Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The cool of the uncool, a study of sm(art) rock chp.ii

You Gotta Hang Onto Yourself...Bowie meets Lou

Across the pond there were a slew of artists trying to gain an edge, make a statement that would set them apart. In the line of bold experimentation with quality songwriting of the likes of Donovan came a young man that didn’t quit fit a mold. Well versed in the American roots rock and tapped into the British Pop of the era a young Bowie was poised to knock the socks of us all. His first single, Space Oddity set him into orbit, but left him miles away from ground control of the mainstream. Bowie pushed on with his singer songwriter ambitions and gained notoriety enough to venture to the states where he wound up at a little expose conducted by Andy Warhol. Here Bowie would meet Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground and he was forever changed.
Prior to the arrival of Bowie, The Velvet Underground had become the most important underground success story in modern music. They were the critic’s poster child and every musician who heard their sound was stunned and in some way inspired. Some say that the Velvet’s success wasn’t in the number of albums sold, which at the time was struggling by, but rather how the people who bought the albums were altered. They spawned more attempts to duplicate the sound than is really safe for any genre. But again, it would be the artistic approach to rock that stirred up the ruckus. Their live shows became notorious as the forum of the new. Mixed media of lights, film, costume, lyrics and of course music took on new dimensions, mainstream rock was beginning to perk up its ears. Managers were scrambling to find the next art rocker…lucky for us he found them.

Bowie took what he learned from the Velvet’s, hopped back home, ditched his acoustic guitar, hired Mike Ronson and decided his days as an off kilter experimental singer would take years too flourish, so he skipped to the chase. Bowie invented Ziggy Stardust, the personification of all that was rock ‘n roll. He was a star already, according to Bowie and the world needed to catch up before he faded out. Launched by the single Starman and the smashing success of the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Ziggy became of the single most iconoclastic rock figures of all time. The songs, the music, the performance, the persona and yes the getup displayed a superstar rock god on his way out, too far fallen into the glam and wham bam, the drugs, the haphazard lifestyle had taken hold. Ziggy was a falling god, but a bright glorious one at that and he brought Bowie to heights most never dreamed.

Bowie however did not begin his transformation simply by presenting himself as Ziggy, it took a few years to work out the Kinks (reference indented). The metamorphosis finds its origins in Bowie’s ability to take the songs of the Velvet’s and make them his own, soon discovering a sound far more boisterous and suiting of big timing Rockstars. No longer was Bowie Waiting for the Man…he had become Ziggy.

Ziggy found the glam and art showcase of the Velvet’s to be powerful force but what a little manager from Cambridge took away from Lou was a need to answer with a British experimental sm(art) act of his own. His answer: a demented minds exploration. Syd Barrett brought the scene full circle with his outfit Pink Floyd.

The Brits follow a new lead as the Piper guides us to the Gates of Dawn.

The Meddling of Pink Floyd.

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