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David Bowie's Record Collection
March 22, 2023
Through my connection in the fashion media world, I purchased 25 albums that David Bowie personally owned. They are, in no particular order: The Last Poets “The Last Poets” (1970, Douglas), Robert Wyatt “Shipbuilding” (1982, Rough Trade), Little Richard “The Fabulous Little Richard (1959, Specialty), Steve Reich “Music for 18 Musicians” (1978, ECM), The Velvet Underground and Nico “The Velvet Underground (1967, Verve), John Lee Hooker “Tupelo Blues” (1962, Riverside), Koerner, Ray and Glover “Blues, Rags and Hollers” (1963, Elektra), James Brown “The Apollo Theatre Presents: In Person! The James Brown Show” (1963, King), Linton Kwesi Johnson “Forces of Victory” (1979, Mango), Various Artists “The Red Flower of Tachai Blossoms Everywhere: Music Played on National Instruments” (1972, China Record Company), Daevid Allen “Banana Moon” (1971, Caroline/Virgin), Cast Album “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” (1968, CBS), Tom Dissevelt “The Electrosonniks: Electronic Music” (1960, Vendor Philips), The Incredible String Band “The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion” (1967, Hannibal), Tucker Zimmerman “Ten Songs By Tucker Zimmerman” (1969, Regal Zonophone/EMI), Gondola Janowitz “Four Last Songs (Strauss) (1973, DG), Glenn Branca “The Ascension” (1981, 99 Records), Syd Barrett “The Madcap Laughs” (1970, Harvest/EMI), George Crumb “Black Angels” (1972, CRI), Toots & The Metals “Funky Kingston” (1973, Dragon), Harry Partch “Delusion of the Fury” (1971, Columbia), Charles Mingus “Oh Yeah” (1961, Atlantic), Igor Stravinsky “Le Sacre du Printemps” (1960, MFP/EMI), The Fugs “The Fugs” (1966, ESP), and Florence Foster Jenkins “The Glory (????) of the Human Voice (1962, RCA). $20 per album, and they're 25 albums which makes it $500. Plus shipping, of course.
This may sound like an over-zealous Bowie fan needing something personal from this remarkable figure or a business opportunity. Or, to be honest, both. I plan to take Bowie’s turntable and album collection on tour. I imagine I can play in a gallery or a small off-Broadway type of theater and play Bowie’s record collection on his stereo hi-fi set. For a test run, I arranged to do a “show” in ARTBOOK@HWS. The bookstore is in the Hauser Wirth & Schimmel arts complex in downtown Los Angeles. I made an events page on Facebook, announcing that I purchased Bowie’s original hi-fi set and some of his record collection. And that I tend to play “his” music on “his” turntable.
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At first, I started to play all 25 albums from beginning to end. That will be approximately 16 hours (one of the above records is just a 12” single). I loved this concept, but could I pull it off? The way I see the day going is that people show up at 8:30 am for coffee and danish. At exactly 9:00 AM, I will start playing The Last Poets “The Last Poets” (1970, Douglas) - At 1:00 PM, there will be lunch. The restaurant in the arts complex, Manuela, will serve oysters, various fried pies, gravy, and biscuits. Even though they are located a foot away from the entrance of ARTBOOK, I’ll have them deliver the meals to the store. There will be no music played during the lunch hour. At 2:00 PM, I will start with another vinyl album until all 25 records are played. Dinner will be served around 8 PM. After dinner, we will set up a cocktail bar with a bartender making one drink - a gin martini for the guests or audience. So I think the event will be over around 3 in the morning. I know, I can’t imagine a perfect way of spending an evening than with Bowie’s album collection and his turntable.
I felt a tad nervous on the morning of the event, or as I like it, the performance. I knew I would be the ultimate Bowie tribute - at least to me; it is - because it is his music being played. I think one can give an award to Bowie by playing his actual songs, but I feel today will be a very moving experience where one share a love or at least a genuine presence with Bowie by sharing his record collection. Having it played on his turntable gives it the extra element of authentic, at its core, pleasure. I could afford it; I would have his artwork around and make a replica of his apartment complex in New York City. I never saw a photograph of his interiors - but I often imagine what it must be like to be in his living room, which I have to imagine having a view of lower Manhattan in one of the windows.
The event started with Karly, who works at the store, bringing me up to the front of the audience. I’m blindfolded, and what I do is reach for one album, which is stacked in front of me. I don’t know what the album will be, and usually, I try for the middle of the pile. I pick one, and Karly unties my blindfold. It’s Charles Mingus's “Oh Yeah” album. The audience acknowledges the blind choice on my part and gives me a standing ovation. The fact is, I have never heard of this album. I have read about it, but this will be my first time hearing it.
I put Bowie’s needle in the groove of his record. “Hog Calling Blues” jumps at me with who I have to presume is Mingus giving a little jazz scat. Even though it’s early in the morning (for some, including yours truly), the music made me tap my feet to the insane beat. The sax playing is incredible, and it’s a big band. Dance music. Did Bowie have this in mind during his “Let’s Dance” stage? Although Mingus is famous for his bass playing and composition skills, he plays only piano throughout this album. Also is the vocalist. “I’m going to get a devil woman, an angel woman do me no good.” He quotes “Just a Gigolo” in the next cut, “Devil Woman.” It reminds me of Duke Ellington’s music - perhaps due to the big band arrangement. Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Booker Ervin both play tenor saxophone - and although I can’t tell who is playing what part - they know how to weave the saxes together to make it a bigger sound, but also a form of communication between the two sax players. If I had to place the music in a particular location, I would think of New Orleans. But a more perverse version of the site. Not the city that exists, but the New Orleans in one’s mind or memory. It reeks of Black American culture, and I have to imagine that this album is full of references to classic RnB and swing jazz greats. And concerning it being written and recorded in 1962, there are references to the atomic bomb. “Oh Yeah” sounds like it could have come from the late 1940s—a fantastic album.
The Last Poets is the following selection. One of the first ‘rap’ works and one of the foundations of hip-hop. To me, it’s punk rock. Or, punk rock relates to rap/hip hop. The beauty of this album is not only the front and out-there vocals but the percussion and the various backup vocals/voices. At times, I feel like I’m listening to a Steve Reich piece of music - yet, The Last Poets are much more organically attached to this music. For one, this is beautifully arranged music. Although this was recorded in 1969, the music and sound are still very contemporary. It must have sounded fresh when this album was initially released, and it still sounds like something new. Incredibly articulate, and now realizing after almost 50 years, nothing has changed. I have a picture in my mind of Bowie playing this album and staring out of his window facing the south side of Manhattan.
Igor Stravinsky's “Le Sacre du Printemps” (1960, MFP/EMI) is the next album I played on Bowie’s turntable. Conducted by Igor Markevitch with the Philharmonia Orchestra, the change of pace with the Last Poets/Mingus is quite extraordinary. All three albums are from the 20th century; therefore, they share the modern feeling of looking forward to the future. “Le Sacre du Printemps” (The Rite of Spring) was a revolutionary ballet when first performed in 1913 for the Ballets Russes company and choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky. It caused a near-riot in the theater. The last time something like this happened was when Public Image Ltd played at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles in 1980.
Nevertheless, no report of a death, perhaps some curtains and several seats were laid to ruin, but overall, the birth of a new sound did happen. The ballet worships the presence of Spring with a young girl who is sacrificed by dancing herself to death. Spring brings a lot to the table. It’s the start of the new, yet one can be obsessed with the newness of everything and forget about the decay. Without decay, one doesn’t have Spring. I like to think Bowie heard this music not as a piece of contemporary history but as something to make him go forward and not look back.
After such a sharp turn to Europe, I decided to have Bowie bring us back to the South. John Lee Hooker's “Tupelo Blues” (1962, Riverside) is a country blues album, with the great Hooker playing acoustic guitar - instead of his famous electric guitar work. The judge may give John 99 years for his song “I’m Prison Bound,” but it had an effect on Bowie to study another culture. Being a hardcore Mod, one naturally goes to something rural but can easily lift it into an urban landscape. John Lee Hooker could express a picturesque world that is equally real but with poetic overtures. One would think that the world of Bowie would contrast with Hooker’s, but both conveyed a specific state of mind or location and made a sound that reflected that world.
The Fugs “The Fugs” (1966, ESP) had to be the most exotic world for Bowie. His love of beat literature, coming directly from his half-brother Terry, had led to this album. The odd thing is that I'm reminded of the New York Dolls when I'm listening to this album now in front of an audience. The music apes vintage doo-wop, early RnB, garage rock, and Martin Denny Exotica, but with a Beat sensibility. I suspect the irony and humor were out front in 1966, yet seven or eight years later, punk hit New York City, and the music is very much like The Fugs. I imagine Bowie bought this original album that year and imagined a New York in his head; that was the real thing. The Velvets exposed an inner world, but The Fugs were very much part of the outside lower east side community - and their music's bounce has a touch of lightness. Oddly enough, this is the first time I heard a Fugs album from beginning to end.
Tucker Zimmerman is the only artist besides Lou Reed on this list with a direct connection to Bowie. Bowie's longtime associate Tony Visconti produced his album “Ten Songs” (Regal Zonophone, 1969). One can hear traces of Bowie within this album, which probably came out around the same time as “Space Oddity. “ Rick Wakeman, who also played keyboards for Bowie at this period, is also on this album. At times, he reminds me of Paul Simon before he made his recording with Garfunkel. He’s a folkie with rock backing. I can imagine Bowie covering songs from this album. I notice that my audience is clapping along to some of the songs. I think they are weird.
Nevertheless, I turn my attention to Zimmerman and his album. Harry Chaplin also comes to mind because it’s aggressive folk. I don’t know. I'm not sure if I like this album or not. There are theatrical touches, like the carnival-like song “Upside-down Circus World.”
“The Fabulous Little Richard (1959, Specialty) puts me in a zone with an entrance but no exit. I have heard that Bowie’s wife, as a birthday present, purchases a jacket once owned by Little Richard. To touch the fabric that touched the skin of such energy must be priceless. The holy grail for the diamond dog who can choose any bone he wants. It’s strange to hear a Little Richard album because I know his work through his singles or what was played on the radio. What surprised me was the range of his voice and music. “The Fabulous Little Richard” resembles early James Brown to me. There are ballads on this album that are very heartbroken, weary, and a tad sorry. This album is more of an RnB than Rock n’ Roll. If you blindfolded me, I wouldn’t know Richard performed some of these songs.
Gondola Janowitz, the soprano singer of operas, oratorios, and concerts, recorded the “Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss. Bowie was very much taken by her version of the piece. The mood changed radically in the bookstore, and I noticed each facial expression was blank. Standing by the turntable, I tried to imagine what the people were thinking. Music can transform a listener into another place or location. The room at this moment is another world. The work was composed in 1948 when Strauss was 84. The four songs “Frühling” (Spring), “September,” “Belm Schlafengehen” (When Falling Asleep), and I'm Aberndrot” (At Sunset) sound like the last reflection of a man who will do no more work. The author and poet Hermann Hesse wrote three lyrics, his actual poems, and the other (I'm Aberndrot) is by Joseph von Eihendorff. Three of the songs touch on the subject of death, and since Strauss died in 1949, and officially this was his last piece of music, it must have incredible importance to him. Most, if not all, are young here. Unless they had a severe illness, or an older family member facing total darkness, these series of songs might have no real connection to them. In my early 60s, I can feel the heavy touch from the needle to the groove, and a picture of life comes out to me, confirming that darkness will eventually grasp and hold me close to it.
The cover of the 12” single of Robert Wyatt’s “Shipbuilding” (1982, Rough Trade) looks like it came out of the depressed 1930s. Men at work on the sea dock of somewhere that is industrial. A song regarding ships being built for the Falklands War of 1982, with music by Clive Langer and lyrics by Elvis Costello. In his modest way, Wyatt mentions that his only contribution to the song was to remain in tune. The fragility of Wyatt’s voice makes this record shine in a shitty world. The casualties of the war itself were 649 Argentine military personnel, 255 British troops, and three Falkland citizens. And yet, this classic record was produced, culturally speaking, by this war. I bought the single when it originally came out and played it repeatedly. What struck me was the sad melody, and the additional tragic vocals by Wyatt made it into an über melancholy listening experience. I had never heard such a poignant recording before - or it was the first record that expressed such regret and helplessness in my lifetime. Overwhelming in my experience. Also, the fact that specific industries are built on death, in other words, war. One would think Bowie could cover this song, yet, it’s a quiet piece of work. I have heard Elvis’ recording as well as a video of Suede making the music, and for one, it is such a fantastic song; no one can do an evil version of it - but without a doubt, the Wyatt recording is the best - primarily due to the vocals. He’s the only singer who can display the absurdity yet the sadness of the situation. His is a crushing vision of a world gone mad, and nothing will gain from it except for a specific class that financially benefits from such a war. The industry is in existence for that purpose. I noticed the energy level of my audience was a bit down after this song.
I heard James Brown’s “The Apollo Theatre Presents: In Person! The James Brown Show” (1963, King) at our home when I was around four or five years old. The cover is the first thing that I noticed as a child. I was always attracted to an illustration than, say, a photograph on an album cover. It seemed that this cover was always on either the top of the stack of vinyl or the one leaning against the mono speaker we had in the house. Oddly enough, my father had no other James Brown album or song except for this album. A year later, he purchased the 45 rpm single “Papa’s Got a New Bag.” But he did have an obsession regarding Brown and his music. Legend has it; Brown had to pay for these recordings out of his pocket. The Apollo was ground zero for Black American talent, and for someone like Bowie, it must have been almost an imaginary place - just as real as Disneyland. There’s no visual or film made of this performance, yet it is entirely cinematic just by its sound. One imagines that nothing is edited, and one gets the complete James Brown and his Flames live show. The intensity, sweat, and the ultimate satisfaction of pure heavenly desire are all in its grooves.
The Incredible String Band’s “The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion” (1967, Hannibal) is hardcore 1967. For instance, the title of the album reeks of that year’s obsession with staring at one’s belly button and thinking about the spirituality of all things in front, back, side, and inside of us all. “Layers of the Onion” is an accurate description of this album. On the surface, it’s a pair of British folkies dwelling on their culture - but then one notices the textures of their actual music and various instruments. Guitars, of course, but also a recorder, sitar, the occasional piano (played by John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins, a legendary figure in the underground London culture), and Licorice McKechnie on backup vocals and percussion. She, of the entire band, is the most mysterious. McKechnie was reported missing in 1987 and seemed to drop off the planet.
A free spirit who found herself in Scientology wandered into the California desert, and no one had heard from her since then. What gives unique sound is the mixture of sitar, played by Nazir Jairazbhoy, who eventually became the founding chair of the Department of Ethnomusicology and Systematic Musicology at USC and UCLA. British born to Indian parents, he was raised in India. Oddly, The Beatles or Stones didn't use him in that heady period when rock figures got interested in Indian classical music. Still, the uniqueness of the mixture of British folk and the sound of the sitar is a heady mix. One thing that stands out is the charm of The Incredible String Band. It comes across on this album, but I also saw the band at the Santa Monica Civic around 1969/1970. I went to the show as a guest of a friend who had an extra ticket, so I didn’t know what to expect. Four musicians altogether - two men and two women, surrounded by various instruments of all sorts - and there was something casual about how they picked up each instrument and played it. Perhaps we had great seats, but I could sit by their feet as they played music. I imagine David Bowie and Marc Bolan seated in a theater to see The Incredible String Band or perhaps at a festival. Nevertheless, mid-way through playing this album, my audience chose to sit on the cement ground, and I think there was some lovemaking in the crowd as well. Sounds have an emotional aspect, and I imagine The Incredible String Band had a magnetic quality regarding one’s natural sexual urges in a group.
I next played The Red Flower of Tachai Blossoms Everywhere: Music Played on National Instruments” (1972, China Record Company), which is very hard to find. Bowie reportedly found it in a flea market somewhere in Asia. As I play it for the audience, I recall a quote from the Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran: “Illusion begets and sustains the world; we do not destroy one without destroying the other, which is what I do every day. An ineffectual operation since I must begin all over again the next day.” The music was made in Communist China, and it is, of course, on vinyl, but 10” and 33 1/3 RPM. It consists of seven songs, and the toe-tapper is its opening cut: “A Long, Long Life To Chairman Mao.” The label is named China Records, which in its natural language it would be 人民唱片. At the time of this album’s release, it must have been like a voice from a world far away from the West. Besides North Korea, few cultures are closed to the outside world - and China, at one time, was a place where one dreamed of but never contained that fantasy as something concrete. At least for the majority of Westerners during the reign of Mao. So when a Chinese citizen hears this album, it is an entirely different take than the people here at the bookstore.
I had to take a bathroom break. I asked the audience to excuse me for a few moments. I practically ran out of the store to the gentleman’s room. After peeing, I went to the sink to throw water in my face. I noticed in the mirror that I have aged significantly. It was the first time I recognized the effects of aging. Usually, I strike a comb in my hair and on my way. But here, I meditated on my changes. The extra skin here and there and it’s not a beautiful sight. I return to the store and put on Koerner, Ray, and Glover's “Blues, Rags and Hollers” (1963, Elektra). The blues. Or three white guys from Milwaukee who played the blues and were friends of Bob Dylan. Like others, and to one of the trio members, “Spider”: “I don’t understand the psychology of it, but somehow we decided to imitate these guys down to the note. And we decided to go out, drink, party, and chase women just like they did in the songs and all kinds of shit. And when I look at it now, it seems weird to tell you the truth." Perhaps “Spider” put some ideas to young David when he was a young mod, working for a graphic art company near Soho London. What I hear now is the sound of young men who worshiped a lifestyle that they imagined because of their race, because they could never live in such a way of life. It’s a beautiful document of time that I suspect cannot be repeated, and it’s frozen in one’s ideal past.
Steve Reich's “Music for 18 Musicians” (1978, ECM) is a work that I’m familiar with. Based on a cycle of eleven chords, the music repeats itself, but to my ears, the rhythm has altered a touch. Or is that my imagination? I’m playing this album very loudly, and I can see that it affects individual audience members. Also, when I first started playing my set, there were 30 people there, but now, I notice more have arrived. And it is only a standing room now. They are not strictly dancing, but their bodies seem to move to the hypnotic spell of this album. Or is it my imagination? Perhaps I’m altered by these sounds to see the world in a particular manner. As the music is being played, I notice the cover has a stain. I suspect that it must be the food of some sort. Is it green - perhaps guacamole? Somehow I imagine Bowie eating guacamole while listening to this particular record. Also, this is the only one with a scratch on the surface, which causes a rhythmic pop that seems to add to the intensity of the recorded music.
Toots & The Maytals’ “Funky Kingston” (1973, Dragon) is the original Jamaican edition of this album and quite different from the International release, which most of us know pretty well. It is two separate albums. Only “Louie Louie, ” “Pomp and Pride, ” and “Funky Kingston” are part of the foreign release. In other words, they are two separate albums with different feels but the same title. Bowie would not be confused because he purchased Toot’s album’s original and authentic version.
On the other hand, Toots and the Maytals are a funky band. I hear echoes of Otis Redding singing in the music. I imagine when the British edition of this album came out, it was played in various London neighborhoods. Bowie probably got a sniff of it while walking down a street.
Many people's world changed when they first heard the album, "The Velvet Underground and Nico “The Velvet Underground (1967, Verve). I remember hearing the album when I was 12, and as a child, I thought it was a weird album. But for a teenage Bowie, it was as if someone gave him a ticket to Manhattan. His manager, Kenneth Pitt, got him a copy when he visited New York sometime in 1966. Bowie, the only human in the UK, had a copy of this album. Now, it is evident that this album is an essential must on so many levels. With just that one album, Lou Reed proved to be one of the great songwriters in America, and the fact that his songs were mixed in a noise/rock/ borderline avant-garde, is a remarkable piece of work. Bowie always had a foot in urban street culture, such as his “London Boys, ” but Lou brought him a sense of sexual mishap and adult danger. That and Brel gave Bowie a sense of theater that can come from Soho street to the rock stage. His album had the banana that one can peel, and it seemed that he did pull the peel off and put it back on again.
Glenn Branca's “The Ascension” was released in 1981 and on the 99 (pronounced nine) indie label out of New York City. This must have been the soundtrack for Bowie while moving around Soho, NYC. The album, composed by Branca, consists of four electric guitarists, electric bass players, and drums. The guitars are in the symphonic mode, with sheets of metallic sound. The album contains five tracks/music pieces and is a sonic overload. Like a volcano blowing or steam being released on a heated teapot, it’s a very liberating sound. I have noticed ever since the 1990s, Bowie had numerous guitarists all at once in his band and on the recordings. They are more guitar-orientated than keyboards. Each guitarist has a part to play, and it is either mixed or like an orchestrated effect; it builds on each other. Bowie may have got this idea from Branca’s music. On a volume level from 1 to 10, I try to take it up to 12. My ears must ring, and the distortion of life in front of me should change. I’m amazed that my audience is still here. Once every two albums, I have to clean the needle, but I hesitate to remove the dust from the actual records. I’m reminded that this dust came from the Bowie household, and therefore his presence on this specific album, “The Ascension,” and every album in this collection.
Tom Dissevelt's “The Electrosonniks: Electronic Music” (1960, Vendor Philips) was perhaps the entryway to outer space for Bowie. Highly tuneful, Dissevelt’s early electronic scores explored the area, not only ‘outer’ but also inner space. Due to the design of this turntable and hi-fi, this music fits perfectly with this machine. I feel we are all being transported to another area of our brain. My audience is getting sleepy, and some have fallen onto others. At first, I thought they might have died, but they were just asleep. It’s interesting how certain composers saw the machine as something to make music from. Instruments, in general, are just machinery. So there has always been science to music - in theory and practice. Bowie realized that, which may be one of the key reasons he was attracted to “The Electrosonniks: Electronic Music” album. It’s not experimental music. It’s very pop-orientated with solid melodies. Perhaps the first techno-pop album. I played this album after Branca is a mood-shifter and a profound journey from absurdity to absurdity. It makes sense in what we may consider a Bowie world.
Linton Kwesi Johnson's “Forces of Victory” (1979, Mango) was an album around me, but never in my home or turntable. Still, I was a massive fan of the album’s producer Dennis Bovell. Originally from Barbados; he ended up in London and was very much the focal point in the dub reggae world of that city. He produced reggae artists, The Slits, Orange Juice, The Pop Group, and Johnson. “Forces of Victory” is highly regarded in British reggae. Johnson is a poet who uses music as a medium or perhaps even as a blank notebook page. I haven’t the foggiest idea why I didn’t buy his album - as mentioned; it is considered a classic. There is something in my DNA that doesn’t accept ‘masterpieces. ' I instead get the underdog’s (whoever that may be) album because I feel that my attention is needed. Still, playing this album in front of my audience, I can see its reputation. People are awake, and I see them stirring to the music. In theory, this is a spoken word recording because Johnson doesn’t sing - but he recites his words with great conviction. Bovell’s music or production embraces Johnson’s voice. Reggae, to me, is like dancing in a hellish world. Incredible pain is thrown about, and one has to move in such a manner to avoid the shrapnel.
I can only imagine what it was like to see and hear Harry Partch’s “Delusion of the Fury” (1971, Columbia) at UCLA in 1969. The spectacle of seeing his hand-made instruments appealed not only to the ears but the eyes as well. Sculptures that can make music. With the help of musicians, of course. For Bowie, it must have been an exotic art from America. I hear bits of Asia in my ears, yet Partch had a strong American sensibility. My clientele is quiet when this music is played. What does it for me is when the reed organ kicks into the mix. It’s compelling and emotional for some odd reason. While playing this album, I feel it's very visual, as if it is a soundtrack - and I guess it is because it’s a theater piece. I wonder if Bowie was attracted to music with a visual aspect. He thought of images while listening to music - and I think Bowie always had an idea in his head while writing songs. Bowie is not an outsider but admires the eccentricities of artists like Partch. In many ways, listening to this album in such a manner is like a massive voyage but with only a one-way ticket.
George Crumb's “Black Angels” (1972, CRI) emerges in the middle of a deep sleep. When defenses are down and unsure how one is placed in your world. Its music sneaks up to you when and where you least expect it. The silences are often the most violent in this piece. It’s very much structured work because Crumb, the piece's composer, is into numerology. He structured “Black Angels” into 13 movements, where the 7th is the focal point of the work. It is subtitled “Thirteen Images from the Dark Land.” So the number 13 plays an enormous importance to the work. The instruments used in “Black Angels” are very accurate. Electric string quart. Two violins, one viola, and a cello. Including crystal glasses, which are tuned with different amounts of water. David Bowie was also interested in numerology and believed in systems, which he could use for his work. While playing and listening to this music, I started to count the audience. While listening to “Black Angels,” I counted the audience repeatedly. I’m sure the number of people here is 910, 13 x 70.
Cast Album “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” (1968, CBS) is pretty much the introduction to the music of Jacques Brel in English. Well, for a specific English-speaking listener. I think David Bowie discovered Brel through a girlfriend who used to go out with the singer Scott Walker, who did a series of recordings of Brel’s music. Ironically enough, Bowie is a huge fan of Scott as well. Nevertheless, this cast recording of Brel’s music was an introduction to the citizens and visitors of Manhattan. The original musical revue took place off-Broadway in 1968. That show ran for four years. From there, it pretty much went throughout the world. One of the key people behind this stage show was the great songwriter Mort Shuman, who wrote songs such as “Viva Las Vegas, ” “A Teenager in Love, ” “Little Sister and other classics. My all-time favorite song by him is “Little Children,” recorded by Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas. The fact that he went to live in Paris in the 1960s is fascinating to me. Here was a guy who was hugely successful in the States, yet he went to Paris to record French music and write for French pop singers. He was responsible for introducing Brel’s music to the English-speaking world. I have an old videotape of Brel live on stage. I was very impressed with him due to this music and because he stood there on the scene and sweated like a sick man. Wore a white dress shirt with a black tie and black suit under a bright white spotlight. Minimal, but he was singing about maximum stuff. The Scott Walker recordings are the ones to get into - this album is OK, but not the best introduction to Brel’s music. Even though it’s in English, the Scott Walker recordings are much richer and more forceful. Therefore more beautiful.
The song “Memories, " primarily known as a Robert Wyatt recording, was written by Hugh Hopper, a member of The Soft Machine, along with Robert, Kevin Ayers, and Daevid Allen. Under his name, he came out with an album called “Banana Moon.” It is sometimes credited to Allen as a solo venture, but I think it’s a collaboration between the musicians who worked on this album. It came out in 1971, an odd year in the rock world. Sixties rock was disappearing into different trends and were for about nine months; anything could have crawled into the rock category. Daevid Allen and the gang made a work that flirts with experimentation, jazz overtures, great humor, and according to Bowie, a strain of what will be glam rock. Many of the musicians on this album were from Soft Machine, but also Daevid’s future band, “Gong.” Sort of the Über-hippie approach to life and music making.
Nevertheless, to go back to “Memoires, ” an incredible song. Recorded with Soft Machine on this album and later by Robert himself (that version is what I know the best), and even Whitney Houston covered this song for the band Material. I didn’t do this on any other album but played “Memories” twice. It’s a sad song. I don’t even know what the words are, but the sound of Wyatt’s singing voice and the melody brings a sense of ‘down, ’ which is very profound to me for some odd reason.
David Bowie commented that Syd Barrett greatly influenced him because he sang with an English accent. He and Anthony Newley used their natural accents when they sang, which made a significant impression on the English singer. Before that, at least to him, British rock n’ rollers tried to sound American. But Syd gave his pop overtures an English quality. His first solo album, “The Madcap Laughs” (Harvest, 1970), also made a significant impression on me—more than his work with Pink Floyd. For many years, I thought it was an album by a madman, but over time, I realized that this was the work of someone at the top of his compositional skill and an incredible and skilled lyricist. What seemed simple now, I feel, is Cole Porter-like.
“I really love you, and I mean you
The star above you, crystal blue
Well, oh baby, my hairs on end about you.”
It’s a beautiful statement, and it’s the lyrics (the opening track) from the song “Terrapin.” There is a sense that the whole album will be unbalanced, but the fact is, it’s a prominent piece of writing throughout the record. It’s a genius work. Those in the know, know that this is significant work. I’m looking out towards the audience as “The Madcap Laughs” plays on, and I can see who is into it and who isn’t. I feel like throwing those who are not out of the store.
I feel sad as we approach the last album for the evening or perhaps forever. There is only one album that finishes off this adventure, and it's Florence Foster Jenkins’ “The Glory (????) of the Human Voice” (1962, RCA). Jenkins was a wealthy woman who was a music fan - specifically opera. She supported artists and, in turn, herself as a singer. Some claim she can’t simply sing. There is a human quality that doesn’t give up the dream. Jenkins is an iconic figure for those who are damned if they do. Bowie always had a soft heart for those who are considered outside artists - those who bypass the traditional medium of making music or art by doing something individualistic - especially if they seem on the surface to be talentless. Alas, talent is a subjective vision. I think those who try to do something creative in their lives are already two or three steps ahead of everyone else. It’s a lonely and cold road out there, and one can only marvel at someone’s vision of trying to do the impossible. Halfway through this album, people started to go. In some cases, I dislike my audience.
There was some clapping from the public, but my thoughts were on something else. I didn’t think about what will happen at the end of this event, but clearly (at least to me), I had to do the proper thing. I gathered and placed all of Bowie’s albums on the concrete floor. I found lighter fluid behind the desk and poured the entire canister onto the records on the floor. I then lighted the albums, which became a big flame. It could have been dangerous, but the bigger picture is that this was a cremation of sorts for Bowie. If his body is not here, why should his album collection be? It seemed fitting to me. As the records burned, I found a hammer behind the desk. And I started to smash up the record hi-fi set as well. After tonight, I don’t see any purpose of it existing. I couldn’t tell what the audience was thinking because I felt I was in a different plane or universe compared to these people. Oddly, they didn’t comment or say anything as I burned the albums and destroyed the turntable set. At this point, maybe they don’t know the difference between what is real and what isn’t. What I did know for sure is that I destroyed the Bowie vinyl and his hi-fi set. For me, a costly day/night, but my emotion suddenly became free. I let the records burn, and the smashed-up hi-fi rot naturally, and I walked out of the store. I didn’t look back. I kept going.
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