The Spellout

Art, Culture & Unavoidable Spite

Category: Music (page 1 of 34)

The Man Who Souled the World (Extended Dub)

David Bowie flier, summer 1987I wrote an obituary for David Bowie in Vegas Seven last Monday, while the shock of his death was fresh. Truth be told, I’m still dumbfounded by the loss, and I expect I will be for years to come. (I’m not over the 1991 death of Freddie Mercury, either. And I get angry about it every time Queen goes on tour with some has-been or game show contestant in Mercury’s rightful place.)

There are some losses that never seem real because the lives never seemed real, either. I know David Bowie was human; know it all too well this sad, shocking week. But I was never able to imagine being in the same room with him.  I shared a roof with him once, but it was the roof of the Thomas & Mack Center, an intimate setting only for college basketball. There were 19,000 other people there, and the half of them who weren’t there only to see Nine Inch Nails were probably thinking the same thing I was: Is that really him? Is he really here? Is David Bowie really a thing, or did we imagine him?

In any case, my Seven obituary is reprinted below. If I’d had the time and the space to do so, I might have expanded on a few things I touch on in passing, in particular Bowie’s unfairly maligned 1980s output (I’ve been listening to Never Let Me Down and the Tin Machine albums all week, and dated production aside, they hold up), and the shabby treatment Bowie received on the Outside tour, in Las Vegas and, I suspect, nationwide. Mosh-pit jackasses threw their beer cups and plastic water bottles at him. You might not have seen it from your perspective on the floor, but I had a clear view of it from my elevated place at stage right and mentioned it in my October 1995 review . (It’s in the old, Patrick Gaffey-run Las Vegas Weekly, and I’ll reprint it here just as soon as I can dig it up.)

In your defense, Las Vegas, Bowie didn’t seem that bothered by the garbage. And it was the 1990s; back then, audiences were more frisky, because rock ‘n’ roll was still around in a way that counted.  Believe me, as one of Las Vegas most enduring cheerleaders, I’d rather say that it didn’t happen: I’d love to say that David Bowie came to town and everyone was pie-eyed and reverent and kept their fucking beer cups to themselves. But it did happen. I saw it. I’m just not sure I actually saw Bowie himself, feel me?

(Funny how trolling travels. When I snagged the link for the video below—Bowie’s 1993 cover of Morrissey’s “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday,” done in the style of Pin-Ups—I made the mistake of reading through the comments. Don’t do it. It’s like watching the man get pelted with trash all over again.)

David Bowie is gone. He left Earth on January 10, after some 50 years of making music, film and art for a world that embraced him even when it didn’t quite understand him. His discography is, on the whole, unmatched in its quality—yes, even when you factor in Tin Machine and Never Let Me Down. And today, like many of you, I’m listening to that music. There is no better way to pay homage to David Bowie than to listen to his records.

Bowie was more than a supernaturally gifted songwriter and musician. He was, as my girlfriend said this morning, “a beacon for freaks.” So many of our friends felt validated by him; no matter what your struggle was, Bowie had a soundtrack for it. As we read our way through our Facebook feeds, we realized that every single person we knew—the goths, the jocks, the poets, the rockers, the ravers—every one of them had been drawn to Bowie at an early age, and every one of them knew a different man, from Goblin King to Thin White Duke to Ziggy Stardust.

I saw Bowie perform only once. It was October 19, 1995, at the Thomas & Mack—the Outside tour, which he conducted in partnership with Nine Inch Nails. The two bands actually shared the stage for five songs, including Bowie’s “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)” and Trent Reznor’s “Hurt.” The rest of Bowie’s set was heavy with songs relating to death, either directly (“Look Back in Anger,” “A Small Plot of Land”) or obliquely (“Andy Warhol,” “Under Pressure”).

And yet, I have rarely seen a performer with more life in him, more commitment to the moment at hand. Some assholes in the audience threw their water bottles at Bowie, but he didn’t let it faze him. He just danced around the projectiles and unwrapped gift after gift: “Breaking Glass,” “I’m Deranged,” and “The Man Who Sold the World.” And at the end of his set, at the end of a splendid version of “Teenage Wildlife,” he mimed stabbing himself in the gut and fell over, “dead.” That night, 20-plus years ago, Bowie bluntly told us that he would have to go someday, and he predicted the way he would go out: singing.

Today, every Bowie song is a sacred thing. Yes, even the pop stuff he made in the 1980s and early 1990s, the music that Pitchfork would like to pretend doesn’t exist. I can hear Bowie’s alpha and omega in every single note. He was always, always telling us that this was too good to last, and always exhorting us to live fully in the moment: This is our last dance/this is our last dance/this is ourselves. I couldn’t state David Bowie’s central message more clearly than that. Live your life as whoever you want to be. Enjoy every second doing it. And, when you can, throw Aladdin Sane or Black Tie White Noise on the stereo, and remember the man who souled the world.

Get it Get it: “Opus at the End of Everything” by The Flashbulb

I love The Flashbulb. Benn Jordan, yo ti quiero mucho in a way that is largely platonic. Goddamn it, I wanna be entombed with you (and half the ladies from Mad Men). Your albums, electronic at their root, are blossoms of color and sound, but Opus at the End of Everything is an entire field of dazzling blooms. This is a soundtrack for catharsis, and you’ve delivered it at the precise moment I needs me some of that. I’ve only listened to the album once and I’m ready to declare it one of the best (mostly) instrumental albums I own. (You’ve knocked another one of yours out of the top ten.) It’s with great pleasure that I command my blog’s 17 readers to buy a copy of Opus for themselves — either in CD ($13.99) or as a high-quality download ($9.99).

Thanks again, Benn. I’m putting the record on my iPod and phone now, and I will apply it to myself as needed over the next life-changing year.

Some Knew Romantics

Okay, this one suckered me in, in spite of the fact that I haven’t rated Duran Duran for a good long time. (I have friends who gave them too much credit, and others who gave the band no credit at all; I fall somewhere between them.) But I must confess that I got that old Duran Duran feeling while watching this clever Jonas Akerlund video, in which the band’s principals are replaced by a supergroup of 1980s supermodels — Naomi Campbell as Simon LeBon, Eva Herzigova as Nick Rhodes, Helena Christensen as Roger Taylor and Cindy Crawford as John Taylor. (LeBon’s wife Yasmin plays the “replacement guitarist”: “I am not a member of Duran Duran,” she says pointedly. Poor Andy Taylor, vituperated even in goodnatured irony.) In the course of the nine-minute clip, the models misbehave as we might believe the band did in its heyday: they trash hotel rooms, give bored interviews, make out with supermodels. And so help me, it works. I totally got that old Duran Duran feeling for a hot minute there, even though the song itself, while completely and utterly grounded in Duran Duran’s classic sound, isn’t that interesting to me. Still, I have to give it up for a band that’s still making music videos … and can get five supermodels to come to a hotel party.

An Open Letter to Robert Smith, Lead Singer of The Cure

De seis maneras diferentes - chapter one

Please forgive my familiar tone, Robert. You don’t know me; I have never met or interviewed you, and I have only been in the same (big) room with you once, for the Las Vegas stop of the “Wild Mood Swings” tour of 1996. I wore Some Black Items (by accident, really). and you wore the jersey of Vegas’ International Hockey League team, the Las Vegas Thunder. I remember thinking that it made you seem like a regular guy, despite the hairspray and whiteout. A regular Canadian guy, but still. An IHL hockey jersey? Really, Robert? For one crazy night I was more goth than you, and I was wearing a fucking Guayabera.

I’m not what you’d call a superfan. I like The Cure’s music well enough, and I even own a trio of the band’s records (“Disintegration,” “The Head on the Door” and, wait for it, “Galore,” the greatest hits compilation), yet I am nothing compared to my friend Kristin, who once had your face plastered six imposing feet tall on the wall of her tiny apartment, or my friend Jim, who I think once reverse-engineered your songs in an attempt to discover your musical genome. By comparison I’m scarcely more than a dabbler.

As I said, I currently own three Cure albums and I’ve owned seven in total. (Loaned the vinyl copies of  “Pornography” and “Standing on a Beach” to girlfriends and lost them in breakups. Traded in the vinyl of “Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me” and the CD of “Wild Mood Swings.”) Yet for this seeming indifference I have a real respect for you, and for The Cure. When your music connects with me — as it tends to do in this receding time of year — it burrows into my soul and stays there.  I can name five Cure songs that have affected the course of my life, or even changed it outright. It was purely a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

I connected with “The Walk” in January 1985. This is the first song I remember playing at Nightscape, an all-ages club in Santa Ana, California. I’d been living something of a sheltered life up to that point, the combination of suburban and religious upbringings — and your song, played at discotheque volume, sounded like a transmission from another galaxy. I actually shivered in my black U2 t-shirt — the only piece of black clothing I owned at the time — as I stepped tentatively to the dance floor and broke into an awkward shimmy. Today I own many pieces of rockstar black and my shimmy is moderately less awkward, and “The Walk” continues to thrill me.

I connected with “A Few Hours After This” in August 1985. I had my driver’s license and my first car and was beginning to explore Southern California as I never had when my dad was driving — I stopped at taco stands, took the Balboa Ferry (“We don’t need to use that; we can just drive around the peninsula”), and pulled off the road simply to stare at things. One day, while driving the Pacific Coast Highway south from Corona del Mar to Laguna Beach, I pulled off the road to drown my eyes in the blue expanse of the Pacific … and “A Few Hours After This” came on a mix tape and bestowed a charm on the moment. For the first time, I became conscious of the fact that the world was a fact, and that there other people and other places on the other side of that horizon. Years later I stood on a beach in Thailand and confirmed it, though I owe that moment to Kula Shaker’s “Mystical Machine Gun.” Be that as it may.

I connected with “Just Like Heaven” in October 1987. This one’s about a girl, Robert. Her name was Jennifer, and she had a heart-shaped face and a magnificent spill of black hair that cascaded over her right eye. I had a crush on her that dated back several years, and one night it was fulfilled while this song played in the next room, followed immediately by Gene Loves Jezebel’s “The Motion of Love.” Then her ex-boyfriend, a wiry ex-Marine, burst into the house and tried to kill me.

I know you’re not surprised by any of this. When you put that song out into the world, you knew what it was capable of doing. Love songs, good love songs, break as many hearts as they unite.

I connected with “Gone!” in September 1996. This largely silly song was witness to more sad business with a girl. I’d prefer not to talk about it.

I connected with “Pictures of You” (single edit) in October 2005. Some 15 years after I heard this song for the first time, it finally connected with me while I was taking the bus to and from my job at the Seattle Times. This is the reason I’ve kept that greatest hits CD, Robert: It’s the only place I can get the shortened version of this beautiful song.

I like the original, longer version well enough, but the shortened “single” mix — 4:41 versus 7:19 — removes everything that I didn’t know I disliked about the original mix. The instrumental passages are streamlined. Much of the reverb and murk is  stripped away from the mix; the vocals and guitar are warmed up, and the drums are sharpened. (And I love, love, love the “skipped heartbeat” after “You were always so lost in the dark”). Every review of this song I’ve ever read, even the positive reviews, call it “icy.” This version could melt anything down to its atoms.

Sometimes I enjoy the way The Cure rambles on, Robert — but when you’ve got a love song this perfect, it’s best to focus it, to give it a sharpened point. The best love songs are stealth weapons, small enough to get inside you and powerful enough to grow to a thousand times their size once you’ve taken them in. That’s what happened with “Pictures of You,” Robert: It got into my underneath stuff and detonated, mixing the past with the present. I saw my new city of Seattle clearly for the first time, and became even more excited by the possibilities it offered.

For these songs, Robert, and for making several of my friends very happy over these past three decades, I give you most sincere thanks.  By the way, while riding the bus recently, I could swear I saw Jennifer riding a Vespa up to Queen Anne.  She looked happy.

Pogo hops to Seattle


If you haven’t yet heard any of Nick “Pogo” Bertke’s downtempo techno remixes of popular films, you need to. There’s an entire YouTube page full of them here. I recommend you start with his “Mary Poppins” remix “Expialidocious,” then move on to Pogo’s remixes of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” “Terminator 2” and “Toy Story.” After all that, you should check out the video at top — “Joburg Jam,” the first track of Bertke’s “World Remix” series — and you’ll fully understand why I’m so excited to see this 22-year-old wunderkind at Chop Suey on March 10.

Bertke isn’t the first electronic music artist to reassemble fractions of sampled voices, melodies and sounds into new songs; literally hundreds of prominent artists, from Brian Eno to Jean Michel Jarre to Coldcut, have re-ordered those puzzle pieces before him. But Pogo has an ear for a catchy melody and a real sense of what will please a crowd, and every one of his movie and television mixes builds on its source material without being wholly dependent upon it. “Joburg Jam” proves that Bertke can find the music in anything, and he’s only going to get better at what he does. He’s not perfect — many of his tracks don’t have a proper ending, and he’s far too dependent on the verse-chorus-verse structure for an artist whose songs don’t really have words — but he’s awfully damned good, and he’s well worth the $10 you’ll pay to seem him in Seattle. I know I say this a lot, but trust me: The next time Pogo comes to town, tickets will be twice as expensive and the venue twice as large. See Pogo now, before he goes inevitably massive.

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