It’s almost time for the Grammys again, and despite the glimmer of hope that was Arcade Fire’s 2011 victory, this year’s list of ridiculous nominees has me frothing at the mouth with fury once again. Best dance album: Robyn’s “Body Talk?” I like it better than most of what’s vying for the grand prize, but I seem to recall listening to it as it was released piecemeal throughout 2010.
Best new artist: Bon Iver? He premiered in 2008 with an album so good Kanye recruited him for the ego trip he released in 2010. I’m pretty sure he’s dropping a “best of” album soon, too. One thing’s clear: the people behind the Grammys don’t understand how numbers work.
Then again, if they did, they’d probably take one look at their ratings in recent years and just cancel the show.
Fortunately, there’s one number associated with this time of the year that never fails to drag me back from the brink of Lovecraftian madness: David Bowie’s age. The world famous musician, movie star and Spongebob voice actor celebrated his 65th birthday on Jan. 8.
I know most of you are probably thinking, “Who is this Dave Bowie character?” or “Didn’t he write the song that played over the credits in Memento? I didn’t like that at all!” If that’s the case, then you’re probably also wondering who Arcade Fire is and should just go back to scouring Tumblr for news about the last “Twilight” movie.
Most people from our generation just know Bowie as “the crotch guy from Labyrinth,” and think his music is all glam rock. In reality, he only released one proper glam album — “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” — after four solid works of folk rock. Ziggy’s big, bright sound quickly shot the fallen Starman back home, but the character began to leak into the artist’s personality.
Fearing insanity, he retired from the Spiders, hung up the dress and traded glam for a mixture of soul, funk and jazz.
The tours promoting his next two releases — Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs — retained, and even heightened many of the outrageous elements that had become associated with Ziggy’s stage shows.
In many ways, these three albums have been equally influential and important in their sounds and visions, and many pop musicians have spent their entire careers trying to match them. This influence continues today. Lest we forget, without our Lady Stardust, there wouldn’t be a Lady Gaga.
After months of near-constant touring with such a physically demanding act and very little time to recover between shows, Bowie needed to take more and more drugs not only to keep getting up on stage, but to function at all.
You can actually see him hitting rock bottom in Nicolas Roeg’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” which was filmed while he recorded 1976’s “Station to Station.” He was so high at the time that he can’t remember either, but that might just be an excuse for agreeing to star in the film. After filming ended, Bowie continued taking drugs and it severely affected both his professional and personal life.
In a moment of clarity probably catalyzed by the premiere, he decided to quit the drugs, and began recording the artistically ambitious Berlin Trilogy with Brian Eno. The trilogy’s first album, “Low,” was received much like Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” with a unanimous panning from critics who were fired soon thereafter.
Low’s ambient chords and droning, layered vocals have kept gaining popularity since its release in 1977, and most people agree that it’s one of the decade’s best musical works.
It was one of the primary influences for the Nine Inch Nails’ breakout album, “The Downward Spiral,” which they played while they toured with Bowie in 1995. The recently deceased (and sorely missed) LCD Soundsystem also drew inspiration from the Berlin Trilogy Bowie’s next album, “Scary Monsters and Super Freaks,” went for a less avant-garde, more commercially viable sound, and was rewarded with high sales and surprisingly wonderful reviews by all of the notable critics in the music world at that time.
In case you were wondering, the Skrillex EP, “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites,” is indeed a fitting reference to this album.
Fitting because, as dance music goes, LCD Soundsystem was pretty artistic, and Skrillex is much more commercially viable. That Skrillex EP is also up for best dance album at the Grammys. Oh, and those Arcade Fire guys? Bowie discovered them.
Wilson is a Take 5 scholar.