David Bowie Memory Palace [part 10]

David Sylvian seemed creatively hamstrung on the Glass Spider tour

David Sylvian seemed creatively hamstrung on the Glass Spider tour

1986 [continued]

Another soundtrack project [these were getting far too numerous for comfort] popped up before 1987 rolled around. Julien Temple’s “Absolute Beginners” project was given copious amounts of UK hype, given the Colin MacInnes origins of the film. His book of the same name was a much-beloved, seminal 60s piece of British pop literature that captured the zeitgeist of a generation. The Jam already took the title for a great single of theirs, so when Bowie took another stab at a song with that title, it already had the whiff of yesterday’s news. I never saw the film. It was envisioned by Temple as an over the top hollywood musical by way of and the cast was stuffed with singers like Sade and [I’m using the term loosely here] Patsy Kensit as well as Bowie himself rubbing shoulders with the mere thespians.

EMI America | US | 12" | 1987 | V-19205

EMI America | US | 12″ | 1987 | V-19205

Again, I let the MTV video be my guide. The Clive Langer/Alan Winstanley vibe was probably right for the project, it’s just that their music hall roots spoke to Bowie’s own in a bad way. While Bowie had begun his career taking stabs that his first manager, Ken Pitt, saw as pointing him in a Tommy Steele all around entertainer manner, it’s true that I didn’t think much of that approach. It was not until Bowie was making proto-post-modern rock and prefiguring Post-Punk rock that he resonated the most with me. This was too genteel and drab, though marginally more interesting than the album material that I was hearing at the time. I saw the video. I passed.

Virgin | UK | 7" | 1986 | VS 906

Virgin | UK | 7″ | 1986 | VS 906

when-the-wind-blowsAnother soundtrack single was released in 1986. “When The Wind Blows” was the title song to an animated film of the same name dealing with nuclear holocaust. Given the subject matter, I don’t think the film ever got a release in America! To this day, I’ve not heard the song. It’s on a few Bowie compilations that I do not own. It’s missing from his video collections. Nice sleeve art, though. Malcolm Garrett came through.

1987
The next year rolled around and Bowie was right there with an album and tour. Too bad it was “Never Let Me Down!” With trepidation, I watched the first video premiere on MTV and while the “Day In, Day Out” video had a prescient Daryl Gates vibe to it that was certainly interesting, politically… the song was a tired “Let’s Dance” re-tread. When Duran Duran re-wrote “Let’s Dance” as “The Union Of The Snake” that was one thing. When Bowie was reduced to self-pastiche… ouch! Much ado was made about the “Glass Spider Tour” which would be an arty, theatrical extravaganza like nothing since the abandoned “Diamond Dogs” tour, but I wasn’t buying any of it. Especially when I heard that the lead guitarists for the album/tour was to be… Peter Frampton? I get that Bowie took art classes as taught by his schoolfriend Peter’s father, but in 1987 Peter Frampton was no one who I ever needed to hear again. Even over a decade later.

EMI America | US | CD | 1987 | CDP 7 46677 2

EMI America | US | CD | 1987 | CDP 7 46677 2

A later single from the album was “Time Will Crawl,” and this one really seemed like a Bowie song to me, in spite of its MOR trappings. The deeply strange lyrics were actually intriguing. If the third single, the Lennonesque title cut, hadn’t been so pedestrian [complete with faux Stevie Wonder harmonica] I might have picked up a used copy, but no. This was now the fourth consecutive Bowie album that I dared not buy! If I could have taken a time machine back to 1980 and told myself this fact, I hardly would have believed it. Worse yet, when the Glass Spider tour reached the backwards state where I lived, I would finally get a chance to see David Bowie in concert. The tour was appearing in Tampa Stadium, just 90 minutes away. While I would have seen Bowie even during the Serious Moonlight tour, but now he had the aroma of damaged goods to me. I nor any of my friends took the brief trip to Tampa to see this show. Tellingly, a Bowie fanatic friend of mine who lived in Tampa at the time also sat this one out.

Next: …The only way is up  

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9 Responses to David Bowie Memory Palace [part 10]

  1. Actually that’s incorrect … I took the trip over to Tampa to see the show. It was VERY BROADWAY. It was one of the INCREDIBLY RARE occasions I have ever or will ever attend a “stadium show,” and this was a textbook on why: it’s incredibly difficult to get actually see the show, you end mostly watching TV (the big screen projections or LEDs). Years later, I saw Bowie in concert again in Orlando, only this time he’d figured out how to use the necessary TV screens to SUPPLEMENT the show rather than BE the show. But I digress …

    My overwhelming memories of it were about THAT MULLET, noting that Peter Frampton looked like he was having the time of his life not being the star (in fact I think a lot of people there had no idea it was him, and he mostly just got on with the job, all those dancers and choreography (VERY MUCH a forerunner of top acts like Katy Perry et al today!!). The songs were varied from across his career, which is why I went, and the live versions of the NLMD songs were better (indeed, this seems to be a theme for Bowie’s 80s work). I have always liked “Time Will Crawl,” but you’re spot-on about “Day In” being a retread.

    Two other memories from that show: there was a couple sitting a few rows down from me that WOULD NOT SHUT THE FUCK UP (very clearly coked up) for the first hour and finally (possibly in response to some, um, prompting) just got up and left. It was though they were at the bus station and had NO IDEA there was a show going on.

    The other memory I have of that show was thinking that this was Bowie’s setup for his eventual Vegas show. It was certainly like that in execution, sort of like the PSB concert you and I saw much later in Miami but they Boys made it less like Vegas and more like Broadway. In context, Bowie was an old guy (we all thought) by then, struggling to stay relevant after nearly 20 years on the scene and after his “children” had claimed all his great castoffs. I thought I was seeing Bowie heading for the rich and safe hills after years of taking risks, as a lot of artists do. Eventual children’s albums, family-friendly movies, it was all coming together. Wayne Newton’s gotta retire sometime, right? :)

    But then …

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  2. Tim says:

    I don’t have the investment in Bowie that a lot of music folks do, just late to the game and some I like lots and some I’m just meh.
    I have to disagree on the title track for “Absolute Beginners” – I sincerely think it’s a great pop song and unfortunately it carries the baggage of the rest of Mr. Bowie’s career. If some band that one never heard of did that one people would be going nuts about it, Bowie does it and it’s an inferior product. Maybe for his overall resume it is, great song anyhow in my book.

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    • Echorich says:

      I think Bowie’s contributions to Absolute Beginners pass the sniff test. They are highlights of the film, as are the scenes he carries. Someday, someone, other than I, will write something nice about That’s Motivation – Bowie’s film stealing scene from Absolute Beginners. I’ve always thought Julian Temple brought Bowie in so he would have a friend around during filming, more than anything else.
      When The Wind Blows and the prior year’s This Is Not America with The Pat Metheny group are two of the highlights of Bowie’s 80’s output, IMO. And I agree Mr. Garrett held up the side with the single graphics.
      I have little good to say about Never Let Me Down. I actually prefer Tonight if a comparison must be made. Only good thing that came out of it was my second chance to be around the great man while Day In Day Out was filmed on the streets of L.A. I got one of my photographer’s the gig to be a set photographer for the video and Temple enjoyed his NYC sarcasm so much that he asked him back for a few Jagger & Stones videos (feather in my photographer’s agent cap) – but I digress…this gave me the opportunity to be on set and watch Bowie basically learn how to rollerskate for two straight nights.
      The Glass Spider Tour was quite frankly embarrassing. Yes the band sounded great live, but Bowie did everything he could think of to pantomime his own career. The worst moment of the show had to be the opening with Bowie in this Eames style office chair lowered from the rafters (in a stadium) to the stage while singing into a telephone. If it was meant to be Avant-Broadway-New Wave-Vegas theater, then I missed the point completely. It wouldn’t be the last stadium show I’d see Bowie perform, but it is certainly the least memorable.

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      • Tim says:

        I am a fan of his take on “Volare” which is only on the import version of the soundtrack. “That’s Motivation” is fine, nice beat, but it doesn’t hold up too too well outside of the context of the movie. Weak movie great soundtrack, a trend that would really snowball into the 1990’s and early 00s (paging “Real Cool World”).

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Tim – Gosh. Did I ever hear “Real Cool World?” Can’t remember. Must be a sign!

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          • Tim says:

            The movie is best forgotten, the soundtrack was more hits than misses (also where Electronic’s “Disappointed” came from). Re the soundtrack comment, I wasn’t speaking of Mr. Bowie specifically, in the pre-Amazon mp3/iTunes world there were a lot of soundtracks with songs exclusive to them that made being a completionist even more frustrating. Too many times the soundtrack was far better than the movie that it supported and sometimes I don’t think all of the music was in the movie (or prominent in the movie – Batman Forever may be guilty on both counts there).

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            • postpunkmonk says:

              Tim – Soundtracks became moneyspinners in the post-Saturday Night Fever Era. They really took off with product like “Flashdance” hit the airwaves. I keep getting paranoid that I am missing rare cuts by my favorites because I don’t bother to look at soundtracks when I’m in used record stores! I do own that Electronic single; their apex by my reckoning!

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  3. JC says:

    PPM….this series, combined with the wonderful insights and observations of the regular commentators, is a joy to behold.

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      JC – Since I dare not go down the road of a Bowie Rock G.P.A., this is the next best thing. Plotting my experience of Bowie in the order that it happened. Bowie stands tall with most of my commenters and passions run high, so the discourse is vibrant. It’s at times like these that the blog form really shines. Thanks for the compliment!

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