When I’m in the middle of a dream/stay in bed, float upstream

Posted: June 3, 2016 in music
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Black Tie White Noise
1993
Black Tie White Noise Extras
2003
David Bowie

If I’m dreaming and I’m not satisfied with the dream I’m in, I rewrite it. I rearrange the plot and reinforce the dialog. When I’m awake, I do this with movies and TV shows. You’ll know it if I do this with you in conversation because I’ll give you new pages to read. I’ll advise you on where to stand and maybe suggest a wardrobe change.

A few nights ago I dreamed that someone had hired me to play drums for David Bowie. This was for an album Bowie had already recorded. (It was a dream, OK?) I was so concerned that I stopped the dream (I was still dreaming while I stopped the dream) and demanded to know which album. There are some that don’t interest me. There are some that could stampede Donald Trump’s hair. At least one should be stored in an ice volcano on Pluto.

I was also concerned about my ability to play. Though I’m competent (or at least annoying) with two pencils on a conference table while I’m waiting for a meeting to start, I haven’t played the drums since I was a teenager. My parents’ plan to keep me out of the Vietnam War was to have me learn to play an instrument. Then if I were drafted into the army, the Pentagon would assign me to a band. Simple. Why didn’t everybody do that?

I thought the drums would be easy to learn, but a year of instruction made it clear that I was never going to be a drummer, not even on a bad Bowie album. I turned 18 just in time for the last draft, but none of us from that year were called up. Today I serve my country as a blogger. It even says “Blogger” on my uniform.

Bowie’s version of The White Album
One thing we bloggers fight about when we fight about music is an artist’s best album, worst album, and last great album. Bowie almost managed all three in the same decade. His best albums live in the 1970s. His last great album was Scary Monsters in 1980. His worst album lurched into the daylight in 1987 – the unfortunately named Never Let Me Down.

After that one, Bowie barricaded himself in his Fortress of Silentude for six years. He opened the 1990s by marrying a model and stabilizing his life. David and I must be like chocolate and peanut butter because this was almost exactly my experience around that time, not counting all that stuff about music.

Bowie’s next album was Black Tie White Noise (1993). BTWN is not a great album, a return to form, or an innovation. It’s something I don’t associate with Bowie: It’s fun. It’s his most fun album.

BTWN has its quota of menace and paranoia, but even when it’s dark, happiness lurks behind every shadow. Happiness springs from his extraterrestrial sax playing (producer Nile Rodgers said that Bowie “painted” with the sax rather than played it) and from the chaos of musical styles on this disc: rock, pop, dance, terrific covers of Cream’s “I Feel Free” and Scott Walker’s “Nite Flights,” two symphonies for his new wife, Imam, and one avant-gardey track for of all you self-conscious hipsters.

Bowie issued several new versions of this record over the next 10 years, removing songs and adding others (including “Real Cool World,” which he wrote for the movie Cool World). You could theorize that with all this fiddling, Bowie was trying to improve the original pressing. I say that’s just a theory. I say it was too much fun not to.

Black Tie White Noise Extras, a collection of dance remixes, was released on the 10th anniversary of the original. BTWNx dropped five of the original 12 songs, added “new” tracks, and remixed all of them, some more than once. I loved most of the first record and I love most of the remixes.

(I don’t know why, but nobody changed a note in the only blank in this bandolier: the avant-gardey “Pallas Athena.” Here are all the words:

God
Is on top of it all
And that’s all it is.
We are praying.
Athena, Athena
Athena, Athena
Athena, Athena
Athena, Athena
etc., etc.

This stinker, which I admit has a kick-ass drum track, somehow survived every lineup change since 1992.)

This is a fun record in any version. It doesn’t matter which you choose, just choose already. As Kirk said to Balok in “The Corbormite Maneuver”: “We grow annoyed at your foolishness.” Or was he talking to Trump? Maybe I’m dreaming.

Random Pick of the Day
EMF, Schubert Dip (1991)
Hard rock with a scoop of hip-hop and a bedrock of danceability. “Unbelievable,” an unbelievably happy rock song, hit #1 in the U.S. and the U.K.

Schubert Dip is notable for “Unbelievable” and for the unstoppable expression of just being alive as only five guys in their 20s can express it. The first two tracks, “Children” and “Long Summer Days,” jump at you like puppies that haven’t had their walk today. The rest of the album sags – a 25-year-old can only go so far on all that natural energy – but come on, you can’t say no to an album that includes audio clips of T.S. Eliot and Bert & Ernie.

Random Pan of the Day
The Pretenders, Packed (1990)
Most of the album sounds like Don Henley. That’s OK for Henley, but Chrissie Hynde can do better. Her cover of Hendrix makes me dislike Hendrix. Pack this one away.

 

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