David Bowie Memory Palace [part 24]

Can you remember when the whole world went "Bondi Blue?"

Can you remember when the whole world went “Bondi Blue?”

1997 [continued]

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.

GQ Magazine | US | CD | 1997 | BOWIE 81165-01

GQ Magazine | US | CD | 1997 | BOWIE 81165-01

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.

Can you remember all Flash interfaces? I'm sorry!

Can you remember all Flash interfaces? I’m sorry!

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

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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7 Responses to David Bowie Memory Palace [part 24]

  1. Echorich says:

    I was really glad that with Earthling Bowie seemed to exorcize any need to play with current trends. I’m not as convinced that even Bowie was all that satisfied with the results, but I am really glad that into the mid to late 2000’s he didn’t feel the need to “play” with glitch or dub step or trap.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Trap…?! That’s a new one on me. Of course, OMD threatened Glitch and look how that turned out!! I’d hardly call “English Electric” a work informed by “Glitch!” Then again, the first time I heard dubstep, it was a John Foxx 12″ remix [“Burning Car/20th Century” dubterror remixes] from 2008. I’m so old that I didn’t know it was dubstep for another five years, but it didn’t turn out badly at all.


      • Echorich says:

        Remixes which employ a current style or genre are one thing, but it’s when artists create in the genre of the moment – for whatever artistic reason (s) they can give us to sound convincing – is when I find myself easily deflated as a fan.


        • postpunkmonk says:

          Echorich – Except when the wheels of fashion have turned in the original direction of the band to start with. It’s a given to happen at least for a little while each 20 years or so. Simple Minds getting in touch with their Post-Punk New Wave selves beats “Street Fighting Years” all to hell and back.


          • Echorich says:

            I have to give you that Monk, but it is a wonder feeling of self satisfaction for fans such as us when prevailing winds/trends circle back to what we loved all along and our favorite acts can recognize this and benefit from it. SM, JF, even OMD can count their lucky stars and pat themselves on the back that they took advantage of the opportunity.


  2. I liked Earthling for the most part; it was less dense than Outside and the songs seemed poppier. Man I hated that inner art though! Talk about a style that dated itself! I think I saw Earthling as a stab at being current in a better “flavor of the month” than average, and while I was disappointed in Bowie being so obvious trendy I thought he did some interesting things with the genre. In later interviews he said he wanted to create a snapshot of his sensibilities and what was going on that year, and in hindsight I think that’s what he got out of it. It does remind me of Scary Monsters in some ways.

    Since I was already aware of jungle/drum n bass and such at the time, I understood what was going on on that record, and liked a lot of it (thinking Bowie had outshone a lot of what was popular at the time, notably Prodigy). The whole first half is fine by me, falters with “Telling Lies,” then recovers.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      chasinvictoria – The album has a couple of throwbacks to “Outside” to these ears. “Telling Lies” minus the skittering drum loops that bug the hell out of me would have sat nicely on the previous album, as would have “I’m Afraid Of Americans.” The latter was an Eno co-write so it’s obviously from those sessions.


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