Thursday, 5 August 2010

la mort

Firstly, I'd like to remind you of a recent posting that mentioned the fact that no matter when I joined the A14, the song Abilene by Dave Alvin came on the old iPod. Well, as we left our town and joined the A14 in exactly the same place on Saturday in Harvey, Abilene by Dave Alvin came on. Now, I'm not superstitious but how come . . .? (Ronnie Lane joke there for any interested parties).

Whilst I'm on the subject of iPods . . . I may have mentioned the so-called "shuffle mode/random setting" on the infernal devices before.  Tonight whilst cooking (Kakavia from Jamie Does . . . Dallas page 252, I think) my iPod threw up this wonderful song from David Bowie Live at Santa Monica 1972 along with a whole string of songs about death.  Now, I know what you're thinking.  However, I 'm going to write about it anyway.

I was an arty type in the early '70s, so Bowie fascinated me.  I didn't buy into the whole thing, I mean I didn't become gay and wear make up and "men's dresses" and all that.  Well, not too often, anyway. But I did go to the first Rainbow gig where he played Ziggy Stardust (and Roxy Music played their second big London gig*).  As a fairly innocent lad of about 17, Bowie completely blew me away.  Perhaps I should re-phrase that. As I was at the gig alone I just sat and took in the whole thing and honestly, I'd not really seen anything quite like it.  Peter Gabriel and Genesis had prepared me for it so I wasn't completely spastic in time (thanks, Kurt) but when Bowie and Mick Ronson** sat and performed a short acoustic set, I really was totally blown away.  I had heard of Jacques Brel - many before me and after haven't - but Bowie's solo performance of My Death was astonishing.  I mean, Jesus,  a man not many year's older than me singing about mortality in such a way was quite a mind-blowing experience.  Listen to it if you can.  Then listen to Scott Walker's version (all available on the ubiquitous youtube).  I like Walker's version but, to me, he doesn't really get the angst or je nais sais quoi over.  Oh, I don't know . . . (haha).

Bowie's version (written by Brel in c. 1950 with English lyrics by Mort Shuman) was a bit of a revelation to me in 1972 ( Christ, I was only 17!).  I love it and still feel a thrill when I hear it. Bowie's version is hesitant and so youthful (I would think that a Doherty would give his left gonad to write/sound like that) but to me then it had a gravity to it that still resonates today.  Listening to it tonight unexpectedly threw me slightly.  The awareness of what is just beyond "the door" reminds me so much of my youthful angst (up until that point Peter Green's Man of the World was my guiding light). Solo, acoustic 12-string and an awareness of mortality framed this version.  Hesitant, maybe, but quite knowing.  I'd dedicate it to any that went before (there have been a few).  I really am beginning to get upset that I missed the night Bowie got up at Bowes Lyon to sing a few songs (this happened just before I was there to witness  - god help me, Iron Butterfly - or a great Strawbs gig with Rick Wakeman on keyboards).

I don't smoke a pipe, by the way, but it's a sly nod to both Jacques Brel photos AND the cover of Bowie Live.

Well, it seemed to make sense at the time.  Much like the 70s, I guess.

* I believe a supporting gig for Alice Cooper was the first
** Great guitarist but a man that was uncomfortable with the glam rock look of "builders in skirts".  The two of them performing a short acoustic set - Space Oddity, Andy Warhol and Kooks remains an abiding memory. My Death was always performed solo.


Mike C. said...

David Bowie was at Bowes Lyon?? What, he'd got bored hanging out at the swings on KGV playing field, and dropped in just in case something was happening at the youth club?

Explain, dear boy, but do put out your pipe first. Suits you, actually -- you look vaguely like James Joyce.


Brendini said...

As you're not actually smoking that pipe, Dave, would that be a small doff of the cap toward Magritte?

Dave Leeke said...

Well, things need explaining, I guess.

As mentioned on the phone, Brendan, Magritte was not really on the radar. Er, while we're on the subject, did he used to pretend to smoke a pipe?

Well, Mike, I take it that you were at the gig that scarred me for life. By that I mean the one Rich Goddard put on at Alleynes. David Bowie and Hype (ie the pre-Ziggy band featuring Ronson and Tony Visconti)? As it was 1972 and I was only in year 10/11 (4th/5th year in real money)I was NOT allowed to go as I was too young (obviously seeing Bowie would have stopped me working and passing exams, etc - oh, that happened anyway . . .).

Anyway, evidently Bowie turned up at a gig at Bowes Lyon and crept through the audience during a hiatus and performed some songs - "Space Oddity", I believe was one of them. Probably "Memories of a Free Festival" may have been another. I'm not sure when this actually happened but it was probably during what Mr B called the "desperate years".

It's all true.

I've more-or-less got over it now.

Mike C. said...

My memory on this matter is blank. I left Alleyne's at Xmas '72 and never, to the best of my recollection, went back.

The first I recall of David Bowie was a borrowed copy of Hunky Dory, one of the first "bendy" vinyl LPs I encountered, which I still have; pretty sure I've never seen him live.

In the spirit of Magritte, this is not a comment.


Dave Leeke said...

I've spent most of my life pissed off for not being allowed in to this gig but, other than Richard, I've yet to meet anyone that actually went to it.

Ah well, "knowledge comes with Death's release" - or something like that.

"Hunky Dory" is still my favourite DB album.

Mike C. said...

Incidentally, did you know Jacques Brel is Alastair Campbell's favourite artist (yes, that Alastair Campbell)? Odd, but true. According to a recent radio slot, he was turned on to Brel by a Belgian truck driver.

Have you ever heard the Alex Harvey Band doing Brel's "Next"?


Dave Leeke said...

Yes, I saw SAHB several times including a Reading Festival and at Hitchin College - I'm sure he played it both times. Wonderfully over the top - a great lost showman.