Prior to a few days ago I had cried precisely once at the news of a famous person dying. The first was Levon Helm. And now a second joins that austere list. I think my first awareness of David Bowie was via The Labyrinth and I was actually pretty grossed out by Jareth. I had a particularly ripe hatred of bogans at that time (I even vowed, at a very tender age, to NEVER wear tight black jeans. EVER) and Jareth's mullet blew my mind in a bad way. Inevitably though, over the course of my life, Bowie became a beloved.
Seeing as this whole week has been about Bowie, it seems appropriate that this edition of Fast Five is too. So here's a little experiment called 'Bowie tracks interpreted through art.' Let's see....
1. Young Americans
My number one Bowie song. Its upbeat, toe-tapping, Jackson Five rhythm belies a ho-hum but tragic 20th century story - the American dream gone sour. Young love treading that good-old, well-beaten path of disillusionment and disappointment.
This song has always made me think of Edward Hopper. His art is quintessentially American, but it's the 'quietly shattered-dreams' vibe that connect the two in my mind. Like the song, Hopper's work often requires a second glance to see behind the apparent outer perfection to understand the suburban menace beneath. To me this painting speaks of a promise that will never be fulfilled - "It took him minutes, he took her nowhere..."
2. Sound and Vision
The first time I saw this work it made me think of Sound and Vision. I mean, come on - 'blue, blue electric blue...' Pick's work has a sonic quality that makes me feel like I'm viewing the world through the eyes of someone who has synesthesia - you can feel the vibrations of sound radiating outward. But looking at this work now after his death, the opaque blue light that fills the empty space around the figures in the vigil-like scene takes on a new meaning. The figures in this work are engaged in communion with their superstar and are basking in the warmth of their light. And that meditative glow on the central figure's face - we all know that feeling. The feeling of complete acceptance and understanding through music.
Fashion always makes me think of Weimar Germany or Paris in the 30s - just before war hit. Maybe it's the militaristic tone of 'we are the goon squad and we're coming to town.....' For me, this painting really sums up the track though - it's got a sort of hedonistic but rigid socially structured vibe to it. The way no one is facing each other really speaks to the kind of insecure narcissism in Bowie's lyrics - 'Talk to me (don't talk to me), dance with me (don't dance with me).'
4. All the Young Dudes
The first time I heard a version of All the Young Dudes was in the movie Clueless, played as the camera pans across the low slung trousers of a bunch of 90s stoner skaters, so this track has definite slacker associations for me. More than that though, it's always felt kind of like a rallying cry, a middle finger stuck up to the middle class.
When thinking of a work to accompany this track, I immediately thought of Perry. That association probably has a lot to do with his playful approach to gender, but I think the content of this work fits. It has a nightmarish, suffocating quality; the symbols of middle-class England seem too bright, too vivid. It's like the suburbs on acid - the smiling face of Jamie Oliver looking down over the scene like a TV diety, the William Morris wallpaper, the creature pawing at the main figures ankles. It's a scene you want to escape from pretty quickly.
5. China Girl
"It's in the white of my eyes..." I'm not sure if this song is wholly about drugs....sometimes I think it might be some kind of post-colonial critique...but then I remember that Iggy Pop wrote and I think - "this song is wholly about drugs." Heroin to be exact. Maybe because of or in spite of, this song is cool. And that makes me think of Jean-Michel Basquiat. And come on, it also has that "oh baby, just you shut your mouth" bit. 'Nuf said amirite or amirite?
And just cos it's my favorite here's a live version of Young Americans. That soft 80s glow tho. That hair tho. Those wacky outfits tho. Ka pai Bowie. Thanks for sharing with us all for so long.