The kick inside

 

 

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Freddie Mercury 1974. (Picture: Queen Archive/Virgin)

 

 

This morning, as I settled down to my work, I took a moment to check out a few of my favourite blogs. I find it a good way to centre myself before getting on with my own flimsy attempts at being creative.

Over at Yeah, Another Blogger I came across this little gem from fellow ruminator, Neil. In case you’re too lazy to click on the link, it describes an almost encounter he had with the great John Lennon on the streets of New York in 1973. It’s well worth a read so why not pop over now and give it some love. I’ll wait.

See, told you it was worth it. Reading of Neils regret at not having had the presence of mind to approach his hero when the opportunity presented itself, got me thinking, “yes, but there’s the flipside to that situation as well”.

You see, I too once came unexpectedly across a personal hero and I did engage him. And the result was, well let’s just say, disappointing.

About two years after John Lennon was murdered (an event which had caused me a considerable amount of trauma), I relocated from Australia to Britain. I’ve written about the incident that followed my arrival before, in a piece about synchronicities. In that piece I wrote:

When I was nineteen, I decided to relocate from Australia to the UK. By this time my relationship with said girlfriend had pretty much petered out but we were still on reasonably friendly terms. On the day before I flew out, I went around to her place to say my goodbyes. The last thing she said as we parted was, “if you see any members of Queen over there, make sure you get their autographs.”

I probably smirked as I agreed to do so. I mean, what were the odds I’d bump into any mega famous rock stars in the circles I’d be moving in? Anyway, after a long flight that had me questioning the wisdom of my decision to emigrate, I duly arrived at Heathrow, passed through the wall of bastards (otherwise known as customs and immigration) and made my way to the baggage carousel. I’d been in the country maybe forty minutes at this point.

So there I am, bleary-eyed and travel grimed, swaying on my feet with exhaustion when I happen to look to my right at the guy standing beside me.

It probably took me a full twenty seconds to process the visual information my brain was receiving from my tired eyes urgently telling it that the ‘guy’ was, in fact, Freddie Mercury.

I. Shit. You. Not.

I was stunned into near immobility but, with my ex’s parting request still ringing in my ears, I realised I was just going to have to approach the clearly leery rock god in question.

I’m not proud of how the next thirty seconds went. I turned to face Mr. Mercury (who visibly flinched at what he obviously knew was coming) and spoke the immortal words, “if I had a pen (I didn’t by the way) would you give me an autograph?”

Now there are as yet undiscovered tribes in the deepest Amazon who knew what was coming next and I guess I did too. Barely meeting my gaze, Freddie uttered a one-word response and returned his attention to the circling baggage. The word was “no” in case you were having trouble discerning the inference.

I later read that it was Mercury’s policy never to give autographs. Ah well, I tried.

You may have noticed I kind of shoved the fandom element off onto my girlfriend there but, truth is, I was a huge fan of Mercury myself. I was actually carrying a tote bag that I’d meticulously drawn the inner sleeve pic of the Queen II album onto when I approached him. That probably made it look – to him – like I was a crazy fan (true) who’d known all along that he would be there (not true).

I get how that might freak a big star out so soon after what had happened to Lennon.

Anyway, the point of rehashing all this is that, though Neil may regret not talking to Lennon, I kind of regret that I did talk to Freddie. Even though I can fully appreciate famous people not wanting their space invaded in places like airports, I was nevertheless stung by that rejection. It didn’t change the way the young me felt about his music but it did change the way I saw Freddie.

In my eyes, he instantly became more cold and aloof than I’d previously thought him. I know it’s pretty ridiculous the way we as fans believe we somehow know these stars we’ve never met. How could we know the first thing about who they really are outside the arena of fame?

However, the personalities we imbue our heroes with are nonetheless important. As I think I’ve said before, Rock ‘n’ Roll is the modern mythology.

The archetypes that once inhabited the tales of ancient cultures live on in these larger than life Rock Gods we worship so devoutly. These giants stride the stages of our aspirations and give us something wonderful to love – or hate – which exists outside of the grey mundanity of modern life.

That had been the role that Mercury (even the name is mythological) had played in my teen life. In my suburban world of jean-clad yobs, Freddie – like Bowie – had blasted across my sky; some androgenous messenger from Olympus bringing the spark of redemption and hope to every willing, yearning heart.

If that last bit sounds somewhat over-egged, it’s also accurate. That’s  exactly how I’d felt growing up in my suburban wasteland. And it was the likes of Freddie, Bowie, and Kate Bush who kept the promise (and probably me) alive.

So, that rejection from one of my big heroes shattered more than just my preconceptions, it put quite a crack in my mythos as well. They do say you should never meet your heroes. Maybe, in this case at least, they’re right.

That said, I really envy Neil’s close encounter with one of the absolute gods of my world.

 

 

 

©2017

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Two introductions

 

Hey vibes man, hey jazz man, oh play me your serenade
Any deeper blue and you’re playin’ in your grave

She’ll come, she’ll go
She’ll lay belief on you
But she won’t stake her life on you
How can life become her point of view

 

Lady Grinning Soul, David Bowie (pianist Mike Garson)

Released 1973 from the Album Aladdin Sane

 

New York City Serenade, Bruce Springsteen (pianist Roy Bittan)

Released 1973 from the album The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle

 

 

 

 

 

Connecting baby, your heart to mine

 

Way back in the misty beginnings of the blog, I wrote this piece based upon my notion that Springsteen is, in fact, the American Bowie. Hardly anyone read it then as I had about 10 followers and it was a pretty long piece. I reposted it last year and again – though my audience had grown considerably – very few people showed any real interest.

That might be because it isn’t a very interesting subject to most people or it may be that it just wasn’t that good of a piece. Whatever the case may be, I was asked recently (obviously by someone who had not read said piece) how it is that my two all time favourite musical artists are so very different from one another? That got me thinking all over again about the similarities I see at every turn between these two.

I’m guessing that part of the problem people may have with seeing the similarities is the quite opposite energies these two project. Bowie’s is much more feminine while Bruce exudes an undeniably muscular male energy.

And don’t get me wrong, I can certainly see that they are miles apart when it comes to the particular individual aesthetics they each embody. Springsteen has worked hard to project a very homespun, authentic, working man image. Whilst Bowie was always mercurial in his adoption of twitchy avant-guard and bleeding edge personas.

All of that, however, can be considered mostly surface gloss. These carefully constructed artifices were simply their way in to their respective audiences. It was what they had to say having won those audiences that showed where their true similarities lay.

Both Springsteen and Bowie have had a lifelong fascination with the outsiders, the outliers, the alienated. Bowie chose to use metaphor to express that alienation, often presenting his character as an actual otherworldly being, a literal alien.

Ziggy the main character from the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was the most obvious example of this. However, right to the end, the theme peppered his recordings. One of his outtake Tracks from his penultimate album The Next Day is a song called Born in a UFO. And the Blackstar album (and accompanying video) is also permeated with such metaphorical extraterrestrial imagery.

And so, yes, it’s fair to say that Bowie was ‘weirder’ than Springsteen. Ultimately, however, the two artists are dealing with different takes on a very similar idea. Both are asking the question; what is it like to live on the outside of a society that largely ignores or even denigrates its fringe dwellers?

Springsteen writes about aliens too but his come from a little closer to home, illegal aliens from across the border populate many of his songs. This is especially true of his solo albums The Ghost of Tom Joad and Devils and Dust. Tracks like Across the Border and  The Line deal very heavily with the issues of transplantation and the desperate need to find a better life that so many poor people feel.

In The Line, even Springsteen’s Border Patrol Officer lives in a state of emotional isolation.

Of course, Bruce was writing about alienated anti-heroes long before those solo albums. Darkness on the Edge of town is a lone loser album par excellence. And the operatic Born to Run is all about the dream of escaping from a town where you simply don’t fit in.

Since writing the original post, I keep turning up unexpected links between the two artists. The fact that long-time  E Street pianist Roy Bittan played on such iconic Bowie tracks as Station to Station, TVC15, Ashes to Ashes, and Up the Hill Backwards still kind of blows my mind. And recently I discovered that drummer Zachary Alford, who played with Bowie during his ’95 tour with Nine Inch Nails and drummed on The Next Day album, was also the drummer in Springsteen’s ‘other’ band (the one we don’t mention in polite conversation because it wasn’t E Street). Zach is a phenomenal drummer as should be apparent from these two clips.

 

For two musical giants who never actually collaborated (though Bowie, of course, did cover two of Bruce’s songs very early on in both their careers), the threads that bind them seem pretty numerous.

 

Since I wrote that original blog, this article has come out. It kind of treads the same ground but with a slightly different take.

©2017

Two tracks, one riff

Is it any wonder I reject you first?
Fame, fame, fame, fame
Is it any wonder you are too cool to fool? (fame)
Fame, bully for you, chilly for me
Got to get a rain check on pain (fame)

It seems that one thing the true greats of music have in common is a willingness to steal from each other and they don’t come much greater than James Brown and David Bowie. Both were innovators and both shameless ‘borrowers’ of ideas.

But if I were to ask you which of these two legendary musicians was the most likely to borrow from the other, what would you say?

I suspect you would nominate the magpie Bowie as the likely thief rather than the revered James Brown.

Take a listen to these two tracks.

Fame

 

In 1975 Bowie got together with John Lennon for an impromptu jam session in a New York recording studio. The result was the now classic track Fame. Its guitar riff is as funky a groove as anything James Brown ever conceived so did it originate with him?

Hot (I Need To Be Loved)

 

There is no mistaking the riff behind this funked up Brown cut.  It is – note for note – the same as Bowie’s Fame. However, this was recorded in ’76. That’s a year after Bowie recorded his version.

Therefore, though Bowie ‘borrowed’ from a good many artists over the years, in this case, the riff was lifted by Brown.

That said, both tracks are good and the riff serves both very well. Bowie (but not his guitarist Carlos Alomar who actually created the riff) was flattered by the Godfather’s homage.

Alomar was upset that Brown’s band – all of whom he knew personally – had stolen his riff and wanted to sue but Bowie insisted that they not, unless Brown’s version became a big hit – which did not happen.

©2017

Watch that man

 

Watch that man!
Oh honey, watch that man
He talks like a jerk but he could eat you with a fork and spoon
Watch that man!
Oh honey, watch that man
He walks like a jerk
But he’s only taking care of the room
Must be in tune

Bowie, Watch that Man

Oh, the duplicity of Real Estate Agents

Okay, I’ve got my detective hat on again (groans from the rapidly dwindling audience). I came upon this article on the web the other day and, of course, the mention of Bowie had me sitting up straight in my chair (god I’m a tragic sometimes). This was the blurb that caught my eye;

If you love New York City lofts filled with wood beams and white-painted exposed bricks, you’re gonna love the former home of the late great David Bowie. Currently available to rent for $43,000/month through NestSeekers International, it’s the kind of tastefully extravagant living space any person dreams of. Now go and sign that lease as soon as possible – we’ll even help you throw the welcome party…..

Sounds great, right? I mean, how amazing would it be to have the chance to live in an apartment that was once Bowie’s? Who (that could afford $43,000 per month!) wouldn’t jump at the chance to be able to throw that little tidbit in at their next dinner party?

Something about it just didn’t sound right, though. At first, I thought it must be a place he’d lived in before moving to his penthouse on Lafayette Street. I knew about another place in SOHO he’d owned briefly, though I don’t believe he actually ever lived there.

I was intrigued, I’ll admit. Where was this ‘former home of the late great David Bowie’ actually located? Then I noticed this photo or, more specifically, the view outside the window.

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The buildings across the street looked very familiar to me. In fact, I was quite sure that the side alley you can just make out was Jersey Street which meant that this indeed had to be the building where Bowie’s penthouse is situated (285 Lafayette Street). But this was clearly not a penthouse view. This was first or second floor at best – fishy.

I went through my own photos to be sure I’d identified the location correctly and found this shot I took from Jersey Street with Bowie’s building foreground left;

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There’s no doubt that it’s the same locale, which means the blurb was a deliberate attempt to deceive potential renters. Technically, the article is correct, Bowie did indeed call the building home. However, the way it is worded, you are definitely given the impression that the actual apartment was once inhabited by the man himself.

I know that they do this sort of thing all the time, but as someone who passionately loves Bowie’s music, I find it irksome that tacky estate agents are willing to trade on his name in such a dishonest way so soon after his passing.

Photograph 1: NestSeekers International. Photograph 2 is my own.

©2016

Watching the detectives

 

 

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Picture credit: Jimmy King.

 

I like to pay attention to the little details. I also like a good mystery to solve and so, when I first saw the above image of Bowie staring out from a Manhattan rooftop, I became taken with the idea of discovering which rooftop it might be.

I figured that it would most likely be in the SOHO area judging by the view of the Empire State Building and the fact that Bowie actually lived on Lafayette Street in SOHO. I didn’t realise it at first but my own visit to Bowie’s apartment was going to yield my best clue.

I took a bajillion photographs that day and one, in particular, would give me the landmark I needed to crack the location.

If you look closely at the Bowie pick, you will notice a white building festooned with water towers.

bowie-detail

I noticed this building too – when I was standing on Lafayette Street. The towers drew my eye and inspired me to take this photo;

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It looks a little different seen from street level (and nearly three years later) but it’s definitely the same building. That means the photo had to have been taken on the roof  of one of the buildings with an unobstructed view across Houston.

At first, I thought it must be the Puck Building which is right next door to Bowie’s penthouse apartment, between it and Houston, but the angle is wrong. I also ruled out Bowie’s actual building due to its obstructed viewpoint.

The colour scheme of the rooftop was the final tell. If you take a look on Google Earth, not too many buildings in that general area have that form of dark tarpaper roof. In fact, there’s only one that could provide the correct angle. The location had to be 270 Lafayette Street diagonally across from Bowie’s penthouse.

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Image from Google Street View.

 

And that’s how you waste a couple of hours of your Saturday.

 

Words and image (unless otherwise credited) are my own.

 

 

©2016

 

 

 

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Picture credit: Jimmy King.