Music

David Bowie’s Station To Station and Art as Literature

David Bowie had an immense and long-lasting impact on me and I’ve been revisiting his music (even more than usual) lately as it has been 5 years since his passing on.

I first dove into Bowie because of Nirvana (I know, I know). Nirvana was the first band that I discovered early for myself, and that music has also shaped much of my own aesthetic. Their cover of Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” on their Unplugged album immediately caught my fascination. I had known about Bowie and knew of him from “Let’s Dance” and his role as the Goblin King in Labyrinth, of course.

But as a child in the ’80s and then a pre-teen and eventual teen in the ’90s, Bowie’s 80’s music was reminiscent of what I felt we were all pushing against. His ’70s material was almost off-limits in the same way KISS or Black Sabbath was to me… there was something secretive and occultist and just weird to my Southern conservative Baptist straight-laced white boy type. Nirvana was almost a bridge too far (indeed, a high school teacher spent a number of days having us analyze why Nirvana’s music was so terrible and destructive to “Western Culture” … turns out that turned us all on).

When I started doing a deep dive on Bowie because of Nirvana’s (masterful) cover in 1994, the persona had been reinvented again and he was associating with Trent Reznor and moving away from his 80’s MTV friendliness into industrial rock. I was just beginning to explore this area myself and Nine Inch Nails played a big part in that (I bought one of their t-shirts around this time having never heard them, but figured I should give them a listen). That led to me first experiencing Bowie through Earthling, which is a weird way to hop into Bowie.

Eventually, I explored his 70’s material (and then his 60’s works) and was blown away. Where had Low and the Berlin Trilogy been all my life? Ziggy is an amazing piece of work, of course. Hunky Dory is still one of my favorites. Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) comes just before Let’s Dance and hints at what would become industrial rock in the ’90s. It was all a revelation.

Station To Station was in there, plodding along with its otherworldliness. It took me some time to even listen all the way through in one sitting. It was only after I also earnestly began studying religion (modern and especially ancient versions) that I was finally brave (?) enough to hop in and attempt Station To Station.

I try to “read” music as literature. Now Station To Station is one of my favorite Bowie albums and this write-up from 10 years ago is one of the most effective descriptions of this piece of art…

Bowie constructs the most grandiose of love songs, the most overblown, epic ballads, mouthing hollow romantic clichés as if, by saying the lines with enough simulated passion, he will actually come to feel them. And yet, of course, all of this is just a construct, too- he knows exactly what he’s doing. It’s not a cynical act, because the desire to feel remains genuine- in its way, this is as stark and troubled a record as anything from Neil Young’s contemporaneous ditch trilogy, the musical polish and role-play only thinly veiling a soul on the edge, battling with addiction and paranoia and with what he, at least, genuinely believed were dark mystical forces just waiting to drag him forever into the abyss. “It’s the nearest album to a magical treatise that I’ve written,” Bowie has said, though perhaps a ritual spell of protection would be a more accurate description.

Source: The Quietus | Features | Anniversary | Exploring Notions Of Decadence: Bowie’s Station To Station, 45 Years On

Aneurysm

This song changed my life when I was a young kid. When people ask me what type of music I prefer, I just need to tell them Nirvana B Sides from now on.

Intelligent Voice First Interactive Advertising

We are in very early days of the Voice First revolution and Intelligent Voice First interactive advertisements along with true Voice Commerce will form the new backbone to Voice First AI just as pay-per-click and shopping carts formed the last revolution. In the next 10 years “Dumb Pipes” of audio and video channels that do not have Voice First AI deeply integrated, will be seen as ancient as live radio, TV and music downloads look today. Spotify took a great first step in to Intelligent Voice First interactive advertisements.

Via Brian Roemmele on Quora

History of Auto-Tune

I still remember the first time I heard Cher’s “Believe” while in college … I didn’t like the song, but it felt like something important was happening musically at a time that innovation was needed on the radio as we recovered from mid 90’s pop-rock in the post-grunge / machine-rock / neo-reggae era…

Rihanna is the dominant singer of our era, in no small part because the Barbados grain of her voice interacts well with Auto-Tune’s nasal tinge, making for a sort of fire-and-ice combination. Voice effects have been prominent in many of her biggest hits, from the “eh-eh-eh-eh-eh” pitch descents in “Umbrella” to the melodious twinkle-chime of the chorus in “Diamonds.” Then there’s Katy Perry, whose voice is so lacking in textural width that Auto-Tune turns it into a stiletto of stridency that—on songs like “Firework” and “Part of Me”—seems to pierce deep into the listener’s ear canal.

— Read on pitchfork.com/features/article/how-auto-tune-revolutionized-the-sound-of-popular-music/

Current Theme Song

“There will be feasting and dancing in Jerusalem next year.”

Great associated podcast here.

melomaniac

I’d be ok with this diagnosis.

English melo- (prefix meaning ‘music’) (from Ancient Greek μέλος (mélossong; melody, tune)) +‎ -maniac (from French maniaque, from Late Latin maniacus, from Ancient Greek μανιακός (maniakós), an adjectival form of μανία (maníamadness; mad desire, compulsion), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *men- (to think)).

Source: melomaniac – Wiktionary

Augmented Reality Bowie via The New York Times

I’m a big David Bowie fan so, of course, this is amazing to me… but even if you’re not into superb music you can still appreciate the technology and work that makes this sort of experience possible.

No, we don’t have flying cars and jetpacks but this feels a lot like the future…

You can access the new Bowie feature via The New York Times app, projecting life-size versions of the rock star’s iconic costumes into your own space. As with other AR experiences, you can explore the outfits as if they were really there, walking around to see the back, for example, or getting up close to see details you might miss in a photo. The pieces were scanned at the Brooklyn Museum just before the “David Bowie is” exhibition opened.

Source: The New York Times brings Bowie exhibit to your phone with AR

Spotify in 2018

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I bought a lot of CD’s when I was a teenager. I frequently made use of the Columbia House style deals where you could order 10 CD’s for free while paying for just 1 and then canceling after a few obligatory months. The 90’s were a beautiful time for music-on-media and I adored the books and books of CD sleeves that I’d collected in a short time span. I loved displaying all the CD cases on a wood rack in my bedroom and then dorm room. One of my friends made a wall hanging of his collected CD booklets and I thought it was the greatest thing in the world.

My college didn’t get high-speed internet until my Junior year, but once it did we were rapid adopters of Napster. The campus (at least those of us who collected music) changed almost overnight. Gone were the random runs to Best Buy, Circuit City, the mall or even Wal-Mart to pick up a new album and all night downloading sessions of mp3’s on Napster quickly replaced those adventures.

My friends and I felt like we were on the precipice of something new… for the first time music was “freely” available at our fingertips and just required enough bandwidth and patience to find what you were looking for at any particular moment. We would have conversations about the future of music and how that future would include music at our fingertips via our bulky desktop PC Clone computers, ZIP drives, and 3.5-inch floppies. Little did we know we were just a few years from the iPod and ultimately the iPhone and the promise of that vision was just a decade or so away. Little did we realize we wouldn’t have to carry a desktop tower halfway across campus to get our playlists going at the Fraternity house.

Even in 2010, it seemed like something as audacious as Spotify was futuristic. I’m an early adopter. I bought way too much music on the iTunes Store, via Rhapsody, have a Pandora account going back to 2004… I was ready for on-demand streaming of any song or album I wanted. At least I thought so.

Just checked the receipts… I’ve been a paying member of Spotify since July 2011 (shortly after this post was published evidently… and Klout?? Ha! Forgot about that abomination):

To join Spotify, you’ll need an invite (the first batch are being dished out by online influence tracker Klout). You can skip this tedious step, though, using that old fashioned universal lubricant – money. Sign up for either the monthly Premium or Unlimited plans and you can walk straight in the door. Premium, priced at $5 per month, gives you as much ad-free music as you like. Unlimited ($10) adds offline storage of tracks and lets you use the Spotify client on your mobile device (the Spotify iPhone app is now available in the U.S App Store).

Source: Spotify Launches in the U.S at Last | WIRED

Little did I realize how much the paradox of choice would really impact my passion for music. There was a time I had to think deliberately about whether I wanted to spend that $12-15 on a Thelonious Monk or Wilco or U2 album or if I wanted to try out another genre. Now, that’s just a literal tap of my finger. It has taken me almost 7 years to wrap my head around that paradigm of choice and my music intake has suffered as a result.

I wrapped myself up in the cozy arms of “Dad Rock” and Bowie and The Beatles as I approach 40. I listen less to new artists and I have no idea what is even happening at the Grammy’s anymore. There was a time when I’d pour over the Billboard rankings or Rolling Stone reviews to determine what my next CD purchase would be. Now, I just click play on my Spotify playlist for the day and am made comfortably numb by Pink Floyd or Ryan Adams without much thought as to what I’m missing.

Maybe that’s one of the side effects of getting old. You stop wondering what else is out there and you relish in the sounds that rocked your 20-year-old head. You celebrate the bridges and riffs of “You Never Give Me Your Money” and stop trying to stay on top of the latest Kendrick Lamar album or what might be happening with post-rock.

The 30’s are a time to grow into your jeans and start becoming comfortable with yourself, right?

Screw that. I’m using Spotify to listen to what else is out there as I grow into my 40’s. It’s time.

Here’s to the next ten years of whatever delivery mechanism we make for music we love and music that challenges us.

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Link: How David Bowie helped my autistic son become himself.

I’ll freely admit that I didn’t make it through this without some tears…

I don’t think it’s saying too much to suggest that Bowie helped Benj discover his humanity. Like all of us, the parents, the therapists, and teachers, he was drawing the child’s spirit out into the light of relations that could sustain it. But the opposite is true too. Bowie the wild man, the extravaganza, the extraterrestrial—he was, as he always knew, in desperate need of being humanized, of being understood as merely, fully, human. Everything he did was about its being all right to be yourself—that’s what Benj heard and, in the mirror he held to himself, allowed Bowie again to be.

Source: How David Bowie helped my autistic son become himself.

The Day the Music Died

We’re all suffering from something and we should all be able to admit that without feeling the need to keep on performing for people. It’s a serious deficiency of our American culture that we elevate fake stoicism.

But gosh, I do love some Tom Petty music. Sad read but maybe it’ll help at least one person seek some help:

ON THE DAY HE DIED HE WAS INFORMED HIS HIP HAD GRADUATED TO A FULL ON BREAK AND IT IS OUR FEELING THAT THE PAIN WAS SIMPLY UNBEARABLE AND WAS THE CAUSE FOR HIS OVER USE OF MEDICATION.

Source: The Official Website of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Jack White going electronic

Almost everything else about the song is baffling in a way that may alienate some fans, but potentially exciting to those of us who think the old shtick is a little tired. Most importantly, after his occasionally torpid second solo album Lazaretto, on “Respect Commander,” White sounds like he’s having fun again.

Source: Review: Jack White – “Connected By Love” & “Respect Commander” | SPIN

Weird – but I like.

The Age of OutrAGE

The media is built for clicks now, and we were trying to see firsthand how it all works. I feel like I now understand on a much deeper level why Trump got elected. Negativity is what travels. So we learned more about how the internet functions, and how it’s an insane feedback loop. It’s like, we just played a show in London that was one of the best shows we’ve ever played there. It was honestly so fucking exciting. And at the show we sold a T-shirt where we put an ironic Everything Now logo on top of Kylie Jenner’s face. It was visually punk as hell. We knew doing that would get a lot of press pickup but every single news outlet in the world covered it. Somehow there’s a story in that, but there’s not really a story in Band Is Really Amazing at Music and Plays a Live Show and People Cry Because It’s So Beautiful. So it was really interesting to us to see what got picked up about Arcade Fire. That idea plays into what we were doing as well: We were providing the ammunition for people who wanted to write negative things about the band: Here you go! Here’s something to be outraged about!

via Arcade Fire’s Win Butler on ‘Everything Now’ Album Rollout

Being Creative

Why does creativity generally tend to decline as we age? One reason may be that as we grow older, we know more. That’s mostly an advantage, of course. But it also may lead us to ignore evidence that contradicts what we already think. We become too set in our ways to change.

What Happens to Creativity As We Age? – New York Times

Creativity is something I often think about as I get older. Even David Bowie did the same on his shrinking album “Low” (my favorite, by the way) at the apex of his ongoing fights with identity, depression, and addiction:

Don’t you wonder sometimes about Sound and Vision? Pale blinds drawn all day, nothing to do, nothing to say… I will sit right down, waiting for the gift of Sound and Vision. And I will sing, waiting for the gift of sound and vision. Drifting into my solitude, over my head.

It’s comforting, in a way, to realize that even Bowie had crippling moments of doubt about his ability to channel his inner voices and creativity, right?

The Times article above hits on something that causes me much consternation throughout the day whether I’m interacting with my children or I’m solving a problem for a client (or trying to hook up a new Chromecast to our home network but having issues like I did at midnight last night). I often wonder, as I encounter problems or things to be solved, if it takes me “longer” to solve problems that would have come with easy solutions just a few years ago. I wonder if I’m being too cautious with client solutions because of what I know and the experience I have.

I wonder if I’ve lost the “sound and vision” of creativity that made me who I was when I was younger.

Have I lost it? Or, is “it” still there buried under experience and accumulated knowledge and necessary caution?

Where is / are the line / lines between being creative and being responsible?

I imagine those are definitely common old-man questions that many people share if they are being completely honest with themselves.

I was often frustrated with John Lennon and Paul McCartney as a teen (even more so with Kurt Cobain who killed himself at the height of what I thought was his period of creativity). I loved the Beatles and knew every lyric and melody and bass lick by heart by the time I went off to College. But why did they stop with Abbey Road, whose B-Side is arguably one of their most creative endeavors. How could they explode from “Love Me Do” into “Strawberry Fields Forever” in just five years and then the White Album and the audacious Magical Mystery Tour and Let It Be and Abbey Road and then break up the band? McCartney and Lennon would go on to solo projects and bands like Wings but they could never outshine what they accomplished in their 20’s in The Beatles.

Are we all doomed to similar fates? Do our complex internal algorithms of choices and perceived responsibilities and knowledge push that creative spark into a corner to be locked up while we go about the business of doing “adult stuff”?

As I watch my almost 10 year old and 7 year old and 21 month old children learn to function and operate as unique individuals in the world, I’m often sensitive to the notion that I’m here as a guide but not a dictator. Parenthood makes you obsess over details like the radius of a hotdog section and the weight limits of a swim float to the point that it’s easy to miss the every day mystery of a child realizing a new concept, especially when they can’t fully communicate with language yet.

Our monkey brains are fantastic specimens that have pushed us to conquer the world and build iPhones. We haven’t solved climate change and cancer and hunger yet, but I imagine we will. What we won’t conquer is our own insecurities, especially as we age. That’s on display in our current President, for instance. It’s something I’ve encountered all of my life when dealing with teachers, professors, pastors, bosses and clients… “Woah woah woah! Slow down there, Sam. We can’t move too fast on this. Just step back and let’s let time be a part of this process.”

There’s comfort and security in owning the time table of a process. But perhaps that’s where creativity dies.

I need to be more creative with my professional work. I need to be more creative with my children. I need to be more creative with my partner. I need to be more creative within my own palace of the mind … you get the point.

Spotify and Apple at odds

Spotify declined to comment; Apple hasn’t responded to request for comment.

For the past year, Spotify has argued publicly, and to various regulators in the U.S. and Europe, that Apple’s subscription policies effectively punish third-party music services that use Apple’s platform, while boosting Apple Music, the home-grown service it launched in June 2015.

Source: Spotify says Apple won’t approve a new version of its app because it doesn’t want competition for Apple Music – Recode

Well, this is not going to end well.

“I’m a blackstar, not a rock star.”

“Music is the binding agent of our mundane lives. It cements the moments in which we wash the dishes, type the resumes, go to the funerals, have the babies. The stronger the agent, the tougher the memory, and Bowie was NASA-grade epoxy to a sprawling span of freaked-out kids over three generations. He bonded us to our weird selves. We can be us. He said. Just for one day.”

Source: Strung Out In Heaven: A Bowie String Quartet Tribute, by Jherek Bischoff and Amanda Palmer

David Bowie’s track Blackstar off of his same-titled album is my favorite song (AND VIDEO… yowzers) at the moment.

I’ve followed Amanda Palmer for years and have been to a few of her shows. She’s not my favorite marketer, but her cover of Blackstar is goosebump raising. As is her work on Space Oddity, Ashes to Ashes, Heroes etc…

Great work from an artist who “gets it” and isn’t afraid to be herself, which is something we could all learn from her.

Thanks to Elisabeth for turning me on to this.

“Heroes”

“‘Mic number one was a valve U47, and with the other two on gates I made sure that number two, an 87 placed about 15 feet away from him, would go on at a certain level, while the third mic, another 87 that was all the way at the other end of the room, didn’t open up until he really sang loud. That reverb on his voice is therefore the room itself, none of it is artificial, and it’s his voice triggering the gates. What is really great is that the sound of the opening two verses is really intimate. It doesn’t sound like a big room yet, it sounds like somebody just singing about a foot away from your ear. The whole idea worked, and what you hear on the record is probably take three. We wouldn’t go beyond that. He was really worked up by then and I can tell you he was feeling it. It was quite an emotional song for him to sing, he deliberated long and hard over these lyrics, and he was ready to go, there was no holding him back'”

Source: CLASSIC TRACKS: Heroes

My Favorite Music Steaming Service(s)

I agree with the post linked here… Spotify:

Spotify Is the Best Streaming Music Service: “As countless Rdio fans sit back helplessly as their accounts go dark, it’s time to be blunt. Spotify continues to outpace its growing army of competitors, and if you’re going to spend money on a streaming music service, you should sign up for Spotify Premium. Or save a few bucks and get the free version, because it’s pretty damn great, too!”

HOWEVER! I will include the caveat that I love Google Music’s ability to upload my own music and my wife and I (and our newborn and kids) make great use of the uploaded music on Amazon that powers our family’s Echo. Don’t get me started on my 10 year old (heavily) curated Pandora station which makes me pay for Pandora One every year.

It’s a hard-knock-life for us streamers.

But yeah… Spotify at the end of the day.