Tuesday, December 21, 2010

David Bowie -- "Moonage Daydream" (1972)

I'm an alligator
I'm a mama-papa coming for you
I'm the space invader
I'll be a rock 'n' rollin' bitch for you . . .
Keep your 'lectric eye on me, babe
Put your ray gun to my head
Press your space face close to mine, love
Freak out in a moonage daydream, oh yeah!

In case you've forgotten -- and who could blame you? -- "2 or 3 lines" is still in the middle of a very long series of posts featuring songs that were on albums that were popular on my college campus back in the early 1970's.  Given his popularity and his singularity, I had to include a David Bowie song in that series.

Imagine that Jeopardy had a category titled "Animals That Rock Stars Most Resemble."  If the answer was "David Bowie," my question would definitely be "What is a chameleon?"

Bowie with Bing Crosby in 1977
Over his 40-year-plus musical career, Bowie has performed in a dizzying variety of musical styles -- skiffle, folk, Merseybeat, blues, guitar-based rock, glam rock, funk, soul, minimalist/ambient, Krautrock, dance, electronica, and probably a few others I've overlooked.  And that doesn't include his televised performance in 1977 of "The Little Drummer Boy" along with Bing Crosby.  

Bowie at age 17
Bowie -- who was born David Robert Jones in 1947 -- formed his first band (the Kon-Rads) when he was 15.  He then formed Davie Jones and the King Bees and released his first single when he was 17 -- "Liza Jane," a somewhat disguised version of the old standard "Li'l Liza Jane."

("Li'l Liza Jane" was also the signature tune of the fife, jug, and bottle band I was a member of after I left the Rogues.  I played two one-gallon Dr. Pepper soda-machine syrup jugs, tuned to C and G.  I don't think I ever got to the end of a song without having to take a break.  Blowing enough air into the jugs to make a nice loud "ooom-pah" sound quickly resulted in hyperventilation severe enough that I came perilously close to passing out each time we performed.)

After he left the King Bees, he joined the Manish, the Lower Third, the Buzz, and the Riot Squad, respectively.  None were successful.  

One problem with the name "Davie Jones" is that the Monkees had a guy named "Davy Jones," so David Jones became David Bowie.  He released a solo album under that moniker in 1967, but it sank without a trace.  A couple of years later, he released his Space Oddity album, with the eponymous hit single ("Ground control to Major Tom," etc.).  In 1971, he released Hunky Dory, which had the hit single "Changes" ("Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes," etc.).

And then came the album that changed everything -- The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, a concept album which was released in 1972 and was one of the albums my friends and I listened to a lot when we were in college.

Wikipedia describes Ziggy Stardust as "the human manifestation of an alien being [and] the definitive rock star: sexually promiscuous, wild in drug intake and with a message, ultimately, of peace and love; but he is destroyed both by his own excesses of drugs and sex, and by the fans he inspired."  Not a bad way to go, n'est-ce pas?

Bowie hoped to turn the album into a theatrical production or television special.  Here's how he later explained the concept behind Ziggy Stardust:
Bowie as Ziggy Stardust
The time is five years to go before the end of the earth.  It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources.  Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted.  The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything.  Ziggy was in a rock-and-roll band and the kids no longer want rock-and-roll.  There's no electricity to play it. . . .
Ziggy is advised in a dream by the infinites to write the coming of a Starman, so he writes "Starman," which is the first news of hope that the people have heard. So they latch onto it immediately . . . . 
The starmen that he is talking about are called the infinites, and they are black-hole jumpers.  Ziggy has been talking about this amazing spaceman who will be coming down to save the earth.  They arrive somewhere in Greenwich Village.  They don't have a care in the world and are of no possible use to us.  They just happened to stumble into our universe by black-hole jumping.  Their whole life is travelling from universe to universe.  In the stage show, one of them resembles Brando, another one is a black New Yorker.  I even have one called Queenie, the Infinite Fox . . . . 
Now Ziggy starts to believe in all this himself and thinks himself a prophet of the future starmen.  He takes himself up to the incredible spiritual heights and is kept alive by his disciples.  When the infinites arrive, they take bits of Ziggy to make them real because in their original state they are anti-matter and cannot exist in our world.  And they tear him to pieces on stage during the song "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide."  As soon as Ziggy dies on stage the infinites take his elements and make themselves visible. 
(Whatever you say, David.)

Bowie as a movie alien
Bowie later starred in the movie The Man Who Fell to Earth.  He played a humanoid alien who came to earth and used his advanced scientific knowledge to patent a lot of inventions and make a lot of money.  The character needed some serious dough-re-mi in order to be able to transport water back to his home planet, which was in dire straits due to a terrible drought.

His Earthling girlfriend (played by American Graffiti star Candy Clark, one of my personal favorites) introduced him to church, alcohol, television and human-style sex.  Eventually, he became addicted to -- you guessed it! -- alcohol and television.  Even worse, the government figured out he was an alien and held him captive, preventing him from saving his home planet.

Candy Clark in "The Man Who Fell to Earth"

The Bowie character had really weird eyes -- orange-colored cat-like eyes, as I recall.  He wore colored contact lenses to conceal his alien appearance.  When government scientists were trying to figure him out by submitting him to all kinds of intrusive and unpleasant test procedures, the X-rays they used in one examination resulted in those lenses becoming permanently bonded to his eyes.

Here's the trailer for The Man Who Fell to Earth:

One inspiration for the Ziggy Stardust character was a crazy Texas  performer named the "Legendary Stardust Cowboy."  

Here's the Legendary Stardust Cowboy performing on "Laugh-In":

And here he is performing his song "My Underwear Froze to the Clothesline" many years later:

"Moonage Daydream" is a killer song -- it hits you upside the head immediately and never lets up.  According to Songfacts, it was originally released as a single in 1971 by a Bowie-led band named Arnold Corns, which shortly thereafter morphed into the Spiders from Mars.

Bowie later explained that he decided to pair a piccolo and a baritone sax in the instrumental break (which begins not quite two minutes into the song) after hearing an old Hollywood Argyles song featuring the same combination:

Songfacts also quotes from Bowie's description of how important guitarist Mick Ronson was to this song:

Mick's raw, passionate, Jeff Beck-style guitar was perfect for Ziggy and the Spiders. . . . I would literally draw out on paper with a crayon or a felt tip pen the shape of a solo.  The one in "Moonage Daydream," for instance, started as a flat line that became a fat megaphone-type shape, and ended up as sprays of disassociated and broken lines. . . . Mick could take something like that and actually bloody play it, bring it to life.

Here's a link to the Songfacts page on "Moonage Daydream."

As great as "Moonage Daydream" is, I was tempted to feature "Suffragette City," which is the penultimate song on the Ziggy Stardust album.  (Those of you who know me will hardly be surprised to hear that.)  I can't think of a song that's more fun to sing along to at a drunken party than "Suffragette City."  But I didn't think that "Wham, bam/Thank you, ma'am" met even the liberal "2 or 3 lines" standards for lyrics to quote at the beginning of a post.

Spend a little time on YouTube and you can find covers of "Suffragette City" by Alice in Chains, Poison, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and even Boy George.  But the weirdest cover of this song by far is the one by the 1980's pop band, Frankie Goes to Hollywood:

Here's "Moonage Daydream":

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from iTunes:

Moonage Daydream - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

Here's a link to use if you prefer Amazon:

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