Updated: Aug 24, 2022
I know kids. Ancient territory. I do enjoy new music and will comment on recent music soon. At one post a year, I should get to you about 2044.
Let's discuss "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars". Whew. That's a mouthful...
Anyway, back to you kids (under 50) if you take a close listen, perhaps this monumental album might give you a sense of why the greatest musical decade that ever was and, in my (and, I've recently learned, Homer Simpson's) humble opinion, still holds the title. The 1970's.
Take a real deep think and tell me if I'm not at least close. In fact, barring Mozart, the Beatles (who technically made it into the 1970's) and those guys, I dare you to submit a decade that produced more of the core of what we call popular (Pop) music today. Gershwin included. Yep, even ol' Blue Eyes.
David Bowie. What can you say? They called him a "chameleon". For good reason. Not only did he take on the androgynous identity of Ziggy Stardust (the undisputed leader of the "Spiders from Mars") he also transformed into the "Thin White Duke", "The Blind Prophet", "Aladdin Sane", "Major Tom" or "Halloween Jack" wth, seemingly, little to no effort.
In retrospect, it is simply amazing how he slid in and out of these various personas as easily as a lubed up banana into a condom. Let's just say he was a slippery guy.
Also, let us put things in perspective. Ziggy and the Spiders album was released on June 6, 1972.
Your PARENTS or GRAND parents were kids then. You toddler.
Being gay, flamboyant, glam-oriented, or anything out of the cultural norms of the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson's ever longing for the right girl, the right time or space or John Lennon's hippy-dippy shit was well, at the time, I'm sure, quite confusing to the record-buying public, en masse.
Otherwise, we were still watching Elton John playing the straight "piano player" who could never quite decide whether he wanted tot be a C&W artist or a flowery balladeer. Queen had yet to hit the scene with any significance. The New York Dolls, Gary Glitter, and Alice Cooper were only whispers if non-existent.
The only trailblazing artist of note may have been Marc Bolan (with or without T-Rex). He was largely, in not entirely, a British treasure. TTBOMK, "Bang a Gong (Get it On) was his only US hit. An anthem even. But really, how threatening was that song?
Unless I missed the boat and "Bang a Gong" is some weird (note: anything I know nothing about is "weird"...this means you) underground, Warhol-ish code for "butt plug" or something, I can't see anything alarming to the typical American unless they actually SAW Bolen. Then they might have scratched their heads a little.
The record is a loosely based story about an alien (like the outer space kind, trumpers) and his observations and struggles of being an earthling. And a rock star.
Which, if I may be so selfish, diminishes my OWN dreams of being a rock star, considerably.
I mean, Ok. This guy lands on earth. tells us a bunch of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" shit and then proceeds to be a rock star???
Well, I'm sorry. Zig, you may have your problems but what about those of us who have been dreaming to be a rock star for the past 70 years? I mean, get over yourself. Hop back into your rocket and GTFO.
So, this guy lands on a piece of tinfoil and is suddenly glorified while damning the universe and particularly, mankind, He is on the brink of "Pink" on "The Wall's" "One of My Turns". This is weird because "Ziggy" came nearly a decade before "The Wall". Not quite, but Ziggy can smell "One of My Turns" as part of his glittery soliloquy
The story, as a film? It would be a disaster. Plus, Dave has tried a couple of attempts that really never made it out of the "cult" status. Major points for Major Tom in his very disciplined performances. It just didn't catch. Didi it?
But let us talk about the music. This was the solemn hatching of the Glam movement which has affected music and performance to this day.
We aren't talking sweaty, mascara-streaked David Johanson of the New York Dolls or, for that fact, the more subtle (and weird) Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground.
This was music that grabbed onto your brain and, dare I say it? Dare I??? Made you think.
For the most part, the tunes themselves, are very accessible and even very groovy maaan.. Musically, this album is among the most astute examples of Bowie's expert craft. He was a songsmith and his range was far a wide. But this particular collection showcases how he takes simple progressions on makes them sound magical.
"Five Years" (and you're all gonna die) is an exquisite piece of the "For the love of God! Listen to Me!" genre That one might find on an episode of "Mystery Science Theater 3000",
Bowie managed to pull off the correct amount of logic, humanity, love-of-life and soul-crushing imminent tragedy coupled with blinding panic. His vocals are beyond compare. He conveys it all and can easily lure you into his dystopian nightmare. His despair is beyond real. His pleading "my head hurts a lot!" can make your skin crawl.
The piece, to me, only amplifies our daily slog through this dreary existence where animal preditors are no longer a worry that the very real possibility of we, (the royal "we"), are ultimately destined to continue to be our worst own enemy.
We shall slowly (or not, depending on the nuke button pushers) consume ourselves. Our general regard for humanity shall continue to deteriorate. Soon, I fear, to a point of no return. Bowie fears this also. He was just several years ahead of his time.
I don't have to remind you of the news. There is a page turning in America and it doesn't promise to be pretty a one. We lash out at "Karens" and people on "Rascals" and long lines at Starbucks. This, I'm afraid, is what we've become. We no longer have a common enemy so the enemy is us.
Genes take a really long time to turn. We should be in this muck for a couple hundred thousand years on the light side. In the meantime, how many ways can we come up with to anilliate life?
So, it CAN make you marvel at Bowie. We could classify him as a Rock and Roll, Sci-Fi genius. Though he is in good company in the world of literature, it's an uncommon trait amongst those who preach "the truth" to our youth every evolving day.
Jesus. He even wrote his own death album. Who does that?
I'm not claiming Bowie was prophetic, but the album is a standalone that will make you think about life, stardom (either the daily scratching for crumbs or as a full-on-Brittney), the inevitable downside of glamour, and then we're kind of on to "Major Tom".
Just like that. "Fuck this noise. I'm getting on the first rocket out of this place". Say's Major Tom.
A notion that has not been lost on the likes of Elon Musk and Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Big brains to be sure. Crazy brains? I think not. Sci-Fi and its weirdo writers have, over the past century, scored more hits rather than crapped out.
"Suffragette City" is really the only cut that could have been called a "hit". It seemed ubiquitous, at least in my memory. It seemed to me and, based on the DJ's preference on AOR stations that I listened to throughout the '70s and beyond, that this song was quite a hit.
However, a brief perusal of reviews at the time really gives "Ziggy" some rather un-enthusiastic commentary. Critics were "cautious". Too much so, in my opinion. Spit it out, man! Pussy! Afraid your editor is going to ship you off for enthused honesty? Well, GOOD. You don't belong there.
It seemed that most of them knew they had something different on their hands but there were few, if no torch bearers to guide them.. Until a couple of decades went by...
THEN, the album was a "masterpiece".
I don't know. I remember getting my hands on this disc at the age of 12 or so. What did a 70's kid think? "Cool. Is there any more pizza?"
In my own history, "cool" was a stamp of approval. An uninformed, melodic dependent, message ignorant and, just your normal stoned-out 13-year-old's opinion.
But that opinion has lasted, It was a book marker. And for decades (God, I'm old) down the road, my listening grew sharper. We are a musical (some of us professional) family. So, the general rule in our house is you can't play the current song you love too many times.
Timeless music is timeless. I could rattle off a few dozen, if not more, timeless pieces in my "awakening person" discography. They range from Bobby Short to "The Bad Livers". I'm hopelessly in love with all music.
There are albums I love more than "Ziggy". But not very many. I mean that. This one has been in my brain for nearly 50 effing years. I mean you talk about "earworms". I guess, I guess...well, at least on my boat, that stamps this album a classic.
Oh, so does the US Guv. "Ziggy" made it into the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry in 2017. And he's an effing BRIT!
For what it's worth.
Updated: Aug 28, 2021
Gram Parsons was born Ingram Cecil Connor III on Novemeber 5, 1946 In Winterhaven Florida. He died on September 19, 1973.
Poor Gram. He didn't even make the "27 Club" whose more esteemed members include Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Ron "Pigman" McKernan, Amy Winehouse and Chris Bell amongst many other influential musicians.
Boy, trying to encapsulate Gram in a short blog is pretty challenging. Post Boomers are not likely to know anything about him and even many Boomers are unfamiliar. Let's frame him this way: Without Gram, there would be no "Country Rock". He managed to commandeer the lead role in already established "The Byrds" and the result of this brief takeover resulted in the monumental Byrds album "Sweetheart of the Rodeo". Although Gram had been at work well before this classic 1968 release, his participation resulted in what many consider the ultimate seed album for the "Country Rock" genre.
With Gram, there would be no Eagles, Jackson Browne, Creedence, Linda Ronstadt (one of Gram's backup singers and collaborator), Charlie Daniels, Pure Prairie League and further up the California soft rock scene, Fleetwood Man (the xth generation with Buckingham/Nicks).
"Sweethearts" is such a classic. But Gram had fronted other bands that left their mark on the contemporary music scene then and now. "The International Submarine Band" was really his first entrance onto the Western music scene. He also fronted the phenomenal "Flying Burrito Brothers" who probably deserve a blog of their own.
His influences ranged from Merle Haggard (" I Must Be Somebody Else You've Known" ) to Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Buck Owens not to mention the entire, gigantic burgeoning rock and roll scene that stormed the 1960's.
He wasn't afraid to take risks. Imagine, back in the sixties, some "long hair" walking onstage in a cowboy bar with a sequined and "bedazzled" matching coat and pants depicting every drug on the planet, singing this, at the time, strange mixture of songs all those cowboys knew all the way to something bordering on head scratching is-this-country-or-what? He left many scratching their heads but ultimately gained a loyal following from both the rock and country camps.
His solo career was short. The two albums listed above pretty much comprise his entire catalog. However, here is where the genius of Gram shines. He rehydrates the classic "Hickory Wind" from "Sweetheart", but this time helped by the, then , relatively unknown true sweetheart of the rodeo, Emmylou Harris. I personally think that this time, with Harris, were his masterworks. Titles to hear include the penultimate version of "Love Hurts" which was later a huge hit for the mostly forgotten 70's rock act "Nazareth". George Jones' "That's All it Took" , Parson's self penned "Hearts on Fire", "Return of the Grievous Angel", "Cry One More Time", and the sadly foreboding "In My Hour of Darkness" round out the cream on top the milk. There are more gems too numerous to mention here.
As alluded to at the beginning, Gram died at age 26. Can you imagine? The gigantic influence this man had was during a age many of us would still consider a "boy". What can you say about that kind of genius? Shooting star isn't even appropriate. His influenced continues to haunt the studios of Wilco, Whiskeytown, Son Volt, Black Eyed Keys, Jack White and so many, many others.
Though his death was indeed tragic -alone in a cheap motel room in Joshua Tree, CA- his demise still remains a bit of mystery. Check out this Rolling Stone article from the time: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/gram-parsons-the-mysterious-death-and-aftermath-204652/
What really strikes me about this article, besides the obvious wonderment, is how "gentle" the press was back then. And this was a "left wing-commie-pinko-faggot" magazine in the minds of the public at large. Imagine how they would have ripped poor Gram to shreds today?
Here's an added bonus I really urge you to check out even if you are a casual fan. "Grand Theft Parsons" is a 2003 comedy about the true story of a pact Gram and his road manager Phil Kaufman made. The pact between the two best friends was simply this: Which ever of us dies first will ensure the other is burned upon the majestic landscape of the Joshua Tree National Monument.
The film is a sleeper starring Johnny Knoxville in a surprisingly convincing performance as Kaufman. It's mostly true but you should still have a grain of salt or two on hand. Highly recommended.
Also there is a more standard documentary produced by Spothouse& The BBC called "Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel". It's a freebie on Youtube so just click to watch. It's pretty fascinating.
As I progress in these articles, we shall encounter myriad geniuses. However, I am particularly in awe of this guy. So much creation in so little time... RIP Gram Parsons. What could have been?