by J. Hubner
painting by Shane Darin Page
“Planet earth is blue And there’s nothing I can do.” – David Bowie
David Bowie was one of those artists that just felt eternal. He was someone that could disappear off of our collective radar for years and then reappear with an amazing record and we wouldn’t blink twice. Because despite his absence we knew that he’d return eventually. I mean, the man had over 40 years worth of music for us to delve into to help pass the time in-between his reappearances. He had a phase for every person. Folksy, glam, soul, Krautrock, electronic, industrial, radio ready pop, etc…the list goes on.
The man was a slave to no label.
But what he was, sadly, was mortal. He succumbed to liver cancer on January 10th, 2016, just two days after his 69th birthday. It was an absolute shock to me, as it was to the rest of the world, because he kept his impending death to himself. I think so many were surprised at just how much his death affected us. Like I said, Bowie seemed eternal. I think in thinking that we were partly right. While David Jones may not have been eternal, David Bowie’s music is.
I thought it would be fitting to reach out to some local musicians and general music fans and ask them to share their favorite Bowie memories. Favorite album, song, and why those mean as much as they do to them. The response I got was overwhelming.
Here’s to the Starman.
Bart J. Helms(The Snarks): With Bowie, I think the difference lies less in favorite album than favorite period, and for me, the 1976-1977 span when the Bowie/Eno/Visconti team recorded Low and “Heroes” is unbeatable. Musically, every song is its own wonderful adventure, but I think the real lesson comes in the historical context. By that point, Bowie had tried folk, glam and soul, and it was brave of him to move to electronic music at that time – brooding, atmospheric electronic music at that. Nearly half the albums’ tracks are instrumentals too, which I’m sure made the record label really happy. Above all, Bowie has taught me to drop the ego and dive into every project wholeheartedly, to treat every idea as its own little world.
Dwane Ferren(singer/songwriter): There are no rules. That’s what I learned from David Bowie. Every time I dropped the needle, “There are no rules”. And isn’t that why we all crawled out of the forest for the glow of the city lights, to pick up guitars and scream at our fathers? There are no rules and f**k anyone who said otherwise. It’s not hard for me to pick my favorite Bowie album. Tin Machine II. I remember the first album came out in 1988. I had heard that David was now in a band and this new collaboration was influenced by one of his favorites, The Pixies. I’m all aboard. The first album was noisy, loud, abrasive and dare I say “grungy”? In 1988 mind you. And if your not keeping score, that’s before Nevermind. Only Bowie could outdo Cobain. Tin Machine II was more melodic, crafted, and almost delicate. The lyrics are what really stand out to me. Lines like “ten dollars tore us apart”, and “you belong in Rock and Roll”. It was like he knew he had my attention, and now he was telling me how it was.
Bob Roets(owner, Wooden Nickel Music): Ziggy Stardust was the first album that I purchased back in 1972 and has always been my favorite. Not a bad track on that album-I thought it represented his greatest alter-ego, Ziggy. I loved concept albums back then and thought it was a beautiful album in which Bowie told a story of an intergalactic rock star. It is right up there in stature with some of my favorite concept albums such as the Who’s Tommy, the Beatles Sgt. Pepper or the Beach Boys Pet Sounds. My favorite song by Bowie was not from Ziggy, however, but the awesome tune “Rebel Rebel” from Diamond Dogs. I remember seeing him perform the tune live when I saw his show at Cobo Hall in Detroit back in 1974 and being blown away! It was a song written about his turning point effectively abandoning the glam movement that he was such a big part of for so long. I remember the “Diamond Dogs” tour was probably the most theatrical concert that I had attended up til that time. Quite impressed!
Ryan Holquist(March On, Comrade): Until last week, my favorite David Bowie era was, hands down, the Spiders from Mars trifecta of Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, and Aladdin Sane. When I first heard those albums in my early teens, they were an unmatched blend of classic rock, progressive rock, glam rock, folk; equal parts Elton John, Queen, Peter Gabriel, Joni Mitchell, and something altogether different. If I had to pick a favorite song, I suppose it would be “Life on Mars”. And then last week, he released ★! I had never been so immediately receptive to a new David Bowie album in my lifetime. ★ features one of my favorite drummers, Mark Guiliana, and prompted me to start my iPhone list of favorite albums of the year. I discussed with my brother that I’d never been able to bring myself to spend the money on Bowie tickets his last couple times around, but that if he toured with this band, I’d be in. But now I am perversely proud to have fully fallen for his final stunt.
Tyler Gilstrap(Karma Records of Warsaw): Favorite album: Hunky Dory, Favorite Song: “Life On Mars”. I first heard this album when I was maybe 14 or 15. Movie soundtracks and classic rock stations slowly led me to the watering hole of early era Bowie. Life on Mars was the first song I heard of his and it hit me right in the gut. It changed what I thought good writing was. I didn’t know many Bowie fans at that point, so I mostly ended up listening to the songs on this album by myself. Jump forward to about 19, I had discovered punk, started exploring hip hop, metal and alternative rock. My knowledge of Bowie had grown with my musical discoveries. Ziggy Stardust, Young Americans, Space Oddity, mostly the 70s stuff. This stuff influenced everything I was getting into. Metal borrowed the fashion, hip hop borrowed the music, and punk borrowed the rebellion. Bowie took everything that had come before him; jazz, garage rock, folk, blues blended them up into that Bowie sound. And that sound in turn influenced everything that came after.
Matt Kelley(owner at OLG, also Trainhoppers, The Good Ones Clothing): I remember playing LOW—a gift to me from former OLG art director, Drew Kora—as walk-in music when Lloyd Cole played The B-Side. Lloyd heard it and said, “You know, this record…” And then we both stood there for several minutes—listening, together, speechless. The album hasn’t aged a day, which is to say: even now it sounds like the future.
Olivia Fabian(owner at OFabz Swimwear, project manager at OLG, The Good Ones Clothing): My favorite David Bowie album is Ziggy Stardust because singing “Five Years,” “Moonage Daydream” and “Starman” turned up super loud with the windows down is a family tradition that feeds my soul.
Jonathan Barker(art director at OLG): “Rebel Rebel”. That riff, you can’t un-hear a riff like that. So much attitude, it hangs with you for days after you hear it. Makes me want to go out and start a band.
Derek Mauger(Heaven’s Gateway Drugs): Favorite album: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I had a long thing written about how much I love David Bowie and how important his work is to me, but it rambled on and on forever so I deleted it. Almost all of Bowie’s musical “phases” strike different chords in me, but none resonate as much as his glam Ziggy Stardust era. Of those records, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust…” is pound for pound my favorite. The pairing of David Bowie and Mick Ronson, in my mind, is on par with Mick and Keef, or John and Paul. The album itself is ridiculous in every sense; a space alien playing what are essentially coked up versions of Wayne Cochran songs with lyrics about squawking pink monkey birds and ray-guns but it works, and it is unreal start to finish.
It is no coincidence my dog is named Bowie. Yesterday, I yelled “it’s time to come inside Bowie” to my dog while he was out in the yard and I broke down crying. We always have their music.
Mark Hutchins(singer/songwriter): He had always been a peripheral presence for me, but I never realized just how big an influence he was – is – until he died. And, holy hell, what a way to go out. I’ve listened to the new album several times now. He left us with a gift. I loved the usual suspects, “Changes”, “Space Oddity”, “Let’s Dance”, but Scary Monsters was a big one. “Ashes to Ashes”… Nothing could prepare a geographically isolated but music-crazy kid for the debut of THAT clip on Friday Night Videos. Holy crap. Oh, and he gets bonus points for covering a Pixies song. When he wasn’t creating it, he exercised incredible taste.
Well, for me I’d have to say Let’s Dance was the album that made the biggest impact on me. It wasn’t the most influential(that would be Low), but it had an overwhelming impact on me as a kid. It came out in 1983 and I was 9-years old. Songs like “Modern Love”, “China Girl”, and “Let’s Dance” were played on pop radio and MTV at a pretty constant rate and being a radio kid those songs wormed their way into my brain pretty deeply. Add to the mix watching Bowie in The Hunger(Susan Sarandon, Catherine Deneuve, yes..) and Labyrinth, as well as the freaky video with Mick Jagger for “Dancing In The Streets” and early 80s David Bowie became a permanent fixture in my childhood. Of course there were the oldies station staples like “Space Oddity”, “Rebel Rebel”, and “Changes”, but nothing stuck quite like Let’s Dance-era David Bowie. I got older and discovered the genius of the Berlin trilogy. Low, Heroes, and Lodger are, in my opinion, the pinnacle of Bowie’s creativity and artistic expression(though he would continue to be creative and artistic until his final days.) There wasn’t aliens and space suits, but there was a visual style that was as unique and visceral as the cold, steely music that was stuck in the grooves of those three amazing records.
I guess what this all means is this: throw a dart at a board with all of David Bowie’s albums listed on it. Wherever that dart lands, that was his best era. It doesn’t matter where it lands, they all are important and vital in the life, career, and mystique of David Bowie.