beeb

Released for the first time on vinyl, Bowie at the Beeb, is a compilation featuring a comprehensive overview of David Bowie’s BBC radio appearances during his early years, and it has been long overdue. The great vinyl reissue company Rhino Records released it last Friday as a four-disc set. It was originally planned for release in 2000 when Virgin Records put out a CD version of it. It was never to be. I wrote about it after receiving a preview copy of the set for review in “Goldmine Magazine.” The renaissance of vinyl records was a few years away. Now, 16 years later, Rhino has amended what Virgin Records failed to deliver.

Below you will find my original review of the compilation where I explore the quality of music the Bowie-curated compilation featured. It includes references to some of the glitches that had to be corrected after release as well as a paragraph about a third CD featuring a 2000 BBC concert that came as bonus disc with the initial release, marketed as a limited edition held together by a slipcase cover. This concert is not part of the vinyl set, which would have probably added two more vinyl slabs to the already big four-disc box set. I have yet to hear the vinyl version of this set (it’s in the mail!), but I have faith in Rhino, which has long released excellent quality records. As for the music, it’s a brilliant retrospective of Bowie’s formative years, and I get into in detail in the original “Goldmine” review. Without further ado, here’s my archival piece as originally submitted to my editor at “Goldmine” (I’ve only made a few tiny tweeks):

DAVID BOWIE
Bowie at the Beeb (Limited Edition)
Virgin/BBC (7243 5 28958 2 3 / 7087 6 15778 2 2)

Providing one of the most comprehensive insights into the development of David Bowie in his early years, Bowie at the Beeb is probably one of the greatest retrospective collections on the legendary musician available.  The only retrospective that could possibly stand above it is the now out of print Sound + Vision box set, which heralded the beginning of the re-release of Bowie’s then out-of-print back catalog by Rykodisc, in 1989.  But that collection even lost momentum by the third disc, omitting many a rare track.  Bowie at the Beeb is all about the rare tracks—it’s David Bowie recording exclusively for the BBC, from his pre-“Space Oddity” era to his Ziggy Stardust years.

The recordings on Bowie at the Beeb are so dynamic, and so rich in importance as an indication of where Bowie was in development between albums, it would be hard to avoid commenting on every single track.  The retrospective Bowie At The Beeb 'Best of the BBC Sessions' 3CD_Posteropens with the never-before bootlegged sessions from 1968, a year which saw Bowie mostly immersed in Buddhism and mime—not in the recording studio.  Though recording since 1964, Bowie had not achieved any form of stardom yet and was in limbo after his fifth failed record contract.  Bowie himself had to provide the tapes for this one, as the BBC had lost the original masters.  Fans have reason to rejoice Bowie’s modest decision to release these tapes, as he has often been protective of officially releasing early recordings he felt were below par.  But these selections are some of the better songs Bowie wrote in an era often maligned for its easy-listening, sometimes cheesy quality.

A session from 1969, easily found on bootleg though never broadcast, follows, including one of Bowie’s greatest sixties songs, “Let Me Sleep Beside You.” A lengthy, though abridged, concert from 1970, hosted by John Peel, comes next.  It is in this session that Bowie publicly introduced Mick Ronson.  Ronson and Bowie are also presented in rare form as a duo, performing “The Supermen” and “Eight Line Poem,” in a 1971 session that kicks off disc two.

Bowie at the Beeb is a fantastic tribute to not only David Bowie but his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, whose presence can be felt as early as the last third of the first CD.   But it’s CD two that is pure Ziggy-glitter heaven, including covers of the Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat” and “Waiting for the Man,” among a variety of different BowieBowie by Brian Ward cuts.  Only two songs are repeated, “Hang On To Yourself” and “Ziggy Stardust,” but in distinctly different versions, as they are culled from different recording sessions.  Owing too a production error, the “Ziggy Stardust” track from the 1/18/72 session is duplicated in the 5/16/72 session.  An estimated 25,000 copies were shipped before the error was caught.  To make up for the missing track, Bowie, being the internet-friendly artist he is, has offered a free download for those who purchased the album prior to the error correction at http://www.musicmatch.com/get_music.  To get the track you need to download and install the MusicMatch Jukebox software (for free), then load any Bowie at the Beeb CD into your CD-ROM drive.  Once your CD is verified, you will be given the opportunity to download the correct version of the song.

If you’re wondering about the overall quality of the recordings, it’s safe to call them incredible, considering the shoddy bootleg versions already out there.  Though the sessions here omit some tracks, making the more comprehensive bootleg versions still valid, the superior sound quality and the expertly selected track selections by Bowie himself, make this a definitive, well-paced compilation.

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For a limited time, Bowie at the Beeb will be released in a sturdy slip cover with a bonus CD of Bowie’s intimate June 27, 2000 BBC Radio Theatre concert.  The energy of the show is undeniable, including such gems at “Ashes to Ashes,” “Cracked Actor,” and “Stay,” and even a few hits like “Fame” and “Let’s Dance.”  Bowie’s band, including veterans like pianist Mike Garson and guitarist Earl Slick, provide a stellar back-up.  Pick up this limited edition version of the compilation while you can: this bonus concert CD is an extraordinary performance, capturing a rare live moment, as Bowie has eschewed any traditional touring this year.  This third CD will be discontinued later this year, as Virgin will replace the 3 CD package with a double CD of the 1968-1972 sessions, which will also be made available as a four LP vinyl limited edition set including two bonus tracks not included on any of the CDs (Ed: until now! From davidbowie.com, those tracks are detailed as follows: “Oh! You Pretty Things” from the Sounds of the 70s Bob Harris session, broadcast in September 1971, which was previously exclusive to the Japanese release of the CD. This performance features Bowie and Ronson as a duo. Completely exclusive to this collection, and making its debut, is the once lost “The Supermen” from the Sounds of the 70s Andy Ferris session, broadcast in March 1970, and performed with The Hype).

Hans Morgenstern

Images from top to bottom: courtesy Rhino Records, the Virgin Records promo poster, Brian Ward shot from inside the original booklet, bonus CD cover art from www.teenagewildlife.com.

(Copyright 2016 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

David Bowie by Kelley Curtis Chili PepperA1 10-7-97Back in October of 1997, I wrote about what will go down in history as David Bowie’s longest ever live performance. I was following reports of the Earthling tour extensively via this once great but now dormant Bowie fansite Teenage Wildlife. I knew how his set list varied from show to show and what songs were on it. On what was the second of back-to-back nights at the Fort Lauderdale nightclub/live venue The Chili Pepper (now Revolution Live), he performed every different song he and his band had played on that tour. The show was one of two back-to-back shows that was added when the first show sold out in minutes. Below is an edited recap of what happened those two nights, based on a review that ran in “Jam Entertainment News” for the first night and a recap for the Teenage Wildlife site. The photos were all shot by a friend I made via Teenage Wildlife, who got me a ticket for that second night, Kelley Curtis.

*  *  *

Having last stopped into Florida in 1990 for his Greatest Hits tour, “Sound + Vision,” Bowie’s absence from Florida for seven years and two world tours was made up for with two intimate, spell-binding evenings at the 1,000-person capacity Chili Pepper in Fort Lauderdale. Though both shows were characterized with obscure cuts, a sprinkling of covers, a dash of hits, and a heap of selections from his new album, Earthling, they were both distinctively different experiences.

David Bowie Chili Pepper 10-7-97

The concerts started Oct. 7, a Tuesday. I got there at 1 in the afternoon, for the first show. There were only about five people there already in line, some of whom had been following Bowie around on tour. A few hours after bonding over similar likes in music beyond Bowie, we listened to sound check, where Bowie and his band performed six songs all the way through, a nice preview of what was to come at night.

It was just after 7  p.m. when the doors opened, and I was able to find an ideal spot to lean right against a barricade at the front, in front of bassist/vocalist Gail Ann Dorsey’s set up. After listening for over an hour of trendy danceDavid Bowie by Kelley Curtis Chili Pepper3 10-7-97 music, the lights went low and Bowie sauntered out of the shadows with an acoustic guitar. He said hello and started playing “Quicksand” solo.

Though it was a dream come true to have Bowie alone, in front of you playing some deep cuts from his catalog. The show was a strong and tight example of why Bowie’s backing band for Earthling was one of his best, ever. Guitarist Reeves Gabrels and pianist Mike Garson, both veteran Bowie players with eerily angular playing talents, exemplified why they came from Bowie’s only two other true band projects. In the late eighties, Gabrels was an important part of the genesis of Bowie’s pioneering return to hard rock with Tin Machine, and Garson originally helped define Bowie’s glam rock sound with The Spiders From Mars, in the early seventies.

But the chemistry couldn’t have been complete without Bowie newcomers drummer Zachery Alford and Dorsey. In fact, the highlight of the performance came when Bowie took a back seat to meld with the band on the Laurie Anderson cover of “O Superman.” Gail Ann Doresy by Kelley Curtis outside Chili Pepper 10-7-97Bowie took a back seat while Dorsey sung lead. Bowie backed her up on the chorus and shimmied and twisted along with her during a skittering drum and bass musical interlude. The huge horn refrain and fade-out toward the end of the piece was characterized by monstrous, fat notes on Dorsey’s keyboard. She gave a over-the-top smile as the foreboding notes just came rumbling out. During a second refrain Bowie strapped on a humongous baritone sax, and boom, the song droned on with a hypnotic vibrancy that I could have never imagined. It was a more up-beat version than Anderson’s, so I had expected it to be shorter than her original of 8-plus-minutes version, but it actually seemed longer and delightfully indulgent. I’ve always loved that song, and it was probably the highlight of the evening.

Other highlights with the band included “Waiting For The Man,” a Velvet Underground cover, which Bowie updated exceptionally well to what was then his new electronic/hard rock sound. A majority of his new Earthling material translated well live, as well, thanks to the presence of some pre-recorded backing tracks, something Bowie should have done on many previous tours.

David Bowie Reeves Gabrels by Kelley Curtis outside Chili Pepper 10-7-97

Some fun color from the stage included Bowie showing off his sandals at the beginning of the show. During “Little Wonder,” Bowie put the giant eyeball balloon against his crotch and started bouncing it there while wearing a devilish smile. He tossed it out into the audience, and it lasted just a few seconds before it burst. Bowie covered his left eye and declared, “My eye! You animals!”

Bowie was a lot of fun on stage, posing to “Fashion” and just being a goof, never taking himself too serious but giving strong renditions of his songs. There was a cool mix in the crowd, from those who probably had seen him as Ziggy Stardust to those for whom Bowie was something new. Still, there was a rehearsed distance that night. Reeves Pick nameHe was still an arena performer gesturing to the audience rather than connecting with individuals. Although, during “Hallo Spaceboy,” he did wave “bye-bye, luv” to a drunk man who tried to take a swing at a security guard and was promptly dragged away. I did recall connecting with Gabrels for a second who looked at me bopping my head and sticking out my tongue and gave me a smile. At the end of the show I got one of his picks, which could be found on the floor as the audience cleared out.

But the real magic was yet to come.

The following Wednesday, I arrived later, at around 3:30 p.m. and still got a spot close to the door. But then the tour bus pulled up, close in eyesight to the few of us in line, unlike the previous day. Something was afoot, as if the Bowie and the band wanted the attention. About four of us walked over. David Bowie by Kelley Curtis outside Chili Pepper2 10-7-97My friend who acted as photographer for the show handed me her record of Aladdin Sane, but she wanted to stay back and hold out spots and take some shots. We were only about four people, but, when the band started getting off, more fans started coming. I stood right in front of the bus with camera ready, and wouldn’t you know it? Bowie stepped off. People started crowding, and I stepped closer. He was signing everything. I held the record out, and someone passed it to Bowie, who signed while smiling and chatting with fans. People were trying to sum up what he meant to them in 10 words or less: (“You’re the man!” etc.) or making requests (“Do ‘Changes’ tonight” etc.). I just kept my mouth shut. I’ll save that when I get the interview, I thought.

He finally took the opportunity to slip away and everyone went running back in line to show off their prizes. We were like a bunch of silly kids, still trembling after the encounter. Later, from outside, we could once again hear the David Bowie by Kelley Curtis outside Chili Pepper 10-7-97band doing sound check, including a country and western version of “Scary Monsters.” When we were let in, I got the same spot as the night before. The show started 15 minutes early, and Bowie said hello and asked if we were in a hurry. “Do you want a short set or a long set?” he asked. You can imagine what the crowd said, and Bowie just laughed. He said, “Good, ’cause we feel like being here for a long time, so call your mothers and tell them you’ll be late.”

Selections that night included the mellow but intense Ziggy Stardust-era staple, “My Death.” There was also instrumental interludes featuring his new versions of “V-2 Schneider,” “Pallas Athena,” and “Is It Any Wonder?” a new piece derived from Bowie’s 1975 hit “Fame,” which featured an endearingly amateurish alto sax bit.

David Bowie by Kelley Curtis Chili Pepper8 10-7-97

Bowie was certainly having the time of his life, being very chatty, telling his story about taking the infamous Jimmy Page riff for “The Supermen” and then reusing it for “Dead Man Walking.” He played both, the latter was an acoustic version. When he did the eyeball balloon during “Little Wonder” this time, he humped it so hard it almost knocked him back. Then, when he threw it out into the crowd it immediately burst on a light, overhead. “I’m such an animal!” he said, while the skittering, elastic drum and bass solo went on. Then he pulled out another eyeball balloon and threw it out. Still, it didn’t last much longer, bursting in a few seconds.

He introduced “Seven Years In Tibet” by saying, “This is ‘Seven Years In Tibet’ now a major motion picture called ‘Seven Years With Brad Pitt.'” He also made a joke of this spray he uses to soothe his throat David Bowie by Kelley Curtis Chili Pepper5 10-7-97during performances, hinting that it was some kind of pharmaceutical by The Chemical Brothers, which included some ingredient “with the initial E.” He sprayed it and laughed a bit mischievously then said something like, “Oh, what the hell,” and unscrewed the top off and drank it down– a sort of hint of what the audience was in store for as far as the effort from his voice.

Throughout the show he said things like, “The longest show we’ve played was two hours and forty minutes. We’re going to try and beat that record tonight.” He did three sets that night. He never played around with phony finales. Before the breaks he said, “This is only a bathroom break, we’ll be right back.” The show turned out to be three and a half hours long! He played 36 songs. It included every song Bowie had been performing on the current tour, minus one, which he probably only forgot to play because he did it at sound check (“I’m Deranged”).

This was a truly unprecedented event as far as Bowie concerts go. Toward the end of the show Bowie waved off someone backstage who seemed to be trying to hurry him off. He and the band just kept doing song after song after song. By the finale of “All The Young Dudes,” David Bowie by Kelley Curtis Chili Pepper10 10-7-97Bowie’s tongue was literally hanging out of his mouth while he smiled brightly. After the song, in a high-pitched, exhausted and grateful voice, he said, “Thank you.” With a gracious wave goodnight, Bowie admitted it was the longest performance he had given on tour so far, lasting way beyond his previous two-hour-and-40-minute record. “We went well over the three-hour mark,” he said and added, “We’re never going to do anything like this again.”

In these two evenings, Bowie proved himself a true anomaly among his rock ‘n’ roll peers, defining a new standard for popular rock artists over 50. While everyone else has turned their live performances into cabaret shows, Bowie continues to develop as a true artist. He did not rely on old hits to captivate the audience but did what he has always done best– perform and transform, and the fans loved him for it.

Here’s the full set list, provided by SetList FM:

Dead Man Walking (Acoustic)
Quicksand
I’m Waiting for the Man
Always Crashing in the Same Car
The Supermen
My Death
The Jean Genie
I’m Afraid of Americans
Strangers When We Meet
Fame
The Hearts Filthy Lesson
Seven Years in Tibet
Looking for Satellites
Under Pressure
Fashion
Hallo Spaceboy
Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
Little Wonder

Encore:
Panic in Detroit
The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (As Beauty)
The Last Thing You Should Do
V-2 Schneider
Battle for Britain (The Letter)
O Superman
White Light/White Heat
Moonage Daydream

Encore 2:
Queen Bitch
I Can’t Read
Telling Lies
Look Back in Anger
Fame (Is It Any Wonder version)
Pallas Athena
Stay
Outside
The Man Who Sold the World
All the Young Dudes

David Bowie by Kelley Curtis Chili Pepper 10-7-97

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2016 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

David Bowie - 1. Outside cover artIt has been 20 years since I first reviewed David Bowie’s 1. Outside, which first saw official release on Sept. 25, 1995 in the U.K. (I believe it came out the following day in the U.S.). I was pretty critical about the album upon its release, and I have since grown to appreciate it more. It’s still not a perfect album, but what was hard for me to swallow was the ornate quality of much of the music, compared to his previous, lesser known album the soundtrack for The BBC television mini-series The Buddha of Suburbia. Released in late 1993 and only the U.K., mostly hardcore Bowie fans heard this album, which neatly bridges Black Tie White Noise, which came out earlier that same year, and 1. Outside.

Buddha was a rapidly produced album (Bowie has said it took him six days to write and record) with the only musicians besides Bowie being multi-instrumentalist Erdal Kizilcay, pianist Mike Garson and, on one song each, Lenny Kravitz and a little known-UK group called 3D Echo. It recalled such high points as 1974’s Diamond Dogs, which saw Bowie playing most of the instruments, and 1976’s Station To Station, another quickly produced album. It also had instrumental pieces that sounded like the work he did with Brian Eno in Berlin for 1977’s Low and “Heroes.” The few songs on the album were quirky yet catchy, not unlike the songs off Low. Bowie actually reworked one of the Buddha songs, “Strangers When We Meet,” for 1. Outside, and it’s still a high point of the album.

The thing about Buddha that stands out from its bookends is how forward moving it feels without the self-consciousness of the other records. The influences of New Jack Swing in the Black TieThe Buddha of Suburbia cover art and industrial music for 1. Outside, not to mention this reach to bring back Eno for 1. Outside feel ham-fisted by comparison. To top it off, 1. Outside was driven by an ultra-high concept. It was supposed to be the first album of a trilogy that Bowie never completed (hence the “1.”). It also was meant as a testament to the turn of the millennium that looked back to the turn of the 20th century. When I wrote the review for 1. Outside, I happened to have been working on an independent study in college focused on late 1910s Italian Futurism, and some references in the album made an allusion to the art movement, which seemed perfect to kick off my review.

All these years later, I think it’s a better album than I originally gave it credit for. Many of the songs are counter-intuitively constructed, defying pop music conventions. They needed many repeat listens to grow accustomed to. In those days, music critics were more often than not given cassettes to review albums. I still have my copy. It was not easy to go back and forth and give particular tracks or moments closer listens with a tape, as opposed to the mp3s we get now.

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These songs are complex and the album is one of Bowie’s most conceptual works in a long time. These tracks were also created organically during jam sessions among the musicians. There was also much hype about Bowie’s reunionbowie eno promo cd with Eno, who worked with Bowie and the band in the studio, even co-writing some of the songs, like he did on those important albums Bowie released in the late ’70s. Just a few years prior to 1. Outside‘s release those albums had been reissued by Rykodisc, and the hype, as always, was that Bowie collaborated with Eno on them. Eno’s name was as big as Bowie’s on the promo material (note the cover art of the promo-only CD sampler for their reissue above).

There are many factors that cloud our perceptions as critics. We try to absorb the art in a personal vacuum, but history, personal experience, maturity and more often slip through the filter. The fact is, I was still a college undergrad when I wrote the review below, and I feel I short-changed some credit to the genius of Bowie at the time. Though much older than when he broke barriers in the ’70s, from Ziggy Stardust to the Eno trilogy, he continued to plow new creative ground in the 1990s, and it was a challenge to absorb such an experimental and progressive album as 1. Outside after Black Tie White Noise and Buddha of Suburbia, not to mention the end of the straight-forward rock ‘n’ roll side project Tin Machine.

Below you will find my original thoughts on the album. With hindsight, I would raise the rating by a whole additional star, as I have grown to appreciate the album much more since its release.

DAVID BOWIE – OUTSIDE
Virgin: * * * (out of 5)
by HANS MORGENSTERN

Filippo Marinetti wrote the first Futurist manifesto in 1909, telling us to never look back. He preached the importance of war as a cleanser and called for the destruction of all libraries and museums. Through this campaign the futurists would allow for the creation of art in its purest form, uninhibited and uninspired by the past, an immaculate representation of the current spirit of the times.

Outside, David Bowie’s first concept album since 1974’s Diamond Dogs, explores art gone to the extreme in the not-so-distant future. It’s December 31, 1999, and self-mutilating performance art, like Chris Burden’s nude crucifixion on the top of a Volkswagen van, has become passe. In a twisted move to take shocking performance art to another level, someone has decided to dismember a 14-year-old girl and “creatively” put her body parts back together, leaving “the work” at The Museum of Modern Parts.

Outside‘s story is hard to decipher as it is the first part in a trilogy that will make up the complete diaries of Nathan Adler by 1999. All the listener really gets is the murder of Baby Grace Blue under investigation by the art-crime detective/professor Nathan Adler and a list of suspects that could include a “tyrannical” futurist suffering a mid-life crisis and the man who fell back to earth, Major Tom.

As far as the musical pacing goes, the album takes awhile to get to any outstanding tracks. The first real interesting song, both lyrically and musically, is the sixth track, “Hallo Spaceboy,” sprinkled with subtle references to Major Tom, Bowie’s subject in 1969’s “Space Oddity” and 1980’s “Ashes to Ashes.” The music, co-written by Brian Eno, deftly connotes a rocket tearing through the Earth’s atmosphere as if Major Tom might actually be plunging back to Earth. The stomping booms of Sterling Campbell’s drum kit seem to echo off electronic walls of murmuring voices from ground control as Reeves Gabrels’ angular guitar riffing melts into saxophone-like honks.

Throughout Outside the production by Bowie and Eno has a futuristic metallic shine. The opening track, “Leon Takes Us Outside,” starts with a bunch of murmurs lost in an ambient wash of noise and then bursts into “Outside,” a cut that features each instrument gleaming with its own sound. The scarcity of reverb makes each string on Bowie’s acoustic guitar ring with its own separate note.

Besides slick production, Bowie and Eno, muffle the instruments on some tracks to get a dirty, industrial sound that seems influenced by Nine Inch Nail’s Downward Spiral. “The Hearts Filthy Lesson” buzzes with NIN influences, but with Bowie’s voice mixed so high above the murmuring instruments, the song makes for a weak industrial experience.

The music is at its best when its subtle and angular, coming at you with strange constructions that make for surprising listens. It makes perfect sense that Gabrels and pianist Mike Garson slip into a ska-like jam toward the end of the pounding “Hallo Spaceboy.”

Bowie and Eno worked together in the late ’70s, one of Bowie’s most prolific periods spawning the albums Low, “Heroes” and Lodger. They threw a lot of pop conventions out the window and created an avant-garde pop styling. They use this styling in Outside to reflect Bowie’s theme of art struggling to be creative. Bowie echoes the feelings toward 1920’s modernism, the parent of futurism, in lines like “There is no hell” and “We’re swimming in a sea of sham” in “The Motel.”

david bowie press kit Outisde

With Outside, Bowie sometimes falls through the trap doors of creating something new for the sake of creating something new, leaving the listener wondering if this album isn’t all a sham. One has to sit through about half an album’s worth of failed attempts at creativity that sound either like rip-offs or dull failures to get to anything ground-breaking. Overall, songs like “We Prick You” and “I Have Not Been To Oxford Town” are worth the tedium.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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While we’re sharing old David Bowie reviews along with reissue news, it’s only been a few years since we mentioned that Bowie’s brilliant 2002 album Heathen was reissued on vinyl (David Bowie’s ‘Heathen’ album to see vinyl reissue). Well, now it seems that it’s coming back again, along with another version of Reality (2003), which was only reissued last year on vinyl, also via Music On Vinyl. According to Bowienet, this time the albums will arrive in more luxurious tri-fold sleeves. We may also have a change in audio quality. Friday Music, the boutique vinyl reissue company handling these reissues, boasts,  “mastered impeccably by Joe Reagoso (David Bowie/Jeff Beck/Deep Purple) for the first time on audiophile vinyl.” The Heathen vinyl will also be a translucent blue and the Reality disc will be clear.

The Bowie news page tantalizingly leaves us with “Stay tuned for more news regarding Friday Music releases.” Hopefully, that could mean even more desired early-period Bowie albums that were released on RCA and have been out of print on vinyl for much longer than these albums. There have been some cruel teases that never came to fruition (EMI/Capitol Vaults delays Bowie reissues… again) and random reissues in the past (Reissue of the year: Station to Station (plus exclusive edit for “Wild is the Wind” on mp3), but nothing career-spanning, so albums like the so-called Berlin trilogy would be welcome news.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in these two later-period works. Heathen stands as an alltime favorite Bowie album for this writer. So far, it’s the only one of these reissues that has a release date, slated for June 23 (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase direct through Amazon via this link). David Bowie - Heathen album artReality‘s release date remains TBA. Both albums mark a certain era for Bowie. The start of the 2000s for the rock icon hint at a creative artist very aware of being in his autumnal years. It’s a mix of self-referencing nostalgia and a new-found creativity. The two albums each featured two covers among the original Bowie compositions. “Cactus” by the Pixies and “I’ve Been Waiting For You” by Neil Young on Heathen and “Pablo Picasso” by Johnathan Richman and “Try Some, Buy Some” by George Harrison on Reality.

Heathen also did death and mortality way better than hours… (From the Archives: David Bowie’s hours…reissue on vinyl and my 1999 review). It went from self-centered to more aware of the subject’s relationship to time and place. There’s a wistful tribute to a vintage New York TV show called “The Uncle Floyd Show” (“Slip Away”) that also featured the stylophone, which Bowie made famous on “Space Oddity.” The album was capped off with the incredibly powerful “Heathen (the Rays),” which subtly referenced the fall of the Twin Towers. Then there are some of the songs that Bowie made of old ideas (“Afraid” and the outtake “Wood Jackson”) and self-covers, like the B-side “Conversation Piece.”

But the best part of Heathen were the all-new originals, featuring Bowie at his most original. There’s the creepy “I Would Be Your Slave,” with some unknowable wind instrument pulsing and whooshing below a melancholic string section and a skittish beat. Following it, Bowie references space and the Stardust Cowboy who inspired Ziggy Stardust with “I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship.” There’s another skittering beat and a swooning string part, but it also features a squonking baritone sax and rubbery guitar licks.

I never reviewed the album, but I loved it, and it was great that Bowie found new energy, rebooting himself after the lackluster hours… with a never-released album of self-covers called Toy that preceded Heathen, which included some songs from the Toy sessions. I did review Reality. I was granted a preview CD of the album, about a month ahead of release. I can’t recall who I wrote it for. It may have been the “Miami New Times,” when they ran reviews in print. If not, it could have been the record collectors magazine, “Goldmine.”

David Bowie Reality album art

DAVID BOWIE

Reality

ISO/Columbia Records (CK 90576)

It has become the ultimate litmus test for David Bowie:  How good is any new release compared to his 1980 album Scary Monsters?  Anyone who has followed Bowie’s reviews will notice critics pulling out the Scary Monsters card, if not, even further back to the Eno trilogy of 1977-78: Low, “Heroes”, and Lodger.

But it’s been well over twenty years since the release of these albums, and Bowie has recorded some comparable works in the last decade alone, including 1993’s Buddha of Suburbia, 1995’s Outside, 1997’s Earthling and last year’s Heathen. Bowie’s music is certainly in a renaissance of sorts and Reality, released this past September, carries on that trend.

Producer Tony Visconti deserves some credit, proving to be a magical presence behind the boards for Bowie. He’s back for a second year straight, previously not having worked with Bowie since Scary Monsters and, prior to that, having produced Bowie’s acclaimed work with Eno in the seventies.

Reality moves dynamically from song to song. Bowie has written some of the catchiest tunes in ten years, like the album’s single “New Killer Star,” and truly propulsive numbers like “Looking For Water” and “Reality,” the latter sounding suspiciously similar to “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).”  Most of the tracks have odd quirks like the sputtering guitar intro of “New Killer Star,” which proves Bowie’s been listening to Radiohead and bands on the Thrill Jockey label.  There are also some plaintive moments like the creepy “The Loneliest Guy” and the jazzy “Bring Me the Disco King,” which highlights Mike Garson’s jittery piano work and seems to mimic the music of David Sylvian. With Reality, Bowie proves he’s much more than the sum of his work in the seventies and a vital source in the contemporary music scene.

*  *  *

I can’t say I disagree with this review, almost 12 years later, and I must say it reads like something I would have written for the “Miami New Times,” so it probably first appeared there. I’ll leave you with a live version of “New Killer Star.”

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Garson front cover by Terry O'Neill - Getty ImagesEven though it totaled over 15,000 words and was spread out across five parts, one of the most popular posts on this blog remains an archival piece on pianist Mike Garson (From the Archives: Mike Garson on working with David Bowie – Part 1 of 5). Most recently, the two-hour plus interview provided at least a tiny bit of backing material for a book: Bowie’s Piano Man: The Life of Mike Garson. I was honored the author, Clifford Slapper, found my work interesting enough to reference in his book, which stands as the first biography of the one musician who has spent more time collaborating with David Bowie, than any other one.

The UK-based Slapper — who is also a pianist — kept me posted about the book up to its publication. Below is a Q&A we recently conducted via email that reveals his noble inspiration behind it (the art and craft trumps the gossip) and also shows his light approach to prose, making the book not only an informative read but a breezy one at that.

Hans Morgenstern: What inspired you to write the book … besides Mike being such an important Bowie collaborator?

Clifford Slapper: When I was 7 I started going to piano lessons, as my parents had noticed that my miniature piano was my favourite toy. They found a local teacher called Miss Beryl Silley — quite a name, especially since she was teaching a young Slapper! My grandmother — who used to take me to the weekly lessons — bought me a cassette tape of Elton John’s Honky Chateau album (so named as it was recorded at Le Chateau D’Hérouville, where Bowie would subsequently record Pin Ups), which has great piano parts and which I love to this day. My real epiphany, however, was when I went out and bought a record myself for the first time, at age 10: David Bowie’s 1973 album Aladdin Sane, on vinyl. It completely blew my young mind! I have been in love ever since with the music of both Bowie and Garson!

Many years later, I got the chance to work, briefly, with David Bowie, and a couple of years after that to meet, and become Clifford Slapper and David Bowie by Ray Burmistongood friends with Mike, and then to work closely with him in the extensive interviews and research involved in writing his biography. Within a few hours of meeting, I asked if there were any biographies published of him, and he replied that there were not, but that as a fellow pianist with a similar outlook, I might be the ideal person to write one, and here we are five years later with the book finally being published.

How long were you working on it?

About five years. In addition to hundreds of hours of discussion with Mike, I also interviewed some forty people who have worked with him or otherwise know him well.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about Mike while doing it?

On first hearing that he had once planned to become a rabbi, I was initially surprised. In time, however, this was less surprising as he approaches his life and work in a way which is always studied, disciplined and yet inspired, and he naturally adopts the role of mentor, educator, and guide for many of those around him.

What was the most challenging part of writing Mike’s story?

It was difficult to decide how best to approach telling that part of his story in which he was involved with Scientology for some time, many years ago. In the end, I think we found the right way and the right balance. He has had an honest and Author Photo by Ray Burmistonunstinting spiritual quest throughout his life, and that was simply one period alongside many others in that regard. I also did not want to dwell on any salacious details which might pertain to the early tours with Bowie or others. This is a book about creativity and finding artistic and developmental meaning in life. It does not engage in the cheap gossip or petty mundane details which can all be found in profusion elsewhere.

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

As I say at the end of the book, “Our shared hope is that people may be inspired … to overcome any obstacles in their quest for authentic expression and creativity … and that this opens up a wider exploration of how music is created and what it can do.” Mike hopes that the story of his life might bring pleasure and insight to readers but above all wants to encourage people to be active in taking “a few things from this book that ring true for them, and use that in their lives to bring joy to themselves and others”.

*  *  *

The book is published in the U.K. You can purchase it in the U.K. and Europe here (that’s a hot link) or direct from the publisher here (another hot link — they ship worldwide). But there is also a U.S. entry on Amazon.com for those in the States. You’ll be supporting Independent Ethos by jumping through this link and purchasing it:

http://www.amazon.com/Bowies-Piano-Man-Life-Garson/dp/178196131X/&tag=theindeetho-20

Thanks to Clifford for taking some time to answer my inquiries and including me in his terrific book!

Hans Morgenstern

Book cover photo by Terry O’Neill/Getty Images. Photos of author Clifford Slapper are copyright owned by Ray Burmiston. From top to bottom: 1. Clifford Slapper on the set of Ricky Gervais’ TV show ‘Derek’ photo by Ray Burmiston; Clifford Slapper with David Bowie, photo by Ray Burmiston. 

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Today David Bowie turned 65, and celebrities and fans are off Tweeting for him to do a comeback tour. I could offer a long essay on how important he is to contemporary music, but I present the montage above accompanied with some of the most stark music he ever created in his later period. This is “The Mysteries” from the 1993 soundtrack for the Buddha of Suburbia, an album he once called a personal favorite (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon).

He is practically solo on the album. The only other musicians present are multi-instrumentalist Erdal Kizilcay, a Bowie collaborator since the mid-80s, and his long-time keyboardist Mike Garson (If you really want to go in-depth on Bowie, read my 5-part interview with Garson: From the Archives: Mike Garson on working with David Bowie (Part 1 of 5)). Some of the best work Bowie did in his career was when he was at his most singularly creative. He also recorded  most of 1974′s Diamond Dogs on his own, including drums and guitars and began a series of his greatest albums with 1977′s Low, while defying the pleadings of his record label to go back and record Young Americans Part 2.

The man is a creative genius well worth something more than aping his greatest hits on stage (again? He did it in 1990 already). It’s time for him to come out with something original and new, damn the celebrities and fans and their Tweets (Bowie isn’t even on Twitter).

One more taste of the creative high-point that was Buddha of Suburbia, shows that the soundtrack also offers the opposite of stark and atmospheric. Here’s the driving and catchy “Dead Against It”:

This stuff could have been outtakes from Low!

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

It all began  at the start of this month with an exclusive interview with Mike Garson talking about his new solo album, the David Bowie Variations for Piano (Mike Garson talks about ‘David Bowie Variations’: an Indie Ethos exclusive). Bowie’s stalwart keyboardist since 1972, Garson is up there with some of the more creative collaborators Bowie has worked with. As I noted in earlier posts of this series, I had the privilege of talking with Garson back in 2004, backstage at what would have been Bowie’s tour stop in Miami for the Reality tour.

The publication of the story in the pages of the record collector’s magazine “Goldmine” hinged on whether I could get some exclusive quotes from Bowie. As detailed in earlier posts in this series, it was not to be, and the story languished until Bowie quietly slipped away in an unannounced form for retirement.

Out of the blue, in May or so, I dropped Garson an email to see what we could do with this interview. He told me about the upcoming release of his solo record (Garson will sign a copy of the CD for anyone that orders directly from his website). We spoke again some more, and I resurrected my 2004 interview, which totaled about two hours of talking. Here are the last tidbits of our conversations, from 2004:

Hans Morgenstern: Is there some distinction for you personally between what’s jazz and what’s classical music?

Mike Garson: To be honest with you, I don’t actually have a personal line or barrier or distinction. That might be a plus, and it might be a minus. I never figured it out, but to me, it’s all music, which is probably why I have no problem crossing barriers. I’m very comfortable with fusion music and playing angular things on David’s music and this and that. It’s like whatever I hear is what I play, whether I’m playing solo piano or playing jazz or I’m playing with my trio or playing rock and roll with David. In other words, if I hear it, I play it. I don’t feel, 0h, I’m slipping out of rock. I’m playing jazz. If I hear it, and it seems appropriate for that music, I’ll play it. Once in a while, somebody will say that didn’t sound right, but usually because I’m not in the moment. If I’m in the moment, I’ll usually make the right calculation.

That’s what I was wondering. Is there a rock hat you put on? Do you have a creative pool that you reach for the classical notes and a separate one for the jazz?

It looks that way, but it’s really not for me. It can be, but I don’t opt for that.

How does Bowie’s music fit in with that?

There might be a few rock tunes that I’m required to play rock piano through the course of the night like “Suffragette City” or “White Light[/White Heat],” that Velvet Underground song. I’m just playing…

Listen to Garson playing those parts

… But there’s a lot of songs like … We were playing “Ashes to Ashes” one day, and I was playing a synth solo. He says, “Ah, that sounded too much like Herbie Hancock. Why don’t you switch to piano and play like a piano solo, more like ‘Aladdin Sane’ kind of stuff?” So now I do that at the end of the song. Now, that’s not on the original record, and that’s not recorded anywhere, so I’ll get to stretch out on that tonight, if we play that song, and that’s very unusual for me because it’s a three-bar phrase, and it’s a G-minor, an F-major and a C-minor chord, and it revolves in three bar phrases, and it’s not easy to improvise on. Especially since I’m improvising in an avant-garde way, so it’s a challenge for me every night. Whereas when I play an “Aladdin Sane” solo it’s just A and G. It’s easier to improvise on that than:

Listen to a Garson explore his “Ashes to Ashes” solo

So there I’m functioning like all the instruments coz I’m playing as a solo pianist. I won’t be doing so much left hand later, or I’ll play it differently. There I had to cover the fullness. There’s some jazz elements and classical elements there.

* * *

That was the point where my hour-long tape ran out, as I was only supposed to have a half-hour with him (yes, just as he was demonstrating his Bowie-related playing). I did call him up about a month later to round out the interview, as really we sort of “improvised” it on the day we first met. Most of this later interview I have already shared (From the Archives: Mike Garson on working with David Bowie (Part 1), From the Archives: Mike Garson on working with David Bowie, the later years (Part 2)). However, I still have some left over bits that do explore other facets of Garson’s life, creativity and technique:

Hans Morgenstern:  We did not talk about your institutional studies. When did you go to Julliard and what did you get out of it?

Mike Garson: I studied with a Julliard teacher. In fact, over the years, three Julliard teachers. The Julliard teacher, I never had to go to Julliard because she lived next door to my house, so I didn’t have to travel there. So I had a Julliard teacher for classical, but I didn’t have to study at the school. My college was Brooklyn College.

So it was informal?

It wasn’t informal. It was serious piano lessons. I just didn’t go to that school. My degree is from Brooklyn College for music and education.

Why do you play with Band-Aids around your fingers?

I used to put them on after they got sore, now I put them on before, so it’s preventive medicine. I probably hit the keys too hard, I guess. (He laughs). And every time I try to play without them, and, I start off playing soft, I still end up banging by the end of the show, so I keep them on. They really help. Occasionally, I’ll catch a wrong note because of the thickness of the Band-Aid but most of the time, I know how to compensate. I’ve been wearing Band-aids for 30 years.

So that started on a regular piano, but you still need them on a synthesizer?

Well, on stage I have a piano with a piano action, so I need it for that, and of course the synth is right above it, so I don’t take the Band-Aids off. I don’t need them for when I play synth, technically. I need it for the harder action.

So that piano is sensitive to how much pressure you put on the keys?

Yeah. I probably didn’t learn right from the beginning because I probably shouldn’t need Band-Aids because most people don’t wear them, but you know the old expression, “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”? So I don’t deal with it. But I’m probably not hitting all the proper parts of the fingers because the band-aids help the sides, and you really should be only hitting in the center part, so I’m probably not even hitting perfect. But, whatever it is, you sort of develop your own way of hitting and playing as the years go on, and if it works, you leave it alone. But it’s probably not a hundred percent standard. Nothing I’ve ever done is standard, connected with the piano.

You have composed 4,000 pieces, you said.

I have 2,000 in classical and 2,000 in miscellaneous, jazz and pop.

Do you ever fear that the vast amount of pieces you have written out there might diminish the value of each piece?

Well, the truth of the matter is that I feel that maybe one out of 10 is probably good. So I probably have, out of the 4,000 pieces I wrote, 400 that I’d be proud of, and the reason I write so much is to get that one out of the 10. It doesn’t diminish the value for me. Maybe for the commercial world that likes to put scarcity in abundance on things, I’d say, What was the only composition he ever did? or something like that, but I don’t think about those kind of things because I just write music. Hayden, the composer, wrote hundreds of pieces of music, but we play the ones we like. The same with Bach and Beethoven. You find that it’s kind of like the cream rises to the top. I mean of the 400 I would chose, maybe if I was dead, maybe [someone] would chose a different 400, but I would say I would have 400 that I would be proud of and then probably 400 that are OK and then probably 400 that are fair and then probably a thousand that were just bullshit, that were getting me to the other place. Both as a student and a teacher, I tell everybody that: if you want to be a good writer or composer, write a lot, so I wrote a lot. When I used to write pop songs, I couldn’t write good bridges, so I spent a year just practicing writing the bridges of songs, just as a discipline, you know?  But since I compose a lot of the music on the Yamaha Disklavier, they take less time to write because I’m actually improvising them on to disk. Then they get printed out, so I’m not having to write it by hand anymore, like I used to do in the sixties and seventies, so my composition has become almost the direct output from my fingers to the piano, so it’s sort of a gift that opened up when I turned 50. It’s kind of exciting in a way.

So you’ve only been doing this since you’ve been about 50, for about eight years?

Yeah, I’ve been doing the Now Music for about eight years.  It started brewing a few years before that, but it really started to come about hot and heavy around ’96.

How do you get the music out there to the other players?

What happens is I first give the disc to this guy who works for me, who prints it out in Finale, and then he makes it look real good, and then I check it over. And then, you know, as I travel around the world I meet people, and I say, “Have a listen to this recording, and if they like one of the pieces, I’ll send you the music,” and guys play them.

Someone played one of my nocturnes in a recital last week, I got a communication last week. I did get asked, just yesterday to play with a symphony orchestra next year, and they want to do my concerto, which I told them, they have to do it by my rules because even though the concerto was written, I was going to play a different piano part with the orchestra playing the same part. It kind of threw the conductor off, but they said, “Why not?”

Garson recently offered an mp3 of his “classical side” that he said I could share here. Download “Humble Hubris.” “For now just following my heart,” Garson said.

So you never play the same thing twice, do you?

I try not to. Sometimes I have to on a gig. Like there are certain things that David Bowie wants to hear, I’ll give it to him all the time, but other times I have leeway.

Do you have any early albums available now?

The trouble with my thing is, all my records are out of print, so it’s very hard to find a Mike Garson CD. I have a couple of things floating around. You find them on eBay and this and that, but there’s really nothing, and I’ve done 11 albums.

What’s this Now Art that you are working with?

That’s a whole other part of me that developed in the last six years: computer-generated art that I kind of do like my Now Music; I kind of improvise it. Somebody had given me a program called Photoshop, but I didn’t know you were supposed to use it with photos, so I started drawing things from scratch, and I ended up creating thousands of pictures over the last six, seven years. I had my first art showing in Portland last month [On April 12, 2004, Portland’s Brian Marki Fine Art Gallery hosted a premiere reception of his artwork]. When we passed through Portland some gallery asked me to take some of these computer-generated works and have them put on canvas. There’s a process that you can get them put on canvas. So I had them put on canvas, and they look beautiful, so we sold them.  And anyone who bought a piece of artwork at the gallery, I had a piano there, I composed a piece on the spot for them that went with the artwork.

So you create these by just working in Photoshop?

Photoshop, Painter, Artist, (some others) a lot of programs, mostly Photoshop, but I create them from scratch by using the different tools that are in there, with plug-ins and whatever, and I just got a very good knack for colors and balance.

* * *

And these were all the components that would have made a lengthy feature profile on Garson. I probably gathered enough material to write a book, so inevitably lots would have had to have been cut back for a magazine. But thanks to the Internet, and unlimited space, here is a testament to my research. Because of the release of the Bowie Variations, I found a good time to publish it all. Who knows? Maybe one day a proper story in a publication might appear with some of Bowie’s quotes. If there is one thing I know for sure about David Bowie, it’s that nothing is ever final with him.

As Garson has said, he had been thinking about variations on Bowie’s music for a while, so I will leave you with a performance of his variation of “Space Oddity” in 2007:

This is continued from Part 4: From the Archives: Mike Garson on playing the piano (Part 4 of 5)

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)