Back in the mid-1990s there was new buzz-word and I was getting in early. I was combining computer programing, photography, drawing, music and writing into one strange hodge-podge called “multimedia” with my company, Micro Magic MultiMedia. I called what I was doing playing with “Sound and Vision”. As you might guess, there was a continuous soundtrack to this period, one of the most creative of my life: David Bowie’s album Low. To this day when I hear something from Low I am instantly transported back to my little studio, experimenting with primitive animation or creating some of the worst spaghetti-code in existence. Even the smells and tastes of that time come back. I also had Heroes on quite a bit, though it doesn’t bring back quite the same memories as Low.
There are few bits of music that so define a period in my life. I found so much inspiration from these two albums. I know it was a collaboration of genius, Brian Eno and David Bowie with Robert Fripp adding to Heroes. I love Brian Eno’s music, but none of it was quite at this level. Robert Fripp’s King Crimson hit a few highs almost at this level, but, again, it was as much his collaborators on those projects.
And David Bowie?
Although to me “The Berlin Trilogy” was the top of his career, he had many high points. In fact, in some ways he is “The Miles Davis of Rock“. What I mean by that is that people (particularly Miles himself!) always said that he reinvented music 6 times (Quincy Jones said 7). And this was true – he was part of every revolution in Jazz from the 40s through the 70s, most of which somehow or another made its way back to mainstream and pop. He wasn’t always the one who created the new sub-genre (for example, Bird and Dizzy created Be-Bop, but Miles was there as 2nd trumpet player to Dizzy) but he was in from the start. David Bowie was like that. He might not have been the one to start a new genre like Glam or New Romantic or Punk, but he was in many from the start and was often the reason they were brought to the forefront of music.
He was an innovator. He was an original. His music often spoke directly to his audience. “Yes, I’m an outsider, just like you. Most people don’t get me. If you understand this, I understand you,” the music seemed to say to many kids in the 70s and 80s.
I first remember David Bowie as an individual artist from back when I was about 13, perhaps 14. My older brother and sisters seemed to bring home a new album every week and for that week I’d have a new favorite. Bowie’s Changes One, an early greatest hits album, was one that came in. Even as more came in it remained a favorite, along with a few prog rock records and some Frank Zappa. I was a little naive as a kid and didn’t get all of it, but I loved the music. In my mind these sounds: early Genesis, early 70s Zappa and early Bowie, combined into a new type of music, part progressive rock, part jazz-modern classical-rock fusion, part Glam, all with a sarcastic, satirical twist. Actually, that description could hold true for much of Bowie’s career!
Although David Bowie provided the soundtrack to large segments of my life, and he is one of only a handful of artists I have ever seen live in concert, he was only my number one favorite during that multimedia stage of my life. Of course that makes sense, since he was one of the greatest multimedia artists ever, combining music with acting with video and other visual arts. I’ve always liked him, but haven’t always really followed him.
Since Mr. Bowie is gone I have been rediscovering his music. I bought his last two albums and have listened a few times. They fit in with his body of work so well. There is an edginess to Black Star, but no more so than anything else he did. It is a new vision, but still so much part of the old. It looks forward while acknowledging his past. And I’ve been listening to his older works, going all of the way back to the earliest music. Of course The Berlin Trilogy has been getting heavy play, bringing me back to those creative days and nights.
I don’t have a proper tribute for David Bowie. There is nothing really I can say to add to the millions of words spoken about him over the last few days. But I can keep his music as my soundtrack for the next few weeks. Perhaps it will help trigger a new era of creativity.
(The picture at the top was copied from Wikipedia. The two images below were used on different projects by Micro Magic MultiMedia)