Sunday, 24 January 2016

Famous Dead People

It's been a tough old month for 70s Rock stars...for a while there it looked like the 69 club was forming...and not in a good way.
It might seem anathema but I liked Bowie a lot AND I liked the Eagles...and yes, quite specifically Glenn Frey. If this doesn't make aesthetic sense let's remember that I also like Wagner and Pucinni never fails to make me cry and I just realised how to enjoy Verdi. I like hard core late 70s punk rock, I like celtic folk music. Oh and I grew up listening to and loving country music of all sorts. Let's just say my tastes are eclectic.
If I now have any regrets in my rather misspent time; its that I never paid the outrageous amount to see the reformed Eagles...because I just don't see any point in seeing them now without the powerhouse of Frey. I told myself that like seeing The Pogues with a Shane McGowan so messed up by booze he can't form a sentence; that seeing the ageing Eagles would be a disappointment when I had all that 70s concert footage in my head. For the record, I think I was wrong. Nonetheless.
I did see Bowie in concert, once, at Western Springs Stadium in Auckland in 1987. It was the Glss Spider Tour and I had just turned 18. I still remember dancing euphorically to Heroes and then having to be passed over the heads of the audience and into the front stage areabecause my boyfriend's little sister had fainted and we all needed to get back stage to check on her. Up close Bowie was a very small man. It's hard to believe that that massive voice, incredible presence; all that power, came out of such a tiny frame.
People might get wanting to talk about the Eagles guitarist and an iconic figure like Bowie in the same breath...or the same blog...but for me they provided some of the most important parts of the soundtrack of my most formative years.
So, favourite Bowie song? No contest! Janine. "...I've got things inside my head that even I can't face." Even at 17 I felt a little like he was singing about me specifically.  I have been caught singing aloud to that while walking with my Walkman (it's was the 80s...everyone had a Walkman...), while

driving in my car alone, while just sitting in the living room. It's a brilliant mix of catchy, upbeat
music and really quite dark lyrics.
Let's first real boyfriend gave me Station to Station to listen to as a gift when we were forced to be apart for several months. It's was a crappy home recording on an old cassette tape and I listened to it till I think I knew every chord. Sitting alone in my room, a long way from where I wanted to be, and powerless to do much about it, that music formed a link for me to a world I wanted to be in.
In the early 90s one of my friends became obsessed with Bowie, specifically with Cygnet Committee which she would listen to on repeat, very, very loudly whenever possible. She was particularly fond of the line "We slit the Catholic throat." And spent a lot of time trying to interpret the lyrics. Of course she was also obsessed with her lecturer who was an ex-Catholic priest. She used to make us drive past his house and park opposite it to see if she could see inside...but that's another story.
So Mr Bowie has been important for me. A couple of years ago when I got to see the Bowie
exhibition at the V & A with another friend and obsessive fan, I had the chance to reflect on just what
an extraordinary artist and man he was. And I wondered at the he sick? Does he know something is up?
Which brings me to the Eagles. In my first year of university I was pretty homesick...I had a tape(yes a cassette tape! And a little mono speaker cassette deck.) and I played the Eagles Greatest Hits to myself every night to fall asleep. The tape would click off at the end and I would wake for a second then fall back to sleep with Glenn Frey's voice going round and round in my head. Because even though everyone thinks Don Henley was the great voice in the's all the songs that Frey fronted that I love...Take it Easy; Lyin' Eyes; Peaceful, Easy Feeling.
It's become fashionable to make fun of the Eagles, to say they sold out or their music was only ever easy listening. But show me anyone my age who doesn't know all the lyrics to Hotel California? And if you still don't believe some of the 70s footage - four, sometimes five, very stoned guys with bad haircuts just doing their thing. The Eagles were accused of just loitering on stage...and it's kind of true. Frey looks so stoned most of the time that his already heavy lidded eyes are closed more
than they are open. And I think that's what I liked at17 and like now. They weren't posing; they
weren't trying to be clever; the lyrics aren't really very profound "There's a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford, slowing down to take a look at me." Of course Jackson Brown says it's an incredible lyric that manages to combine redemption, girls and the American love of cars - I just hear a young man pretty pleased with himself that girls like him (and why wouldn't they!) and I like that simplicity. Oh and I have always liked that the girl was driving a Ford ute...she is no girly girl...she's some tough farm chick with her own wheels!
You get to a certain age and the people that formed you as a human being...the people who made the music that soundtracks your life; the people who were in the films that changed you; who wrote the contemporary novels and poetry you love; those people start to die...because we all have to eventually. That brings you up smack with your own mortality. It makes you realise that everything human is finite...the number of songs we will write, or poems or stories. The number of paintings we will make...and the number of all those things we will see and experience.
I won't ever see the Eagles live. There will be no more Bowie albums. It's the finiteness that's most frightening. The abyss we all end up having to stare into.