A BOX AND A HOLE

I don’t often pre-order records. Has to be something pretty special and I have to be feeling expansive (pre-ords are always expensive) and patient (the lead time is usually considerable). But having missed out on the multi-CD issue of Bowie At The Beeb back at the turn of the century, I was determined not to repeat the error. So in went the order for the 4LP set, sometime pre-Christmas 2015. 

With the passing over of credit card details the memory of the purchase drifted out of consciousness. Partially the volume of acquisitions, partially protecting oneself from too much anticipation. Blessed are those that expecteth nothing, for they shall not be disappointed.

There were expectations around Bowie’s new album, of course. His 25th studio release, Blackstar, released into the world on 8th January 2016. Pre-ordered that too.

Then, on 10th January, Bowie died. 

We knew he was ill, yet it felt sudden. Shocking. More heartbreaking than I could make sense of, even via a long and probably self-indulgent post. Somehow the fabric of popular culture seemed torn and no number of tributes or archival releases has been able to stitch it up. Bowie is gone.

Will they change the Bowie At The Beeb release, I wondered? What did that question even mean? That a funereal black band would be added to the box? Fuck knows.

But I do know that while I could tackle Blackstar with its intimations of mortality and möbius density, the youth and life of Bowie At The Beeb undid me. I just couldn’t listen to the young David, tentative and hungry, stretching and yawning like an indolent teenager waking to a day full of promise and tedium.

“Silly Boy Blue”, recorded May 1968 with the Tony Visconti Orchestra, if you don’t mind, and broadcast on John Peel’s Top Gear, has such innocence, such insouciance. A charming interview with Brian Matthew from 1969, introducing a previously unheard song, “Let Me Sleep Beside You”. Slightly twee but with hints of Hunky Dory. Side one of eight.

Record two gives us a slab of early 1970 Bowie, featuring the first appearance of Mick Ronson. I love the stuttering grandeur of “Cygnet Committee”. We want to live, I want to live. Two songs from April ’70, including “The Supermen” which didn’t appear on the 2000 CD set. HA!

The photos. Hair long, feminine. The costumes. Wouldn’t have admitted it back then (even to myself), but I’d have said yes, if he’d asked nicely.

The lovely, loyal Mick Ronson, gone since 1993. Time takes a cigarette. 

Duo performances of David and Mick. Intimate. “Oh! You Pretty Things” (Side five).

Writer’s Bowie T-shirt not quite visible

The Spiders From Mars doing their thing with infectious swagger while Bowie pirouettes (Sides 6-8).

There may or may not have been a lump in my throat during “Rock and Roll Suicide”, the final track on side eight.

Give me your hands ‘cos you’re wonderful.

24 comments

  1. My flatmate had this, in a bizarre CD collection where it was his only Bowie album, nestled among a random selection of one-hit wonders and novelty songs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What an odd choice. But then, could one consider “Space Oddity” a novelty song? (Not that it’s on this collection. As David gently points out when asked whether he will be performing it, “It would take two or three orchestras and I imagine that’s beyond anyone’s budget”.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I like the very early Bowie, long before the poses and mannerisms of the 70s. There are such cloudless songs as “Good Morning Girl”, where you just have to blink: from so much lightness you can only get infected.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed Herr Hotfox. There is a charm, indeed a radiance, to some of the early work. Still, I love the theatricality of 70s Bowie; it is always standing on the firm foundation of great songs.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sure, the 70s were groundbreaking for him. First as half-soft Greta Garbo “Hunky Dory”, then as bisexual “Ziggy Stardust” and as “Pin Up” cheek to cheek with Twiggy. Bowie always changed his ways without losing his face: “Time me change me / but I can not trace time”.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. chris delprete · · Reply

    I too purchased this and worked my way through it piece by piece. The arrival of Ronson (like that of Eno in later years) reenergised Bowie to my ears. Since his death the deluge of rereleases (box sets and picture disc singles) shows no sign of abating. I have mixed feelings about this- as much as I love the man’s music I’m not sure I need the boxed reissues or the singles. It’s often said that death is a wonderful career move- proved by Lennon, Hendrix, Presley, etc. All that being said the choice to indulge or not is mine and occasionally I still do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Chris. I find the archival live material of more interest than singles, never having been a one-song bloke, but there has been (and doubtless will continue to be) a steady stream of these. Blackout London 1979 (Stage rebooted), Glastonbury 2000…
      I always speak sternly to myself about restraint and prior research, but as a strategy it has little impact. As you say, it’s an indulgence.
      By the way, I agree that Mick supported Bowie in reaching the next level.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I used to pre-order quite a bit, though less frequently now and, when I do, I tend to visit a certain retailer that offers a pre-order guarantee and only takes payment when shipping (not ideal when you forget you have a bunch of stuff ordered). Anyhoo, I have been stung a few times where they have emailed to say they can’t fulfill an order – such was the case with Blackstar.

    Anyhoo, as someone who is probably more familiar with Bowie’s post-2000 later stuff and bits and pieces from the mid to late 70’s, this is the kind of item that I’d like in my collection.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, the business I’m writing for do a lot of pre-orders. Fortunately they are honourable and diligent and it seems to work out OK. Often the problem is the customer, who’ll return a boxed set (at the business’s expense) due to a minuscule crease in the cover. It’d be enough to turn me into Basil Fawlty, so luckily I’m just the writer.

      Re Bowie, fascinating though this set of BBC recordings is, I’d recommend the studio albums rather than this as a starting place, J. I reckon Sir would enjoy ‘Hunky Dory’ for ‘early years’ starters.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sometimes you need to accept a slight crease.

        Hunky Dory, eh? Just hit up Wikipedia there – home to Changes, Life on Mars, and Andy Warhol. I think you have given me a good steer, Bruce. Thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Chris Blackman · · Reply

    Yep, lump in my throat during “Rock and Roll Suicide”. The ultimate in teenaged poignancy. Mick, Trevor and Woody were the ideal combo behind Bowie in the early 70s. So long ago…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Too true. On all counts.
      Thanks Chris.

      Like

  6. I carried the multi CD set back in the day.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    Lots of love there Bruce, very sweet.

    Like

  8. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    And I like the irony in the title.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Bill. ‘Ash in a Pot’ just didn’t have the same ring.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. pinklightsabre · · Reply

        Ha, that’s good.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I sure hope they make a film for Bowie someday as they did for Freddy Mercury. My G-d, Bowie towered over everyone. Great post, Bruce. – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Marty. I reckon a Bowie film would need to be in at least two parts. What a life and body of work!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. So would you say this is worth owning/listening to again and again over time or is it a one-and-done nostalgia thing?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Always a good question for these releases, Jim! For a Bowie fan who enjoys the period up to Ziggy, I reckon it’s a keeper. If Ziggy and onwards is one’s bag, I’d probably not bother.

      Like

      1. I dug Bowie from early on right through ‘Let’s Dance’ then drifted away, returning sporadically. But I am a big Bowie fan for sure. I probably should delve into his later catalog. just to see what good stuff I might have missed.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Did you acquire Blackstar, Jim? I thought that was a pretty amazing exit-offering.

          Like

        2. No I don’t buy much these days but I have streamed it. Good, unusual stuff and I really emotional sendoff. Bowie pulls off his own eulogy.

          Liked by 1 person

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