Monday, February 1, 2016

My life with David Bowie

Despite all the twists and turns my life long musical journey has taken, there's always been one constant, David Bowie. Ever since I can remember I've been a Bowie fan, I even have faint memories of seeing him on TV in the 70's when I was 5 or 6. It wasn't until I was 15 that I really started listening. Since then, his music has been the soundtrack to my life. After he passed away earlier this year, I thought back to some of the times that stood out for me. This is my life with David Bowie. 

In1987 “Never Let Me Down” came out, I was 15 and first really discovering Bowie. I volunteered at the local TV station that summer and could watch the video channel Much Music for free at the station! The title track was in high rotation and I loved it, such a great song. I bought the tape and listened to it every day. I even memorized the “Glass Spider” intro and would write it on my school notebooks. 

Once I discovered Bowie had been around for quite some time, the next item I bought was a bootleg tape called, "The Beat Goes On". Only because it had the most songs on it of all the tapes in my price range, my allowance only went so far back then. 
 I had no idea what was on it and it was the weirdest thing I had ever heard. Mysterious and strange, rough and smooth, it was perfect! I listened to it endlessly and even made my own cover for it. A few years later, I realized that it was half tracks from the 1980 Floor Show, the Ziggy retirement show and some early singles.
One of the early singles was the original release of "Hang On To Yourself", which I loved the first time I heard it. The acoustic guitar, the groovy beat, the lazy slide solo and of course, the voice. I liked the lyrics too especially the " and me I'm on the radio show" part. That would turn out to be quite prophetic as I ended up making a career out of being on the radio show. Bowie was even predicting my future.
I didn't hear the Ziggy Stardust album until a few months later and still prefer this version. Just found this video and it's great! Lots of early, rare photo's. Including what looks to be be pictures from 'the haircut'! Click this for an amazing glimpse of the transformation from the long hair folkie into the rock star Ziggy.

It's impossible to pick one track, but “Sweet Thing/Candidate” is the one that defines Bowie for me. I read a lot about the album, even read the book and saw the movie “1984” before I heard "Diamond Dogs". When I finally tracked down a beat up copy in a second hand shop, it did not disappoint and was even better than I imagined. 
At the center of it was this song. Even when I heard for the first time at the age of 15, it seemed like I had known it all my life. It still give me chills to this day. Forget about "Ground control to major tom", I was all about "If you want it…..boys, get it here thing".

By 1989 I was a full on Bowiephile. I had managed to aquire all of his albums up that point, either through purchase or by taping my friends records. Meanwhile, the current music landscape was getting worse by the day and I had since discovered classic rock. The past was sounding much better the future. Then came Tin Machine.  Plenty has been said about the band since, but I loved Tin Machine when I first heard this single. The first album was a revelation and still one of my favourites, to me this was rock and roll. When the alternative/grunge explosion happened a few years later all I could think was, "That's great, but Bowie already did that". I'm sure even Kurt Cobain would agree, forget teen spirit, Tin Machine killed the 80's. Funny how it's even more relevant now.

The first time I saw Bowie live was March 15th, 1990, five days after my 18th birthday. My friend Simon managed to get us a buffet, soundcheck ticket package, tickets in the 21st row and a buffet before the concert. The buffet was in a big room inside the Pacific Coliseum so we got to hear soundcheck while we ate. We couldn't see the band, but heard the music boom through the walls. The concert was amazing, if somewhat surreal and I even recorded it on my portable tape recorder. Still have the tape and listened to some of it the other day, it's funny to hear my 18 year old self screaming after every song.
The next day on the radio they said the response from Vancouver was so good he would come back for a second show on May 20th, I went to that concert too. Two Bowie shows in 3 months, plus the Ryko disc reissues, 1990 was a good Bowie year. I always dug this song, was cool to see them do it live and Adrian Belew is an incredible guitar player. This video was filmed in Tokyo on May 16th, four days before the second Vancouver show.

I enjoyed Tin Machine 2 when I first heard it, although it seemed a little long. When the CD era started kicking into high gear in 91-92, everyone's albums all started to be too long. TM2 suffered the same fate, but there are some good songs on there. "One Shot", "You Belong In Rock and Roll", "Goodbye Mr Ed". I was also in the midst of a major blues phase in the early 90's and loved "Stateside", it was the closest we would get to hearing Bowie do the blues even if he didn't sing lead on the track .
Although, I didn't buy it at the time because of the cover ha ha It took the "Sticky Fingers" concept to a whole new level. I've since bought a copy on vinyl from Russia. The first song caught is still one of my favourites. If you only listen to one song from Tin Machine 2, listen to "Baby Universal". Pretty cool video too.

Of all the albums Bowie released since I became a Bowiephile, perhaps none has shocked me more than “Black Tie White Noise”. I was a little out of the loop in those days and heavily immersed in bands like Pearl Jam and a lot of blues, so I didn’t even know it was coming. One day it just showed up in the CD store and I didn’t really know what to think of it at first. I was expecting another rocking experimental record, not an atmospheric, jazz dance album. But of course that was the point. Always expect the unexpected with David Bowie. I grew to like it more and more as I listened and love it now! I have it on CD, vinyl and the DVD with videos for many of the songs and interview with DB.
It’s also the CD where he started doing instrumentals again, “The Wedding Song” opens and closes the disc and this song is a favourite of mine, “Pallas Athena”. It’s not entirely instrumental, more of a chant thing, plus the repeating “God is on top of it”, “and that’s all”. When the drums kick in it sounds like a Fatboy Slim song, 6 years before Fatboy Slim. The strings and the saxophone are mesmerizing. Top notch Bowie. 

I read about “Outside” before I heard it, it was supposed to be a return to concept albums and the first of a trilogy, which got me very excited. Something about “art crime”, “the Nathan Adler diaries”, lots of characters, it was a Bowie fans dream. When I finally heard the album, it did not disappoint. It was immense: songs, interludes, pictures and plenty of characters. Like most Bowie albums, I didn’t know what to think of it at first and it took me some time before I finally got it. I really liked a few of the songs, but it literally took years before I finally absorbed them all. Bowie albums can be like that.
It soon became a go to listen for every road trip I took and every time it came to the explosion that starts “Hallo Spaceboy” I get goosebumps. Years later I picked up the single disc vinyl copy, which left off a couple of songs and the interludes and I fell in love with the album all over again. I also spent years poring over the Outside outtakes and even produced my own bootleg of those. It’s impossible to pick a favourite song, but “The Hearts Filthy Lesson” is up there. Such a great song, cool lyrics, grinding guitar and that bass, it’s all about that bass!
Especially driving down the highway, stereo cranked.

The 3rd time I saw Bowie live was September 6th, 1997 on the Earthling tour, at the Plaza Of Nations in Vancouver. 7 years after the 2 Sound and Vision shows, I was 25 and a couple of years into my radio career. We were both in much different spaces in life. Even though I loved the “Earthling” and “Outside” albums, I didn’t really know what to expect. I wasn’t able to go to the Outside tour in 1995 as they didn’t stop in Vancouver, so I had no idea what the band sounded like live, or what songs they were doing.
The Plaza Of Nations was a great venue, a concrete amphitheatre in downtown Vancouver. It was outdoors, but covered with a see through ceiling and walls and very cozy, capacity 4,500. There is simply not a bad seat in the place. I stood near the back on Reeves’ side of the stage and was mesmerized even before the concert started. The stage was all draped in sheets with these huge eyeballs and weird inflated orbs with faces projected on them. The faces weren’t still pictures either, they were blinking and breathing and alive. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen, plus the pre-show music was really cool.
When he stepped out on stage with the acoustic guitar and started playing “Quicksand” I got the goose bumps again. It was an incredible start to a phenomenal show, a song I never thought I’d see live. Still one of my top concerts ever, so glad I got to see him in that venue at that time. I remember spotting some kids, maybe 12 or 13 up in a private box in the back and during “Little Wonder”, the “So far away” part they were jumping up and down and singing along. I thought, “Wow, he did it. He started over again.” This was filmed a little over a month later.

In 1999 I moved back to Prince George to continue my radio career on the station I grew up listening to, FM 94. Also that year, David Bowie released the “Hours” album. When it came out, FM 94 started playing the single, “The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell” in regular rotation. Not only did I get to be on the station I grew up with, I was also playing the new Bowie on air! To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of the song. It was cool, but just sounded like average Bowie to me. But the first single from the album, “Thursday’s Child” was incredible! Not just the song, but the video too.
I still don’t know what exactly is going on here, I just know that it’s still one of my favourite videos and songs Bowie’s ever done. The fact that it never became a hit makes me like it even more.

In 2002 I bought my first new release on vinyl of the 21st century and naturally, it was a Bowie record. When I moved back to P.G. a few years earlier I was reunited with my record collection that I stored at my dad's place (thanks dad!) when I left in 1993. In '02 I met the manager of the CD shop in the mall and found out that vinyl was still available and new records were being made. Then Bowie released "Heathen".
As usual I was a little unsure about the first single "Slow Burn", it sounded like a weird jazz pop song, but that never stopped me before. When I put the record on, the first song "Sunday" brought the goosebumps back. I love the way it just hangs in the air, you keep expecting something to happen. Then he croons into the crescendo and the drums finally kick in.
The album quickly became one of my most listened to and it gets better every time. I also scored a copy on CD and it`s a road trip essential now too.

Finally, January 21st, 2004 was when I saw Bowie for the 4th time and got to meet him!
I was still iving in P.G. when "Reality" was released in late '03 and was already making plans to see him in Vancouver in January. Then I got a job offer in Calgary, which was a great opportunity. It was a move to a major market and what I had being working towards for the past 8 years. When they offered me the job I said, "Is Bowie playing Calgary? Because I was going to see him in Vancouver, but if you can get me tickets I'm there." Not only did they get me tickets, they got me in on a meet and greet.
It was a fantastic show, glad my old friend Travis got to join me and see his first Bowie show. Unfortunately Trav wasn't allowed to come to the meeting, but he was cool with it, thanks again buddy! I was ushered down to the meeting area and waited around with a dozen or so others. While we were milling about Sterling Campbell came in and grabbed a bottle of water. I was the only one who recognized him and said, "Sterling!" He was a little taken aback, but nice. He shook my hand and indulged me for a few seconds with an awkward conversation before he got out of there.
We all got a Reality poster and were told we would each get a turn to shake David's hand and he would sign the poser. When my turn came it went something like this.

Me (Shaking his hand) "Hi David, my name's Russ."

David Bowie - "Hello Russ, nice to meet you" (He signed "To Russ" on the poster)

Me - "I'm a huge fan, thank you for all the great music. Great show tonight as always. I also wanted to thank you for having Macy Gray as opening act."

David Bowie - "Ahh yes, she's wonderful isn't she?" 

Me - "Yeah, she's great, thanks again." 

We exchange awkward smiles, a little nod and that's it, I move over and the next person steps up. We got to take a group shot when the signing was done and there I am, in a picture with David Bowie. The poster has been on my living room wall ever since.
I still listen to plenty of Bowie. Not because he's no longer with us, I've just always listened to plenty of Bowie.

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