14.8.12

5 David Bowie Songs I'd Rather Die Than Live Without







WORDS BY ELIZABETH BARKER/DRAWING BY JEN MAY







i. SUFFRAGETTE CITY

When you're a child born in the late 1970s, David Bowie is probably the weirdest human you're frequently exposed to, with his different-colored eyes and his whole dapper-poet-from-outer-space thing. He's weird but he's so elegant about it, and pretty soon you figure out he's the coolest person in the world. He'll always be cooler than everyone else and that's why we need him: if you ever got to be as cool as David Bowie, it would be so depressing. There'd be nothing else to look forward to.
         "Suffragette City" is Bowie being cooler than everyone else and having the best time doing that -- it's so much fun. It's romantic too, especially the line that goes "There's only room for one and here she comes, here she comes." Referring to your girl as a "mellow-thighed chick" and a "total blam-blam" is really smooth and classy. "But she, and then she" is a cool way to describe the action. It's so sweet of David to indulge us all in our silly-human need to be left wanting more.
          My friend Tim said this nice thing once, about how when David Bowie walks into a room, all the light must shine on him. I'm sure that's true -- so much of why we love David Bowie has to do with light: he's shimmery, glimmering, glittery, resplendent, transplendent, luminous, lustrous, brilliant. "Suffragette City" is one of the brightest songs and the light is all white; it bleaches out the rest of the world. I've been hearing it for 34 years and it never stops being exciting, and David Bowie will never stop being exciting either. He's so reliably wild.

ii. ALADDIN SANE

I don't meditate either. But I like to pretend that the bassline from 1:32 to 4:09 on "Aladdin Sane" has the power to automatically induce a meditation-like state in me -- those four notes over and over and over while David Bowie's playing piano like a genius baby on drugs, they kinda make my head come apart.
          This is the only song in the world that I fatally love almost entirely for the bassline. I think it must have been the funnest thing in the world to be "the dude who played bass on 'Aladdin Sane.'"






iii. CHANGES

"When you grow up, your heart dies" – The Breakfast Club

One time many years ago I was bugging the fuck out about not being teenager anymore, how I was terrified of my heart imploding and my soul turning to dust. "Knock it off," my buddy said to me. "Most people just get cooler as they get older."
           That's mega-optimistic, too optimistic for me, but I think it's true that some people get cooler as they get older. And now that I'm 34 and cooler than I've ever been, the lyric that John Hughes used as the epigraph to The Breakfast Club ("And these children that you spit on...") is no longer my favorite lyric in "Changes." The lyric that means the most to me now is from the last verse, the one that goes "Ooh look out, you rock-and-rollers/pretty soon now you're gonna get older." I'm fascinated by rock-and-rollers getting older, maneuvering through decay and attempting preservation instead of just dying, which I used to think was the most gorgeous thing when I was a teenager. I'd just much rather see how rock-star dudes deal with being far past their prime, how they get by on not being beautiful boys anymore when their livelihood was once largely based on being beautiful.
          Thinking about David Bowie in that context, neither "It's better to burn out than to fade away" nor the converse of that rings true. Right now the only lyric I can think of that relates to David Bowie and how he's aged is "It's better to rise than fade away," from the Hole song "Reasons To Be Beautiful." Women and David Bowie are better at this, maybe.

iv. BOYS KEEP SWINGING

I've been thinking about Laurie from Little Women a lot lately, as both a literary archetype and a boyfriend blueprint (especially Christian Bale's Laurie, with his rosy cheeks and his cool rascally smile). I love when the sisters don't want to play with him and Jo tells them all, "He is no boy, he is Laurie!" but I also think that's dumb -- Laurie is the boy to end all boys. He's a brat and a scamp and so much fun and so truehearted (pre-Amy, at least), and I think it's beautiful how he indulges/encourages the girls in all their play-pretending. 
         My favorite boys in books and movies and everything are the ones who are the best at just being boys. Like Laurie, and The Outsiders boys (especially Steve Randle as portrayed by Tom Cruise, when he's got chocolate cake all over his face and a rolled-up newspaper tucked into the front of his jeans). And Kevin Bacon in Diner and also Mickey Rourke in Diner -- in general I wish Mickey Rourke had started making movies when he was younger than 30, he could have been all the best boys. I bet Keith Richards and John Lennon were great at being boys; not sure about Mick Jagger, and Paul McCartney was probably a bit of a pill but mostly all right. The Strokes were good at being boys and so was Jack White on the first three White Stripes records -- those are the only larger-than-life boys from my generation I can think of, but they all kind of outgrew their boyness, which I suppose is pretty hard not to do.
          David Bowie's boys from "Boys Keep Swinging" probably don't completely fit with my idea of boyness, the kind of boyness I'm trying to capture in my book. David Bowie's most likely not very prone to romanticizing things like drinking beer in the shower, drinking full-fat milk straight from the carton, shoplifting strawberry gum from the corner store (for a girl), prizing baseball and babes above all else, reading only the sports and the obits and the funnies from the paper (and actually calling them "the obits" and "the funnies"), always throwing girls into lakes and oceans and above-ground pools, always smelling like cigarettes and summer even when it's not summer at all. But the general spirit of celebration-of-boyness is there in "Boys Keep Swinging," in the drums that sound like going off to battle in a make-believe sort of way, and in the lyrics.
          My favorite lyric in this song is "Luck just kissed you hello, when you're a boy."


v. ROCK 'N' ROLL SUICIDE

I'm so happy this song's only three minutes long. I love the last minute and 20 seconds a million times more than what comes before them, so it's good to get there as fast as possible. I think patience is overrated in many ways, and lately I'm really into not having to wait too long to get to the good part.
          A couple weeks ago I was rereading a gorgeous book in bed. I underlined a sexy sentence, and for a second let myself pretend this one particular person was watching me do that. I thought it would be nice for him to watch me underline a sentence and wonder what the sentence was. I was so sure I would seem so wonderful at that moment, I ended up not even caring that the person wasn't actually there to watch me.
         We spend a lot of time rehearsing being wonderful, practicing for being watched by someone we think is wonderful too. That used to feel lonesome to me but now it hardly ever does anymore, because of the last minute and 20 seconds of "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide." At the end of the song he sings the word "wonderful" three times and each time you can't not believe him. If David Bowie says you're wonderful, then you just are. That's all there is.



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