(Still Not) The Last Xmas

December 21, 2019

bowie-xmas

Do They Know It’s Christmas? (Live Aid, 1985).
Bowie’s 2013 Christmas “Elvis” Message.
Peace on Earth/The Little Drummer Boy.
Peter and the Wolf.
The Snowman.
Feed the World.

Ace predictions in my past year-end posts:

This project’s final year could be 2014—we’ll see how it goes. Xmas post, 2013.

But barring another Bowie album in 2015, this is the last Christmas post of the blog’s “primary” life. Xmas post, 2014.

2016 should bring…the rollout of a new music blog in the spring (ish). Xmas post, 2015 (for the life of me, I don’t remember what this idea was—it obviously didn’t happen).

It’s an established annual tradition that this blog will run a Christmas post and say, “well, this could be the last Xmas post, as we’re almost done.” And then Bowie would put out some new thing. But this time, I am very nearly sure, is the end. I can’t imagine I won’t get through the last nine songs before Dec. 2017.  Xmas post, 2016.

I’m assuming there’ll be a Tin Machine and/or a “Black Tie-to-whenever” box set in the new year. Xmas post, 2018.

At this point, you should really be betting against me, hard. So here, I’ll try to work some reverse magic: I expect next year that absolutely nothing of remote interest will be released by the Bowie estate. See you in December 2020!

I’d like to wish everyone a very merry Christmas, happy New Year, happy New Decade (or happy New Year Before the Decade Officially Ends on 31 December 2020, for the pedants). All my best, whether you’re a longtime reader or someone who pops in once in a while. The blog will continue, as it has been for some time now, with the occasional new entry on older “lost” songs that are reissued (one will probably be up next month); there’s also my new writing on 64 Quartets and the Patreon.

To everyone who bought Ashes to Ashes this year, thank you; for those who did so and also came to the readings, thank you again. I’m grateful to Bob Stanley, Rob Sheffield, Owen Hatherley and Billy Hough for hosting the readings, and to Rough Trade (NYC and London), McNally Jackson in NYC, and the Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester, UK. Thanks to Tariq Goddard and Repeater Books. Two friends who were essential to the writing of Ashes to Ashes have books of their own being released next year: keep an eye out for Rahawa Haile‘s In Open Country and Mairead Case‘s Tiny.

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A Bonus: Chapter End (Last). The Best of Bowie: the 2010s

My top 10 favorite songs of David Bowie’s last decade.

1. ‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore (LP version). The Next Day had shown that Bowie was back; “‘Tis a Pity,” in its wild solo demo or its Blackstar take, showed that he wanted to go somewhere else. One of the loopiest songs that he ever wrote: you can find a world within it, then another one lurking within that. The studio version has a slight edge thanks to Donny McCaslin’s career-topper of a performance and Bowie sounding as if he was back in the Marquee in London, cheering from a crowd of Mods.

2. Blackstar. A counterpart to “Station to Station,” at the other end of the line. A great fake-out of a song, ominous and lovely and strange, shot through with jokes: “I’m the Great I Am” invokes both the Book of Exodus and Herman’s Hermits’ “I’m Henry VIII, I Am.” It’s a joy that Bowie, at age 68, could sit down and say, “well, I suppose I need an epic,” then whisk one together like an omelet.

3. Love Is Lost. The highlight of The Next Day: love as being under house arrest. The harmonies!

4. Dollar Days. Raging against the dying of the light, then sitting down to watch the sunset.

5. Where Are We Now? It was, in retrospect, the perfect way, the only way, for him to return. His last season begins with a notice that it’s going to end, sooner than you think. How Bowie sings “you never knew that, that I could do that,” in a way that suggests he’d never thought he could, either.

6. I Can’t Give Everything Away. As with all the Blackstar tracks, it’s as funny as it’s haunting—there’s a wonderful petulance in the title phrase, along with a deep sadness. The last, inevitably-disappointing box set that the estate releases should have this as its title, with a photograph of the sealed Bowie vault on the cover. It’s Bowie’s “Into the Mystic“—a fading away, a dissolution into sound.

7. Sue (Maria Schneider version). Bowie’s most essential collaboration since the Reeves Gabrels era is one in which he began with fewer chips on the table—the eternal dilettante meets a brilliant composer and arranger with a lifetime steeped in jazz, a genre Bowie would only dabble in. It wound up as a partnership of equals: Bowie’s distinctive presence is central to the track but he’s not allowed to dominate it.

8. The Next Day. Loud, full of piss and vinegar, clipped, blown out—the sound of his early 2000s “rock” style being set afire. An unreconciled life.

9. No Plan. Nothing has changed, everything has changed.

10. Like a Rocket Man. I came to love this throwaway track while writing the last chapter of the book. Utterly shameless steals from all over the place, a possible last dig at Elton John, rewriting the “coke magus Bowie” years as a cartoon serial. It has one of his last great lines buried in it: “Now I wish today that yesterday was just tomorrow.” RIP, DB.

Here’s to the new years.


The Past Grows Larger

January 8, 2019

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As you’ll see in Ashes to Ashes, I made a joke that I expected the Bowie estate to release “Blaze” or another Blackstar outtake on his birthday, thus rendering the book incomplete before it published. This, surprisingly, did not happen (still a few hours left, though). But there is “new” Bowie music today nonetheless.

This Parlophone set of demos, perversely to be issued only on 7-inch vinyl singles for the time being, could have been titled DB ’68, as it seems to be mostly material written and demoed that year (or at the dawn of 1969, with “Space Oddity”). The “new” songs are:

Angel, Angel, Grubby Face. Demoed for Bowie’s never-made second Deram album, it was described by Nicholas Pegg as Bowie still being under the influence of British writers Keith Waterhouse and Alan Sillitoe, from whom he’d taken plotlines and titles for his first album (“Uncle Arthur,” “There Is a Happy Land,” “Little Bombardier”).

Mother Grey seems to be along the same lines, another piece of DB’s “surreal naturalism” period, lyrically. Demoed around late 1967/early 1968, and likely another “2nd Deram LP” contender.

Goodbye 3d (Threepenny) Joe. A title circulating for years, and I wondered in Rebel Rebel if it was the midway point between the transformation of “London Bye Ta Ta” (which has a new demo version in this set) into “Threepenny Pierrot” for the Looking Glass Murders in 1970. It seems possibly not, but we’ll see soon enough!

Love All Around. The scoop! Not even the title had been mentioned in Bowie histories, lists of bootlegs, etc., until now, I believe.

In addition, an upcoming auction lists three more unknown DB demos from 1965—“How Can i Forget You,” “I Live In Dreams” (“which includes a false start and some discussion around the key of the song”) and “It’s My True Love.”

The Parlophone set seems in part to be a copyright dump (hence the notice that the songs appeared for likely six hours on “streaming services” in December) and thus suggests in the years to come, we might get official releases of the heap of unreleased Bowie demos from that period—“Right on Mother,” “Rupert the Riley,” etc.

So as the Strokes once said, the end has no end. Here’s to Bowie’s birthday, and hope all of you are well.

Requisite hype coda: bookNYC tour dates.

 

 


NYC Tour, Feb 2019

January 7, 2019

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Hello, happy new year. A quick promotional note, as some dates are finally cemented.

In mid-February there will be a multi-venue book launch in the New York City area for, surprise, Ashes to Ashes.

This will kick off with an appearance on Evan “Funk Davies’ show on WFMU, in sunny Jersey City, from 9 PM to midnight on Wednesday 20 February 2019. I’ll try to get him to play an excerpt of “Leon”; he’s going to ask me about Absolute Beginners, a movie that mystified him a bit.

Thursday 21 February 2019, at 7 PM: a conversation with Billy Hough at McNally Jackson, 52 Prince Street, NYC. Hough is a downtown cabaret star (Scream Along with Billy), film actor (RampartTime Out of Mind), and ex-punk rocker (the GarageDogs). He works at McNally Jackson where he curates the How Not To … conversation series. McNally Jackson was Bowie’s local book store and is a great place.

and last, and certainly not least,

Monday 25 February 2019, again at 7 PM, at Rough Trade NYC, We once did a karaoke duet of “TVC 15.” Now Rob Sheffield and I will talk about Bowie! Rob is the author of On Bowie, Dreaming the Beatles, Love is a Mix Tape, Turn Around Bright Eyes, and Talking to Girls About Duran Duran.

If you’re in the area, I hope you can make it to something. I believe both events are free to the public, but if you want me to sign a book, you’ve got to get it there—that’s usually the deal.

Hopefully some UK information soon to come.


(Could It Really Be?) the Last Xmas

December 21, 2018

bowie-xmas

Do They Know It’s Christmas? (Live Aid, 1985).
Bowie’s 2013 Xmas “Elvis” Message.
Peace on Earth/The Little Drummer Boy.
Peter and the Wolf.
The Snowman.
Feed the World.

This blog turns 10 years old next year. Those of you who have followed it for a while know that one of its (unintentional) traditions is a Christmas post in which I, the fool who runs the “Bowie song by song” site, say something like “well, it looks like X is going to be the last year for the blog. We’re almost done.”

And then something happens in the following year—new Bowie music, another slowdown in production, etc.—so that I appear at year’s end to say pretty much the same thing.

This time it’s really and truly over. Well, in a way. All the Bowie songs (as of today) have been written about: in the book, if not on here. No doubt some new song will appear soon—possibly on his birthday! (You don’t have to make that joke, really!) But whatever the situation, this doesn’t mean the blog will shut down, nor that I won’t put up new posts on occasion, especially when something new happens in Bowieland (I’m assuming there’ll be a Tin Machine and/or a “Black Tie-to-whenever” box set in the new year.)

But we are moving into a more “posthumous” period in this blog, sad to say. It feels fitting—the end of a decade, a move ahead into something new.

So, a few things:

Ashes to Ashes will be out in mid February and can be pre-ordered in all sorts of ways (see link).

There will be some fun promotional events for it early next year. Things will kick off with two New York City dates—McNally Jackson in Soho, on Thursday 21 February 2019; and Rough Trade in Brooklyn, on Monday 25 February 2019. With hope, there will be some UK events relatively soon after that in March, and other appearances in the US throughout the year.

During 2019, I’m going to start working my way towards another project (or two), in a new blog or site. If this interests you, I’ll likely have some more details in a month or so. It’ll be quite a long road, full of detours—a shocker, I know.

I’d like to say thanks again to all of you. To commenters old and new, and to anyone who bought a book or has had something kind to say about them. Happy Xmas, happy New Year, Happy “we’re still here, and doing okay.” Here’s to the future. Take care.


“Loving the Alien” and “Never Let Me Down 2018”

October 20, 2018

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Hi! It’s been quite a while, I know. But we’re finally reviving the site for its last go-round.

To start with, here’s a review I just wrote for Pitchfork on the latest Bowie box set and my thoughts on the new Never Let Me Down (it’s okay? it made me kind of like the original more sometimes?). Feel free to add your own two cents on the new NLMD in the comments.

Hope everyone has been well—there will be a big book announcement very soon.

 


Let There Be a Book

July 19, 2018

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Hello! Happy summer. A brief update (I didn’t realize the last blog post was in April!)

Ashes To Ashes, the second and final book of my Bowie song-by-song criticism, is now done. Well, pretty much. There’s still a last, hard round of editing to come, then proofing, and likely some last-minute alterations in the autumn. But the work is finished. It’s strange to say that after all these years. All the Bowie songs are done.

Yes, yes: “but what about ‘Blaze’ or the 35 outtakes they’re going to release as soon as this publishes?” All power to them! I hope that they release tons of great Bowie music. But I consider this book my final word on the subject. Sure, many years down the road, if there have been substantial releases of currently-unheard music that would make me reconsider ideas or correct assertions, maybe I’d do a revision. And if they put out “Ernie Johnson” or “Black Hole Kids” or something, I’ll put an entry up on this blog to let people talk about it.

Two things about Ashes To Ashes:

  •  It’s publishing in early 2019, most likely in February. The date isn’t quite set yet, due to some variable factors. I’ll keep you updated.
  • It covers everything from “Sister Midnight” to “Blackstar.” It’ll be a big book.

Two things about the blog’s future:

  • There are five songs that I’ve written about for the book that I haven’t done as blog entries. I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I’ll likely put up one or two later this year, but you’re going to have to get the book to read some of them. Sorry. To quote the man, I can’t give everything away.
  • I’ve revised everything, sometimes radically, in the book. But the blog entries will remain as is, so don’t worry if you’re a fan of those versions. And the site will always be here. I’ll try to keep links up to date if I can, but that’s an endless, very tedious task. Given that the great majority of Bowie songs are on streaming services, the need for YouTube links isn’t as much a necessity for most entries anymore.

Thanks for your support over the years, and I hope you’ll enjoy the book. If you liked Rebel Rebel, you probably will. Talk soon.


Hey, Didn’t You Have a Blog Once, or Tentative Outcomes

April 8, 2018

10

Easter has passed and the most recent entry on this blog is its Christmas post. So, time enough for an update.

Here’s where things stand. I’m trying to finish the book in the next couple of months, with the hope of it coming out next year. Repeater Books, as always, has been very forgiving of my tardiness. A while ago, I determined that I had to go straight through and revise the whole manuscript before writing the final song entries, rather than periodically stopping revisions to write a new entry, as had been my original plan.

So I’ll be in the unusual situation of writing the last entries for the book before putting them on the blog. The book may well come out before some entries do. But at some point, they’ll all be up, or at least they’ll be available somewhere, in some form.

A few more things. I’ll be presenting at the Pop Conference in Seattle later this month, offering what’s essentially a remix/remodel of a few entries—mostly “Boys Keep Swinging” and “Criminal World.” And I’ll be getting down to New York to see the David Bowie Is exhibit before it closes, as I hope many of you have been able to do, too.

That’s it for now! Hope the spring is treating everyone well, and see you soon. (“Soon” being a relative concept on this blog, of course.)

best
CO


(Oh We Know It’s Not the) Last Xmas

December 22, 2017

bowie-xmas

Do They Know It’s Christmas? (Live Aid, 1985).
Bowie’s 2013 Xmas “Elvis” Message.
Peace on Earth/The Little Drummer Boy.
Peter and the Wolf.
The Snowman.
Feed the World.

In the grand tradition of this blog, the Xmas post will announce “well, this could be the end—only a few entries to go!” and then a year later, we’re still here. No such silly promises this time around. The blog will still be up on Xmas 2018, and there still may be an entry or two to go! “You think it’s easy? Realism.”

Some announcements:

Repeater Books and I are getting close to nailing down when Ashes to Ashes will come out—best guess is in a little over a year’s time. I’m in the thick of editing/revising all of the ’90s chapters, pretty much at once. When that’s over, and the few remaining Blackstar pieces are written, it’s done. So, only a matter of a few (possibly nightmarish) months of work left.

Also, if you happen to be in Seattle for the Pop Conference in late April, you can see me do a presentation called “Boys Keep Swinging In a Criminal World,” which is essentially going to be a mash-up of the “John, I’m Only Dancing,” “Boys Keep Swinging” and “Criminal World” entries, with various other bits. With hope, I’ll have finished the book by then and will be in rather good spirits.

Happy holidays to all and here’s to the new year. Thanks for your patience and support, particularly to those who bought the book (or are considering doing so).

Here’s to David Bowie: you’re missed more than ever. Everyone says ‘hi.’


State of Play

April 13, 2017

db4

A few people of late have asked me (on Twitter, Facebook, name your social media) about what’s going on with this site. No updates in two months!

Here’s the thing: I’m behind in writing my book, which is due this year to Repeater Books. In part because after Bowie died, I pretty much couldn’t write anything of value for half a year. I lost that time, and, you know, I don’t regret it (I listened to a lot of Bob Dylan). Something of the same was true for Nicholas Pegg, and I imagine for other writers on DB. It was just tough to do anything productive then.

But I am behind. And, to be honest, this blog doesn’t pay any bills. Books do, in a very roundabout and not-particularly-lucrative way. My day jobs do.

The priority for 2017 is therefore: finish the book as quickly as I can, and work when I need to, which is very often. The blog is, sadly, a secondary business at this point. I need to write the last Blackstar entries, to air them out before I finish the book—that is the impetus to get them done. But otherwise, the blog cannot be a priority. I hope you understand.

The next entry should hopefully be done this month. Or it won’t. Take it as it comes. And thank you for your support.


Last Xmas

December 23, 2016

bowie-xmas

Do They Know It’s Christmas? (Live Aid, 1985).
Bowie’s 2013 Xmas “Elvis” Message.
Peace on Earth/The Little Drummer Boy.
Peter and the Wolf.
The Snowman.
Feed the World.

It’s an established annual tradition that this blog will run a Christmas post and say, “well, this could be the last Xmas post, as we’re almost done.” And then Bowie would put out some new thing. But this time, I am very nearly sure, is the end. Even at my current slow pace (hindered now by a sprained wrist I got from falling on ice early this week—I am typing this with a splinted hand and using an enormous pencil to hit right-hand keys; it diminishes verbosity), I can’t imagine I won’t get through the last nine songs before Dec. 2017. The next entry will be up in early January, here’s hoping.

So happy holidays to all. Thanks so much for your support, particularly to those who bought the book (a royalty payment that came last week has been a great help). It’s been a tough year, no? We’ll get through the last songs in 2017; I’ll finish the second book, and hopefully do Bowie justice.

Here’s to David Bowie: you’re missed more than ever. Everyone says ‘hi.’