The morning after the Chili Pepper concert, I awoke with “Little Wonder” looping incessantly in my head so I leaned pretty heavily on that tape I had made of “Earthling” in my car for the next few weeks. I had any reluctance burned out of me from the show we’d just seen, and I came to appreciate most of the album. Dead Man Walking” was the best sounding track that he had released since “Scary Monsters” in my opinion. When Mike Garson ended the song with that nimble Latin coda it still thrills me to this day. Indeed, all of the album [apart from the still off-putting “Telling Lies”] was an exercise in superb sound at the fore. Not all of the tracks were great songs, however some certainly passed muster. “Looking For Satellites” had the bounce and lilt of “I Have Not Been To Oxford Town” but without the lyrics absolutely tied to “Outside’s” plot. A plus. “Seven Years In Tibet” was simply excellent. Bowie’s goal of taking the sound of drum+bass techno and making rock songs with it could be mostly judged to be a success, looking backward. Was it the best use of his time and effort? Maybe not, but you can’t say he didn’t give it a good try. The result was an album that reeked of the time that it was made, but then, that can be said of most of his albums. Or anyone else’s, really.
No sooner did the tour end than did a strange Bowie release reach my Record Cell by the most unusual circumstances possible: being attached to the November 1997 issue of GQ Magazine. I was intrigued, and actually had to buy the thing to get the CD! It was a strange look into the world of “men’s magazines.” Kind of eerie, really, but the CD was mostly interesting. It sported live versions of tracks from “Earthling” and “outside” and it has my much preferred version of “Hearts Filthy Lesson” on it that really wipes the floor with the album version. Mike Garson totally kills it on keys, and the singing is far better here as well. The downside [apart from the magazine attached] was the inclusion of “Telling Lies [A Guy Called Gerald Mix,} wherein they managed to take a song I hated already and make it far worse. Life threatening, actually! I consider it the second worse remix I’ve ever heard.
The next year was all quiet on the western front for Bowie but come the Summer, news of his big business moves began to reach my eyes. His 1997 Bowie Bond issue was a brilliant scheme to raise capital quickly. He owned his masters from RCA so he issued ten year bonds on the royalties they would likely generate, and got a $55 million dollar payout up front, while surrendering any royalties for ten years. He then used that money to buy out his old ex-manager Tony Defries stake in his publishing and completely take control of his career portfolio. The upside was that Bowie could afford to tour in a club that held a thousand people at $40 a head. You do the math. I began to suspect that the Bowie Bonds made the entire intimate Earthling tour possible. It was a brilliant business move, particularly when by 2001 the bond market tanked halfway through their term thanks to the ravenous peer-to-peer beast being unleashed buy the internet.
Speaking of the internet, neophile Bowie had glommed onto computers ahead of the curve and by September of 1998, he had become a boutique ISP with Bowienet providing dialup internet to anyone with $20 a month to pay him; not a bad price given that one got 20 MB of personal web space to use. My current ISP only gives 10 MB nearly 20 years later! Of course, there were to be perks; webcasts, virtual worlds and all sorts of bleeding edge shenanigans. I didn’t bite at the time. I was working in software development all through the 90s and I had a fat pipe at my job, so I never even bothered to get online at home! From what I saw at friends’ homes with their squawking modems, it was painful compared to what I was used to.
Next: …Back to basics