We all have different tastes in music and different reasons for liking what we do. Obviously it is more than just the sound we like it is how those sounds make us feel. A particular album could have gotten you through a hard time or every time you hear that song you get all nostalgic and think of old friends. But maybe it became something more.
I think of music as an experience, an experience that can spark a whole series of actions, feelings and other experiences. Sometimes those experiences effect you so specifically that they helped make you who you are today.
Here is an email from a friend discussing why he is so excited about the new David Bowie record “The Next Day“. I enjoyed this background story so much that I asked if I could share it on the site.
You don’t have to have a shared interest in David Bowie or any other bands or artists pointed out to understand everything written below. It doesn’t matter because you have experienced something indescribable with music as well, and you can relate.
I wanted to explain why I am excited for the new Bowie record.
Twenty years ago, I was 13 years old and I liked Nirvana. They were the first band that I told my parents I needed to get their CD for Christmas and the first band that began to slightly shape my young malleable persona. I tried to grow my blonde hair a little longer and thought about cutting holes in the knees of my brand new Levi jeans. I also asked my mom to buy me flannel shirts in which she replied, “Flannel shirts? Your father’s closet is full of them; he wears them for house work.”
On November 1st, 1994, 6 months after Cobain’ death, MTV released “Nirvana Unplugged”. I made my mom drive me to Sam Goodies to get my hands on anything that could possibly be “new” material from Nirvana. I got the CD, went up into my room and pressed play. The first 3 songs were raw, stripped down versions of songs that I knew and loved. Then track 4 came on and it changed everything. Everything. An unfamiliar guitar riff kicked in and Cobain began to sing lyrics I did not know, “We passed upon the stairs, we spoke of was and when…”
A cover song?
I thought, Nirvana is good but who ever came up with that guitar riff and those lyrics is a genius.
I opened up the Liner notes and read:
Track 4 “Man Who Sold the World” written by David Bowie. David Bowie? Doesn’t he sing “White Wedding”? No, that is Billy Idol. Who is David Bowie?
In 1994, this was not as simple of a question to ask as it is today. I couldn’t type into Google, “David Bowie” or instantly stream his material on Spotify or ask Siri “Who is David Bowie?” The only thing I knew is that I needed to find out who Bowie was and I needed to hear more. For the first time I became a music detective and this hasn’t left me since. I walked to the local library, opened the card catalog and looked up Bowie’s name. I found countless references in books entitled “The History of Rock n Roll” and even his own book called “David Bowie: A Rock n Roll Odyssey”. I opened these books and the stories I read and the images I saw were truly alien and I felt my small 13-year-old world instantly shift and open up into something new, colorful and exciting. I saw him in photos with people I never heard of before, Andy Warhol? Who is that and what is with that wig? I saw images of a flamboyant Bowie, literally looking like an alien, in a Japanese Kabuki dress and wearing makeup. He was on his knees, playing his band mates guitar with his mouth. He was simulating sex, gay sex. I quickly turned the page and read an interview from 1972 where Bowie came out as gay. I felt light, like the weight of my paranoid closeted adolescence lifted off my body and floated to an all accepting Cosmos. These thoughts that were eating away at me, making me think I was weird, wrong, not normal, all of a sudden became OK. I was instantly connected, hooked and had yet to hear the rest of Bowie’s music.
I spent the next few years saving up money and buying as many Bowie albums that I could at the local chain record shops. His music, his lyrics, his album artwork all spoke to me in a way that I could not explain and I kept this all a secret. When I turned 16, I got a job and a car. I spent my time driving around to independent record shops from Philadelphia to New Hope to Princeton. I was looking for any rare material by Bowie, VHS videos of his live concerts and music from any band somehow with a connection to Bowie. I bought music by bands that influenced Bowie and I bought music from bands that said Bowie influenced them. My musical world had truly opened and there was no stopping the over-whelming amount of musical material I got to enjoy. I eventually got to see Bowie live 3 times, which I can only explain as the best, most natural high I have ever felt. It inspired creativity in me and gave me an uncontrollable urge to want to create my own music and perform my own music live…
2003 was the last David Bowie album. I was excited to open the artwork, read the lyrics and listen to the music. I felt like I was 13 years old again, hearing new music for the first time. Bowie taught me that the excitement and creativity birthed from just being young should never fade, no matter how busy we are in our modern, stressed out adult lives.
On January 8th, 2013, I woke up with my first thought being, it is Bowie’s Birthday! I looked over at my phone and saw 2 texts from friends; I never have texts awaiting me at 6:00am. Both texts read, “Bowie has a new album.” Excuse me? For the past 10 years I had been checking the Internet frequently for word of a new Bowie album. There was never any word of new material. Though it was difficult to imagine, I had accepted that Bowie had completed his musical journey. Still lying in bed, I searched on my phone “New Bowie Album” and instantly breaking news of a new Bowie song, new music video, a new album and images of new album artwork digitally exploded in my face. The first ever musician to have an online music website somehow kept the fact that he was recording a new album completely a secret for two years. In a world saturated with information, Bowie truly shocked the music community. Other musicians, producers and record executives commented that this could change how bands and record labels handle new releases. At 66 years old and years out of the spot light, his new song “Where are we now” went to number one on I-tunes, pushing aside Rihanna and Taylor Swift. This seemed impossible to almost everyone, including myself.
Though obviously excited for anything new by Bowie, I was honestly under-whelmed by the first two songs released off of “The Next Day”. I have never been a big fan of singles and Bowie has never been known as a single releasing musician. “Where are we now” and “The Stars are out tonight” were good but I knew when I heard the album in its entirety that they would magically make sense and sound all new in the context of the album. What was great were the strange and creative music videos accompanying the songs. Tilda Swinton, dressing as an androgynous Bowie? Yes, please!
So last night, one week until “The Next Day” was to be released, I got word that the entire album was streaming for a limited time for free on I-Tunes. The excited 13-year-old me instantly kicked into gear and it was a perfect night for it. I had the entire house to myself. I hooked up my Bose speakers and let the “The Next Day” engulf me. It is fantastic. After 50 years in the music industry and 26 studio albums David Bowie has made one of the best albums of his career. I am not just saying this as a Bowie fan but I am saying this as a fan of music. The album is full of guitar riffs that are dirty yet shimmer with life, horns explode inside mid-tempo ballads and drums snare over top of pure Bowie-esque anthems. Bowie’s unique vocals deliver fragile lyrics reminiscing about ideal versions of his past then burst with criticism and paranoia about where all of our futures could be headed. The two songs that under-whelmed me as singles over-whelmed inside the album and showed me that music can still give me so much excitement that I started to tear up with happiness. This is why, the forever 13-year-old music detective, is excited. Not just for ”The Next Day” but all the other new and old music there is to share and discover, and now it is easier than it ever was before.
David Bowie’s “The Next Day“, is available now to pre-order and comes out on March 12th.