Welcome to RE:PRINT, an online archive of my adventures as a twenty-something-year-old music journalist who wrote for the Minneapolis print publications City’s Tone and Pulse.
All articles feature never-before-published content, a guest editor and — in most cases — unseen images of the subject. Below is a combined opinion piece and Q&A with David Bowie, who’d just released Heathen. Now knowing that he had just a decade and a half to live, his comments on life, death and creativity read rather differently.
DAVID BOWIE: DIVINE INSPIRATION
by Brooke R. Calder
Pulse Twin Cities – 10.02.2002
Guest Editor: Peter Scholtes
As I stared at the stage of The Lab in downtown St. Paul, a tear slid down my cheek. In a flash, I finally came to fathom how profoundly music connects us all.
But let’s preface: six weeks earlier, I sojourned to Chicago to see David Bowie play the AREA:2 festival with Moby, Blue Man Group, Busta Rhymes and Ash.
At Tweeter Center, against the backdrop of a slowly sinking sunset, the smartly clad Bowie swept us into a wonderfully imaginative world and held us fast. As he stylishly chauffeured his audience through several decades of songs, pop culture’s debt to the musical chameleon became apparent.
Even more evident, perhaps, was his influence on two Midwestern cities: Minneapolis and St. Paul (M/SP).
LOCALS SOUND OFF ON BOWIE
Back stage at Tweeter Center that evening, our own David Anania — appearing with openers Blue Man Group — described how Bowie galvanized his funk octet Greazy Meal: “His captivating persona, openness and connection with such a beautifully varied audience definitely had an impact on us. He’s been a huge inspiration for the all-inclusive environment we strive to embrace on and off stage.”
Anania’s Greazy Meal compatriot and Prince & NPG keyboardist Tommy Barbarella hat-tipped the bloke from Brixton’s style, adding, “He most certainly paved the way for androgynous types like Prince, myself and many others.”
Michael Bland, Barbarella’s NPG bandmate, offered the following anecdote: “One day, while talking to Prince in his office, the video for “The Hearts Filthy Lesson” came on MTV. We kept talking for a few seconds, but the track overwhelmed us into total silence.”
Prince. Listening. Silently.
I should probably begin Bowie’s interview here, but the list of local individuals he has inspired is unusually long and quite interdisciplinary.
Also attending at Tweeter that night were Twin Cities photographer Dwayne Williams and Ultra Modern Records CEO Chris Strouth.
Strouth observed: “What he did [with music] became so much of a lexicon that people have forgotten someone came up with it first. To counterpoint, he was also an incredibly good follower. He was able to see what was happening underground and add a twist to it. Locally, you see his influence from the glam rock of All The Pretty Horses, to the hijinks of Flipp, down to the narrative line of Faux Jean.”
Discussing Bowie, respect resonates clearly in All The Pretty Horses front person Venus’ voice. “His creative approach to music — not really fitting into a particular genre, but going around experimenting — has been exciting to watch.” Venus continued, “Today, people look to him as an established artist that’s on the forefront of what happens when you’re ‘old’ in rock and roll. I’m fascinated by how he remains significant when rock music has traditionally not been interested in anyone of ‘age’.”
Visual artist and Yanomamos member Timothy G. Piotrowski chimed in, “My first year of art school (when I started doing bands) was inspired as much by the introduction to Bowie/Eno/Iggy as it was by Punk Rock. It was absolutely formative.”
Additional M/SP talents attested to Bowie’s agency. Suburbs drummer Hugo Klaers remembered his band writing “Change Agent” after listening to “Fame”. Members of Cows, Push On Junior, The Idle Hands, Fathom5 and numerous others also confirmed being inspired by The Man Who Sold The World, and fresh off of tour with The Cult, LIKEHELL drummer Tony Oliveri remarked: “He was always very visual. Also, [there’s] the fact that he works well with so many different musicians… He’s one of the greatest of our time.”
BOWIE ON BOWIE
The David Bowie that we know wasn’t always so. In his own words, it took a lot of “becoming”. In 1962 — at fifteen — a chap by the name of David Jones started a Teddy Boy band called The Konrads. A few years later, he emerged as a solo artist. By twenty, he’d survived several lukewarm releases on six different labels (including The Beatles’ Apple Music) prior to scoring his first hit (1969’s “Space Oddity”) and a contract with RCA Records. With a sharp new name to permanently slice away confusion between himself and The Monkees’ Davy Jones, he transformed.
Persona after personae, fiction over fact and then fact over fiction, Bowie’s capacity to morph has come full circle on his latest effort, Heathen. Billed as his most personal record to date, a number of factors figure in the intimacy + nostalgia + spiritual examination equation that is his twenty-second studio album.
First and foremost, there’s a decades-in-the-making reunion with producer Tony Visconti, which we touched on in an online Q&A.
“We’d been wanting to work together again for years,” Bowie stated. “Spring came around and things began to ease up; I stayed at Tony’s place and we talked and played around to get a feel. He’s a superb string arranger, and I couldn’t think of doing an album with him without strings in some form.”
Bowie added, “We didn’t know where we were going… I had a sense of the weight that I was after, a British amateur-ness. Amateur in that dedicated fashion that you find in a man who, only on Sundays, will build a cathedral out of matchsticks, beautiful but only to please himself, his family and friends. I went in like that.”
Speaking of family and friends, the Heathen guest list includes long-term collaborators Pete Townshend and Carlos Alomar, as well as performances from Dave Grohl, David Torn, and Irish guitarist Gerry Leonard.
Additionally contributing to the album’s nostalgia factor, three of the twelve tracks are covers, recorded explicitly for the purpose of paying homage to fellow artists.
“The Neil Young song, “I’ve Been Waiting For You” was from his first album. In 1969, I was dazzled by the sound: it was majestic but lonely at the same time… ” He continued, “The Pixies’ song “Cactus” is also really underrated- I could never get over the fact that Pixies formed, worked and separated without America taking them to heart. It was a disgrace- the Pixies were so important!”
(At this point, it took everything I had to refrain from sharing that my first concert <in 1991, for my 16th birthday> was Pixies; it was beyond packed, so much so that the second-story auditorium floor actually cracked from everyone pogo-ing to “Cactus.”)
Momentarily lingering in the space between words, Bowie returned: “The third is a song by my muse, the Legendary Stardust Cowboy (LSC). He was a stablemate of mine on Mercury in the late ‘60s and I chewed off his name for Ziggy. When I read that he thought since I’d borrowed his name that I should at least sing one of his songs, I wanted to make amends. So, I covered “I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spacecraft”.”
And better late than never, cover LSC Bowie did. Too shocked to grill my subject on why it took him decades to publicly credit the artist who not only inspired Ziggy’s surname, but helped kick off his space schtick, I instead inquired about the writing process for Heathen.
“Sometimes, you know, you stumble across a few chords that put you in a reflective place. It’s odd, but even as a kid, I would write about ‘old’ and ‘other’ times as if I had a lot of years behind me. When you’re young, you’re still ‘becoming.’ At my age, I’m more concerned with being. I miss that ‘becoming’ stage, as most times, you don’t know what’s around the corner… ”
In a more confidential tone, he continued, “Some songs you don’t really want to write. I didn’t like writing “Heathen”. There was something so ominous about it; it was early in the morning, the sun was rising and through the windows, I could see two deer grazing down below in the field. In the distance, a car was driving slowly past the reservoir and these words were just streaming out and tears were running down my face.”
Listening to the lyrics of the album’s title track, the events of 9/11 come to mind. While the New York resident was understandably reluctant to discuss the topic, he offered the following: “We had most everything laid down and then THAT happened. The weirdest and toughest thing was having the Scorchio Quartet come up from New York to play the [string] parts Tony had written. Trains were out and the roads were all closing down, so it was no small thing that they did.”
In addition, a heartfelt salute to George Harrison echoes through the first verse, with Bowie reminding the listener that “All things must pass.” Near the end of the song, a few oddly familiar tones sound. Asked about these, Bowie replies enthusiastically.
“That’s the Stylophone- I first used it on “Space Oddity”. It only plays one note at a time and you have to use a stylus [like a pen] to get at the keyboard. It also has no volume control, so you do that by putting your hand over the speaker, but it’s got something about it!”
Like a child at Christmas, he beams about another, very special synthesizer that made a cameo appearance on the album: the EMS AKS briefcase synth.
“A friend kindly bought me the original [one] that Brian Eno used on so many of those classic records- the [same] one he used on Low and
Heroes,” he explained. “We put it back into service, most obviously on “Cactus”. Taking it through customs has always been a stomach turning affair as it looks like a briefcase bomb… Eno got pulled out of line on several occasions; I wouldn’t dream of taking it through these days.”
He shifts the subject quickly: “What’s very enlightening for me right now is that I’m arriving at a place of peace with my writing. I’m going to be writing some of the most worthwhile things I’ve ever written in the coming years. I’ve got to think of myself as the luckiest guy… Robert Johnson only had one album’s worth of work as his legacy. That’s all life allowed him.”
David Bowie’s legacy is quite another story. Après Chicago, watching All The Pretty Horses at The Lab, everything clicked. Between these events, I began seeing shades of Bowie in countless others: Annie Lennox, X Japan, Kate Bush, Gackt, Gary Numan, Madonna, Adam Ant, Blur and Peter Murphy, just to cite a handful.
While this post-9/11 realization may seem minuscule, it does lead one to examine the bigger picture. The fact that this man — once no more than an inquisitive boy from working class Brixton — could help connect so many of us and that we, in turn, connected with his work is EXTRAORDINARY.
From day one, David Robert Jones has been on a journey, and he has taken a rather large portion of the music world, including ours, with him.
AUTHORS NOTE: If you appreciate David Bowie, please consider joining
The Legendary Stardust Cowboy Fanclub