Sunday, March 4, 2007

Halloween Jack and Todd Browning

A few years ago, I sold my old record collection. I had stopped listening to vinyl almost the moment I bought a CD player. They were collecting dust and everytime I moved they were a royal pain in the ass. So I broke down and sold them. I miss them so I am slowly buying them back in CD or digitally (sometimes song by song on Itunes). I rarely listen to CDs now that I have the digital wireless beaming thoughout the house. It makes me wonder what it is next with technology changing so fast. I can't imagine would could be better than having 3,000 songs with me throughout the day on my Ipod. I received a CD copy of David Bowie's Diamond Dogs (along with one of his newer ones Reality) in yesterday's mail. Immediately upon removing it from its wrapper I imported it into Itunes. I might not ever play this CD again. Now my CDs sit around and collect dust. At least they are smaller and take up less real-estate.

Now that I have the magic of the internet at my disposal, the mysteries of the lyrics on this CD can be explained. In particular, in the song "Diamond Dogs" there is a line: "Dressed like a preist you was, Todd Browning's freak you was". With the quick click in Google, I discovered that Todd Browning was the director of the cult film, Freaks. Years ago, I remember hanging out at my buddy Russell's apartment on Halloween and renting this film. After about five minutes, I made him turn it off finding it too disturbing. This had probably more to do with my state of mind at the time than anything else. I've been singing this lyric for years and only now do I know what it means.

Diamond Dogs is one of Bowie's masterpieces. It was originally supposed to be a musical version of George Orwell's 1984 but midway through recording, they were asked to stop by the Orwell estate. Many of the references to the novel remain including the Shaft-like song "1984" and the apocyphal "Big Brother." The references to the Orwell novel are still there but the narrative goes off in another tangent entirely. The main character of the album, Halloween Jack, lives on the top floor of Manhattan Chase in a post apacalyptic New York now named Hunger City. Like Ziggy Stardust before him, he plays guitar and has savior-like tendencies. In this album, Bowie says good-bye to glitter rock and to his guitarist Mick Ronson and the rest of the Spiders from Mars. He plays the lead guitar himself giving it a different sound than the albums before it. Change is the only constant that I expect from Bowie and I am looking forward to hearing his new Reality.

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