Song of the Week – Lazarus, David Bowie; You Want It Darker, Leonard Cohen; Jesus Alone, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

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My mind has been unnaturally fixated on mortality lately. Today marks the 39th year anniversary of my father’s passing. A few weeks ago I lost a very dear friend of mine at the far too young age of 61 after a short but very nasty battle with cancer. I was fortunate to have a long conversation with her in February when it appeared that her late 2016 surgery had bought her more time. Sadly, she took a terrible turn for the worse shortly afterward.

2016 was an especially hard year for rock deaths. A number of very important artists died during the year – Bowie, Prince, Glenn Frey, Keith Emerson, Paul Kantner, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Greg Lake and George Michael to name a few.

Bowie was first, on January 10th, just 2 days after the release of Blackstar. He was struggling with cancer but chose to keep his illness private and focused on his work. An example to all of us, he worked right up until has passing and left us with one of the best albums of his storied career – yes, even compared to his iconic 70s and 80s classics.

The song “Lazarus”, released as the second single from the album, has often been cited for lyrics that hinted at the artist’s struggle to deal with his illness and impending mortality:

Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now

In an eerily similar circumstance, Leonard Cohen released his last album – You Want It Darker – on his 82nd birthday, less than two months before his death from complications after a fall.

In an article in the February 2017 issue of Mojo, referring to the title track, Sylvie Simmons wrote:

In his final album, he sang himself back home. “Hineni,” he sang. “I am ready”’, accompanied by the cantor and choir of Congregational Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal, the synagogue his great grandfather founded, and in whose cemetery he would be buried on November 10, in a private ceremony, next to his parents.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds also released a superb album in 2016 called Skeleton Tree. The album was initiated in late 2014 but took a much different turn after the death of Cave’s 15 year old, twin son Arthur who fell from a cliff in England in July, 2015. The tragedy initially debilitated Cave but eventually he channeled his grief into a very moving work, the making of which he had documented for a film called One More Time With Feeling.

The album’s opener is “Jesus Alone.”

It includes a line “You fell from the sky, crash landed in a field…” that could only be described as a premonition since it was written before Arthur’s demise.

At least when we have to deal with such sadness, we have exceptional art to help us to process our emotions and feel community with others that have suffered similar experiences.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Heroes, David Bowie – It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City, David Bowie – Let’s Dance, M Ward – Wake Up, Arcade Fire w/ David Bowie

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I hadn’t really planned to post about David Bowie today. All week there have been media articles, radio tributes, and playlists to honor his passing. Sirius/XM even turned The Loft into an all Bowie station for a limited time. What more is there for me to add to the conversation?

But a very good friend of mine sent me an email saying he was looking forward to my take on the Bowie legacy so I decided to take a stab at it after all. My slant is to illuminate the various facets of Bowie as a performer, interpreter, writer and collaborator.

I’ll start by simply offering my all-time favorite Bowie song, “Heroes.”

“Heroes” was released as a single but never really achieved meaningful chart success. It was a well-known album cut but wasn’t among his most commercial releases. So I was surprised when I notice that it is the 3rd top Bowie song listened to on Spotify (with over 25 million streams, behind only “Space Oddity” and “Life on Mars”).

I’ve always dug the way it starts off with such power but continues to build and build, even when you think it’s no longer possible.

Next let’s listen to Bowie covering another artist – Bruce Springsteen’s “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City.”

Bowie was an early proponent of Springsteen, having recorded two songs (“It’s Hard to Be A Saint…” and “Growin’ Up”) from The Boss’ first album Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.

There are scores of great covers of Bowie songs by others. Take a listen to “Let’s Dance” by M Ward.

This melancholy version of Bowie’s exhilarating club hit underscores the simple beauty of the song.

Finally, Bowie was always generously shared his talent with other artists, from Bing Crosby (“Little Drummer Boy”) to Mick Jagger (“Dancing in the Street”) to Queen (“Under Pressure”). My pick for a cool collaboration is his effort with Arcade Fire on their “Wake Up.”

There we go Mike. I hope I didn’t disappoint!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – The Gouster samples, David Bowie

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Rock and roll has a long history of albums recorded by big name acts that never saw release (except on bootlegs, of course). There was The Beach Boys’ SMiLE (but that’s now been released), The Who’s Lifehouse (though many of its songs came out on various other Who albums), The Kinks’ Four More Respected Gentlemen (most of which was released on The Village Green Preservation Society and The Kinks Kronikles) and Prince’s The Black Album (ultimately released 7 years after the originally planned release date). As you can tell, these recordings almost always eventually see the light of day.

But back in 1974-75, David Bowie was working on an album tentatively titled The Gouster. (If you want to know what a gouster is, check out this post at darkjive.com.

DarkJive.com – Gouster or Ivy Leaguer?

The Gouster may have been Bowie’s prototype for the “Thin White Duke.”

It turns out, early in the sessions, Bowie recorded about five songs in the Philly soul style that was popular at the time that never made it onto the album that was ultimately released as Young Americans. Three of them were released on either the Sound + Vision boxed set on Rykodisc (1989) or as bonus cuts on the remastered release of Young Americans (2007). They were:

– John, I’m Only Dancing
– Who Can I Be Now?
– It’s Gonna Be Me

But there were two other songs that have never been released – “I Am a Lazer” and “Shilling the Rubes.”

We only have these snippets to hear for now. Where did they come from? In 2009 a reel of tape from the sessions came up on eBay for $15,000. The seller let us “sip out of the cup” in order to validate the tape’s authenticity. The speculation has always been that Bowie bought back the tape to prevent it from being exploited.

In any case, we only have these fragments to whet our appetite for full versions sometime in the future.

Enjoy… until next week.