Iron, Candy, (and David Bowie)

This week I fully intended to talk about the sixth anniversary of the Wednesday Wanderings.  I’d been looking forward to it, had checked and found out that the “traditional” gifts for the sixth anniversary are iron and candy, with wood as a “modern” alternative.  Then on Monday morning, as Jim and I were settling into work, Jim (who was reading the morning news highlights) said, “Oh!  David Bowie died.  I’m sorry.”  He got up from his desk and came over to give me a hug.

Some Bowie Stuff

Some Bowie Stuff

The fact that Jim offered condolences as if Bowie was a personal friend probably says something right there.  I never met the man, although I always hoped that I might someday – and I’m still feeling poleaxed that this is now impossible.  One thing I love about doing these Wanderings is that I can wander if I want to, and I plan to do so…  but first, let me give the anniversary date its deserved acknowledgement.

Six years is a long time, especially for a blog that appears faithfully every Wednesday, rather than being just a newsletter highlighting projects.  Over the years, the Wednesday Wanderings has spawned two children: the Thursday Tangents (with Alan Robson of New Zealand) and the Friday Fragments (with me and lots of books).   It’s also the parent of a book on writing – Wanderings on Writing – which is available both in paper and as an e-book.

To my delight, the Wednesday Wanderings have also picked up a suite of regular Commenters.  (Is that a word?)  Having exchanged e-mails with many of these, I know that there are a lot of people with strong opinions and thoughtful minds participating.  I want to thank you all for remaining courteous to each other and to me.  It’s nice to have an unofficial “no flame wars” zone.  I hope more of you will feel welcome to join the conversation.

I also encourage you – whether in the Comments or (if you’re shy) directly to me via e-mail at jane2@janelindskold.com – to ask questions and suggest topics you would be interested in me addressing.  I can’t promise – unlike some people who write blogs, I don’t pretend to be the last word on everything – but if I can, I’ll give your topic a shot.

And now…

David Bowie…  I’m not going to talk about the man and his works, because there are a lot of people out there more qualified to write about him, although to this point I’ve yet to read a book that I felt did him justice.  Maybe that’s because it’s impossible to produce a definitive picture of a chameleon in action.

Well, that’s fine, because part of what appealed to me was that very chameleon element.  So, instead of trying to talk about David Bowie or even “What David Bowie Meant to Me,” I’ll offer you a few snapshots (or, perhaps as a nod to one of his albums, I should say “Pinups”) of David Bowie’s work (in which I include more than his music) as it ambled through my life.

1975: My brother wins a copy of Young Americans by being the right caller to a local radio show.  As my sister reminded me, this was the first contemporary album to enter our household.  I remember sitting staring at the picture on the cover, trying to figure out if it was a guy or a gal.  At that point, I didn’t know the lyric from “Rebel, Rebel” “Is that a boy or a girl?”  I just knew I was being offered a puzzle.

1983: Let’s Dance is released and becomes wildly popular.  At the same time, DJs make numerous nasty comments about how Bowie has “sold out.”  I’m puzzled.  Even by then, even with my limited resources (I didn’t have money for albums, much less a stereo), I’m aware that if there is one constant in the work of David Bowie it is – as anyone who bothered to pay attention should know – “Changes.”

1986: I’m walking down a street in the “Arthur Avenue” Little Italy in the Bronx where I live when a poster on a video rental store pulls me up short.  It depicts a roughly triangular montage of weird fantasy creatures, topped by somebody who looks like David Bowie.  It is.  He’s the Goblin King.   I see the movie and – after nearly dying from shock during an opening that seems to be for the most horrible Fantasy film ever – I fall head over heels.  I still love that film.

Mid-late eighties.  I’m done with my undergrad work, in grad school.  CDs have come out and LPs are being sold cheap.  I start building a vinyl collection.  Now I can finally listen to the music without relying on radio play.  I discover that a lot of the best pieces never made it to Top 40.  One particular treasure: David Bowie in Bertolt Brecht’s Baal from 1982.

1987: David Bowie has a new album out, Never Let Me Down.  Lots of critics think it’s terrible because, once again, he’s not living up to their expectations.  I love it.  I also fall head over heels for the video of the “Glass Spiders” concert tour.  Again, this is something the critics hate and even Bowie himself is quoted as saying was a huge mistake.  I think they’re wrong.  It’s not a rock concert; it’s surrealistic drama.  I understand that the critics are finally coming around to my point of view.  I hope Bowie realized that he’d done something very fine there.

My sister, Susan, actually went to the concert.  Later, she gave me her copy of the program.  I have it.  It’s a treasure.

1990: I’m done with grad school, living in Lynchburg, Virginia, where I teach college.  My youngest sister sends me a poster of Bowie for my birthday.  It’s a head and shoulders depiction, “Serious Moonlight” vintage, not a photo, but a drawing or watercolor.  I frame the poster, hang it on my office wall.  To this day, I remember fondly the number of students who came to see Dr. Lindskold during office hours, only to get distracted by the poster and finally blurt out: “Is that David Bowie?”

Mid-nineties to present.  I continue following Bowie’s work, both filling in older stuff I missed and sampling more recent.   I see several films (even though I’m not a film buff).  Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence blows me away.  I read several biographies and critical assessments (and avidly disagree with a lot of them).  I learn more about his work – older and newer — and I find a lot I don’t like.

Perversely – especially as I move into writing professionally and discover how even the best fans and critics want you to do more of the same but different – I respect Bowie for trying new things, trying to stay fresh.  Changes.

2013: Bowie releases The Next Day, his first album in quite a while.  I get it and at first am very unsure.  For one, I miss the strong vocals.  For another, the cover art is really disturbing – even for Bowie.  Over time, I decide I like The Next Day, that it’s my favorite of his albums since Heathen, which I loved.   It seems to me that Bowie’s moving into a new creative vibe.  I’m happy to hear another album is in the works.

Now.  David Bowie is dead.  Blackstar is released.  I haven’t heard it yet, but I will.  My friend, Yvonne, gave me a Man Who Fell to Earth tee-shirt for Christmas, but it’s too cold to wear it.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Jones.  Thanks for all the changes.  Thanks for always being a reminder that while some artists thrive refining the same thing into perfection, for some change is the only way to grow.

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5 Responses to “Iron, Candy, (and David Bowie)”

  1. Louis Robinson Says:

    The landlord sets the tone for any establishment. It should surprise no one that gentlemanliness is the order of the day here.

    [Sorry, but I’m not all that great on the saccharine stuff. Best I could do in the way of Candy]

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      Thank you kindly, sir. I know some “blogs” draw a lot of traffic by being deliberately provocative, but I would rather have interesting and courteous discussions than high traffic if the only way to get high traffic is to be a troll.

  2. Dawn Barela Says:

    I was stunned by David Bowie’s death. I liked everything I ever heard. I don’t have many of his records (or cd’s) because there is too many great artists and albums and not enough money!!
    I LOVE Labyrinth! It is a wonderful movie! He was a good actor as well. He truly was good at whatever he set out to do.
    The world has truly lost a multi-talented Legend.

  3. Heteromeles Says:

    Congratulations on making it to six years Jane!

    There’s nothing I can say about David Bowie that you didn’t already say better.

  4. chadmerkley Says:

    Hurray for 6 years! I think I’ve been around here since 2012? The first entry I remember commenting on was about artist Melissa Zink. I’ve enjoyed the discussions, the humor, and lots of recommendations for good books. I’ve been given friendship and encouragement. Thank you, Jane, and thanks to all the regulars here.

    Condolences on the death of David Bowie. He’s not an artist I’ve ever been into (my tastes in music and showmanship are drastically different), but I understand how influential he’s been in modern popular culture.

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