Almost two weeks after David Bowie's passing, the Brassland community is still grieving. Let us be the first to acknowledge that, duh, Bowie occupied a far more widescreen canvas than we could ever hope to. Everyone from his peerless peers like Brian Eno to the artists we grew up with like Trent Reznor to contemporaries who thrill & infuriate us like Kanye West have marked his passing in the social media medium. Unlike another recent legend's passing, we and our roster didn't have a particularly personal relationship with Bowie or his music -- Bowie having been off-the-musical scene for most of our label's existence, he seemed less like a presence we might encounter and more like part of the air we breathed in the left-of-center pop sphere. Point being, adding too many words to the pile-up of encomiums would be besides the point.
Instead, we thought we'd kick this post off with some music, in the form of a Spotify playlist:
The playlist is called Bowie Bonds, in honor of the financial instrument Bowie launched in 1997, a "commercial debt security issued by a holder of fame-based intellectual property rights." (Wikipedia can tell you more. It's bats**t crazy. I mean, seriously, #the90s.) The cover we chose for the mix is a widely reproduced group photo from backstage at Bowie's 50th birthday party at New York's Madison Square Garden in 1997. The concert featured a who's who of that era's alt-rock talentpool including members of Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, the Pixies, Nirvana & The Cure. (We had to crop out the Pixies' Frank Black because he wouldn't fit into the square. We cropped out Dave Grohl because we think he should focus on awesome side projects rather than his increasingly bro-rocking Foo Fighters band.)
We chose this picture to highlight the role of what we sometimes refer to as the Community Function in Bowie's creativity and his career. Who else but Bowie would have gathered such a forward-thinking group of artists to what could have been a retrospective celebration? Similarly we've tried to make our playlist more than a simple greatest hits package -- though any playlist of Bowie's music that includes more than a half-dozen songs would be hard-pressed to not include a hit. We wanted to focus our Bowie tribute on not only our personal-favorite songs in his catalog, but on Bowie's mentorship & production of key records by Lou Reed and Iggy Pop; his channeling & championing of under-the-radar icons like Scott Walker; and the inspiration he gave to everyone from critically-acclaimed idols like Nirvana and Arcade Fire to fast burning, pop-culture phenoms like Seu Jorge and Vanilla Ice.
Basically amidst all the talk of Bowie the Singular Icon, we thought it worthwhile to point out there is a less-remarked upon Bowie to be found: Bowie the Collaborator and Musical Friend.
Speaking of which, this playlist represents the re-emergence of the Doveman project from one of Brassland's chief co-conspirators, Thomas Bartlett. Doveman's cover of "Lazarus" from Bowie's completely stunning final album Blackstar is the first new track to get a formal release since 2009's The Conformist. (We've, of course, continued to work with Thomas's project The Gloaming, and he's become an increasingly noted producer working with artists like Sufjan Stevens, Glen Hansard, and Julia Stone.)
The cover was prompted by Brassland label founder Alec Hanley Bemis. On the day that Bowie died, Alec suggested to Thomas that the lyrics of "Lazarus" could have been an outtake from With My Left Hand I Raise the Dead. Thomas stayed up until 4am the night recording it. Glen Hansard provided harmony & some moral support.
Which is to say: don't blame Thomas for releasing a tastelessly opportunistic cover. You can blame his label for that! Though we think of it more like our friends at Stereogum who wrote: "Like most of us, a whole lot of musicians are having a whole lot of feelings about David Bowie's passing right about now, but unlike most of us, they can channel those feelings into art."
Tribute and thanks to David Bowie for the way his music and presentation and art portrayed the fantasia of an accepting world and helped bring the world a bit closer to being that way.