Outside of Society!: Seeing Patti Smith Live

Just an introductory note: I never meant for this piece to be so long – I started it a few months ago, meaning for it to be a simple review of a show I’d recently attended. And then…it just sort of materialised into a reflection on what Patti Smith meant to me, what the show represented, all the feelings that “fandom” ignites in its participants…and then…I wrote a poem about the experience for my English class, so I had to include that too! I’m incredibly proud of what I’ve written – I hope you all enjoy it too! But there is also a 4,000+ word count, so read in increments if you like. I’d love to hear your feedback, though, or about any similar experiences you guys have had – be sure to leave ’em in the comments! 


PART 1: The essay.

I don’t think I’d ever really expected to be standing in the presence of one of my greatest heroes. This wasn’t exactly helped by the fact that virtually all of them lived in assorted locations on the other side of the world, and that the vast majority of them were either in their senior years – or dead. But yet, I found myself doing just that several months ago, on Easter Sunday, as I stood in the aisles of Melbourne’s Hamer Hall, dancing and screaming and revelling in the fact that, maybe 20 metres away me, was Patti Smith.

The story of how Patti became my absolute greatest living hero is like something out of a cliche coming-of-age movie. I was in a massive record store one morning a little over two years ago, in June or July 2015, when – while searching through the sales section – I randomly came across the cheapest CD I’d seen yet. It had a cover quite unlike anything else I’d seen – so stark and cool, and yet so inviting – and it carried a ‘Parental Advisory’ sticker, which seemed so very edgy and grownup at the time. I decided to buy this album – Horses – on a whim, as I slowly realised that I vaguely recognised Patti’s name from a bunch of Pitchfork articles and interviews with Courtney Barnett, an artist who I liked. I stuck it in my CD player when I got home, eager to see if she was as good as Courtney had made her out to be. It kind of confused me at first – I’d read that she played punk music, and the soft piano chords that began the album didn’t exactly align with what I thought ‘punk’ was, back then. But then, this voice sings a lyric so liberating and disembodying – “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine” – to my impressionable ears, that I physically had to stop everything I was doing for the entirety of the album’s length.

Patti’s – and David Bowie’s, whom I would discover only a couple of weeks later – arrival in my life signified a new era of my identity. If the Beatles started to teach a younger me about the importance of creativity, idealism and individuality, it was Smith and Bowie that slammed this philosophy into the essence of who I see myself as. These two artists existed on a plane where not only was it okay, but actually rather cool, to be what mainstream society deems “weird” – where liking obscure postpunk compilations and disaffected ’60s literature and perplexing art movies and a mishmash of Doc Martens and assorted op-shop clothes was encouraged; where being a girl didn’t mean that I had to wear my skirts below my knee, find a good man to stand by, have 2.5 kids, and be a perfect, God-fearing housewife, like my school at the time had taught me for the entirety of my preteen years; where I could dream about writing the greatest alternative album of the 21st Century and living in the East Village of Manhattan without being shunned. I fell madly in love with their world, and began to throw myself into it pretty quickly. In the case of Patti, by the end of that year, I’d consumed a large amount of her writings and other albums, devoured the records of her CBGB contemporaries, wrote lists of my favourite albums and books that always positioned her work somewhere in the top 3, Blu-Tac-ed a picture of her to my wall alongside one of my Beatles posters, cemented a skinny black tie as a mainstay of my wardrobe, and begun a fascination with New York City on the basis of Just Kids that’s only increased ever since. Unlike all my heroes before, Patti and David were also alive – although it was extraordinarily idealistic, collaborating with them on some multimedia avant-garde art project was a lot more possible than my previous daydreams of hanging out with John Lennon and Brian Jones could ever have been.

So let’s fastforward to a year later – November 2016. It’s now been close to eighteen months since I spontaneously fell in love with Horses. The combination of her influence on me across this time and my growing adoration of her mean that she seems kind of like a mythical goddess to me. I’ve also since become a lot more knowledgeable on the details of her career, and am aware that she’s mainly a writer, now – and that even if she had done several recent shows around the place to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Horses, I know that seeing her live is a highly unlikely event. This context should help you to understand the earsplitting scream I let out when my mum showed me an email on her phone one afternoon – an email containing a receipt for tickets to Patti Smith’s first Melbourne show in eight years. It wasn’t even particularly surprising, or anything. I knew that Patti was going to play a music festival up north around that time – and I’d read an hour or so earlier that she was playing shows elsewhere, and was already partway through planning my sermon to my parents as to why flying to Melbourne (the show closest to my hometown, Adelaide – yet still an hour’s flight away) to see her would be a sane idea. It was just this idea that something I’d fantasised about for so long was going to become a reality – that I would, indeed, be standing in the presence of probably my greatest living hero. Let’s not forget that my other greatest dream – meeting David Bowie, or at least seeing him live at the surprise Blackstar concert I (prior to January 10) was convinced would be randomly announced via an obscure social media platform one afternoon – had been crushed that January, and how this had only cemented the idea that seeing my heroes was a scenario reserved for my daydreams. It blew my mind.

I spent the six months or so that ensued in a state of excited shock. I was thrilled about what was happening, but it seemed too unreal for its inevitableness to be contended with. I listened to Horses countless times, and tried to imagine what it would sound like live. I planned what I’d wear – a t-shirt over the top of a striped polo-neck, with a black mini-skirt, fishnet tights, and Doc Martens – months beforehand. I spent one night a couple of days prior to the date printing a t-shirt reading ‘Patti Smith Is Cool’ with my mum. I reread my copies of Just Kids and M Train and Collected Lyrics: 1970-2015. I made playlists of all her songs and listened to them on repeat, and lipsynched my favourites in front of my mirror like some romcom trope. I packed my bag the night before, snuggling my copy of Collected Lyrics in between my toiletries and my tartan shift dress that I planned to wear the day after.  I couldn’t fathom, though, what the day would actually be like – constantly revisiting the material that had affected me so just made her seem even more mythical, and the idea that this person, who I’d never met and yet had changed my life, could be just as real as myself appeared to become even more unthinkable.

This even continued as the day began to arrive. I saw Blondie the week before. Although I was a good 500 metres away from the stage (at least), seeing Deborah Harry “in the flesh” was incredible – and yet, perhaps it was just that I was largely watching her on a massive TV screen, that she was too far away to really see, but I could barely get over my disbelief that the woman in front of me singing ‘Atomic’ was the same one whose records I’d memorised, whose likeness was stuck on my wall. It was almost unbearably surreal – this person, who it felt as if they only existed within the planes of music blogs and record shops and my mum’s record collection and my brain, as if they were almost a figment of my imagination, had suddenly become tangible. This lingered in my mind as the days ’til Patti crept closer- why can’t I see my heroes as real people? Are they – as I perceive them – even real? If I could only barely put this weird sensation to one side in order to dance and recite the rap part of ‘Rapture’ by heart in front of maybe my 10th-favourite band, how would I cope in front of my greatest hero in the entire world?

Me, upon arrival at Hamer Hall

Then it was suddenly Sunday, a day I’d awaited for so many months, that I’d dreamt about so much that it felt like a dream itself . I flew to Melbourne, listening to Horses and reading the entire “Early Work” section of Collected Lyrics over and over and over. We wandered around in the hours before, drinking tea in the cafes and buying takeaway rice paper rolls from the restaurants that we always visited, but it didn’t feel the same. My heart raced as I half-watched a bizarre quiz show on the hotel’s cable channels while blaring ‘Dancing Barefoot’ through my headphones, as I fixed my makeup, as I slipped my homemade t-shirt over my turtleneck, as I ran out the hotel room door, my legs shaky with excitement, and down the lift and across the city and to the concert hall. It all still seemed too surreal, like a dream sequence from my imaginary biopic film – I physically could not believe what was happening, my brain could not compute as I approached the hall, as I walked past the chalkboard out front that read “Patti Smith: Tonight!”, as I stood by the big glass doors of the foyer and watched so many people with clothes as kooky and copies of Collected Lyrics as worn as my own shuffle across to the theatre doors… I felt so heady and trembly – endlessly perplexed as to whether I was really just experiencing a super realistic lucid dream. I knew this day was so important, that no moment in my life before had received such an anticipated build-up, that it would be one that I would fixate on when retelling tales of the “good ol’ days” in middle age – my daydreams had told me as much – but I’d dreamt about it too often. I couldn’t work out whether my surrounds were real or not – I could barely replace the scenes my anticipation had conjured up in the previous months with what was becoming a reality around me. What if I’d removed myself from reality so much that the event itself would have little effect on my psyche – what if it became as insignificant, in the scheme of my life, as whatever day had preceded it?

I had to line up for half an hour to buy my merchandise. I shuffled through the foyer, my hands breaking out in cold sweat, the air humid with body heat, as piles of people crowded around me, doing just the same. I watched as the line snaked past the door, as it grew so long it could barely fit within the confines of the room – people grinning as excitedly as I was, with the same Dr Martens and mismatched vintage clothes and strange haircuts as those that Patti and her contemporaries had allowed me to wear, discussing the merits of ‘Piss Factory’ and ‘Land’ as fluently and passionately as my own thoughts. Music, and the culture that surrounded it, had always been such a solitary pursuit. It was something I read about quietly in the back corner of my classrooms, that I Blu-Tac-ed my passion for over my bedroom walls, that I bought from the privacy of a eBay username or from hard-to-find shops, that I write about on here in the comfort of my anonymity – heck, even the “rebellion” and liberation it inspired in me was merely the inward knowledge that I was cooler than most people around me had ever assumed I had the capability to be. And yet, here were these people, like me. It was the most disconcertingly beautiful thing.

A favourite photo of Patti. (credit: Judy Linn)

My mum and I chatted with the Melbourne couple behind us, in the half-hour merchandise line, who spoke of how they’d seen Patti in a small club in New Orleans, of how they’d been to literally every show and festival (they’d been to Dark MOFO!) I’d ever dreamt of attending. It wasn’t just Patti that felt magical – the idea of Melbourne felt mythical, that night, with its abounding arts culture and opportunities and “the world is your oyster” attitude so much greater than anything I’d ever known, too. I swiped the last remaining tour brochure, that someone had dropped on a nearby bench, even with the beer-glass stain that circled Patti’s face like a halo – not an activity that was even remotely dangerous, and yet, it felt so daring and adventurous. felt daring and adventurous, and all kinds of incredible like I’d never felt before.

Later, the doors opened, and I found my seat, stumbling in awe. Twenty minutes ’til Patti. Starting promptly at 8:30. Magda Szubanski sat three rows down from us; Courtney Barnett herself, perhaps the reason I even knew about Patti in the first place, was seemingly in the second row of the stalls. I sat in the dress circle, at a height almost as heady as my blood pressure. I could already feel the heat drifting up to my face, as I found my spot, the fold-down seat bouncing as I nervously shifted from side to side. I could see the roadies placing Lenny Kaye’s guitars on stage; the stage lights were switched on, too, their blue streaks bouncing off the house lights. A group of 20-something girls sat down next to my seat, one of them clutching a copy of Collected Lyrics as worn and well-loved as my own. I’d never seen another real life copy of Collected Lyrics before. My fishnets itched against my legs.

A photo my dad took.

The lights dimmed, the stage swathed in a layer of twilight-blue lighting; an image of Patti, black-and-white, steely gaze, jacket swung over shoulder – the very same image that compelled me to add Horses to my record collection two years earlier – illuminated in the background. Electric silence. I sat as far at end of my seat as I could, just short of falling off, peering intently over the dress circle balcony for the slightest billowing of a stage curtain, for an indication of her presence. And then, there she was. She stood at the stage’s centre, sporting a waistcoat, a white shirt, black straight-legged pants, brown boots, her long grey hair falling around her shoulders. She looked exactly the same as every recent picture of her I’d ever seen. I’d always assumed she’d (or that anyone, for the matter, who’d I stared at incessantly over the Internet) look different, in real life – but she didn’t. It was like in Mulholland Drive, when Diane attends a party and sees a cowboy leaving, a cowboy identical to a presence who recurs in her dreams. It was bizarre.

Soft piano chords. “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.” I can’t move. So much like how I felt, that morning in 2015 – and yet, so different, so far. Patti is there. The voice floating from the speakers is from a stage a few metres below me. The woman that recorded an album that entirely changed the course of my life is standing right in front of me, performing said album. I don’t think I could tap my foot, or even smile, at that point – I sat totally rigid, at the edge of my seat, eyes frozen open. Everything was so weird and unbelievable and hazy and surreal. I feebly lipsynched along to ‘Gloria’, virtually involuntarily. Perhaps moving your lips becomes a subconscious action, when a song you’ve poured over hundreds of thousands of times is blaring out of a speaker in front of your ears…

About a third of the way through ‘Birdland’, the entirety of the stalls stood up and fled toward the stage, in a frenzied stampede. The crowed writhed to the beat, extending their hands toward the stage, closing their eyes in ecstasy, becoming more frantic as each song raced toward their climaxes. I stood up, too, in the aisle of my row. I danced and danced and danced, worse than when I dropped out of ballet school when I was seven, to the point that I had a side stitch, but I didn’t even care – I was so ridiculously, beautifully elated that I couldn’t even notice. I physically couldn’t force my face from the massive grin now spread across it, even when my jaw began to hurt. The lights bathed the crowd below in bluish stardust; they glowed behind Patti, like an archangel’s halo, an aura. She was like some kind of angel. I am the lord of the dance, said she.

Me dancing (!)

The bass pulsates through my soul. Water vapour, from everyone’s sweat, drifting around the ceiling, covers the room in a misty fog – the lights stream through, like when the moon shines through a flurry of clouds. Patti begins to perform ‘Break It Up’, and she asks us to sing along.  “Break it up!” “Break it up!” Hundreds of voices – they echo across the walls, gliding along the fog, as if they are floating toward the sky. Like when we sang Psalm 121 en masse, in Choir in Grade 4; like a chorus of angels. Patti’s halo glitters with mist. I sing along, hopelessly out of tune, my throat too dry with adrenaline to be able to determine pitch – but, again, I do not care, for I am so deliriously, joyously happy that nothing other than the fact that Patti is several metres away from me matters.

“The boy was in the hallway, drinking a glass of tea / from the other end of the hallway, a rhythm was generating.” The pounding drums of ‘Land’ build up in my chest, I can’t keep my feet still. “Do you know how to twist?” Yes I do, and it goes like this, and it goes like this… And they segue back into ‘Gloria’, and I scream the lyrics at the top of my lungs, and my mind is so numb with euphoria that I could almost cry, and I lift my hands above my head and reach for the heavens because maybe Jesus died for somebody’s sins but it’s Patti who I worship tonight, and my feet, they run up and down the aisle and I can barely feel my toes but I don’t even realise –  and Patti runs up and down the stage, dancing, yelling, her hair flying, her actual voice echoing from the loudspeaker in front of me… And then she flies across the side of the stage in front of me, and I am so close to her that I can see the wrinkles around her eyes.

And then there’s an encore, ‘My Generation’, and she ties a yellow gerbera  – from a bouquet of flowers a fan had placed onstage – around her arm and slings a silver guitar over her shoulder, and she attacks it so hard that I watch each petal of the gerbera fly to the stage floor, twinkling like gold underneath the lights. And she screams and swears and plays and dances with so much passion and fervour and noise and beauty, that we are but compelled to do the same. And then, suddenly, the noise – the most incredible, loud, fun dissonance – stops. Patti leaves. The house lights are turned on. Obscure folk music plays over the PA. I cannot move. I have never felt so beautifully dazed in my life.

We sat in our hotel bar, after Patti had left and we’d walked back to our hotel. I sat there, and Joy Division and Bowie were playing over the speakers, and my sweaty hair had stuck to my head, and my cheeks were still flushed, and it was just the strangest feeling. It was like when you awaken from a satisfying dream – when you can’t quite picture what happened, but the residue contentment still flutters in your chest. I physically couldn’t comprehend the idea that what I’d just experienced was real. In fact, I still can’t. What I’ve written here is such a small summary of what I have only begun to truly contend with – I still can barely begin to explain or define what I felt.

But it occurred to me that night. David Bowie always used to say that, in real life, to his family and friends, he was still just David Jones – it was only in the public eye, to us fans, that he became “Bowie”. So then, maybe, the Patti that I adored, indeed, wasn’t even real – maybe my love of Patti was not about her, per se. Sure, I admired her for the kind of person her music and writings portray her as – but maybe my love for her work was just as much about me, too. Perhaps I loved Horses, not just because of the music, the lyrics, but for what it represented to me – my rebellion, my liberation, my self-realisation. Maybe the show was not just about seeing Patti, but what it incited in me – how the sweat trickled down my arms as I screamed and danced, until I could barely move my legs, how I knew every word of every song, the delirious joy, the freedom I felt. That perhaps it was’t really Patti and David that “allowed” me to take pride in my differences – although, it was their music that inspired me to think about things a little more. That maybe, to paraphrase a poem I wrote:

“The person who told me that I was cool, that I was worthy,
It wasn’t Patti:

It was me.”

Another photo courtesy of my dad.


PART 2: The poem.

The Days I Saw Patti Smith

It was two years ago when 
Patti Smith’s steely gaze stared straight into my soul
from the comfort of a CD cover at JB Hifi.
I didn’t know anything about her.
But she looked so cool
and the “parental advisory” sticker on the front-right corner seemed so edgy,
and I suddenly became $9.99 poorer.
And when I got home,
and I inserted that $9.99 disc into my old CD player,
I heard a voice so disorientating and incredible that
I had to drop everything I’d been doing,
and listen to my life changing.

And then,
I realised
that everything I’d thought was right about the world
was wrong.
That perhaps I was as strange as the taunts of Year 7’s high society had told me to believe;
but perhaps that was more interesting and cool than they ever could dream to be-
“Outside of society… Outside of society…” That maybe she was right when she wrote of how that was the only place to be…
That perhaps it didn’t matter if my idols weren’t from the Bible, if I didn’t believe,
because maybe, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.”
That perhaps I wouldn’t have to settle for a life of eternal loneliness, with no man to stand by,
if I couldn’t balance a book upon my skull, if I couldn’t cook or clean or sew.
That if Patti was okay, then maybe I was, as well.

And then,
It was six months ago when
Patti Smith’s steely gaze stared straight into my soul
from a Melbourne concert hall stage.
By now, my CD played almost to an oblivion,
A copy of her Collected Lyrics with white creases of weariness across the spine.
She looked so cool, Blu-Tacked on my bedroom wall,
and the concert ticket bearing her name that lay in my suitcase en route to Melbourne Tullamarine, so full of anticipation and adoration, looked even cooler,
and when I got to use that ticket,
When I stood twenty metres from her flying white hair,
Dancing along row 3, dress circle, even worse than when I dropped out of ballet school when I was seven,
Heady with body heat and passion,
Patti was there.
And I don’t even know if she was real,
For there is nothing more surreal than seeing the wrinkles that line the face that lines your walls for yourself,
Than seeing your favourite record come to life, in its glittering, goddess-esque glory.
And the stage lights glowed around her, and the audience chanted her choruses just like we did when we sang ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ in Grade 4, and the band clanged and crashed and floated in the most beautiful, beautiful way,
And she was some kind of auratic archangel
-It was Easter Sunday after all;
A presence, a voice, so disorientating, so incredible, so unbelievably real,
That I couldn’t think about anything else for weeks.

And then,
I realised,
That I was still wrong.
It wasn’t Patti that made me so self-assured, so happy,
It wasn’t Patti that me so proud of the “outside of society,”
The Patti I adored, that I gazed at while she darted across the stage, indeed, wasn’t even real.
For fandom is not about them, the people they really are,
For it is about you,
And your feelings, your memories,
The way their world colours yours,
A testing of your love at its most passionate, its most unconditional,
The truths it ignites within yourself.
The person who told me that I was cool, that I was worthy,
It wasn’t a CD:

It was me.

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Happy Birthday John Lennon!

John by Warhol, 1971

John by Warhol, 1971

Today would have been John Lennon’s 76th birthday, so I thought I’d finally end my algebra-revision-induced hiatus (fun times in high school, haha!) and talk a little bit about him. So happy birthday, John!

I’ve talked an awful lot about John on here before, so I’ll try to stay succinct here. John is easily one of my greatest heroes, for he has influenced so much of what my life consists of today. He was my introduction to what I would have precociously termed “contemporary music” before I discovered him – he taught me of what it was in the first place, of how it worked, of what it sounded like at its very best. His work encouraged me both to persevere with and work as hard as I did my schoolwork at my creative pursuits – music, art, writing – and to, as I grew into the age where you are supposed to begin to seriously consider what you will do when you”grow up”, think about continuing them not just as hobbies but as actual jobs; and in fact, it was him who inspired me to pick up a guitar, to take my voice beyond musical theatre and the like, to try and attempt to write songs, to actually use the criticism my English teachers gave me so that my pieces on here would begin to live up to the ones I read and admired in the music press in the first place; he made me consider the workings of the world, and encouraged me to also consider and create my own views on political issues; he taught me what it meant to be a fan. I admire him so much – for his writing, his guitar skills, his humour, his art, his activism… While he is now one among the myriad of creators that I admire – in the company of those like Bowie, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Poison Ivy Rorschach, Alex Chilton, Kim Gordon, David Lynch, Joan Didion, and many, many, many more from all manner of music genres, eras and artistic fields – he will always be one of the very few who has affected me enough to change the course of almost my entire life. Perhaps only Bowie and Patti have come close to influencing me in the way that he has. My life would be so unrecognisably different if I hadn’t come across his work – I am so grateful for his affect on who I am today.

So now, I’m going to stop talking and instead leave you with some of his music. Happy birthday, John! Thinking of you…

(Please excuse this in demo form, it is still impossible to find actual Beatles songs on YouTube after the mass exodus of them that occurred around the rerelease of 1 last year…)

(Let us not forget John’s input into Young Americans, one of my very very all-time favourite albums!!)

tangerinetrees99 plays another gig!

Unless you’ve been reading this blog for a couple of years, you might be unaware that, on top of being a music fan, I’m actually an aspiring musician myself. So, about a month ago, I was lucky enough to be able to play a short set at a fairly well-known pub in my city! I performed a Bowie cover (‘Quicksand’) and a Courtney Barnett cover (‘Kim’s Caravan’), the latter being a duet with my guitar teacher. It was such an amazing experience – a few people even came up to me afterwards to tell me how much they enjoyed it! – and it was easily among the most thrilling and enjoyable things I’ve done. Anyway, here are a couple of clips from the gig…

SEE ALSO: tangerinetrees99 plays her first gig!

Pictures Of You…

 

PattiSmithHorses

The cover of Horses is a good example of truly great rock photography (taken by Robert Mapplethorpe)

Let’s face it: it is rare to become a fan of a band simply because the music is pretty good. While, of course, the music is a massive catalyst in such a decision, we become invested in our favourite artists for a myriad of reasons – and often, the visual chops of said artist is one of these. Think about it – it is difficult to picture the early Beatles without their Pierre Cardin-designed collarless suits, glam-era David Bowie without glittery, flamboyant catsuits and bright-red platform boots, The Sex Pistols without their Vivienne Westwood designed garb, The Cure’s Robert Smith without his teased hair and copious amounts of eyeliner… But of course, it’s a little difficult to be fascinated by a band’s visual presentation without seeing them first. And unless you’ve been lucky enough to see one of the above in real life, it is at this point that the world of rock photography enters the picture. (Pun intended.)

london calling.jpg

Joe Strummer (taken by Pennie Smith)

When I mention ‘rock photography’, I do not mean the kind that consists of the unimaginative awkwardness equal to that of your Grade 5 school photo. I mean the kind that appears to effortlessly capture the spirit of what music is all about – think the cover of Patti Smith’s Horses, the freezeframe of Joe Strummer about to smash his guitar that eventually became the cover of London Calling, that photoshoot of Bowie and his lightning bolt makeup…  So today, I’m going to name and showcase a few of my favourite rock photographers – the masters of capturing the spirit of rock’n’roll – and I’ll say a few words about them, too. Though, as they always say, a picture is worth a thousand words…

Mick Rock

Most famous for photographing: David Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Syd Barrett

Contrary to what regular readers may assume, I didn’t discover Mick Rock’s photography via his extensive Bowie work, but through his photoshoot for the cover of Syd Barrett’s debut solo album, The Madcap Laughs. There is something so mysterious and magical about these photos – Syd (wearing smudged kohl and a pair of old velvet flares) sits among his hazy and delightfully cluttered flat, somehow effortlessly capturing the spirit of his work.

But it was his Bowie shots that made him my all-time favourite photographer. The pictures he took of Bowie throughout the early ’70s are glittery, glamorous insights into the heady worlds of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane. Each shot manages to translate the theatricality, the otherwordliness, the arty intellectuality, the freakish beauty of his work into what are (in my opinion) some of the greatest photos of all time. Of course, Bowie (well aware of the value of utilising both sound and vision) was photographed many times by countless photographers – but very few others managed to instinctively get what he was all about and freeze it within a few frames of film.

But then – then – I discovered that he took pretty much every famous picture of every iconic glam artist, too! His shots of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Brian Eno – alongside the Bowie ones – take the dangerously dark glamour of the movement and turn it into something we can still find infinitely fascinating and a little rebellious today. And apart from this, he also took a myriad of other incredible pictures of every other artist of the time you can think of – Queen, The Stones, Blondie, The Ramones, The Runaways, The Sex Pistols, Siouxsie Sioux… No wonder he is referred to as “the man who shot the ’70s”!

http://www.mickrock.com/

Bob Gruen

Most famous for photographing: New York punk, John & Yoko – but also every other artist you can think of

Even if you don’t know who Bob Gruen is, you most certainly know his work – he was the guy who not only shot that famous image of John Lennon wearing his ‘New York City’ shirt, but who actually gave John said shirt in the first place! Gruen shot almost every other iconic artist of the era as well, seemingly turning up at every show that passed through New York (where he is from). Among his other famous shots include a “multiple image” of Tina Turner and a picture of Sid Vicious with hot dog mustard all over his face, but he’s also photographed everyone from Led Zeppelin to KISS to Dylan to Green Day to the Beastie Boys to Sly Stone to Elvis Costello to [insert first artist off the top of your head here]…

Asides from this, Gruen was a regular at New York’s most iconic venues, CBGB and Max’s Kansas City – so consequently, he also shot a who’s-who of New York underground music throughout the ’70s and ’80s! He photographed native artists like the New York Dolls, the Ramones, Patti Smith, Talking Heads, Devo, Plasmatics, Television and Blondie – on top of non-natives, like Nina Hagen, the Pistols and The Clash – performing to their equally-fascinating audiences, juxtaposing their fashions and reactions alongside the artists themselves. In a way, Gruen is to punk what Rock is to glam – he effortlessly captures the sweaty, intimate passion that defined much of the New York scene in a way that few others have mastered. But everything he’s shot has this too. His images never fail to remind you what rock’n’roll is all about…

http://www.bobgruen.com/

David Bailey

Most famous for photographing: The Stones, Lennon & McCartney

It’s probably kind of a stretch to refer to David Bailey as a “rock photographer” when most of his legacy stems around his relationship with models such as Jean Shrimpton and the like. But perhaps it is his background as a fashion photographer that makes his pictures of a few of the biggest stars of ’60s rock so interesting and great.

My favourite of his many photoshoots is the one he did with John Lennon and Paul McCartney at the beginning of 1965. The pair are photographed in the richest tones black-and-white film can produce against a starkly cold, white background – and though the photos are obviously staged, there is a candidness to the pictures, something that seems to transcend whatever a normal photo can capture. But perhaps Bailey was always more famous for picturing The Stones; asides from shooting Mick Jagger a number of times, he also took many of the band’s album covers, including their self-titled sophomore effort, US release The Rolling Stones, Now! and most famously Aftermath. Other musicians he’s shot include Marianne Faithful and Alice Cooper.

http://www.visualartists.com/artist/davidbailey/

Janette Beckman

Most famous for photographing: British punk and new wave

While Bob Gruen was capturing New York punk, Janette Beckman was busy photographing the various circles among the British musical underground at the same time. Like him, she managed to shoot a who’s-who of her scene, her work encompassing artists like Siouxsie Sioux (the subject of her first photoshoot), Public Image Ltd, The Jam, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Undertones – even The Who! She also captured a number of American artists who passed through town, too, such as Lydia Lunch, The Cramps and Debbie Harry. Beckman also shot a number of images of young people in Britain at the time, illustrating the assorted tribes – punk, mod, ska, and so on – that found themselves scattered around the country at the time, and later went on to shoot a bunch of hip hop groups in the ’80s.

In contrast to Gruen and Rock, her images rarely show her subjects performing onstage – instead opting for staged shoots and backstage candids – but this doesn’t stop her from capturing the spirit and ethos of the movements around her. Her shots capture the passion and philosophies of the artists in fascinatingly inventive ways – the way she captures the feeling of the music is perhaps only precedented by Mick Rock. Her work is quirky and endlessly interesting, an incredible document of much of the greatest music of the time.

http://janettebeckman.com/

Brad Elterman

Most famous for photographing: candid shots of a who’s-who of ’70s rock’n’roll

Unlike the other photographers in this list, Brad Elterman did not become an official photographer until a few years into his career. This is illustrated by my favourite story about him – of how, in 1976, he was denied a photopass into Bowie’s recording studio during the making of Station to Station, so instead opted to wait outside the studio and ambush Bowie and his crew as they left that night. Despite this, though, he still managed to photograph a heap of major faces in ’70s rock’n’roll, and in a way that many of his official counterparts would be incapable of.

Elterman’s shots are candid and compelling in a way that more professional photoshoots are not. He so easily shows the emotions and lives of his subjects – his pictures are relaxed and fun, and they capture a certain realism about the whole thing. He’s photographed everyone from Joan Jett to Bowie, Dylan to John and Yoko, Michael Jackson to Joni Mitchell, and there is just something so special about each! There is no-one who has shot the rock’n’roll world with his unbelievably unique eye before or since, and it is this that makes his work so great…

http://www.bradelterman.com/

And so, who are your favourite rock photographers? What are your favourite pictures of rock music? Be sure to tell me in the comments!

Making Mixtapes: Autumn Edition

I know, I know, it's a massively-cliché stock photo... But hey! At least it's pretty!

I know, it’s a cliché stock photo… But hey! At least it’s pretty!

Late Autumn and early Winter is my favourite time of year – the searing heat of Summer turns into breezy, hazy sunshine, that soon finds itself becoming a satisfying brand of icy, crisp cold. Everything just seems so dreamy, so magical, so perfect. So maybe the climate is to blame for the fact that almost all of my favourite musical memories occur somewhere within the cooler months of the year. And considering that, in Australia, we are entering the final weeks of Autumn, I thought it would be especially appropriate to make a ‘mixtape’ of a few of these today!

‘Penny Lane’ – The Beatles

I remember the day I bought my first Beatles album (1, for the curious): it was the 10th of July, 2013. I’d never heard anything so thrilling in my short life, and I listened to it on endless repeat for the remainder of the year. The day after The Purchase, however, I was hanging out with my best friend at the time, a more seasoned Beatles fan who actually introduced me to them in the first place. We spent much of that afternoon listening our favourite songs, dancing and chanting the words we knew. I remember picking ‘Hello Goodbye’ and ‘Help!’ – and I remember that she picked ‘Lady Madonna’ and ‘Yesterday’, among others. But she also picked ‘Penny Lane’, a song I was yet to hear, then. And as I listened, there was something just so magical about the song – whether it be its surrealism or inventive band arrangement or the beautiful melody of the lyrics – something that moved me like no song had before… I couldn’t have had any idea as to how monumentally that moment would change the course of my life. I wouldn’t be a rock’n’roll fan without it.

‘Sugar Man’ – Rodriguez

I first learnt of Rodriguez – a cult musician who created quirky, psychedelic folk in the early ’70s – in April 2014, via a documentary on his life that lead to a major resurrection of his work. His discography fascinated me from the first listen – partly because it reminded me of The White Album, but also because it was ‘weird’ in a way I didn’t yet know music could be. The best-know track off Cold Fact – his debut – is a freakishly beautiful folk song called ‘Sugar Man’ – whirring synths and woodwind arrangements accompany his echoey guitar and his voice, which is only describable is incredible… At a time when I felt that listening to artists other than The Beatles equated betraying them, his music became one of my favourite things in the world.

The following Spring, I saw Rodrgiuez play in my hometown. It was my first proper gig, and what a great one it was! He still sounded incredible, and to this day I consider it one of the greatest nights of my life…

‘Sunday Morning’ – The Velvet Underground

I first heard the phrase ‘Velvet Underground’ on the night that Lou Reed died – everyone was talking about him, and though I remain mildly annoyed that I only got into his work afterwards, it was through this that I learnt of his first band. I never felt compelled to listen to them, however – that was, until, I first heard a cover of ‘Sunday Morning’ one night, in May 2014. I felt like I knew it (I didn’t), like it and I were meant to be – and it happened to be one of my mum’s favourite songs. As we listened, she told me of how The Velvet Underground had played a part in the the soundtrack of her 20’s, and she told me to go and look the original version up. The next day, I did just that, and its immense beauty captivated me – it is hard to explain in words the affect it had. The Velvets have continued to captivate, inspire and influence me ever since…

‘Lust For Life’ – Iggy Pop

In the Winter of 2014, my mum and I decided we’d listen to CDs in her car instead of the radio. So we sifted through the glovebox, and found – among the stacks of children’s novelty albums and musical soundtracks – the soundtrack to Trainspotting. We inserted the CD into the player, and soon enough, this ferocious rhythm burst out of the speakers – and then this sneering, couldn’t-care-less voice joined it all, too. ‘Lust For Life’ was dangerous, tough, fiery, in a way that I didn’t realise music could be. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know the next thing about Iggy Pop, that my days of blasting ‘Search and Destroy’ and ‘1969’ at maximum volume were still years off, that I hated punk rock; I wanted to dance. I was hooked.

‘Isn’t It A Pity’ – George Harrison

By the middle of 2014, I’d officially listened to every Beatles song, so I’d begun to delve into their solo catalogues as well. One particularly cold and dark July day that year, I was sitting – or shivering, rather – in an apartment in Melbourne  when I finally decided to listen to All Things Must Pass. There was something so dreamy, so warm about the album – it was the definition of ‘ethereal’, and it seemed so bright, in contrast to the dark clouds that loomed outside my window. I was introduced to ‘Isn’t It A Pity’ that afternoon – a song that was perhaps the warmest, the most shimmery of them all, and one that I’ve loved ever since. It is the perfect song for dark, cold Winter nights…

‘Hallelujah’ – Jeff Buckley

Jeff Buckley’s version of ‘Hallelujah’ is perhaps the definitive late-Autumn song. The warm, twinkling beauty of the guitar and Buckley’s beyond-incredible voice seem to be the sonic equivalent of the hazy, dying heat of Australian Aprils. Like the weather, the song seems like something of magic, too. I first heard it in June or July 2014, after my guitar teacher told me about it. All I remember was how overwhelmed I was, of how I thought it sounded almost as beautiful as my favourite Beatles songs. There weren’t too many songs that made me cry, then – but this was one of them.

‘I’m Only Sleeping’ – The Beatles

It was August, 2014 when I decided, rather innocuously, that I was going to listen to Revolver one afternoon. This, of course, wasn’t an uncommon decision at the time – Revolver was my all-time favourite album, after all. So I placed it on the turntable, and I began to listen. Everything seemed perfectly normal to me – until I reached ‘I’m Only Sleeping’. I’d listened to it a thousand times before, but that afternoon I felt something I’d never felt before. I realised just how incredible, how beautiful the song – and the album – was; I became entirely overwhelmed by this immense love for the music. I’d been a music fan for a while, at that point – but it wasn’t until that day that I realised how powerful it was.

‘Waterloo Sunset’ – The Kinks

In the March of 2015, I borrowed a biography on The Kinks from a nearby library. I found their story fascinating – not always in a good way, yet endlessly interesting nonetheless. And, I mean, I’d heard ‘Waterloo Sunset’ countless times before reading the book, but I’d never appreciated it – I’d always liked their early garage ventures (‘You Really Got Me’; ‘All Day and All of the Night’) more. But as I read, I realised that Ray Davies is a certified songwriting genius, and I felt compelled to listen to it properly. And of course, I also realised how wrong I’d been to take it for granted, and by the time it was through, I’d concluded that it was among the greatest songs of our time. I do, after all, have ears…

‘The Real Me’ – The Who

I first heard Quadrophenia in the Autumn of last year. On May 19th – Pete Townshend’s birthday – to be exact… At this point in time, I was becoming a massive Who fan – I’d read Townshend’s autobiography, I’d played my CD of Tommy so many times that the fancy gatefold had started to ever-so-slightly fall apart… But Quadrophenia blew my mind like no other Who album ever had. It was ambitious, but it was also one of the greatest I’d ever heard – it was so passionate, so expertly crafted, so captivating, and oh, how I loved the brass arrangements! ‘The Real Me’ was what started it all – everything about it was so energetic, so flawlessly recorded and it made you want to dance, too. To this day, it’s my favourite Who song.

‘Miss Amanda Jones’ – The Stones

Some Kind of Wonderful – not The Breakfast Club, not Pretty in Pink – is my favourite ’80s movie. This is for a number of reasons; mainly because the protagonists are both quirky outsiders who, unlike PiP‘s Andie and TBC‘s Allison, never compromise who they are – but also for the fact that one of the characters is named after a Stones song. ‘Miss Amanda Jones’ (the song in question) is ridiculously underrated – it’s a seemingly conventional rock song on the surface, yet Keith Richards’ fuzzy guitar turns it into a darkly psychedelic freak-out. It also happens to be on my favourite Stones album, Between the Buttons. It’s the most perfect song for a movie about two people who never apologise for not ‘fitting in’ – it’s so freaky, yet it’s so great… I listened it on repeat all through the coldest, darkest Winter days last year!

‘Old Man’ – Neil Young

Like ‘Hallelujah’, Neil Young’s music is, to me, the sonic equivalent of the beauty of late Autumn. His voice, his guitar, his songwriting style all resonate with the most beautiful melancholy warmth that is so innately satisfying to the listener. Harvest is easily one of my all-time favourite albums because of this. And ‘Old Man’ happens to be one of my favourite songs, too. There’s just something about it – his achingly beautiful voice, the thoughtful lyrics, its catchiness, the exquisite guitar, backing vocals… It really is the perfect song to listen to as the final rays of sun shine on your back, as Summer draws to an end.

‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ – The Only Ones

Before the beginning of last year, I hated punk rock. But then I watched a documentary on Joy Division and decided it wasn’t so bad – and that Unknown Pleasures was amazing. But it wasn’t until I was introduced to the Only Ones that I grew to love it.

In the Winter of last year, my mum found her Only Ones album in her vinyl collection, and we decided to play it sometime. But first, we looked up ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’. I was instantly hooked. Listen to the song: the gritty power chords, the pretty melody. I decided it was one of the greatest I’d ever heard, and consequently, I finally felt compelled to listen to the punk bands that I’d read so much about. In hindsight, the Ones aren’t actually that punk (though this does nothing to diminish how much I like them). But they were an incredible gateway, and for that I owe them a lot!

‘Gloria’ – Patti Smith

I’d read a lot about Patti Smith, and of how Horses was supposedly one of the greatest albums of all time. So last July, I bought it. I wanted to see if it was really that amazing. I placed it in my CD player as soon as I had the chance – I turned it up loud, sat nearby and pressed ‘play’. The first track began innocuously enough, and it confused me; wasn’t Patti supposed to be punk? Why is it just piano chords? But then, she sang the first line: ‘Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.’ There are few times in my life where I’ve felt as liberated, as incredible as I did in that moment. And of course, ‘Gloria’ turned into the most incredible rollercoaster ride of poetry, bohemianism and her unique brand of minimalist rock. By the time it faded out, my life would never be the same again.

‘Suffragette City’ and ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’ – David Bowie

Funnily enough, David Bowie was one of my first musical discoveries – I became a music fan in 2013, after all, a year in which his presence was unavoidable. But it wasn’t until 2014 that I actually began to listen to him, and before August 2015, I really was only a casual fan. But the first Bowie song I loved predates that August by a couple of months – ‘Suffragette City’. I first heard it in an episode of Gilmore Girls, yet I didn’t realise how amazing it was until I listened to it minus the context of my favourite TV show. It is hard to forget how it blew my mind – how edgy and thrilling it sounded, how I couldn’t keep my feet still, how I couldn’t stop grinning for the entire duration of the song, how I couldn’t help but scream ‘Wham! Bam! Thank you ma’am!’ with him. I promptly added it to my last ‘Making Mixtapes’ post (from last July), and in one draft, added that I soon hoped to become more than a casual fan of his work…

By the time I heard ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’ – only a few months later – I was well beyond casual fandom. I’d seen the ‘David Bowie Is’ exhibition a couple of weeks beforehand, and he’d stormed into my life and almost entirely changed how I saw the world. I’d spent those weeks in a daze, so overwhelmed by his art, and I listened to him whenever I had the chance. Hunky Dory was among the first of his albums that I discovered, and there are few I love as much as it. I fell in love with ‘Pretty Things’ on my first listen – I loved the chords, and the singalong chorus, and his juxtaposition of darkly philosophical lyrics and upbeat melodies. I remember listening to it at school all the time last year, feeling cool and comfortable in myself in a way I hadn’t really experienced before. He made me realise that I didn’t have to change myself, that I didn’t have to ‘fit in’ to be comfortable in my own skin.

‘Teen Age Riot’ – Sonic Youth

Sonic Youth was first recommended to me at the end of 2014. I tried listening to them then – and I decided I liked one of their songs (‘Sunday’) but that they were too ‘weird’ for me. But as 2014 turned into 2015, and as my music taste became progressively freakier, I tried again that Winter – but this time, I adored them. ‘Teen Age Riot’ is a song prone to obsessive fanaticism, and it isn’t hard to see why. It’s magical, hypnotic – as Kim Gordon chants about ‘sweet desire’ to clashing guitars, and as Thurston Moore frantically sings its lyrics to punky, noisy rhythms. It’s one of the songs that enters and changes your life so fast – one that you’ll listen to on endless repeat while chanting the lyrics by heart. It’s so unconventional, yet it’s so rewarding. I’ve proudly called myself a Youth fan ever since my first listen.

 

‘Kiss Off’ – Violent Femmes

When it was announced that the Violent Femmes were on the bill for this year’s WOMADelaide (a music festival I’ve attended every year since I was 8 or 9), my mum and I were so excited. I’ve been a Femmes fan ever since she played me their 1991 album, Why Do Birds Sing, in the Spring of 2014. But in the months that lead up to the festival, I dived deeper and deeper into their catalogue, and listened to their classic debut on constant repeat for at least a month or two… ‘Kiss Off’ was my favourite track off it, even if mainly for the frantic chant of ‘Everything! Everything! Everything!’ at the end of the bridge.

And of course, their set at the festival was every bit as amazing as I expected. I sang the lyrics to almost every song, dancing madly and raucously applauding at the end of each. I even managed to get my CDs signed by bassist Brian Ritchie afterwards!

‘Just Like Honey’ (The Jesus and Mary Chain)/’Boys Don’t Cry’ (The Cure)

For some reason, these songs are linked in my mind. I first (deliberately) heard them, back to back, while working on an assignment for my Music class a month or so ago. ‘Just Like Honey’ was first: it appeared as a ‘recommended video’ on YouTube, and I decided to listen – I’d been meaning to try the Jesus and Mary Chain for a while, after all. I had high expectations for the song, yet I couldn’t have predicted how amazing it would be: the booming drums, the guitar (so laden with gritty effects that it seemed to shimmer and twinkle), Jim Reid’s flowing voice, the melody. It was just so impossibly pretty – it sent shivers down my spine. I haven’t been able to get enough of it since!

Despite trying multiple times, I’ve never been able to ‘get’ The Smiths – so perhaps that’s why I only began listening to The Cure earlier this year. On the day that I discovered ‘Just Like Honey’, I’d only listened (yet also really liked) to a couple of their songs – so when YouTube recommended ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ after ‘Just Like Honey’, I thought I’d try it, too. I wasn’t surprised to discover I loved the song, as well – Robert Smith’s voice sounded so great, and I loved the hook that ran between the verses. I ended up singing it to myself for the rest of the day, and right now, it’s definitely among my favourite songs…

‘The Ballad of El Goodo’ – Big Star

Sometimes it takes only one song to entirely fall in love with a band’s discography. ‘The Ballad of El Goodo’ is one of those songs. I first listened to it a month or so ago, during my Art class, as the Autumnal sun poured through the window and onto my sketchbook. Its beauty entirely overwhelmed me. And it really is beautiful – the achingly exquisite guitar, Alex Chilton’s stunning voice, the dreamy backing vocals, the lyrics, the chiming, pretty melodies… It is one the most perfect songs in history. It’s just incredible.

‘God Only Knows’ – The Beach Boys

Last month, my mum and I went to see Brian Wilson perform Pet Sounds. We decided, quite literally, a few hours before, but it was certainly among the better decisions we’ve made… While we may have been sitting in the back row, and Brian’s voice mightn’t have been so great anymore, it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Just knowing that the man sitting in front of the white grand piano on stage wrote one of the greatest albums of all time was enough. As one would expect, the performance of ‘God Only Knows’ was one of the greatest moments of the night – the silence, the admiration that spread through the theatre was spine-chilling. At its end, we all gave him a standing ovation – and then he told us to sit down so he could start the next song!

‘Here Comes Your Man’ – Pixies

I feel like I came to the Pixies kind of late. I was so busy obsessing over Sonic Youth that I almost forgot about the other definitive 80s’ alternative band. Yet, not too long ago, I listened to Doolittle for the first time with slightly strange expectations – I wanted it to be amazing, but I never thought it could equal Daydream Nation. But as I played it, I became more and more hooked as the album progressed – their combination of arty noise and conventional melodies fascinated me. ‘Here Comes Your Man’ must be my most-played YouTube video of late – there is something so great about Black Francis’s voice on the track, the pretty, poppy melodies in the context of, well, the Pixies… So I’ve been listening to it on repeat ever since, and you know what? I reckon I like them just as much as SY!

‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ – David Bowie

Despite the fact that I’d been beyond excited about it since rumours started spreading of its existence, I didn’t listen to Blackstar on the day it was released. I’d preordered it on vinyl as soon as the chance was available, and I knew it was going to be incredible – so I decided I would wait until my vinyl arrived, so I could truly appreciate its greatness on the first listen. Of course, between its release and its arrival on my doorstep, something happened: it was announced that David Bowie had passed away. That night, a lot of things flew through my head as I tried to contend with my grief – one of these things was an incredible regret, as I’d never have the chance to listen to the album without its now-apparent context…

My copy of Blackstar arrived a week later, almost to the minute. It sat on my record player for a couple of weeks, but eventually, I worked up the courage to play it. This was a strange experience; musically, I loved it, yet I found it incredibly difficult and emotional to listen to, as well. ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’  was perhaps the pinnacle of this – it was such a great song, yet it also happened to the most melancholy on the album. Yet, I still love it. It sounds like the future, so heady and positively intergalactic – proof that Bowie will always be 20 years ahead of the rest of us. A few weeks ago, a music video was released for it. It was so beautiful – surprisingly uplifting, too – and I gained even more of an appreciation for the song. As I watched the video, it proved to me that my sadness at his passing would never lessen the incredible way his art makes me feel – it remains too powerful, too brilliant for that…

‘Perfect Day’ – Lou Reed

And so, I find myself at the beginning, again. I, too, first heard this on the Trainspotting soundtrack – yet unlike ‘Lust For Life’, it wasn’t love at first hearing. ‘It’s not as good as the Velvets,’ I remember telling my mum at the time. Yet, at some point – last year? this year? – something really changed. Because now it – a song recorded by one of my favourite artists and produced by another (Bowie!) – is among my all-time favourite. It’s so incredible, so beautiful, so moving. I’d be glad to spend any day with this song, perfect or not…

So, what are your go-to songs as the cold weather begins to set in? Be sure to tell me in the comments!

You can listen to the whole thing here!

And here’s an appropriately-themed song to finish off…

My Favourite Albums of 2015

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Well, finally… This post has been 3 months in the making, haha. Alas, here it is…

I was really disappointed with this year’s triple j Hottest 100. For a supposedly-prestigious countdown of the year’s best alternative tracks, this year’s edition consisted almost entirely of EDM. I find it saddening that this is what triple j (previously huge supporters of our local alternative scene) has come to – a stream of soulless, forgettable club music, that, in the end, is really ‘pop’. To quote The Church’s Steve Kilbey’s article on the 100 for The Guardian, “I thought triple j would have a lot more edge than this smooth, manufactured fare.”

I don’t, however, feel that this accurately represents the year that was. For in my opinion, 2015 was the greatest year for music since at least the mid-’90s. Though my thoughts that the EDM trend had faded were obviously incorrect, there were plenty of inventive, affecting releases to make up. The keyboards and synths of 2014 faded a little – guitars making a triumphant return to the alternative arena in their place; the ‘album’ made a huge comeback, so many of the following carefully sequenced as only the greatest pieces of musical art are; many now-“retro” genres (psychedelia, grunge, old-school punk and folk) experienced perhaps their greatest rebirths in recent years, creating work easily as good as those of their predecessors. And while my faith in the current music scene was thrown into jeopardy a good number of times, the following 10 albums (and so many more, too!) more than reassured me. Perhaps 2015 will go down in history as my generation’s ‘1967’ – for I know that so many of these albums will be seen as classics and will change lives in years to come. So here goes…

(I should also mention that this list is by no means complete. There’s still a lot of albums from last year that I haven’t yet been able to listen to! Perhaps there will be a follow-up to this post at some point…)

10. Currents (Tame Impala)

currents tame impala

Currents was easily the album I anticipated most on this list. However, I was a little disappointed. Though I remain a fan of Kevin P. & Co’s work, the swirly guitars that had drawn me to their discography had been replaced by club-worthy synths and drum machines. Their fascinatingly-weird brand of psychedelic rock was now pop.

Despite this, I still loved Tame Impala’s latest effort. Kevin Parker far from neglects the idiosyncratic, kaleidoscopic edges of Lonerism and Innerspeaker, each track still sounding as hypnotically psychedelic and, well, a little out of place as the work that preceded it. Each track swirls through your mind, a showcase for Parker’s incredible musicality, his voice sounding like John Lennon on Revolver, the synths a suprisingly-earcatching hybrid of Spiritualized and pop music. It is just so much more inventive and weird than so much of the stuff it is lined up against! Currents proves Parker’s status as music’s residential genius right now is more than deserved. His work truly is among the greatest of our time.

START WITH: ‘Cause I’m A Man’

[BUY]

SEE ALSO: I Went To See Tame Impala!

9. Depression Cherry (Beach House) 

depression cherry beach house

After a 3-year break, Beach House were famously prolific in 2015 – following up August’s Depression Cherry with October’s Thank Your Lucky Stars. And perhaps it was just the anticipation (and the velvet cover…), but the former wins out for me.

Depression Cherry is exquisitely delicate and positively other-wordly from its first chord. Listening to it is like being caught in the most beautiful dream – the instrumentation subtle yet lush, spellbinding, ethereal. The synths, like sonic gossamer, flicker and swirl around your mind, embellished with jangly lead guitar, sheer bells and dreamy vocals. It is so calm, so gentle, so warm, and will undoubtedly leave you spellbound after the first listen…

START WITH: ‘Beyond Love’

[LISTEN/BUY]

8. Slow Gum (Fraser A. Gorman)

slow gum fraser a gorman

Good news – there’s more where Courtney Barnett came from! Fraser A. Gorman is an artist signed to Milk! Records (the record label Barnett and her partner Jen Cloher began in 2012), and his 2015 debut – though not receiving the same incredible success of hers – is just the best, too!

Slow Gum is steeped in old-school folk and Americana (the cover even evoking The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan!), also taking cues from – as his bio notes – artists like Transformer-era Lou Reed and Big Star; yet it doesn’t rehash the past. In true Milk! Records style, his lyrics are charming and quirky, telling stories reflecting love, life and what it’s like to be a young Australian right now. The music is equally charming and quirky – it’s laidback, slightly sleepy, nostalgic yet anticipates what’s to come. It’s driven by the greatest acoustic guitar, a fiddle (!), surprisingly rock’n’roll drums, glowing electric organ, lead guitar that goes from Neil Young to Courtney Barnett in the space of a song, pretty harmonies, and his vocals are like a sweeter, Australian Bob Dylan. It’s just so great – the kind of thing you’d listen to as Summer comes to its end, that you’d sit in the sun on Sunday morning and sing along to over coffee and toast. A painfully-underrated cut from last year that deserves your attention!

START WITH: ‘Shiny Gun’

[LISTEN/BUY]

7. b’lieve i’m goin down… (Kurt Vile)

blieve im goin down kurt vile

I’ve never previously counted myself as a fan of Americana music, but as soon as I heard the beginnings of b’lieve i’m goin down…‘s ‘Pretty Pimpin’, this was completely irrelevant. Maybe it’s the song’s guitary stomp, which makes you want to immediately get up and dance, or Vile’s idiosyncratic vocals and rambling lyrics, or something else entirely – but I found it deliciously addictive, and have barely stopped listening since.

This brand of quirky, introspective folk rock is just as great throughout the remainder of b’lieve i’m goin down. The music is raw, welcoming and hooking – boasting some incredible fingerpicking, a lead guitar that sometimes lays in its country roots but more often finds itself in territory dominated by tougher rock’n’roll – that goes from wailing to stabbing between tracks, subtle keys, a banjo. Vile’s voice is delightfully unusual and slightly deadpan in its stylings, yet the melodies he sings are the kind you’ll be humming for days to come. The lyrics he writes are wonderfully rambling and contemplative, recounting an inner monologue in his fascinating manner. Another record that you’ll fall in love with on the first listen, and one that won’t leave your turntable/MP3 player for weeks to come!

START WITH: ‘Pretty Pimpin’

[BUY]

6. Quarters! (King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard)

quarters king gizzard and the lizard wizard

Beach House weren’t the only overly-prolific band of 2015. In fact, last year’s release schedule for infamously-prolific psych rockers King G & Co. was fairly normal! True to form, the band released two albums last year: Quarters! in May, and Paper Mache Dream Balloon in November… Unlike the latter album (which was announced to much fanfare and met with great anticipation), Quarters! came out quietly in late Autumn, not even released on CD. The album only contains four tracks – each of them precisely 10 minutes and 10 seconds long! – and is a lot simpler than the Tame Impala/POND cuts to which they’re compared. But this does nothing to diminish its undeniable greatness.

Quarters! consists of some kind of dreamy, psychedelic magic, the kind that will leave you spellbound with its incredible beauty. It’s not overpowered by outlandish busy-ness, like POND and Tame Impala, instead celebrating its weirdness in a starker – yet just as satisfying! – manner. Jangly jazz chords play softly throughout each of the four cuts, paired with soulful vocals, hazy guitar arpeggios, gentle reverb, shimmering keys – making for space-agey doo-wop tunes and giddy, experimental freak-outs and foggy folk tracks, the kind of things fit for the fading warmth of Australian Autumns… And while it’s still heaps of fun (KG&TLW have always been unapologetic about the fact that they’re among the silliest bands around), the album is perhaps more affecting than its successor – the kind of music that digs deep into your mind, that becomes a favourite that you’ll play until it wears out, that makes you want do stuff yourself. It quietly accepts its freakishness, and celebrates this – and that’s why it’s so good. The album is so brilliant, so strange, so fascinating – you’ll never get tired of it!

START WITH: ‘God Is In The Rhythm’

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5. Man It Feels Like Space Again (POND)

man it feels like space again pond

POND have always garnered a number of comparisons to Tame Impala, not least because 3/5ths of its current lineup have been touring members of the latter act. But although POND’s 2015 effort did not receive the accolade of Tame Impala’s, I have to say that I prefered it – considerably.

Man It Feels Like Space Again is a delightfully spacey, exciting affair, stumbling from track to track in a hazy, psychedelic dream. Each is drenched in effect – dreamy reverb, unsettling synthy strings, chugging phasers, erratic fuzz -, driven by brilliantly eccentric drums, layered with floaty vocals (mixed lower than usual – sometimes practically inaudible – but to great effect!), embellished with the prettiest, spaciest guitar, echoing – and even rivalling – the madly psychedelic moods created by many artists in the late-’60s. It’s unpredictable – ranging from glammy disco cuts to foggy waltzes – and so weird, so much more experimental than many of its contemporaries. Dominated by a ‘more is more’ philosophy, it swirls from the speaker, bursting at its sonic seams with with its bizarreness. With each listen, you’ll notice something new – it really never gets old. Man It Feels…, despite its relative obscurity in comparison to Currents, is just so much more weird, more interesting, more unpredictable, more fun. And that is why I’m still listening to it so much, over a year since its release…

START WITH: ‘Elvis’ Flaming Star’

[BUY]

4. Feels Like (Bully)

feels like bully

Listening to Feels Like is a little like running back to the ’90s, when the majority of alternative bands employed guitars to play their brands of punk and grunge instead of poppy synths, and when the most acclaimed female musicians were more Kim Gordon than Beyonce. But that’s kind of simplistic – for Tennessee punk band Bully’s debut LP sounds too fresh, too great to be but a mere throwback.

Feels Like begins with the visceral, thrilling ‘I Remember’, which rips through your speakers with its ferociously loud guitars, whirlwind drums and singer Alicia Bognanno’s howls and screams. The rest of the album is the same – a collection of impassioned punk anthems, ready-made for playing on constant repeat. The music is fierce and relentless, thrashing itself through each song, reminiscent of Sonic Youth, Pixies, early Sleater-Kinney. It is inaccessible, yet kind of anthemic, and it’s punk – refreshingly hard and edgy, and just as good as the bands that inspired it. Alicia Bognanno’s voice is just the best, too…  And Bognanno’s lyrics are undeniably brilliant – like the Slits before her, she writes relatable lyrics that effortlessly capture the thoughts and anxieties of so many girls, the kind an introverted, teenage music-geek would scribble all over their schoolbooks and quietly quote to themselves in their bedrooms. And Feels Like is the kind of record that celebrates what it’s really like to be a teenager in this world, painfully relatable, and why I, for one, love it so. It is one for playing on constant repeat until you wear it out, and one for quietly sneaking onto a party playlist to prove that you’re cooler than everyone else. And one that once you start, you won’t be able to get enough of…

START WITH: ‘Trying’

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3. Ivy Tripp (Waxahatchee)

ivy tripp waxahatchee

Listening to Waxahatchee’s Ivy Tripp is like crowding around a fire on a particularly cold Winter’s day. It is warm and inviting, quirky and impossibly pretty. Waxahatchee (aka Katie Crutchfield) compiles each instrument – the guitars, keys, synths, drums – in a delightfully “DIY” manner, the kind of thing you’d record with your newly-formed indie band in your bedroom (but in the greatest way possible). It seems so delicate, fragile, yet leaks with passion and independence. And her vocals – so strong, yet so flowing – must be among the most beautiful I’ve heard. The kind of record you’ll fall in love with as soon as the first chord begins, and that demands to be played on repeat for years to come.

START WITH: ‘La Loose’

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2. No Cities To Love (Sleater-Kinney)

no cities to love

2015 marked the return of the incredible Sleater-Kinney, a band of three immensely talented women whose mix of scuzzy guitars, powerful vocals, catchy melodies and confident lyrical matter have continually inspired and reassured many a girls’ (myself included) love of rock’n’roll, as well as establishing themselves as among the greatest rock bands of our time. No Cities To Love not only reiterates these statements, but establishes itself as among the band’s best records yet.

Cities flings itself from track to track with an incredible excitement and energy, almost never matched by newer bands. Carrie Brownstein’s and Corin Tucker’s guitars thrash at each song with a fuzzy, murky dissonance that barely anyone else bothers to create these days, and Tucker screams her vocal lines with a phenomenally ferocious passion (think X-Ray Spex’s Poly Styrene). Each song is raw and raging, possessing an energy – a fire – reminiscent of the ’70s greatest punk albums; yet each is anthemic, too, prime for party playlists and bedroom sing-alongs. Cities is an incredible rock record: a piece of raucous, fast-paced rock’n’roll that never fails to satisfy, that raises your adrenaline as soon as the first chord lifts off. A set-to-be classic.

START WITH: ‘Price Tag’

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1. Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit (Courtney Barnett)

sometimes i sit

It would easy to suggest that my love of Courtney Barnett’s Sometimes I Sit and Think and Somtimes I Just Sit lies mainly within its obvious homage to ‘retro’, guitar-driven rock, but this would be lazy – for it is so great on so many levels. Barnett slays her debut LP, laden with the wittiest lyrics, a voice among the uniquest in music today and tight, tough instrumentation, creating what is undeniably now a modern classic.

Barnett’s music is so incredibly refreshing in a world where Justin Bieber and gone-solo boyband members top the charts. Her lyrics are astute and entertaining, ramblingly poetic, simple and humble yet funny and smart. She manages to turn the most mundane of human experiences into interesting and often hilarious stories, penning lyrics you’ll sing until you can quote them at a second’s notice. She sums up what it means to be a young Australian in an almost disturbingly-accurate manner, recounting scenarios we know all too well with her proudly-displayed accent – so while Barnett has achieved international success, her work perhaps means most to all the young Australians who identify best with it. It is nice to hear your own accent, to hear slang you use every day in music you love, rare in a world ruled by America and Britain. She has easily become among the most important voices in music today.

To boot, Sometimes‘ incredible lyrics are backed by an equally-great band. The music crackles with such a rich exuberance, bursting with fun and fuzz-pedals. Barnett plays a mean guitar, thrashing it just like her grungy heroes. And paired with the help of drummer Dave Mudie and bassist ‘Bones’ Sloane, she creates a brand of indie rock so much rawer than that of those around her, echoing Australia’s longstanding love of garagy guitars, yet creating her very own sound at the same time. Think Nirvana, but funnier. But Sometimes isn’t retro, outdated – it’s fresh, made for the 21st century, and unlike most music out now, inventive and original. It is this – Barnett’s originality, her quirks, her (as SPIN put it) “low-key brilliance” – that has already cemented her debut as a classic, alongside Horses and Violent Femmes. And it is this that will ensure that it remains so, for years to come…

START WITH: ‘Pedestrian at Best’

[LISTEN/BUY]

SEE ALSO: I Went To See Courtney Barnett!

Albums I’m particularly anticipating this year include Iggy Pop’s Post Pop Depression, The Drones’ Feelin Kinda Free, Sunflower Bean’s Human Ceremony, Glitterbust’s (Kim Gordon’s new band) debut, Adelaide noise-rockers Horror My Friends’ Stay In, Do Nothing – but I feel that Bowie’s Blackstar may have already taken out #1… (I guess we’ll have to wait and see!)

Did you listen to any new music in 2015? What were your favourites? Be sure to tell me in the comments!

(Also, if you’re viewing this on the site, you may notice that I’ve made a few cosmetic changes! Hope you all like them! The drawings in the header are ones I’ve done myself over the past year…)

Vale George Martin

 

Rest in peace.

 
So saddened to hear that the great Sir George Martin has passed away. He was such a huge part of what made The Beatles so great – his production on each of their tracks is incredible to listen to, and everything he added to their music enhanced so much of their work, often lifting it from ‘great’ to bonafide masterpiece status. I’ll never forget the first time I heard his mono mix of Revolver; ‘A Day In The Life’s apocalyptic orchestra; ‘In My Life’s beautiful (sped-up) piano; ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’; ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’; ‘Eleanor Rigby’ – all greatly affected by his work. He always seemed a true gentleman, too. 

May he rest in peace.

Happy birthday George Harrison!

image

I’ve posted this picture a few times before, but anyway…

As I’m sure most people reading this blog are aware, yesterday* would’ve been George Harrison’s 73rd birthday!

I’m not going to write much, today (I’ve written plenty before) – but here are a few words, nonetheless.

George’s musicality was, hands down, among the greatest in rock: the subtle yet great suggestions he made to various Beatles songs (see the bridge of ‘We Can Work It Out’, for example), often transforming them; his guitar skills, perhaps the greatest example of the ‘keep it simple’ rule – so understated, yet often among the highlights of whatever song happened to be gifted with them, so expressive and practically ethereal; and, of course, his songwriting – musically, beautiful, strong & emotive, and lyrically, poetic and criminally underrated. He seemed like such a incredible person, too – selfless, kind, intelligent, funny. I feel like our world needs more people like him, today. It’s frustrating that he remains, by far, the most underrated Beatle, that the public are generally unaware of his amazing contributions to the band and music in general – but as I wrote in a previous post, those that know of his greatness are aware that this is such wonderful knowledge to have!

But now, I’m going to let his music speak. So happy birthday, George! Hope you had a great day, wherever you may be…

(Please excuse the lack of Beatles – annoyingly, they’ve been taken off YouTube, and seemingly off Vimeo and other sites, too…)

*You probably also know that there’s a bit of confusion surrounding George’s actual birthdate – a few sources have claimed that he was, in fact, born in the late hours of the 24th, but a bit of Googling seems to suggest that the true date is the 25th.

Vale David Bowie.

The stars look very different today.

“And the stars look very different today.”

I will forever remember what I was doing when I heard that David Bowie was dead, as what had been occupying my time that afternoon is now horribly ironic. I’d been listening to Hunky Dory and a stack of his outtakes; I’d been loading reviews of Blackstar, ready for after I’d listened to it (I’m still waiting on its delivery); I’d been learning how to play a few of his songs on guitar. Then mere minutes later, I discovered that he was gone. He is a true Starman, now, I guess.

What can I say? David is one of my greatest heroes. Over this past year, he has influenced me so much, and I in turn admire him more than words can convey. His work, lately, has been so unpredictable, and his death is no exception.

David fell into my life 3 years ago, but it was only last year (when I visited the ‘David Bowie Is’ exhibition, then in Melbourne) that I became the intense follower of his work that I am today. This can be put down to the exhibition: I entered it an excited yet casual fan, but I left it forever changed by the magic of his art. I’ve barely let a day go by without listening to his music since.

David’s influence and inspiration on me is a gift beyond words. He showed me so much: his sartorial prowess gave me the confidence to dress androgynously and to create my own style; he taught me to stop caring about what other people think, to not force myself to conform, to be truly comfortable in my own skin; he even inspired me to dye my hair bright Ziggy-orange! His music is filled with his incredible passion, emotion and intensity, making it feel so real and infinitely amazing, giving it the ability to make you both grin at its euphoria and cry at its beauty; his lyrics are articulate, intelligent and beautiful, just like the man himself; many of his films are spine-chilling in their brilliance (The Man Who Fell To Earth comes to mind); his ch-ch-ch-ch-changes gave his work such an unpredictable mystery, setting him apart from virtually every other artist in the world; he was a true icon, not only to the “outsiders” that identified with his art but to the entire world, whether they know it or not; his work remains almost as radical as when it was first released; and as recounted in my now-hauntingly-appropriate post from the other week, he knew how to merge sound and vision like no other. He was orignal; creative; intelligent; iconic; heroic; funny; thought-provoking; beautiful; incredible. There is little in this world that has affected me as much as his work.

It’s hard to believe, now, that it was only a few days beforehand that the music world was celebrating both his birthday and the release of his newest album, Blackstar. We’ve had the news for a day, now, but it still hasn’t quite sunk in yet. While, deep down, we all knew that Bowie was both human and mortal, I don’t think anyone expected this to happen so soon. Recently, a number of important musicians have also died, but I wasn’t prepared for the fact that one of my favourites would be next. I certainly wasn’t prepared for it to be Bowie. He was like a friend I never knew. Like much of the world, I was utterly heartbroken by the news. I rarely cry over celebrity deaths, but Bowie was this rule’s exception.

But David and his work have given me so many amazing memories, so today has not been exclusively saddening. It is hard to forget the times I spent jumping around to ‘Suffragette City’, ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’, ‘Queen Bitch’, laughing, screaming the lyrics at the top of my lungs; the first times I listened to his albums, falling in love with them immediately;  the times I sat and listened to ‘Rock’n’Roll Suicide’, ‘”Heroes”‘, ‘Quicksand’, my spine tingling, in tears at their beauty; the joy of discovering the mountains of his almost-unknown B-sides and outtakes (‘Holy Holy’, ‘Velvet Goldmine’, the Arnold Corns versions of ‘Moonage Daydream’ and ‘Hang Onto Yourself’). These memories, undoubtedly, will be continued, and I’m certain that many more will be created over the course of my life. While listening to his work won’t be the same again, it will continue to incite such a passion and joy in both me and millions of other fans around the world. Because Bowie means so much to so many people – and his death won’t change that.

Rest in the greatest of peaces, Mr Jones. You were so many things over the years, but your genius was a constant. Planet Earth is blue right now, but we will forever remember the impact you had on both the world and so many of our lives. You little wonder you. xx

david bowie

“I love you so.”

Ziggy played guitar…

EDIT – 14/1/2016: This post will forever be rendered horribly ironic, for just over a week after its publication, David Bowie was dead. I thought a lot about what I’d do with it – whether I’d delete it, change the tense – but I’ve decided I’ll leave it as is, to show how much I loved his work before this tragedy. Rest in the greatest of peaces, Starman – I have always admired and loved your art like little else, and I always will, too.

(credit: Brian Duffy)

(credit: Brian Duffy)

Between last August and October, I visited the ‘David Bowie Is…’ exhibition (recently in Melbourne) twice. Curated with unlimited access to Bowie’s archives, the exhibition was truly amazing. Featuring everything from handwritten lyric drafts, to a huge number of his famous costumes, to the guitar he recorded ‘Space Oddity’ on, the exhibition renewed my love for a near-original protagonist in my fixation with rock music.

Bowie first entered my consciousness nearly three years ago. At the beginning of 2013, a friend introduced me to The Beatles, a discovery that changed almost every aspect of my life. However, as my love of their music grew into an deep passion that is still strong, she began to get tired and moved onto other artists who she also introduced me to. One of these was David Bowie. In the September of 2013, we briefly formed a duo together, and she had started to learn ‘Space Oddity’ on ukulele. She taught me the lyrics, and told me of him. But at the time, I felt that by listening to other artists, I would be betraying my love of The Beatles. He soon faded from my interest.

Bowie reappeared in my life at the end of 2013. One night, a recent documentary named David Bowie: Five Years in the Making of an Icon was screened on TV, and my parents encouraged me to watch it with them. It was through this that I learnt of the worlds of Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom and the Thin White Duke; of Hunky Dory and “Heroes”. I was especially pleased to hear about John Lennon’s songwriting credit on ‘Fame’, though it would be a year before I listened to the song. It wouldn’t be until I began using iTunes Radio in September 2014, however, that I truly became a Bowie fan. Songs such as ‘Suffragette City’, ‘Life on Mars’, ‘The Jean Genie’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ would frequently play, and I soon grew to love them. It’s been that way ever since.

There is something fascinating about Bowie. Something that allows his work to remain almost as radical and dangerously thrilling as when it was first released. Something that allows him to be an omnipresent component of pop culture, yet remain an icon of the underground. Something that allows him to be among the few “classic rock” artists that makes even the current-day listener feel rebellious and ‘different’, in a time where rock’n’roll has been largely accepted by the establishment. Something which makes his mastery of ‘sound and vision’ among the greatest rock legends of all time. This “something” – his genius – is what I aim to explore today.


Part 1: Vision.

Unlike many musicians, Bowie’s work is not solely musical. Among the great things about it is that he understood the importance of visual mediums, too – like film, fashion and photography. It is this that makes consuming his work a fascinating, multi-faceted experience, and is part of what establishes him as a true artist.

Oh! You Pretty Things

tassels 73 ziggy(1)ziggy

Asides from the music, Bowie’s image was integral in making me a fan of his work. Even more than 40 years after the “death” of Ziggy Stardust, there is still little that looks as transfixing or as outlandishly unique as Bowie did in the early ’70s. Dressing in flamboyant bodysuits and shining platform shoes, cutting his newly-bright-red hair into the famous “Ziggy” cut and applying eye-catching make-up (normally synonymous with femininity), the brand of fearlessly-decadent androgyny that Bowie created with the costumes from the Ziggy & Aladdin Sane periods is so unconventional that it cannot be defined by “male” or “female”, or even by the regular expectations of humans in general. There isn’t much in pop culture today that is as unafraid to push gender (and general) expectations – or looks as plain weird – as Bowie during that time, ensuring that his then-image remains almost as shocking and revolutionary now.

mod david bowiespace oddity hunky dory sesh

Of course, Bowie’s glam costumes are far from his only iconic fashion statement. Almost each era of his career can be associated with various outfits – his mod fashions of the mid-’60s; his hippy-inspired look – accompanied with permed hair – of Space Oddity; the long hair and dresses (and, later, frilly shirts and high-waisted trousers) of The Man Who Sold The World and Hunky Dory; the stylish, minimalist suits of the Thin White Duke and The Man Who Fell To Earth‘s Thomas Jerome Newton; the leather jackets and coiffured hair of the Berlin Triptych; the silvery Pierrot costume of Scary Monsters…and Super Creeps; the distressed frock coats of Earthling. Working closely with talented designers (Kansai Yamamoto, Alexander McQueen), Bowie merged sound with vision (pun intended!), using fashion and makeup to complement and enhance whatever themes, personas and styles he had been toying with at the time. It is his relationship with style that adds a new level to his work, helping give it its glamorous and idiosyncratic edge.

Thin-White-Duke-1975pierrotearthling

Hooked to the silver screen

Another visual medium that Bowie has also made great use of is film; this is appropriate, as he has really always been an actor. He studied mime in the earliest days of his career, and of course, his music (though often autobiographical, as well) is played from the perspective of whichever of his myriad of personas he is portraying at the time. So it is unsurprising that Bowie lends himself well to silver-screen acting, too.

the man who fell to earth 1

I’ve only seen a few Bowie films, so I’ll focus on my current favourite: The Man Who Fell To Earth. Following the story of Thomas Jerome Newton (an alien who has come to Earth, attempting to collect water for his dying planet), the film follows his painful downfall; over the film, Newton becomes increasingly corrupted by human vices and is jailed by the government whom he wrongly trusted, ending with him – spoiler alert – eternally stuck in the world he has been forced to accustom to, depressed and an alcoholic. Bowie’s feature-film debut, the film is bleak and heartbreakingly sad throughout, and almost confusingly ambiguous in parts, leading to its divisive status. However, I happen to love it.

The-Man-Who-Fell-to-Earth1

In my opinion, TMWFTE is a spine-chillingly beautiful film, and this is partly due to Bowie’s incredible performance: the Newton he portrays is always on edge of “human-ness”, though never progresses past this point; too fascinated by human phenomena, too aloof, too strange to entirely conform. Newton feels astonishingly real throughout, and perhaps this is because he is a character that Bowie had, for all intents and purposes, played before; much like Newton, Ziggy Stardust falls to Earth with a mission, and winds up failing, his story also ending in symbolic death. “Otherness” is seemingly a recurring theme of Bowie’s personas. (However, they differ and change often enough to ensure that he remains one of the most mysterious musicians around – the enigmatic and unpredictable nature of his work adding to the experience that is consuming his art. I doubt he would be held in the esteem he is if he was still strutting around a stage in multi-coloured leotards singing glam songs, for one…)

It should also be mentioned that the film owes much of its beauty to its visuals, too – I would write about this, but I feel these stills do a much better job than words.

man who fell to earth final scene

TMTWFTE is thematically as relevant today as it was in ’76. The wall of TV screens that Newton becomes addicted to foretell the arrival of the Internet & smart-devices, and the societal reactions that followed; perhaps Newton is really a human, whose differences have ostracised him from society, making the film powerful commentary on the way we treat what we don’t understand; it provokes questions about what we’d do if we ever discover alien life. It is a beautiful film, and I highly recommend seeing it if you haven’t already.

Like the video films we saw

However, Bowie’s acting talents are just as evident within his music clips and concert footage. He acts whatever part – a persona, himself? – he may be playing at the time with charisma, beauty and the same feeling of “otherness” that recurs throughout his work, making the visuals almost as affecting as the music they support. It is with these clips that his merging of sound and vision is at its peak.


Part 2: Sound.

It is no secret that David Bowie’s music is special. But as I listened to his albums while writing this post, I thought a lot about just how special it is. While his visuals are incredible and groundbreaking in their own right, his music is probably his greatest art. There is little in this world that is as magical and exciting as his best records.

Words of truthful vengeance

ziggy lyrics

I’ve felt – for a very long time – that Bowie is an incredibly underrated lyricist. Take, for example, this verse from ‘Quicksand’:

I’m the twisted name on Garbo’s eyes /
Living proof of Churchill’s lies /
I’m destiny /
I’m torn between the light and dark /
Where others see their targets.
Divine symmetry /
Should I kiss the viper’s fang /
Or herald loud the death of Man?
I’m sinking in the quicksand of my thought /
And I ain’t got the power anymore.

Or these lines from ‘We Are The Dead’:

But now we’re today’s scrambled creatures, locked in tomorrow’s double feature /
Heaven’s on the pillow, its silence competes with hell /
It’s a twenty-four hour service, guaranteed to make you tell.

Or ‘”Heroes”‘, simple yet beautiful:

I can remember /
Standing, by the wall.
And the guns shot above our heads /
And we kissed /
As though nothing could fall.
And the shame was on the other side /
Oh, we can beat them, for ever and ever /
Then we could be heroes /
Just for one day.

These lines from ‘Changes’ (or any from Hunky Dory, really):

I watch the ripples change their size /
But never leave the stream of warm impermanence.
And so the days float through my eyes /
But still the days seem the same.
And these children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds /
Are immune to your consultations /
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.

The final verse of ‘Ziggy Stardust’, illustrating the consequences of fame and arrogance:

Making love with his ego, Ziggy sucked up into his mind /
Like a leper messiah.
When the kids had killed the man /
I had to break up the band.

Ziggy played guitar.

Bowie’s lyrics are a huge part of what makes his songs great. Often, they are pure poetry. He writes with a rarely-found intelligence and eloquence; of fascinatingly thought-provoking subjects. His words are abstract, yet full of meaning; intellectual and metaphorical, yet concise; bleakly realist, yet weirdly uplifting; and for a man notoriously ‘non-political’ in public, the social and governmental commentary he writes is bitingly accurate. His lyrics are surprisingly relatable, too; while rockstars from Mars don’t exactly exist in real life, the themes – love, rebellion, our changing society, general commentary on humanity – that he alludes to are ones that most listeners will easily identify with. There are few artists that write as well as he does, and it’s a pity that he doesn’t receive the accolades he deserves.

I heard telephones, opera house, favourite melodies…

I could discuss the technical merits of the music that Bowie and his bands created. But why? Intervals and chord progressions aren’t usually the reason that a fan falls in love with an artist’s music. Take ‘”Heroes”‘; technically, it’s a simple song, consisting of only a few chords and a basic melody – but when layers of intricate instrumentation and its incredible passion and emotion is added, the song becomes among the most moving and poignant ever written.

It was four songs that drew me to Bowie’s work; ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Life on Mars?’, ‘Starman’ and (the aforementioned) ‘”Heroes”‘. Though, in hindsight, all of these songs are actually quite bleak, there is a beauty to them that makes them so irresistible. They are filled with a catchy, passionate ecstasy that forces you – the listener – to smile and laugh and sing along at the top of your lungs, yet are filled with an intense emotion that has the ability to draw you to tears. They are filled with an infectious, affecting excitement that draws you in and rarely lets go. It’s magical.

This ‘magic’ is found throughout most of Bowie’s work, and this was something I quickly discovered as I devoured his albums and songs. ‘The Width of a Circle’ is hypnotic in its heaviness and relent; ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’ is catchy and fun on first inspection, yet darkly thought-provoking on second; ‘Suffragette City’ is edgy and thrilling, enough to make you want to dye your hair Ziggy-red and invest in a sparkly jumpsuit; ‘Rock’N’Roll Suicide’ is overflowing with emotion and sadness, yet its inclusiveness (“You’re not alone!”; “Gimme your hands!”) makes you feel as if you are a member of the coolest club in the universe; ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ is lush and theatrical, yet always glamorous – never camp; even his cover of The Stones’ ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ is filled with a tightly-wound fieriness, making it as good as the original.

Once I’d listened to his early albums, I progressed to his later work, which was easily as affecting and overwhelming as its predecessors. The tense, apocalyptic build up of Diamond Dogs medley ‘Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (reprise)’ is spine-chilling in its menacing impressiveness; ‘Fame’ is irresistibly funky, making it impossible to keep your feet still (plus, John Lennon!); ‘Station to Station’ is freaky and erratic, its next move unpredictable, exploring countless styles within its 10 minutes; tracks like ‘Sound and Vision’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ are spellbinding in their synthy beauty, distracting you from their bleakness; and his latest work – The Next Day and the Blackstar singles – is still experimental, well-crafted and fresh, easily a match for the current music it is now compared against.

Bowie’s music is undeniably amazing – still as innovative, irresistible and weird as when it was first released. He sings and plays with incredible passion and emotion, making it feel more meaningful, beautiful and real than it could’ve been without – because in the end, it is passion that makes great rock’n’roll; it’s arty and intellectual, yet not painfully pretentious; it’s thrilling, fascinating, radical and stunning; it’s art. It is great enough that it still sends shivers down my spine, even after dozens of listens. The greatness of his music has affected so many people so much. And that is a beyond-incredible legacy to own.


More than 50 years after the release of his debut single, Bowie remains as relevant and active as ever. His newest album, Blackstar, is set for release in a week (on his 69th birthday), and has been hailed by critics as among his greatest work yet; his musical, Lazarus, is being shown to consistently sold-out audiences in New York; he continues to serve as an icon for many current teenagers. He remains as mysterious as ever, too; it is now almost impossible to predict what will come next, and the few media announcements he gives are never quite certain. Nothing is ever quite sure in his world, except for maybe one thing. He is among pop culture’s greatest heroes. (And not just for one day, either.)

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