Rock and Roll’s Chameleon – David Bowie

Ziggy Stardust. Halloween Jack. The Thin White Duke. Thomas Jerome Newton. Aladdin Sane. Major Jack Celliers. The Cracked Actor. The Elephant Man. The Goblin King. These are just some of the many faces of David Bowie. Bowie was a chameleon of an artist – always changing his looks, his musical style and his outlook on life.

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I was awoken on Monday morning January 11th 2016 by a text from my youngest son telling me that David Bowie had taken his Final Taxi because of cancer. He knew what Bowie’s music meant to me. How the music Bowie made took me through difficult times – growing up an oddball in a small Southern town to surviving heart surgery. It seemed like whenever I felt like an alien, David Bowie understood and had already put the feeling into words.

Being a pre- teen in the early 1970’s I was stuck somewhere in the middle of the 60’s hippy movement and punk rock scene of the late 70’s. David Bowie was making rock music that was mainstream enough to get airplay but strange enough to be interesting.

David Bowie was born David Robert Jones in London in 1947. He changed his name to Bowie as to not to be confused with The Monkees’ lead singer Davy Jones. The first song I remember hearing on early FM radio was Bowie’s “Space Oddity” which introduced the recurring character Major Tom. It was his striking androgynous looks as well as the music from “Ziggy Stardust” that launched Bowie as leader of the early 1970s glam rock era. The stuttering rock sound of “Changes” gave way to the disco soul of “Fame,” co-written with The Beatles’ John Lennon. Other collaborators included Freddie Mercury, Marc Bolan, Brian Eno, Trent Reznor and Pat Methany but his closest partner in music would have to be Iggy Pop. Together Pop and Bowie molded a new direction for each other as well as helping each other out of their respective drug addictions.iggybowie-624-1360253656

Bowie had some of his biggest successes in the early 1980s with the “Let’s Dance,” an LP that took the world by storm with pop hits and MTV music videos. My wife, Lesa, worked at Captial records at the time and she recalls the huge promotion campaign for the record.

I also loved David Bowie as an actor. I could not wait to see “The Man Who Feel To Earth” when it was released. I don’t know how I did it but I got in to see it even though it was rated “X” and I was 15. (This film is very tame by today’s standard and was X because of pubic hair being seen.) In it Bowie plays Thomas Newton, an alien trapped on Earth trying to get home to his family. This spoke to those of us who felt like we were all aliens too, in a world of Legionnaires’ disease ,Tomahawk cruise missiles and Gerald Ford politics.

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The ‘cracked actor’ emerged again in several films including ‘Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence’ playing Major Jack ‘Strafer’ Celliers and as the goth vampire John Blaylock in ‘The Hunger,’ both from 1983.  It was 1986’s Labyrinth that struck a chord with most people as Bowie was both actor and singer in the family musical. Playing Jareth- The Goblin King Bowie wrote and sang most of the music for the film.

He also had film roles including historical figures Nicolas Testla, Andy Warhol and Pontius Pilate.

Returning to music it is fitting that David Bowie’s last single, Lazarus, was a ‘parting gift’ for fans – a skillfully craftedfinale. The producer of his new CD Blackstar confirms David Bowie had planned his poignant final message, with videos and lyrics show how he approached his death- as a work of art.

As a friend of mine posted on Facebook, ” Rock and roll used to be for outsiders, rebellion against the mainstream.. he(Bowie) helped embrace alienation. That meant you were more accepting of the different. Rock isn’t like that anymore. It’s heartbreaking. Bowie’s gone and we’ll never see a combination of rebellion, innovation and art like that again...”

David Bowie was 69.

The generation before me asked “Where were you when JFK died?” Will Bowie’s death be as poignant to my generation?

 

 

 

Thanks to Marlesa Burson for editing this and to Marjorie Boykin for the quote.

The Black Carpet of the 2011 Academy Awards

Being someone who loves movies I have to watch the Academy Awards every year. So on Sunday night I sat with my girl by my side and watched as we found out who was best actor or actress or what was the best picture of the year. My favorite section is the part where Oscar remembers those who died in 2010, [pays final respects to them and honors their accomplishments]. This year the death reel was fronted by Celine Dion singing “Smile” as the list of names rolled by.

Here is who we saw this year:

John Barry (composer)
Grant McCune (visual effects)
Tony Curtis
Edward Limato (agent)
Tom Mankiewicz (writer)
Gloria Stuart
William Fraker (cinematographer)
Joseph Strick (director)
Lionel Jeffries
Sally Menke (editor)
Ronni Chasen (publicist)
Leslie Nielsen
Robert Radnitz (producer)
Claude Chabrol (director)
Pete Postlethwaite
Bill Littlejohn (animator)
Pierre Guffroy (art director)
Patricia Neal
George Hickenlooper (director)
Irving Ravetch (writer)
Robert Culp
Bob Boyle (art director)
Mario Monicelli (director)
Lynn Redgrave
Elliott Kastner (producer)
Dede Allen (editor)
Peter Yates (producer-director)
Anne Francis
Arthur Penn (producer-director)
Theoni Aldredge (costume designer)
Susannah York
Ronald Neame (director)
David Wolper (producer)
Jill Clayburgh
Alan Hume (cinematographer)
Irvin Kershner (director)
Dennis Hopper
Dino De Laurentiis (producer)
Blake Edwards (writer-director)
Kevin McCarthy
Lena Horne

I almost wish that they had left Kevin McCarthy for last and use the scene in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” where he screams “Your Next!!” but it would have spoiled the mood.

Every year the Academy leaves off people that should have been on the list and this year is no exception. First off the list is Peter Graves. Graves deserves to be on that list of beloved actors not for bad sci-fi movies he did or the laughs he gave us as Captain Over in the Airplane( 1980) movies but at least for his involvement in the 1953 World War II film Stalag 17 (1953), acting as a German spy pretending to be a prisoner of war.

Another Airplane ( 1980) actor who was left off the list was Barbara Billingsley. Many will remember her as the mother on Leave It To Beaver but she had a strong start in films with movies like The Bad and the Beautiful (1950), Three Guys Named Mike (1950), with Jane Wyman, and the sci-fi movie Invaders from Mars (1953).

James Gammon should not have been left off the list either. The scruffy actor will be best known as the coach in the Major League movies but he was also in Cool Hand Luke (1967), Urban Cowboy (1980), Silverado (1985), Noon Wine (1985), The Milagro Beanfield War (1988), The Adventures of Huck Finn (1993), Wyatt Earp (1994), Wild Bill (1995), Truman (1995), Cold Mountain (2003), and more recently, Appaloosa (2008).

Harold Gould who again will be known for his TV roles was also in the films The Yellow Canary(1963), The Satan Bug (1966); Inside Daisy Clover; and Harper (1966) with Paul Newman. He will also be known for playing Kid Twist in The Sting (1977) and as a villain in Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie (1976).

Betty Garrett, a comedic actress who was a fixture in such MGM musicals as “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” “Neptune’s Daughter” with Red Skelton and “On the Town” with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, was missing from list.

Others missing include Maria Schneider, a French actress best known for playing Jeanne, opposite Marlon Brando, in the 1972 film, Last Tango in Paris and Maury Chaykin who acted in WarGames (1983), My Cousin Vinny (1992) and had a small but pivotal role in the film Dances with Wolves (1990), portraying Major Fambrough.

The person whose omission from this years’ list was most shocking was Corey Haim. Haim’s may have ended his career with a list of bad direct-to -video movies, but the body of his work is well worth a nod from the Academy. His first noted film was 1984’s thriller Firstborn, starring alongside Sarah Jessica Parker and Robert Downey Jr as a boy whose family comes under threat from his mother’s violent boyfriend, played by Peter Weller. After that the list just gets better with films such as Lucas ( 1986) , Silver Bullet( 1985), Murphy’s Romance (1985), License to Drive (1988) and Dream a Little Dream(1989). The movie that must be remembered is The Lost Boys (1987), which made Haim a household name. It is regarded as a 80s classic and bonded him alongside his friend Corey Feldman to fight teenage vampire Kiefer Sutherland.

Sexy star of “Faster Pussy Cat Kill Kill” Tura Satana

I recently watched “Grindhouse”, a film by Quentin Tarrantino and Robert Rodriguez, with a friend of mine who bought it on blu-ray. The film is a salute to the low-budget B-movies of the 60’s and 70’s. It has all the grainy video, bad edits, video lines running through, and poor dialogue that made these cheaply made films worth watching. There is a comic faction built into them for those of us with a twisted sense humor. One wonders why we were watching it on blu-ray and not VHS tape.

One of the actress in the film, Rose McGowan, becomes this strong female character, who does not like to be pushed around. She is the tough chick (a real bad ass). This is a character we have seen played before. One of my favorite no-nonsense female characters is in the Russ Meyer’s 1965 film “Faster Pusscat, Kill, Kill.” The film features gratuitous violence, sexuality, provocative gender roles, and campy dialogue. It is not a film for everyone, but is worth watching for the acting of actress, Tura Satana, who plays the leader of a gang of thrill-seeking go-go dancers.

The Japanese born Tura Satana took her Final Taxi this week at the age of 72 in Reno Nevada.

In “Faster Pusscat, Kill, Kill” Tura played “Varla” a very aggressive and sexual female character, like something out of a comic book. In the film she did all of her own stunts and fight scenes. She asked the director to do this because of all the martial art training she had taken as a child. She learned aikido and karate, after being sexually attacked. In an interview in with Psychotronic Video Magazine, she said that she later tracked and exacted vengeance on each of her attackers.

After being “discovered” by silent screen comic Harold Lloyd, she first worked in the movies with Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine in 1963’s “Irma La Douce”. In the musical she played one of the Parisian prostitutes friend of the main character. That same year she played a dancer in “Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed?” with Dean Martin and Elizabeth Montgomery. Other films include the James Bond parody “Our Man Flint” (1966) with James Coburn, “The Astro-Zombies” (1968), “The Doll Squad” (1974) and “Mark of the Astro-Zombies” (2002).

In TV Tura appeared in “Burke’s Law”, “The Greatest Show On Earth”, “Hawaiian Eye”, and “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”.

In her personal life Tura Satana at one time dated “the King of Rock and Roll'” Elvis Presley, but turned down his marriage proposal but she kept the ring. She also had a relationship with Frank Sinatra.

Tura Satana’s exotic looks, buxom frame and no-nonsense attitude paved the way for other actresses and can be seen in pop-cultural artifacts ranging from “Xena, Warrior Princess” to Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill”

Gerry Rafferty Singer-Songwriter of ‘Baker Street’ Takes Final Taxi

One of the most memorable scenes in Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 film “Reservoir Dogs” was when the character Mr. Blonde (played by Michael Madsen) tortures Kirk Baltz while dancing to the 1972 classic song by the band Stealers Wheel called “Stuck in the Middle With You”. The song was originally a joke song by a member of the band that parodied Bob Dylan’s distinctive lyrical style. It became a surprise hit for the group and peaking at No. 6 in 1973 in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.

The song was written by song writters Joe Egan and Gerry Rafferty. Singer and songwriter Gerry Rafferty has taken his Final Taxi at age 63.

Rafferty will be best known for his solo work which includes hits like “Baker Street” and “Right Down the Line”.

Known for its prominent eight-bar saxophone riff, “Bakers Street” remains Rafferty‘s most identified song. Released in 1978 it reached No. 2 in the U.S singles chart. The album it came from,” City To City”, sold over 5.5 million copies and became a No. 1 selling LP. The songs lead to a resurgence of saxophone use in mainstream pop music and TV advertising at the time.

His song “Right Down the Line” reached No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and spent four non-consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Easy Listening chart in the U.S., making this Rafferty’s only song to ever reach No. 1 on any US chart.

Rafferty continued to record music but never had the success he did with “City To City.” His last recording was titled “Life Goes On” which was released in November 2009.

Singer Solomon Burke Takes Final Taxi

I have been going to the new Railroad Park here in Birmingham. It is a beautiful place and has a lot going for it. They are showing movies in the park every Thursday, so a few weeks ago I caught a film I had not seen in years. It was “The Blues Brothers” (1980) which stared John Belushi & Dan Aykroyd. It was great to see it on the park’s 40 foot screen. The music in the film echoed throughout the park bringing blues music back to that section of Birmingham.

One song from the movie that stands out in my mind is when The Blues Brothers perform at the Palace Hotel Ballroom and sing “Everybody Needs Somebody (To Love) ” during that song the crowd goes wild.

That song was written and first recorded by Solomon Burke in 1964. The song peaked at #58 on the US charts that year. On the Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time it ranked at#429.

Solomon Burke took his Final Taxi this week at the age of 70.

If you were a fan of the 1987 movie “Dirty Dancing” you may also know Burke’s ballad “Cry to Me” from 1962. It is used during the memorable scene where a bare-chested Patrick Swayze slow dances with Jennifer Grey.

In 2001 Burke was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in2002, he won a best contemporary blues album Grammy for his CD “Don’tGive Up on Me.”

Ari Up, Founder of The Slits, Dies at 48

If you are ever in the Avondale area of Birmingham check out a place called Bottletree. It is a great place to grab a meal but it is also well know for bringing many different musical acts to the Magic City. Back in 2006, as the club/ restaurant was just getting started, they brought a legendary punk/ reggae band to the city. The group was called The Slits.

The Slits were formed in 1976 and were a support group for bands like The Clash and the Buzzcocks. The founder of the band was Arianna Forster who went by the name Ari Up. She had been performing with the band off and on through the years and was there, dreadlocks and all, at the Bottletree on that cold winter night back in 2006.

Ari Up has died at the age of 48.

I had been a fan of the Slits for years. Being known as one of the first all female British punk bands was in itself something to be proud of. Most people will remember the cover of their LP called Cut. On this debut album, the artwork features Ari and her band mates topless in loincloths yet smeared with mud from head to toe. The front cover became a well known punk image. I remember seeing the album in local record stores like Camelot or Turtles with the price tags in areas to block your view of certain female anatomy.

Arianna Forster was born in Munich Germany in 1962. Her mother, Nora, was well known in the music industry and was a close friend of Jimi Hendrix. Her mother would marry the Sex Pistols’ lead singer, John Lydon ( aka Johnny Rotton) who would be her stepfather. Her godfather was Jon Anderson, the singer from the group Yes.

Forster experimented with music and would learn guitar skills from The Clash’s Joe Strummer. With these skills she formed the band The Slits at the age of 14. The Slits became known for tracks such as “Typical Girls,” “Shoplifting” and their cover of “Heard It Through The Grapevine.”

Ari can be see in The Clash’s movie “Rude Boy” and in “The Punk Rock Movie.”

Malcolm McLaren – Sex Pistols Manager

1977 was so long ago. It was around that time when I took an interest in the newer music that was coming out of the UK at the time. The local progressive rock station at the time, WZZK, had a news story and interview with manager of this new punk rock band that was causing a stir with their single “God Save the Queen.” Once I heard the clips from the song I had to go get the 8-track tape of this band. They were called the Sex Pistols and the manager was Malcolm McLaren.

Since that time I have been a fan of the Sex Pistols and the individual members after the band broke-up. Sid Vicious would make a name for himself with a popular version of the song “My Way” and as the alleged killer of his stoned out girlfriend Nancy. Steve Jones and Paul Cook would make a band called The Professionals and later Steve would be a DJ on XM radio. John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten would go on and make a band call P.i.L. ( Public Image Limited) retire and make British butter commercials. This week Lydon puts P.I.L. back together and tours the US with a reunion tour. All this takes place just as we find out that Lydon’s old manager Malcolm McLaren has taken his Final Taxi at age 64.

McLaren is someone who you love and hate at the same time. His history with bands, especially alternative music bands, is well noted. He holds a place in the chronicles of history both in rock and in hip hop.

He had established a fetish clothing store on King’s Row in London with his girlfriend, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. On one trip to the US he met the post-punk band The New York Dolls. ( This is the band that highlighted singer David Johanson who would be known in the music world as Buster Poindexter.) The Dolls were known in the press for their outrageous dress which mainly was dressing in women’s clothes. McLaren briefly managed the band and saw were fashion and music might work hand in hand.

Back in the UK McLaren put together the Sex Pistols and knew that not only the name would cause controversy but also the clothes they wore. This plus their ‘don’t care’ attitudes helped ignite the press and punk rock was started. McLaren did all he could to cause scandal with the Sex Pistols. He once said “Good press or bad press it did not matter as long as their names were in the papers. “ The Pistols would sign with one record company and then because of their antics, edged on by McLaren, they would be fired and earn the money without even playing a note for the recording industry.

McLaren never saw the band as serious musicians and he and Lydon did not get along because of that. On the bands US tour McLaren fired Lydon and “Johnny Rotten” was left stranded in San Francisco. McLaren hired a few other lead singers but the band did not make it. After McLaren ruined a movie on the Sex Pistols directed by Julian Temple, he took the film and cut it into his own film. It was a disaster.

McLaren also became manager for Adam and the Ants. After their first LP McLaren left Adam and stole the Ants to make the band Bow Wow Wow. The band would go on the make songs like “I Want Candy” and “ Do You Want To Hold Me.” Adam would not miss McLaren’s management and would become one of the most popular singers of 1980’s MTV music videos and be nominated for a Grammy for the LP Kings of the Wild Frontier.
In 1983 Malcolm McLaren would make his own music career with the LP “Duck Rock.” This was a record which mixed up influences from Africa and urban America, which including hip-hop. Historically this album brought hip-hop to a wider audience and is the first hip-hop or rap music to ever be played on MTV. Another song on the record, song “Buffalo Gals,” help introduced scratchin and other club techniques being used on urban music at the time.

He followed up this LP with “Madame Butterfly” and “Fans.”

Malcolm McLaren was a shameless self promoter and loved to get in front of a camera and take credit for everything. When the Sex Pistols took McLaren to court over money they had earned he told the court he alone had invented punk rock. This arrogance can be seen in the movie “The Great Rock and Roll Swindle” as he tells the viewer it was all his idea. In the end McLaren does merit some of the credit for how music was changed and how modern alternative music as born but he does not deserve the whole pie.