Part 2 of "Chance Meetings" is now online. It’s free. You have no excuse.
I went up to Seattle for the weekend to hang out with Christopher McQuain and to see David Bowie perform at the Paramount--a great venue and certainly smaller than anyplace the man generally plays on a full-scale tour. I had seen him on the Area2 tour a couple of summers back, when he was promoting Heathen, and it was fantastic. His career, to my ears, has been on a creative upswing since Outside, each album getting progressively better. That last performance was outdoors, at Washington's amazingly beautiful Gorge amphitheatre, but the Oni gang got really close and were able to witness the man's obvious joy at performing. Unlike his peers who increasingly rely on their own image and end up selling us their pose (Jagger), "reinvent" themselves by regressing (Rod Stewart), or just don’t seem to have a clue (McCartney, Elton John), Bowie manages to remain vital, adapting his sound to match current standards without going for what’s popular (this is the '90s we’re talking about, not the Tommy Stone-'80s). He, instead, looks to the fringe for inspiration, and be it alternative, industrial, techno, or the resurgence in garage rock, he manages to make it his own the way he so masterfully did with glam, soul, and other genres in the '70s.
This was clearly in evidence Sunday night. Playing with a solid sextet, Bowie created a party atmosphere and focused on a big rock sound (though, with acoustic respites like "Days" off the new album or the unparalleled gorgeousness of "Life on Mars?" recast as a piano ballad). Looking svelte in a sleeveless T-shirt, Bowie looked more like a rock star pin-up than he ever did in his youth. And with his voice taking on a mature smoothness to match his body, it's evident that what may have been considered his prime was just the beginning.
The set list was spread across his entire career, with the oldest song being "The Man Who Sold The World" and the most recent being three songs taken off his 2003 album. There were also a lot of covers, including songs by Neil Young and the Pixies, as well as a blistering "White Light/White Heat" and the classic he gave to Mott the Hoople, "All The Young Dudes." And while an encore of "Five Years/Suffragette City/Ziggy Stardust" was about as sublime as one could dream, the quartet from Low--"New Career In A New Town," "Breaking Glass," "Be My Wife," and "Always Crashing in the Same Car"--was beyond my dreams. Low is the first Bowie album I owned (bought, shallowly enough, because its cover appeared on the wall of a Suede promo shot taken in Brett Anderson's bedroom), and so it holds a special spot for me. For him to have gone for the less obvious choices ("Sound and Vision," neither seen nor heard) was a manic pop thrill.
People-watching was relatively interesting, also. There was an extremely drunk and/or stoned guy in front of us who kept high-fiving his friends ("Dude, 'Five Years.' 'Fiiiiiive Years'!!!") and raising his hands in the air, rocking around like he was on an imaginary rollercoaster, more than once landing on his ass in the aisle. Two older Doobie Brothers next to me sparked up twice, yet their joints had no odor and they remained stiff as a board the entire night. You have to wonder what really was in those little cigarettes, as they had no effect at all, left no trace that they had ever even been there.
Most interesting to me, though, was the attractive female in the satin, floral-print, strapless dress in front of me—and not for the obvious reason (the phrase "God-given ass" comes to mind, though). No, I was impressed more for the preparedness of the female species. She exited at one point, sporting bare shoulders and ample cleavage, only to return with a much less revealing view and evident support. Two blue straps now rose out of the dress and over her shoulders. Apparently, she had carried a bra with her, perhaps thinking the dress might not be able to withstand the dancing. I know I have shown up for gigs in outfits that later proved somewhat implausible (though, in my case, more restrictive than revealing), and so admired the forethought and practical approach to fashion. I love details like that, they often make for interesting background in writing. And, yes, I am a dirty old man.
(Seriously, ladies, is this a common practice?)
On the train ride to Seattle I finished the Eggers book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. It never veered off the path the way I feared, leading me to believe that the long and contrived preamble was either the author protesting too much, afeared that us common folk may be shocked when the prose took a metafictional divergence, or just overly indulgent in the too-clever side of himself he will deride often throughout the narrative. Either way, it is unnecessary and nearly harmful. I have encountered at least one person who has twice failed in his attempts to penetrate the text and put it down. I assured him that once you get into the novel proper, and get the swing of Eggers's loose voice, it is quite engrossing.
The ending was satisfying without taking the easy route. He lets the more conventional climax pass many pages before the ending he settled on, leaving the reader in a much more complex and less tidy place. While the final thoughts are somewhat conflicted, the narration itself opens up--simultaneously summarizing what has preceded the final passages and moving past them, to a mental state full of possibility, the hopeful moments before the breakthrough.
Current Soundtrack: Relaxed Muscle, A Heavy Nite With...