Every human being loves music; the way you can tell who the alien androids are is by their indifference to our rhythmic noises. We all love and appreciate it differently, however. My appreciation is for the singer, not the song, generally speaking. This is to say that I do not like a genre of music so much as I love an artist; that is, I’m not a fan of ‘jazz’ but I have every John Coltrane album. I don’t much like ‘country’ but I have all of Johnny Cash’s music. When I find an artist that resonates with me I cannot help but embrace them deeply and fully. Bowie was one of those artists that I followed completely, intrigued even by the turns and alleys the critics and public ignored or loathed; I haven’t written much about him because I put him onstage in my ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and that expressed my grief more eloquently than writing here could have. But I need to talk about this.
I’m listening to his last concert which is just him at a piano. It’s the tour I always wanted to see; my favorite part of any of his shows was when he would sit at the piano and play for twenty minutes to give the band a break before the big finale. Much of what has been said about him was his mastery of musicianship and ability to play all the instruments on his records but when you saw him live you realized that he was playing the whole band like an instrument. And just now I realized the reason he was finally doing this tour was because he couldn’t have fronted a band the way he had even six months earlier. He has just slipped from ‘Dirty Mind’ into an enthusiastic cover of Vince Guaraldi’s ‘Linus & Lucy’ that just broke into ‘Little Red Corvette’.
When he was twelve years old and basically homeless he stood outside of a McDonald’s to smell the food; he died forty five years later in the elevator of his mansion with an estate worth a minimum of $300 million dollars.
He’s doing ‘How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore’, a b-side from thirty four years ago and everyone in the audience is singing along. This recording is terrible, from someone’s phone in the crowd but I can hear the music and feel the show. And it’s such a great show. He actually just did ‘Girl’ earlier in the show (around 15:15 on the Soundcloud link above. Ahem.) and it blew me away. ‘Girl’ was the b-side to ‘America’, which was the last single from ‘Around the World in a Day’. I always loved it despite (or because) it sounded like a half finished demo track that escaped from the vault. But here, stripped down to its bright beautiful hook and his amazing vocal it sounds like a classic. Then ‘I Would Die 4 U’ starts and everyone in the place goes nuts.
The ten minute version of ‘I Would Die 4 U’ has been a near constant companion since I tracked down a German import of it on CD back when I worked at the Wrecka Stowe in the early 90’s. Back in those pre-internet days you had to put effort into getting music; it is difficult to explain to The Youth and even hard for The Olds to remember, but there was something very satisfying about tracking down music that you had only heard about as opposed to the empty ease of YouTube. When I found a copy of ‘The Black Album’ in a record store in Decatur, Illinois in the summer of 1988, I felt a little like Indiana Jones. I just spun it again on Saturday night at my little brother’s house at a rather terrific party. I had listened to ‘I Would Die 4 U’ on the way there. It’s a live studio performance of how he was doing the song as a closer on the Purple Rain tour; I’ve probably listened to it five thousand times and I always get chills from it.
He’s doing ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’ with Marley’s ‘I Don’t Want to Wait in Vain’. It’s seamless, like they were written as a pair. Everyone is talking about his guitar playing but when the crowd is quiet the piano sounds like water on diamonds.
I discovered him when I was in junior high and that was it. My mom confiscated my ‘Dirty Mind’ tape but I just learned how to go underground to find Uptown. My father worried I was gay because I had his posters up in my room. I bought every album, single, and bootleg I could get my hands on. I went to shows when I could catch him and regretted every one I missed. As so many people have said in the past few days, his music is incredibly important to me.
Oh Jesus, he’s doing Sometime It Snows In April. When I was sixteen years old playing the Parade album for the first time sitting alone in my bedroom I broke into tears when I heard this song. It’s a sad song, but I was mystified by my own tears. Then five years later my best friend was killed by a drunk driver on April 1st and my memory of that time was tattooed with this song. It’s a great song but I rarely let it play if I was listening to Parade or if it came up on the shuffle. Then when I heard the news it began playing in my head on a loop. And it’s turning out it’s one of the last songs he ever played.
And then the first few verses of Purple Rain with Computer Blue & Diamonds & Pearls in the break and then back to Purple Rain and then the music is over.