How Bowie could not give everything away

The temptation was to return to blog posting on Monday 11th January. This was the day the world at large heard of the passing of the music icon, artist, rock god, known to most of us as David Bowie. But jumping in with a somewhat raw statement was a thing many seemed to be doing. Many articles interesting to read, but with a slight whiff of “getting my angle out first”, before someone else does. And did I have anything different to say anyway?

I listened to “Blackstar” the final David Bowie album prior to his passing, on its day of release, David’s birthday, the 8th of January. Before release I had read reviews, most of which said the same thing, little bit of a departure, return to form, generally pretty good, the jazz musicians here have a good thing going on. I played it twice that day. It was not underwhelming as hyped albums often are. It is interesting, but does need a few plays to open up, usually the sign of a good album. It has since grown on me some more. It is somewhat different compared to preceding album “The next day” which whilst enjoyable, was a fair nod to the past. This one different musicians, a different sound not really “bit of the weird”, but still some mystery, still engaging. A bit, well, Bowie really. Somewhat of a delight.

But there was somewhat of a feeling something a little off. Not in the quality of the album but the messages as an art piece. The black star, a metaphor? Paying respects? Remembrance of the Starman? Note, also a cancer reference (although I didn’t know that at the time). The bleak feel of both music and lyrics, and slightly detached lyrical references such as “Look at me, I’m in heaven”. The Lazarus video. But also interesting that choice of last track. I’ve always liked the album as a concept and always found the choice of the final track something to think about. If this is the final thing you do, or at least until the next one, then that track is what you sign off with. With Backstar we got “I can’t give everything away”.

Seeing more and feeling less
Saying no but meaning yes
This is all I ever meant
That’s the message that I sent

The most “pop” song on the album. Using the classic pop song trick of saying less but seemingly saying more. Well more to interpret, so more questions anyway. Listen to the chorus with “I can’t give everything”, then as it pauses before “away”, and wonder what he is actually referring to. Good songs are often written to provide a relatable thing to draw us in, and ambiguity or space left for our own interpretation. This album seemed very layered off the first few listens, and even more so now we know that he knew, that this might be his last. It makes for poignant listening now, especially that last track. Telling us something, and having a laugh with its possibilities as an art piece. And in that, tellingly, was one of my favorite things about Bowie.

As anyone familiar with Bowie’s music knows, a journey through the albums in order yields a journey through different musical styles, different characters, different moods and messages. But aside from inhabiting different roles, David has consistently worked with different musicians. Musicians who bring something different to his songs and melodies, making an easier transistion to work different ideas or go in different directions, from what had been recorded before. Often to great effect. The seventies in particular yielded a run of albums that might be unparalleled in both quality and styles. Try Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, Diamond dogs, Station to station, Low, as just some. The first two alone would make most careers! Arguably the eighties and nineties are more of a mixed bag, but plenty of high points in there. But what makes them good is not the ability to change, experiment and try something new, but the ability to connect. Good songs engage the listener in some way. Words might tell a story, or share a common experience or feeling, but also allow the listener to bring their perspective into it. Maybe a phrase in the verse or chorus when attached to a melody, or sung a certain way, connects emotionally. On the flip side, the music might hook in the listener via a myriad of ways. A catchy melody or beat, a guitar riff, or a new noise, a certain tempo or key. If you get this with both the words and music you get good and often great work. Bowie had this  understanding with music. He had this great way of bending convention, creating mystery and inner beauty, drawing in all kinds of different people who realized that yes, there is a place for them. He could change styles yes, but still with an eye on engaging the listener. Making that connection. Highlighting the different places in art, and inviting in the different people who inhabit or enjoy them. When you can do this with different musicians and make the connections consistently then it also brings something else. Possibilities.

There are a lot of bands or musicians out there, we all have our favorites, who mainly work on variations on a theme. Similar stuff each time. Sometimes that not a bad thing, sometimes it is, giving the impression of nothing else to offer or a creative tank run dry. Bowie though, always had possibilities. Somewhere else he might go. Sure some might say “well it’s possible anyone might do this or do that” in an anything is possible sense. But with Bowie things were possible in a real sense. He was not afraid to go somewhere different. It made things exciting, interesting, worth experiencing and seeing where the connections might lead. What different layers might exist, what new discoveries  might be found. He influenced people, and sometimes changed their lives just by showing us what possibilities are, what could be realized. What being different is. Not everything worked but a lot of it did. His hit ratio better than most. Wonderful quality control. Wonderful talent. It really did feel like the possibilities were endless because he was that good. His body of work speaks to this, as does his sphere of influence. And he always understood that in creating the layers, you leave a bit of room for the listener to bring themselves into it. That bit of mystery. That bit of ambiguity. Don’t give everything away, even if you want to. That last track on Blackstar, no? Even at the end he wanted to explore that space between connections and possibilities. We might ask, is that what he really meant? And he might answer that is all he ever meant.

David Bowie I always loved your work. As one of the true icons in a musical sense, you were right up there at the top. After time away from music, from 2003 till the next day, I came to appreciate your work even more, if that is possible. More reason to enjoy what you brought to us. Blackstar your final gift on your terms. Your death, a loss to many. Thank you for the art and the inspiration, the connections and the possibilities. Thanks for not giving it all away and leaving us more to find and learn about, and understand. Thank you for the music.

P.S. Just yesterday I was listening to the Ziggy Stardust album for the, I don’t know, 500th time. I still notice things going on with the vocals or guitars, and how the sound is used that I had not noticed before. So good…


Upon returning..

A belated Happy New year to you all. So whats new? Or is it same old. Do you believe in new beginnings or new starts, or do things just continue? They do continue don’t they? Myself I’m more with the latter, although the new year is a convenient break point to freshen a few things up should I want to. I’m not one for New Year resolutions. Pointless.

I enjoyed my time away from the blog, although I was relatively busy with work, but I did get in some nice family time, and of course with a 2 year old boy, there was  fun to be had. Really I had next to no time for the blog at all. The free time I did have went on other non writing projects or just leisure time. It was enjoyable to the extent that I genuinely wondered whether to return at all. Should I just take an even longer extended break from the blog?

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Thoughts on owning a Prius, and my obsessiveness

I have one of these, in this same nautical blue colour.

I have one of these, in this same nautical blue colour.

I have owned a Prius for two weeks now. It was my “Black Friday” purchase. It allows me to take a snooty look at other cars and say to myself, I am being kinder to the planet than you are. Owning a Prius though, does makes me think I have more evidence in favour of me having mild OCD. Does that sound like a positive thing? I don’t mean to mock anyone with a serious level of OCD. Let me explain. My wife says I’m OCDish because I organise my wardrobe and clothes draws. I like CD’s and DVDs to be the right way up in the boxes. I always make a sandwich the same way. You know, I like to do it that way. In return I say she is OCDish because she always has to double and triple check the door is locked when we leave the house, and has to check the hobs and oven before we go to bed, even when it is hours since she used it, and has been in the kitchen several times since. We joke that our (almost) 2 year old has it times ten, as he likes to keep his toys in certain places. If we move some when he is not around, to another room, he does not get upset. But a little later when he discovers them, he will just carry them back to where they belong, then carry on with whatever he is doing. If nothing else, it is cute.

The Prius feeds into this obsessive behaviour for me. The Prius, Toyota’s best seller among the hybrid cars, gets a great mpg. Now you can just drive it and get a better mpg than most cars. That is not enough for me. I want the best mpg I can get. Or at least I want to see how much mpg I can get. So I like to switch driving modes often, not using the “power” mode (more on that in a minute), unless required, even though really, that is the most fun to drive in. At least in a sporty sense. I’m frugal with the air con, because that too burns gas. I long slow brake where I can, because that charges the battery a little more with regenerative braking. Getting 45 to 50 mpg is a good thing. Getting 50 -55, or better mpg is an obsessive challenge I enjoy. My wife, as she reads this, is no doubt pleased that I use this car to drive to work and back, without her in it.

Also obsessive with the Prius is the way I use the smart key, which by the way, I looooove. The gist of it is that the car can sense when the key is inside it. Then you use a power button to start it, and later, to turn it off. It is also smart because the front doors, and boot (trunk), can tell that the key is next to them, and you can open them by placing your hand on the handle, or sensor, and it unlocks. The doors can be locked the same way moving your finger across a sensor or onto a button at the boot. All this means is you can use the car without taking the key out of your pocket. I can go out and the first time the keys need to leave my pocket, is when I need them to unlock the front door when I return home. I’m obsessed with that too.

Thankfully the features I love don’t end there. There are several driving modes. “Normal” the standard mode, “Eco” which reduces the power output and uses the battery more, great for stop / start traffic (especially in southern California). “Power” which increases the output, gives you quicker acceleration for those situations where it is required, and “Evo” which gives a half mile or so of battery only. I’ve no idea where I would use the latter, I’ve not even tried it.

There is a touch screen stereo which reads my iPod just fine, has sat nav, and a few features for finding fuel, or listening to Pandora. Oh it has Satellite radio too. The air con is set by temperature (which can also be adjusted from the steering wheel), then you leave it alone to get on and achieve it.

Minor downsides, the steering doesn’t have great feedback, a bit too much power steering, but I find it a whole lot smoother compared to the older car I was driving, so that is relative. The brakes are decent but a little “not entirely sharp”, but that is how regenerative brakes work. Again they are better than the older car I was driving. Yep, relative, and honestly, if you need to stop quickly, they more than do the job. The normal drive is slightly sluggish in acceleration but not too bad, and the engine whines a little bit in power mode, but the car is a hybrid, what do you expect? All in, I think it does a good job, and so far I really like this car a lot. I like driving it. I could understand why it won’t suit all people, but it suits my habits, and little obsessions, just fine. Plus I can feel good that whilst I need to drive, compared to other cars, I’m being pretty kind to the planet too.

Lexicon word of the day: belabour.

10 things from a 100 years into the future

Yeah so anyway, I was noodling about in my time machine, kind of like a Dr Who in shorts and T-shirt, and without chasing monsters and what not, and I thought there must be a way to bring some of this to you, the people of 2012. Well yeah, and you know, I have the blog in this time period so I might as well use that. Now in order to give you some more context, because you likely won’t believe those opening sentences, lets say a few months ago on Facebook, or one of those social network things, I saw this meme taken from a newspaper article from a hundred years ago, and the interesting “predictions” that it got right. Kind of interesting, check it out. Maybe someone you know wrote it. So I figured it was time for an update. Here is ten things from a hundred years in the future:

Yup, that’s what it looks like.
(Image Source: Microsoft Clip art)

  1. The latest computers which will be called brain noodles, or likely won’t be, will be thousands of times more powerful than todays fitting into something you can barely see in the palm of your hand. In fact it will fit into your hand literally, or in your head, and you’ll communicate with brain waves. You’ll still have to download software updates often, and that will still give some people a headache.
  2. Having gone through a mammoth energy crisis due to the decline in oil, and not enough initial investment in new energy sources, most electricity will be self generated via home generation. Renewable energy units will be not too dissimilar from “Mr Fusion” in Back to the Future, and do clever things with waste disposal. The majority of the rest of the electricity e.g. street lighting, public transport will also be mostly from renewable resources. The amusing thing is that Diapers (nappies for the UK folks), currently an environmental hazard, will oddly generate the most energy. Especially those with a large present in them. Best feed up that child for more free energy.
  3. Cars will fly, sort of. No really they will, but they won’t be called cars. It will allow humans to get closer to the atmosphere to drop ozone destroying gasses there. Sort of. Except they won’t run on Gas (Petrol for the UK folks). It will be something else which I don’t want to name for fear of giving the game away. These vehicles will be more fuel efficient, getting a whole 19.578% miles per gallon more than the average car of now.
  4. Toilet trained cats. No more emptying the cat crapper. If you thought number one on this list sounded impressive, wait until you get a load of how some genius decided he could take no more of his cat dumping a load and not covering it up with that smell stopping litter stuff, YOU HEAR THAT CAT? So he implanted one of those chips into his cat. It could go to the toilet on its own. And even flush the thing. And put on a new toilet roll. And close the bathroom door afterwards. Everyone wanted one, it was like the ipad of cats. You can get an in app purchase, where it will also put the toilet seat down.
  5. Diapers will bio-degrade with activation by chemicals in faeces or urine. This means you have to recycle them quickly, as in point number two above. Um, probably want to make sure that your child gets a regular change every few hours. Oh how we laughed after that long car journey. Well my wife didn’t, it was her turn to clear it up.
  6. Life expectancy will be over 100 with medical advances. Older people get even more patronising to us young folk.
  7. The world will be overpopulated. Well what do you think happens when life expectancy increases? Many people would have died some 30-40 years earlier due to a succession of natural disasters having taken place around the world, thanks in part to how we are happily ignorant to destroying the ozone layer, and generally warming up the world. This sounds contradictory, but the means of feeding people have decreased also, so it is a relative point, and a somewhat depressing one huh?
  8. Which actually means as a follow on from the previous point, that more foods and vegetables will be home grown due to the overpopulation of the world and the need to be able to sustain more of your own resources. You avoided the flooding, but how good is your high rise place now huh?
  9. But on a more positive note, for those survivors who can feed themselves, they can still use the internet version 8.9. Oh that’s not the point I meant. Technologies will allow your own body parts to be regrown via your own cells. You could grow a third leg if you want. Most people don’t do that as it doesn’t allow you to run any faster. And um, growing “the other” third leg is unpredictable, sometimes it is larger, but sometimes smaller.
  10. Music will make a big comeback in peoples lives as the quality will be so good, that the clarity of the instruments being heard give people “funny feelings”. The music of today will sound a bit rough round the edges in comparison. The “youth” will still be listening to “unlistenable nonsense”. The Rolling Stones will still be releasing records. Bob Dylan also, with “the basement tapes 72”.

So there you go. This will be like the a great mayan prophecy to some geek who finds it on the old version of the internet and posts it around on brain noodle book, for his friends to get thirty seconds of amusement out of. Attention spans of the future…. who has them? Anyhoo, I’ve got a robot to chase. Catch you laters…

Lexicon word of the day: gallimaufry.

A blogging Holiday

(Image Source: Microsoft Clip art)

Yup, that sign is about to be me, although it might be a tiny bit longer than your average lunch break. I don’t need a break as such, but outside factors are dictating that a small break is required. Regular readers will be aware that I have a new paying job, and pretty much a new routine to go with it. It is sucking up a lot of my time and likely will do for the next week or two. Well actually it will continue to suck up a lot of time, but hopefully less in a week or two once I have a more settled routine, and a few technological changes give me a bit more internet access.

Often I will write some posts ahead of time (usually not the Monday one’s obviously), but I haven’t had much chance to do that. That is a shame as I have a few ideas ready. Some of them actually good ones.

So with that in mind, I am taking a blogging break with the intention of being back on Monday 24th September. I may blog sooner, but possibly not. It will also mean I won’t have much time to read your blogs, having less internet availability will tend to do that, but I shall try dip in from time to time over the period. On the plus side, you have one less blog to read for a week or two, saving you some small amount of time also.

So till then, have fun, and keep the blog flag flying.


Lexicon word of the day: Iterative.