David Bowie: Songs on the Bowie Spectacular – Part 1

In case there was somebody who missed it, David Bowie died the classiest of deaths – he celebrated his birthday, released an album, and quietly left us – at least, left those of us who were already chewing on his lyrics – without a hint of his condition.

On his 69th birthday, David Bowie released his 27th studio album (or 25th if you choose to leave out Labyrinth – a silly mistake – and Tin Machine), Blackstar, which is without a doubt an album filled with poignant lyrics – for those who care to dig into them.

People did of course make comments about how Bowie “didn’t look that well” in the video for Lazarus. We all now know the reason why, but given the lyrics and tone, it wouldn’t have worked if he had looked top of the world.

For the past two weeks, I have been engaging in what I know as a “Bowie Spectacular”; this is when you’re driving with the windows down, rain or shine (or, more accurately, rain or rain), with every Bowie track released in one large shuffling playlist playing as loud as the radio will allow (which isn’t that loud in my car, sadly).

What I especially love about this man was how classic he is. His music, as Rick Wakeman recently showed, is incredible. They’re pieces of art that he has managed to bring to life, but they’re so much more than that.

It strikes me as odd that someone can flatly state, “I don’t like David Bowie.” I can understand how a song here or there might not be appreciated, but there seems to be something for everyone among his vast collection.

It’s difficult for me to list my favourite tracks, but because these are the ones on my mind right now, here is my Top Five Bowie Track List (this week).

1. Tired of My Life

A strange place to start, but Tired of My Life is the start of this week’s list.

The lyrics are amazing, the tune is a classic. His harmony works beautifully in this, providing something delicate, balanced and reflects a sorrow worthy of the title. As the title suggests, it sounds almost hopeless and lacking in any real drama, but the chords do the lyrics justice. It’s not perfect, but it could have been – which is why he re-worked it for It’s No Game.

I find that singing along to this is virtually impossible, if only for the fact that I can’t help but listen. As for the lyrics and the meaning behind them… Well, who knows?

Throw a rock upon the road and it breaks into pieces

Shake a branch upon the snow and the sun is defeated

Pull the curtains on yesterday and it seems so much later

Put a bullet in my brain and I’ll make all the papers.

Listen to Tired of My Life below.

2. Loving the Alien

Loving the Alien from the album Tonight never fails to get my pulse racing and my passengers covering their ears. When this track comes on, I scream out the lyrics with no cares. When I die, it will probably be because I was singing this so loudly my head exploded and I crashed into a tree.

I find this song strangely mellow and poignant; in contrast to the video, which occasionally shows a quaking blue, gold-toothed Bowie as well as some kind of Thriller-style dancing goblin king surrounded by what I can only describe as a grey mushroom band, the vibe this song gives off is quite placid yet powerful. I find it quite hard to explain, but the song fills me with something no other song can provide.

Now, the video itself seems so happy. To my mind, it’s impossible to dislike it just for how often the bard is shown grinning. Sometimes it seems like a bit of a sarcastic smile, but most of the time he’s having fun.

What about those lyrics, though? They seem quite self-explanatory. Bowie claimed he wrote the lyrics out of anger. He believed the crucifix he wore had held some kind of power over him – more luck than religion – which led to this track, a statement of how religion is misused and perhaps blindly followed regardless.

My personal interpretation: With references to the Templars, Saracens and Palestine, the song goes on about how historically religion has marched into a foreign land and bullied the land’s inhabitants to believe their tripe – believe in the invisible man in the sky or we’ll have your heads! These people justify their actions by believing it’s what their God wants; the things their God didn’t want them to do don’t really matter because they’ll just tell God they’re sorry and their sin goes upstairs to the clouds with him.

Then there are the people the holy warriors have converted: the people who do believe and pray, but the prayers are born from pain.

Torture comes and torture goes

Knights who’d give you anything

They bear the cross of Coeur de Leon

Salvation for the mirror blind

But if you pray, all your sins are hooked upon the sky

Pray and the heathen lie will disappear

Prayers they hide the saddest view

(Believing the strangest things, loving the alien)

And your prayers they break the sky in two

(Believing the strangest things, loving the alien)

You pray ’til the break of dawn

(Believing the strangest things, loving the alien)

And you’ll believe you’re loving the alien

I’m now wondering why I love this song so much, actually… But to me, this song is a masterpiece, no matter what its critics say. In the words of Bowie, “Oh, fuck critics!”

3. I’m Not Losing Sleep

Oh, how this song has played often in my mind – usually when I’m losing sleep.

I’m Not Losing Sleep was a 1966 B-side single. How did it make the B side? I mean, I Dig Everything is great an’ all, but this track’s fantastic!

I’m not going to go into one about the lyrics [too much]. It’s not a song about bitterness but of determination. Could it be that perhaps an acquaintance had hit the big time and left his old friends behind him while Bowie still struggled? Or were these just lyrics?

Yes, I’ve read the morning papers

Telling me that you’ve made money

Do you think I’m gonna crawl, then think again

Though I’m dressed in rags, I’m richer

Though I eat from tins, I’m healthier

Though I live in slums, I’m purer than you, my friend

Too bad, I’m not losing sleep

[too bad] I’m just counting sheep

[too bad] I’m not losing sleep, my friend

Look around and see the friends

The ones you left, our friends deserted

See the guys that used to talk and drink with you

Don’t look down your nose at me

’cause I won’t ask your sympathy

I won’t be your yes-sir man for anything

Have a gander at some merry ’66 dancing below while you listen.

3.5. Glass Spiders

Excuse the numbering. Glass Spider begins as a David Attenborough piece, going into depth about the glass spider’s habitat, which it adorns with the bones of its victims and shiny beads and dew. The wind would wail as it passes through the spider’s shrine. The spider upped and left, leaving her babies behind, knowing they’d survive somehow, but the poor little things would get scared when the wind whistled through and look for their mummy…

You know what? I’m a sucker for animals. I’m a bigger sucker for abandoned animals, and while I love a good docusong, this breaks me down. I won’t bother with these lyrics, but it’s safe to say whaaaaat?

4. Who Can I Be Now?

The lyrics to Who Can I Be Now have a certain charm. To me – possibly not to Bowie – the lyrics highlight the mask some of us wear. I, for example, find that my personality depends entirely on whose company I’m in at the time.

There are people I’m an open book with, whereas with others I might emphasise certain traits or dull down others; with some I will demonstrate my knowledge when necessary while with other people I will dumb myself down.

Then there are relationships. You’ve tried, you’ve failed, you’ve tried again and failed – you fall in love and there’s an uncertainty. Should you continue as you always have been when you were previously unsuccessful? Do you act differently? Come to that, are you aware you’re acting differently?

Who can I be now? You found me

Who can I be? Fell apart, you found me

Now can I be now? You found me

Now can I be real? Can I be?

None of that may have been meant by the writer of this song; for example, this is more of a ballad. A jazzy one at that. Not exactly the sort of thing one associates with Bowie. One thing about our David though – he was hardly predictable.

5. Underground

This won’t be the last time a Labyrinth track makes this list, but I love this video for the song, recorded after the film and not featuring Jareth. Everything about it screams ’80s, and that’s no bad thing. What wasn’t ’80s yet timeless about the film? Likewise, the lyrics will stand the test of time.

The interesting thing is that the lyrics suggest that ‘little girl’ (Sarah) shouldn’t give up, whereas that’s exactly what Jareth wanted her to do. Not the smartest Goblin King there ever was!

No one could blame you for walking away

Too much rejection, little girl

No love injection

Life can be easy

It’s not always swell

Don’t tell me truth hurts, little girl

Cos it hurts like hell

One of the rumours surrounding Labyrinth is that Michael Jackson was strongly considered as a viable candidate to play Jareth. Can you imagine that? I like Jackson but him as the Goblin King? Do me a lemon! Likewise, another internally laughable option was Sting. Let’s be fair to both: neither had the gruffness (read as: manly vocals) necessary to pull off such a feat.

Bowie is the one true Goblin King. All hail King Jareth!

Watch the video below.

Cutting my Labyrinth entry short for one reason: it’s going to feature heavily! But until then, because I’m nice like this, have a magic dance.

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