Moving past the spiritual normality around death and dying, I needed to take some space within words to reflect on what David Bowie meant to me, my family and our culture. It’s been three days since he took off for his home planet, leaving us all startled. I wanted to wait this long to post because I felt some space was needed to take a long close look that wasn’t too caught up in the emotion of the moment.
On January 8th, Bowies 69th birthday, Bowie released his 25th album entitled Blackstar. Three days later he died. If you go back and read the lyrics to the track “Lazarus” you can clearly see this was very intentional. He was saying goodbye.
Who the fuck does that? That level of genius, bravery, wit, sarcasm and poetic beauty can’t even be understood just yet. Maybe it won’t go down as his best album musically (or maybe it might?) but it may go down as one of the most important statements ever made in rock and roll. To be able to face death and make your work about it while it’s happening in nearly real time is really the essence of being alive and honoring this incarnation. Running straight into the god damn mountain with reckless joyful abandon. I can’t think of another rock and roll star who has made their death also an artistic statement.
Art is life and death. Life and death is art. Maybe Bowie’s dabbling into the Buddhist trip exposed him to the bardo states of consciousness that allowed him to embrace the circular nature of all living things. Seems like that.
To even use the phrase “rock and roll” doesn’t even fit with David Bowie. Unlike, many of his peers Bowie transcended genre, cultures, classes and labels. Yes, he had a certain sound that remained un-mistakably “Bowie”, but in end it’s clear that music was just his medium for a much bigger expression. Not a classic rocker, not an art rocker, he was just an artist who used sound to weave together tapestries of fashion, rock, jazz, funk, sex, politics and multi media. Watch “Ziggy Stardust, the film, read the lyrics to “Young Americans”, listen to “Low” and then watch the video for “Lazarus’” – this is a 40 plus year career with some of the most elegant and consistent art making the world has ever known. This is Picasso or Edison.
On a historical level it’s the physical end of a very specific time in our history. The fact that there isn’t a David Bowie in physical form to contribute to the world around us is an ending of sorts. Rock, as we currently have it defined, is now dead. Knowing Bowie was always out there lurking in the shadows and ready to leap forward with a big statement has been a constant presence in the history of modern electric music. Yes, Dylan is left. So are members of the Dead, McCartney, Brian Eno, David Byrne, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. Even with these giants around, it still feels like there’s a void left in the present sense. Bowie was doing stuff that no one else was even considering. His constant desire to push forward into new territory was sometimes challenging but always worth checking out.
“If you’re ever sad, just remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.”
And most importantly on a personal level, this digs so deep and here’s why. David Bowie was my mom’s favorite musical artist. She raised me on his music. Not just the hits but all of it. Deep tracks too. As far back as I can remember every single Bowie album was there on vinyl. All the big amazing covers, the crackles of the needle hitting the record were the sound of my childhood. Pink Floyd, Talking Heads were also in there. Billy Holiday too. But it was Bowie that was the real centerpiece of everything she loved. So much so in fact, that she even styled her own look after him in the early 80s. She’d put out on display the covers of Aladdin Sane and ChangesOne (the greatest hits album) as sort of a mirror to her current style. As I came of age and I started to understand what this music was about it quickly became a part of my childlike zeitgeist of wonder and worship. When my parents went out at night I would play Ziggy Stardust loudly and dance around alone in the living room pretending that I too could be Ziggy. The first song that I learned to play on the guitar was “Space Oddity”. This was the fabric of the Learydrome when my mom was still the Queen.
Bowie’s death feels like a part of her died too. This may sound dramatic, but it’s true. It’s just an association that I can’t quite pin down, but feels so raw and potent to me. I’ve made peace with death many times in my life and am at peace with this one too. However, the magnitude will mark my life so far as “Before Bowie” and “After Bowie.”
They broke the mold after you David. In fact, you may have made the mold to begin with. Shine on.
Growing up in my household it wasn’t really cool to like Bruce Springsteen. My household was made up counter culture ideology, intellectual elitism, refined pop culture pundits and the music we listened to was reflective of that. Think David Bowie, Talking Heads, Pink Floyd, Lou Reed and Brian Eno. All good music to be certain but a far cry away from the raw everyman quality that Springsteen sings about. Even when I got into the Grateful Dead in my mid teenage years my parents initially decried it as sloppy, dirty and aggressively un-hip.
I remember when I was around 12 years old my parents, at the behest of Chris Blackwell, took me to see the Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band “Born in the USA” tour at the LA Coliseum. I was too young to really understand what was going on and only appreciated the sprinkles of the MTV era hits that were played in the midst of a four hour (!!) concert. Even so for Christmas a year later I asked for the Springsteen “Live 75-85” box set and cherished it during my youth.
The stark and literal pictures that Bruce painted with his lyrics seemed like another world to me during those years. I really had no exposure to the working class or the blue collar American Dream that was apparently not made good on. I blame no one for that, we each our exposed to the reality we’re part of and other ways of life can seem so far away unless we actively go out and seek them.
Bruce wrote about things that I really knew nothing about (and might still not). Even the pictures that Bruce’s sang about in the sentimental songs felt like this quaint mystical world that I only saw in movies, “The screen door slams Marys dress sways, Like a vision she dances across the porch, As the radio plays…”
Somehow, somewhere deep inside of me I grew up longing for the simple romanticism that a Bruce Springsteen fan had towards the world, love and life. The Grateful Dead, without question, helped to simplify my palette of the American ethic. “Truckin” was almost a song that you could hear Bruce Springsteen sing.
All of this is to say, I have no idea how I became such a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. And this is a very round about way of writing a review on two of the best concerts that I’ve ever seen in my life.
I’ve faithfully gone to see the last three Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band tours each time taking careful note that I’m witnessing one of the greatest communions that rock and roll has to offer. There really isn’t a more vibrant example of the Church of Rock and Roll happening in full effect. The relationship between the band and the audience is direct, every fan in the arena feels part of the experience. And last weeks shows at the LA Sports Arena were no exception.
With Clarence Clemons being gone The Boss did the right thing by not trying to replace him. Instead, the E-Street band is much less a rock n’ roll band than it is a 17 piece rock, circus, soul revue that’s inspiration can be traced back to the early 60s soul movement. Bruce seems to alternate between being a front man, a preacher, a guitar player and an all around ring leader. Somehow, how I don’t know, he’s managed to craft a band that can alternate between playing intricate rock and roll songs that require melodic precision that only a 5 piece band can hit and other times a rousing celebratory pentecostal church growl where all 17 members are contributing to a wall of sound.
For 3 straight hours Bruce takes you through his version of America. Themes ranging from the rousing hope and idealism in “Born to Run” to the painful wake up call that is the American Dream that can be found in “Wrecking Ball” and “City of Ruins”. Nothing is off limits for Bruce – and he panders to no one. If you come to an E-Street Band show wanting nothing but classic hits you’re going to leave disappointed because it’s truly not a nostalgia show. For a band that’s been doing this for 35 years that idea is almost impossible to get your head around. An E-Street band show in 2012 is oddly relevant and current. Some of the stories are old, and some are new. And when they play the new songs you really don’t mind. It’s part of the 3 hour story that’s being told and they work in context. Sure, you might leave being upset that they didn’t play “Thunder Road” but an E-Street Band show is about the sum of it’s parts. On any given night in a particular city you’re guaranteed to get your own unique story. That’s what you come for.
On April 26th when Bruce and company took the stage in LA the first thing that I noticed, of course, was that Clarence Clemons isn’t on stage and he ain’t gonna be on stage either. The spiritual rock of the band is no longer physically present and his spirit is all that’s left. For all the right reasons Bruce made the decision to keep on going and by doing that the spirit that was Clemons has lifted this band to an even higher calling. There is no practical or material reason why Bruce Springsteen needs to keep doing this. The love and passion that’s on display every night is palpable and inspiring.
If I’m Paul McCartney, The Eagles, Van Morrison or The Rolling Stones I am nothing short of embarrassed by the integrity and passion that Bruce still displays night after night. With a 17 piece E-Street Band in tow, the best seat in the house costs no more than $100. That’s right, $100. The aforementioned acts have a top tier ticket price that is sometimes over $400 face value. Add to that Bruce plays for 3 hours a night.
After the Friday show at the LA Sports Arena my friend Dana said “It’s not who else plays for 3 hours, it’s who else WANTS to play for 3 hours??” Do you really think Don Henley goes out there every night and says “I want to give back to the fans, play for 3 hours at a price that they can afford.” Hell no. He’s in it for the money first and foremost and that is obvious if you’ve been to a recent Eagles concert. To be fair, the problem also lies within the fans who buy all of those overpriced tickets and thus create that demand in the marketplace. Bruce, could go that route easily. His tours could double their revenue no problem yet he stays true to everything he’s sang out about for the last 35 years.
It pains me to take a negative tone with so many artists who have also contributed greatly to the pantheon of rock and roll with such substance. However, it remains painful that so many of our once great heroes are spending their swan song years doing what they do for all the wrong reasons. It’s an urgent cultural tragedy that the great musical heroes of the counter culture now hold events that only the 1% can afford. It’s the ultimate fuck you to the original impetus of the movement and solidifies a “if you can’t beat them join them” attitude. No Rolling Stones, Eagles or even Neil Young (last tour price was $250) show should cost more than $100. It makes the great words of Allen Ginsberg ring true “I’ve seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness” – in this case substitute for the word “greed”.
It’s easy for me to sit back and be a Monday morning quarterback and to critique decisions like this. Put in the same situation I can only hope that I’d follow the cues of Bruce Springsteen and not that of the others. I thank God with every fiber in my body that there is still a Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band around today to inspire, provoke, rouse and to lead by example.
A piece ran in Slate the other day that proclaimed passing SOPA would lead to an economic and social disaster. Click here to read that post.
It’s a fantastic look at how the socia-economic sensibilities have changed considerably in the last decade and the movement of copyright infringement has helped to shape this brave new world. I disagree with the overly simplistic view that states that the entertainment industries revenue has not been offset from online piracy. It is a fact that the record sales are down 60% in the last decade. One might argue that’s a good thing – the scam of charging $18 for a full length record that’s only 20% good was akin to forcing you to go into Disneyland with only 2 or 3 of the rides working. Now, the consumer can choose to buy as much or as little of an album as they want. And there is direct proof that if the whole album is good, people will buy it. Quality rises to the top and people respond. Refer to Adelle or Mumford and Sons for evidence of that. Of course there’s another, somewhat more complicated, side. In today’s media savvy world there’s a whole generation that simply types in “Mediafire Mumford and Sons” into Google to acquire new music. Easy. Two or three clicks and it’s done.
Some experts say the psychological subtly that a music file is only a few megabytes and is so easily shared (stolen) that it really doesn’t amount to stealing in the first place. It’s just sharing your stuff with your friends. It’s the same as viewing a non authorized video on YouTube or borrowing a book like the Slate piece talks about. Most people under 25 would say this is true, digital music feels intangible thus it doesn’t hold any concrete place in the material world. It’s just a file that can be passed on over and over again. The thought doesn’t even occur to most kids that effort and money went into producing said file and thus it does actually hold monetary value. All true but I think it goes deeper than that.
If we look back at the previous few decades they all have a very concrete stamp on how they can be defined. The 60’s were a time of social unrest and revolution, the 70s were groovy and had disco, the 80s were the MTV generation and the 90s had grunge and the birth of the web. Each era can be very succinctly defined. Can the same be said of the 2000’s? Sort of but not really.
The 2000s saw the rise of the iPod, Facebook and YouTube. Those are certainly three pilars that this generation can be proud of and no doubt forever changed the way we live. However, take a look at the core value that each one of those three products has to offer. The iPod allows you to store tons of the aforementioned intangible digital files of music that inherently encourages you to just plug your iPod into a friends computer and go wild taking whatever you want. Facebook is a tool that has changed the way we communicate and stay in touch but it’s also largely a forum for people to share other peoples content that they love without thinking about it. How many times a week do I see a rare Pink Floyd clip posted over and over again? Lots. And then there’s YouTube – the mothership of them all. YouTube has essentially created a cultural conversation that is based on the mash-up. People taking others peoples work and slicing it up into new work. It’s a blender of cultural vernacular, music, iconic images, acting without any SAG card and all around power to the people creativity. That’s what the 2000’s was – it was the decade for mashing-up and sharing stuff that moves us. It’s defined this generation.
The 1990’s gave rise to this anarchic uncontrollable giant of the World Wide Web. It, accidentally, became the last free dimension where there is no police force and is completely egalitarian. SOPA would add a layer to this that is so contrary to it’s DNA that it would disrupt what can not be disrupted. Additionally, to me more importantly, it would change the cultural conversation that made the 2000s (and now the 2010’s) so great. Our favorite viral videos would be subject to government regulation. Blogs could not freely publish half of what they do. Girl Talk could not make his genius albums and most of all the kids could not simply share the stuff they love and make into their own cultural statement. SOPA would start a war with an entire generation that has made mash-ups and the appropriation of content into a unique voice all their own.
I understand that the entertainment business is scared of lost revenue and needs to react to that somehow. I don’t have a point of view on that. But I do know that the music business, particularly the musicians, are going to go through a radical shift in their place in society. A friend of mine and I often talk about how modern society will hold a place for the professional musician from here on out. We think that todays musician will go back to their roots of how it used to be. I don’t mean how it used to be in the 1950s. I mean how it used to be in the 1890s. The musician will once again become the village bard that expresses our core emotions simply because they have no choice. They will once again become the story tellers who are passing on myths of the generation simply because their dharma calls for it. Very few will now do it for the seductive draw of money and fame. Surely there will still be a few of those but mostly todays musician will contribute into the modern tech laden social mash-up because it’s a damn good thing to do. The economic model how to make it as a musician still needs some things answered but the sentiment of this modern world of free roaming content will be a good thing in the long run.
It’s been well documented that Steve went to India in 1974 in search of enlightenment. I have no idea if Jerry Garcia ever went. This is post is about neither. Rather, it’s about how I just met both of them on my recent trip to India.
Upon my departure I loaded up my iPad with 10 or so books that I thought would be essential reading while in Rishikesh and Vrindavan, two very holy cities where the bhav is plentiful. One of which was “Steve Jobs” by Walter Issacson. Also on my iPad were your basic go-to spiritual manuals like The Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam.
On the plane flight over I was well into the Steve Jobs book and found myself getting more and more sucked into the story of how two guys started a company in their garage that later became the worlds most valuable technology company. Even as I arrived in India and was settled into my daily routine I just couldn’t seem to put it down. I was occasionally going back to the Gita but time and time again the Steve book seemed to have all the instruction and inspiration that I needed while enjoying my own spiritual meanderings in India.
The new agers and touchy feely types decry the Steve story as a downer because he often times wasn’t such a nice guy. He was brash, rude, insensitive, sometimes dishonest and didn’t display behavior of that of a counter culture infused guy from Northern California. All that is true. However, that’s not what his story is about. If you’re reading the book to try and find value in him as a model human being that’s missing the point. Rather the book is about one mans ability to manifest the things he held dear to him, without compromise. It’s the story of one mans dharma. What more appropriate thing can you read about while in India?
Steve has the ability to strip out the clutter and distractions that got in the way of realizing his vision for creating products that fused together technology and the humanities. He was not the best programmer or engineer or even business mind around, but he had a vision for how human beings could build relationships with digital interfaces. Those interfaces had a variety of applications over the years that changed the way we live and behave on a daily basis. Indeed, our entire persona of life in the digital age has roots that go back to something that Apple did within the last 30 years. Steve was a modern avatar who slashed and burned his way to success but through it I found that he was also a shining example of someone who found what he loved to do and then did it. That is discipline. I can’t think of too many modern examples who had such a clear vision of how they saw their little slice of the world and had to share it with people no matter what. In life it is about adding all the things that make you a better person but it’s also about getting rid of the extraneous clutter that is preventing you from realizing potential. Just as Steve slashed most of the Apple product line upon his return in 1996, I look to slash most of my personal product line that no longer serves any purpose. Simplify.
That’s the end of the first part. On to my second story.
After Rishikesh I went to Vrindavan. While there, I did get the typical bug that shut me down for 24 hours. It was about my 12th day on this trip. I was laying in bed not able to hold anything down and feeling really distant from why I went there in the first place. I was sick, it was dirty and noisy. Temple life was rigid and predictable. And most importantly I was losing site of the person I wanted to be. Embarrassingly, I thought I was doing this for all the wrong reasons like fashion or because it felt “cool”. I kept asking myself why did I have to go half away around the world to get closer to my guru when I could have just as well found him in the cozy confines of my Culver City home. I just didn’t know what I was really doing or why I was doing it. It was a dark night.
As I was laying there it occurred to me that I hadn’t listened to any western music in nearly two weeks. I thought that perhaps a nice way to distract myself from feeling lousy inside and out was to listen to some music. So I got out my iPod, hit the shuffle button and just took in what was to unfold and once again reshape my experience. The first song to come up was Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s song “Isn’t this a lovely day?”. The soothing subtle nuances of Ella and Louis immediately warmed my heart and took me back to my childhood home in 1989 where I could see my parents just hanging out being in love by the fireside. They loved Ella and Louis and no music epitomizes their love more than that. Getting warmer, cozier…slowly feeling a manifestation of spirit. I was feeling love for my parents together and how it used to be, which doesn’t happen too often.
The next track to come up was by the Grateful Dead, it was a 1973 version of “Eyes of the World.” More than any other music the Grateful Dead really is the soundtrack of my life. I think you can guess what happened next. Less than 2 minutes into the song I got the chills from the familiar strains of Jerry’s guitar and the music then set forth in motion a complete overhaul of my attitude, thinking, perception and overall happiness. It all made sense. I knew exactly why I was India and I loved it!
Now it’s funny that the intangible can produce a tangible physical experience. What is it about sound that can trigger emotions which can then trigger thoughts which can then shape your experiences? By merely listening to a performance of a song the seemingly confusing state of my spiritual emotions suddenly went away. The music fixed me! One could add another fascinating tangent to this discussion – how matter and energy is really connected to the same “stuff” which leads to a realization of how the material world and the spiritual world may not be as far apart as we may think.
But this non-dualist probing will be saved for another post.
It’s funny that I traveled so far to be in the presence of such mystical and wonderful places and traditions but in the end the things that were already nearest and dearest to me are what brought me closer to those mystical and wonderful things! That really speaks to the point of what being a seeker all about. It’s so important to remember to not get caught in the trap of searching for something outside of yourself in hopes of attaining some goal. The external things that you may be investigating as methods or tools are really just conduits to bringing you closer to what’s already dwelling inside. That familiar love is always right there. Trying to avoid traps along the way…
I found Jerry Garcia in Steve Jobs in India!
Look at the simplicity of the chart for 1980. You put out a record and maybe a cassette and call it a day. Easy if you had a good song.
Now look at the chart for 2010. Holy shit. No wonder everyone is running around mad trying to figure out how to monetize everything in sight. On one hand the music business has more touch points than ever before. On the other, it’s too fragmented – no one entity can control all of these revenue sources.
Because Freddie was one of the great front men of all time! At the time, this was considered the highlight of the ’86 Live Aid concert.
What can possibly said about Jerry Garcia that hasn’t been said before? Garcia and the Grateful Dead are the most well documented band in history so there’s an abundance of personal stories, bad acid trip recollections, good acid trip euphoric recalls and thousands of opinions on what the best version of “Eyes of the World” is (for me it’s 3-29-90).
16 years post Grateful Dead activity my version of Jerry’s meaning was that he was a Yogi and his practice was firmly rooted in a world that transcended definition and categorization. It’s often said that as a human being he struggled. But it’s also said that when he was deep in his version of samadhi, by pure association you could be transported to the heavens where magic, God, sound and celebration could meet. No one did it better.
Jai Sri Jerry! Happy Birthday to you.
When she on, she was pitch perfect. Like Frank Sinatra, she had an uncanny ability to push the beat with her phrasing. With simple and sly changes in the lyric she could move the band at her control. A real talent.
We lost her too soon. This is my favorite Amy Winehouse song.