David Bowie

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Lester Bangs

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David Bowie has never been my hero. I always thought all that Ziggy Stardust homo-from-Aldebaran business was a crock of shit…. I thought he wrote the absolute worst lyrics I had ever heard from a major pop figure with the exception of Bernie Taupin; lines like "Time takes a cigarette and puts it in your mouth" and "screwed up eyes and screwed down hairdo / like some cat from Japan," delivered with a face so straight it seemed like it would crack at a spontaneous word or gesture, seemed to me merely gauche. As for his music, he was as accomplished an eclectician (a.k.a. thief) as Elton John, which means that though occasionally deposited onstage after seemingly being dipped in vats of green slime and pursued by Venusian crab boys, he had Showbiz Pro written all over him….

[Young Americans] was not an album beloved of trad Bowiephiles, but for somebody like your reviewer, who never put any chips on the old chickenhead anyway, it was a perfectly acceptable piece of highly listenable product. More than that, in fact—it was a highly personal musical statement disguised as a shameless fling at the disco market, the drag perhaps utilized as an emotional red herring. Young Americans wasn't Bowie dilettanting around with soul music, it was the bridge between melancholy and outright depression, an honest statement from a deeply troubled, mentally shattered individual who even managed, for the most part, to skirt self-pity…. Young Americans was his first human album since Hunky Dory, and in my opinion the best record he ever put out…. [Station to Station is] an honest attempt by a talented artist to take elements of rock, soul music, and his own idiosyncratic and occasionally pompous showtune / camp predilections, and rework this seemingly contradictory melange of styles into something new and powerful. (p. 58)

The first line on the album is the worst: "The return of the thin white duke / Throwing darts in lovers' eyes." Somehow, back in Rock Critics' Training School, when they told me about "pop poetry," I didn't and still don't think that they were talking about this, which is not only pretentious and mildly unpleasant, but I am currently wrestling with a terrible paranoia that this is Bowie talking about himself, I have a nightmare vision in my mind of him opening the set in his new tour by striding out onstage slowly, with a pained look in his eyes and one spotlight following him, mouthing these words. And, quite frankly, that idea terrifies me. Because if it's true, it means he's still as big an idiot as he used to be and needs a little more cocaine to straighten him out.

But I'm really not worried. Because you can always ignore the lyrics if you want, since this is one of the best guitar albums since [Lou Reed's] Rock n Roll Animal…. So who gives a shit what "TVC 15" means, it's a great piece of rock 'n' roll. And when words do appear out of the instrumental propulsion like swimmers caught in a rip tide and not sure whether they wanna call for the lifeguard or just enjoy it, well, at those moments dear reader, I know you're not going to believe this but those words usually make sense! In fact, in (for Bowie) relatively simple, unconvoluted language, they bespeak a transition from the deep depression of the best of Young Americans … to a beautiful, swelling, intensely romantic melancholy in which the divided consciousness may not only have kissed and made up with itself but...

(This entire section contains 709 words.)

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even managed to begin the leap towardsrecognizing that other human beings actually exist! And can be loved for something besides the extent to which they feed themselves to the artist's narcissism. (pp. 58-9)

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I think that Bowie has finally produced his (first) masterpiece…. [This] and Young Americans are the first albums he's made which don't sound like scams. Bowie has dropped his pretensions, or most of them at any rate, and in doing that I believe he's finally become an artist instead of a poseur…. (p. 59)

Lester Bangs, "Chickenhead Comes Home to Roost," in Creem (© copyright 1976 by Creem Magazine, Inc.), Vol. 7, No. 11, April, 1976, pp. 58-9.

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