Farewell to Starman.

confusingbowie
So which of you is the real David Bowie?… oh…

 

A google image search for “David Bowie” returns a host of dissimilar faces, some only identifiable as pictures of Bowie by his left eye. Just as his personal styles has changed over his decades-long career, Bowie’s musical style was also in constant development. While there is no song or album that is quintessentially David Bowie (he dipped a toe in almost everything), I’ll be looking at one of his most well-known songs and one of my personal favorites, Space Oddity (1969), in memory of that eclectic but nonetheless exceptional artist.

 

Space Oddity – David Bowie

Ground Control to Major Tom
Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on

Ground Control to Major Tom (Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven, Six)
Commencing countdown, engines on (Five, Four, Three)
Check ignition and may God’s love be with you (Two, One, Liftoff)

This is Ground Control to Major Tom
You’ve really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare

This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in the most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today

For here am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do

Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles
I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much
She knows

Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you…

Here am I floating ’round my tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do.

While this song outwardly appears to be about an astronaut who finds himself feeling weirdly at home in space, the lyrics are widely accepted to describe Bowie himself (or any rising star, for that matter) who is just beginning to experience the world of stardom. Major Tom’s physical height above the rest of the world is heavily suggestive of Bowie’s growing fame, and questions about “whose shirts1 you wear” further suggest the public’s interest in his personal life. However, Tom’s remark that “the stars” (as in celebrities) “look very different” suggests that fame is not what it seems to outsiders: in fact, it is alienating as indicated by Major Tom’s loss of contact with Ground Control, drifting off into space, and his helplessness (“and there’s nothing I can do”) to stop himself from floating away. This view frames Spaces Oddity as a sort of soft and still somewhat unaware prequel to Fame (1975), a cry out against the manipulative and heartless treatment of great artists by their managers and labels.

 

 


1 “Shirts” is probably a reference to sports teams, but asking about his actual shirts would also qualify as invasive, actually, even more so

Lindner, how are we supposed to choose one.

Aaahh… this prompt tears1 me up.

See here, the lyrics of In My Life written (probably2) by John Lennon.

In My Life

There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

In my life I love you more

This song, with its sentimental vein and comforting guitar riff, almost made me cry upon first listen. I would assume that most people have in their hearts people and places and things of great significance that, for some reason or another, are no longer a part of their regular routines. That seems to be the major draw for this song, because although it was initially written by one man about a lost friend, it remains applicable to almost anyone.

This song’s statement about sentiment was revelatory to approximately one year younger me, namely, that it is not weird to be very fond of and think often of the past, but that we should still try to seek happiness in the present with those people, places, and things that we can enjoy for the time being. The best part of this song is that it neither commands that we clean the slate and cast off our bittersweet memories nor wallows in agony about things that are no more, but fondly acknowledges both the past and present. Fast forward six months from now3, and this song may possibly be my life anthem; we’ll see how sentimental I get.

Check it out 4:


1 Tears used in the sense of tearing paper. I really think there’s a need for a spelling distinction.

2 As ever, the Beatles can’t seem to decide exactly who wrote each of their songs.

3 Senior life holla

4 EDIT: So in revisiting, I realized the original video I posted was definitely not sung by the Beatles themselves. Here’s a real(ish) one that, while sketchy, is at least the correct version. Judy Collins also did a nice little cover.

“The voice of God.”

Designs on an early Cocteau Twins album cover.
Designs on an early Cocteau Twins album cover.

Transcendentalism – a lot of people find this mindset baffling, idealistic, and impractical. While its short life as a movement does vouch for its strangeness, the ideas of the transcendentalists are not lost on open-minded readers, and anyone who has a concept of aspiration toward a state of enlightenment can appreciate the wisdom of transcendental minds and the way those men and women wielded the power of words to express their lofty ideas. One would be hard-pressed to find a modern-day transcendentalist, but the part of that ideology that resonates most with me is the necessity of becoming the best individual possible by learning to value yourself and your thoughts and how you are connected to nature and ultimately all other people and beings in the world.

Transcendentalists believed that revelations about life and humanity could be reached within one’s own mind, often while in nature. Although most people are no longer able to retreat into unpopulated areas, we are able to retreat into our own minds, and music is one way that I find allows me to limit distractions and enter a mindset of reflection. There’s one group in particular I know of that I feel embodies the spirit of transcendentalism. The Cocteau Twins was an alternative rock band that reached its peak of critical success in the 1980s as the champion of the ethereal genre of music. Featuring Elizabeth Fraser’s soaring soprano vocals, once referred to as “the voice of God”, and frequent glossolalia, the band’s music is considered unlistenable by many, as inaccessible, perhaps, as transcendentalism itself.

Singers, tap dancers, and athletes.

Apparently the setup for this album cover, which is actually pretty complex and symbolic,  was taken down and then recreated because the mic was pointing in the wrong direction. Perfectionists.
Apparently the setup for this album cover, which is actually pretty complex and symbolic, was taken down and then recreated because the mic was pointing in the wrong direction. Perfectionists.

Although I never really had my own money, my parents always recorded the amount of money I was supposed to be receiving for doing chores in a little spiral notebook, and I was “free to spend it on whatever I wanted.” Of course.

I was 10, and I wanted to sing in a talent show, only I didn’t really know what to sing, so I decided to consult my father who, in my mind, had the greatest musical taste ever. I used to sit on the floor in my closet and look through all the dusty sheaths in his record collection and the scratched covers of his towers of stacked CDs.

Anyhow, after I posed my question, my dad thought for a moment, selected an album from one of his boxes, “The Nightfly”, inserted it into our record player, and skipped to the last track in the album, “Walk Between the Raindrops” by Donald Fagen. I was too young to really understand what the song was about, but certain words stuck out to me – umbrellas, thunder, marriage vows, and big hotels. After I heard the song through once, I didn’t try to search for anything else; my 10-year-old brain was sold on its dancey melody. And that was just as well, because one of my good friends at the time also planned to do an improv tap dance routine while I sang.

Being as young as I was and therefore prone to destroying precious relics of my father’s, I went out into the world and purchased a CD version of the album. It remains the only physical recording I own, but it is most definitely deserving.

As for the talent show itself, I honestly don’t remember a thing, except that a third friend of mine joined our act just as we were going on stage. Her talent? Hula hooping.

No, I did not write about Blowin’ in the Wind.

(although someone else did http://zthought.wordpress.com/2014/10/18/on-music/)

Nor did I choose to write about another one of my favorite songs by the Talking Heads, Psycho Killer. It’s slightly (read: very) cryptic and alarming and not really something that reflects my life or personality… probably. Check it out anyway if for no reason other than the awesome bass riff. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yX6FsTIq6ls.

So after a pretty rough struggle, I ended up choosing another song by the Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime.

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful
wife
And you may ask yourself-Well…How did I get here?Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by/water flowing underground
Into the blue again/after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime/water flowing underground.And you may ask yourself
How do I work this?
And you may ask yourself
Where is that large automobile?
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful house!
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful wife!
Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by/water flowing underground
Into the blue again/after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime/water flowing underground.

Same as it ever was…Same as it ever was…Same as it ever was…
Same as it ever was…Same as it ever was…Same as it ever was…
Same as it ever was…Same as it ever was…

Water dissolving…and water removing
There is water at the bottom of the ocean
Carry the water at the bottom of the ocean
Remove the water at the bottom of the ocean!

Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by/water flowing underground
Into the blue again/in the silent water
Under the rocks and stones/there is water underground.

Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by/water flowing underground
Into the blue again/after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime/water flowing underground.

And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right?…Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself
MY GOD!…WHAT HAVE I DONE?

Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by/water flowing underground
Into the blue again/in the silent water
Under the rocks and stones/there is water underground.

Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by/water flowing underground
Into the blue again/after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime/water flowing underground.

Same as it ever was…Same as it ever was…Same as it ever was…
Same as it ever was…Same as it ever was…Same as it ever was…
Same as it ever was…Same as it ever was…

This song is by nature applicable to everyone; it speaks of the monotonous, fleeting nature of the days of our lives as they pass us by. In the first verse, the singer simply states a number of possible positions a person may be in: poor, rich, working, or married, and in all these cases, the subject is only faintly aware of how unsure he is about how he ended up in there. As the verses progress, the singer becomes more and more nervous and apprehensive about his lack of understanding, and his fears finally boil over with his exclamation “MY GOD! WHAT HAVE I DONE?”.

The chorus more or less explicitly states the significance of the song, and the nonsense remarks about water at the bottom of the ocean add to the impending sense of disaster. Byrne (the band’s lead singer) eventually breaks into one repeating, exasperated line “same as it ever was”, eventually fading into nothing.

The Talking Heads are known to write lyrics that implore the listener to take some sort of action in their own lives in response, and here, the message is clear: consider the importance of every day and, if at all possible, don’t forget the places you have been that  have led up to the present moment, or you may find yourself lost in the “silent water”.

This theme, carpe diem, is not unique and original, but its presentation in this song is particularly pressing to me and hopefully you when you listen to it. It’s right here.

In light of this week’s music-related prompt.

A while back, a friend introduced me to a website on which an independent music zealot examined and impartially (for the most part) reviewed *most songs in all albums of all important and unimportant rock bands and singers from the proto-rock 50s to 2005*.

You should be very impressed. I’m so impressed that I’ll bother to paste in the entire, gauche web address. Here, http://starling.rinet.ru/music/index.htm.

Anyhow, for a time, I could not find this site and often mourned my inability to visit its vast archives. However, upon seeing the gem of a topic for this week’s blog assignment, I knew what I must do. It has now earned its deserved place in my bookmarks tab; I will never lose it again.

There’s not much that can be said of this man’s (or woman’s?) style of blunt review; it’s best for you to go read it for yourself.

I’ll end with this interesting variation on the author’s usual disclaimer.

Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Beatles fanatic (even if the Beatles are my favourite band) and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Beatles fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further.