“I will fight for the right to be right.
And I will kill for the good of the fight
for the right to be right.”
As I run between the art-deco apartments and matte-orange convertible on Moolton Street, two creatures appears, as if from the depths of space. One howls into my left ear in a high, urgent tone, while the other speaks into my right in a low, sultry manner. As I move closer, I realise that the two creatures are in fact one – a hybrid, that makes up more than the sum of its parts. Enter the famous low-high Bowie harmony, which fires off during the chorus of the title track, Space Oddity.
This was my introduction to Bowie, and I’d wager it was yours too. Incidentally, it forms a broader introduction to Bowie’s work, being the first of his tracks to hit home with the succinct storytelling and distinct mix of pop and atonality that came to define his sound throughout his work in the seventies. Also, it’s a killer drinking song.
I am unwell. I realise what I yesterday referred to as hayfever must be a cold, considering its four day duration. Still, feeling much healthier, I channel the shit out of that glorious opening track and start off fast. Paying no regard to yesterday’s unfortunate stroll, I map out a longer path today in my mind. With all the bravado of a transgender astronaut, I run – nay, bound – along the path as the rock’n’roll comes down hard during Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed.
I’ve heard bad things about this album, but as I round the corner near the freeway I am excited by what I hear: Dylan influenced rock, soulful harmonica, and electric guitars that could only be played through walls of Marshall Stacks. After such a promising start, the rest of the album could be absolute shit and I’d still be happy. But, confounding the expectations I formed yesterday, it wasn’t.
There are a couple of tracks that seem like B-sides to the Self-titled, like the string flourishing fantasy tale The Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud. But even that gets close to being good (it isn’t). Letter to Hermione is boring, but there’s something about the way Bowie sings the line “Do you ever call my name, just by mistake” that hits me right in the feels.
There’s also a lot less filler than I thought there would be. The track Cygnette Committee manages what We Are the Hungry Men failed to pull off – a fantastic portrayal of dystopia. Here Bowie dwells more solidly on the positive – letting us believe in the promise of the world, before derisively slapping the tray right from our skinny arms.
Memory of a Free Festival is obviously about a massive drug-fuelled orgy “we claimed the very source of joy ran through. It didn’t – but it seemed that way. I kissed a lot of people that day”. Still, when the anthemic chant starts up at three minutes thirty “sun machine is coming down, and we’re gonna have a party – ahhhhaaahhaaaaaa”, I find myself hoping for an invitation. Sure, it falls short of the heights that You Can’t Always Get What You Want achieves – but you could pretend it wasn’t trying to reach them.
God Knows I’m Good is a great track that signifies a level of emotional depth not yet revealed for Bowie. An Occasional Dream offers little more than a hilarious moment at 2:39 where Bowie whispers the word “time”, as a wizened old storyteller might to child at a campfire.
The real standout, though, is the bonus track – Conversation Piece. The line “I’m invisible and dumb, And no-one will recall me” seems so ridiculous in a post-Ziggy world. As for the rest of the track, I’m going to break a fundamental rule of good prose and just regurgitate two paragraphs, because they contrast so deeply with the work that follows:
“ I live above the grocers store, owned by an Austrian. He often calls me down to eat
And he jokes about his broken English, tries to be a friend to me. But for all my years of reading conversation, I stand without a word to say.”
“And the world is full of life. Full of folk who don’t know me. And they walk in twos or threes or more. While the light that shines above the grocer’s store investigates my face so rudely.”
As the song finished, I notice I’ve managed a cool 7.5 kms. I walk the rest of the way, as a re-arranged version of that sixties love-fest plays one more time, just as the sun machine was coming down.*
*Sun machine may not have actually been coming down.