How Bowie Bookended my Final Days of Youth

Last weekend, I celebrated my thirtieth birthday. It had been a Bowie-fuelled couple of days. On Friday, while writing my piece about Bowie’s new band, ‘Blackstar’ played non-stop. On Saturday, I enjoyed the entire ‘Heroes’ album with family in the afternoon, and again in the evening, with friends. On Sunday, ‘Blackstar’ cured my epic hangover. On Monday, Bowie was dead. And the world stopped turning.

It all seems like a compressed version of the huge impact Bowie had on the lives of millions of people. He built landmarks in our memory. He was like a globetrotting friend: hard to recognize at every return. Different hair, different costume, different band, different sound. Different.

The launch of his most recent album ‘Blackstar’ was equally different: haircut of an electrocuted person, ‘bicoloured’ eyes blindfolded, electro-jazz people in his ranks and prophetic avant-garde rock on tape. He created a brilliant scenography for his final masterstroke, which would foreshadow his imminent end.

“The last show that we’ll ever do”

Unfortunately, Bowie didn’t just silence one his incarnations this time. In 1973, at the end of a concert in London’s Hammersmith Odeon, he laid Ziggy Stardust to rest, saying: “Not only is this the last show of the tour, but it’s the last show that we’ll ever do.” A stunned audience and legion of journalists thought Bowie was withdrawing from music altogether. But only three months later, he-who-used-to-be-Ziggy launched ‘Pin-Ups’. And the following year saw the release of ‘Diamond Dogs’.

The saddest festival. Ever.

Now that I’m reading Ziggy’s famous last words again, I’m transported back to 2004: I’m wandering around the Rock Werchter festival site. Somewhat lost. Hugely disappointed. Bowie cancelled his set due to severe heart problems. I bought the ticket for one man and one man only. But the saddest bit was that I would never get the chance to see Bowie in action. Ever.
At that time, I took the Bowie train from … station to station. Commuting between the stilish art rock of ‘Heathen’ and ‘Reality’, colourful early works like ‘Hunky Dory’ and the revolutionary sounds of Bowie’s Berlin trilogy.

Icon/Iconoclast

Later, I found that every single Bowie was fascinating:

Young Brel Enthusiast (Amsterdam), Novelty Hitmaker (The Laughing Gnome), Spokesman of the Late Space Age (A Space Oddity), Folky Balladeer (‘Space Oddity’),  Pop Perfectionist (Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust), Orwellian Messenger (‘Diamond Dogs), …

Philly Soul Man (on slightly underrated album ‘Young Americans’), Pale-Skinned Skinny Sci-Fi Actor (in Nic Roeg’s ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’), Ambient Architect (‘Heroes’ and ‘Low’), …

Visionary Pierrot (Ashes to Ashes), Spontaneous Collaborator (with Queen on Under Pressure), New Romantic Dancer (‘Let’s Dance’), Mid-Eighties Superstar (This Is Not America, with the Pat Metheny Group), Back-to-Basics Bandleader (with Tin Machine), Mourning MC (at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert), …

Icon-turns-Iconoclast (Little Wonder), Self-Mocking Funnyman (in Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant sitcom ‘Extras’), Renaissance Rocker (‘The Next Day’), Legendary-yet-Obscure Backing Vocalist (The Reflektor by Arcade Fire), …

“Love, David”

Last Sunday, that same Bowie eventually put off his mask and let his superhuman soul slip away. He bookended my birthday with his, and with his sudden decease. In my thoughts, he left a litte piece of paper, on which he wrote: ‘I’m off now, Fabian, and I’m taking your youth with me. Just so you know. Love, David.”

David Bowie Back

Buy me! Vintage music ads, Part I

Punks, proggers, pub rockers, … everybody wants to sell records. Back in the day, long before we all went online, bands and record labels would have to draw attention to their latest offspring through print advertising. Considering the inventiveness and atmosphere of some of these vintage music ads, it now seems a bit of a lost art. Let’s start off with my favourite example …

Lou Reed – ‘Rock n Roll Animal’ (1974)
Lou Reed - Rock n Roll Animal - Vintage Music Ad

Miles Davis – ‘At Fillmore’ (1970)

Miles Davis - At Fillmore - Vintage Music Ad

Elvis Costello – ‘This Year’s Model’ (1978)
Elvis Costello -  This Year's Model - Vintage Music Ad

Rush – ‘2112’ (1976)

Rush - 2112 - Vintage Music Ad

Kraftwerk – ‘Man Machine’ (1978)

Kraftwerk - Man Machine - Vintage Music Ad

Jeff Beck – ‘Blow by Blow’ (1975)

Jeff Beck - Blow by Blow - Vintage Music Ad

 Iggy Pop – ‘Lust For Life’ (1977)

Iggy Pop - Lust For Life - Vintage Music Ad

Queen – ‘News of the World’ (1977)

Queen - News of the World - Vintage Music Ad

Television – ‘Marquee Moon’ (1977)

Television - Marquee Moon - Vintage Music Ad

Caravan – ‘If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You’ (1970)

Caravan - If Could Do It All Over Again - Vintage Music Ad

Ian Dury – ‘New Boots and Panties!!’ (1977)Ian Dury - New Boots and Panties - Vintage Music Ad

Ian Dury - New Boots and Panties - Vintage Music Ad2Ian Dury - New Boots and Panties - Vintage Music Ad3

AC/DC – ‘Highway to Hell’ (1978)AC/DC - Highway To Hell - Vintage Music Ad

David Bowie – ‘Heroes’ (1977)
David Bowie - Heroes - Vintage Music Ad

 Captain Beefheart – ‘Trout Mask Replica’ (1969)

Captain Beefheart - Trout Mask Replica - Vintage Music Ad

Bruford – ‘Feels Good to Me’ (1978)Bruford - Feel Good to Me - Vintage Music Ad

King Crimson – ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’ (1969)King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King - Vintage Music Ad

Eureka - The Explorer's Guide to Discovering MusicEureka - The Explorer's Guide to Discovering Music

Eureka! The Explorer’s Guide to Discovering Music

Discovering new music is one of the great thrills in life. I know I won’t stumble upon a ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ or ‘Skylarking’ every day. But I’m always either fixing holes in my record collection or reaching out my antennae to find gripping melodies, off-kilter sounds and downright musical iconoclasm.

Some sixty years ago, you needed a traveller’s mind, a portable tape recorder and preferably Lomax for a last name. Today, you can become a music explorer operating from the toilet! Well, most of the time.

Guiding light

I’m not referring to more haphazard ways of discovering music, like sitting by the radio and wait endlessly for a refreshing tune, or randomly picking songs on Spotify. No, you better have a guiding light, some guarantee that you’re at least looking in the right directions.

The following tips reveal how I’m unearthing music. Now and in the future. Use what you like and do let me know what you discover!

Never a dull moment!

1. Dive into your parents’ or uncle’s record stash. Ask what they grooved to when they were young. And join them on a trip down their memory lane. Chances are you’ll find more obscure titles than ‘Rumours’ or ‘The Joshua Tree’.

In fact, this is how I experienced my big bang. At the age of 9, I played my uncle’s copy of Queen’s ‘Greatest Hits’. Things expanded from there.

2. Flip through a music or genre book or encyclopaedia. ‘The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings’, ‘The Great Rock/Metal/Psychedelic Discography’ by Martin C. Strong, ‘The Rough Guide to the Best Music You’ve Never Heard’, ‘Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music’ by Rob Young, Allmusic.com, …

And check out the editorial picks and the albums behind the stories. Fascinating stuff!

3. Shake the Twitter tree by searching for particular hastags like #psychsoul or #nowspinning (almost exclusively used by vinyl enthusiasts). Whatever niche you like. Did you encounter accounts that regularly share reviews or recommendations? Set up a Twitter list of music sources. That way, you’ll keep the milk of paradise flowing …

Next step: use TweetDeck to create your own music discovery dashboard, with colums for each of your lists and keyword/hashtag searches.

4. Get the most out of Spotify (or Deezer). The platform is loaded with excellent playlists, compiled by users. Just feed the search bar with keywords like ‘mellotron’ or ‘new york punk’ and put your headhones on. Also, try the Discover function. The more you listen, the more accurate the suggestions you get.

And are your friends notorious for their great taste in music? Keep an eye on the right sidebar to get inspired by what they’re listening to.

5. Start a conversation with the record store clerk. Come on, don’t be shy! I understand it’s tempting to just get your records, and get out. But these guys are surrounded by new and reissued music 24/7. So use their knowledge, tell them what kind of records you’re looking for and rush home to discover the gems you bought.

6. Read music blogs and magazines. Hype Machine keeps a list of over 800 handpicked blogs. Me? I like old school magazines like Mojo and Uncut. Because they have it all: great pictures, expertly written, evocative reviews of albums and reissues, in-depth pieces on new and old bands by seasoned journalists, an excellent cd with each issue and … a crossword puzzle.

7. Exchange mixtapes. One of the greatest aspects of any friendship is to discuss music, to meet at the front row for a concert, and to recommend albums. Does that mean you should have your notebook ready every time you go out for a drink? Well, why not?

Better still, ask your friends to put their latest favourite tunes on a cassette, CD-r, MiniDisk, … Before long, you’ll even know the running order by heart and you’ll be tracking down some of the original albums.

Also consider this nerdy alternative: invite your music buddies for a music night, to introduce and share songs that the others musn’t miss. Usually an inebriated affair, I picked up a lot from every single one of the so-called Deurne Sessions!

8. Find out what your favourite musicians are spinning. Sneak into their apartment? That’s one option, but not the one I would suggest. Instead, check if they have a listening now-list going on their website, or a playlist covering their influences on Spotify. In my experience, a lot musicians have a taste that stretches far beyond the style they’re known for themselves. And lots of interviews are sheer name-dropping feasts. Harvest time!

The most epic example of an artist playlist is surely Dan Snaith’s (aka Caribou) Longest Mixtape – 1000 Song for You.

9. Go where other music explorers go. On Last.fm or Discogs, on RateYourMusic or Progarchives, … On all of these platforms you’ll find countless discussions and/or personal lists. Moreover, Last.fm keeps track of what over 58 million users listen to on their computers or mobile devices. Find people with an interesting taste and enjoy their discoveries!

On the artist side of things, a lot is happening on Soundcloud and Bandcamp.

10. Dig into musician’s collaborations. If you’d bring together the discographies of everyone who ever played with Miles Davis, you’d have thousands of hours worth of excellent music: by Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, John Scofield, John McLaughlin, Bill Evans, Joe Zawinul, Keith Jarret, … Of course, Miles is an extreme example. But you get the picture.

11. Follow records labels very closely. They usually have a very clear concept. Some focus on a certain genre, others only hire bands that bring a unique expertimental voice to the table. If a certain label delivers the goods for you, it will probably continue to do so in the future.

Don’t know where to start? Just look for the label’s logo on the back of your favourite albums, and browse their discography online. Or try it the other way around: Wikipedia has an impressive list of record labels.

Interestingly, there are labels specifically oriented towards uncovering and reissuing burried treasures. Light In The Attic Records, obviously. Their catalog is simply mindblowing. Some personal highlights: ‘Fully Qualified Survivor’ by Michael Chapman (1970), ‘Dreamin’ by Donnie & Joe Emerson (1979), ‘L’Amour’ by the elusive Lewis Baloue (1983) and ‘Songs from Suicide Bridge’ by David Kauffmann and Eric Caboor (1984).


Now it’s time to get out there and discover new music. Do let me know what you’ve found. I want to hear it too!