Monday, January 11, 2016

Bowie

I am deeply saddened to hear of David Bowie's death. He was a tremendous influence on my life as a musician and as a person.

I had little familiarity with his music before "Let's Dance" came out -- I was a freshman in high school -- and that was when I first really heard and appreciated him. I dug into his back catalog, discovering how inventive, great, and different his music was. Not just different from what else was out there (though that was always the case), but how different his records were from each other. Most artists struggle to break through and then spin variations on that successful theme for the majority of their career. Not Bowie.

While David Bowie's work does have recurring themes and favorite tropes, he never really repeated himself the way most musicians do. ("Ziggy"/"Aladdin" and "Low"/"Heroes" are about as close as he gets to repeating himself, and I'll give him a pass because those were rich veins to mine, and he still managed to evolve.)

Bowie made total artistic statements with his records, changing his image to reflect the music and vice versa. It was a potent combination and made me think about "albums" and "songs" as more than just sound. He was both original and more than willing to reference many other artists and works.


After the huge success of "Let's Dance" faded ("Tonight" is underrated, by the way), Bowie got weird. With hindsight, the "commercial failures" of his late 80s/early 90s output seem more like initial explorations or warm-ups for the increasingly adventurous records he'd make for the rest of his career.

In this respect -- achieving mainstream acceptance, then turning around and walking off into the arty wilderness --  Bowie was very much like Scott Walker (who he greatly admired) and David Sylvian (who owes a great debt to Bowie). This, too, became something for me to learn, understand, and emulate.

He was financially successful as an artist, and again an innovator here, with "Bowie bonds". But his true success is in the tremendous cultural impact he had. Many artists (if not entire musical genres), including some of my favorites, owe their entire careers to bits of things Bowie did once and put aside. That's not a slight to these artists and their music, but rather an indication of how much territory Bowie covered.

He also had great impact in my peer group. His music and different guises spoke to many of my friends, with different messages for each of us. Which Bowie did you like? We shared our favorite albums, turned each other on to his different phases, and anticipated his future releases. I think of periods in my life and remember which Bowie albums I was into at the time.

I find myself surprised at how deeply I feel the loss of his death, fighting back tears all day long. Perhaps it is the suddenness. Like his recent work, his passing was unexpected, seemed ahead of its time, and most people don't like it.

This time, not liking it is the correct response.

Thank you for the music, David. I miss you more than I thought possible.


***

For those who have never heard David Bowie at all, or heard him beyond the hits, or are curious, I compiled a list of my favorite tracks from nearly all of his major albums. Even when David Bowie is singing someone else's song, it becomes his.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

46

A beautiful Aphex Twin track plays. I listen to it, and think of how pretty it is. I remember discovering this album a lifetime ago, in all its mysterious wonder.

I look out the window at the dry grasses rippling in the wind. Beyond them, the waves undulate and crash. A wall of clouds and fog transition the horizon from sea to sky.

I feel the sun through the windows, warming my feet. I sip some water and breathe deeply. I turned 46 a little over 3 weeks ago.

The past few years, I've spent the night before my birthday re-reading the previous years' blog posts. I've been writing them almost as long as this blog. The quality varies, but it's always interesting to see where I was a year ago. Or 8. Life was rather challenging a year ago. Things have a way of working out, though.

***

At the moment, I try to think of life like this:

Every day, you get dealt a hand of cards. Some days, it's a great hand. Some days, it's a terrible hand. You play it the best you can.

Whether you win or lose one hand isn't important, and you shouldn't get too hung up on it either way. You keep playing. You'll probably get a better or worse hand soon. Things may be different tomorrow, next week, next year.

Or this:
Life is struggle. I don't mean that in a bad way. To quote someone else [emphasis added]:

You never really want an object, you only want the wanting, which means the solution is to set your sights on an impossible ideal and work hard to reach it. You won't. That's not just okay, that's the point.

Part of becoming a mature adult means fully assuming your own personal freedom. Not just the freedom to abide by an ideal, but the freedom to create one by which to abide. The way to create such an ideal is to set your sights on the impossible.

When you live your life this way, regardless of the doubts you may feel in the moment (and especially how you doubt your own motives), if you're ultimately able to make those doubts a part of your overall creative project, to fully assume control over your own life and live it in real-time, you will realize at the end that it was all worth it.


But not before that, because to be alive means, at the deepest level, to struggle in this very fashion.

There are countless obstacles. You already know how life ends. Trying to be better or to make things better for others is the point. Not even whether you succeed, or how much you succeed. It's the trying. 

***

I spent the first 15 years of my life learning I was different from everyone else.
I spent the next 15 years of my life struggling because I was so different from everyone else.
The last 15 years of my life, I've wondered whether I really am different from everyone else.
For the upcoming years, I hope to not worry about it so much.

***

I had a nice party not long ago. Low key. I hadn't really expected people to show up, and in the first hour, it looked like it was going to be tiny. But before long, my home was filled with wonderful people, and I realized somehow I had ended up with all of these special friends in my life.

I started a new job a month ago, and I still can't believe my good fortune. I haven't felt this excited about work in a long time. Maybe since the original Rhapsody...and that was over 10 years ago. I'm learning new things, meeting new people, and look forward to going to work every day.

I still have challenges. My arm is still not 100%, though I think it is finally starting to get better. I hope. That problem has led to some of the weight I've lost creeping back (well, that, and letting myself off the strict diet leash).

But in general it feels like I've attained a level of ease and peace in my life that feels different and new. I'm a little mistrustful of it, sometimes wishing for more of the burning anxiety that drove me so hard when I was younger (but did it really help?). I still struggle with myself and music and ambition and life and countless other things. Now I am starting to grasp that this isn't the prelude, this is the theme.

I may even be starting to enjoy it.

Outside, the grass ripples, and the waves crash, 

Saturday, August 08, 2015

LA History: Anu Kirk

A tale in 3 songs.

Act 1: Eden (1991)

You said this is the land of dreams
Well take a look around
Intoxicated by the new and strange
I liked what I thought I'd found

But the truth has started calling, calling
and though I struggle to get away
I can't escape this awful feeling
This is not the place

Is this Eden?
Is this Heaven?
Is this the Promised Land?

In the desert one imagines water
When it's not really there
Think I wanted this so badly
I pretended it was here

But the truth has started calling, warning
Stronger every day
Now I've got just what I wanted
Has what I wanted changed?

Is this Eden?
Is this Heaven?
Is this the Promised Land?

Act 2: Burned Out (1997)

Guess I drove myself too hard
Guess I drove you all away
Guessed that I could do it
Guess that I was wrong
Guess that's all there is to say

Burned out
and wasted away

It's funny how things change
Never thought it would end this way
I awoke from beautiful dreams
With the taste of ashes in my mouth

Burned out
and wasted away

I'm waiting for tomorrow
I'm all through with today

Act 3: I Remember L.A. (2009)

I remember sunshine
I remember you
I remember laughing
Do you remember
"I do"

I remember driving
I remember the night
I remember drinking
Do you remember
"I might"

Concrete and the palm trees
Hazy in the heat
Traffic on the freeways
No one on the streets

Lying on the sofa
In the setting sun
Waking in the darkness
Waking on my own

All of it is done now
They've all gone away
I remember leaving
I remember L.A.