You Belong In Rock and Roll

Daron, here. Hi folks. I had to write something to go before today’s chapter, not because of anything in the chapter but because of the news we got late Sunday night that David Bowie had died.

I know a lot of you were upset about Scott Weiland so recently. Honestly, I felt sad for Scott’s wife and kids not just that he’d died but about the way he’d lived, and I felt sad for having lost a peer to the same battle that way too many rock musicians have lost. Most of you know, or realize, that Scott Weiland and I are basically the same age and came up in the music industry at almost the same time, and in some similar ways. So yeah, I was bummed about Scott, but I kind of was able to shrug and moved on. It was the death of a guy.

Bowie’s was the death of a god. I don’t know how else to put it. He wasn’t supposed to be mortal. He was supposed to be a constant of the universe like the speed of light. For me, he was. It’s like something in the fabric of my universe has changed fundamentally forever. Weiland made me sad. Bowie fucking HURTS. It just fucking hurts. Ziggy’s worse off than I am.

This is the thing. I’ve had a kind of love/hate relationship with Bowie’s music since I was a kid. Why? Because it frightened me, challenged me, made me question my assumptions (and my dreams) about music, stardom, and artistry, and very very deeply challenged my ideas about how art and identity are linked. Ziggy challenges me in similar ways: he was thinking about those things a decade before I was ready to face them. But as you know I did eventually get my shit together to start facing the big questions about identity and art, about genre and assumptions, and all that. There were times it felt like Bowie was taking up the one slot the music industry allowed for chameleonic queer exceptionalism. There were times I just fucking hated a song…but there were far more times when I loved a song. And I loved his musicianship, and the way he brought musicians together–everyone who’s worked with him has stories about it.

When THE NEXT DAY came out by surprise a few years ago I snapped it up immediately and found it on repeat in my iPod for about a month. I’d pretty much decided he’d retired and ridden off into the sunset, so to have a new album that was so referential to his old work and yet sounded utterly new, hooky and tight, it was like aha, here’s a coda to a career…or, wait…maybe it’s a new phase? Then we heard he was working on a new album. Aha, new phase, we thought.

That album, Blackstar, was recorded with a prog jazz band in mostly just a few live takes, apparently. Does that sound familiar to you? That’s the way I like to do it. Rehearse and rehearse and then catch lightning in a bottle instead of painstakingly re-recording each part and putting it together with tape. Or software. To have the album drop–and it’s breathtaking, by the way–and then to have him die a few days later? And the album has repeated references to death and rebirth and he knew he didn’t have long to live because he had cancer for 18 months and DAVID BOWIE ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME YOU TURNED YOUR DEATH INTO YOUR FINAL ACT OF ART YOU MOTHERFUCKER

Ahem. Anyway, yeah, we’re all in deep mourning here. I was going to write about how devastated I was when John Lennon was shot, because I was–remember at the time I was listening to the White Album EVERY DAY and absolutely idolized the Beatles in a way I didn’t idolize other musicians. But it was like at the moment Lennon died I realized fuck, he was just a working musician like me (yeah, I was 12, almost 13, and I’d already started playing the occasional gig with Nomad). It was like I suddenly realized he had feet of clay.

Bowie still doesn’t have feet of clay. He’s a saint now. He’s who I’ll be lighting a candle to the next time I need help with a song or a band or a record company. That is, if once I come out of mourning, I find I have any faith left at all or if my whole heart is ashes. This is hard. Okay, I keep saying Ziggy’s taking it harder than I am but maybe that’s a lie and it’s just that I’m more stoic about it.

We’ll heal. I know we will. It’s just hard right now. It’s not like the first time we’ve ever been through a death. We’ll get past it. Eventually. I thought about not posting today, about going dark out of respect, but ctan and I talked about it (in a comment thread from April that we got sucked into) and we agreed no, in this dark hour people probably need us most. So here’s today’s post. If you’re in mourning like we are, take heart, here’s a hug from me to you. And if you’re not, be gentle with those who are. This is a tough one.

-Daron

(Today’s chapter starts below)
———-

The next day there were more meetings, I signed more papers, and I needed to start hiring some people. To do that I needed to listen to the album. Apparently it was in English and then they had also added two Spanish language versions of two songs. This wasn’t that unusual. I remember hearing French and Spanish versions of songs by The Police when I was in high school and Sting’s accent being pretty obviously terrible.

Ziggy and I were sitting in Barrett’s office and he had the record on vinyl–I guess they were still a few years behind us in Latin America and the vinyl LP was still the standard, unlike how CDs were pretty much taking over everything in the USA. Barrett dropped the needle onto it and the song in Spanish came pouring out of the speakers he had set on top of a low, wide file cabinet.

I went into some kind of weird deja vu. I hadn’t realized how much Spanish I had picked up while I’d lived in Seville. I felt at the time like I still didn’t know anything, but I could understand pretty much all the lyrics to this song, which, granted, was a love ballad and not super complicated. But it made my brain feel turned inside out.

I think that slightly delayed my actual reaction to the song which was, honestly: this is some bland ass shit.

I’m pretty terrible at hiding my reactions, as you know. I’m sure I looked concerned.

Ziggy played with a rubber band nervously. “What?”

I blamed it on the Spanish thing, and actually I wasn’t sure what language was going to come out of my mouth. “Nothing. I just…forgot I’d kind of learned Spanish and this is giving me severe flashbacks.”

“Huh.”

I had a sinking feeling, though, as we listened deeper on the album. I grilled them about instrumentation on a couple of the tracks and made notes on a notepad about it, but the further it went the more I thought, God, this music has no bite to it at all.

Some of that was the guitar was mixed way down and the synthesizer was mixed way up. On the third track on the album I asked, “Who is this on guitar?”

“Like it matters?” Ziggy snapped.

The two tracks that really stood out were the one he and I had written together–but of course I would like that one–and one other one that sounded mind-itchingly familiar. I kept trying to figure out if it was a cover without coming out and asking them who did it originally.

I finally broke down and asked, “Who wrote that one?”

Ziggy was giggling behind his hand.

“You did,” Barrett said. “It came via Trav.”

“Ahhhhh.” I felt like an idiot then, and I was already prickly as hell about how dull the rest of it sounded and how I was going to deal with that, and also knowing we were going to have to build a set-list that included some Moondog Three greatest hits but suddenly feeling very unprepared emotionally for that discussion.

Then the aesthetician breezed in and after quick introductions–her name was Linnea but she told me to call her Linn–I excused myself to the restroom to have a quiet moment to myself.

This men’s room was a wheelchair accessible single-occupant one with a toilet, a urinal, and a sink. I splashed my face with water and washed my hands and stared in the mirror but I wasn’t really seeing myself. I was thinking: what the hell have I gotten myself into?

Then I took a deep breath and thought to myself, don’t freak out, maybe that’s not what’s going on. Maybe this is a leftover reaction to the fact that for so long I resisted doing this and I’ve got, like, emotional fallout with a slow half-life.

So I examined my feelings (is the reason I hate that word because of the song? Feeeeeelings…. I just hate the way it sounds, but anyway…) and decided no, I’m not mad at Ziggy, mad at myself, or regretting working with him or going on the road… I just really don’t like some of the musical choices they made. Some of these songs are really dull. Really, really dull.

Could be worse, I told myself. Could be Broadway. Besides, you know things never come off the same live as they do in studio. And this is Ziggy we’re talking about. There’s no way it’s going to seem dull when he’s on stage.

Right. That left the problem of how not to make it obvious to Ziggy or the rest of them that I didn’t really love the music, just to keep from sowing dissent or unrest, you know? Or hurting Ziggy’s feelings. I needed to find out how much of it he wrote before I said anything stupid.

Anxiety prickled up my neck and down my arms, making the hairs on my forearms stand up. Deep breath.

When I went back into the office, Linn the aesthetician–a woman about four-foot-nine with aggressively black (i.e. likely dyed) hair and eggplant eyeshadow that somehow managed not to look like bruises–was holding forth about some new lighting effect while pouring vodka into a pitcher of something opaque and pastel-colored. Peach, pink, yellow? Not sure. She handed me a glass without breaking stride of her explanation and I took a seat and listened for a while. Hm, fruity. The drink probably calmed my nerves more than anything. I listened with half an ear while they talked about colors and look for the stage set and dancers’ costumes.

“The thing is to present a polished, finished look to it all through coordination of elements, but there should be some things that evoke a D.I.Y. spirit.”

Quite suddenly her finger, which had a talon of a nail on the end, was pointed right at me. “I like the look of your shirt.”

I looked down at what I was wearing. I had my leather jacket on, but under it I was wearing the shirt with Ziggy’s handprint on it. I chuckled a little as I pulled my jacket off so they could see it. “This is Ziggy’s handprint, you know.”

“See? Perfect.” She grabbed Ziggy’s hand and examined it front and back. What she was looking for, I don’t know. She made a note on a notepad.

She breezed out again after about two hours. Meanwhile I had made myself a list of questions about how many musicians to hire. Did we need a drummer and a separate percussionist? Horns or could we do with just a saxophone and keyboard player–possibly the same person? Backup singers and if so how many? I had drawn a diagram of a stage based on something Linn had said and made question marks where various people might stand.

“I’m seeing Priss at two,” Ziggy announced. Then he asked me, “Come with me?”

“I should make some phone calls.”

He stood and stretched, his shirt riding up to expose his flat belly. It was a convenient moment to feel a tendril of desire for him curl through me.

“I’ll meet you here on the way back, then,” he said, and leaned over to kiss me. I wasn’t totally sure how a casual kiss should work. Jonathan would do it sometimes on his way to work and once in a while I tried to hard and we knocked teeth, or noses.

Ziggy kissed me on the very corner of my mouth, which somehow felt more intensely intimate and private than if he planted a wet smacker right in the middle.

“Okay,” I heard myself say as he floated out the door.

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Comments 9

  1. sanders wrote:

    I haven’t read the chapter. I’m too shaken by Daron’s statement on Bowie. I very nearly picked up the phone to actually call you, Cecilia, when I saw the news yesterday morning. Then I realized there were no words that could be said. “Bowie is dead” doesn’t feel real, it can’t be true.

    At the same time you guys were watching Bowie as a musician, as he slipped and shed and grew new skins, I was learning him as Jareth in Labyrinth, the fantastic and fabulous sorcerer feeding nightmare fuel and hope alike to big sisters everywhere. I bowed down to his costume where it’s displayed in the EMP in Seattle two years ago. No other artifact of music, not even the displays of Hendrix and Nirvana, meant as much to who I am and how I conceive of wonder in the world.

    How does someone so large, so fundamental, so much a part of the foundation of the world die? I can’t wrap my head around it.

    [Reply]

    ctan Reply:

    It’s huge.

    Here’s what I wrote about it myself: “It’s like a guardian angel is gone.” http://blog.ceciliatan.com/archives/2690

    Ziggy has actually been locked in his room for a couple of days and I think he’s actually building a temple/candle shrine to Bowie in there.

    [Reply]

    ctan Reply:

    I’m sorry you didn’t call except all I would have done is ugly-cry at you so maybe it’s good you didn’t. :-)

    Ziggy has a message for us all, though, that made both me and Daron feel a lot better. I posted late tonight. Kind of a bonus, I guess.

    [Reply]

    Posted 12 Jan 2016 at 9:42 am
  2. s wrote:

    I don’t really know what to say, about any of this really. Bowie was such an iconic figure. His loss is tremendous. It’s amazing how much someone we never met or knew on a personal level can touch our lives so deeply, and how their loss can affect us so hard. I’m sending hugs and love to all of you, Daron, Ziggy, and Cecilia…and you too, sanders. Love you all.

    As for the chapter, it’s heartbreaking that Ziggy’s music sucks, especially after the magic he’s able to create with you, Daron. I can’t say I didn’t expect that to happen, but still. Good luck, sweetie. I think you’re gonna need it when he figures out how you really feel, or when he tells you, ’cause I’m sure he already knows. This is Ziggy we’re talking about…

    [Reply]

    sanders Reply:

    I think Daron might not be giving Zig enough credit here. He’s a good musician. That means he probably knows the album is bland as fuck but, because he’s also one calculating little so-and-so, it’s the sort of thing that will sell idiotic amounts. I can’t see him deliberately putting out something terrible, or even mediocre, without having some agenda behind it and some upside for him.

    [Reply]

    s Reply:

    Oh I have no doubt it will be wildly popular with teeny-boppers and make him bazillions of dollars. But when he snapped at Daron, and knowing how well he knows him and can read him, I can’t help thinking there’s going to be trouble. (Yep, I still don’t trust the truce…)

    [Reply]

    s Reply:

    Omg sanders, I went to the UK basketball game tonight. They played 3 Bowie songs (trust me that’s not typical). I didn’t cry…at all. Nope.

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    They’ve turned XM channel 30 into an all-Bowie tribute channel until Monday. I’ve got it on right now. I thought it would be painful to listen to but actually hearing his music is making me feel a lot better.

    I bet making my own will make me feel even better.

    [Reply]

    s Reply:

    I was just surprised to hear it there. They added some “new” songs a couple years ago. Imagine Dragons “Radioactive,” “Sweet Caroline,” “Welcome to the Jungle,” and (dear god did it take long enough) “We Will Rock You” among them but I’d never heard a Bowie song there so it was clearly a tribute to play so many of them. Not sure how many people got it but it was still very touching.

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    I get the feeling the guys who work scoreboards in stadiums are all wannabe deejays. Or even are actual deejays in their dayjobs.

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    You might be right. I might just be too bitter about the whole thing to be able to hear anything worthwhile in it. Or maybe it’s just the blandest pop that ever popped. It’s only an opinion.

    [Reply]

    s Reply:

    I’m picturing Ziggy’s album as something like Bruno Mars. His music is wildly popular but still sucks (IMO. Hopefully I didn’t offend anyone).

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    Yes. This is Ziggy we’re talking about. I don’t know what I was expecting–I *should* have been expecting it, I guess, but somehow I had kept from really thinking about it until I was hearing it. I should’ve known, I guess.

    [Reply]

    chris Reply:

    But what if it was AMAZING and you were not part of any of it? I don’t think there is really a good solution other than “let’s get the band back together”…

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    I would’ve been okay if Ziggy made a kickass record with Jordan without me (kinda the way I’m okay with him sleeping with Colin). I could be happy for him. This just…doesn’t move me. Sigh.

    [Reply]

    Posted 12 Jan 2016 at 12:19 pm
  3. Jennifer wrote:

    I’m a long time lurker, never commented here before… but I just wanted to thank you for Daron’s Bowie comments. That was just beautiful and encapsulated exactly how I’m feeling, too.

    [Reply]

    ctan Reply:

    You’re welcome. And thank you for choosing now to un-lurk! :-) You guys all make me feel better. (And Daron too)

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    Welcome to the world below the posts. *bows*

    [Reply]

    Posted 12 Jan 2016 at 12:29 pm
  4. Lenalena wrote:

    OMG, you killed me. And I can already tell this whole tour is going be dancing on my corpse.

    Ziggy’s tears a couple of chapters back are even more gut wrenching in retrospect,too.

    Gah!

    [Reply]

    Lenalena Reply:

    And let me just say I feel justified now in reserving my judgment on Barrett. HOW COULD HE HAVE LET THIS HAPPEN!?

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    He’s chasing the money. That’s his job. I understand that. Artistic integrity is not his job.

    It’s the fucking artist’s job.

    I better shut up now. And keep my mouth shut for the next couple of months.

    [Reply]

    Lenalena Reply:

    Yeah, good luck with that.

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    yeah, I know. sigh.

    [Reply]

    chris Reply:

    Help him make the music better live. I don’t envy you the fine line you’ll be walking. And what happens when the “opening act” becomes more popular/gets better reviews than the headline act…. shutting up now myself!

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    I don’t think our opening act has any chance of overshadowing Ziggy. But yeah. Injecting some life into these tunes is going to be my job. *scratches head with pencil*

    [Reply]

    Posted 12 Jan 2016 at 1:31 pm
  5. Alan Katz wrote:

    Everyone’s talking about what an icon Bowie was, and his influence on music. Yeah, that’s all true.

    But for me, it’s something more personal. I’m about the same age Bowie was when he passed away. Perhaps it’s that, or just the times, but Bowie was the music of my life. His genius was not his changes, it’s that his changes led, or reflected, the changes humanity was going through. Each “phase” of Bowie reflected a phase of my life, and he was not just the music that became the signposts of the times, for me he was the times. And even though he’s gone, most of the memories of my life will exist, as long as I live, over a haunting subtext of Bowie.

    God rest his soul. He showed us all the dignity of living, the profound beauty and power of music, and what a life well-lived looks like.

    I will miss him terribly.

    [Reply]

    ctan Reply:

    I’ve been amazed how many people felt such a personal connection to him. Not just musicians. Artists, game designers, writers, all kinds of people who make up my internet tribe…I’m astounded in the very best way by it.

    Thanks for sharing this, Alan. <3

    [Reply]

    Posted 12 Jan 2016 at 10:44 pm
  6. Tim wrote:

    When my dad, who was an actor, died of cancer he had a fairly long advance warning and wanted to control his death the way he controled his life. He wrote his own obituary and managed everything having to do with his life/legacy in the theatre and told eveyone he was ‘going on tour out of town for a long time’ as a euphamism for the fact was soon to die. It made him very very happy to be able to do this and it was about as good as you can get when you find out you only have some months left on this earth. I think it must have made David very happy to do this as well.

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    I think you’re right. That’s what Ziggy told me last night, too, I guess. I’m still gutted he’s gone but I feel better about it somehow.

    [Reply]

    Posted 13 Jan 2016 at 12:45 pm
  7. Janie Friedman wrote:

    I didn’t know until very early this morning, on my way to work, when I decided to catch up. I’ve been working very odd hours and been mostly unplugged as a result.

    Haven’t been able to to even cry, yet cause work.

    I discovered Bowie around ’81, during high school, although I was aware of him in the’70s. He made it ok that I was figuring out I was bi, and weird, and a sci fi/fantasy geek. I haven’t loved, or even liked all of his music, but the parts I do are among my top music of all time. One of my gods has left and I am emptier for it.

    Regarding the chapter. You are in a tough spot, D. Guess you just have to do the best you can…?

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    You know me: I’ll muddle through somehow. Heh.

    [Reply]

    Posted 14 Jan 2016 at 4:06 pm
  8. Bill Heath wrote:

    Daron, Ziggy knows you think the music is both pop and pap. There is no chance he has a different opinion. When he goes live he wants to be *live*, not just in person. So what does he do?

    He can’t wholesale change everything in the album. He’s a singer and performer, not a well-rounded musician. And, yes, he’s after the money but he’s also after the art. So, knowing what he does, and knowing what he wants, I’m surprised he just didn’t find the most creative and well-rounded musician in the Hemisphere and ask him to be musical director with a three word job description: Fix This Shit.

    Or, maybe that’s exactly what he’s done.

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    Oh. Jeez.

    [Reply]

    Posted 15 Jan 2016 at 5:05 pm
  9. mtnwomanbc wrote:

    Just a drive-by de-lurk…I f*cking love this chronicle! I think I read everything thru Vol 8 in 2 weeks.

    I especially loved Daron’s tribute and reflection on David Bowie music, life and death. Like others, I haven’t always loved his music, but it’s always challenged me. Some of his early tunes marked some rites of passage for me (e.g., dual virginities w/BF to Suffragette City by intention and laughter, which will forever be a fond memory). But he’s always been more to me than that. Like you, his death left an aching hole in my heart, but listening to his music new and old has provided much solace. Blackstar s his final gift to us, as well as a beautiful coda to his amazing oeuvre.

    I still cry a little bit everyday, though.

    [Reply]

    ctan Reply:

    Thanks for delurking! <3 <3 <3 We’re still feeling the loss here but listening to Blackstar does seem to help. I wonder if he had an inkling of what we’d be going through.

    [Reply]

    Posted 21 Jan 2016 at 6:14 am

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