Sunday, January 24, 2016

Fear of a Chicken Duck Woman Thing

Last week found me casting my mind back twenty years or so to the temporary musical career of the younger Simian, and how, aided by a nifty cassette Walkman since lost in a freak library incident, a friend managed to play one of my compositions (fittingly titled 'Rewind Mind') backwards. Taping the resulting sounds, we picked out weird semi-words and phrases, putting together a new version of the song which my friend (rather uncharitably, I thought) dubbed 'I am a Dwarf' from its most-repeated alleged utterance. In the end we failed to find the Devil in my music, but as an experiment in backwards masking we were lucky to find anything at all. I wonder where that tape got to in the end...

Anyway, I love serendipity, and the moment where something accidental and organic gives birth to a new and exciting creation. Sadly, most of my best artwork arose out of slips of the pen or brush, and many a waking dream has provided inspiration of some kind. My hat is off, then, to this month's ear worm, borne of a line from Bad Lip Reading's treatment of A New Hope. If I'd thought that their earlier Redneck Avengers was a work of quiet genius, then this raises the bar again. Funny, surreal, and oddly moving.

Better than anything George came up with, I reckon.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


Earlier this week I checked in to a sweltering Sydney hotel at the end of a tiring flight to a work conference. As I approached the registration desk my eyes wandered up to the tv screen on the wall behind; local, trivial news played out in silence while headlines ticker-taped at the bottom. Among them were three words: 'David Bowie Dies", with the following precis a vague note about 'rumors on social media'. They just sort of hung there, and then drifted offscreen while my fatigued brain tried to process it - naturally, I wasn't sure whether to believe it or not. Finally in my room I turned on the tv to a news channel and the truth revealed itself. It was 7pm local time, and according to reports, London was just waking up to the news.

My first thought was of Jet Junior - he's a huge Bowie fan. I'm not sure why, although lots of music was playing in our house when he was young, and as a toddler visually he seemed to connect with the more flamboyant, like Ziggy/Aladdin Sane era Bowie and Live Aid Freddie Mercury. It brought out the flamboyant kid in him, too, randomly stopping lunch during a visit from Granddad with an impromptu and never-to-be-repeated lip-synching of Suffragette City. He was determined to go to New York to meet his idol, and invite him to join his band. My own discovery of Bowie was a very long process indeed, but my boy just took to him very readily - we share a love of the Ziggy album, and he especially likes Low, the instrumentals in particular. This drove his mum a little bit nuts when he kept it on high rotate for a while.

Mrs Simian and I had spent last Monday morning discussing my imminent week of absence and what the two of them could do while I was away. He's not seen The Force Awakens yet, so why not take him, knowing now what would be in store in terms of heavy plot turns? Little did we know bigger stuff would of course be just around the corner. I hated not being at home with him when he heard the news; he was, apparently, very upset.

Meanwhile, Australia was processing the news as well, and it was front page splash stuff at breakfast on all the papers. Mention was made of Bowie's connection with Australia, the Let's Dance and China Girl videos, his sometime hideaway in Elizabeth Bay and his outspoken views on Aboriginal rights. At the conference the chosen theme music of the first day (Starship and Pseudo Echo - there was a damned good reason. There had to have been) segued the following day into a quiet background set of Bowie's best, which was a little distracting for me as my ears kept straining to place the bits and pieces during workshops. Was that Moonage Daydream? Yes! The Man Who Sold the World? Of course. 'Heroes'? Inevitably. Attendees of my generation shared their impressions of the news in quiet moments, and it was in a small way cathartic.

I returned home, finally, in the weekend, to a tidy and quiet house. The news had dissipated, with life going on, but Jet Junior and I shared a wet afternoon in front of You Tube, with him in the driver's seat and an awful lot of Bowie playing. He's still to see The Force Awakens; will there be tears after that, as there were on Tuesday morning? Not sure, but this time I'll be around, just in case.

Monday, January 18, 2016

In the Years of the Scavenger.

"I do get the feeling that by listening to the album we can kind of get closer to you than we have for many years, in terms of knowing who you are and where you are at?"


"You know, Jonathan, that'll never happen."
Bowie on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, 2002.

I first discovered David Bowie in the early Seventies as a young child, listening to The Laughing Gnome played on the Sunday morning children's show on an orange Aztec radio in my room. I can't remember what I thought of the song - I think I liked the sped-up voices.

I first discovered David Bowie in 1979, in television advertisements for the Australasian collection 'David Bowie! Chameleon'. Snatches of songs - 1984, Sorrow, over the top of weird and jarring images from his music videos lingering in my young mind. DJ featured heavily; Venetian blinds, mixing desks, a gas mask and boiler suit.

I first discovered David Bowie in 1979 on Star Trek, a compilation of Sci-Fi-themed music and songs. My brother and I had bought it for the Star Wars and War of the Worlds themes, probably, but this also featured sound-alike versions of Space Oddity, Life on Mars? and Starman alongside other knockoffs of Elton John, Boney M and The Carpenters. They were the definitive versions of the songs for me until...

I next discovered David Bowie on a three-album collection of Sixties British pop, the real Space Oddity featuring alongside the likes of The Honeydrippers, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Petula Clark and Cliff Richard. The box-set collage featured Bowie in an anachronistic Ziggy guise. I wasn't taken in.

I then discovered David Bowie as a creepy, unearthly figure, the singer of the irresistible Cat People (Putting Out Fire) which loomed large in my pre-adolescent subconscious, and of Ashes to Ashes, an even freakier video in which he tiptoed around a woozy landscape dressed like a scary clown (or, as I noted mere months later, Doctor Who in 'Watcher' form), or as a thrashing astronaut brought down to a suburban nightmare. Even I knew that Major Tom was a junkie by then. 

Then I discovered David Bowie with Let's Dance and China Girl; and, inspired by information gleaned from a courtesy cousin 'enthusiast', made my own compilation of Bowie songs, one side of a C60 cassette combining the various records we had and off-air radio recordings. "That's Bowie-", the excited announcer cries out at the end of Let's Dance; an addition I'm utterly unable to edit out, but which at least convinces me that once you're on top of the world you don't need two names. Like the rest of my class I was a fan. Briefly.

Then I forgot Bowie, and found him again, and set him aside once more for other things. He did duets with Tina Turner, movies like Labyrinth and Absolute Beginners, the Glass Spider Tour, floundering fare like Tonight and Never Let Me Down, and a classmate was such an ardent fan I avoided Bowie for years.  I was done. There were more interesting and less try-hard and pretentious artists out there. Like Sting!

I discovered Bowie in the smoky, incense-fogged bedroom of a bandmate on a loose Saturday night not gigging. He played Hunky Dory and pointed out, quite rightly, that it had a lot going on over the Flying Nun stuff I was immersed in. Even Andy Warhol.

Then Bowie turned fifty and had a big party with my university favourite acts, like Robert Smith, Frank Black, Billy Corgan and Foo Fighters. He released Earthling and Little Wonder, went all drum-n-bass and jungle, and in the middle of a brief but colourful UK glam revival in the Nineties, I was intrigued. Bowie pointedly didn't do the glam bits, but he didn't need to when the likes of Suede, Babylon Zoo, Spacehog, Placebo, Nicky Wire and Todd Haynes were happy to tip their hats to the master.

I rediscovered Bowie wearing headphones in a city dentist's chair in Wellington, listening to a supplied CD (Suffragette City), one of the most exciting songs I'd ever heard the man play. And being played by a Cuba Street busker (Ziggy Stardust). He was everywhere. I bought two compilations (The Best of David Bowie 1969-1973, The Best of David Bowie 1974-1979) and listened to it - selectively.

Then Bowie came to Wellington, and on a very rainy night I went to the concert. More on that later. Graham Reid produced three excellent overviews of the man's music for Radio NZ, interspersed with some earlier interviews. It was an education, uncovering more deep cuts to my growing knowledge - The Belway Brothers, Memories of a Free Festival, It's No Game. I think I still have the tapes somewhere...

Dad Rock ensues. Nothing to see here.

Then I rediscovered David Bowie through Jet Junior, who was, like many of his generation, an early adopter of the futuristic. Bowie songs grew and grew among our bedtime song collections. I finally discovered the simple genius of Absolute Beginners and its gorgeous C#m to Gdim drop through playing it on a ukulele of all things. But then, as Jet Jr would remind you, Bowie composed Lust for Life on a ukulele, so there. Kooks was my favourite to sing to him, and still is.

I'm still discovering David Bowie.