apparently would say what a refreshing delight it was to just play the guitar, and not have to worry about the slap and the silly clothes.
      Also, on the subject of Mott the Hoople, I had a dream last night that Ian Hunter had died. I really hope it doesn’t turn out to be one of those collective unconscious, psychic predictor things.
      I don’t believe in that kind of stuff, although, spookily, I did dream about John Lydon the night before Malcolm McClaren died. I’ve never dreamt about him before or since

      • s.t. says:

        I had a dream last night that Tom Bombadil was a demon slayer, and he would sing-shout “Beelzulbub-O!” while merrily hacking and slashing at his prey.

      • twinkle-twinkle says:

        I’m awake enough to know who you are this time s.t., but I’ve no idea who you are talking about, lol.

        Actually, I do, now – cos I Googled.

        12.47am – an early night.

        Ta-ta!

      • twinkle-twinkle says:

        Lol – well, it’s just after midnight here and I’m toddling off to bed. I seem to remember Dylan was wearing a lot of slap around that time.

        Some of my guitar playing friends at school took a lot of persuading that Ronno was a great guitarist. They were all into Led Zep and the like. I’ve just Googled ‘greatest guitarists’ and found Rolling Stone mag have Ronno at 64. Lou Reed is higher? Mmm…

        My mate and I were unusually late at getting to the Glasgow Apollo to see Hunter/Ronson – we were always unfashionably early and had to sit through long tedious soundchecks in those days. (Golden Earring – they had quadrophonic sound, or some such, it took about two hours to get the balance right once the support bands stuff had been packed away, lol, zzzzzzzzzzzzzz…).

        Anyway, we arrived just as the H/R coach was squeezing down the side of the theatre. We were skinnymalinks in those days, so slid down the tiny gap to meet them stepping off the coach and literally onto the stage-door step. They said ‘hello’ and we just gawped, lol. It was funny meeting Ian Hunter about 30yrs later and he still had a head of curly hair and I was a cueball head, lol. And he didn’t remember me – bloody rock stars, lol!!

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        Y’see Twinkle, this is where I feel I really missed out by being dragged here to Oz as a kid at the tail-end of the 60s. I never witnessed the sheer spectacle of a Ziggy show, or the elegant lines of theThin White Duke, never got a chance to see Ronno or Ian Hunter live, or rub shoulders. You on the other hand sound like you have many tales to tell of getting up close and personal with your idols.It’s a drag being so far away from civilisation.

      • twinkle-twinkle says:

        Some measure out their life with coffee spoons, I do it with special musical moments… because I’m a bloke and don’t have kids… or a disease to worry about, yet, lol.

        But Spider, without Oz being so far from civilization we’d never have had… The Australian Doors… The Australian Pink Floyd… Jason Donovan…

        In this life you must think – glass half full.

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        You forgot Kylie (lol), or should that be Koylie? You’re also fortunate to have been spared the (anti) cultural tyranny of Cold Chisel, Akker Dakker, Farnzie, and Aussie Crawl.
        However, if we’re talking GOOD Aussie bands, you should check out: The Models (my fave’s), Hunters and Collectors (particularly their early stuff), Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (obviously), Icehouse, Hoodoo Gurus (good garage pop), INXS, The Triffids, The Go-Betweens, Underground Lovers, The Cruel Sea, Dave Graney and The Coral Snakes, The Church, Paul Kelly, The Saints/Ed Kuepper, and those Kiwis-adopted Aussies,Split Enz.

        -phew-how many of that particular list are you familiar with?

      • twinkle-twinkle says:

        Lol! I know most of those bands, Spider – but you’re just trying to get me to share my Nick Cave stories, aren’t you, lol? I’m more than content with a handshake and/or an autograph, but some people…

        Anyway, I finally ‘got’ Ray Davies, so I think that’s my bucket list done. I didn’t really have a list until I accidentally met a few people I admired. Then I found myself in a place where I could purposely meet them, so it became a little bit like trainspotting for a bit, ticking them off. I only wanted those who meant something to me.

        But I have musician friends, one or two who got stupidly successful for a time, or played with those who were. I guess I’ve been very lucky and I do have to pinch myself at some of the experiences I’ve had. But there are so many things I didn’t get. An Oscar, for example. I suppose the fact I’ve never acted may have contributed to my failure there, but still.

        I had some tantalizing ‘one step removed’ Bowie moments over the years before I got lucky. My art teacher at school went to a party at Lindsey Kemp’s in ’73 and Bowie was there. Then in ’78, my then girlfriend’s friend met Bowie on the Stage tour because she ‘befriended’ his Italian chauffeur/bodyguard for the evening. Worse was when a friend from school, who became a guitarist in several known bands, got drunk with Bowie in a club around 1980 – boy, was I jealous.

        It wasn’t just jealousy, it was getting ones head around the fact that you could actually meet someone like that and sit and have a drink and a laugh. Strange I’ve never had any such heroes in my own discipline, art. Bacon would have been a scary thrill to meet, but that’s about it.

        Now I better get to thinking of my top ten for col.

  18. Brendan O'Lear says:

    On collaborators who jumped before they were pushed, I think that ‘Hutch’ qualifies for the ‘jumped’ team. And he also probably qualifies for a lot of co-writing credits, and in his case they are memorable and significant contributions. I don’t think he’s particularly well off financially but he doesn’t seem to feel the need to bleat on about his lack of recognition.

  19. Ryan Staton says:

    It’s sad but true–to be one of Bowie’s sidemen means not only that you will likely never yourself see center stage (with a few exceptions…looking at you, Luther Vandross and Adrian Belew), but that once Bowie is done with you, you will be reduced to little more than a footnote in his legacy.

    Diehard Bowie fans will of course be able to list the sidemen, know who they are, and appreciate their contributions to late 20th century pop music, but the casual Bowie fan and the public at large will say, “Carlos Alawho?” That’s the typical sort of reaction I get when, in response to greatest guitarists/bassists/drummers/etc questions I answer with Bowie’s sidemen.

    Bowie had (has) a knack for recognizing immensely talented musicians, plucking them from obscurity, then casually tossing them back into the pool of obscure has-beens. It’s kind of a shame, but such is often the nature of the beast. Surely Bowie didn’t come up with every classic riff, every drum fill, every touch of atmospheric noise, every bassline, but he gets to take all the credit.

  20. roobin101 says:

    Listening to this I wonder if the real story of Bowie in the 90s was actually that Tin Machine didn’t split up. The Sales Brothers were dropped and a better rhythm section brought in and the band’s name was quietly changed to David Bowie.

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