33 And 1/3 Under 45: Track Fourteen – Black Tie, White Noise

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

You can find episodes on frondsradio.com and be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google PlayStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, my twitter handle is @stoopkidliveson and I’d love to hear from you. You can find Ryan’s band, Premium Heart, on facebooktwitter, or instagram for upcoming releases and shows.

The original column was published on September 15th, 2019 and can be found below.

Content Warning: this column deals with trauma, September 11th, 2001, and similar topics. All the heavy stuff is prologue to the column, so feel free to skip to the actual album review, starting with the fourth paragraph.

God is on top of it all
That’s all
We are we are we are

What’s the difference between a timeless legacy and a dated representation of the times? How do we decide what’s worth focusing on when we look back? It sure seems like a random and arbitrarily decided distinction. Sure, some are clearer than others. It’s easy to give credit for era-defining albums or days that live in infamy. Less noteworthy things, like one-hit wonders, are usually revisited as a nostalgia trip, not because they’re still relevant, whatever that means. Relevancy is such a nebulous concept and one that varies so much from person to person. Because of that, this column is going to be a little more divided than usual, focusing first on what’s on my mind leading up to putting this month’s album on repeat before diving into the album itself.

Just a few days ago, we passed the 18th anniversary of the September 11th attacks in New York City. I’m not going to get into my personal connections and memories with the event here, as I think they’re much too complicated to have as a backdrop to a music column. But this year felt… different for me than it usually does. Yeah, every year I see a lot of “Never Forget” posts alongside edgy jokes belittling it, the usual internet discourse ranging from deeply personal to the shallowest callousness and every level of no/half/full-hearted messaging in between. I was surprised, though, to see a lot of people talking about how it’s been so long, why do we still make such a big deal out of it, that it’s no longer relevant enough to justify all this attention. And this year, I saw an elevated level of animosity, which is, frankly, what I’ve come to expect in 2019. Some using it as an example of true American sacrifice, the day we were shown just how at risk the life we had taken for granted was. Others using it as the starting point of the modern American imperial era kicked into effect by the Authorization For Use Of Military Force Against Terrorists bill and the Bush Doctrine. Projecting it as the event that jingoists and fascists use to justify their politics. And while I don’t disagree with any of that, per se, I think there’s something deeply personal missing from that dichotomy, a focus on what parts of the event are still relevant and necessary to include in our thoughts on that horrible day.

I’m sure it’s because I’m a New Yorker, but I don’t think enough people give space for the trauma that it caused in so many of us. Yes, it is more important than ever to discuss the politics of the weeks, months, and years after that, especially now that people born after that day are now old enough to go fight in the wars that spun out of it. I was extremely lucky not to lose anyone that day, but knew plenty of people that did. When we look at such a catastrophic event as that day, we too often forget that the people affected are still affected and walk around with that weight every single day. First responders dealing with the mental (and physical) damage from being a part of it. People who were harassed, abused, and worse just because they looked like the people who did this. Children who were forced to confront so many things about the world, prematurely, that Tuesday morning. So many people lost something that day, and even though it’s been 18 years, not everyone’s found it yet. We all need to remember the real people that these macroscopic events touch, the micro reasons why 18 years isn’t nearly enough for these events to no longer be considered… relevant.

So what does that have to do with David Bowie? Aside from him playing “Heroes” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” at the Concert For New York benefit, not much on it’s face, actually. I was stuck thinking about the kinds of legacies that are left behind and how much weight we should give facets of more complex legacies. Whenever I’m stuck in a loop in my own head, thinking about some complicated or challenging feelings, there’s almost always a Bowie record that helps me focus. I think it’s because he reinvented himself so many times. Bowie is always relevant because he was always relevant. In the late 80s and early 90s, he was in a critical slump and a lot of people counted him out after he was unable to match his success of his early and mid 80s albums. But with 1993’s Black Tie, White Noise, he reintroduced himself and kickstarted one of my favorite eras of his career, his electronic house/industrial phase. Fresh off of his tenure in the band Tin Machine and beginning a marriage, this album serves as not only a revamp of what a David Bowie record sounded like, but a goodbye to the Bowie everyone already knew. From “You’ve Been Around:”

Where’s the pain in the violent night? I’m depressed by the grin.
I stay over many years. I should have thought of that.
For the love of the money. Like a black-hearted vile thing.
It’s the nature of being. It’s too many lonely nights
I can’t tell bad from wrong
I can’t pass you by, too exchanging
You’ve been around but you’ve changed me

The album has way more than just the lyrics to show the bridge between Bowie’s past and future. He considered it a blend of 60s pop melodies with 90s house music. Bowie brought back Nile Rodgers, his producer from Let’s Dance a decade prior, but made a conscious effort to distance himself from that sound. Bowie picks a few covers to include on this album, too, and those choices are very telling. He covers Morrisey’s 1992 track “You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side,” which itself was heavily influenced by Bowie’s glam rock era, not least of all because it featured Mick Ronson, Bowie’s guitarist from 1970 to 1973, most famously on Ziggy Stardust. Bowie covers the contemporary song inspired by his classic style, once again merging the past and the present. There’s a very 1993 version of Cream’s 1966 single “I Feel Free,” featuring Mick himself. This was their first collaboration in 20 years, but tragically, Ronson passed away from cancer only 24 days after the album’s release. The inevitability of moving forward is clear on the record, no matter how familiar it may seem on paper. From “Miracle Goodnight:”

Don’t want to know the past, I want to know the real deal
I really don’t want to know that
The less we know, the better we feel
Morning star you’re beautiful, yellow diamond high
Spinning around my little room, miracle

Bowie, more so than any artist I listen to, always managed to stay relevant while staying familiar. He always sounded like Bowie, even when what that means is so hard to describe. His catalog serves as a long narrative, with twists, turns, and losses that I find really inspiring. Every few months I do a full listen of his discography, chronologically, and I have different takeaways every time. Sometimes I love the Berlin era most of all, sometimes his early work, this time his 90s stuff. It always helps me to get clarity on complex issues I have, knowing that it’s possible to consider the multitudes and learn more as you revisit the complexities. You don’t have to completely understand every phase and growth right away, whether it be from an artist’s work or your own traumas. Someone like Bowie, someone beautifully expressive and honest, helps to shed light on my darkest thoughts and keep me company in my loneliest memories.

It’s hard for me to imagine a time when people thought Bowie’s career was over. But like all timeless art, his time came again, and he was able to reinvent himself and cement his legacy as someone with countless aspects. As we look back through the art we love, the people we idolize, and the events that shaped us, it’s important to try to look at them with the nuance they deserve. It’s always more complicated than it seems on the surface and bullet points rarely capture the whole picture.

They’ll show us how to break the rules
But never how to make the rules
Reduce us down to witless punks
Fascist cries both black and white, who’s got the blood, who’s got the gun.
Putting on the black tie, cranking out the white noise

33 And 1/3 Under 45 – Track Four: The Berlin Trilogy Part 3 – Lodger

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

You can find episodes on frondsradio.com and be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google PlayStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, my twitter handle is @stoopkidliveson and I’d love to hear from you. You can find Ryan’s band, Premium Heart, on facebook or twitter for upcoming releases and shows.

The original column was published on December 29th, 2018 and can be found below.

In the event
that this fantastic voyage
Should turn to erosion 
and we never get old
Remember it’s true, dignity is valuable
But our lives are valuable too

Here we go! We’re at the end of Bowie’s Berlin trilogy. We started with Low, continued with “Heroes,” and now we’re finishing up with Lodger. I’ll be back to monthly after this, so I’m excited to see where I end up in January.

Full disclosure, right up front. I don’t have nearly as much of an attachment to Lodger as I do Low and “Heroes.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good album. For sure. It just doesn’t have as grandiose of a thesis as the last two. It kind of wanders and is a bit all over the place. But that’s why it works for me. When you’re going through a transitional period, you can’t always end up in a clear, concise, and obvious place of growth. You usually just end up “here.” And you usually can’t tell where here is until you’re already… somewhere else. But it’s important to remember how you got “here.” Even when that trip was a rough one, it’s still, as Bowie calls it, a “Fantastic Voyage.”

But any sudden movement I’ve got to write it down
They wipe out an entire race and I’ve got to write it down
But I’m still getting educated but I’ve got to write it down
And it won’t be forgotten
‘Cause I’ll never say anything nice again, how can I?

We’re learning to live with somebody’s depression
And I don’t want to live with somebody’s depression
We’ll get by, I suppose

It’s a very modern world,
but nobody’s perfect

There’s a lot of interesting directions Bowie and Eno choose to take on their final (for now) collaboration. Songs like “African Night Flight” and “Yassassin” pick up where the final song on “Heroes,” “The Secret Life Of Arabia” left off, with Bowie and Eno experimenting with world music. These serve as the most diverse songs on the record, which doesn’t feature any of the ambitious atmospheric instrumental pieces the last two albums featured. I don’t have a whole lot to say about them, but these serve to define the eclectic and meandering style of the record. Coupled with the German influenced “Red Sails,” this record really feels like Bowie wandering around the world trying to find the next musical outlet to call “here.” In case the diverse styles aren’t enough to convince us of this, here’s Bowie on “Move On.”

Sometimes I feel the need to move on
So I pack a bag and move on
Well I might take a train or sail at dawn
Might take a girl when I move on

Somewhere, someone’s calling me
And when the chips are down
I stumble like a blind man
Can’t forget you

The second side of the album is more focused and thematically driven. After establishing that Bowie can do whatever he wants on Side A, Side B is all about expectations and what those restrictions can do to people. Now that Bowie has broken out of the standards he’s set on his own records, it’s time to explore just what that kind of pressure can do when you *can’t* break free of it, in four different acts.

First, in “Look Back In Anger,” we see the set up. No matter where the pressure is coming from, we can so often only get mad and just wait for it to reach a tipping point.

Look back in anger, driven by the night, Till you come
(Waiting so long, I’ve been waiting so, waiting so)
Look back in anger, see it in my eyes, ‘Til you come

Then “Boys Keep Swinging.” What about privilege? Can these societal pressures benefit some of us? Is it fair? What’s the downside to that?

Heaven loves ya, The clouds part for ya, Nothing stands in your way
When you’re a boy
Clothes always fit ya, Life is a pop of the cherry
When you’re a boy
Uncage the colors, Unfurl the flag, Luck just kissed you hello
When you’re a boy
Learn to drive and everything, You’ll get your share
When you’re a boy

Well, the downside is for the people that tell those boys no. Nothing’s ever their fault, everyone else is just getting in their way. When someone is expected to be handed everything, over and over again, how does that person confront people that say no? Usually pretty poorly, as he lays out in “Repetition.”

He’ll get home around seven
‘Cause the chevy’s real old
And he could have had a cadillac
If the school had taught him right
And he could have married Anne with the blue silk blouse
And the food is on the table
But the food is cold
(Don’t hit her)
“Can’t you even cook?
What’s the good of me working when you can’t damn cook?”
Well Johnny is a man
And he’s bigger than her
I guess the bruises won’t show 
If she wears long sleeves
But the space in her eyes shows through
And he could have married Anne with the blue silk blouse
Shows through

And finally, he concludes the album, and this theme with “Red Money.”

Oh, can you feel it in the way
That a man is not a man?
Can you see it in the sky
That the landscape is too high?
Like a nervous disease
And it’s been there all along
It will tumble from the sky
It’s been there all along
Project cancelled
Tumbling central
Red money
Can you hear it fall
Can you hear it well
Can you hear it at all  

Lodger is a complicated album. Sure, it’s use of world music, and hooks helped influence so many musicians for decades to come, but at the time it was met with a pretty middle of the road response. But I think that’s fitting. After the masterpieces of Low and “Heroes,” expectations couldn’t be higher for a listener going in to Lodger. And what do you find? Wandering through different styles, grasping to see what works or what resonates with an artist in limbo. I’ve heard it described as a thesis-less album, but what if that’s the point? Aren’t we all unfocused, thesis-less people until we move on and someone decides what our “defining” thesis was? Sometimes we get the honor of deciding, but more often than not, it’s just the imprint that we left on someone else that actually matters. We’re all just different stages of put together as we fall sloppily through someone else’s idea of a narrative. If Lodger is about anything, it’s about the struggle of finding the balance of who you are, how society helped create that person, and how hard it is to overcome those expectations. There’s no clear answer, within the record or within ourselves, but at least the record ends with a hopeful:  

Such responsibility
It’s up to you and me

33 And 1/3 Under 45 – Track Three: The Berlin Trilogy Part 2 – “Heroes”

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

You can find episodes on frondsradio.com and be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google PlayStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, my twitter handle is @stoopkidliveson and I’d love to hear from you. You can find Ryan’s band, Premium Heart, on facebook or twitter for upcoming releases and shows.

The original column was published on December 22nd, 2018 and can be found below.

Something in the night
Something in the day
Nothing is wrong but darling, something’s in the way
There’s slaughter in the air
Protest on the wind
Someone else inside me
Someone could get skinned, how?
(My, my) someone fetch a priest
You can’t say no to the beauty and the beast

I’m back and so is Bowie! Last week, I covered his 1977 masterpiece, Low. And don’t worry! Next week I’ll be talking about the final piece of the trilogy, Lodger.

But today is all about “Heroes.”

If Low was about facing your demons and recognizing where you went wrong, “Heroes” is all about what comes after that realization. From the opening track, “Beauty And The Beast,” I could feel Bowie’s desire to grow. But not by forgetting the past or ignoring your mistakes. Our flaws and origin stories are a part of us, whether or not we let them define us; ignoring them only makes it harder to prevent slipping back into those old habits.

I wanted to believe me
I wanted to be good
I wanted no distractions
Like every good boy shouldNothing will corrupt us
Nothing will compete
Thank god heaven left us
Standing on our feet
(My, my)
Beauty and the beast

Facing my struggles head on really is the only way I’ve found that helps me get over them. Pretending that you’re perfect just creates a cycle of constant avoidance and Bowie lays that out on this record. Like in “Joe The Lion,” a song that, to me, pretty clearly makes a case against the strong face we put all of our energy into maintaining instead of just letting everything in. It creates a cycle of “always on guard, always defensive” that isn’t good for anybody.

You get up and sleep
Joe the lion
Made of iron

I’ve always had trouble with letting little things go. I always hold grudges and because of that, the slightest things set me off. This has been a pretty constant theme of my arguments with those I care about, as I’m so often saying “No, it has barely anything to do with this thing, it’s a larger issue.” If I could just address the issues as they happened, instead of staying silent at the time, these things wouldn’t build up so badly and I wouldn’t put all of my stresses onto one innocuous event. Moments that seem trivial to others often become these huge turning points, character defining moments, or silent breakdowns for me.

Sons of the silent age
Listen to tracks by Sam Therapy and King Dice
Sons of the silent age
Pick up in bars and cry only once
Sons of the silent age
Make love only once but dream and dream
Don’t walk, they just glide in and out of life
They never die, they just go to sleep one day

Like Low,“Heroes” ends with several instrumental tracks that are just as beautifully constructed by Bowie and Eno as the ones from the last record. “Sense Of Doubt” is a terrifying and deep bass-heavy piece, but with swells of treble optimism. “Moss Garden” is an exploration of calm tranquility. “Neukoln” feels like a tense, dissonant sci-fi soundtrack that draws from both of the previous pieces. Just sit in a room and spend a few minutes with headphones on. I think this block is even more immersive and well-constructed than the ones on Low and are worth really diving into. They close the record with questions on where to go, like Low, but this time, I felt like some of the answers were hidden in there. Just waiting to be revisited and re-contextualized when I was ready for them. Now, of course, I can’t leave without talking about the title track. But I’m going to break chronology again and talk about another song first, “Blackout.” It pairs well with my main takeaway from “Heroes,” that the only way to really accept and move on from your flaws is to take them one day at a time. One of the major beliefs I hold is that love is the most empowering force in the world. Sure, I’ve had plenty of times in my life where I projected way too much of my happiness and self-worth on a relationship, but that unhealthy dynamic too often overshadows the inspiration and strength that we can pull from love. “Blackout” sets up the co-dependence trap that so many of us have fallen into. We’re all waiting to be saved, waiting for a dramatic kiss in the rain that fills all the emptiness, but if you wait for someone else to do all the work, you’ll never get there.

If you don’t stay tonight
I will take that plane tonight
I’ve nothing to lose, nothing to gain
I’ll kiss you in the rain

Get me to the doctor
Get me off the streets
(Get some protection)
Get me on my feet
(Get some direction)
Hot air gets me into a blackout
Oh, get me off the streets
Get some protection
Oh, get me on my feet

That brings us to the title track, ““Heroes.”” This song means the world to me. What does it mean to be a hero? Is it always being perfect? Is it always being the strong one saving everyone? No. A hero is someone who loves. A hero is someone who lets themselves be loved. They draw on the strength from those that they love and that love them back. They lift each other up and work together. Everyday we fight the villainy of our own inner demons. We don’t always win, but together, we can learn how to not lose, just one day at a time. All it takes to be a hero is to do what you can, even if it’s just for one day.

I will be King and you will be Queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day

It’s not about erasing or hiding your weaknesses. It’s about embracing them. Maybe as a cautionary tale. Maybe to see those same weaknesses in people we can help. Maybe just to remind yourself how far you’ve come and how strong you truly are.

And you can be mean and I’ll drink all the time
Cause we’re lovers and that is a fact
Yes, we’re lovers, and that is that
Though nothing will keep us together
We could steal time, just for one day

Even if we aren’t strong enough today; maybe today we just can’t fight. So? There’s no harm in trying. And that’s all a hero is. Someone who tries, no matter what. No one’s a hero until they try to be one.

I can remember standing by the wall
And the guns shot above our heads
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall
And the shame was on the other side
We can beat them, for ever and ever
We’re nothing, and nothing will help us
Maybe we’re lying, then you better not stay
But we could be safe, just for one day

So who can be a hero?

We can be Heroes –  Just for one day – What d’you say?

33 And 1/3 Under 45 – Track Two: The Berlin Trilogy Part 1 – Low

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

You can find episodes on frondsradio.com and be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google PlayStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, my twitter handle is @stoopkidliveson and I’d love to hear from you. You can find Ryan’s band, Premium Heart, on facebook or twitter for upcoming releases and shows.

The original column was published on December 15th, 2018 and can be found below.

Baby, I’ve been breaking glass in your room again
Listen don’t look at the carpet
I drew something awful on it
See you’re such a wonderful person
But you got problems
I’ll never touch you

It’s been a rough month. The only way I can bring myself to describe it is transitional. And my main companion throughout it has been David Bowie. Last month, I talked about why and when I started listening to Bowie, so I won’t reiterate, but the shorthand context is that I just got married and election day came and went. And for this month, I’m going to dive into my favorite era and for the next few weeks, I’ll be covering an album from the Berlin Trilogy.

Up first is Low.

I’m new to the whole Bowie catalog and… lore would probably be the best way to describe the many personas and phases of his career. The first album that really resonated with me was the incredible Station To Station, under his Thin White Duke persona. Which if you don’t know, is an interesting and controversial era for him, when he made a lot of seemingly pro-fascist remarks, which he later attributed to cocaine and drug abuse. Following the end of that era, Bowie moved to the still-divided city of Berlin to escape the toxicity of his lifestyle in LA and work on his next three records with Brian Eno, the first of which is Low.

When I first learned this context, I had already fallen in love with the record, after getting caught in a blizzard with it for a very tense two hour drive home in the snow, but the story behind it made me take a closer look at what Bowie was trying to say. I was soon struck by just how much it really resonated with my feelings over the last month. From “Be My Wife.”

Sometimes you get so lonely. Sometimes you get nowhere

Please be mine
Share my life
Stay with me
Be my wife

I hadn’t realized just how much of my anxiety and anger at the world was being scapegoated into the aforementioned wedding and election. I was constantly saying “Once we get through this, we’ll finally have time to…” and “Once this all goes right, I’ll be way better, I promise” to no one but myself. Afterwards, I felt… empty? The wedding was perfect and the election was a wave. Objectively, everything should be great now, but I wasn’t being honest with my problems in the first place. Just like Bowie’s (and America’s) temporary love affair with unchecked fascism, I was putting so much faith in this larger idea to just fix everything without having to actually rectify the issues inside of me. Hoping to be saved left me bottling up a lot of things I’ve struggled with for years, like my anger. I started really retreating into myself, choosing headphones over my stereo and sitting alone in my office instead of working in the open living room. Too often, when I tried to open up, I just found myself in another argument. More often than not they were either my own fault or I was over exaggerating the effect of someone else’s flaws. The next song, “What In The World,” lays it out better than I can.

Deep in your room, you never leave your room
Something deep inside of me – yearning deep inside of me
Talking thru the gloom
What in the world can you do?
I’m in the mood for your love
I’m just a little bit afraid of you
So what you gonna say and what you gonna do?
Ah, what you gonna be?

I’ve always struggled with a lot of internal rage. At society, at my friends, at my family, the list goes on. I’m always aware that I’m flying off the handle, but I just can’t bring myself to stop. Even when, no, especially when those that I love are the focus, I can’t help it. I hate it, but I’m trying. Throughout Low, Bowie talks a lot about how hard it is to break the toxic cycles that define us, even when you know you’re being watched by those affected. In “Always Crashing The Same Car:”

Jasmine, I saw you peeping
As I put my foot down to the floor
I was going round and round the hotel garage
Must have been touching close to ninety-four

But I’m always crashing in the same car

Structurally, Low is a fascinating album. The first 7 songs are complete, but only just. They’re primarily shorter snippets, some instrumental, that fade out right when you start to get the feel of what Bowie was going for. As soon as I felt the connection and message I was looking for, Bowie leaves, leaving us both with the same problems we had before he started. This happens over and over on the record; I’m never ready to hear the end of a song like “Sound And Vision.”

Pale blinds drawn all day
Nothing to read
Nothing to say
Blue Blue
I will sit right down
Waiting for the gift of sound and vision
And I will sing
Waiting for the gift of sound and vision
Drifting into my solitude
Over my head
Don’t you wonder sometimes
‘Bout sound and vision?

And the way the album ends is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. The final songs are mostly instrumental (or with atmospheric and often non-English vocals), so I can’t really show you any excerpts here. During the following year’s tour, he opened with the first of these “Warszawa” to make sure the audience was patient and ready to really experience the show (side note, listen to David Bowie: Stage, it might be my favorite live album). These pieces sound like the perfect soundtrack to my favorite movie, whether it exists or not. They’re somber. They’re complex. They’re so… deep and rich in instrumentation and tone. This is exactly what I’ve been feeling sounds like and that… helps.

The Berlin trilogy’s first entry really means the world to me and really set me up to try to face my issues head on instead of projecting and scapegoating. How’s that going? Next week, I’ll talk about how “Heroes” started to help me answer that question.

Care-line driving me – Share bride falling star