Sunday, July 6, 2014

David Bowie -- "Boys Keep Swinging" (1979)

Heaven loves you
The clouds part for you
Nothing stands in your way
When you're a boy

I wasn't familiar with "Boys Keep Swinging" -- which was released in 1979 on David Bowie's Lodger album -- until I heard it and a couple of other songs with "boys" in the title on Sirius XM's "Underground Garage" channel recently.  

As rock journalist Lisa Robinson said in her new book, There Goes Gravity,

Male musicians in bands are always called "the boys."  Men who are well into their sixties -- some in their seventies -- when they are on tour, are referred to as "the boys."  Sometimes there's an attempt -- especially with the British and the Irish -- to be a bit more graceful.  So they say "the lads."  Or "the guys."  But it is never, ever "the men."

David Bowie is one of the "boys" that Lisa writes about in her book, although he was much more of a chameleon than the other rockers she hung out with:

David used to tell me that he wasn't really a rock star, he was an actor playing a rock star.  I always thought he was a rock star playing an playing an actor playing a rock star.

Lisa Robinson with David Bowie
[Note: As I explained in the previous 2 or 3 lines, I chatted with Lisa Robinson after her recent appearance at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, DC, and we hit it off so well that I feel perfectly comfortable calling her by her first name.  (Lisa, please feel free to call me by my first name, too!)]

In 1972, Bowie would release his megahit album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album, which would eventually sell 7.5 million copies.  

But when Lisa met him for the first time at the offices of RCA Records in New York City in the fall of 1971, Bowie was relatively unknown in the U.S.

Bowie as Ziggy Stardust
Two of Bowie's musical heroes at that time were Lou Reed and Iggy Pop.  Lisa arranged a dinner where Bowie met Reed.  Later that evening, she took Bowie to Max's Kansas City club, where he met Iggy Pop.

Lisa Robinson pooh-poohs the importance of her introducing Bowie to Reed and Iggy Pop, writing in There Goes Gravity that the meeting "has been made to sound as if it were akin to the coming together of FDR, Stalin, and Churchill at Yalta."

But the meeting of these three musical icons at that time had real significance for each of them.  

Bowie with Lou Reed
Bowie would produce Reed's second solo album, Transformer, which was released in 1972 and included Reed's huge hit single, "Walk on the Wild Side."  

(Lisa's husband, Richard, had produced Reed's first solo album and was expecting to produce Transformer.  Reed's change of heart caused a serious but only temporary rift between the Robinsons and Bowie and Reed.)

Later that year, Bowie produced the Raw Power album for Iggy Pop's band, the Stooges.  The Stooges then broke up due to Iggy's heroin addiction.  Bowie also fell prey to drugs -- in his case, cocaine.

Iggy Pop with Bowie
Lisa interviewed Bowie many times over the years, and he was usually a good interview -- except when he was too drug-addled to be able to give her anything except "mumbled gibberish."

[O]nce, when we were in San Diego or Phoenix . . . our scheduled interview never got done because [Bowie] literally was making no sense.  Then, from an adjoining room, out came a surprise: Iggy, who was also speaking in tongues.  This was around the time they both decided to clean up, detox, and together, they departed for Berlin -- the heroin capital of the world.

One might question the wisdom of the strategy of moving to Berlin to kick drugs, but one can't question the brilliance of the music that the two men made while they were there.

Iggy recorded his The Idiot and Lust for Life solo albums during his Berlin years.  (Both albums were produced by Bowie, who also wrote or co-wrote most of the songs on them.)  And Bowie recorded his so-called "Berlin Trilogy" -- Low, Heroes, and Lodger.

That was a long, long time ago.  Lisa Robinson writes that "the world has completely changed" since David Bowie and Iggy Pop decamped for Berlin almost 40 years ago, and she's right.  

David Bowie today
But both of them are still alive and kicking (unlike Lou Reed and Joey Ramone and so many other of the greats of that generation).

There Goes Gravity brings us up to date on both men:

After the heart attack he had while on tour in Germany in 2004, [David Bowie's] public appearances have been scarce.  He has released only one new album and so far, has not performed in concert.  We've seen each other socially only rarely.  But we e-mail each other about various bands and new music.  He seems to be on the Internet all the time, and doesn't miss a trick.  He's one of the few who has managed, so far, to gracefully get off the stage.

* * * * *

Two years ago, Iggy appeared on American Idol, performing "Real Wild Child" shirtless.  He had that body of an eighteen-year-old and the face of someone closer to seventy.  [Note:  Iggy Pop is 67.]  Was it good that "America" got to see Iggy?  I'm not sure. . . . [T]hey couldn't have possibly understood who the hell he was or what Iggy had meant to us.  These days, Iggy's great song "The Passenger" is the soundtrack for a rum ad on TV.

Iggy Pop on "American Idol"
Here's "Boys Keep Swinging":

Click below to purchase the song from Amazon:

And click here to buy There Goes Gravity from Amazon:

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