Tag Archives: David Bowie

The Age Of Bowie

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The Age Of Bowie –
How David Bowie Made A World Of Difference
By Paul Morley
Simon & Schuster – £9.99

The most honest way of writing about David Bowie and all the David Bowies he became in the 1970s as he turned his entire existence and his musical technique into a collage of impressions, memories and experiences is to create a collage in response, to exaggerate the exaggerations and the excess.

Paul Morley has always been a writer to be reckoned with.

Whenever it’s brought to our attention that he’s written a new book, one instinctively knows it’ll be very well written, thought provoking, idiosyncratically incisive, and will probably venture into subjective areas not entirely expected.

Such was the case with the most outstanding The North: (And Almost Everything In It) which I reviewed on this site upon publication. And totally unsurprisingly, such is also the case The Age Of Bowie – How David Bowie Made A World Of Difference. For not only is Morley a huge Bowie fan, the prospect of him writing about him, was always going to be a wholly satisfying, literary undertaking. Continue reading

Shock and Awe

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Shock and Awe –
Glam Rock And Its Legacy
By Simon Reynolds
Faber & Faber – £25.00

In his 1969 book Bomb Culture, Jeff Nuttall recalls the mid-sixties moment when art-school attitudes filtered into the beat-group scene: ‘Shoes were painted with Woolworth’s lacquer. Both sexes wore make-up and dyed their hair… ”Kinky” was a word very much in the air. Everywhere there were zippers, leathers, boots, PVC, see-through plastics, male make-up, a thousand overtones of sexual deviation…

SAHB’s combo of musicianship, ‘cartoon violence’ and Harvey’s charisma made the group one of the major concert draws of the British mid-seventies. They stole the show at the Reading Festival in 1974, performing ‘Anthem,’ one of their crowd-pleasing numbers, with a troupe of bagpipers coming on-stage. ‘Framed’ was staged as a crucifixion, Cleminson recalls, with Alex ‘pinned up somehow on a cross we’d dragged on-stage.’ When they played ‘The Faith Healer’ – their greatest, hardest-rocking song – the sun was going down. ‘Alex just stood there, singing, ”Let me put my hands on you,” and you could feel the atmosphere going electric. Just one of the most magic moments I’ve ever experienced in my life.

I’m amazed that a really great book addressing the musical idiom that was Glam and all its tremulous trajectory, hasn’t been written until this one. Unless of course, there is one (or perhaps two) I just don’t know about.

Either way, Shock And Awe – Glam Rock And Its Legacy is a lively, entertaining and altogether fascinating read. It sheds oodles of light on a musical era that was as idiosyncratic as it was influential, and in so doing, sets numerous records straight in one literary swoop of profound, nihilist nostalgia.

Indeed, all the main players – plus a few more besides – are here.

Everyone from David Bowie to Marc Bolan to Mud and Mott and Slade and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, are herein discussed and regally brought to bear amid all the pomp and brazen bravado that they did bequeath. As author Simon Reynolds declares in the book’s Introduction: ”I felt the pull of a time when pop was titanic, idolatrous, unsane, a theatre of inflamed artifice and grandiose gestures. This long-gone, real-gone era seemed the opposite of what pop had become in the post-punk eighties: adult, responsible, caring and socially concerned.”

One absolutely cannot help but agree here.

The idea of Slade’s Noddy Holder discussing the plight of Ethiopia, just wouldn’t, and couldn’t have been taken seriously; whereas Paul Weller aligning himself with the Red Wedge Movement a mere decade later, was not only taken seriously, but in some accounts, wholeheartedly acted upon.

That said, there are numerous sections throughout these twelve chapters, where the writing might well be considered sonorous. Semi-serious even.

In the chapter on Bolan, ‘Boogie Poet,’ Reynolds confronts the whole idea behind Mod when he quotes and writes: ”Mods were effeminate in certain respects – some even wore make-up – without necessarily being in touch with their feminine side or having much time for actual women. Bolan’s ‘The London Boys’ captures the male-dominated vibe of the movement, which was all about boys dressing to impress other boys, not attract girls. Modettes were peripheral figures, never faces. Boy mods ‘simply were not interested… too self-absorbed,’ writes mod scholar Kevin Pearce. Pills played a part, overriding libido (along with other biological needs like food and sleep) in favour of self-admiration and a tribal feeling of collective glory.”

While in chapter four’s ‘Teenage Rampage,’ he not only addresses the comparative validity of the band Slade, but also delves into some of the history of the Black Country: ”In their heyday, though, Slade were taken very seriously. ‘In a few years’ time we may all be saying that Slade are the most important rock group to have emerged since The Beatles,’ wrote their biographer George Tremlett shortly after the release of their film Slade in Flame […]. You can hear the Black Country’s distinctive ‘sing-songy’ accent in the between-song banter of Noddy Holder on Slade’s biggest-selling album, Slade Alive! The stronger retention of Germanic words and unusual expression like ‘Ow bist?’ (How are you? via How be-est you?’) reflect the insularity of the locale, which includes towns like Dudley, Sandwell, Smethwick, Wolverhampton and Bilston, where Don Powell grew up. ‘People always used to say that we came from Birmingham,’ recalls Powell, ‘and we had to explain that although Birmingham is only ten miles away, it might as well be a totally different country.”’

Already the author of seven books (among them Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction To Its Own Past, Rip It Up And Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 and Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music And Dance Culture), Simon Reynolds can stand back and be mighty proud of having written a true gem in Shock And Awe – a book that is essentially, un-put-down-able.

So if you’re looking for that perfect gift for anyone who was around at the time, this is it.

David Marx

1971 – Never A Dull Moment

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1971 – Never A Dull Moment
Rock’s Golden Year
By David Hepworth
Bantam Press – £20.00

          It was the best of times because in many respects it seemed to be the first of times.

What an utterly inviting, engaging and rather revelatory read 1971 – Never A Dull Moment has turned out to be.

As a regular reviewer of books, it can become relatively easy to slip into the subliminal slipstream of literary nonchalance, whereby the many inexorable words on the page are no longer punctuated by any form of inspired attraction. Although such is most certainly not the case with regards this glittering testimonial to the year 1971 – the year David Hepworth has described as ”rock’s best year.”

To be honest, it’s hard to disagree.

One need only randomly refer to any of the book’s twelve chapters (one for each month of the year along with a Prologue and an Epilogue) to ascertain just how idiosyncratic, how invigorating, how very, very valuable and important, popular music once was. A time when the music industry, and dare I say it, society at large, wasn’t so (kn)obsessed with a plethora of boy-bands and/or wailing tarts – for whom the parameters of music continues to entail nothing other than a cloying cleavage and all the vocal finesse of Benito Mussolini.

Reason being, 1971 was still a regal time of unquestioned innocence; which Hepworth is (unsurprisingly) keen to already alert us to in the very first chapter ‘January,’ wherein he writes: ”Smokers every where. On tube trains, in pubs, in offices, even in hospitals. No joggers, no health shops, no gyms, no leisurewear, no trainers, no mineral water, no Lycra, no fast food, no obesity. Wiry people […]. The only people with tattoos got them in the services […]. No security industry. No gates on Downing Street, no full body scans, no surveillance cameras, no speed bumps. Football fans pay two bob at the turnstile and then shove […]. no political correctness.”

No political correctness, yet there was still such a thing as society.

There again, Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet of Einsatzgruppen hadn’t yet arrived to evoke such sullen economic mockery amid the myopic naivety of the working class. No wonder rock’n’roll meant precisely that: rock and fucking roll.

Four blokes like The Who, making a great B-I-G colossal noise that actually meant something. That actually endeavoured to at least traverse such opium dullness as that of today’s grey, dull, barren, not to mention seismically redundant excuse of a pathetic music industry.

Indeed, from The Who’s Who’s Next to David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, from Carole King’s Tapestry to Led Zeppelin’s IV, from The Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers to Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells A Story, from Pink Floyd’s Relics and Meddle to John Lennon’s Imagine; in 1971, there really wasn’t, as this book’s title more than aptly suggests, a dull moment.

As Hepworth states in the book’s Epilogue: ”The middle of the road was the only place to be. Underground was over ground, anything could be a hit. It was into this moment of panic and opportunity that all these 1971 masterpieces were hurled […]. If my twenty-one year old self could have been transported from 1971 to 2016 he would be struck dumb by the laptops, the phones, the affluence, the foreign tongues on the street, the idea that music could be accessed as if from a tap, the fact that three out of five stories in the news were about the sex lives of famous people and the puzzling realization that he couldn’t just go out on Saturday evening and buy a ticket on the door for any show in town.”

The high-octane realization ought to surely be the fact that there are no shows in town actually worth going to, while those that are, cost somewhere in the region of almost a hundred pounds per ticket…

To be sure, one could conclude that for those of a certain age, 1971 – Never A Dull Moment is a truly terrific book; but to be perfectly honest, for anyone remotely interested in the truth and what the sanctity of music once meant (and perhaps, could once again), this book will and ought to appeal to those of any age.

David Marx

More Letters Of Note

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More Letters Of Note –
Correspondence Deserving Of A Wider Audience
Compiled by Shaun Usher
Canongate Books – £30.00

If nothing else, this simply wonderful book reiterates the degree to which an entire medium of literary beauty has, for all intents and rather depressing purposes, almost disappeared.

Letter writing, that all too brilliant and potentially poignant pastime, does indeed shed oodles of inadvertent light on who ever is doing the writing. Alas, the mere fact that most letters are quintessentially naked, accounts for their being real and revelatory, personal and perplexing, as well as idiosyncratic and, dare I say it, unnecessarily insulting – if not a tad over the top.

The following 1973 letter (‘Your Type Is A Dime A Dozen’) to Anthony Burgess from none other than Hunter S. Thompson, being a surprisingly perfect example of the latter:

Dear Mr. Burgess,

Herr Werner has forwarded your useless letter from Rome to the National Affairs Desk for my examination and/or reply.
Unfortunately, we have no International Gibberish Desk, or it would have ended up there.
What kind of lame, half-mad bullshit are you trying to sneak over on us? When Rolling Stone asks for ”a thinkpiece,” goddamnit, we want a fucking Thinkpiece… and don’t try to weasel out with any of your limey bullshit about a ”50,000 word novella about the condition humaine, etc…”
Do you take us for a gang of brainless lizards? Rich hoodlums? Dilettante thugs?
You lazy cocksucker. I want that Thinkpiece on my desk by Labor Day. And I want it ready for press. The time has come & gone when cheapjack scum like you can get away with the kind of scams you got rich from in the past.
Get your worthless ass out of the piazza and back to the typewriter. Your type is a dime a dozen around here, Burgess, and I’m fucked if I’m going to stand for it any longer.
Sincerely,
Hunter S. Thompson

Suffice to say, not all of the letters throughout this meticulously designed and rather handsome book are of a similar persuasion. I merely wanted to clarify the degree to which honesty prevails throughout these 351 pages, by quoting the above (somewhat colourful communication) in its entirety.

Naturally, there are numerous flip-sides to that of the above.

Richard Burton’s profound proclamation of love towards Elizabeth Taylor amid ‘You’re Off, By God,’ more than substantiates as much: ”You may rest assured that I will not have affairs with any other female. I shall gloom a lot and stare morosely into unimaginable distances and act a bit – probably on the stage – to keep me in booze and butter, but chiefly and above all I shall write. Not about you, I hasten to add. No Millerinski Me, with a double M. There are many other and ludicrous and human comedies to constitute my shroud.”

As does ‘It’s Burning Hell Without you,’ in which Dylan Thomas writes to his wife Caitlin Thomas from New York’s infamous Chelsea Hotel: ”There is nothing to tell you other than that you know; I am profoundly in love with you, the only profundity I know. Every day’s dull torture, & every night burning for you.”

From record producer Steve Albini writing to the band Nirvana, the poetess Sylvia Plath to her family, Marge Simpson to Barbara Bush, John Lennon To Eric Clapton, William Burroughs to Truman Capote, Samuel Goldwyn to Walt Disney and countless others, More Letters Of Note is an outstanding, veritable merry-go-round of personal missives. Replete with a number of excellent photographs and reproductions of some of the letters (including John Lennon’s and David Bowie’s), all of them clearly have something to stay.

A few of which will forever remain in the memory.

None more so than a letter written by US President, Abraham Lincoln (‘Sorrow Comes To All’), to a distraught 22 a year-old, Fanny McCullough whose father, Lieutenant Colonel William McCullough, had been killed in America’s Civil War: ”It is with deep grief that I learn of the death of your kind and brave Father; and, especially that it is affecting your young heart beyond what is common in such cases. In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it. I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once. The memory of your dear Father, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer and holier sort than you have known before.”

David Marx

The People’s Songs

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The People’s Songs –
The Story of Modern Britain in 50 Songs
By Stuart Maconie
Ebury Press – £9.99

As is always the case with Stuart Maconie’s books (and I do believe I’ve had the the utmost pleasure in reading all of them), they’re always idiosyncratically informative as well as well as adroitly and entertainingly well written.

To be sure, Maconie recently appeared at The Arts Centre in Swindon, where my colleague Sean Hodgson at Swindon 105.5 got to interview him. Thus suggesting that he is very much a man, a broadcaster, an author as well as a rambler – replete with (individual) pork pie – of the people.

As is his most recent literary offering The People’s Songs – The Story of Modern Britain in 50 Songs, which goes some way in reiterating as much.

These 428 pages, are, as John Harris wrote in The Guardian: ”Elegant and approachable, definitive but also self-deprecating.” I really couldn’t agree more, as Maconie’s writing is indeed approachable and definitive. Although one of the most attractive aspects of his work, whether as an author, broadcaster or whatever, is his all round, self-deprecating demeanour. A quality which, like that of the Starship Enterprise of the Star Trek persuasion, ensures that no matter how much uncalled for negative criticism or ridicule may be hurled his way, it simply re-bounds off without so much as having made an iota of a difference.

That’s not to say Stuart Maconie is utterly blasé. That’s to say his self-deprecating design has always served him well. Exceedingly well in fact. Regardless of whatever arena he happens to be working in.

Yet it must be said: his quintessential background in popular music via journalism has nigh ensured that his knowledge, along with that of the trajectory of his elongated enthusiasm, really is second to no-one. One need only read the Introduction to this more than insightful and most readable of books, to realise this: ”I’d argue that what we call pop music – that mongrel hybrid of rock, vaudeville, folk ballad, dance music, classroom hymns, street corner soul and classical music, that art form so plastic and pliable that it can embrace the wildest avant-garde experimentation and the most primitive and basic chants and beats – is a uniquely British invention. A music that has no one stylistic constant but a defiant, unsanctioned concept at its heart, the ability to speak to people, to affect people, to occupy people, to transform their lives or divert them for a moment, to console, to enrage, to amuse, to arouse. This then is a music that happens without the approval of critic or teacher or politician or pulpit. It both nods to history and makes history. But it happens without anyone’s permission.”

It is such informed and considered writing that partially explains why I’ve read all his books (Cider with Roadies, Pies and Prejudice, Adventures on the High Teas and Hope and Glory) and will probably continue to do so.

Furthermore, where else would you read such an acute declaration as the following (where Maconie writes of song number fifteen): ”Bowie may look outlandish in his multi-coloured faux snakeskin jumpsuit and his Star Trek boots, but his message is one of reassurance and optimism, whispered like a late night DJ into the ears of teenagers glued to their radios. As well as ‘Over the Rainbow’ there are nods to other great moments in popular song: the staccato Morse Code guitar line hints at both ‘Wichita Lineman’ and the Supremes ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’ while the circular la-la’ed outro recalls T. Rex’s ‘Hot Love’ and The Beatles ‘Hey Jude.”’

Other than containing a veritable wealth of pop induced knowledge, The People’s Songs says more, and has the literary potential to do far more for the country as a whole, than (m)any of Britain’s celebrity obsessed troll-twats, corporate hyenas, or overtly, overpaid football players.

That the England football team have just returned to England following a dismal display of high-octane, piss-poor quality, is absolutely no surprise. That this wonderful book hasn’t (yet) been been embraced the length and breadth the country however – is.

David Marx

Ziggyology – A Brief History of Ziggy Stardust

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Ziggyology – A Brief History of Ziggy Stardust
By Simon Goddard
Ebury Press – £20.00

”For this is no ordinary day of Mars. This is judgement day for its Spiders and crucifixion for its cosmic messiah. The man who fell to Earth to rip a rainbow in an oblivion of grey. The file in the sponge cake beckoning the wretched to hack through the bars of their Green Shield stamp prison. The embellisher of the drab. The twister of teenage necks from the gutter to the stars. The liberator of the slaves to duty and conformity. The nail varnished hand outstetching to the lonesome and the unloved. The greatest pop star of all time. The greatest pop star of all space.”

Why? Or, to rephrase my tinged annoyance: why ought one ever feel compelled to write such irritating, unnecessary bollocks; when, in the big scheme of things, all the writer is (fundamentaly) writing about, is the populist, elongated fanfare of a rock’n’roll band – and its final gig?

Nothing more. Nothing less.

Regardless of what one thinks about David Bowie, his transient incarnation as Ziggy Stardust, still remains one of the most resolute and memorable of his entire career – and what a career it’s been. Although Ziggyology – A Brief History of Ziggy Stardust, does, as its title suggests, home in and (acutely) concentrate on said period of Bowie’s career only.

And while it does so in such a way that many might consider pedantically brilliant, yet others obsequiously trite; which ever side of the fence one decides to fall, there’s no denying the fact that Simon Goddard has herein written a book that, if nothing else, is sublimely well researched and written with a lot of love.

Warped, if not jocularly jaded as that love may be, these 305 pages of pure Ziggyology, are, from a literary standpoint at least, as regal as they are relentlessly smitten and appreciative of Bowie’s yesteryear.

While the above opening quotation is taken from the book’s Prologue, the following is from its Epilogue: ”Ziggy Stardust lives on in more than plaques and ageing mortar, more than in his music and the twenty-first-century ubiquity of his flash-bisected image. He lives not in the past, but in today’s present and tomorrow’s future. In words, in music, in fashion and in art. In pout, in posture, in silver nails and feather boa. In the undying, invincible flash of youth. In the heroic bedroom hopes of escape in every stifling, backwater Nothingville on earth. In every spat-upon nobody who looks in the mirror with the blind faith that they are a superstar. In everyone who chooses not to be a radio but a colour television set.”

From an objective perspective, one would surely have to agree that Ziggyology is a tad obsessive.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore and respect almost all of David Bowie’s music. Who in their right mind doesn’t? But such literary adulation as found herein, not to mention the choice of words and language that describes the author’s adulation, does, after a while, become tediously irksome: ”And in all who cherish the beautiful truth of his dying gospel. That we, all of us human beings, are glittering, glamorous miracles of existence in a near fourteen-billion-year old story of cosmic creation. Moulded from the same galactic clay . Woven from the same microscopic threads of stellar flotsam […].”

Stellar hogwash.

David Marx