I Don't Get David Bowie (and why there's an art exhibit about him)

One musician I never "got" is David Bowie.  Just a case of his voice and songs hitting my ears all wrong.  Really wrong.  So I've long avoided his music. He's credited for being "creative" but he strikes me more as a derivative musician and his various personas  - Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom, Thin White Duke etc. - have always struck me as attention seeking nonsense.  So it was with more than a little amusement that I recently read about the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago running an exhibit about Bowie starting today and running through January 4.  Here's a snippet from the Museum's write up on the exhibit. 

September 23, 2014–January 4, 2015

David Bowie Is presents the first retrospective of the extraordinary career of David Bowie—one of the most pioneering and influential performers of our time. More than 400 objects, most from the David Bowie Archive—including handwritten lyrics, original costumes, photography, set designs, album artwork, and rare performance material from the past five decades—are brought together for the first time.

I can't imagine paying $25 to see this exhibit.  With my luck his music would be playing in the background. 

Was he really that creative?  Why were his "personas" of interest to anyone?  Period pieces of the 60's and 70's I'd guess?





Seems it is a matter of taste mostly...I am a moderate fan of Bowie...I haven't purchased anything he's done in years.  I had all the early stuff.  The one record I'd really make an argument for is "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars."  I think Bowie often made records that had one or two really good songs, the rest is mostly filler or underdeveloped ideas.  Ziggy is strong from beginning to end...all strong songs.  Mick Ronson was a very complimentary and vastly underappreciated guitarist, and the riffs on that record flesh out the songs very well, IMO.  I' d argue in favor of Bowie with regard to his various androgynous personas...seemed to me he was projecting natural elements of his personality into what he was doing...Ziggy doesn't ever ring false with me, it's just that flamboyance and spectacle are part of the package...he was trying to do rock and roll musical theater...whether he succeded or not is a matter of opinion.  What separates Ziggy as a record and that persona from his others is the economy and quality of the songwriting, the spare arrangements and the never ending variety of vocal nuances that he used (but what I consider enhancements you may consider distractions)...that and there was a touch of self mockery and humanity to the whole thing, behind the facade of the character he was playing, unlike say, Alice Cooper, who was pretty over the top, not much nuance...I think that "Ziggy" is the one time he really pulled that off duality...the Spiders are a great rock and roll band too (Mick Woodmansey and Trevor Bolder were the rhythm section).

If I remember correctly, Rolling Stone had it ranked 35 in the top 500 of best albums of all time...there was quite a large panel of music Business types, critics, etc. who voted...so I'm not the only person who feels that was a great record and his musical zenith...considering he recorded that in 1972, and he's still relevant to some folks (hence the exhibit that caused your discomfort), he must have been a bit more than just attention seeking nonsense.  As for your thought about it being a period piece of the 60's and 70's, that is likely true, there were several artists mining that alter ego thing, Alice Cooper, Marc Bolan, etc....I think most of the great records made are somewhat reflective of the period they were conceived...the greatest ones remain relevant despite that, such as Pet Sounds, Dylan's acoustic records, the Beatles, Music From Big Pink, What's Goin' On...

Having said that Jack 2.0, if  you don't feel it and you don't hear it, then you don't.  It's OK...we've all got someone that most everyone else gets that we don't...for the most part, I don't listen to Dylan's albums...his voice is just impossible for me to take on some records, there are some exceptions to that but not many...but when Jimmy LaFave or some other gifted interpreter sings his stuff, I'm all in.  So I know the songs are great...

Save your 25 bucks and don't feel bad about it...


Well said, Jim. The nail head has been struck. I echo your sentiment on Jimmy LaFave, too.

Jim, very nicely stated.  He's just not my cup of tea is all.  I never did get Alice Coopers visuals either (my reaction to him even as a teenager was WTF is that all about). The appeal of the whole glam look escaped me then and still does, even with some of Roxy Music's 70's look, though I still love most of their records.  Jimmy Lafave is terrific, especially live, very powerful shows.  Him I get.

Switching subjects, Pat McLaughlin is playing here in a few weeks, really looking forward to the show. 



Spacey Oddity.

Thanks for the chuckle, Hal!

I never got Bowie either. Creative? Not to me.


The latest Bowie album is complete rubbish. The press raved about it because it was him. There's not a tune in sight there. Shockingly poor.

Well I firmly believe David Bowie is one of the greatest influences on modern rock music.  He has a number of firsts in his career. One is that he started a whole genre of rock called "Glam Rock".  His competition with Marc Bolan of T-Rex in famous as they tried through both music and dress to out-do eachother in the public music eye.  Alice Cooper owes a great debt to David Bowie.  As the Who was the first to find the distance to stage too far,....David's claim was the first to hugely popularize androgeny and wearing a dress on stage.

Also his body of early work and specifically the album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, was monumental in ushering in a view of the "lost" years in America.  We had the beautiful rebellion music of the Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks and so on.....then as those rebellions started dying out.....before Alice Coopers fame....David stepped in with Ziggy.  A post Apocolyptic album in which he sings about the Rock Star as now having nothing to say.  He was just the "Naz with god-given ass".  He had become a hollow messiah for his own vanity. Saying "Just the beer light to guide us. So we bitched about his fans and should we crush his sweet hands."  Signifying the transitionary period between the early rock and punk ala Iggy Pop and more.  He laid the mental attitude for punk along with folks like Lou Reed et. al. He and all the folks mentioned here are music gods.  That is why they all hung together at Andy Warhols parties back in the day!!  Davids is a place of major importance.  I would pay $100 dollars to see this art exhibit. I will be driving to Chicago Soon playing Ziggy!!!

Peace my fellow music heads!!Tommy

I cannot wait!!  Saturday December 13, I am going to see David Bowie's art exhibit in Chicago.........With just the Beer Light to Guide Me!!!!!!!



David  Bowie has always posed a dilemma for me. I spend the first year or so panning whatever he has just released. Never seem to get it. From "The Man Who Sold The World" to "Ziggy Stardust...."   through "Heroes" and even "Let's Dance" though it had Stevie Ray all over it and I was sure I would like it right away. Still didn't.

Then a year or more later I hear the LP again and smack myself on the forehead wondering how I had missed all the incredible music. I always seem to need to "catch up " to David. 

But, with few exceptions, I have eventually turned around and praised what I had previously panned.

Bowie is a puzzle to me.