My great-grandmother passed away one night in Guatemala. My family flew there to pay their respects, but before her funeral they made sure to film her using an old camcorder. My sister and I stayed in Los Angeles, so they shared the video with us upon their return. I was around 13 when I saw it. There was a dark pan through my grandma’s sister’s old house, a walk through a dark corridor, and a silent observance of the body from head to toe. There was my great-grandmother’s frail face reflected on a bright square television; shriveled and still.
I was shocked by the eeriness. When my grandmother passed away I saw her body too, this time I was there at the funeral, in Guatemala. I saw my aunt’s tears coalesce into a small pool on the glass coffin separating both their faces.
I grew up as an American kid, but the way America treats death was something that never fully jived with me. For example: I can’t fully relate to articles about “suicidal thoughts.” How are thoughts about death bad? How can you invoke death when it’s always there? The always there part is perhaps the cultural difference. In Central America, Death is not a stranger.
So I never shied from music about death. At first I thought that made me a goth. I even had a best friend in high school who was Mexican and wore the full goth geish. We listened to Bowie and Nick Cave and Bauhaus. Nowadays I still listen to that kind of music. I never grew out of it. I find many other people in their 30s and 40s who still listen to that kind of music and still read those kind of books and see those kinds of movies. I feel like we should have more art devoted to death, not just as a consequence of action, but as the subject.
Establishing that I am comfortable with the concept of death perhaps explains why I love Bowie’s Diamond Dogs. Diamond Dogs is campy, self-aware, and constructed out of parts of an abandoned musical version of the novel 1984. Death exists like decorative marigolds across all of the tracks, and its presence is more keenly felt in this album than in any before it. Professionally it’s considered a bit of a mess, but that doesn’t concern me. It bangs. The album reveals the truest side of Bowie that we’ve seen yet. He is a faerie god whose faggotry exists in life, in death, and beyond death. It is my second favorite album in Bowie’s discography only beaten by Station to Station.
Tracks of Note
All of them. No seriously. All of them. Tracks start and meld into the next track. It’s a great tragedy of spotify that it places hard cuts between the tracks because the only way to listen to this is all the way through. Uninterrupted. Fortunately some hardcore youtubers have a few of the tracks spliced together to recreate some of the great transitions.
Future Legend / Diamond Dogs
If someone were to ask me what my favorite poem is, I would say “Future Legend,” because 1) I don’t read poetry and 2) I genuinely like it. Of the poems I have read, none have been better than Future Legend. If that makes me a rube, then so be it. Diamond Dogs is so over the top that it cheers me up every time I hear it.
Sweet Thing / Candidate / Sweet Thing Reprise / Rebel Rebel
The only–and I mean the ONLY–way to listen to this track is in the above quartet. This is one of his greatest tracks (maybe his best). It’s a minor gay epic about prostitutes in a decaying society. It may be a little too gay for some people to handle what with Bowie crooning about boys for most of its running time, but his best songs are his gayest. When I was younger I used to say that I felt the presence of god during the transition from Sweet Thing Reprise and Rebel Rebel. I am not the sort of person that claims miracles lightly.
We Are The Dead
I sexually identify as this song
Big Brother / Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family
The end of the album combines a very clear ending reference to 1984 with something far stranger. Not sure what to make of the Skeletal Family other than it being a cool sonic assault that skips away into nothing. Maybe it’s symbolic of the entire album and Bowie’s state of mind at the time. The album was rushed and Bowie played most of the instruments as opposed to having a band help him. I think all of that makes this album one of his most personal precisely because he didn’t it plan it that way. It’s a raw Bowie with very little in a persona to get in the way. He’s a genuine weirdo and you either buy it or you don’t.
Diamond Dogs is an album that I will always listen to. We all have those. They’re such precious things. I won’t ever play it in a car or for other people–hell–even posting this feels personal even though it isn’t. I’m not sure what it is. I think it may be that there is a primal connection–like I share DNA with it. The combination of dark, death, decay, camp, and humor is specific to a type of person who is probably found throughout the globe and in every culture: Goth, weirdo, latino American, queer, whatever it is, it is here.
(My mom just texted me out of the blue to let me know that it’s both my great grandma and my grandma’s birthday today. So enjoy the spooky magical realism)