An Announcement

December 3, 2014


Longtime blog readers may recall that from roughly the dawn of time I’ve been mentioning that the blog was being turned into a book. Well, that day has finally come. Rebel Rebel (essentially Bowiesongs Book One) will be published on 27 March 2015.

I’m likely to create a separate website for the book soon, and I’ll let you know about it when it’s done. But, you might ask, what’s so exciting about this book then?

* At last count, it was 574 pages! That’s a brick of Bowie for you, perfect for long train trips or island exiles. It’s longer than my copy of Tristram Shandy. And we only get up to the 1976 tour!

* Every entry on this blog from “Liza Jane” to “Station to Station” was revised, updated, corrected, scrubbed up, and made leaner or thicker, more funny or more ambitious (“Alternative Candidate” comes to mind for the latter). There are also a few new entries for songs that weren’t circulating when the blog started in ’09 (e.g., “April’s Tooth of Gold”).

* There’s “The Unheard Music” section, in which I try to catalog, in chronological order, all of the “lost” Bowie songs, from the numbers that he sang in a skiffle band in 1958 to the legendary Man Who Fell to Earth soundtrack. Also, a brief summary of the “Bowipochrypha”—songs that fans have thought or hoped were by Bowie but sadly aren’t.

* A lengthy Bowie discography, 1964-1976.

* A huge bibliography of Bowie-related and other material, for fans of bibliographies.

* A rather elephantine notes section, featuring everything from Trevor Bolder’s preferred basses in 1972 to various fine points on chord progressions of Bowie songs to some long, occasionally bizarre digressions (Thomas Paine shows up in one).

And more! I hope you enjoy it. Back to Reality in a few days.



Nothing Has Changed Open Thread (& “‘Tis Pity” too, why not)

November 14, 2014

nothing has changed,

A place for discussion about the new compilation, plus the new B side, which is not found on said compilation.

What I wrote a few weeks ago:

The reversed-time sequencing (Disc 1: “Sue” to the Outside “Strangers When We Meet”; Disc 2: “Buddha of Suburbia” to “Wild Is the Wind”; Disc 3: “Fame” to “Liza Jane”) is a fascinating gambit. It’s not just that Bowie’s opening the set with the long recitative piece “Sue.” After “Where Are We Now” the first real “hit” comes 13 tracks in (“Thursday’s Child”). For casual American fans, the entire first disc could prove a blank: only “I’m Afraid of Americans” may register.

All compilations wind up creating narratives, if inadvertent ones: even a hack job by an estranged label can still tell a story. The earlier major Bowie career retrospectives (ChangesBowie, The Singles) centered on establishing “classic” Bowie parameters: pretending Bowie didn’t record anything before 1969; lots of Ziggy and Scary Monsters; proposing the idea Bowie took long sabbaticals in the late Eighties and Nineties.

So a new twist here with Bowie placing accents on latter-day work. Ziggy gets dispatched in three songs (as many as …hours gets), The “Berlin” albums get one song apiece (there as many songs from the Toy sessions). Tin Machine gets written out (as, essentially, does Reeves Gabrels: the …hours singles are mixes that excised much of Gabrels’ guitar work; “Hallo Spaceboy” is the Pet Shop Boys remix, etc). There’s no “John I’m Only Dancing” or “Holy Holy,” no “Station to Station” or “Quicksand.” But “Silly Boy Blue” is there, as is the gawky “You’ve Got a Habit of Leaving.”

The second disc is the Bowie pop sequence spooled backward: the peak of “Absolute Beginners” crumbles into “Dancing In the Street” and “Blue Jean” before coalescing again into the bright run of “Modern Love” and “Let’s Dance,” “Under Pressure” and “Fashion.” Following this group, the Berlin pieces seem like fractured pop songs, odd, distorted echoes of what’s come “before” (esp. “Boys Keep Swinging” and “Sound and Vision”).

And the last disc is like the old legend about Merlin aging in reverse: you begin with the mature wizard (“Diamond Dogs,” “Young Americans”) and watch him sink into adolescence (“All the Young Dudes” “Drive-In Saturday”) and childhood: “Starman” and “Space Oddity” seem more like kid’s songs than ever. Back and back you go, until you end with “Liza Jane,” with a barely 18-year-old amateur screaming his way into an ancient American piece of minstrelsy and theft.

Some of the sequencing is inspired: the opening trio of “Sue”–>“Where Are We Now”–>Murphy remix of “Love Is Lost” works marvelously. There’s a decade-long jump-cut from “Stars Are Out Tonight” to “New Killer Star,” and a lovely melancholic sequence of “Your Turn to Drive” (with a slightly longer fade than the original release) to “Shadow Man” to “Seven.” “Loving the Alien” and “This Is Not America” make a fine shadow pair.

And some of it’s not. “Everyone Says ‘Hi’” seems like thin gruel when bracketed by “New Killer Star” and “Slow Burn.” The overdone remake “Let Me Sleep Beside You” (a different, more “upfront” mix than the Toy bootleg, with some notable changes (a new backing vocal on the chorus, for example)). “Time Will Crawl” stands bewildered and alone, like a survivor of an airplane crash. The block of …hours songs sap the comp’s energy. Using the single edits of the likes of “Young Americans” and “Ashes to Ashes” (presumably for CD space reasons?) is cutting corners for no reason in 2014. Outside and Earthling get shortchanged. And damn it, “Laughing Gnome” should’ve been on here.



“Sue” Open Thread

October 11, 2014


We won’t be getting to “Sue (Or In a Season of Crime)” on the blog until late in summer 2015, most likely. So here’s a place to record for your first impressions, once the song debuts tomorrow on Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour at 2 PM UK time.

Resumption of Service

July 23, 2014


Thanks all, for your patience. We’re done, and this beast is off to its publisher. Hope to have a new post up either later this week or early next.


The Last Push

June 19, 2014


Well, I’d wanted to get another post out but in all honesty, I cannot do anything else until I finally finish this manuscript. I go on vacation the week of July 7, so it’s got to be done by then, because I just want to finally finish Wolf Hall and read some Kieron Gillen comics and not think about Bowie that week.

So: last leg. Bear with me, and once this is over, we’ll get back to a weekly or even a semi-weekly (imagine!) pace.

And if you’ve a yen to talk about something Bowie, talk about some of the er, utter absolute classic Bowie songs that have like 10 bloody comments on them!

Here’s “Space Oddity”!
Here’s “Quicksand”!
Here’s “The Man Who Sold the World“!
Here’s “John I’m Only Dancing“!

Have at it. See you on the other side. I think you’re going to like this book.

all best


Top: 1915 Irish Great War propaganda poster, via WWI Propaganda Posters.

Liza Jane Redux

April 18, 2014


Just a quick note: the blog’s taking a break until around May 2 or so. So have a happy rest-of-April.

I’m going to be in Seattle for the EMP’s 2014 Pop Conference, where I’ll be offering “Liza Jane: a Mongrel’s Ramble Through the 20th Century” on Saturday 26 April, at 10:45 AM (unfortunately, I’m scheduled directly against a friend’s presentation that I was quite looking forward to hearing: such are the minor cruelties of life).

This presentation is an elephantine version of the first entry of the book. It’s a recounting of the odd, twisted history of the song “Liza Jane” or “Little Liza Jane,” a tale whose supporting actors include Bowie, Huey “Piano” Smith, Fats Domino, Edward Everett Hale, the Countess Ada de Lachau, Nina Simone, Jean Toomer, Stepin Fetchit, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Ruth St. Denis, Alan Lomax, Zora Neale Hurston, Duane Eddy and Levon Helm, among others.

Looking forward to finally digging into Heathen once I get back. All best.

Plus (for those attending):

A Liza Jane discography

Xmas Grab Bag

December 23, 2013

Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy.
Feed the World/The Snowman.
Peter and the Wolf.

Well, I’d hoped to get through one more song before the new year but it’s likely not going to happen. Christmas has crept upon us rather without warning. This is a suitable end to the slowest-paced year of this blog’s short life. Where in fleeter days, I made it through The Man Who Sold the World through the end of Station to Station in a year, in 2013 I made it from Leon/Outside through…about half of ‘Hours.’ The main culprit has been this brick of pages as shown here, which should be ready for public consumption fairly soon.

Please have a fine holiday and thanks for sticking around. I greatly appreciate, as always, all commenters and anyone who’s had a kind word to say about this project (whose final year could be 2014—we’ll see how it goes. If Bowie puts out another album……)

All best,


“Don’t Be Afraid”?

October 17, 2013


Don’t Be Afraid (Oh Darling).

It’s going to take a while to write the next entry, a baggy thing that has to cover all of Bowie’s Internet and video game antics in the late Nineties. In the meantime, here’s something I’ve meant to ask readers for a while.

“Don’t Be Afraid” (aka “Oh Darling”) is one of the big question marks of the Bowie outtakes “canon.” Included on a number of bootlegs and assigned to the confusing period of early-mid 1971, when Bowie was grinding out songs under assumed names and with variety of bands and singers (see “Rupert the Riley,” “Looking for a Friend,” “Man in the Middle“), “Don’t Be Afraid” remains a shaky addition to Bowie’s oeuvre. In his latest book revision, Nicholas Pegg argues that the “balance of evidence suggests that ‘Don’t Be Afraid’ should be filed…as a piece of 1971 apocrypha.”

The best argument for “Afraid” being apocryphal is that for a long time the track was classed with “Something Happens,” another alleged 1971 bootleg. (The legend is that the tape of “Afraid” came from an American radio interview in early 1972, which seems baffling even if the track is a legitimate Bowie song.) Then in 2008, the illustrated DB board conclusively proved that “Something Happens” was actually a Colin Blunstone song called “Something Happens When You Touch Me,” just slowed down and murked up. So the odds that “Don’t Be Afraid” has a similar secret origin are substantial.

That said, no one has yet to come up with any competing theory as to where the track came from. And there were a lot of Bowie demos cut at Radio Luxembourg’s studio in 1971. The singer is obviously not Bowie, and the players aren’t Mick Ronson and the rest of the Spiders. They could be, however, Mickey King (singer of “Rupert”) and the Arnold Corns crew of Mark Pritchett et al.

I still don’t know whether, in my book, to dump this song in the “apocrypha” appendix or to include it in the chapter with the rest of the Ziggy Stardust/ Hunky Dory songs. So now’s your chance to vote on the canon: is this a Bowie song or no?

[P.S.: July 2014: it’s not! It’s a demo by the UK prog/metal band Czar–see comments]

Top: Bowie’s first night in America, January 1971.

The Next Day: Open Thread

February 28, 2013

next day

All right, it’s streaming now, so what’s the point of waiting, really? Plus I’ve been buried in work, and the next post is going to be one of the epics, so why not talk about the new Bowie album?

I won’t be getting to the songs on The Next Day until spring 2014. However, in the hopes of preventing discussion of the new album from derailing/drowning other posts, please use this post as an open thread to say what you think about the new one.

A word on civility. I’ve rarely had to ban anyone or delete posts, for which I’m grateful. However, this is a new album, there’s a lot of media hype and there are going to be a lot of strong opinions about it: excitement/disappointment/bemusement/bafflement/irritation. All I ask, in the words of my old gym coach Mr. Shea, is that you “play the ball, not the man.” Or, in less athletic terms: criticize the record if you’d like, but not your fellow posters for having differing opinions on it. For example, if you start a comment with “I can’t believe you call yourself a David Bowie fan,” you are not being cool.

Have at it. See you next week.


Winter Chaos Delays

November 2, 2011

Hi all–

For those blissfully unaware of the latest awful New England weather, this past Saturday we were blessed with a pre-Halloween snowstorm. Since then I, like hundreds of thousands of others, have had no power, heat, phone or Internet. But I am doing okay—the beer keeps cold enough when stuffed in a snowbank, and you can still light burners on gas stoves with kitchen matches.

Thankfully our second home Anselblue Design Studio finally has power/Internet restored as of this morning. But no new entries until next week, most likely. I’m truly sorry to leave “Shake It,” of all things, as the current face of the blog, but what can you do.

For those of you out there still without power—hang on and keep warm.