Tag Archives: Lazarus

I Feel A Void: Lady Gaga’s Tribute to Bowie

Yeah, I saw Lady Gaga last night. After realizing I wasn’t going to be at home in time to catch the beginning and a quick text home, I knew I’d be playing with the fast-forward button on my DVR in order to squeeze in the more interesting parts of the Grammy Awards into my evening TV plans. Rest assured, Lady Gaga and Nile were on the top of that list.

Naturally, I watched some of the rest of the awards show as well. I don’t know about anyone else, but it very much felt like a LACK of awards show, and much more about just performances, which is fine…I guess…but it was strange to be five minutes into the broadcast and have LL Cool J announce that Lamar Kendrick had already won five awards. What the hell?  Maybe that’s just me.

As I continued fast forwarding whenever possible, I finally got to the Bowie tribute. Here is where things get tricky for me. First of all, I wouldn’t dare call myself a huge Bowie fan. I have dear friends who are huge Bowie fans, and it would be unfair to put myself in that same category. I will say that I have become far more of a fan since his passing, and that’s probably a subject for a much different blog post that has more to do with art than fandom. Moving on…

Performing something called a tribute is a very difficult balancing act. The goal of course is to honor the artist. That artist might be honored posthumously, as in the case of David Bowie…or they might be watching in person, as in the case of Lionel Richie last night. Either way, I truly believe that the people performing do so in an attempt to honor.  Do fair justice and respect to the work without making the performance about you (the performer) when it should be about the artist being honored. Make it too much about the person you’re honoring, and it can end up looking like a mockery of the very person(s) you’re trying to honor.

This goes as much for tribute bands, who make a living (or try to do so!) playing onstage in the persona of the band/artist they honor as it would for something like the Grammy’s where a huge portion of the show was dedicated to tributes (like last night). When I go to see a tribute band (I go often and have seen many, from Elvis and the Beatles to Oingo Boingo, Depeche Mode and Duran Duran to name but a few), the acts that are the most successful are the ones that take it seriously without going over the edge into ridiculous. Make too many jokes about the band you’re paying tribute to – and you’ve just taken that down a road that fans will not like. Play too much like your real-self, changing the original music and arrangements to suit your own taste, and you’re just a cover band, which is fine, but don’t call yourself a tribute act. There’s always a fine line to walk, and many bands do not do it well.

So, with that in mind, I watched intently as Lady Gaga’s face appeared on my TV screen and became painted like the Starman. She came on stage with beautiful red-hair and sang incredibly.  Had she just done that: relied on her voice, her obvious love for Bowie’s style, music and art, I think it would have been fine, I really do. But somewhere along the line, either she decided or someone told her that she should try to completely embody Bowie. And that’s where it all went wrong for me. I am not even a huge Bowie fan, and yet I couldn’t help feeling as though I was watching a poorly executed Vegas act in certain moments of the performance. It wasn’t her voice, gosh no. She was incredibly strong and did a beautiful job. It was theatrics that really got me. No one need point out that Bowie himself was theatrical. Believe me, the point has not been overlooked. The problem is, in recreating that drama, it felt very over-the-top, sliding down the steep terrain into mockery. It was pointed out to me by Katy Krassner that she really didn’t seem to be doing that intentionally (and I am sure she wasn’t), but I struggled with how to describe it all.  Campy is the right word. Picture a Vegas lounge act, and I think we’re on the right track.

Here’s the thing, at least for me: Lady Gaga sang beautifully last night. I want to make sure that point comes across. As much as I disliked and was confused by what was going on visually, her voice completely blew me away. I really don’t know that they could have found anyone else to do the job as well when it came to singing the songs. I loved seeing Nile every time he was given precious camera time, and I was thrilled to hear just a few bars of “Let’s Dance”.  I just don’t understand why her voice and Nile’s obvious talent and emotion for his friend weren’t enough without the theatrics.

The difference between Gaga and Bowie comes down to artistry. Bowie just knew how to make it all work together without one overshadowing the other, and he did it with ease. Bowie’s work never really looked like he was forcing it into being a spectacle, in my opinion. Even at the time of his death and in the making of the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus”, he was able to work in those deep, hidden messages without changing the intention of his work. Hell, I fell in love with Lazarus before I even realized what it was truly about. That it ended up being this lasting message to fans about the end of his life on this earth, and the idea that he made his death into this gorgeous supernova which becomes a black star (another word for a black hole) that will live on, just makes me long for more. (I could write and talk for hours about that single album and its artistic references. I mean, the man turned his death into a fucking multimedia event. Who does that?!?) When Bowie sang Starman, for instance, it wasn’t campy or in danger of becoming a late-night lounge act on the Vegas strip. It was just enough without going over the edge. That’s where the real art lies, and for me, that’s what last night’s performance was missing.

I’ll end with this thought: should the day come when it is Duran Duran being honored, I would hope that it would be done with the utmost in care and respect. I don’t need to see a full-mock up of the yacht from Rio, military suits, tigers, leopards, or a scene from Wild Boys on stage to honor them. I simply want to see respect from an industry that has offered them very, very little over the years. I would think that is all any fan would want.

-R

Goodbye David Bowie, Starman

RIP David Bowie

1947-2016

In a lot of ways, I’m really not sure there’s anything else for me to write…I am certain I can hardly do David Bowie, of all people, any sort of justice with my writing…but I will try.

I was just tweeting with someone about David Bowie last week. We had watched “Lazarus”, which oddly enough, I found to be one of the most artful videos I’ve seen in a very long time. (No, that doesn’t mean that I think “Pressure Off” is terrible, or that it’s not art. That’s ridiculous!) The video is haunting, and scary, and I thought about it for days afterward.  The figure of Bowie in his bed, a hand reaching from under the bed in a sort of grim reaper fashion, The way we are looking down upon him or he upon us…the video is filled with all sorts of imagery and is definitely an allegory. Who really knew, besides Bowie, that Lazarus would be his goodbye – his parting video shot – at the world? Genius.

The person I was tweeting with at the time had met Bowie, and very much considers him a hero. I pondered that, having read many times over the years that meeting your heroes or idols was always a let down.  I highly doubt that I’d have felt that way upon meeting David Bowie…or members of Duran Duran for that matter. They are people I very much admire. Fallible, beautifully gifted, wonderfully flawed, people. I thought about that as I read with wonder about this person’s experience. I really appreciate reading stories about someone meeting their hero – it’s that fandom researcher in me, I suspect.

There’s really no huge point to this little story aside from the fact that I think to at least some extent, Bowie was to Duran Duran what Duran Duran is to their own fans. I might add, it is heart-wrenching to see idols lose their own hero.

So with that in mind, today’s news – which naturally I didn’t read about until about 8 hours after it was announced, thanks to Pacific Standard Time – must be incredibly sad and devastating to Duran Duran.  Nick shared the following on duranduran.com:

“He fed us pure inspiration, beautifully strange and always unpredictable, yet somehow everything made perfect sense. No other musician was more influential for our generation.

David was a pioneer, an inventor, a space traveller, a superhero, a truly astonishing songwriter and a friend.

It’s hard to imagine that any artist will ever leave more musical and cultural treasure behind.

Thank you for letting us share your journey DB. We’ll miss you more than you’ll ever know.” 

– Nick Rhodes, London, January 11, 2016

Beautiful words. Far better than I could have strung together at such a time, to be sure.

Once again, I found myself tweeting with someone this morning as I sat staring at Twitter saying, “Nooooo….couldn’t be.”   This person, who I am hoping doesn’t mind being anonymously quoted (if you’re reading, your words were perfect. I had to include them.) “[Bowie had] the capacity to change who he was without losing his personality…The main inspiration Bowie left others is that change is not only good, it is essential to artistic survival.

Ever have a light bulb go on so brightly you can’t help but notice what you’d been failing to see all along? It was that moment for me this morning. Admittedly, I never made that connection with Bowie and Duran Duran. (I miss things. Obvious things, sometimes…because I’m too busy reading between the lines!) For all of the strife involved every time Duran Duran puts out a new album and the core fan base has to readjust their thinking, you can’t help but admire them for taking that cue from Bowie. And today they mourn his passing. Idols saying goodbye to their own idol, or hero.  We look to Duran Duran, as we always do, for some way to trudge forward. Nick’s words were a comfort (as they typically are). Yet I feel like we should be consoling them. In the same turn, I realize that if they feel even half as strongly about Bowie as we do them, there is little that can be done to console.

So, as is also typical, I turn to the music. I re-watch “Lazarus”, trying to see the message that is clearly being left behind.  What once haunted me now has me captivated. Of course it is a goodbye. Of course Bowie is trying to tell us his time is limited and that this is his final parting message.

As my Twitter friend eloquently stated, the inspiration that was left behind will live on through artists like Duran Duran. The ability to completely reinvent himself without losing his personality – the essence of what David Bowie really IS  or WAS – will live on and continue to inspire.

What a gift.

-R

What Does it Mean To Fly the Scene?

I miss great music videos. Don’t get me wrong, music videos like “Pressure Off” are fun too. I can watch something that like and not really need to get past the frivolity – and to be fair, isn’t that really the point of the song anyway?

On the other hand, I love art. I just watched David Bowie’s new video for “Lazarus”, and marveled. It’s dark, disturbing, even scary. It made me uncomfortable, and I really found myself thinking. (gasp!) How appalling to be forced to employ the grey matter while watching pop culture, right?  Wrong, at least as far as I’m concerned.

Pop culture has the potential to be fraught with messages and artistic meanings, if one cares to look.  I love the irony and sarcasm…the double entendres, and even the intelligence and dry humor.  This past weekend, I went with my son to the Getty Center up in Los Angeles. Truth be told, he’s taking an Art History course this year and he needed to go and find a work of art to study and write about otherwise I’m fairly certain I could have never convinced him to go. I, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to visit! I’ve been to the Getty several times, but it had been several years since I’d gone – and I knew they had an exhibition on Ishiuchi Miyako. She is a Japanese photographer, and the entire exhibit, named Postwar Shadows was meant to profile her career, beginning with the series Yokosuka – focusing on the town she grew up in, post-war and ending with her current series, Hiroshima – which is a collection of photographs of artifacts from the bombing.  I loved the entire exhibit, spending more time in there than I did in a few other areas of the Getty. There were two areas within the exhibition that profoundly affected me. Scars -photographs of scars on humans – no faces are in the photos, just close-ups of the battle wounds from life. My son thought they were bizarre – not really feeling the same sort of soul-bearing emotion that I got from the work. Even more so were the collection of photos entitled Mother’s. She had begun by taking photos of some scars her mother had received from a horrible scalding when she was young as well as some of her belongings. As she worked on that series from time to time, her mother passed away. She continued the work, focusing on photographing some of her mother’s belongings, in effect turning the collection into a beautiful tribute, almost eulogizing her mom. One pair of photos I loved most were tubes of her mother’s lipsticks. They were taken up close, with every possible crack and crevice exposed. I think that in my head, they sort of illustrated a life fully lived, but just as we never know how long we have – they were half used, assuming they had a “tomorrow”, when in fact they did not. Just ordinary tubes of lipstick, shot in a way that felt like such an intimate exposure. I won’t forget those photos any time soon.

That’s honestly how I feel about some music videos. I will never forget the mark they’ve left on me. On one hand, it’s “just” music, as I’m sure many might be thinking in response to this post. On the other, videos (and music of course) have the potential to be wonderful art, to convey a message and/or tell a story. At one point, videos had many of these themes in spades, often times hidden just enough so that viewers from the broadest of spectrums – everyone looking for anything from art to escapism, basically – would be entertained. The more bizarre, the better. I think of “Like a Prayer” by Madonna – not necessarily bizarre but definitely controversial, even more so after the Vatican condemned the video and later on as sexual abuse in the church was brought to light. How about “Two Tribes” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood? Not weird, but certainly with a message about Cold War.  Here’s one for you, “Radio Ga Ga” by Queen. What’s odd about a family sitting at home, listening to the radio….while wearing gas masks?  I’ll let you decide. I just know I LOVE it!  Let’s talk about “Wild Boys”, by our own favorite group! Not necessarily that weird. No even all that controversial, but how about that windmill? Or John Taylor strapped to a car? (I had to throw it in here just to see if anyone was still reading!) One last one for now – Genesis’ “Land of Confusion”. I still don’t get that one, but I dig it all the same! More recent examples I can name, both from the Duran Duran “family”, would be “Falling Down” (obviously Duran Duran) and “Euphoria” (TV Mania).

My point here is that while I dare say that music videos were better in the 80s, it is really because I miss the weirdness. I miss the less-than-obvious messages and the creativity. Mostly, I miss Duran Duran doing videos like that, because I know they’ve still got it in them. This is a band who, beneath it all, still very much believes they are art school-based. In some ways I think they’ve bottled that creativity once reserved for videos (which in all fairness were conceptualized by directors, not the band themselves) and brought it to their live show. Now to just remind myself to tear away from the minutia of the show long enough to grasp the bigger picture.  Even so….

Seeing a glimpse of real art in David Bowie’s “Lazarus” today was a breath of fresh air.

-R