Diamond Dogs 1974

8 Jun diamonddogs



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.

Full Album

(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)

  1. David Bowie: The Complete Works (Intro)
  2. David Bowie 1967
  3. Space Oddity 1969
  4. The Man Who Sold The World 1970
  5. Hunky Dory 1971
  6. Ziggy Stardust 1972
  7. Aladdin Sane 1973

Aladdin Sane 1973

29 Apr aladdinsane



It was 2003 and I was living in a 4 bedroom apartment in Harlem with three other people. I was packed into the end of a long hallway. I had no belongings. I only owned a rolling bag of luggage that doubled as my closet. I slept on a bed that was already in that room, abandoned by its former owner, adopted by myself.virginmegastore

I was out of Los Angeles–free to do what I wanted to do–so in a fit of hysteria I went to the Virgin Megastore in Time Square, bought every music magazine with an image of Bowie, and created a collage of the artist that I taped to the wall of my bedroom.

One of my roommates told her boyfriend about my collage. He sheepishly knocked on my door one afternoon and I let him in. I stood there in my underwear, paralyzed. He was curly haired and cute, a hipster before hipsters were a thing.

He thought the collage was cool, which made me cool. 

My roommate, this boy, and I sat in a circle in the living room listening to Aladdin Sane on vinyl one afternoon. I confessed my most private blasphemous thought: that Bowie’s version of Let’s Spend the Night Together was better than the Rolling Stone’s version. The boy yelled in agreement, bursting like someone had just given the exact words to his secret. I didn’t need to be in love with him to understand the gift of acceptance. We shared this intense bond of music that soothed any alienation I felt in regards to New York city. In the grand scheme of things he wasn’t even a minor character in the story of my life, but the city tends to hand you the gift of minor-minor characters who show up and ease your soul.

Aladdin Sane was the perfect album for my first few months in New York: Jarring, campy, absurd, and also extremely gay.

Ziggy Stardust is the nice semi-gentrified gay bar you take your straight friends to. Maybe the bartenders have their shirts off for some titillation, but overall everyone is well-behaved and your straight friends might get a nice thrill.

Aladdin Sane is the 3 AM gay bar, the one called The Hole, or the Fist, or something nasty. You walk inside and there’s a very rude drag queen, it smells like lube and poppers, and if they have TVs then they’re probably playing gay porn. All but your foolhardiest of straights would dare enter.

And this isn’t really because Aladdin Sane is a dirty record (it is) but it’s mostly because the language that Bowie speaks and the attitude dripping from the album is so fucking gay that I think straight people still have a hard time understanding this album.

How else to explain this?

Bowie, draped in a boa, showing off milky white thighs, sings what sounds like a cabaret/burlesque song about death and regret like a grand diva. To the layman this all looks and sounds ridiculous, but to people who are in the know–that is–to people who understand being gay, an outsider, or a lover of camp, all of this makes perfect sense.

Aladdin Sane is in a different language. One long wink to the listener. When I was a kid I could hear the language and see the wink. I knew about the love that dare not speak its name, but here I first heard it whispered. The way Bowie says “Boy” is how I wanted to say “Boy.” I knew the longing that Bowie sang, but also the subversive language he used to mask it.

Tracks of Note

Drive-In Saturday


This is a Bowie-Grower, the sort of Bowie track you might not get at first but you appreciate the older you get. The track is doo-wop about a couple attempting to get it on in a very traditional way. Course, this being a Bowie song, it’s the future, and the couple is part of a society that’s forgotten how to fuck. The song is self-consciously campy, distancing itself from tradition by embracing a traditional genre. Bowie is great at approaching common everyday things (like screwing at a drive in) in the weirdest most perverse way possible. Part of his outsider charm is allowing the listener to understand how strange the normals are. This is the basic enchantment of drag queens.


I’ve mentioned Time already, but it demands multiple listens. I love it. It’s one of Bowie’s most under-appreciated masterpieces.

Let’s Spend The Night Together

As far as I am concerned, the Stone’s original is a pretty hetero seduction:

Bowie’s cover is a queer act of celebration and desperation

Clearly subjective. If I was a straight dude I would prefer the Stones. But I’m not. So there.

The Jean Genie


My second favorite Bowie music video (behind Life on Mars) and one of my favorite overall Bowie tracks. It’s not a stretch for me to say that this track may have saved my life. In my early years living in New York, scrounging money from temp jobs all over Manhattan, I would have this song playing almost on repeat, imagining myself as the subject of Bowie’s bluesy rock anthem–the one living in a capsule and smiling like a reptile..

If this track didn’t exist I don’t know that I could have mustered up the energy to work as hard as I did to stay in the city.

Years later I learned who the Jean Genie actually was. Bowie was referencing a famous french author and poet by the name of Jean Genet. I read his “Our Lady of the Flowers” and was delighted to find that Jean Genet was an extremely gay master of smut. The book is a compendium of hookers, transvestites, drag queens, and drug addicts living in squalor in Paris France. In other words: it’s perfect.

The large viny image of Bowie with a pink and blue lighting bolt splitting down his face will always remind me of Harlem, barefoot on a dirty rug, talking to a boy who thinks I’m cool, teetering on the edge of homelessness. I would eventually tear down my collage of Bowie when I left that apartment in an emergency. My other roommate had threatened me with a knife. I had to call the cops on him. I left in the night to stay at a hostel. Then stayed with a friend while I looked for an apartment with only a fistful of cash.

The city had turned on me as quickly as it had embraced me. Bowie had warned me it would happen though, warned me in Lady Grinning Soul


Full Album


A Few Words On Prince

The artist Prince passed away about a week ago. Like every living thing on Earth I enjoyed Prince songs, but I never really got deep into the Prince discography. I really regret that. I always considered him to be from the same galaxy as Bowie. I was touched to learn he covered a Bowie song in one of his last performances


  1. David Bowie: The Complete Works (Intro)
  2. David Bowie 1967
  3. Space Oddity 1969
  4. The Man Who Sold The World 1970
  5. Hunky Dory 1971
  6. Ziggy Stardust 1972

The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders from Mars 1972

8 Apr ziggystardust

I’m the space invader/

I’ll be a rock ’n’ rolling bitch for you

I ran away from home at age 18, but it wasn’t formalized. There wasn’t a fight, and I wasn’t disowned. What I did was fade away, staying gone from night til morning, and mom didn’t ask me where I’d gone. Maybe she didn’t want to know.

I didn’t do anything overtly sinister. Most of the time I spent it in my friend’s living room in East Hollywood near the Scientology compound. The neighborhood there is full of wannabe actors with apartments that have simple gardens that turn to weeds because none of the tenants care to water their plants. Actors aren’t known for their green thumbs. One night I asked my friend to take a picture of me wearing a top hat and makeup while I posed in his bathroom tub–just another strange growing weed in East Hollywood.

I mention all of this because Ziggy Stardust was the door that opened to make that strangeness possible. Ziggy led to Aladdin Sane, which led to Diamond Dogs, and that led to Glam Rock like Marc Bolan, T-Rex, Sparks which led to Punk; the Sex Pistols, the Clash; and then I knew I liked Queen and that one album by the Police, and then later I heard Missy Elliott on the radio and I knew what she was getting at.

Ziggy Stardust was my gateway drug, and for many people it was the first proper introduction to Bowie’s androgyny. The album itself is in a kind of drag. What I mean by that is that–despite this album appearing in many Top Rock Albums of all Times list–the album harbors a dark genre secret.

The secret of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars is that it’s a musical. Not just a rock musical, but one of those big gay Broadway musicals that normal people tend to hate. If you don’t believe me just check Bowie himself connecting Starman to Judy Garland’s  Somewhere Over The Rainbow.


There are mountains of words written about Bowie’s sexuality, and all of them absolutely bore me. What I find fascinating is not the “truth” of Bowie’s sexuality, but the power that his work gave to gay and trans people. He knew our language. That’s a funny thing to say because, back then, it was Bowie that introduced me to that language. Ziggy Stardust is undoubtedly a Queer work of art; an homage to boys who wear lipstick. Same-sex desire wasn’t just something to be dealt with in an after-school special: in this album I felt same-sex desire was finally cool.

Years later and the gay subtext is just a taaaaad bit too on the nose for me. Kind of like a lumbering Pride Float–especially when compared to Aladdin Sane (which is like campy gay porn) and Diamond Dogs (which is sublime).  It’s still a Top 5 album though, it has to be! I think it’s illegal for a Bowie fan not to claim that.

Tracks of Note

Five Years

Have I mentioned how much Bowie loves the apocalypse and dystopia? Have I mentioned how much I love it? Do I love apocalypse and dystopia because Bowie did?

Probably. Five Years impressed me when I first heard it, and it impresses me every time I fire up this album. It’s a great show opener full of vivid scenes of panic, violence, and dark humor. Bowie places the listener of the song in the scene (“I think I saw you in an ice cream parlor…”) drawing you into the intro to his story. This is the first time that Bowie sounds supremely confident putting his passion for storytelling at the foreground of his work. It’s exhilarating.

Moonage Daydream

The lyrics. I only ever heard “the church of MAN LOVE  is such a holy place to be.” Straight people are convinced there is a comma there. They say that Bowie actually says “the church of man, love, is such a holy place to be.”

The church of man space space space space LOVE space space space…

No offense, but I think straight people are in denial here–I mean–what do you think “put your ray gun to my head” means exactly?

Regardless, 17 year old me was greatly impressed the lyrics to this song. They are as cryptic as Bowie was. He also completely knew what he was doing with the double entendre and grammatical tricks as they return in other songs.



As I mentioned before, Starman is a direct homage of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

This is a fascinating victory for Camp over Rock N Roll. There is a great body of work about what Camp means to the gay sensibility, but you don’t have to study all of it to listen to this song and feel in your gut that Bowie is getting away with something that most rock stars couldn’t get away with.

The themes of this song also further Bowie’s symbolism of space as both a place that represents danger and salvation. In this case, it’s both. The Starman will come down to save the Earth with his rock music only to be killed by his fans.

(Alternatively: The human, Ziggy, attempts to personify the space beings, who rip him apart. Listen, the plot of this musical is very thinly sketched. Bowie’s still a better rock artist than he is a Broadway lyricist.)

Lady Stardust

A song about love between a guy and another guy who is a femme rock star. We leave the realm of gay subtext here–it’s text, gurl. It’s a fiction that is also a reflection of what Bowie was attempting to achieve.This is a bit of Hunky Dory sneaking into Ziggy with the beautiful piano work. I think this may also mark the start of Bowie referencing gay author Jean Genet in his work (Jean tends to mix pronouns and nouns like how this song references a “boy” as a “lady”).

I remember how this song shocked me as a kid. I felt like the apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey discovering a smooth black monolith. What was this? Why was this song so old, and yet, why does it feel like it’s beyond my reach? Did we used to sing about gay love and then forget?

Hollywood ended up making up an entire movie based on the premise of this song that is also a sly biography of Bowie’s Ziggy era. It’s called Velvet Goldmine and it’s pretty alright (though they couldn’t get any rights to Bowie’s music):

Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide

Bowie sings about the destruction of a famous person, which is potent foreshadowing for Bowie’s own life. A few years after the Ziggy album Bowie would start surviving on cocaine, chili peppers, and milk. I’ve said before that Bowie isn’t a real rock star, he’s an artist that plays one. By that I mean that he was never nihilistic enough to believe in his own destruction. Rock stars tend to sing about their misery, and be miserable, or they tend to sing about how they want to die, and then they die.

Bowie’s different though. His art drew the line bordering destruction and salvation, and then as an artist he would cross the line, and then come back. Writers tend to do this a lot better than musicians do. This is why this song–about death–is ultimately uplifting. Bowie writes about his destiny as a rockstar, and because it’s written–it’s like he breaks the spell.

I was living in New York by 2004, I was 22, and my running away was now formalized. I did so much cocaine one year that my hair started to fall out in the shower. I remember one night lying awake in a fit of terror, with tears in my eyes, thinking about how I was wasting my life. I was aimless, and coke didn’t make me high anymore.

And I think the only thing that saved me was myself. That hand in the dark saying “gimme your hands, cuz you’re wonderful.”  I stopped doing coke. Stopped seeing my friend who did coke. Slowly–I got back on track. Back to being counted as part of the population.

In other words: Time takes a cigarette, and puts in in your mouth.

Notes On A Few Tracks

Soul Love is such a Bowie love song, in that it’s only sort of gushy about love, but mostly vaguely threatening. Bowie is the only musician who has never lied about love as far as I’m concerned. Hang On To Yourself and Suffragette City are bangers, and they drive a hole in my logic that Bowie was not a real rock star, so I won’t mention them again🙂. Ziggy Stardust has the greatest dirty lyric of all time. “Well hung, with a snow white tan.” Jesus Christ this whole album is super gay. It’s no wonder why people were terrified of Bowie. I’ve tried so hard for so many years to get into It Ain’t Easy and I can’t. I would have preferred the single John I’m Only Dancing to replace it:

Closing thoughts

This is the first of Bowie’s albums that I didn’t really have to listen to more than once in order to write out my thoughts. I know this album so well. In my mind I see a lightly staged Broadway stage and all of the characters in Ziggy Stardust walking about, singing their ballads, a forlorn spotlight falling on them that makes the glitter on their faces sparkle. I think I see that vision so clearly because of all the film musicals that are like Ziggy or that have been inspired by Ziggy: Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Velvet Goldmine, Rocky Horror, Jesus Christ Superstar…

I never told my mom about my East Hollywood adventures, but I remember her once telling me that she found the photograph of me wearing makeup. I didn’t care that she did.

She came to my wedding last year. When she calls she asks about my husband. When Bowie died she sent me a warm text. She didn’t know what he meant to me, but she knew I would be hurting.

Full Album

  1. David Bowie: The Complete Works (Intro)
  2. David Bowie 1967
  3. Space Oddity 1969
  4. The Man Who Sold The World 1970
  5. Hunky Dory 1971

Bowie: Hunky Dory 1971

11 Mar hunkydorycover

“I’m not a prophet or a stone-age man/

Just a mortal with the potential of a superman”

If The Man Who Sold The World was full of anxiety, then Hunky Dory is pure catharsis. TMWSTW is fire, and Hunky Dory is water. The blur and confusion of losing your mind gives way to the spiritual joy of explaining yourself in a fit of clarity. Hunky Dory is what sometimes happens when you go through a bad patch, either with yourself or someone else, and a wall inside your mind crumbles and you can see a plan for your life for the next year or two.

It has all of the optimism that was missing in the prior album. On its own, it’s a hokey piece of work. At least I thought it was hokey when I first heard it. I have a memory of myself at 17 lying on the carpet of my mother’s apartment in Los Angeles listening to all these albums, hitting Hunky Dory before I had listened to TMWSTW, and wondering whether Bowie was laughing at us.

My reasoning lay in how it sounded like the entire album was composed on one of those old saloon type pianos that appeared on TV Western’s like Bonanza. This is hardly a “rock” album befitting a “rock god.” And while I’m not entirely sure that Bowie isn’t laughing at us–I do think that there is a sincerity in this album that I missed as a teenager, and that has grown both within the album and within me as a listener.

It was January 11th 2016, Monday morning, when I learned that David Bowie had died. I couldn’t believe it. I went to work a shell of myself, and I chose to listen to three albums. Two of them were my definite favorites: Station to Station, Diamond Dogs. The third was Hunky Dory. It wasn’t until that day that I realized that Hunky Dory was my third favorite Bowie album, which was a strange way to learn something about yourself.

It’s the album with music that told me that–not only was it okay to be gay–but it was an honor. “Gotta make way for the homo superior,” is a lyric that made me smile then and still makes me smile. “Turn and face the strange,” was a salve for all the insults society would throw at who I was. Life on Mars? Still makes me cry. It’s a song that communicates that your strangest dreams and desires are more important than movies or prayer.

The Cover.


In the last entry I mentioned that Bowie in a dress in the Man Who Sold The World was a risky gambit. An album about mental illness with Bowie in a dress signified anxiety about identity. This cover, even more femme than the last, has no anxiety whatsoever. Here Bowie is revelatory and pure. He is calm, assured, with his pale hands sweeping his hair back, and revealing himself to be a woman. A woman–that’s what I thought when I saw this cover for the first time–existing as a mere 10 by 10 centimeter jpeg on my computer screen. Bowie shimmers. The picture looks like its been painted on with a technique called pointilism which implies that minuscule points of interest reveal something larger–about what? About Bowie and ourselves.

The cool thing about this picture is that we have many pictures from the shoot to sift through. See them here. I can see, visually, how important this cover was to Bowie because of all the other beautiful pictures that didn’t make the cut. This is one of my favorite pics of this session and of Bowie: 


It’s a gorgeous shot, but it didn’t suit the message of the album–in other words–it’s still too “boy.” Bowie pushing his gender as femme as possible, and positioning that as clarity and joy, is still one of the most punk things I’ve ever seen.

Tracks of Note


Changes sets the tone for Bowie’s new direction following the last album.  Bowie opens with lamenting a few of the last album’s anxieties

“I still don’t know what I was waiting for

And my time was running wild

A million dead-end streets”

And references the uncanny crisis in TMWSTW of being a person who has split himself–and can observe himself:

So I turned myself to face me

But I’ve never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I’m much too fast to take that test

And then it shrugs all of that off–c’est la vie–because peace comes when you accept who you are, and what you are.

The language Bowie uses is Nietzschean, but the implications are written in a language that gay and trans kids everywhere can hear loud and clear.

Changes moves from addressing the changes within a person to addressing the changes in a society. Old people and old ideas get pushed aside in favor of younger ideas and younger people. I heard a rumor that Bernie Sanders uses “Starman” in his rallies. I have no idea why he didn’t choose this song instead.

Oh! You Pretty Things

I heard this song when I needed to hear it, and it went a long way from pulling me away from the darkness caused by finding out that I was different, and that the difference could potentially disappoint my mother. In some ways, the first person I ever came out to was David Bowie, privately, with this song playing through my headphones.  

Oh! You Pretty Things can be about something specific–let’s say the avant-garde glitter and punk kids of 1971–but it also has the qualities of a neverending struggle. I suspect that there will always be newer and prettier things that will drive me crazy as I get older (heard all about those kids calling themselves genderqueer? What is THAT all about?).

I felt a bond with Bowie’s words and took them as almost sage advice. Looking back, that advice was sound. Kids; be yourself, drive the older generation insane, and know that the future is yours no matter what you are.  

Life On Mars?

I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that Life on Mars? –the music video–was one of the most viewed Bowie videos on the day he died.

Surprised only because that music video was one of my own most viewed Bowie videos from the Best of Bowie DVD. The DVD set is out of print now, and I lost it to a roommate, but I remember being transfixed by the video. It is my absolute favorite of his music videos and I was happy to see it getting the recognition that it deserves on youtube over his mega-pop hits.

The song itself was re-popularized by Jessica Lange’s performance (complete with blue suit and makeup) on American Horror Story: Freak Show in 2014. My husband, who is a Bowie virgin, remarked that it was a pretty song.

Yeah, it’s pretty. I think it’s also profound. Easily one of Bowie’s best songs.

It was Bowie’s take on Paul Anka and Sinatra’s song ‘My Way’ (Bowie has a strange history with that song), but instead of celebrating the singer, Bowie sort of celebrates the boredom that it takes to create. There’s a girl who is dissatisfied with her life, her parents–she goes to the movies to escape–and is then dissatisfied with the movie she’s watching!

She wonders whether there’s life on mars. If you remember previous entries, space is a Bowie metaphor for salvation, creativity, and danger.

My interpretation of this song is that it is an homage to our strangest ideas and desires. The content of the song is a downer, but the melody of the song builds to this wonderful crescendo that is a complete non-sequitur; what if there’s life on mars? The important thing is that you keep having strange ideas like this and that you don’t give up your sense of wonder in a world that can be a total bore sometimes.

Notes On A Few More Tracks

Quicksand and Fill Your Heart are two wonderful sides of the same coin. Quicksand is a song that gets better the older I get. The lyrics lament the limitations of the artists, and the limitations of living in the past. Fill Your Heart takes all of that worry and wipes it away in a comedic fashion, essentially telling us to be happy to lose our minds and thoughts in order to experience joy. I believe both songs signify a grounding of all of Bowie’s advice. He is–after all–an artist with limitations and shouldn’t be thought of as an expert or messiah (until he becomes a literal messiah in the next album). Seal made an amazing cover of Quicksand which you can watch here.

Kooks is such a sweet song about Bowie’s son, and I didn’t realize it was a song about his son until I decided to write this (lol). I love the idea that it’s a song meant to convince the baby to be his son. It really makes me think that Bowie would be a wise father; understanding that a son could eventually choose to stop talking to a father.

Eight Line Poem is like a raft boat floating in a beautiful mountain lake during a 6 am sunset. I want to sit in front of it with a cup of coffee. Queen Bitch is fantastic and has been overused and abused for the sake of Wes Anderson trailers. And I might be very weird because I don’t care for The Bewlay Brothers but I love Andy Warhol.

It means a lot to me that this album exists. The songs presented here probably had the most impact. I hope that it touches some other poor kid’s life too.

  1. David Bowie: The Complete Works (Intro)
  2. David Bowie 1967
  3. Space Oddity 1969
  4. The Man Who Sold The World 1970


Bowie: The Man Who Sold The World 1970

3 Mar manwhosold



Mi abuelita

I knew the moment my grandmother was gone. I woke up one morning to find that she had fashioned a spear out of a curtain rod, a kitchen towel, and a butcher knife. It was leaning against the wall over my little sister who was calmly eating cereal before school. When I asked my grandmother why she had constructed the weapon she told me that it was to keep our neighbors from sneaking around in our vents.

My grandmother went “crazy” when she was older–the doctors told us she had a mixture of dementia and alzheimers–but I always felt that this alleged mixture wasn’t the full story, that the doctors did the bare minimum, and to this day I’m not sure what it is exactly that killed her.

Before my grandmother’s illness I recognized how madness and violence worked together. In 1986 “going postal” was the phrase used to describe postal workers shooting up innocent people. My mother would have a very hard time explaining to me what it meant to lose it or to suffer a mental breakdown, and I’m old enough now to understand why she couldn’t explain it: It’s because we don’t know.  

The problem of madness had a partial explanation in science and a partial explanation in art for me. Artists felt a little more in tune with the experiences of poor people who suffer from undiagnosed mental illness and violence. I think all of this helps explains why this album — The Man Who Sold The World– initially drew me in more than Bowie’s more universally recognized albums like Ziggy Stardust.

As a 17 year old, with an ipod full of Bowie albums, I think I listened to The Man Who Sold The World more than any other album. While I thought the Ziggy Stardust oeuvre and all the Berlin albums were good, I thought that this particular album was something that was so strange, and so unlike any other album (either Bowie’s or of that time) that I needed multiple playthroughs to unravel it.

And just as my mother couldn’t completely communicate to me what “going postal” meant; I don’t think I can completely communicate what this album means, and that may be because it is itself looking for answers to the unknown.

The Cover


Bowie would become a hero of mine the more I saw him dip into androgyny, and here we see him wearing a luxurious dress, long hair, and lying almost seductively on a  chaise lounge. It’s a bit of a butch queen look because Bowie would later commit to even more feminine looks (as in the next album cover for Hunky Dory). I’m only now noticing that cards along the table in front of him implying a house of cards that has fallen, or that Bowie himself has destroyed the house of cards by pulling one of them out.

I think it’s a safe way for Bowie to present as feminine. If the theme of your album is madness and you want to depict madness, why not a man in a dress whose knocked over his own house of cards? I’d be very suspicious that Bowie was just using queer iconography if not for the rest of his career which shows that Bowie was loyal to presenting as femme, woman, sissy, faggy even. As we’ve seen in his last album, Bowie isn’t interested in utopia, but he is interested in consequence. If you are free, and you can wear a dress, then what is the price?

The cover album is only problematic without context, and in hindsight. Truth is it was very controversial for the 70’s. America got a different version  which I am not a big fan of.

Had Bowie worn a dress on an album about mental illness and never again then I wouldn’t be writing about him. Madness, sexuality, and gender have been tied together historically, and particularly at the time, with the APA removing gay as a mental illness category in America only two years after the release of this album.  I often think this album is about the doubts in the artist’s mind due to his presentation. Calling yourself mad before anyone else does is a defense mechanism, and it allowed Bowie to delve further into his own concepts of gender and sexuality.

Tracks of Note
The Width Of A Circle

First: What a heavy bass and crunchy sounding track. I’m not a musical historian but if I were to make an educated guess then I would think that Bowie was kind of into psychedelic rock like this  and opted to tweak everything further into a much harsher sound and introduce paranoia–and voila–gives birth to heavy metal. It hurts my brain to think about how out of its time this sounds like.

The lyrics from the front half of the song are the most interesting to me, in particular

Then I ran across a monster who was sleeping by a tree.
And I looked and frowned and the monster was me
Well, I said hello and I said hello
And I asked “Why not?” and I replied “I don’t know”

This is the concept of the album and of what Bowie would start to really think about in all of his work: The question of his identity, and the concept of identity itself. If one piece of information can reveal us as frauds, or as other beings, then how much trust can we put in identity and reality itself? This is the world of literature like Philip K Dick novels and not so much your typical rock song content. I think of this album as the prequel to Hunky Dory, which finds Bowie as strangely at peace with his role as a changeling, but in this album he isn’t comfortably there yet, and so everything seems like a threat.

This is the first time I was really drawn into a Bowie epic. A Bowie epic is typically more than 5 minutes long and sounds like its 2 or 3 songs mashed together. He would make an album that was all Bowie epics called Station to Station (can’t wait to talk about that one).

Here is the best performance of The Width of A Circle from the Ziggy Stardust Movie that is 14 minutes long because Mick Ronson has an amazing solo in it

All The Madmen

How much did Bowie as an artist worry about his own mental health, how much do I? And you?

When I listen to All The Madmen I feel like Bowie is embracing this fear. By making madness his subject, it can be temporarily removed from his anxiety, and he can study and explain it.

If you listen to the track, there is laughter, broad caricature, but also a genuine fear, and an understanding that the listener has the same fear. The way Bowie deals with mental health issues in All The Madmen will be how he deals with death in Blackstar.

The Man Who Sold The World

In 1994, Nirvana covered The Man Who Sold The World for MTV’s Unplugged

21 years later, on September 1 2015, Metal Gear Solid V is released. When you press a button to begin the game, you’re treated to the following cutscene:

There are more famous songs in the Bowie canon, but The Man Who Sold The World is the one track we keep coming back to. I imagine little Bowie acolytes spawning continuously, discovering the song, and being moved by its strangeness, and plugging it into their art.

Why does this song persist among weird creatives? I think it’s because the song itself is a little bit of a feint. It sounds like a typical Bowie story wrapped up in a song, only it isn’t. I always have a hard time remembering the lyrics to this song because it actually isn’t a story. There aren’t characters and there isn’t a plot. The song is about the experience of losing yourself, in life, and in your head. It has the qualities of a vaguely remembered nightmare.

The track trails off and we’re left wondering what the hell that was about. I think this quality is the track’s strength. It refuses to supply us with answers, but is generous enough to allow us to imagine answers. In other words; it’s immortal.

Honorable Mentions

Listen to She Shook Me Cold. I don’t know about the content of the track, but it confounds me as to how this track sounds like a Black Sabbath song. Why is Bowie singing that way? Why are the guitars going in so hard? Was this really made in 1970? Really? I don’t believe it. I’m starting to believe he was a time traveler. It’s awesome.

Running Gun Blues is an ironic happy little song about a war vet who guns down innocents. People who hurt innocents return throughout Bowie’s career like in his album 1.Outside or the track Valentine’s Day from The Next Day. It’s dark dark stuff. This album clearly marks Bowie’s intention of always living with the dark stuff even as he becomes an 80’s megastar. 

As an aside, do you know the track Black Country Rock? I used to impress my friend by perfectly imitating Bowie’s little trilling dolphin sound at the end of the song. I can still do it.

I went on a little longer than I expected for this album because I think it cracks my top 10 favorite albums. I listened to it over and over again as a kid, and I listened to it over and over again for this. I think I can finally put my analytical glasses down and just enjoy the damned thing.

Full Album



  1. David Bowie: The Complete Works (Intro)
  2. David Bowie 1967
  3. Space Oddity 1969

Bowie: Space Oddity 1969

22 Feb SpaceOddity

“It’s So Hard For Us

To Really Be

Really You

And Really Me”

I was 17 when I decided to download Bowie’s discography. That means it was around 1999, Los Angeles. My family was a late adopter of the Internet. I had to haul them to a tech store to buy a modem and then install a free AOL CD for access to the internet. Having only 1 phone line meant that using the Internet caused all of our phone calls to be blocked.

So you can imagine my nightmare scenario: being a rampaging teenager attempting to download a torrent of all of Bowie’s albums in a house full of latina women who didn’t like missing calls. I remember it taking days to even set up the procedure for even starting the download, days for the download to fail, and days to regroup and start the download up again. It ran overnight like beef in a slow cooker.

All the albums wouldn’t fit into a CD so I had to trim. I decided to delete most of the tracks off of Space Oddity the album, but chose to keep Space Oddity the song.

I realized my mistake around five to six years later while living in Harlem. I purchased the Ziggy Stardust Movie on DVD from a Tower Records inside Trump Tower (a Trump Tower Records is a thing that is as weird as it sounds) and I listened and watched David Bowie sing Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud

The performance is from 1973, but the first song is from the Space Oddity album. I completely fell in love with the song when I watched this while sitting on the floor of my Harlem bedroom. I didn’t have cable then. I had a television on a wobbly wooden nightstand, a dvd player, and this film.

I’m just now really appreciating the Space Oddity album as a whole. Many themes are present here that will continue to be present all the way to Blackstar:





The dread of living in the world, but also the momentary joy of revelation.

Space Oddity, the album and song, are a lot more menacing than they sound.


Tracks of Note

Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud

I want to focus on the method of storytelling in this song. The characters are the villagers, the wild eyed boy, the mountain, and their struggles. The story unfolds with some great lyrics, and then you hit the middle crescendo. The wild eyed boy, and maybe the narrator himself, sings to the villagers, and the listener, “It’s so hard for us to really be, really you, really me.”

This use of “us” and “you” will return in Ziggy Stardust (“I think I saw you in an ice-cream parlour…don’t think you knew you were in this song”) Heroes (“We can be heroes”). A lot of singers address listeners directly, but only a few do it by building a world that is recognizably unfair, cruel, or dying. This gives many Bowie songs a touch of what you would call salvation, though religion itself is largely rejected. The salvation is never put as simply as it is in this song: To really be.

Bowie spins a little yarn, positions the Wild Eyed boy as a messiah, and has him fail. Whatever message of peace he brought with him (“to really be”) is lost with the town threatening to execute him and the mountain destroying the town. The messiah fails. The people aren’t saved. This happens a lot in Bowie music. The characters in the story may fail, or may be doomed, but we can at least experience a momentary joy or revelation through them.

Space Oddity


Check out the original version of Space Oddity and the revised version below which was actually shot in space.

Commander Chris Hadfield’s version is lovely, but I have to be a downer at the party and remind everyone that the original Space Oddity is a story of death, a metaphor for drug addiction, and most importantly a song that ponders the dangers and the allures of the infinite. I don’t blame Commander Chris for changing the lyrics because I would do the same if I was literally in orbit.

Space is a place that holds death, addiction, but potential salvation in the growing mythology of Bowie’s music. Ziggy Stardust comes from space. The girl experiencing an existential bore pins her hopes on whether there is life on mars in the song Life on Mars? And Major Tom’s flight into space in Space Oddity starts with hope and curiosity, but ends in loss.

We as mostly sane people know that we shouldn’t self-harm or self-destruct, but we also have a tendency to struggle against a life that is safe, boring, and oppressive. Without exploration we wouldn’t have gay people, trans people, artists, interracial relationships, and most of life would just be an internal struggle instead of a path to happiness and honesty.

But there is danger in exploration. There is AIDS, homelessness, drug addiction, abuse. If we travel far enough into the infinite then we are in danger of losing our individual “ground control.”

I was supposed to live in New York while working for XY Magazine. After my business trip to London, I went to New York, and the magazine started going under, and my job fell through. I made the decision to stay in New York. I think I was 21 years old. I crashed on the couch of a writer friend,  and survived on savings for a month while I looked for work and an apartment.

There were a lot of factors to my decision to live in New York, and I’ve forgotten most of them, but the most important ones are still with me: I didn’t want to live home anymore, I felt welcomed by the city because I was a weirdo and it was full of weirdos, I wanted to be gay here, and I wanted to be alone.

I think Space Oddity makes a literal connection between the impulses behind space exploration, drug addiction, and experimenting with your own life. It explains our hopes of finding salvation in exploration, but doesn’t lie about finding ourselves utterly lost.It is sweet and strange, and it may be one of the most mysterious songs I’ve ever listened to.

Memory Of A Free Festival

 Memory of a Free Festival is amazing and I just discovered that now. I always skipped this song until I listened to this album. I should know not to do that with any Bowie track. I heard it described as his “Hey Jude” and I can see that, but also note how it totally isn’t “Hey Jude.”

For one thing, the chorus sounds joyous at first, but goes on for so long that it starts to sound threatening. What is the sun machine exactly, when is it coming down, and what’s going to happen to us when it does?

It also sounds like gospel music, which is completely out of left field. It sounds like something from his Young Americans album. Bowie was never secretive about his love for black artists like Little Richard. On the day he died this story of him defending black artists to MTV went viral This track is the first time I can see him incorporating (or appropriating) some of that sound.

Finally, the track is a blazing closing track to the album. It’s a great ending. Endings are something we’ll continue to see Bowie nail to a T in almost every one of his albums. Remember, that his soul is a writer’s soul, and there’s nothing more important to a book than the first line and the ending. The last track of the album feels like an end of an era.

Full Album

There are a lot of great tracks in this album that start tying together to larger themes in Bowie’s works. Cygnet Committee is a good example of an early Bowie track dealing with mental illness, but I didn’t choose it as a track of note because–in my opinion–it doesn’t grab me as much as the songs about mental illness in his next album (Oooooh boy there are some good ones).

Still, a very solid album and worth a listen.


Here is the original music video for Space Oddity.


  1. David Bowie: The Complete Works (Intro)
  2. David Bowie 1967

David Bowie 1967

16 Feb davidbowie1967

Around 2002 I traveled to London for the very first time in my life. I was 20 years old and traveling on business. I was the managing editor of XY magazine, an American magazine for young gay men that survived a fair amount of controversy during the 90’s.

So I was Out. I was fucking gay. I dressed like a punk and I bought my pair of tight purple jeans. I was in a foreign country–unsupervised– and I was of legal drinking age there whereas I was not in the States.


I had several personal missions to get into trouble  while I was there, but one of my easier  missions was to hunt down the elusive 1967 debut of David Bowie. It was such a vastly unpopular album that torrent users refused to seed it. I typed in the name over and over again and came back with nothing.

By this point I had every one of Bowie’s solo records on a small green iPod nano except for David Bowie 1967. It wasn’t even that I wanted to listen to it. I just wanted to own it. To have it meant that I could have a complete collection of his work.


I walked into a pink HMV store, looked through their expansive Bowie collection, and finally found it on CD. My very first independent foreign exchange of money and goods was David Bowie 1967. I traveled back to Hamstead a short train ride away from Piccadilly Circus, retrieved my CD player, and started listening to it.

It is an album that isn’t very good. This was David Bowie before he was cool. Released in 1967, it sees Bowie following along rather than setting the trends. 60’s Bowie is kind of a mod-rocker and a preening mess.

Nevertheless, my problem with the album is with the sound, not the content. The content including the lyrics and the stories in the tracks are all as classic bowie as you can get.

Tracks of Note

She’s Got Medals

This is prototypical of almost everything Bowie would come to embrace. Gender bending, sex bending, everything bending. The girl who has medals probably isn’t sure whether she’s a boy or a girl, but Bowie has a long way to go until he can tell her that she’s alright. We establish early on that Bowie is interested in the ways that queerdom is expressed. He and I will continue to obsess over this topic for a long while.

There Is A Happy Land

This sounds almost like Five Years from Ziggy Stardust. It’s a light narrative consisting of setting and characters. I think it’s a truism that most writers wish they could make music. I took band in High School playing the clarinet with a bunch of other kids, and I was good at it. Learned enough to read sheet music on a basic level and get to play a few notes of Ode to Joy. It’s something about the passion that music brings that books cannot. The written word doesn’t ever make my heart sing like a good melody can.

I think Bowie was the rare person that came at it from reverse. He was a musician who wanted to be a writer. I believe this is what makes him so unique. His music isn’t a message, or a statement of fact, it’s a little snapshot of a narrative that evokes the intellectual feeling of reading a story that speaks to you and makes you feel less alone in the universe with your thoughts. David Bowie absolutely loved books and writers and it shows in his work.

There Is A Happy Land has that quality of the beginning of a great Bowie-like story, but unfortunately it doesn’t go anywhere. Bowie wouldn’t make the connection between song and story until Space Oddity.

Please Mr. Gravedigger 


[There’s a neat fan-made animated version of the above track here]

I don’t think all of the tracks fail. I think Please Mr. Gravedigger is a fantastic piece of work that taps into what Bowie really prized about performance. Here is a production and a song unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Well maybe not true. I haven’t heard something like this in rock but it does remind me of those skits employed in old hip hop records. There’s a lot of the theater of the mind stuff going on. There’s setting, characters, a story with a beginning and end. Bowie is so committed to his act that he pantomimes sneezing on the track (if one can say that a sneeze can be pantomimed). Bowie studied to be a mime and it starts to show here. I think a lesser artist would have nixed the track, but Bowie being Bowie, committed to it.

A thing about Bowie being a mime. This is not an unimportant fact. Bowie’s career as a mime didn’t end with his training. He mimed his way through acting, mimed his way through a rock career, mimed on stage, mimed every change in his musical style. Bowie isn’t a chameleon. He’s a mimic. There’s an element of what we call “Passing,” in that. Passing was used in connection to people of one minority race passing themselves off as a majority race. That concept trickled down to sex and gender studies. Gay people can pass as straight through a type of mimicry.

The importance of being a mime and of passing wasn’t lost on Bowie who listed Nella Larson’s novel Passing as one of his top 100 books.

Mimicry and Passing were also concepts not lost on me as I sat in my Bed and Breakfast room in London–being a brown gay misfit from the West Coast–doing the job of a person twice my age and listening to David Bowie 1967.

David Bowie 1967 – Full Album

  1. David Bowie – The Complete Works (Intro)

David Bowie: The Complete Works

11 Feb bowie


I was moved by people, particularly LGBT people, who shared that David Bowie had saved their lives. I know it sounds cheesy, but I feel the exact same way. David Bowie, the artist, saved my life through his art.

Growing up gay means you are effectively shut out of any myth that makes sense of your place in the world. In Christianity the big myth is Adam & Eve, a story that explains heterosexuality. You can take this literally–and use it to bully others–but if you’re a healthy individual, myths don’t have to carry you to that extreme, and can prove comforting. If you’re hetero and are faced with the infinite terrors of the world then I can imagine believing in that creation myth can ease your anxieties a little, even if you eventually grow out of that belief.

David Bowie–moreso than any other artist–built an origin myth for gayness, and for transness, and bi-ness. He built a myth for LGBT and the queer, and anyone that felt left out or strange. It was not a story with a meaning carried by any one album or a turn of phrase, but something that was thematically consistent throughout most of his art.

And in that way–he saved my life by giving it a myth and a soundtrack.

One of the things that drew me into his music was his embrace of the strange. If gay was strange then why not embrace it? The other thing was how honest he was about how shit the Earth could be. Bowie deals a lot with dystopias; both from the future and from the present. He didn’t say “it gets better,” he said “you can be heroes, just for one day.” There wasn’t any sort of whitewashing over the terrible situations many of us found ourselves in, which meant a lot to me being a kid from a violent part of Los Angeles.

 I have a lot of strange love for the Bowie Discography, having proudly filled an iPod nano with most of his albums back when I was around 17 years old.

The discography follows wherever I go, and since I’m here I think I’d like to bring it with me.

 My goal over the next several months is to devote an entry to every one of Bowie’s albums. The entries will be both about the music, Bowie, and my experiences listening to the albums. There are around 27 studio albums, but I might include some of his live stuff. I’ll skip Tin Machine because….yeah why wouldn’t I?

Gay happiness causes suffering

18 Sep

When you tell your mom you are gay, and she cries, she is teaching you a lesson even without wanting to teach you a lesson. When you come out as gay to your friend, and she accepts you, but a friend of a friend has an “opinion” about you or stops talking to you, he is teaching you a lesson.

The lesson is this: If you are gay then you are taught that your happiness causes people to suffer. If you consider yourself a good person then you curb your happiness to lessen suffering.

This is why we die in movies.

You don’t stop learning as an adult, and people don’t stop teaching you lessons. So these lessons go on and you become an adult shaped by unwitting teachers, and you learn to make adjustments accordingly.

I didn’t consciously know I had learned this lesson until I married my partner of two years on September 5th. We were celebrating our union on a rooftop with friends and family. He and I climbed a tower to overlook the party, and when I watched people look up to us, cheering and waving, the lesson I had internalized shattered.

Our happiness didn’t cause suffering, it resulted in more happiness.

A day later I was corrected. My sister told me that my uncle was angry about our Facebook photos and about my mother (his sister) attending my wedding. Here was my sufferer, a lonely man in a loveless marriage attaching his broken emotions onto my life.

It was, unfortunately for him, now impossible for me to curb my happiness. If my happiness was a rocket ship then it was halfway to Pluto with no hope of turning back.

Unfortunately the lesson is bigger than the individual. I see many people affected, curbing their happiness, belittling who they are, all in the hopes of lessening the suffering imposed on others. Kim Davis is a perfect example of the sufferer, a bitter woman with a face twisted into a frown. Kristen Stewart said she feels sorry for Kim Davis, and I get that totally, I understand that feeling because the lesson that gay happiness causes suffering casts the sufferer as the passive victim.

But the truth is that the sufferer is the architect of their own bitterness. If people want to suffer at gay happiness, then let them. I will be so happy that I will need a million sufferers to keep me tethered to the Earth.suffer

Straight Outta Compton vs Stonewall: A Tale of Two Whitewashings

10 Aug


I wasn’t there for Stonewall, but I was there when N.W.A and gangsta rap took over Los Angeles and plunged the south bay area into warfare. The music genre and the group didn’t cause the plunge, the free fall was already happening. Reaganism brought the war on drugs, and combined with segregated neighborhoods and white flight, it left the city in shambles.

Gangsta rap was a genre of corporate-backed music that made popular the idea that the best defense for an impoverished neighborhood was a well-armed militia that placed importance on masculine values. This idea is, at its core, is a sort of cartoon-conservatism that left much of LA a bloody mess. The gangsta revolution placed importance on manly heterosexual men, and posited that all vestiges of the femme were weak and exclusively white. The west coast revolution didn’t feel like a revolution, it felt like a prison with hyper-masculine gangsters as guards.

I can speak at length about LA, but suffice to say that I wasn’t surprised to find most of the South Bay counties voting for Prop 8.

It’s important to understand this in the context of this new N.W.A movie, executive produced once again by corporate money, and with the help of Ice Cube who might have it in his best interest to not address the vile rape culture promoted by N.W.A.

Stonewall, as a counterpoint, is Gay Avatar (as someone on twitter described it) the tale of a white boy who runs away to New York to learn the ways of a few magical black/latino drag queens that inspire him to take part in an east coast revolution. It also seems like a bunch of bunk.

The Stonewall riots were an east-coast revolution, a real one. Not backed by corporate money, but by spontaneous human spirit. It was led by black and brown non-binary drag queens (the idea of a transgender person without the performative aspect of a “drag queen” wasn’t popular among the poor, who often find that every facet of their life must be able to generate money).

The Stonewall riots were led by heroes, black heroes and latina heroes. Marsha P Johnson, Silvia Rivera, and many others Several gay rights orgs were founded in its wake, but most importantly, it was the end result of a city that did make space for the femme. East Coast hip-hop has always been more pleasant personally, more daring. East Coast culture made room for its LGBT of color. Sure it isn’t a lot of room, but it is better than the dark void of nothing that was the South Bay area of Los Angeles.

Two movies are coming out then: One a West Coast myth of revolution that whitewashes the most damaging aspects of gangsta rap, and the other is an East Coast myth that robs the revolution from black and brown activists of the time. I’m sure the creators of both films don’t have bad intentions, but the net effect of their myth making on the popular culture will be an understanding that hyper-masculinity and whiteness always saves the day. It’s a a convenient myth to uphold for a couple of movies looking to be successful in America.

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