pop culture

An Ode to Bowie

This morning when I woke up and checked Twitter I saw that legendary rock music icon, David Bowie, passed away at the age of 69 after an 18 month battle with cancer. I typically wouldn’t make a blog post about someone dying unless it was someone who I really loved or admired or who affected my life in such a significant way, but then something happened. The way I found out solved a 15 year mystery for me and it got me thinking. David Bowie has kind of been a subliminal figure in my life for a while, but especially the last several years. I would never label myself a David Bowie fan so to speak. I never listened to his music frequently, saw him as a personal cultural icon, or followed his life and career, but somehow David Bowie managed to silently sneak into my life at various times. So I figured, I would do a small ode to Bowie blog post as reminder of his subtle influence in my life.

David Robert Jones (Bowie) was born and raised in South London. He took the name Bowie during the start of his career so he wouldn’t be confused with the Monkees’ Davy Jones. He broke into the charts of the music world with Space Oddity in 1969 and released many more albums in the years following to much success. He even released a final album, Blackstar, as a parting gift to the world this past Friday. Bowie was known for his progressive, innovative, unique, and gender-bending persona. He was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. Throughout his life he was involved with many aspects of music, but also acted in several films. He truly was an entertainment superstar.

As a music fan, I know and have heard David Bowie’s music before. I’ve heard “Rebel, Rebel” more times than I can count.  I, of course, know the song “Under Pressure”, which he recorded with Queen in 1981. I’m pretty sure most people in general know the song, can hum the baseline, and also confuse it with Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby”, which caused some legal controversy in the early 90’s. “Heroes”, however, is my most favorite Bowie song of recent years, solely for the fact that it was featured on the soundtrack of a movie based off of my favorite book of all-time, which counts for one subtle Bowie appearance in my life.

Two more of those times involves two music themed movies. One of those movies has already been featured on The Film Playlist series (The Runaways). The other will be featured in the near future I’m sure. Both films have references to Bowie. Thus, two subtle David Bowie life appearances. Besides casually seeing David Bowie t-shirts, hearing celebrity references, and occasionally hearing his music throughout my life (more subtle appearances than I can count), Bowie’s limited acting career includes a few life appearances. One of his acting roles was in the movie Zoolander, a favorite movie of mine in middle school. He played himself and was the judge in the famed walk-off  challenge scene between Derek Zoolander and Hansel. Another movie he starred in back in the 80’s was Labyrinth, a movie I’ve never seen before.

You’re probably wondering how this movie and David Bowie fit in with my life then, right? Well in middle school a girl in my class used to randomly sing this song “Dance Magic Dance” , which at the time I thought she made up because it was so ridiculous. For those of you who have seen Labryrinth, you now understand the Ah-ha moment. For those who haven’t, let me explain. David Bowie played the role of Jareth the Goblin King and sings this song in the film. It wasn’t until the very moment that I found out about David Bowie’s death that I connected the dots on that song. I read a tweet by a celebrity I follow on Twitter that referenced Bowie’s death, the “Dance Magic Dance” song, and Labyrinth. Finally, I made the full connection. Right before I wrote this, I watched a clip of the song in the movie on Youtube. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and shook my head for the entirety of the clip. It was the first time I’d ever heard the real version of the song this girl used to sing in middle school, which was more than 15 years ago. Crazy. Subtle Bowie. So Subtle.

Lastly, I had a Halloween party a few years ago where one of my friends came dressed as David Bowie with the classic Ziggy Stardust lightning bolt painted across his face. Both him and another one of my friends had an appreciation for Bowie and his uniqueness that translated into him being Bowie for the party.

I’m sure there have been other times Bowie appeared in the background somewhere in my life. It’s like he’s photobombed all these life scenes for me. He may very well continue to do that even if he’s no longer with us. So thanks David Bowie. Thanks for being involved in cool things and random things, music things and movie things. Thanks for influencing so many in a variety of ways. And thanks for being subtle yet not-so subtle at the same time. *insert pic of Bowie creeping in the background*

 

 

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The Biggest Night in Music…or Something Like That

If you watched the Grammy Awards last night, I’m sure the one question running through your mind is “Was there anything Sam Smith didn’t win?” The answer is surprisingly “Yes!” no matter how you look at it. Sure you can say he didn’t win a Grammy for every category, but he wasn’t nominated for every category. However, he also did not win in every category he was nominated for (Pharrell won with “Happy” for Best Pop Performance), although it sure seemed like he did.

Anyway, I originally had planned to do a Grammy Awards recap today but then right before the show started last night I realized I really didn’t care to watch it. Prior to this I saw three of the categories I cared about were already awarded. Best Rock Performance went to Jack White for “Lazaretto”, Best Rock Song went to Paramore for “Ain’t It Fun” and Best Alternative Album went to St. Vincent for her self-titled album (see you at Coachella Jack and Annie!). After that I only cared if The Black Keys won Best Rock Album or if Haim won Best New Artist. Neither did. So there wasn’t much else for me to see. The performances weren’t my cup of tea nor were the other categories. I might have been mildly interested to see if Taylor Swift won anything for “Shake It Off”. That song may be a guilty pleasure of mine but I will not confirm or deny that (she didn’t win at all). Still, that was something I could wait to find out later without watching the show.

So I barely watched the Grammys. Instead it got me thinking, “Why do people watch the Grammys? Why are they so special? Heck, why do people watch any award shows and what makes some more important or better than others?” So I did some research and decided to answer those questions here.

First “Why do people watch the Grammys?” and “Why are they so special?” Well to give an answer to both of these questions at once (sorta) is because the Grammys are the oldest and most prestigious awards in music. The show started in the late 50’s and has continued until this point. So that’s why they’re special and I think part of why people watch. Another reason I think people watch is because they want to see if their favorite artists receive a major achievement. I’m sure some people watch to see the performances and drama that occurs with a live award show. There’s probably people that watch just so they can feel included to talk about the show the next day at work or school. Then there’s the people who watch for the fashion. There’s probably other reasons too, but I think those are some of the big ones.

I guess the same can be said for why people watch any awards shows. They care about what the show celebrates whether it’s music, tv, movies, etc., or they care about fashion and pop culture, or they just watch it for pure entertainment. What makes some award shows better than others? Well I think like I said before is how old they are and how prestigious they are deemed by society.

That’s the thing though. The Grammy Awards (probably other award shows too) were criticized plenty of times for just being some big spectacle that celebrates the music industry, caters to people for entertainment, and is less about the actual music than they want you to believe. Like many things in our culture, award shows get blown out of proportion. It’s society that makes us believe that awards are important and certain awards are more important than others. That goes for anything. I guess it’s the case that people need to feel validated sometimes and awards help with that. But I think it’s important for those receiving awards to feel validated no matter what, like the people who make music purely to make music by expressing themselves and creating a beautiful compilation of sound. There’s validation in just being able to make music. One of my favorite Grammy moments of all time happened when Justin Vernon of Bon Iver won two Grammys in 2012 for Bon Iver, Bon Iver and Best New Artist (he wasn’t new at the time but we’ll let that slide). Through his acceptance speech he basically indicated that the awards meant so little compared to the music which was so much more important. I’ve always respected musicians like that who put the music first. It is what’s most important. Awards are just an added bonus.

So I think it’s important for those of us that actually care about what the awards are for to remember what is really important about them. Hell, even if you care about the fashion or the water cooler discussion the next day it’s important to know the real reason for having an award show. Music, television, movies, etc. are all forms of art. They’re beautiful creations of tremendous amounts of work that have been shared with us. That is what is so incredible about them. That is what is most important.