Nostalgia 101

or is that Nostlgia 201? Beats me, but thats the great thing about nostalgia, its the gift that keeps on giving. The other weekend I caught up with two age old buddies, people I experienced a lot with, back in the day when we were young & had brain cells to spare… They both managed to finish the degree that I bailed out of, but perhaps predictably none of us do anything directly related to what we were studying… In hindsight that is so obviously inevitable, but at the time; well sh+t; we were finding our way, finding what defined us as humans, working out what matters & what doesnt..
All three of us were total music-heads back then & still are… When we flatted together it was often a clash of the stereos & there we seldom any winners, but (had we cared) the neighbours were probably doing a good impression of the losers…. Anyway I got to thinking about the music we were all listening to back then & more specifically, the albums that were iconic & perception altering…

For me personally it was the Velvet Undergound, but for my flatmate/s it was Bowie… so continuing the nostalgia of catching up & remembering the crazy times I have also since spent time listening now, to what we were listening to back then…. And so after googling Bowie, to prompt my hazy memories, I headed off the the local record store & picked up vinyl of the 3 relevant albums for less than what itunes would have me pay (hah!) And those three albums, collectively known as the Berlin period, involve Mr Eno along with producer Tony Visconti. After listening through them & doing a bit more searching some funny & inspiring stories appeared.

First re Low: “The genesis of Low lies in both the foundations laid by Bowie’s previous album Station to Station, and music he intended for the soundtrack to The Man Who Fell to Earth. When Bowie presented his material for the film to Nicolas Roeg, the director decided that it would not be suitable. Roeg preferred a more folksy sound… Elements from these pieces were incorporated into Low instead.”

Hah! I have heard Randy Thom a few times refer to work of his that is deemed not required for his current project finding a new life in a future project, and it is an incredibly worthy sentiment. Context is everything & for something as abstract as music or sound, the further out there you get the more likely that some of your work may not find initial favour or use, which is more a reflection on that specific context than on the material itself. Archive it all & don’t forget it. New contexts will arise.

Further annecdotes via wikipedia: “On these tracks help was lent by ex-Roxy Music keyboardist and conceptualist Brian Eno, who brought along his EMS ‘suitcase’ AKS synthesizer (Bowie was later given this particular synthesizer as a birthday present after a friend obtained it in an auction).
Often incorrectly given credit as Low’s producer, Eno was responsible for a good deal of the direction and composition of the second side of the album and actually wrote the theme and instrumentation for “Warszawa” while Bowie was in Paris attending court hearings against his former manager. Eno in turn was helped by producer Tony Visconti’s four-year-old son who sat next to Eno playing A, B, C in a constant loop at the studio piano. This phrase became the “Warszawa” theme.”

OMG! I need a friend like that! For the Synthi more than the 3 note inspiration…

“Low has been acclaimed for its originality and is considered ahead of its time, not least for its cavernous treated drum sound created by producer Visconti using an Eventide Harmonizer. On the release of Low, Visconti received phone calls from other producers asking how he had made this unique sound, but would not give up the information, instead asking each producer how they thought it had been done.”

Now THAT is genius & I am making a mental note to use that at all times in future, whenever someone asks me; “hey so how did you make XYZ sound?” I shall reply ‘well, how do you think I made that sound? what does it sound like to you?’ The jewell here is that random people will provide naive (or not) ideas as to areas you could also explore!

Its funny though, my brother was also into Bowie when I was young & after listening through all 3 albums I hadn’t found what had struck me as being a fantastic unique aspect to Bowies music. So of course wikipedia provided my answer – I had crystal clear memories of the most beautiful abstract piano solos; melodic yet twisted. Turns out I was listening to the wrong albums for THAT memory. So later on my lazy Sunday afternoon I was off back to the record store to pick up Aladdin Sane. Have you heard that album lately? That piano break in the title track is as vital as it was the first time I heard it! And so who was responsible for the genius?

“I had told Bowie about the avant-garde thing. When I was recording the “Aladdin Sane” track for Bowie, it was just two chords, an A and a G chord, and the band was playing very simple English rock and roll. And Bowie said: ‘play a solo on this.’ I had just met him, so I played a blues solo, but then he said: ‘No, that’s not what I want.’ And then I played a latin solo. Again, Bowie said: ‘No no, that’s not what I want.’ He then continued: ‘You told me you play that avant-garde music. Play that stuff!’ And I said: ‘Are you sure? ‘Cause you might not be working anymore!’. So I did the solo that everybody knows today, in one take. And to this day, I still receive emails about it. Every day. I always tell people that Bowie is the best producer I ever met, because he lets me do my thing.”

God bless you Mike Garson! In that one solo you altered my perception permanently, every bit as much as My Life in the Bush of Ghosts did around the same time! And it took them a whole album. If you are ever in New Zealand on holiday…

One thought on “Nostalgia 101

  1. Matt

    Great post!! I always find myself listening to old Bowie and the like.. and always find myself saying “how come old stuff is so much better than new stuff”? Maybe it’s the relative simplicity of some of it – and yet, it’s so genius at the same time. So glad I saw him in Wellington before he quit the tour… Was like sitting down in front of a giant HiFi….

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