Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Tunesday: Ground Control to Major Tom

It should have been obvious to me who and what I would write about on Tunesday. So why did it take so long for me to bring up the subject of my all-time favorite singer/songwriter/concept artist?

It's like that old saying about the forest and the trees, I guess.

I first heard David Bowie on a little cassette tape recorder. He had appeared live on one TV show or another in the early 1970s, and my Uncle Joe had recorded him singing Space Oddity. Pretty much, I was hooked. Not by the flash of his showmanship - I had no image in my head to go with this. Just by the song. And in the end, that's what it's supposed to be about, right.

Today's Pick:

A few years later, I'm earning money cutting grass for neighbors and relatives. I bought a push mower "on time" from the Western Auto store in Flomaton, Ala., paid for it with my work money, then did the same to get myself an 8-track player ("dual monophonic sound"!). Joe gave me a few tapes of his, among them the Space Oddity album, which I wore out in the next year or so.

If you ever listened to 8-tracks, you'll recall how albums were often broken into four segments, with a moment of silence and a click cutting at least two songs (the middle section of what would have been sides A and B on a vinyl disc) in two. It took me years in the post-8-tracks era to stop having this odd moment of anticipation when I listened to a couple of these songs on CD or even vinyl. I can't now recall which songs got bisected. One of the blessings of age, I suppose.

I now own just about everything the man released in some format or other (just no 8-tracks any more).

For all that above, though, I think I've failed to "review" this artist. To tell you why you should give him a listen. I'm not sure I can. It would be like trying to explain what music is to aliens who have no ears.

Space Oddity, and the other songs on that album, captured my imagination before I even knew what "folk" or early "glam rock" was. The voice and poetry, the vivid imagery, the rawness of something I didn't yet comprehend but nonetheless was intrigued by.

One of the few things I can play on the guitar is the chord progression in Ziggy Stardust.

I took Space Oddity to my high school one day, to play on a turntable on the stage in the lunchroom while I painted backdrops I had designed for the Miss Centurion beauty pageant. People asked me who that was. No one my age in Century, Florida, had heard of the man, despite "Changes" and "Golden Years" and "Young Americans" all getting airplay on the Pensacola rock stations. Despite his duet with Freddy Mercury on "Under Pressure." They thought the music was pretty strange, and it probably solidified for some of them my own place as an outsider ... dare I say an oddity.

Two springs later, the biggest hits on the radio were "Let's Dance," "China Girl" and "Modern Love." Everyone thought they had discovered him.

They were wrong. My Uncle Joe discovered him.

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