Getting lost inside David Bowie’s 1983 classic, Let’s Dance, amidst the day’s first blush…
by: Josh Sczykutowicz
It’s 6:24 AM. I have been awake for around twelve hours. Maybe more. I’m two tracks into David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, released in 1983 ((His fifteenth studio album!)), and I’m watching the dawn slowly creep in through the cracks of the Venetian blinds.
I am huge fan of Bowie’s version of “China Girl,” the album’s second track, but I’ve always thought Iggy Pop’s version was better. While Bowie’s could be viewed as ice, Iggy’s was fire – deeply lustful, passionate and heart-wrenching. Iggy had this way of singing where it sounded like someone was clawing through his skin, cracking open the bones, separating his chest cavity and ripping his raw and beating mass of heart and muscle right out and holding it up in the air. But Bowie’s version is solid, and the the brass section on Let’s Dance’s title track is so formidable. I can’t argue with it. I swear the brass on Kid A/Amnesiac always reminded me of it, and I never realized it until I listening to “Let’s Dance” again. Yeah motherfucker, let’s sway.
If Let’s Dance is a record that sounds maybe just a little too thin, too cheap or manufactured, maybe that’s what makes it a perfect emblem of the era in which it was created. Maybe Bowie knew that. Maybe it was his way of commenting on the reality he inhabited at the time. Maybe I’m giving the guy too much credit, but fuck it, he’s a genius. Quite possibly the best musician alive at one point even. Two and a half years later, I’m still trying to wrap my head around his most recent release, The Next Day. I know I like it, but I know there’s something there I’m not grasping yet that’s just waiting for my hands, and when they do wrap around it, it’ll be like David looks down at me in those Catholic robes from the music video for The Next Day and says, “Finally, I’ve been waiting for you to make it.”
That brass at the end of “Let’s Dance” sounds sickly. It sounds like it’s in the wrong song. There’s something so very awry about this song so, let’s sway. The lack of sleep is setting in. I’m erratic. I’m all over the place, just like David’s voice right now pumping into my ears through these studio monitors. I’ve always thought that when songs concluded by fading out that it was a lazy. A cheap way to avoid writing an ending. But now, upon revisiting classic records such as Let’s Dance, I realize how many of my favorites do it, and maybe it’s not that it’s a cheap technique. Maybe it’s just that they’re a master-class tool: don’t use them if you’re not perfect.
It’s like fade-outs in a movie, they always bug me. They itch under my skin, and then Coppola goes and uses a thousand of ‘em in Apocalypse Now and The Godfather and suddenly I’m eating my bitter words. Maybe I’m just opposed to noticing the change of things when the change of things isn’t what I’m hoping for. That fits a lot of my life. I’m stuck in a fade-out right now. Stuck in a dissolve shot when I wish I was living right in the center of the bridge.
You know, I thought that “she” had found all the ways to hurt me and used them, but this marriage thing, even if it doesn’t happen, it’s the new record. It’s the new peak of imposed musical pain. So I should just put on my red shoes and dance the blues, to the song that’s playing. Fuck it. I’m full of heartache. I’m in a state of personal duress and turmoil. A deep depression, overwhelming clouds of anxiety looming in the sky above whenever I even think of peeking into the world above depression. So let’s just dance under that serious moonlight, baby.
I’m living in my little hole I crawl inside of. Not the house I’m in, but the state of mind of the person I am. Like a star imploding. I’m so capable of getting lost inside of myself that if someone were to put a gun in my face I’d probably manage to not even grasp the reality of the situation. But I could get lucky and the bullet could just graze me. Thanks for the realization, Bowie. Sometimes albums do this: they seem to flow so well into my train of thought, and if the singer’s voice is just right, if the music is timed ever-so carefully, it’s like the lyrics are filling in the blanks that my mind has been fighting to occupy.
I’m too hard on myself. I’m putting myself down, and no one likes a complainer. But if I start to think I’m fabulous and call myself an artist, see myself as some author, some grand poet waiting to be discovered, I’m full of myself, and no one likes an egomaniac. There’s a happy medium, people tell me. There’s a place between total self-deprecation and self-deification. You don’t have to be Rodney Dangerfield and you don’t have to be Kanye West, but really, I love both anyway. Right now I am a god with a word processor as my kingdom, and an hour from now I will be a failing idiot who doesn’t know what they’ll do with their life once this fantasy ends.
It’s like if Bowie is the Cool ice-king. The Thin White Duke who has his hair slicked back, a cigarette between pale lips, dressed sharp and not caring, knowing he’s so fucking cool and speaking down to the rest of us as if we are but peasants in the face of something so much more. That’s who I am right now. But in an hour I’ll be Iggy, The Idiot, pouring into my ears. Or maybe Lust for Life, raw and raging and full of fire and passion and turmoil. Why do I find love and chaos to be such cousins? I’d get tired of me, too. Oh, but isn’t it just a criminal world we live in?
As much as I love this bluesy riff in “Criminal World,” I am just dying for “Cat People.” Cannot wait to have flashes of Inglourious Basterds, as every time I listen to that song it invokes images of the film. I picture Shoshana wiping war paint across her gorgeous face, woman empowered, ready to burn herself down and take the world right with her. How Bowie is that, anyway? God, Quentin, I give your movies a hard time sometimes, but fuck me if anyone else picks soundtracks better than you. All his movies are so Bowie. So cool and in their own world. Hell, he’s even got his own multiverse, just like Bowie’s got his concept albums.
I was always a Berlin Trilogy kind of guy. Always one for Low, wanting to be down in those Subterraneans and no place else. But damn if there’s not something undeniable about everything after that. “She” always complained how she wanted green eyes, always complained she had brown, but god I got lost in those brown eyes. They were like something dark and deep and from the core of the earth that I must have come from. Something full of smoke and tone and just this rich, chocolate, coffee-ring mystery. I wanted to dive into those eyes and see if I could snap the surface tension or if I’d snap my neck. As a kid I remember watching Predator. When Arnold dives into that big body of water that is obviously recklessly shallow, someone I was watching it with said, “You’d break your neck in water from that height if you didn’t land just right. It would be like concrete.”
Those brown eyes, they were my David Lynch, my Berlin Trilogy, my Iggy eyes. These deep, dark swirls of lust and passion and backlit by the sun at the right angle looking just like fire, like that fire in “Lost Highway” or in Iggy’s fuckin’ raw voice. They could cut me right down, stare right into the soul I knew I had as soon as they looked at me and not a second sooner. I’m never gonna see those eyes the same way, if I ever see them at all, save for photographic memories and the collected chemicals of printed pictures. People can talk up their green eyes all they like but they only go best with red (or maybe blonde) and she was always black, even when she went red. No, blonde is cheating; blonde suits all the bright eyes. But god I wanted those dark ones. I wanted to suck that smoke right in. I wanted to search in those unseen depths.
Iggy always felt like just another guy to me. Another guy I could just sit with and talk to and get something from on a real personal level, human to human, like the dude he is in Coffee & Cigarettes. But Bowie’s always felt like something else to me. Of course he’s played an alien and an immortal vampire, because he’s always been on some other planet, and we are just lucky enough to catch those transmissions coming in through NASA’s giant computer banks and radar dishes.
I’ve been feeling so disconnected, and Iggy might scream right with me, but Bowie can tell me just what to do: shake it, shake it, baby. I’d say their discographies are the songs of ice and fire, but then again, that author still hasn’t finished that series. Let’s just give this sunrise the finger, I say. Let’s steep ourselves down in that warm blanket of dark midnight. Let’s wear our depression like an overcoat and chop off all our hair and give “Sister Midnight” a call already. If “she’s” my “Sister Midnight,” then my dear, I’ve certainly been an idiot for you. Now let’s make some fuckin’ coffee.
Bowie’s “ice” may come through on a digital signal just fine, but damn, this shit ought to be flowing through tube amps. Something warm and living. Something crackling with static and livened with heated glass and wire. But these journals and ‘zines I write for aren’t giving me that kinda budget just quite yet. Damn, even “Nightclubbing” has that warmth, has that light fuzz just beneath the ice-king surface. Isn’t it wild?
Josh, when you write about your depression I feel slightly less alone. It’s difficult to expose a depressed state without becoming boring. I agree about Iggy. It’s as if his skin is a cloak to be ripped open and hurled to the stage, leaving his innards there, still wailing but totally without artifice. Just look at the way he’s built: all sinew, hardly any superfluous tissue. A man made of wires and diodes and glands. Well done, well written, honest. Good stuff.
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