Ziggy Played Guitar

[I wrote this Monday night]
As we age, it’s an ongoing battle not to become a nostalgia act—in the music we listen to, the books we read, the clothes we wear—especially when others our own age are entrenched in the past.

I see it on Facebook. In the people that I once knew, went to school with, and most of whom I likely haven’t seen face-to-face in 35 years. And yet, we somehow have some tenuous connection that Mark Zuckerberg is able to exploit?

Last week I was listening to KEXP, one of the stations I enjoy streaming, given the sad state of radio in my own region. I prefer to listen to music that was written and recorded in the last decade and stations like KEXP (from Seattle) play a mix of newer music, while recognizing some of the pioneers and icons of rock and their contribution to the history of the genre.

David Bowie would be one of the latter. In fact, KEXP highlighted Bowie, celebrating his birthday last Friday, with what they were calling “Intergalactic David Bowie Day,” playing a shitload of his music, old, and new, including his latest (and last) album, Blackstar.

David Bowie, as Ziggy Stardust (circa 1973).

David Bowie, as Ziggy Stardust (circa 1973).

I was thinking about Bowie last Friday, about his contributions to music over the last 50 years (basically, my lifetime), and his influence on a host of younger musicians that I was a fan of during the 1990s, including bands like Nirvana, who covered “The Man Who Sold the World.” Bowie always set his own course, from the glam-rock of the early 1970s, and Ziggy Stardust through Diamond Dogs, and well beyond.

Reinvention gets a lot of mileage here at the JBE. The topic also gets bandied about in various circles and contexts, but few people truly embrace reinvention and change with vigor and gusto. Bowie certainly did, right up until the very end.

David Bowie died yesterday, after apparently battling cancer for 18 months. I heard the news on my early morning drive to the Bath Y, for my regular Monday swim.

I’ve heard all manner of Bowie tunes most of the day, as KEXP has been playing much of his catalog, and now, WCYY and Mark Curdo is paying tribute to the man and his music. It’s interesting hearing certain songs that were on the radio when I was in high school, and recognizing others that ruled subsequent decades. Bowie’s music never went out of style—he wouldn’t allow it.

There are a handful of tunes that would rank up there as my favorite Bowie tunes, but this one is my all-time David Bowie song that I never grew tired of hearing. He was attuned to the demise of Detroit, long before it became fodder for journalists and pickings for investors looking to acquire property and exploit the city for pennies on the dollar.

So my nostalgic nod takes me back to magazines like Creem and Circus, reading about Bowie and 70s glam-rockers, and remembering a time when the first whiff of collapse was in the air, and Bowie picked up on it in the song he wrote on his first U.S. tour.


4 thoughts on “Ziggy Played Guitar

  1. KEXP was a life save yesterday. I played it on my headphones at work all day to get my Bowie fix. Blackstar is great. I’ve been watching the video for a few weeks and listened to the album on Friday. Saturday night in the Man Cave, with Bowie on the stereo, my friend commented that “Bowie’s going to live forever”.

    Then came Monday.

    I assume you’ve heard his prior album, “The Next Day”. My roadtrip mix on Spotify uses the 5th cut, “Where Are We Now”, as the first track and playlist title.

    Thanks for writing the tribute.

  2. Mick Ronson, the guitarist on that track, left us a few years back. We saw him multiple times with the Ian Hunter Band in Portland and Augusta (three times that one summer, opening for the Kinks, Blue Oyster Cult and Heart, coming out and jamming with BOC at the end of their show). I got to swang on his guitar, a beautiful 1958 sunburst Les Paul, when he leaned over the stage to us. The same guitar that had its headstock snapped off when some winestoned cowboy in Portland grabbed the strings and yanked (the Kinks show), but it was glued back together by the BOC show.

    One of my first memories of Maine is “Space Oddity.” Visiting my grandparents in Maine in 1969, we went shopping and there was nowhere we went, not a single store, that “Ground control to Major Tom” wasn’t playing in the background. That was back when Lewiston had department stores to go shopping in.

    Perhaps my favorite reinventor was Warren Zevon. His father was a goon for Bugsy Siegel, so the “lawyers, drugs and money” he sang about early was the environment he actually came from. Coked up with the best of them in LA, he eventually married and had two daughters, and cleaned up his act entirely for them. Lifting weights, his chest hurt and he couldn’t stop coughing. Cancer, but he was glad that his girls were at least all grown up by then, and he made his final album, the laconically titled “My Ride’s Here,” a celebration with all his old friends. Like Blackstar, it was a race against time.

    But really, isn’t everything?

  3. @Dave The term “legend” gets tossed around much too lightly. Bowie truly was a legend, in terms of output, not sitting around on his laurels and becoming the prototypical aging rock star, not to mention all the younger bands and aspiring Bowie wannebes that looked to Mr. Bowie as their inspiration.

    It’s funny–I was never a huge Bowie fanboy, yet whenever I’d listen to his music, I’d always marvel at his staying power and how far he’d come from those days when his glam-rocker pose graced the magazines I mentioned in the early 1970s.

    @LP Forgot about Ronson playing with Ian Hunter. Loved those skinny 1970s guitar players like him. Didn’t realize that Ronson worked with John Cougar Mellencamp on American Fool, including “Jack and Diane.” JCM credits him with the arrangement.

    Ronson, sadly, had his life cut short by liver cancer, at the age of 46.

  4. Didn’t know that about Ronson and Mellencamp! I know how I always played Ziggy Stardust, and then I a video of Ronson talking about it and just diddling the riff–he did it in an entirely different position! The Jack and Diane arrangement makes perfect sense in light of that.

    What I would think was Bowie’s touch, though, was the timing on Ziggy. Listen to the fills, and note that Ronson doesn’t come in on the beat, but always slightly late. Very un-rock and roll, to play behind the beat, and it raises the tension in the song tremendously. Bowie’s music, not always to my taste either, is always filled with those kinds of details. I have to admit that the three-day flood of Bowie on WMNF has raised my opinion of much of his work, especially the stuff that never made it onto the radio.

Comments are closed.