Our Married to the Music weekly feature borrows the tradition brides endure before getting married in 4 songs.
Many, many people will be eulogizing the great David Bowie far more eloquently than I ever could so, honestly, pressure's off. I won't try too hard. I don't need to tell you that he was one of the most mercurial artists of all time, changing his persona and musical genre whenever inspired to do so, always 10 steps ahead of his audience. I don't need to tell you that he was an amalgam of gender and sexuality while conflating the human condition with other-worldliness. The makeup, the hair, the wardrobe, the legendary recording sessions, the nicknames, the drugs, the celebrity status, the movies. All of that was intrinsically tied to the most important part of David Bowie: his music. This special addition of Married to the Music reminds us why he was who we thought he was, albeit in only 4 songs. Do yourself a favor and just listen to his entire discography on shuffle for the rest of the week and be truly reminded of his half-century output of genius pop, rock, electronic and experimental music.
"Let all the children boogie"
David Bowie | "Queen Bitch"
"Queen Bitch" is on many levels Bowie's homage to the Velvet Underground and the first master work of Glam Rock he would release on 1971's Hunky Dory. Mick Ronson's guitar comes in thrashing a riff reminiscent of the Velvets' "Sweet Jane" though it was actually lifted from American Rockabilly musician Eddie Cochran's "Three Steps to Heaven," a song that became a number one hit in the UK just months after Cochran died in a car accident in 1960. Bowie employs very Lou Reed-esque lyrics about a transvestite prostitute sweet talkin' and night walkin', known in the darkest clubs and owning the streets like royalty. All attitude with no fear of consequences, Bowie's Velvets-inspired song would soon influence Lou Reed himself to go full Glam by 1972 with his seminal album Transformer.
David Bowie | "Lazarus"
It doesn't get much more prophetic than this. Blackstar turned out to be Bowie's final album released this past Friday on his 69th birthday. The video for "Lazarus" was released just a few days before the album and begins with the lyrics "Look up here, I'm in heaven." Bowie is shown laying in a hospital bed, blindfolded with buttons on his eyes, writhing in pain. Until he's not. Halfway through the video a different Bowie appears in all black, dancing, and singing and writing on a parchment before walking backwards into an armoire eerily reminiscent of a wooden coffin. It's harrowing given the context of his death last night, but it does give a sense of closure. Bowie's cancer took him 18 months after his diagnosis, but not before he could give a beautiful bon voyage to planet Earth. "Oh, I'll be free / Just like that bluebird / Oh, I'll be free / Ain't that just like me?"
Nirvana | "The Man Who Sold The World"
With countless Bowie covers spanning his more than 50 years as a recording artist, it is nearly an impossible task to pick one as "the best" or a "definitive" cover. Seu Jorge's acoustic covers recorded throughout Wes Anderson's 2004 film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and sung in his native Portuguese are magical. TV On The Radio recently released a cover of "Heroes" to promote HBO's Game of Thrones as did Janelle Monáe for Pepsi. Beck reimagined "Sound and Vision" with over 160 musicians for a 360° experience to promote Lincoln automobiles. In 2013, Canadian astronaut recorded a cover of "Space Oddity" where he truly is floating in space on board the International Space Station, garnering over 27 million views and counting. Nirvana's version of "The Man Who Sold The World" may be Bowie's highest profile cover. They performed the song for MTV's Unplugged series in November 1993 but the album was released the following November, 7 months after Kurt Cobain's suicide. Nirvana decided to only play several of their own songs that set, instead offering covers of the music that inspired them. These included songs by early blues singer Lead Belly, underground indie-punk band The Vaselines, psych-rockers The Meat Puppets (who accompanied during the live performance), and of course Bowie.
David Bowie | "Life on Mars?"
Bowie's ballad to escapism through the eyes of a young girl. She is surrounded and distraught by the pains of reality and dives into media for hope and relief. Many of the lyrics are collaged together in a surreal free association that span through American consumer culture, a pun connecting Russian communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin with working class hero John Lennon, violent sailors, and the cyclical, redundant nature of media repeating itself ad nauseam, ad infinitum. Hopefully, Bowie returns as Lazarus did and finally answers this question.