In a 1999 interview for Rolling Stone, David Bowie said that thirty percent of the lyrics he ever wrote referenced his dreams. My impression is that, considering the characters he played throughout his career and the creativity involved in it, the percentage is quite small. Bowie is not only known as an incredible musician but as a multi-talented artist. “Cracked Actor”, a BBC production from 1974 explores the artist’s US tour “Diamond Dogs”, his drug habit and struggle to let go of his famous alter ego, Ziggy Stardust. The producers chose the title, taken from one of Bowie’s songs, to name the documentary – it seems like the theatrical inspiration and behavior seemed to be present whether he was playing a role onstage or not.
(love the road trip part where he sings along to Carole Kings’ version of ‘Natural Woman’)
One of the world’s most influential musicians of all time, Bowie makes himself always present. His last studio album was released in 2003 and since then we’ve seen him in several different occasions: supporting indie rock acts like the Arcade Fire and Scarlett Johansson, being awarded with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and playing roles in Hollywood features such as “The Prestige” (where it seems that the character was specially designed for him: a modern Wizard of Oz we all know Bowie is).
Arcade Fire's fairy godfather
This summer, two different releases bring us back to David Bowie’s music, although in completely different ways. “Live in Santa Monica ’72”, recorded during his first U.S. tour, and “Life Beyond Mars”, a compilation of covers produced and recorded by emerging electronic artists. Both records illustrate Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars’ phase and their release in the year of 2008 couldn’t be a louder statement that ‘Ziggy’ was a highlight in his career.
“Live in Santa Monica ’72” is considered Bowie’s best concert album and was only available as a bootleg for over twenty years. What once was considered a rarity and part of a fan memorabilia, is now being officially released by Virgin Records. Curiously, it counts on a surprisingly good sound quality, backed by a great set list which includes the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting for the Man”, “Jean Genie” and, of course, “Ziggy Stardust”. I believe that the way it was recorded made the album more interesting than it would’ve been if its official release was planned ahead. The mix between instruments, Bowie’s voice and the crowd’s reaction to each and every song seems to bring it all to a perfect equation.
In 2007 David Bowie turned 60 years old. According to indie Hip Hop label Rapster Records, the birthday brought an idea of recording a compilation of covers inspired by the artist’s songs. Rapster is also responsible for gathering electronic artists around Radiohead’s hits for a cover album they called “Exit Music”, released in 2006. (The release didn’t have a good effect on music critics and reviews like Pitchfork’s are harsh on the project. The website gave “Exit Music” a rating of 0.6).
Despite the negative reviews towards Rapster’s former cover production, “Life Beyond Mars” comes out in the end of July with a buzz in the online media. With little effort you can find some of the tracks to download. I recognize I didn’t fall in love with the project right away. Even though I consider myself a David Bowie and electronic music fan, it was hard to mix both and have some sympathy for the mash-up at the beginning (even though I like “Earthling”, Bowie’s ’97 electronic-influenced album). A week has passed and it made me look at things in a different way. I allowed myself to know some of the bands, such as Au Revoir Simone – whose keyboards are a trademark of their music and their performance an almost ethereal version of “Oh, You Pretty Things!”, Matthew Dear and Kelley Polar, most of them at the beginning of their careers and assumed Bowie fans.
I couldn’t find any articles that reflected David Bowie’s opinion on both summer releases. It’s hard to imagine his disapproval, though. Known as rock’s first and best chameleon, he walked through his career using different genres as steps and exploring personalities for inspiration. While a live album that reflects one of his best moments as a performer may shine a light over a new generation, a project that translates the same generation’s recycling of his own work might be well accepted by a man that once took risks as a musician himself.