David Bowie Memory Palace [part 1]

david bowie - 1969

David Bowie ca. 1969 was my starting point…four years later

1973

Every journey has to have a first step, so this was where mine began. The year was 1973. I was going to be ten years old by the end of the year. I had already bonded with my transistor radio two years earlier in 1971. I proceeded to lap up a diet of top 40 US hits via AM radio without any predetermined ideas. I had no siblings to point my way forward. My parents were a generation older than those of my friends. They listened to adult contemporary pop on the radio; certainly not rock. I watched TV shows that occasionally deigned to feature rock artists, but for the most part, the time period on TV consisted of  variety shows featuring various celebrities singing tunes from primarily the current hit musicals of the day, but not always. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Eddie Albert singing “Guantanamera.’

In 1973 I was between fourth and fifth grade. A year earlier, my parents had moved from Los Angeles, California to Orlando, Florida. It had been quite a culture shock. The LA radio station I favored [KHJ-AM] had been a ground-breaking leader in the broadcast industry, and featured a pretty adventurous mix of music. I was exposed to pop, rock, funk, soul. The Orlando AM stations were much more conservative. Unless atypical artists “crossed over” into pop, they were hardly features of the WLOF-AM playlists. In the summer of 1973, to capitalize on the late-breaking success of the “Ziggy Stardust” album [finally] in America, RCA Records trotted out a reissue of the four year old “Space Oddity single from 1969.

david bowie - spaceoddityUK7A73

RCA Records | US | 7″ | 1973 | RCA Victor ‎– 74-0876

I had never heard the song in the original year of its release. Pop music didn’t yet exist for me in 1969. I recall hearing the song with new ears as it began its climb up the US charts, oblivious to its vintage. I guess if RCA saw The moody Blues’ hit “Nights In White Satin” from 1967 trotted out five years later to reach number two on the US Billboard charts, this was certainly worth a try. I warmed to the song quickly and enjoyed having it move up the charts every week in a stately fashion. The song was certainly the first time I’d been exposed to alienation as a pop music theme. It was unusual then and still unusual today.

There was a melodrama inherent in the song that gave it a heart-breaking pathos that I could barely process as a child. The Gus Dudgeon production was cinematic and warm, which was good, because space was very cold. This song could have been terrifying to listen to. Especially as a child. If Major Tom was going to abandon the planet of his home for uncertainty, at least the orchestrations of the tune made it palatable, but that’s just the nine year old in me talking. In reality, Bowie’s producer at the time, Tony Visconti, had balked at producing the track; having considered it shoddy goods from the pen of Mr. Bowie. It then fell to producer Gus Dudgeon to commit the song to tape. He would then go onto to shepherd the early career of Elton John to much success.

In 1973 the song rose to number 15 on the Billboard charts, which was important since I listened every week to the Billboard American Top 40 countdown show. It was the only place where I got to hear certain songs. Songs like “Walk On The Wild Side” a year earlier by Lou Reed, and it had been produced by Bowie, though I had no inkling of that as a child. Still, “Space Oddity” was allowed onto the WOLF-AM playlists in spite of its unusual character. This was the song where I had noticed David Bowie and I wondered what music I’d hear from him in the future.

Next: …A huge leap

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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16 Responses to David Bowie Memory Palace [part 1]

  1. JC says:

    this is going to be a great run of postings…..

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  2. Echorich says:

    Different city, Monk, but much the same prefigured into my musical exposure before I met with David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust. I had an older cousin – 6 yrs, who took me under his wing and exposed me to FM rock – it helped that my parents had a good stereo system and NYC was the bastion of a wide variety of FM Rock Radio, so you would think that discovering David Bowie would have been as easy as just turning on the radio. It may well have been, but my reaction to Bowie wasn’t. I was immediately smitten. This “alien” rock music which Bowie/Ziggy was producing didn’t relate to anything I knew and I just wanted more. Major Tom’s needed fix may have been more intravenous in nature, but mine was aural. I gained a focus for the music I wanted to hear – a focus that was both aural and visual. Space Oddity was the first shot, but then I heard Ziggy Stardust and Suffragette City and music was never going to be the same.
    We had a “candy store” down the block from home and they had an amazing selection of magazines and newspapers and I saved some of my meager allowance and blew it on a Rolling Stone issue that either had Bowie on the cover or as an article. I remember my Dad saw it and commented that “that spaceman song is on the jukebox at work” (he was a bartender at a local tavern) and when the guy came in to cycle the records, he brought a well worn copy of the 7″ single home for me. He also was none to critical of Bowie’s look and his understanding he was an “oddball” as he would put it to his seemingly innocent son – me. I still have that worn out 45, and it’s a treasure on so many levels.

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  3. SimonH says:

    You made me go back and try to work out when Bowie first appeared on my radar – but I soon realised its not easy. I was born in 66, so was it the Laughing Gnome or Space Oddity…also was it first time round or re-release? Laughing Gnome became a staple on Junior Choice a kids radio show in the UK, so maybe it as that… My memory is too foggy to work it out, but it does make me conscious of how Bowie was simply ‘there’ for the vast majority of my life. Space Oddity made me sad and a bit scared as a child…the thought of drifting off into space no one able to help was powerful. I do remember asking my parents why the press wanted to know whose shirts he wore! Then all these years later it was the playing of SO early on Monday morning directly after the first radio announcement of the news that started the tears. Some cynics here have been talking about ‘grief fests’ etc, all I can say is that you can’t argue with an involuntary reaction like that.
    The weird thing I worked out in the end was that the first Bowie record I bought was the Baal ep, not sure how that happened but there you go.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      SimonH – Well, you were the right age when the “Baal” EP dropped. I think it’s that simple. Me? I only bought a copy sometime in the last decade… I think.

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    • Echorich says:

      SimonH – Any exposure to Baal has to be applauded. Sure it was a sort of unexpected sideway’s hit in the UK, given the TV exposure of the program, but in the Bowie Canon it stands out as a work of personal satisfaction to Bowie and really showed his musical knowledge off really well.
      Personally, growing up in a house filled with classical music and opera, I started going to see at least one opera a year at The Met or NYC Opera with my Mom. In 79, I went with my Mom to see Mahagonny staged for the first time at the Met Opera and it was a revelation. I knew Alabama Song, of course, and my Mom made sure I read up a bit on who Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht were. It was one of the last operas I went to as a kid.
      When Baal came out I was the ONLY one of my friends who bought it and it never came out when I had friends over, but it has always been a special Bowie release – probably because it was so different from the rest of his work.

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      • postpunkmonk says:

        Echorich – I was shocked to see that RCA issued it here, back in the day, as it was completely under the radar, but they knew they would be losing their cash cow when his contract ended imminently, so in hindsight, that might be a good reason for it. At least we got it on a 12″ EP with what must be impossibly wide grooves. The Germans got the best edition though: 12″ gatefold with copious liner notes.

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  4. SimonH says:

    Just realised my first Bowie ‘record’ may have been a Top of the Pops album cover version of Life on Mars…. For the initiated these were budget album recreations of current hits by session players…good enough for me at the time…wonder how it sounds now?

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  5. SimonH says:

    Blame my dad, when I wanted Sparks, This Town, he came home with a TOTP album…better value:)

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  6. SimonH says:

    Oh and there was a TOTP version of Pretty Vacant I believe!

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