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Repetitions upon a theme: sometimes I feel like I make the same LJ entry over and over again before I'm done getting this shit out of my system. Allons-y!

1. bowiesongs.wordpress.com

I am so excited to slowly excavate my way through entries and entries of painstaking, detailed and somehow totally addictive feat of obsessive music journalism. This writer has me hooked on the prospect of listening to The Buddha of Suburbia, the 1993 album which grew out of a soundtrack Bowie developed for the BBC adaptation of Hanif Kureishi's first novel (he was a screenwriter for many years of that). Just typing that convoluted sentence gave me a thrill; if you haven't noticed, I'm a fan of reinventing the wheel over and over again. I read Buddha when I was 18 and wasn't that impressed with it, but the excerpts (none of which I remember reading so many years ago) bowiesongs quotes are fantastic and I'm incredibly excited to reread this, in the summer maybe.


This is my new favourite thing ever. I am trying not to take God's name in vain (not religious, once a religious friend told me she was offended, these days "oh my word" functions as an actually better substitute) but only a short sharp ejaculation will do -- Christ!

2. I mean, I'm still not quite as sold on 90s Bowie yet, but I was just listening to Let's Dance this morning, and come what artistic freefall afterwards may, that is a brilliant album, actually. Good, solid, popular - and probably as innovative as anything Bowie ever made when it was released. Things to note with amusement: that the eponymous track is seven-and-a-half minutes long (manufactured hit, eh?), the jaunty tippytoes at the beginning of "Criminal World", the unexpected languorousness of "Ricochet". & like I said: I am looking forward to listening to Buddha massively.

"China Girl": I'm not massively impressed with it. Disclaimer - I'm not sure how relevant it will be to my discourse - the thing that attracts me most about Bowie is not his social justice efforts, but the way he's clever and interesting about lots of things things, which happen to include gender and race and sexuality. There is the sense that he's only interested in them to the extent that he can get something new and interesting out of it, and one troublingly suspects that he would be bored by the vicissitudes of lived experience, repeated. Bowie as queer icon: entirely typical that he got frustrated with how restrictive that label became into the 80s, and the opportunities it deprived him of in the U.S.

So: "China Girl" is straightforwardly a commentary on imperialism and cultural hegemony, "I'll give you television/I'll give you eyes of blue", and that's great, but also: how racist is the music video where he gives himself slant eyes? REALLY REALLY racist. Also, my appreciation of his critique of Western hegemony is really dampened by the fact that the vehicle he chooses to deliver it in is a four-minute pop song in which a Chinese woman's body is still presented as metaphor, is still ripe for mockery ("Oh baby, just you shut your mouse.") I'm not really into it. When people call for live performances of it - as they did at the tribute band performance I went to last April - it makes me wonder what they get from it.

3. I've still never listened to any 2000s Bowie barring "Bring Me The Disco King", which I love. This is classic sadness nostalgia near yearning for the seventies, and the creeping strings just make it. In a sense you could argue that "Where Are We Now?" (10s Bowie! Oh my God!!!) is a continuation of that theme, and I'm perfectly fine with that. What I'm looking for from this new album: not a release that will catapult Bowie to renewed stardom as the zeitgeist of the twenty-first century (an old white man in his sixties the face of All of Society? much as I love the dude, boringgg) but something else entirely: not Bowie being the present, not looking to the future (as that one guy argued 90s Bowie was entirely about), but looking back at the past.

4. (and we come to the errant misnumberings of my collected, diffuse ramblings) To talk about the past is a difficult endeavour: I have been thinking about it very much recently, certainly, my favourite movies in the world are about the Cultural Revolution but I obviously definitely do not think I would have liked to live through it. My head is also full of Tony Judt's aphorism that to remember the past, one has to forget it before going through the requisite period of reconstruction, as Germany did with the Holocaust.

Which is to say: the endeavour of remembering the past, or centreing it, is not the same as idealising it (& I hope I am not engaging in apologia when I say so). What I love about "Where Are We Now": the textured, persistent emotion sustained throughout the track that is neither happiness nor sadness, but only inimical, shiveringly, to remembrance of things past.

5. Let's not forget how smart it is too: I certainly don't know as much as this guy does about Berlin, but man, this guy sure doesn't know anything about Bowie's music, huh? He goes through the track stripping it mercilessly for (visual & lyrical) references to Berlin and then talks about what they are, when the most striking Berlin thing for me is: Had to get the train /From Potzdamer platz /You never knew that/That I could do that, the layers of truth that run through that: no one knew in the 1970s, when the Wall ran through the square, that you could take the train from there, no one knew that Bowie (who once never carried any money with him or even opened doors for himself - or anyone else) could do that…

6. Dumping on that guy again: "Just around the corner from Hansa Studios, where Bowie made some of his most famous recordings, this was Berlin's ritziest, raciest square in the golden 20s. Now it is a thoroughly depressing traffic junction with a rubbish shopping centre, some terrible chain restaurants and a load of overpriced hotels attached. It is often said that some of the world's best architects – Renzo Piano, Helmut Jahn, Richard Rogers, Arata Isozaki and Rafael Moneo – did their worst work here." Oh, Jesus. Really - Potsdamer Platz in the 1920s has little to do with Bowie's intention in singing about it. Its desolation during the Cold War - its very uninterestingness - is what made it worth referencing in a song some 30 years later. Put a lid on it.

7. The exigencies of circumstance: sometimes my dude [personal profile] oliphaunts and I end up having these totally long Facebook thread conversations, the kind which probably make bystanders think, "Man, don't these people have each other's phone numbers? Don't y'all know that some things [including talking about your favourite popstar in the most obnoxious way possible] is private??" and most recently: we ended up watching bits of the Serious Moonlight Tour Documentary. As I've mentioned on here before: I live about fifteen minutes away from the mall that makes an appearance in at 32:00 (it doesn't look so impressively sinister in real life).

Choice selections from our public demonstration of wit:

[personal profile] oliphaunts: also the bit where he's going up the escalator makes me think he's going to visit one of those really dodgy sex shops in far east plaza

[personal profile] oliphaunts: + how the fuck is he wearing a blazer??? [She meant, in this weather]

me: ps in this country we stand on the left, not the right, mr bowie

And then I ruin it with some overearnest analysis:

me: (I mean obv this entire documentary, being about Bowie's travails in the "Far East" is... very much not immune to the kind of exoticising and Orientalism that plagues these portrayals. I do like the sequence where they intercut his actual concert footage and the Chinese opera though... that sort of equivalence is pretty fresh. Still the point remains. David Bowie, ARE YOU WEARING THAT BLAZER BECAUSE YOU REALLY WANT TO OR BECAUSE YOU THINK IT'S THE RIGHT THING TO DO??)

… well, it's true! What amused me the most was the bit where he got into the cab and said, "I'd like to go somewhere where there are no new buildings, please," and the driver brought him to that last bastion of worldwide famous colonial throwback nostalgia, Raffles Hotel. (Sitting in the open-air bar he's just another white man wearing a blazer and a straw boater, in some misplaced throwback to a Somerset Maugham story.) In a sense the implicit critique Bowie makes here - there are too many new buildings here - is not a new critique, it has been one that Singapore has been making for over forty years, such that the "new" buildings replacing the old at the very start of the nation-building (aha, see how I pun) have been transformed over the course of those four decades into the "old" we now view with the benefit of nostalgia, collective memory, and an earnest & sincere wish that they won't be torn down before the end of the year. I don't know if you can make the same sort of critique of his music about Berlin.

7. Returning to the track itself: that Potsdamer thing! I can't get over it. A weird parallel to "Five Years", which is of course the beginning track on the album that exploded Bowie into international superstardom: Pushing through the market square/So many mothers sighing/News had come over/We had five years left to cry in. I have always loved Bowie for his humanism and the intelligence that comes with it.

8. I'm not really sure how to end this, so I went back to the Bowie website (recently relaunched). Man, it looks good, huh? This is my favourite thing from the most recent news update:

The most common misconception, or widely held theory, is that the woman accompanying David is Icelandic singer, Björk. It's not. It is in fact Oursler's wife, painter Jacqueline Humphries.

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