Saturday, May 21, 2016

Star Wars - The Phantom Menace: Just This Once

Although I have been teasing a Star Wars soundtrack retrospective for several months now, it has actually been in the planning stages for even longer than that. I did a three-year musical experiment on my oldest daughter called the Superhero Theme Project, in which I appropriated orchestral themes to musically represent and enrich superhero characters that she was becoming familiar with through text and other media. In the initial parameters of the project, I stated that I was going to avoid using music that she might otherwise encounter in other franchises, and the astute follower will have noticed that I did not use any Star Wars music at all. This was totally intentional. It was my hope that when she got older, if was ever to get into Star Wars the soundtracks would carry as much weight with her as the movies themselves.

Little did I realize back then that a whole new chapter of the franchise would open at the end of 2015. The Force Awakens changed the whole timeline, as images of BB-8 started popping up and her older friends at school started talking about Star Wars. Then, in late November, my wife brought home a Little Golden Book called The Empire Strikes Back. That’s right – the classic children’s book series that brought you The Pokey Little Puppy now includes adaptations of all six episodes. These gave us the opportunity to get into the characters, understand the stories, and discuss the more mature topics in the Star Wars universe. Eventually, without my prompting, she figured out that there were movies connected to each book, and expressed a desire to see them.

But what order to show them in - prequels first, as Lucas intended, or in the order that I experienced them? Long story short, I decided that we should start with The Phantom Menace. There is some kid-level humor that she might only be able to appreciate as a 4 year old, and I thought that she might be able to relate more easily to young Anakin Skywalker than the teenaged Luke. At the very least, I figured that we would only ever watch it once and get it out of the way. If she hated it, we’d just try again later with A New Hope.

That being said, she liked it and I actually don’t think that it is the worst film of the prequels (not by a long shot). Jar-Jar and mitichloriates aside, The Phantom Menace does have some redeeming qualities, the first of which is its soundtrack. Although John Williams could never possibly recapture the sense of risk and adventure of the “first” film, The Phantom Menace soundtrack stands on its own while easily fitting within his already established body of work. The pod race is a uniquely intense and entertaining scene in the Star Wars universe, and Williams kicks it off with a fanfare that only he could compose (below at 1:55).

I also think that if you miss out on The Phantom Menace, you miss out on one of the best villains, that being Darth Maul. Ray Park totally steals the show in every scene that he is in, a fact made even more impressive considering he only says about twenty words in the entire movie. Despite his lack of dialogue, he brings a focused, transparent rage to the Sith persona. Additionally, his fight scenes are nothing short of amazing, and he brings emotion and character to his movements that reveal Maul’s unique motivations, which are, by extension, deepened by Williams’ masterful compositional skills.

So I will strongly advocate for The Phantom Menace soundtrack, and even go so far as to defend the movie to a point. Certainly, when the movie came out, there was a lot of promise attached to it. There was the hope that even though this movie might be flawed, it would open up to greater things. Unfortunately, this promise remained unfulfilled, at least until The Force Awakens came along and repaired some (but not all) of the disappointment of the prequels.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

May Roundup: The Battle Against Colic

I keep saying this: so much has happened and keeps happening that taking time to write meaningful posts devoted to singular albums takes time away from other important things.  My youngest daughter EJ, coming up on three months old, is one of those things.  She is doing well, although she has been much fussier than her older sister P was. She’s been struggling through tummy problems – reflux, gas, milk sensitivity, etc. Lots of lost sleep, however, and frustrations from us as to how to comfort her.  Overall, she is improving, but getting her through this has been very demanding. She’s cute and very sweet when she is feeling well, though, and my family has been INCREDIBLY helpful.

Aside from helping EJ grow out of her “colic,” as it is traditionally called, there are other major aspects of my life that are requiring a lot of attention.  I am not entirely at liberty to reveal the details just yet, but positive things are definitely afoot. This has caused the classic writer’s block situation: you sit down with a few minutes to write and have no idea where to begin. For now, the “roundup” format seems to be the solution for documenting my listening and, at the very least, bookmarking the events of 2016, so here is what has gone through the player since Spring Break.

Hans Zimmer & Junkie XL – Batman v Superman OST: I began following Hans Zimmer in 2013 when I discovered the Dark Knight soundtrack, and I have seen a logical progression of his work since then. I think, however, that after Zimmer invested so much in the Dark Knight soundtracks, it was a bit too much to ask for him to reinvent Batman for this entertaining but flawed version of the character (although the Wonder Woman theme you hear above is pretty great, and not too far off in tone from my own impressions).

The Antlers – Burst Apart: I put this on my wish list back when I was into Beach House, and I think that if I had listened to it then I would have connected with it more readily. To be frank, however, I’m kind of not in the mood right now.

Emerson, Lake, and Palmer – Tarkus: I have always been an advocate of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s musicianship, but in my opinion, their weird chemistry resulted in a somewhat uneven body of work. Tarkus, however, is one of their strongest, most cohesive efforts, and the one that I put in rotation in tribute to Emerson after the announcement of his tragic death.

Storm Corrosion: I got this dark, atmospheric collaboration between Steven Wilson and Mikael Ackerfeldt a couple of years ago and promptly lost the disc. I was pleased as punch to find it double-stacked inside my Tarkus case.

Prince – Purple Rain: Inexplicably, I was listening to Purple Rain almost the entire month of March before Prince also fell to the terrible string of losses we have recently suffered in the music world. Purple Rain was clearly his breakthrough - his Sgt. Pepper’s or Dark Side of the Moon, and is unquestionably a classic album in its own right.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – EARS: Without much more than a teaser clip I ran across online, I picked up EARS driven by my curiosity surrounding the Buchla Music Easel. The album blew me away – I listened to it endlessly for days on end and it still captures my attention every time it comes through the rotation.

Bobgoblin – Love Lost for Blood Lust: Erstwhile 90’s power pop group Bobgoblin have been teasing their potential return for several years now. This collection picks up seamlessly from where their localized classic The 12 Point Master Plan left off way back when.

Wild Ones – Keep it Safe: My initial impression was to focus my view of the Wild Ones through the lens of Chvrches' electro pop classic The Bones of What You Believe. While there is some overlap and the album is quite good, I still can’t say as I have connected with it in a way that feels like it will pay off.

Health – Death Magic: Although their approach to manipulating sound seems to have some common ground with Battles, the result seems to overlay the noisy approach of Ministry with the Europop of the Pet Shop Boys. I’m surprised that so few people are framing them in 90s industrial nostalgia.

Bombino – Azel: It had been quite awhile since I had listened for a guitar hero, and some of the press on North African guitarist Bombino might warrant this kind of attention. His style requires liberal use of open-string drones, which can wear thin after a full album, but his energy, melodic sense, and nimble fingers keep my attention.

Tim Heckler – Virgins: Inspired by EARS, I attempted to dive into Virgins, another ambient album that has been sitting on my wish list for a while. It is an entirely different experience than EARS – it certainly did not grab my attention in the same way, but it is a compelling album nonetheless.

O Brother – Endless Light: The description that piqued my interest in this album was that it sounded like “TOOL meets Muse.” I would say that is seems more like “Mastodon meets Ours,” which for some people might seem like splitting hairs – but not for me.

John Williams: The Return of the Jedi OST: In our house, Friday has evolved into “Pizza and Star Wars Night,” which means that P gets to watch her favorite, “The one where Darth Vader becomes good again.” As a result, despite my attempts to connect with The Force Awakens and Attack of the Clones as "new" soundtracks earlier this year, Return of the Jedi might end up being the Star Wars soundtrack representative by year’s end.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Birth of EJ and the Litany Against Fear

They say that every birthing experience is different, and I can say that having been there for the birth of both of my daughters, this is inarguably true. The delivery of my second daughter was almost diametrically opposed to that of my first. To start with, the Little One (whom, to head off any future confusion, will henceforth be referred in this blog by her social media moniker P) was delivered three weeks early due to complications. The labor process that brought her little sister EJ into the world began exactly on time, in the early evening of her due date.

My wife had been routinely active that day taking a walk and working in the garden. As most women report at that stage of the pregnancy, she was quite tired of being pregnant. That evening, in a somewhat casual attempt to get things started, she proposed that we go out to eat some spicy Thai food. Soon thereafter, she started to report some “cramps.”

Now, I would not say that I was dismissive of her complaints, but I was skeptical. In my defense, she had been having “cramps” in various forms for the better part of six months, so I was not ready to pack up for the hospital at the first sign of discomfort.  When we got home, I realized that we needed dog food, so after P was down for the night I ran to the neighborhood grocery store. By the time I got back, I knew my wife was serious. Normally, such an excursion would be a reason for her to wind down for the evening. She had, instead, taken a shower, put on fresh clothes, packed three bags, and was waiting by the door with shoes on.

Still, I was skeptical. I really did not want to go to the hospital and get sent back home on a false alarm. I suggested we sit down and watch TV for a little while to track timing of the “cramps” on an app she had downloaded. Within ten minutes, she was on all fours.

I scooped up P and we left.

We were in new territory. We had never actually gone through labor and delivery. P was induced and ultimately delivered by c-section, and whatever emotional support tools I had were all informed by that experience. Looking back on P's birth, my wife was, at one point, exhausted and terrified, and I remember feeling helpless to soothe her fears.  A few weeks before EJ's due date, I decided to come prepared if we found ourselves in a similar situation this time around.

Frank Herbert’s Dune had been on my mind recently due to the release of the soundtrack to Jodorowsky’s Dune, a documentary about an imaginative 70s movie adaptation of the sci-fi classic that stalled in preproduction. I will admit that I have yet to see the documentary itself, but the descriptions I read of the soundtrack’s explicit deference to 70s synth composers like Tangerine Dream and Jean-Michel Jarre piqued my interest. A Dune-themed synth album seemed intriguing, especially since I have a somewhat unfulfilled sense of musical nostalgia for the Dune universe.

Unfulfilled because no adaptation, and therefore no soundtrack, has ever done the book justice.  I still say that Dune is impossible to do in a traditional film format.  The Sci-Fi channel had the right idea at one point, however, by making it a visually disappointing mini-series.  It seems like with all the world-building that is going on right now in cinema and current effects, Dune is a deep, deep property that is just waiting for someone to pick up and develop properly.  For now, though, Dune fans have to satisfy ourselves with morsels like Kurt Stenzel's soundtrack for this documentary.

The results are varied. Despite having a certain meandering feel, Jodorowsky’s Dune OST does do a convincing job of capturing something that is unique to the Dune universe. In that regard, it might be one of the better Dune-related musical offerings in existence. Despite this, however, it is not the soundtrack to a Dune movie, but rather the soundtrack to a documentary about a Dune movie. This is a little less appealing to my inner vision of the music’s narrative. I might be able to function under the delusion that this is not the case, pretending that it is the actual unreleased soundtrack. There are several instances, however, in which the inclusion of quotes from the documentary shatter the illusion. Still, these are few and far between, and for the most part, the soundtrack is pretty compelling.

In any case, in an effort to come into the delivery with some conceptual ammo, I began to think about the famous Bene Gesserit “Litany Against Fear” (seen left). I won't go into the context of this passage from the book, because that was not my concern at the time I started thinking about it.  I was more concerned about is practicality.  I was convinced that if my wife was on the verge of having a panic attack, having this in my back pocket would be useful.  I took it upon myself to commit it to memory.

As it turned out out she did not need it at all. Not to say that EJ's birth was easy or without some hard moments, but my wife was a total rock star during the whole thing.  To be frank, I think I needed the Litany more than she did. I recited it during labor and delivery, arguably to be prepared for when she might need support.  It actually gave my racing mind something to focus on in quieter moments. And yes, these are words that come from a 60s sci-fi novel, and using them in a real-world way such as this might seem ridiculous. They elegantly describe a profound aspect of the human condition, however, in the way that only the best sci-fi is able.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

February/March Roundup: Spring Cleaning

Where did February go? It seemed like just yesterday that I was pledging to get caught up on my blog and maintain it consistently. Now look where we are. A month and a half has gone by and despite best intentions, I haven’t posted a word. It’s not because nothing has happened – in fact, quite the contrary! Life has been astoundingly complex since that last post in January, and many episodes have attached themselves to music both new and old:

I took my band to Pre-UIL concert and sightreading contest with less than desirable results. I went on leave and became the father of two. My MS band subsequently went to UIL in my absence and got greatly improved marks. I’ve wrestled with lack of sleep and keeping my eldest entertained. I played a great gig with Ethnos. Keith Emerson died. Previously mentioned eldest daughter broke her collarbone in a freak chair-spinning accident. Plus, there’s that Star Wars soundtrack project I have been mapping out since last Fall.

It’s no wonder that I have felt overwhelmed with documenting all that. Seriously, any free time I have had has been spent fighting to stay awake while I watch samurai movies and John Oliver clips. I am going to try to make a push in the coming days, however, to try to get caught up. For the time being, however, here’s a roundup of the post-birthday stuff that has passed through the player in the past month and a half:

ToeHear You: Hear You is significantly more mellow and jazzy than I have heard previously from Toe. It retains the band’s signature mathy undercurrents, though.

John Williams – The Force Awakens OST: The recording quality and performances on The Force Awakens breathes new life into familiar themes. There is also some standout new material, as well.

RiversideLove, Fear, and the Time Machine: Despite identifying as a prog rock fan and liking a broad range of music within the genre, I also have a myopic aspect that is pretty critical of contemporary prog. Riverside has evolved into a band that balances all of the variables in just the right way for my tastes.

Jean-Michel JarreEquinoxe:  Jarre was around a lot when I was growing up, and I could have sworn that somewhere along the line I got acquainted with Equinoxe. When I recently got ahold of a used copy, however, it seemed gloriously unfamiliar and quite captivating.

Esperanza SpaldingEmily’s D+Evolution: It’s comforting to know that albums like this are still being made. Spalding’s experimental side recalls the heyday of 70s jazz, rock, and prog crossovers and brings it into startling relevancy.

MuteMathVitals: I have come to accept that none of MuteMath’s releases will ever touch me like their self-titled debut did. Vitals, however, is a bit of a departure and as such, it favorably resists comparison to that excellent album.

Field Music Commontime: With several album titles that harbor musical double meanings, it’s clear that Field Music wears their musicianship on their sleeve. The potential for pretentiousness is high if they were unable to back it up, but their incredible musical skills always stand in service to their amazing songs and compositions.

Pink FloydSaucerful of Secrets: The final Pink Floyd studio album that has been missing in my collection finally finds its way in. It’s a necessary document of the group at its most unstable as they headed away from Barrett’s psychedelic pop towards the cerebral soundscapes Pink Floyd would later perfect.

Friday, January 29, 2016

January Roundup: Remembering the Legends of Star Wars

In the earlier days of this blog, I would regularly document my listening habits with a “roundup” at the end of each month. A couple of years ago my consistency began to waver, and then Grooveshark got shut down. This streaming music site was what I used for all my playlists up to that point, and its loss unceremoniously nailed the roundup coffin shut. There have been times, however, that I have missed this practice. It certainly made things easier to come up with an end-of-year review with to them to look back on. It also provided the freedom to do some personal blogging on topics that might not readily link to with my musical interests

For example, at the end of December I, like many, had a reinvigorated interest in the Star Wars franchise. Certainly, I have a lot to say about the music of Star Wars, especially as it enters its current iteration. Before I dive in to this topic in the coming months, however, there is a whole world within the world of Star Wars that has no soundtrack and, sadly, dim prospects for the future.

It’s hard to imagine today, but in the early 90s it looked like Star Wars was over. There were no official plans for the prequels, and many earnest fans fantasized about what happened in the Star Wars universe after Return of the Jedi.  The answer came with the written word.

With George Lucas’ blessing, Timothy Zahn wrote an excellent series of books that are now knows as The Thrawn Trilogy, and they kicked off what would come to be known as the Star Wars Expanded Universe.  After Zahn’s books, many other authors explored his deep characters and thought-provoking concepts. Without a singular narrative to steer the ship, however, the universe’s canonicity eventually became problematic. After a decade and a half, some fans argued that it became too bloated and self-contradictory to cohere, and this, along with complex intellectual property issues, caused the Expanded Universe to be summarily dismissed when Disney acquired Lucasfilms. These stories are now considered “Star Wars Legends,” and are not recognized as part of the official continuity as it moves forward.

The move was hardly surprising.  I was not a completest fan of the Expanded Universe due to quality control problems I saw with the canon.  I did, however, harbor a secret hope that a few of the characters and plotlines would be at least acknowledged if not adapted into the new Star Wars timeline. The characters from the Expanded Universe enjoyed a depth that was unprecedented in the original Star Wars movies. Mara Jade, in particular, was the most complex and interesting woman that the Star Wars universe had ever seen up to that point. It would have been satisfying to see her play a role in the canon as it moves forward with a greater emphasis on strong female characters.

There is no music that can connect with her, however, or any situation in the Expanded Universe beyond that which lies in our imagination. Or, perhaps, what I might be listening to as I have nostalgically looked back on the quiet passing of this rich world of colorful characters. This month, this includes a lot of new music from my Christmas and birthday booty.

John Williams - Star Wars: The Attack of the Clones OST: Before the release of The Force Awakens soundtrack, this was the only Star Wars soundtrack missing from my collection, mainly because I have stubbornly refused to support The Attack of the Clones in any way. The soundtrack is way better than the movie.

Mbongwana Star – From Kinsasha: Very intriguing and contemporary African pop music from the congo.  Saw a live video from this band yesterday that really piqued my interest.

King Crimson – Live at the Orpheum: With the passing of Chris Squire last year, the mortality of his generation hit home for me. No more waiting for a new studio album from Fripp and his current lineup.

Kamasi Washington – The Epic: This massive 3-disc release sounds like the hopes and dreams of every jazz studies major I have ever met. I am still trying to decide if Washington’s playing lives up to his vision.

The Judas Table – Antimatter: A glowing, positive review got this dark rock album in the player, but the melodramatic vocals just don’t quite work for me.

Africa Express - Terry Riley’s In C Mali: Minimalism comes full circle, with an African ensemble performing the work of a Western composer.

Zweiton – Form: An outstanding instrumental disc from an excellent touchstyle guitarist. Lots of mathy structures and aggressive melodies make this an engaging listen.

Sei Ikeno and Akira Ifukube – Zatoichi: The Best Cuts 1967-1973: I have been on a Zatoichi jag since this summer. Anyone who thinks that Quentin Tarantino is wholly original needs to examine these movies.

Kurt Stenzel - Jodorowskys Dune OST: I have still yet to see this documentary about this “best movie that never was,” but this synth-based soundtrack certainly captures something about the world of Dune that I have not heard elsewhere.

Atomic Ape – Swarm: I saw these guys open for Secret Chiefs 3 last year, and I found them inspiring. Their studio album is also quite good.

Zombi – Shape Shift: I love the drive and the texture of this instrumental album, but it seems a bit short on melody.  Repeated listens have been revealing, though.

David Bowie – Blackstar: There are lots of factors to consider with Blackstar, so I will reserve final judgement on it for the time being. The video for Lazarus, however, is the most haunting thing I have seen in a while.

Hans Zimmer – Interstellar OST: I have had this album for over a year now, but finally saw the movie last month. The combination of the two are simply amazing.

Clarence Clarity – No Now: What if James Blake collaborated with Death Grips? Ponder that one.

Grimes – Art Angels: Perhaps this is premature, but I am not particularly impressed with her follow-up. It took me a long time to get into her debut, though, so maybe it will open up.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Subtle "Innuendo:" Freddie Mercury's Epitaph

It has always been so: college textbooks are frighteningly expensive. During my undergraduate, the annual investment of textbooks was the most fluid and generally stressful financial aspect of starting a semester. With several hundred dollars on the line, it did not seem like tacking on another $20 or so to indulge in some new music was such a big deal - at least not to the irresponsible twentysomething that I was. There were a couple of albums that I snuck into my collection under the umbrella of my textbook budget, one of which was Tin Machine II. Another was Queen’s Innuendo, an album that I have been thinking a lot about in the past few weeks.

In 1991, Queen held the same position for me that I described in my previous post about David Bowie. I grew up with them featured prominently on the radio, but the only album I had by them was the Flash Gordon Soundtrack, which was an odd entry in their catalog. I also owned a greatest hits CD and had every intention of eventually expanding their presence in my collection.

It took me almost two decades to realize this latter ambition, by the way.  As of this writing, the only Queen studio album missing from my collection is The Miracle, which I did have at one point.  That, however, is another story.

Queen had a progressive aspect that kept them on my radar, so when I read that Steve Howe had a guest appearance on Innuendo,  it became the first proper Queen album in my adult CD collection. Before its release, it seemed that Queen’s music had suffered from some inconsistency due the commercial expectations of their success. Certainly, Radio Ga Ga had its sights on the masses and did not compare to the cinematic scope of Bohemian Rhapsody, at least in my mind. The symphonic horizons of Innuendo suggested that Queen was making an earnest attempt to recapture the adventurous artistry that informed their best work. I enjoyed it a lot.

What I did not know when I bought Innuendo, however, was that Freddie Mercury was sick. He had been fighting a very private battle with AIDS for several years by that point, but publicly denied that his health was deteriorating. Mercury finally announced his condition late in 1991, and passed away virtually the next day. With this news, Innuendo suddenly and dramatically changed for me. Within the context of Mercury’s mortality, the album’s earnestness and good humor seemed more like urgency and poise.

Queen was an album band, so although their songs could be taken individually, the programming always seemed to enhance the album's overall narrative.  The placement of the melodramatic The Show Must Go On as the closing track on Innuendo was an undeniably clear statement. After the announcement came, I remember sitting in my dorm room getting choked up with several friends imagining the once vibrant Mercury sitting on a stool for support and belting out the vocals for this track in spite of his own fading strength.

Within the context of Mercury’s imminent demise, it suddenly became apparent that the impetus for this album was not merely an effort to recapture past glories. Even taking Mercury’s condition into account, the value of Innuendo did not lie in the fact that it was the last time he would record with Queen before he passed. Rather, it was because that album was about his impending death and a document on the manner in which he chose to approach it.  Mercury's death was the innuendo that ran throughout the album, too subtle to notice on the surface, but impossible to ignore once it came to light.

Bowie’s recent passing brought this situation to mind.  The brave and subtle way in which Innuendo brought Mercury’s struggles to light was so revealing about his character and his art has inspired me to seek the same in Bowie's recent posthumous release, Blackstar. Certainly, I don't expect it to sound the same as Innuendo.  There are few artists who are willing to put that kind of struggle up for public scrutiny, however, and I think it would be a shame to overlook such a personal epitaph.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Defined by a Footnote: David Bowie and Tin Machine

David Bowie's recent passing effected me, and like many, I feel the need to contribute to the many voices lamenting our loss.  I should admit at the outset, however, that although I have always been a fan of his work, I have never been a particularly devoted follower.  Even today, my collection of Bowie albums is embarrassingly small.  My introduction to Bowie was in the early 80’s when Let’s Dance was in regular radio rotation. Despite never actually owning the album myself, I can trace the majority of its tracks in my memory and faithfully air guitar along with Stevie Ray Vaughn’s inspired soloing.  I later got the ChangesBowie compilation that was released in 1989 and went to the accompanying Sound+Vision support tour in 1990. I admit, however, that I was far more interested in seeing King Crimson guitarist and frontman Adrian Belew play as Bowie's right-hand man. Belew did not disappoint, by the way - his backup vocals on Space Oddity still stand out as one of the live music highlights of my entire concert-going experience.

I paid attention when Bowie did anything, but clearly I was often distracted by the people in his orbit.  I did not "get" him as an artist in his own right well enough at that stage to begin prying open his catalog, and my interest in him might have all but stalled if it weren't for an article I misread.  I kept up with several music publications in the 80s, and in a brief editorial I saw that David Bowie was recording an album with a band at The Power Station.  When I saw this, I confused the New York studio that bore the name with the 80s supergroup led by Robert Palmer and backed by Duran Duran members. I was a fan of their eponymous album, and thought that David Bowie would be a really interesting lead for The Power Station if Robert Palmer planned to focus on his solo career. I tucked this piece of misinformation in the back of my mind and sat on it for months. 

This led me to the Bowie project that made the biggest impression on me, and oddly it was the one in which he tried to fade into the background: Tin Machine.  In the big scheme of Bowie’s career, Tin Machine might end up being a mere footnote, but it was the vehicle that brought me to a greater understanding of Bowie’s restless musicianship.

When Tin Machine showed on the new release rack of my local Sound Warehouse, I stubbornly perceived it as the Power Station’s follow-up album, despite the discrepancy in the name and an obviously different lineup. Listening to the Tin Machine album with the expectation of a glossy Power Station release was somewhat jarring. There was an aggressive intensity that the albums shared, but Tin Machine was significantly more ragged and noisy than I expected.  I did, however, find the tension between the obviously intellectual guitarist Reeves Gabriels and the gorilla groove tactics of the Sales brothers on bass and drums to be most compelling.

Still, it was Bowie that really piqued my interest in this project. At that point, he was the “guy that sung Blue Jean” as far as I was concerned. It was a puzzling phenomenon to see a high-polish pop-rock icon thrive in a relatively harsh musical environment. In retrospect, however, it was clear that his success had afforded him a certain status and, being the musician he was, would have nothing else to do with the artistic trappings of this title. Tin Machine, then, was an environment with one foot in the cerebral and the other in the primal and it effectively allowed Bowie to thumb his nose at the industry to which he owed his notoriety.

Tin Machine was, at times, abrasive, and did not sound like anything else that was out there in the public eye at the time. Its contrarian virtuosity was appealing, and it developed into a somewhat indulgent, private favorite at the end of my senior year. I had my eyes open for its follow up in 1991, and Tin Machine II served as the soundtrack to my second year at UNT. Tin Machine II was a more well-developed statement than its predecessor. In retrospect, the more polished feel of this album caused Tin Machine to lose a bit of the the manic grit that made them distinctive in the first place.  It is still quite good, and perhaps more varied in style than the debut album, but has not weathered quite as well.

I would continue to cross paths with Bowie’s material, playing his songs in cover bands, listening to adaptations of his more cerebral work, and just generally keeping tabs on his comings and goings. Delving into his massive catalog seemed daunting, however, and his mercurial nature made it difficult to get a bead on where to start. I got Low a few years later with the intent of examining his so-called “Berlin Trilogy,” but I never followed up. Sadly, that’s about it. It’s not that I disliked his material or had anything against him. I just kept putting it off – for decades.

And then he died.

So now I have the awkward feeling of being too late to David Bowie’s party, falling into the category of people who will disingenuously purchase Blackstar and Ziggy Stardust remasters post-mortem in an attempt to stay relevant. Perhaps that is the case, but I don't feel that my dragging feet reflect my impression of him as an artist or bandleader, but rather with my delusional idea that we would have him forever. Fortunately, he left a massive body of work behind, and an indelible mark on popular music.