Wake Up


Wake Up (Bowie and Arcade Fire, broadcast, 2005).
Wake Up (Arcade Fire and Bowie, live, 2005 (fragment)).
Reflektor (Arcade Fire, with Bowie vocals, 2013).

Some of it’s the lighting, some of it’s the TV facepaint, and hi-definition video does the face few favors, even for the photogenic. But Bowie, for the first time in his life, looks frail and old. He looks as if something’s been wrung out of him. The band Arcade Fire crowds him on the stage but he’s happy for the company, happy to be mistaken, at a distance, for one of them.

It’s September 2005, Bowie’s first live performance since his heart operation. It’s “Fashion Rocks,” a ceremony in which the fashion industry toasts itself and donates money to a catastrophe somewhere far away (post-Katrina New Orleans, in this case). Strumming a 12-string acoustic, Bowie takes the first verse of Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up,” his phrasing little two-beat jabs. Something…filled up…my heart…with nothing…Now that….I’m older..my heart…colder…I can…see that it’s a lie.

His body, which he’d always been able to manipulate as he’d like, his happy soldier, now seems guarded, wary. He nods on the beat, sways on the snare hits. On the ragged communal chants (even the unmiked string players howl along), he holds back, sometimes stepping away from his mic, then joins in, a shaky higher flavor in the mix. After some lines about children growing bigger but never growing up and out of it, the song shifts into the “You Can’t Hurry Love” (and “Lust for Life”) beat, sounding scattered and diffuse here, with Bowie taking the lead again on a line about becoming a rain god and meeting Death.

He’d opened his set with “Life on Mars?,” with just Mike Garson on piano. In diminished voice (the vault on “Sai-LORS” now a modest lift), he took the song at a distance, appraising it, wondering at it. He sang its cut-up nonsensical second verse solemnly, as if offering recollections from a dying language. Then he did “Five Years,” with Arcade Fire brought on as backing band, which he delivered as a missive from a future that never happened. Too bad (in gleeful John Cale voice). “Five years! God, that’s all we got!” Bowie shouted towards the end, his voice fraying, Win Butler taking over the harmonies. Then he gave the stage over to Arcade Fire.


I don’t wanna live in America no more
Because the tide is high
And it’s rising still
And I don’t wanna see it at my windowsill

Arcade Fire, “Windowsill.”

By the time of the presidential election of 2004, the image that many Americans (often younger ones, but not always) had of their northern neighbor had changed. What once had been genial indifference became a sense of longing, of envy, even. O Canada, country with a nationalized health care system, no Patriot Act, no Iraq War and run by a benign-seeming Liberal Party, of which most Americans knew nothing (but, hey, they had “liberal” in their name). Canada became a dreamland for alienated Americans: an alternate country above the 49th Parallel (are the winters really that bad?), a U.S. shed of its less desirable elements.

It didn’t help that were all of these Canadian collectives roaming around—the seven-member New Pornographers, the eight-person Godspeed You Black Emperor!, the sometimes-19(!)-strong Broken Social Scene. I knew a guy in an American indie rock band at the time, and he was bewildered by the logistics. “Do they all go broke on the road? Who can carry two violin players?” Canadian indie rock had a layer of unseen supports, its tours seemingly the beneficiary of the Canada Health Act and generous government arts grants.

“We should just go to Canada”: a sentiment heard around the country on the night after the election (I heard it at the West Village bar Fiddlesticks on that crashed-out evening). (“The American people have spoken—is that certain? Maybe those nice Midwestern folks were just jokin’!Nellie McKay sang.) Arcade Fire, arriving right at this time, was the culmination of the fantasy. Win Butler was an American, from Texas, no less, home of the president; his father had even worked for Dick Cheney’s Halliburton. He’d run off to Canada, fallen in love, had formed a band in Montreal with his wife, his brother and some friends.

So Arcade Fire offered an American-Canadian bohemia—a popular bohemia, even (they won some Grammys). They drew from and trafficked in childhood: the flip-books in the Neon Bible box, the corroded Yellow Submarine graphics of their videos, the neighborhood jamboree feel of their live performances, where they came off like a better-rehearsed Portsmouth Sinfonia–it was as if they’d taken up their instruments at random, that the next night Sarah Neufeld would play drums and Regine Chassagne would be on lead guitar.

The songs on their first record were worlds depopulated of adults and given over to children. Streetlights out, power failures, empty highways, snowdrifts. Lost brothers and vampires. Tunnels, legends and maps, tribal boasts: “‘cos nothing’s hid from us kids,” or, in one of their first songs: “us kids know.” The school music room garnishes—the sleigh bells on “Neighborhood #2,” the accordions, harpsichords and xylophones. In their video for “Rebellion (Lies),” they’re a pied piper collective, parading down a suburban street and waking up slumbering kids, who fall in line behind them.

It was a world shaped by distorted memories of Richard Scarry and Maurice Sendak books; it was the ideal of a reconstituted childhood as a form of protest against the adult world. Arcade Fire was the musical analogue of Dave Eggers (who’d soon adapt Where the Wild Things Are), who’d raised his eight-year-old brother after their parents had died, who’d written a book about it and who, with McSweeney’s, offered another childhood order suited for adults: the Secret Club, with its stamp books, membership cards and shibboleths (“that is all”).


Bowie was fascinated. “Arcade Fire has a very strong theatrical flair, a boisterous, college kind of feel to what they’re doing, and also there’s a wave of enthusiasm to it,” he said in 2005. “But their show is theatrical nonetheless, because it doesn’t alter much from night to night. I’ve seen them many times, and I love them very much. I think they’re exhilarating.” He joined the band again live the following week, singing “Queen Bitch” and “Wake Up” in their encore at SummerStage.

Then he went away; Arcade Fire kept at it. Neon Bible was an expatriate’s curse on America (its title taken from a John Kennedy Toole novel that was, in Toole’s words, ” a grim, adolescent, sociological attack upon the hatreds caused by the various Calvinist religions in the South”), with some back-channel communications via Springsteen and John Cafferty tributes. The Suburbs found Butler returning home, a poseur snapping at the generation of poseurs coming up after him (see “Rococo”); the album ended with what sounded like their last song, their credo piece for suburban misfits, the band’s natural constituency (“come out and find your kind!”), its music a mingle of an MTV-fed youth (the beat of “Come On Eileen,” the hook of “The Safety Dance”), its video a tribute to Pink Floyd’s The Wall (there’s also a bit of “Wish You Were Here” in “Wake Up”). The band got tighter, their records became more spacious, if losing the edge of Funeral, where the guitars sounded as if they’d been strung with baling wire.

Reflektor was a band’s midlife crisis: a labored attempt to change the palette while layering on the mythology thicker (see the respective Orpheus and Eurydice songs on Disc 2; see also the idea of a “Disc 2”). It was their go at doing a Remain In Light; it only worked on their Haitian-inspired piece “Here Comes the Night Time” (yet another Eighties tribute—here, the Cure’s “Close to Me”).

The title track was a hidden reunion with Bowie (only credited in the “thank you” section of the liners), who’d kept on being a fan during his absent years. He visited the band in a New York studio while they were mixing Reflektor. “It was just after The Next Day had come out,” Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry told the NME last year. “He offered to lend us his services because he really liked the song. In fact, he basically threatened us—he was like, ‘If you don’t hurry up and mix this song, I might just steal it from you!’ So we thought, well why don’t we go one better, why don’t you sing on our version? Thankfully he obliged.”

“Reflektor” wasn’t that radical a shift, as the band had always tried to dance, in their way (there’s a frenzied disco hi-hat in “Neighborhood #1”) and the track fell in Arcade Fire’s tradition of being happily shameless in their dork-theater routines—see its performance on Saturday Night Live, where Chassagne got into a glass box and did a sort-of mime routine, or Butler sporting raccoon makeup in its video. Arcade Fire perseveres, having grown up to be Bowie’s contemporaries where they once were his charges. They’re the closest thing that indie rock has to an institution these days, God help them.

Recorded: (Fashion Rocks) 8 September 2005; (live) 15 September 2005. The Fashion Rocks recordings were issued as a digital single on 21 November 2005. “Reflektor,” the lead-off single of the LP it titled, was released on 9 September 2013.

Top: Daska, “Children,” 2005.

67 Responses to Wake Up

  1. Mark says:

    Love Arcade Fire so much! Not exactly hard to see why Bowie loves them either. Great read.

  2. Brian Busby says:

    Great minds… You’ve put my very thoughts about Arcade Fire into words. The only thing I can add – point out, really – is that Men Without Hats, the group that gave us “The Safety Dance”, is also from Montreal. Thanks in part to Canadian content regulations their song was all over the radio… and remained a presence for years. Arguably the most commercially successful Montreal band of the ‘eighties.

    (Useless trivia: On 20 May 1983, I once saw them open for Roxy Music and Modern English at the Montreal Forum.)

  3. fantailfan says:

    As far as I can tell, the EP was released on iTunes only and is no longer available there.
    I was introduced to AF by Peter Gabriel’s cover of their very Peter Gabriel song “My Body Is a Cage” on his idiosyncratic Scratch My Back album.
    So, now I am an Arcade Fire fan (being Bowie’s age now when Bowie played with them then), despite a certain lyrical maladroitness and a tendency towards bombast. I was a prog fan in the seventies; I guess my musical taste has always tended in that direction.
    A song like “We Used to Wait” works for me in a way that nothing new since the early nineties does. They were teenagers at that time, but as the Internet wasn’t widespread yet, they too had to wait as I had to wait in the seventies.
    We’ll see where they go following up Reflektor, which didn’t do much for me.

    • Maj says:

      Love you name-checked We Used to Wait. My family was very late adopters when it came to ICT, so I had a computer-free childhood despite being born on the late 80’s. Me and my friend would write letters to each other in the summer, when we were around 12, 13 yo. This stuff definitely had its magic. And looking up stuff in books etc etc. Yeah, computers make a lot of stuff easier but it’s easy to get nostalgic about the analogue days now and again.
      So this song in particular is one that stays with me.

  4. I came of age in a post-Arcade Fire Montreal. I can’t even begin to tell you how sick I got of bands with glockenspiels.

  5. MC says:

    As a Montrealer, I would have caught on to Arcade Fire in any case (really, for someone from the city to not like AF would be akin to turning your back on the Canadiens). Bowie’s early endorsement gave my inclination to check them out an added boost, as DB’s seal of approval has always meant a lot as my musical tastes evolved. From Lou and Iggy (obviously), through Sonic Youth, The Pixies, Suede, AF, TV ON The Radio, and most recently Lorde (really, almost the only reason to listen to contemporary Top 40 radio), the man has rarely steered me wrong. (The Killers might be an exception, though I do like that one about how I got soul but I’m not a soldier.)

    To get back to Arcade Fire, for me, they are the bearers of the art-rock mantle Radiohead conspicuously dropped. That being said, I was also underwhelmed by Reflector. It’s sort of like the Sandinista to The Suburbs’ London Calling, with almost as much filler as the former (while being probably half its length.) The title track is one of the highlights, though, and DB’s cameo really gooses it. You know the funny thing is, I don’t think I’ve ever listened to the Bowie-added version of Wake Up all the way through, for some reason, but the take on Five Years with the band is incredible.

  6. SNL says:

    Great read, nice to see AF covered on here! I love them dearly. I do disagree strongly where you day Reflektor is a midlife crisis.
    I really think it is so far from that. They followed what inspired them, Haiti, and Haitian carnival combined with their punk/electronic styles and made something I feel is real, and not forced to prove or change like a midlife crisis. It would’ve boring if they’d just made a suburbs type album again. They’re to weird to just stick in one area.

    They made a whole world to get lost in with the reflektor album once again. I loved it. Side two is beautiful also.

    Thanks for the Bowie quotes also! 🙂

  7. crayontocrayon says:

    I find the Wake up performance all a bit overwrought. Bowie looks weak but I think it’s more in comparison to the bellowing of all the Arcade Fire members.
    While AF should be lauded for doing something different, for me they have always been very hit and miss. I tend to prefer their more dance oriented tracks and Reflektor ranks as a pretty good one.

    • s.t. says:

      To me Wake Up was always overwrought. Most of the songs of the first album just crack with passion and energy, taking as much from 70’s Bowie and Byrne as the Boss. Wake Up was the one song that sounded like an “arena rock anthem,” just begging for swaying lighters (and now smart phones). That said, I used to hate it, and quite like it now, despite the melodrama.

  8. audiophd says:

    Like many others who have followed DB, I too came into Arcade Fire from his early endorsements. Their first 3 rank among my favorites of the millennium thus far, with their order constantly shifting in the way that my top 3 Bowie LP’s do (Ziggy/Low/Station to Station, for what it’s worth). Reflektor was a misstep, but perhaps an inevitable one. Coming off that unexpected Album of the Year Grammy, any follow-up was bound to come under fire as either being more of the same or “What the **** were they thinking”? Being the kind of band they are (with their multi-instrumentalists and “professional amateur” style), Win Butler and company went full tilt and overshot the hell out of it. There’s a good album in there somewhere, but it’s lost in a quagmire of LCD Soundsystem’s Talking Heads-lite-percussion and messy mythology references. But hey, at least it’s not boring.

  9. dm says:

    I can just about imagine a world in which I like arcade fire, but then I listen to one of their songs the whole way through and I feel a bit sick. Both full and empty at once. Reflector could never be Remain in Light because Talking Heads were yet to aim their music at a stadium audience

  10. StevenE says:

    Funny thing is, I do think Arcade Fire are rubbish, but they have quite a few good songs. Maybe it’s the lack of ambition, smug presentation, the way they seem to really think they’re doing something other than what they’re actually doing? The songs are only listenable to the extent you can forget the people making them, and their stupid faces.

    I hear James Murphy’s name a lot when people talk about potential new producers David could move to, and loads of LCD stuff is great, but then I think of Reflektor, the album, and can’t not think that he’d put out the most underwhelming album of his career if he did that. I don’t think JM would push him in any of the right directions. But what do I know.

    I wish Bowie’d take up Frank Black’s offer of the Pixies services as a backing band, on tour, someday. It’d sound much better than any of this. (also think Paz is a figure you could imagine slotting in Bowie’s retinue – far more so than Deal).

    • billter says:

      Bowie and the Pixies together sounds like a dream come true; the Next Day material would be right in Joey Santiago’s wheelhouse. In practice, at this late date, it probably wouldn’t work out very well. But it’s a great fantasy.

      • MC says:

        Lack of ambition? Say what you will about Win & co., but I don’t see that. Pretension, well certainly. 🙂

      • StevenE says:

        I think they’re ambitious in a really unambitious way. ie, never pushed themselves musically, or in terms of presentation. just annoying tbh

      • ofer says:

        “Ambitious in a really unambitious way” – you hit the nail on the head. It is ambitious only in scale, in that it always sounds big and overcome with self importance, aiming with it’s pseudu social commentary pose for a tenure in that bonoesqe position of “most important band in the world”; in terms of form and content, however, albums like “The Suburbs” are actually verging on the banal.

        I did like “Funeral” when it first came out – i thought it was kind of a Byrne-Eno-Bowie rip off, but very well made and with some great songwriting. Ever since “Neon Bible”, however, i was again and again struck by how stale and overblown the AF sound had become and how it regressed into boring formulaic indie 80’s rip offs. That’s why the underwhelming “Reflektor” album came as no surprise to me – their work with james murphy, another overrated-if-talented serial 80’s homage maker, only seemed like the next logical step, in terms of as well as in it’s essentially being a kind of U2 power play (“The most important band working with the most important producer! What an event”).

      • ofer says:

        “in terms of as well as in it’s essentially being a kind of U2 power play” – the word “sound” is missing between the “in terms of” and the “as well as”… :/

    • Ramzi says:

      As much as I love the Pixies, I don’t think it would work well at all. Perhaps if Bowie had been active all this time and they did it in a limited number of shows, but not now and never extensively. The songs would have to be stripped down far too much to be acceptable, and that’s of the songs they’d be able to play in the first place. Without Black being able to sing and scream, all he’d be is an unremarkable guitar player. Bowie and the Pixies have obviously influenced each other, but they probably shouldn’t be mixed.

    • RLM says:

      John Congleton my current fave pick for Bowie producer – he made last year’s St Vincent and Swans LPs sound incredible.

    • s.t. says:

      As underwhelmed as I have found AF’s post-Funeral output, nothing can compare to the disappointment I felt when I heard the new Pixies material. *continues whispering* “Trompe le Monde was the last, Tromp le Monde was the last…”

      • StevenE says:

        @s.t. this is such a cliche but the new Pixies material is so good live – it even comes across well on some recording online, and I remember their stripped back tiny desk session with Paz being great, think that came out last year.

        I think IC was pretty good on its own, but the worst Pixies record by far – i don’t actually think it’s the songwriting but just the way it sounds and was recorded, everything’s like an airless box. I think an album of the exact same songs recorded differently could have been great.

        They put out a track sometime after, Women of War, with Paz on-board that sounds like a major step back-on-track. Frank’s been fiddling with some amazing songs live that may end up on a new Pixies LP (see Classic Masher, incredible) tho i wouldn’t want them to waste material that good until they remember how to, like, make LPs.

      • s.t. says:

        Well, perhaps that could be part of it. I didn’t realize that I liked Radiohead’s songs for King of Limbs until I checked out the “Live From the Basement” sessions.
        In that case, though, it was an issue of not being able to appreciate all of the layers. It’s as if parts of the songs were hidden until I heard them performed with decent production. With the Pixies, their songs are simple enough for me to get an idea of them even when they’re diminished by shoddy production.
        I agree that Women of War sounds like a step in the right direction…but I’d still say they’re not quite on the money. Even if they change their style a bit, I want that old manic energy, that devilish fun. So far, the closest I’ve heard to the classic spirit has been “Bagboy,” though even that wears out its welcome (it’s almost five minutes long!). It is nice to hear Santiago let loose on Women of War. But I’m still inclined to just put on the old stuff instead.

      • BenJ says:

        What is this “Trompe le Monde” of which you speak. The Pixies broke up after “Doolittle”, did they not?

      • s.t. says:

        In a sense they did! But at the very least, Bossanova and Trompe are excellent Pixies “spinoff” albums by the still very inspired Black Francis/Santiago duet, with assistance by Deal and Lovering.

      • StevenE says:

        I had two very long bus rides and listened to all the Pixies albums bar Doolittle yeterday. Trompe is amazing.

        IC is still by far the worst but is still pretty good just not in the same league, but certain tracks sound great as they are. It’s really hard to pinpoint the problem but it’s all kind of a mulch on a lot of tracks, too full sounding and all the sounds all blend together, whereas all the components on traditional Pixies song tended to sound distinct to me. Love to have that back.

        Also, I’m nearing the end of a Buffy marathon and The Breeders have a cameo, which was a highlight. So does Aimee Mann (she gets a line)

        oh also: http://youtu.be/vi5oomJB5BY

      • s.t. says:

        That’s great. Actually, I never thought about it, but the Buffy theme sounds like the Pixies’ take on “Theme from Narc.” Me, I’m wondering if Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is worth the effort. Maybe it’s Whedon’s Indie Cindy?

      • StevenE says:

        the received wisdom on Agents of Shield, which I’ve not seen, is that it starts off quite weak but gets much better.

      • s.t. says:

        Oh, I’ve watched the entire first season. And while it does improve over the episodes, my question remains…

    • AB says:

      I never bought the Arcade Fire hype, and find it bizarre that Bowie’s endorsement seemed to make people think they were equally-brilliant. ‘Funeral’ is just the sound and fury of extreme compression and digital-clipping.

      They’re not Iggy or Lou. They’re La La La Human Steps.

  11. Maj says:

    One of my favourite bands. I became a fan of theirs completely independently of Bowie (unlike Franz Ferdinand) and I love their first 3 albums very much. Reflektor, apart from the title song hasn’t quite grown on me yet but it can still happen.

    What I love about the band is that it combines the epic-ness of sound with a punk energy (or at least it used to…)…and that works for me very well.

    That being said I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of Win’s voice, even less when he’s wailing live…and Bowie wasn’t exactly at his vocal best during this time either, so despite being a fan of both I don’t listen to their live collabs very often. But it’s nice that it happened.

    As for the US attitude to Canada…yeah, I’ve noticed many Americans sort of view it as the ideal they longingly gaze up to. And yes, if I had to move to the North America I’d definitely head to Canada, indeed to Montreal. Cohen, Arcade Fire, Shatner…..not bad.

  12. StevenE says:

    mary margaret o’hara also

  13. Ramzi says:

    Arcade Fire make good music but I just cannot look at them. It’s not just that they look ridiculous – which they do (see: man banging drum + tambourine in the video) – but their whole shtick is too pretentious. Take the live versions of Reflektor where Butler straight up takes the phone of some poor front-row audience member, in order to make the message of the song and album that is nowhere near as deep or innovating as they all think. Pretension can obviously be a good thing, but this is completely the wrong type. It’s vapid. Nevertheless they do make good music, and I have only listened to Reflektor (which I do like) so maybe I’m being a bit unfair.

    The Fashion Rocks performances are good if understandably quite shaky. At the time they probably would have been a promising first step back into performing. Something that never ceases to amaze me is the people in the comments of the Life on Mars performance who think that the black eye and bandage are remains of his “heart attack”, which happened a year and a half before. They seem surprised that David Bowie would ever wear a costume.

    • col1234 says:

      yea, I had a graph on this and cut it for some reason. But DB showing up as if he’d just been in an “accident” is one of the funniest, most deadpan moments in his career. Buster Keaton would’ve approved

    • SoooTrypticon says:

      I was just about to write something on the black eye. John Waters has a favorite designer that intentionally makes ill fitting, and often stained/damaged suits. I wonder if there’s a connection.

      If Bowie ever returned with a little of that theatric flair, I wouldn’t complain.

      I love Arcade Fire’s first EP and album. There’s a hint of Eno in them. However, starting with “Neon Bible” there seemed to be a steady progression to some other more conventional sound, and I lost interest.

      • StevenE says:

        you referring to rei kawakubo? fairly sure JW wears her a lot and has walked for CdG in the past.

        I’ve not checked out the videos recently but I’m pretty sure Bowie’s wearing Thom Browne here right? A great designer, and really far removed from Rei, in that he favours clean lines and is undersized in a really precise, over-tailored way – his clothes tend to be deliberately sized to a calculated extreme, whereas Rei is oversized more often than undersized, and when undersized seems to be so in an ostensibly uncalculated, messy, hapzardly (but not really) shrunken way.

        TB’s also an interesting choice as he’s as NY as they come. Barely even see it outside the states.

        Not sure if Bowie’s ever been known to wear CdG – though he wears Yohji on the Tonight material. Such a pity DB and YY never aligned at a more fruitful point in DB’s career as they’re perfect for each other – and just to tie this back to fahion rocks, one of YY’s most recent homme collections had the models walking all battered and bruised : http://www.vogue.co.uk/fashion/spring-summer-2013/mens/yohji-yamamoto/full-length-photos/gallery/809162

      • SoooTrypticon says:

        Yes! Rei’s the one. Thanks for doing the internet diligence for me (:

        I’d never heard of Thom Browne- but a quick google made it clear he’s a player in later day Bowie. Do you think the makeup was conceived by him as well- or a Bowie addition?

        It’s one of my favorite Bowie looks- a kind of scrappy play on the smeared lipstick.

  14. fluxkit says:

    I faintly dreamed of Canadian escape too, but I was never too idealistic about Canada nor did I consider Canada entirely innocent of our hysterical U.S. patriot missions. I’d have rather defected to France, or Britain, but none of this seemed feasible. I never got into any of those Canadian bands, either, nor did I get into hockey or donuts with soup for lunch.

  15. Patrick says:

    When I first saw Arcade Fire they very much reminded me of a group from the mid 1980s called The Band of Holy Joy, The similarities for me were striking. A motley crew of god fearing misfits and down and outs, of varying numbers, with a seemingly cobbled together kind of Salvation Musical Army image. Playing accordions and other “street” instruments. The occasional female backing singer adding much needed contrast to the male vocals. This was however, the time of the Celtic vagabond incarnation of Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Canada is not New Cross, London and the songs of TBOHJ were concerned with different subject matter, but there was something about the square peg about both, even if superficially.

  16. Ah Arcade Fire… Good times with their first two records, but I never liked “The Suburbs” as much and didn’t bother with “Reflektor”. I remember I had bandmates in a high school rock band that were madly in love with Arcade Fire, but I was never so convinced as to see them live. I’d always infinitely prefer another Canadian band, Sunset Rubdown (their singer, Spencer Krug, could do a Bowie-esque imitation in Wolf Parade) over them.

    Anyways, it’s strange looking back 10 years ago and having a similar, slight cringe for this brand of “indie rock” that I have for “post-punk revival”. To me, it’s the same thing but in different clothes. If there’s one thing Arcade Fire has given me, it’s being suspicious of any band’s use of “quirky” instrumentation (glockenspiel, xylophones, hurdy-gurdy, etc).

    • I wanna add, that despite my misgivings with “post-punk revival”, I’ll always choose “Turn On The Bright Lights” or “Antics” over Arcade Fire’s material any day.

  17. Johnny Feathers says:

    I’m curious to hear more on the connection, or resemblance, that Wake Up has with Wish You Were Here. I’m a huge Pink Floyd fan, but admittedly don’t hear anything resembling WYWH in the Arcade Fire track.

    Regarding AF, I like the first few albums quite a bit, and Reflektor less so (though Porno is great), but I admit they’re pretty ridiculous. Especially when they’re intent on making playing the tambourine look like the hardest thing to do.

    • s.t. says:

      I always thought of it as their take on a Flaming Lips number.

    • col1234 says:

      oh, just a throwaway thing—there’s a bit of “Wake Up” that sounds to me like the “two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl” bit of WYWH. and Butler’s voice, when he goes high, reminds me of Wall-era Roger Waters

  18. Momus says:

    1. I find this “adoption” facet of Bowie’s activities over the years fascinating. It has affinities with the master-apprentice relationship in the medieval guild system, of course, but also with the financial practice of “hedging”: it makes sense to offset the risk of passing out of fashion by collaborating with the young bucks who seem most likely to replace you.

    2. Bowie has championed many acts over the years, with widely varying results. Some have seen his tips as kisses of death. Lawrence of Felt, for instance, cited Bowie’s late-80s enthusiasm for The Screaming Blue Messiahs as evidence of a tin ear, reason to take both acts less seriously. Personally, I’ve always filtered the tips; at the same time as hyping the Messiahs, Bowie was endorsing Matt Johnson’s excellent Infected album (and more specifically the macho video cycle that accompanied it, filmed in South America).

    3. I didn’t fully understand the power of a Bowie endorsement until it happened to me. When Bowie released ’Tis A Pity She Was A Whore, I uploaded a YouTube video in which — thanks to wig, make-up and electronic montage skills I’d learned from the master’s own Outside period — I posed as a teenage girl anticipating and then experiencing in real time my first listen. To my enormous surprise, Bowie’s website featured the video in its news section.

    4. I wrote to the Bowie organisation immediately with a full confession: I was not, in fact, a teenage girl, but an elderly male singer-songwriter called Momus. My deception was taken in good sort, and a peculiar communication arrived informing me that “db” was also not what he seemed: beginning life as a girl in a small town in eastern Malaysia, Bowie had escaped to Paris and joined the coterie of Salvador Dali. The moustached surrealist had paid for his sex-change operation and helped to launch his career in cabaret. I was told to keep this privileged information strictly under wraps.

    5. I soon realised that this is a screening process the cautious, highly secretive Bowie organisation extends to anyone it considers embracing. If, after six months, no trace of the particular lie you’ve been told appears on the internet, you’re considered a trustworthy collaborator, worthy, perhaps, of further encouragement. (I’m revealing it here because I happen to know that this is the one website db never, ever visits.)

    6. I was asked to make a YouTube playlist of songs of mine which might interest db, and duly obliged, picking tracks of mine which explicitly referenced Bowie arcana. I titled the playlist King Arthur, unsure whether this was a good idea or not — after all, hadn’t Bowie’s most dubious interests been in the whereabouts of the holy grail? Wasn’t this something he preferred to forget? I expected to hear nothing from the organisation.

    7. Nothing is in fact what happened for many, many months. Then suddenly, in January 2016, I received an email from Bowie’s website manager in London asking for my phone number. I don’t use a phone, but this seemed important, so I went out and got a cheap burner and sent the organisation the number. Bowie’s call arrived when I was on a platform at the Gatwick airport railway station. He loved my song Ultra-Loyal Sheepdog, he said, and wanted to make his return to live performance at the upcoming Tibet House benefit. Doing the song. With me.

    8. Others have described the mixture of shock and disbelief that follows “the Bowie call”. But there were no reason to doubt that this was actually happening. March 5th rolled around, and there we were onstage together at the Carnegie Hall. I’d briefly considered opting out — a Tibet benefit effectively rules out concerts in China, the world’s most important emerging music market — but, as a lifelong Bowie fan, I knew the sacrifice would be worthwhile.

    9. The event itself is a blur: I dressed as the mime in The Mask. Bowie smelt great, was charming and witty in the green room, and sang Ultra-Loyal Sheepdog much better than I ever had, with particular emphasis on the lines “don’t be a bear with feet of clay, don’t sit staring at a screen all day”. He wore the gas mask and pink boiler suit made for the DJ video, and seemed genuinely delighted to be back on stage after such a long hiatus.

    10. The effects on my own career were immediate. Pitchfork issued glowing reviews for the eight recent albums of mine they’d passed over in silence, along with a fulsome apology. My gigs, formerly attended by a thin smattering of beautiful, tediously-hip art students, now bulged with middle-aged men keen to swap backstage lore about legendary Tin Machine gigs. My sales went through the roof, though China obviously flatlined. In the weeks following the gig Bowie called my burner phone about once a week, telling me about the connections between Vorticism and the Suffragettes, retailing scandalous anecdotes about the Expressionist painter Emil Nolde, and sharing his top Photoshop tips. The calls were starting to peter out when I lost the phone during a particularly gruelling Kenyan safari. “Wake up!”, said the lion as it bent over me, its hot breath filling my ear, “Wake up!”

    • Bob Whiting says:

      It’s all true, I tried to bootleg the gig, then the lion ate me.

    • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

      I always liked The Screaming Blue Messiahs. Their album “Bikini Red” is good fun, not earth-shatteringly brilliant or anything, just good fun.
      P.S. Is Lawrence from Felt the same guy who put out an album under the moniker of Denim in the mid 90s?

  19. Anonymous says:

    It’s very sad seeing Bowie singing with these millenials choir boys.

    • Stolen Guitar says:

      True, Anonymous, it is sad, but his adoption of other bands and musicians has always been a bit hit and miss.

      I remember at the height of punk, when he was occupying his own dizzying heights, and all he could muster was the Mekons’ ‘Where Were You?’, which is a great record, but where was the recognition or awareness from Bowie that he himself had spawned the Pistols and that 99.9% of the rest of them had all clearly been influenced by him? Interestingly, Weller was the 0.1% then, but he’s since backtracked and can’t sing Bowie’s praises enough now.

      I grew up in Manchester and was a part of the local, very strong, Bowie scene and all of the Manchester punk bands originated with a great deal of His Masters’ influence; Buzzcocks and Magazine, Slaughter and the Dogs and Joy Division…

      London was no different and it really surprised me that Bowie could only pluck the Mekons out as being of any interest to him! I’m basing this assertion on a half remembered interview with Capital Radio in 1979(?), that we couldn’t even access in Manchester, and the Mekons seem to have stuck in my mind. I hope I’m mistaken and am happy to be corrected!

      I think, quite inexplicably to my mind, that he missed the boat and, perhaps, the point with punk and his, again inexplicable, enthusiasm for this bunch of half-baked, pretentious and over indulged nursery rhyme bellowers might be an attempt to not make the same mistake again. After all, there was a short period when this lot were being touted as the future of everything, but thankfully we seem to have come to our senses about Arcade Fire, and not a moment too soon!

      I’m never really happy seeing Bowie share a stage with anyone, though, so perhaps this never had a chance with me! If you’re on stage with Bowie, though, surely you’d be better playing one of his songs, wouldn’t you? It’s one of Boy George’s outstanding ambitions and he should know…!

      PS Broken Social Scene’s ‘Bandwidth’ knocks this dirge into a cocked hat.

      PPS As my above complimentary nod to BSS (hopefully!) shows I’m not anti-Canadian but can anyone explain to me why Canadians have to have their maple leaf sewn on to every item of clothing and baggage when they travel? Is it a reaction or, indeed, for the same reason that Norman Mailer criticizes the ubiquity and gigantic sizes of the Stars and Stripes that are to be found within the US? He argued that it demonstrates a massive inferiority complex in the US; are the Canadians similarly afflicted? I know that they don’t have their own unique international telephone country code, as they share the number (1), what else?, with the US. I would like to point out here that some of my best friends are Canadians and US citizens, too…!

      • MC says:

        Stolen Guitar, to answer your question about why Canadians have maple leaves sewn on their luggage (something I’ve never done btw), it’s because, when traveling, unfortunately, it can be advantageous to not be mistaken for an American for a myriad of reasons, though since Canadian forces are now fighting ISIS, we Canucks run the risk of being targeted by terrorists as well.

      • Brian Busby says:

        Why do Canadians have their maple leaf sewn on every item of clothing when they travel? The answer is quite simple: So as to not be mistaken for Americans. Though I haven’t adopted the look myself, when travelling abroad I often notice a marked change in attitude once it’s discovered I’m Canadian. ‘Tis anti-Americanism, I’m afraid.

      • billter says:

        Actually those are all Americans posing as Canadians.

  20. Starperson says:

    I actually thought Bowie looked pretty good for a 50-something year old guy who just had heart problems and probably was on quite some meds at the time. Really, all of us humans would look worse.

  21. Jack SS says:

    Hey thanks for sending ur book haven’t been able to put it down look forward to reading about the next day on here!

  22. Gnomansland says:

    I think the whole haert attack thing is being overplayed – he is on absolute top form physically and vocally on Life on Mars – yes the heart attack allowed him a long moment to pause and reflect, stop all that pointless touring and refocus and bergin to again appreciate his own back catalogue rather than going through the motions. As to Arcade Fire sorry just pants…

  23. Waffitti says:

    It’s at this point where DB starts developing those “bulldog cheeks” (although his aren’t as pronounced as, say, Gary Numan). By the time he came back he was looking like a cross between his old younger self and Ronald Reagan.

  24. BenJ says:

    It’s melancholy to realize that this blog is rapidly coming to a close, although Bowie might extend its life a little if he gets the song from his Man Who Fell to Earth musical out this year. On the bright side, though, your analysis of the near present is as bracing and intelligent as the entries on the Berlin Trilogy and its times.

    In this case we have the rise of Arcade Fire. And the cool factor that Canada had picked up in general. Until very recently the Great White North was derided as the home of nowhere acts like Bryan Adams and Loverboy, and its most respected creators (Neil, Joni, Robbie Robertson) were expatriates living and working in California. Now Canada has become Indie Arcadia.

    Arcade Fire deserve all the success and acclaim, but Bowie, along with Bono and David Byrne, deserves a good deal of the credit. His performance with the band at Fashion Week put them on Saturday Night Live’s radar, and their three musical guest spots on SNL have done a great deal to get the word out.

  25. Bring on The Next Day.

  26. Deanna says:

    It’s not necessarily what he looked like that made me feel a little uneasy–he looked perfectly fine (even good!) for 58. It’s just the marked difference between the man on stage with Arcade Fire and the man on stage singing ‘Never Get Old’ just a short year previously. One of these men controlled the stage, the other looks as though he had to ask permission.

    The Bowie on stage singing ‘Never Get Old’ in 2004 seemed so young. He had many promising years in front of him, you wouldn’t question that. He was fit and healthy and his smile was radiant. Have you ever seen Bowie smile so much?

    The Bowie of 2005 couldn’t sing that song. It wouldn’t be met with agreement and hope, it would be met with pity. Watching the performance of “Wake Up” was the first time I ever thought Bowie looked short. He’s not a particularly tall man (5’11?), and he’s stood next to a fair number of taller people over the years, but here he looks particularly small.

    I’m sad watching it. I can’t help it. I _don’t_ like watching these videos.

    On another note, I always find it a little weird when Canada comes up in discussions about Bowie. I always feel so removed from these sorts of discussions because it’s always America, England, Germany, etc. Shortly after this performance happened, Stephen Harper was elected. The mentioned “Canadian ideas” or whatnot were, by some people’s opinions, quite eroded after Harper came to power. Many accuse him of trying to turn us into a watered-down version of America.

%d bloggers like this: