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The Freedom of Music: Bowie, anti-Bowie

January 24th, 2016
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One likes to believe in the freedom of music.Rush – Spirit of Radio.

Procrastination is an ugly thing. It lends itself to taking a task, simple or complex, and making it harder. Case in point, David Bowie died and I was going to write about it, maybe discuss how often Bowie eulogies seemed to start with “I’m not one of those Bowie freaks, but I really liked x,” x being a song, en era, a character.sidebar-2 Bowie offered, I would have written, seemingly something for everyone. But instead of writing it, I procrastinated, held it off a week. And then Glenn Frey died.

Glenn Frey of the Eagles may be the anti-Bowie, never out of character as the cool guy. Instead of being the kind of act were everybody likes something in the catalogue, the Eagles are always surprisingly contentious. There is much more of a love/hate element to the Eagles. Who could imagine, for instance, The Dude getting thrown out of a cab protesting, “I fucking hate David Bowie man!”?

So I procrastinate, and now I have to weave together a web that interestingly compares David Bowie and Glenn Frey. Good luck with that, I’d say.

Do you remember when Farrah Fawcett died? It was the same day as Michael Jackson and of course the sad news of this beautiful woman, a highly talented and successful actress, was buried in the avalanche of grief for Jackson. So too is the fate of Dale Griffin, whose passing was announced a few hours before Glenn Frey’s.

Dale Griffin passed away on Sunday at age 67 after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He was the drummer for 70s British glam-rock band Mott the Hoople. Mott the Hoople spawned the careers of Ian Hunter and Bad Company’s Mick Ralphs. Their biggest hit was All The Young Dudes, written by, wait for it… David Bowie.

Considered to be a youth anthem, Bowie protested that All the Young Dudes was nothing of the sort. “All the Young Dudes is a song about this news…” the news being that the world had only five years left to live, as told on the Ziggy Stardust song “Five Years.”

Pushing through the market square
So many mothers sighing.
News had just come over,
we had five years left to cry in.

Like so many Bowie songs, five years is a story that begins by introducing a person, or in this case, persons, as in mothers sighing. The mothers may sigh at the news and the young dudes may carry the news, but All the Young Dudes opens with Billy rapping “all night about his suicide…”

Five years opens the Bowie album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, featuring the song Ziggy Stardust:

Ziggy played guitar,
jamming good with Wierd and Gilly,
and the Spiders from Mars…”

Story telling is at the heart of art. We all get that a great book, or play, or movie tells a story. Fewer think along those lines when it comes to a picture, but spend an afternoon at a good gallery amongst the renaissance masters and you’ll find stories of heroic deeds and stories of saints and historical stories and even stories of average people, or at least average people of some degree of leisure.

But pop music as story telling? Oh sure, we all get the Bob Dylan is a storyteller, even named his box set Storyteller. And yes, we get that The Who’s Tommy has some vague storyline, if only because we have been told as much so often. And above you can see that Bowie was telling stories, but it’s hardly the same is it? It’s not like you open a song with “it was a dark and stormy night.”

On a dark desert highway,
cold wind in my hair.

And so the Eagles open Hotel California with a variation of “it’s a dark and stormy night.” Like the opening to many a good story, it presents a time and a place, the desert at night, and creates an action, driving. Here’s another, see if you can spot the elements of setting:

I’m standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona…

The essence of good art is good story telling. In the last two weeks we have lost David Bowie and Glenn Frey, two men who were outstanding at telling their story through pop songs, no easy feat. They had different styles, used the format of the three to five minute song in different ways, but at their heart, they both told stories that we as an audience responded to.

May they rest in peace.


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