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Rival Sons - The Fonda Theatre : A Review

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RIVAL SONS - FONDA THEATRE - THURSDAY, MAY 9, 2019


This past Thursday, May 9th, my year of living musically continued with a jaunt to one of my favorite venues, The Fonda Theatre, to see a local band on the rise, Rival Sons.

Rival Sons are a hard rock/blues band from Long Beach, just south of Los Angeles, that is made up of Jay Buchanan (lead vocals), Scott Holiday (guitar), Mike Miley (drums), Dave Beste (bass) and touring member Todd Ogren (keyboards). The band are currently touring in support of their sixth and most recent album, Feral Roots, which was released on January 25th of this year.

Rival Sons formed in 2009 and even though they have put out a solid collection of rock albums into a rock starved world over the last decade, they have yet to “hit it big”. That all could be changing this year though, as the band performed on The Late Late Show with James Corden on the night before I saw them, are slated to co-headline a tour this summer and fall with Stone Temple Pilots and even have one of their earlier songs, Electric Man, featured on a Mountain Dew commercial. In the crazy, upside down, topsy-turvy world of modern rock music, being on Corden and in a Mountain Dew ad are signs of a band’s momentum.

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I was turned on to Rival Sons a few years ago by my buddy Red Dragon, who is a walking encyclopedia of music past and present. Dragon sent me some links to a few songs off of the bands 2014 album Great Western Valkyrie, and I was hooked. From there I made the expedition through the band’s earlier work, which includes their self-titled EP as well as their first full length album, the self-released Before the Fire, both of which are outstanding. The band then signed with Earache and released Pressure and Time (2011), Head Down (2012), Great Western Valkyrie (2014) and Hollow Bones (2016) and toured extensively in support of those albums and as an opening act for bigger and more established acts like Aerosmith, Black Sabbath and Sammy Hagar. In 2018, Rival Sons left Earache and signed on with Low Country Sound, a division of Elektra Records…which brings us to today.

When I saw that Rival Sons were playing at The Fonda I snatched up two tickets ($40 each) the very first day they went on sale. I had long wanted to see the band live but had never had the opportunity until now so I didn’t want to miss it. It was a wise move to get my tickets as early as I did as the general admission show ended up selling out.

My evening of rock started out with my new beloved ritual of grabbing a burger from the Shake Shack across the street from The Fonda before the show. Shake Shack burgers are either God’s or the devil’s work, for they are much too delicious to be of this world. I also treated myself to a Root Beer, a treat which I have not indulged in for quite some time, and hoo-boy if that wasn’t a tasty beer of root. A Shake Shack burger and a root beer and the night was off to a good start.

M’lady, the incomparable Lady Pumpernickle Dusseldorf and I then headed to the venue to join the line that stretched down Hollywood Boulevard and around the corner. After a short wait we were let in through security and made our way to a good spot for the show.

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The thing that stood out the most to me about the audience was that the vast majority of them were middle-aged men and women. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting but I wasn’t expecting that. It makes sense though as Rival Sons are a throwback, a sort of cross between Led Zeppelin and Bad Company, that would have been right at home in the world of 70’s rock. The graying crowd represents an under-served music market that is hungry for new rock and roll, and there are very few places where they can get it. Rival Sons, with their hard-driving, guitar driven sound, are an injection of high voltage energy into the genre, and they fill that “classic rock” void for those who were raised on that music before it was considered “classic”…to them it was just “rock”.

The opening act were The Sheepdogs, a Canadian band heavily influenced by The Allman Brothers and Creedance Clearwater Revival. I had never heard of The Sheepdogs, but as is often the case, seeing them play live turned me into a fan. The musicianship of lead singer/guitarist Ewan Currie and virtuoso lead guitarist Jimmy Bowskill, was jaw-droppingly impressive. Bowskill and Currie would often play in “guitar-mony” (guitar + harmony) with exquisite precision. While their songs were good, but not great, the showmanship, craftsmanship and vitality displayed by Bowskill was well worth the price of admission alone.

The Sheepdogs went on at 8 p.m. and played for about 45 minutes. After they departed the stage the roadies then broke down their equipment and set up for Rival Sons. At this point things got interesting, but not in a good way. The show was General Admission - no seats - so Lady Pumpernickle and I had been standing in the same spot, about five rows of people from the stage, for about an hour and change when two women, one in her 60’s but dressed like a teenager in a mini-skirt and halter top, and the other, her daughter, in her 20’s, came and stood right in front of Lady Pumpernickle. We rolled our eyes at the desperate attention-seeking slutty outfits and behavior of these hussies, and to avoid irritation Lady Pumpernickle simply moved over to the other side of me, using me as a wall between her and the harlots. Lady Pumpernickle could now see the show and not worry about getting crabs…well, at least not getting crabs from those two filthy tramps. But then the patriarch of the whore family, Senor Dicknose, came stumbling through the crowd, bumping into everyone yet miraculously keeping his two beers above his head. Senor Dicknose then made the potentially fatal error of nearly spilling the beer on m’lady…and tensions rose. Now…this guy was in his 60’s, and just like his whore wife, was dressed about four decades too inappropriately. His leather jacket and jeans looked freshly bought and, like his face, harshly creased, and his Ed Hardy t-shirt was like the waving flag of his home country of Douchebagia. This guy was such a gigantic twat it is difficult to fully and accurately describe him and his leathery, fake tanned, botoxed face and super-gelled hair. Think of it this way…if Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein had a 60 year old baby, it would be this useless cunt.

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I am a large mammal, and the best way to describe me is that I look like an unfrozen caveman and a Hells Angel had a baby that the Aryan Brotherhood tried to abort by leaving in the woods to die but who miraculously survived when it was adopted and raised by a pack of rabid wolves and a pod of Sasquatch. The bottom line is this, I sort of look like trouble and maybe even the type of person who carries a battle axe hidden on his person somewhere. Senor Dicknose caught my vibe very quickly because he looked like a geriatric member of Circue du Soleil contorting himself to get around me without ever coming into contact with me. Of course, I wasn’t afraid of him because as the old joke goes, I’ve been beat up by guys half his size…and certainly half his age, so I didn’t help him out at all by moving out of his way because…well…fuck that guy. I was so irritated by this turd with feet that Lady Pumpernickle tapped my shoulder and whispered in my ear, “he’s not worth getting arrested over”. As always, Lady Pumpernickle was right…but that didn’t stop me from trying to figure out ways I could elbow this shitbag in the face and shatter his nose while NOT getting arrested.

Thankfully…sort of…Senor Dicknose abruptly left the scene after some rude words towards his streetwalker wife, and I had to listen to her babble on to her floozy daughter about what a prick he is…I guess it runs in the family. Then just as the show was about to start, another couple, the Douche and Douchess of Assholestan, squirmed there way right in front of me. Once again I was itching to go full on Hulk and smash, but Lady Pumpernickle’s calm and cool nature intervened and she reminded me that life isn’t Goodfellas and you can’t go around kicking peoples’ face in and burying them in a shallow grave upstate without dire legal consequences. I hate it when she’s right.

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Right before the show started, the old floozy and her apprentice whore daughter, started literally kicking a big fat guy standing next to me. He was an older guy, there by himself, sort of a sad fellow, and they were kicking his legs and talking shit to him. It was insane. What the hell is wrong with these people? Then Senor Dicknose returned and was nudging the older, fat guy. The guy then turned to me and said apologetically, “hey, if I bump into you it’s because they pushed me.” I could see he was really unnerved, so I told him, “it’s a rock show, don’t worry about it.” He then said that if they push him into me, that he wanted me to push him back into them. I assured him I wouldn’t push him at all and then he told me he really wanted me to push him if they started it. I tried to ease his anxiety and said that I knew the patriarch of the whore family was a real piece of work, and he replied by telling me the women were “absolute cunts”…which I thought would make for an interesting Absolute Vodka ad. It is always fun to make new friends.

Then, surrounded by the House of Needledicks, Tarts and Hussys and the Douche and Douchess of Assholestan, the lights went down and, thank the good Lord, Rival Sons finally hit the stage.

When Rival Sons perform they aren’t so much a rock band as they are a street gang, and the show they put on Thursday night was less a rock show and more a tenacious rock and roll rumble. I mean that in the very best sense. Rival Sons absolutely dropped the hammer on The Fonda Theatre with the power and authority of a Norse god, and it was glorious to behold.

They opened the show with the song Back in the Woods off of the new album and the Fonda erupted and things took off from there. Unlike say, Muse, a band I saw a few months ago who put on a great and big spectacle of a concert, Rival Sons put on a down and dirty, stripped down fistfight of a show. With Rival Sons it is just them, their music and their attitude…and it is impressively forceful.

Miley and Beste’s rhythm section were relentless throughout, keeping a steady and bone crunching beat that was an anchor keeping the band’s soaring music firmly grounded on Mother Earth.

Scott Holiday’s guitar playing was Jimmy Page-esque in its majesty and dynamism. Holiday is a phenomenal player and is without question the musical center of the band. Holliday looks the part of the guitar hero, with his leather and leopard print outfit and handlebar mustache he was the cool ice regulating the temperature of a volcanically hot show.

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Lead singer Jay Buchanan is the fire to Holiday’s ice, and he is definitely the straw that stirs the drink of Rival Sons. Buchanan is a charismatic front man with a magnetic stage presence who demands and commands the attention of the entire audience. Buchanan looks and moves sort of like a poor man’s Jim Morrison/Michael Hutchence, but his voice is more reminiscent of Paul Rodgers. Buchanan’s bluesy voice has a Tom Jones sort of foundational power to it, that originates deep in his soul and growls out upon the audience like dragon’s fire. Buchanan’s voice, which is so strong he actually filled the theatre on numerous occasions without a microphone, is distinct with a surprising range and level of emotionality, which is accentuated by the accompaniment of some good old fashioned rock screams.

Buchanan and Holiday are a potent and dynamic rock duo that play the role of rock star with aplomb. The two of them carry the weight of the show and their on-stage chemistry is compelling.

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After the initial rush of the opening song, Rival Sons refused to let up as they cranked out four more hard driving songs that kept the energy high at the Fonda. Songs four and five of the set were the back to back combination of Electric Man and Too Bad, which brought the crowd to a dizzying frenzy.

The band then shifted gears a bit and played the soulful Jordan, off of the Heads Down album. Buchanan introduced the song as being about grief, and that it was dedicated to the people who needed to hear it tonight. The song and its performance were reminiscent of Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck’s version of People Get Ready in its emotional depth and nuance and revealed an impressive level of musical dexterity.

The band then stayed in the blues bin for the next few songs, keeping things more subdued as they and the audience caught their breath. That all came to a close with the explosive Torture off of their early career EP, and they followed that up with the pulsating Open My Eyes. From then on Rival Sons kept their foot on the pedal and never let up for an instant.

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The band finished up the set with Do Your Worst and then took a momentary break while the crowd chanted for an encore. The encore was interesting because once again the band sort of shifted gears. They brought out The Sheepdogs and had them sing background on the less explosive, more radio-friendly, anthem-esque song, Shooting Stars, off of the new album. It was surprising that they went with a song that is somewhat less energetic for an encore, but it worked and the audience knew the lyrics by heart and sang along with Buchanan’s encouragement. Shooting Stars is an emotionally resonant song that speaks to our turbulent times and it carried a startling gravitas at the Fonda Thursday night.

The hour and forty-five minute show ended with irrepressible Keep on Swinging, which is ironic since I made the decision to not start swinging earlier in the night. When the song ended the drummer threw a drum stick into the area near me and a twenty something guy and a sixty something guy fell on the floor wrestling to get it. The older guy’s wife was knocked to the ground in the melee. It was insane as her husband was so desperate to have the stupid drum stick he never stopped wrestling to see if his poor wife was alright. As the deeply chivalrous man that I am, I was going to help her up but was too busy going through her pocket book which had fallen at my feet in the scrum. I did get $12, a Costco card and a hard candy out of the whole incident though so…I felt pretty good about how things turned out (relax…I’m just kidding). But this incident was emblematic of the type of band that Rival Sons are…they are so intoxicating and persuasive that a sixty year old man would throw his long time wife aside just for the chance to fight for one of their drum sticks.

While there was the downside of some in the crowd being typical L.A.-holes, overall the night was a stirring success and felt like being transported back in time to the 60’s or 70’s to see early Led Zeppelin or Bad Company play at one of Bill Graham’s famous venues The Wonderland or the Fillmore. The reality is that we aren’t living in the 60’s or 70’s, but some in the crowd certainly are in their 60’s or 70’s. It seems to me that the older audience is emblematic of that fact that Rival Sons are a very bright spot in our very bleak rock universe.

In conclusion, Rival Sons are a fantastic band who play with a mesmerizing fury and ferocity rarely seen nowadays. The band’s musical power, stellar musicianship and dynamic yet natural showmanship puts them in the upper echelon of rock acts working today. If you like hard rock music, I wholly encourage you to give Rival Sons a listen and to make the effort to go see them live, especially while they are still playing smaller venues at cheaper prices. Due to the current nature of the music industry and rock’s ever fading spot in the culture, Rival Sons will most likely never become as big a success as their rock forefathers like Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Aerosmith or The Cult…but let there be no doubt…they do deserve to be a very big success, and their show at The Fonda was undeniable proof of that.

SET LIST

Back in the Woods

Sugar on the Bone

Pressure and Time

Electric Man

Too Bad

Jordan

Face of Light

Feral Roots

Torture

Open My Eyes

All Directions

End of Forever

Do Your Worst

ENCORE

Shooting Stars

Keep on Swinging

©2019

David Bowie : Icon, Innovator and Artist for All-Time

BY SEAN KENNEDY

(This post is guest written by Sean Kennedy. In keeping with my personal policy of turning to experts in the field when I am less informed than I should be on a certain topic, today we turn to Sean to share his thoughts on rock legend David Bowie. Sean is the person I always turn to first whenever any question on the topic of music comes my way. The only thing larger than Sean's encyclopedic knowledge of music, is his passion for it. Sean has been to more live music shows than all of the other people I know combined. Sean is currently a successful writer but in his previous incarnation was also a musician, songwriter and quite accomplished vocalist in his own right. Sean's opinions and insights into music in general, and rock music in particular, are held by me in the highest regard and I offer them here for you to ponder. DISCLAIMER:  Sean's opinions are his own and may or may not be shared by me, Michael McCaffrey, but I am very proud to share them with you.)

On January 9, 2016 — the day after David Bowie’s 69th birthday — my friend, Michael McCaffrey, emailed me two simple questions: What are your thoughts on David Bowie? Are you a fan?

In retrospect, the timing of his inquiry was quite odd. Bowie would die the very next day, January 10, after an 18-month struggle with cancer (it was liver cancer that ultimately took the famed musician’s life).

The public was unaware that the star had been ill, much less that he was nearing death.

My first thought upon considering my friend’s question was, Which David Bowie? There was more than one. After all, Bowie made a career of changing personas, and sounds. There was, of course, Ziggy Stardust, as well as Aladdin Sane, Halloween Jack, the Thin White Duke and other characters as well. It’s hardly a surprise given Bowie’s interest in theater and acting.

Bowie’s music veered from Dylan-esque singer/songwriter, to hippie psychedelia, to prototypical hard rock/metal, to glam rock, to plastic soul (as he called it), to electronica, to dance music, to industrial, and on and on. In fact, it’s fair to say that Bowie was rock’s first alternative rock star; the innovator and purveyor of the “alternative rock" genre. 

As a consequence, Bowie is like ten artists wrapped into one. Which David Bowie are you referring to, I wondered? 

My initial reply was, “He’s one of my favorite artists. I hold him in the highest regard. I have a bunch of his albums. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve appreciated him.”

Then, upon further reflection, I wrote a follow-up: 

“Bowie is the original rock 'n' roll chameleon, continually changing his sound, style and even image through the decades. He never followed trends — he set them. 

"When he had great success with a sound, or album, he’d change it for the next release. It must have driven his record company mad.”

Then, on Monday morning, January 11th, I awoke to a couple of texts from friends informing me that the great David Bowie was dead. It did not compute. He had just released his 27th studio album, and turned 69, the previous Friday — just three days prior. Had there been an accident? Another heart attack (Bowie suffered one onstage in 2004)?  

Bowie kept his illness hidden from all the world, aside from his family and closest confidants. 

The stunning news compelled me to write another reply to my friend, Michael: 

“Your sudden interest could not be more fitting, or well-timed. As I’ve said to you before, the word “genius” is thrown around far too loosely — often to describe people and things that really aren’t genius. Bowie was indeed a genius. He was a true original; a pioneer; a trend setter; an icon; and an inspiration to countless other musicians and artists. 

"I am stunned and saddened to know he is gone. I will miss him. But, as always, the music will live on. 

"HIs goal was to release Black Star on his birthday, and to make it to the finish line. That day was January 8, and two days later he was dead

"Oddly, I was just listening to Hunky Dory and Low last night, perhaps at the time of his death. Weird.  

"His shit is deep, varied and heavy. It is for people with complex minds and complex interests. It is not always easily accessible. It is art. You can appreciate it. You are an artist. 

“Seek, and discover his genius.”

Truth be told, Bowie’s catalogue is so immense, and diverse, that I am still in the process of seeking and discovering it myself. I am an old fan and a new fan, all at once.  

Bowie’s music foretold and influenced punk rock and new wave. He inserted all forms of artistry into Rock ’n’ Roll. By constantly changing both his physical and musical identity, in an almost schizophrenic fashion, Bowie compelled the genre to continue evolving and seeking new identities along with him.  

This is, after all, the man who wore a dress on the cover of his third album, The Man Who Sold the World, in 1970. Popular music had never seen anything like it. He bucked all the norms of the time. Men simply didn’t do such things. To top it off, he had long, flowing, blonde hair and looked positively feminine. This was the advent of Bowie’s gender-bending period, which continued through the early- and mid-seventies. 

He was a man willing to challenge any and all conventions, as so many great artists throughout history have been. 

David Bowie may be the most interesting character in rock history. I find him to be a mesmerizing figure, and millions of fans around the world agree. 

Bowie was iconic because he was so revolutionary and transformative. Quite simply, he was the most compelling figure in 20th Century music, and the most innovative in rock.  

Bowie’s self-titled debut in 1967, when he was just 20, gave no real hint at what was to come… other than the fact that it was odd, experimental and daring — relative to the pop music of the time. It mixed pop, theatrical music and cabaret, along with the psychedelia of the day. A peculiar blend, to be sure. Needless to say, it produced no hits. 

The singer wouldn’t release another album for over two years, but in the meantime he immersed himself in dance classes and the dramatic arts, including mime and avant-garde theater. During this period, Bowie also took an interest in folk music and poetry. Yes, he was the consummate artist; always seeking and exploring.  

The single “Space Oddity” was released on July 11, 1969, just five days prior to the Apollo 11 launch. The song, inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, reached the top five in the UK, becoming Bowie’s first hit. 

The ensuing album, which featured “Space Oddity” as a single, was initially titled David Bowie, just like his debut. However, it was eventually renamed Man of Words/Man of Music for its November 1969 US release, and finally Space Oddity when it was re-released in 1972 (yes, three different titles for the same LP). The album, which was not a commercial success upon its release, was a mix of folk music and hippie rock — far from the sounds that Bowie would soon unleash. 

The Man Who Sold the World followed in 1970, and ushered in a heavier sound that wasn’t all that different from what Cream, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin were doing at the time. The divergence from the previous album was striking, as was the diversity between all three of Bowie’s releases to this point. Clearly, he was an artist intent on not repeating himself. 

This is the previously mentioned album whose cover featured Bowie wearing a dress and reclining on a chaise lounge. It was the beginning of his androgynous phase, and was certainly meant to shock. It probably worked. Other rock stars weren’t wearing dresses at this time. Did they ever? 

Nirvana famously covered the title track for their MTV Unplugged album, and it may ultimately be the album’s most well-known song as a result. But the album yielded no hits at the time of its release.  

Bowie reverted to more of a pop sound for his next release, 1971’s Hunky Dory, which contained the hit “Changes,” as well as “Life on Mars?” The album is at times kitschy and introspective, but contains cleverly catchy songs, many of which are beautifully wistful. 

When I was in high school, more than a decade after the album’s release, my psychology teacher played “Changes” for us, presenting the song as a tale of teenage angst, loneliness and isolation. We dissected the lyrics, which seemed to describe the universal challenges of young people trying to fit in, and to make sense of themselves in a world of adults who didn’t understand them. I was fascinated and enthralled. 

Hunky Dory sold reasonably well at first, but it wasn’t a major commercial success. That would soon change with the release of his next album. 

Debuting in 1972, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars would alter the course of Bowie’s career, and of rock music itself. The album introduced his first, and perhaps greatest, character. It is a concept album that positions Ziggy as a rock star who acts as an intermediary between humanity and space aliens. Far out stuff. Teenagers ate it up. 

The album is widely hailed as one of the greatest albums of all time, and was truly ground breaking. Bowie mixed theater, music and science fiction into an exciting new brew of rock n roll, unlike anything that had come before it. Bowie was intent on setting trends; not following them. 

He was now an international mega star. He had a devoted audience who were willing and open to being challenged by the singer’s exotic imagination and wild creativity. 

Bowie created the Aladdin Sane character for the album of the same name the following year, and it debuted at the top of the UK charts, driven by “Panic In Detroit,” “The Jean Genie” and a raucous cover of the Stones “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” 

To attempt to highlight Bowie’s long and enduring career, much less to attempt to illustrate it, would require a biography, and the limitations of this format (not to mention your patience, perhaps) will not allow for such an examination. So, I will attempt to be relatively brief. 

Surprising everyone, Bowie went on to explore soul music — quite an ambition for a white Brit in the mid-‘70s — on Young Americans (’75) and Station to Station (’76). In fact, he became in 1975 one of the first white artists to appear on Soul Train, performing “Fame” (his first US No. 1 hit) and “Golden Years.”   

Bowie then changed gears once again, recording a trio of very experimental albums with Brian Eno and Tony Visconti in Berlin. Known as the “Berlin Trilogy,” Low (’77), Heroes (’77) and Lodger (’79) saw Bowie continually evolving and challenging himself, not to mention his listeners. The first two albums contain whole sides of music - sans vocals - that sound like they were intended as the score to a sci-fi thriller: spacey, eerie and odd. Once again, Bowie was really far out, way ahead of his audience. 

This was an artist intent on continually taking chances, showing a bold willingness to defy convention, challenging his audience to follow him, and daring radio programmers to play his songs. It must have driven his record company (RCA) mad. They were, after all, in the business of mining hits and making money. But Bowie had uncovered — or created — an audience that would go along on his wildly artistic and creative ride. The fans never seemed to think he’d lost the plot. 

Bowie returned to a slightly more mainstream sound with Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) in 1980, which spawned the classics “Ashes to Ashes” and “Fashion.”   

Bowie had studied pantomime as a young man, and this influence/interest showed up when he appeared as Pierrot, the sad clown, in the video for “Ashes to Ashes,” which was at the time the most expensive music video ever made. 

The record company must have been pleased, and the pressure was on for Bowie to continue delivering more radio-friendly material.   

Released in 1983, Let’s Dance became the best-selling album of Bowie’s career, reaching No.1 in both the US and UK, among several other countries. The album, produced by Chic’s Nile Rodgers (which was a daring choice for an alternative rock star), spawned three huge international hit singles: the title track, “Modern Love” and “China Girl.”

But Bowie had misgivings about the album, and felt he had to pander to a new audience due to its success. 

“It was great in its way, but it put me in a real corner in that it fucked with my integrity,” said Bowie in a 1997 interview. 

He said the album caused him to fall into a creative rut for a few years, and that he was suddenly writing for his audience, rather than himself.

”I remember looking out over these waves of people [who were coming to hear this record played live] and thinking, 'I wonder how many Velvet Underground albums these people have in their record collections?' I suddenly felt very apart from my audience. And it was depressing, because I didn’t know what they wanted."

How many artists would say that upon achieving the greatest commercial success in a career that had already spanned more than a decade-and-a-half?

Bowie wasn’t chasing hits, money or fame for the sake of fame. He was chasing artistic integrity. He was seeking an enduring career that would be respected by his true fans and by fellow artists. He answered only to his muse. 

That’s what kept Bowie such a vital and engaging artist through the 1990s, and into the new millennium. To me, Bowie was just as magnificent on Black Tie White Noise, Earthling, Heathen, Reality, The Next Day, and Blackstar as he had ever been. 

He seemed to have a limitless well of creativity, resulting in soul-stirring music filled with fascinating sounds and compelling lyrics. For some artists, the well eventually runs dry; the muse abandons them. For Bowie, that was never the case. 

He was the consummate artist, first and foremost. Music was just one manifestation of his expression. He didn’t just create music; he created characters for his music, as well as for the stage and screen. Bowie appeared in more than a dozen films, and was equally natural in that medium as on a stage filled with fellow musicians. 

For him, it was all about the art — all forms of it.

Bowie was an art collector, a painter and a visual artist. He loved, and frequented, art galleries. He enjoyed the ballet, theater and all the cultural activities that his adopted home, New York City, had to offer. 

When Bowie met his eventual wife, the model Iman, in 1990, he was living as a tax exile in Switzerland. She was a transplanted New Yorker (by way of Somalia), who persuaded him to relocate to the Big Apple with her. 

The couple married in 1992, and New York became their home from that point forward. Bowie emphatically declared, “I’m a New Yorker!” to SOMA magazine in 2003, more than a decade after his arrival, saying he’d lived there longer than any other city.  

New York clearly suited Bowie. It’s grittiness, complexity, diversity and abundant arts culture were tailor made man for a man of his ilk. 

Bowie was a man who wore many masks, and who used them to express all facets of his complex personality. He was an actor at heart, thrilled to play different roles and different characters. He couldn’t imagine playing Ziggy for more than a couple of years - much less forever - though many of his fans surely wished he did. It was too limiting. He explored the character and moved on. 

That became a recurring theme through the years. 

Bowie saw music as just one of the many art forms he sought to integrate, such as theater, film, dance and fashion. More than once he conceived albums as theatrical productions. 

Diamond Dogs was intended to be musical interpretation of George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, and ended up being a marriage of the former and his own post-apocalyptic theme.

Outside was also a concept album devised as a theatrical piece. It was conceived as a dystopian vision of 1999, a time when the government investigates the phenomenon of Art Crime. Murder and mutilation have become a new underground art craze. It’s the stuff of a David Lynch film. Bowie said the album was thematically related to Diamond Dogs.

“We did record an awful lot of stuff, and there really is every intention of going through it and putting out Part II and Part III,” Bowie later said. "The second title was Contamination, and boy was that accurate. And it would have been nice to have somehow done it as a theatrical trilogy. I just don’t have the patience.”  

Once again, Bowie felt compelled to move on. Perhaps his lack of patience was an asset. Why retread old ground? 

So many of Bowie’s contemporaries were influenced by old bluesmen, such as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, or rock’s early pioneers, such as Chuck Berry, Bo Didley, Little Richard and Elvis.

While the young Bowie enjoyed them all, he was eventually captivated by the Velvet Underground. He was taking pages from other, completely different, books. Bowie also loved Andy Warhol and immortalized the famed artist in a song bearing his name on Hunky Dory. 

Early on, Bowie’s abstract interests were evident.   

A 14-year-old Bowie became so infatuated with jazz greats Charles Mingus and John Coltrane that his mother gave him a plastic alto saxophone. It remained Bowie’s primary instrument throughout his long career (he also played the guitar, keyboard, harmonica, stylophone, viola, cello, koto, thumb piano, drums and percussion). Jazz remained a passion and an influence throughout his career; it’s free form structure perfectly suited Bowie’s tastes. He was a lover of the avant-garde and the esoteric. 

That’s what set him apart from his peers in the 1970s, and from the wannabes, followers and adherents he inspired in the 1980s. 

TV executive and author Bill Flanagan, who worked with Bowie on several TV projects, had this to say about the star on CBS News Sunday Morning: 

"Bowie the musician was the most influential figure to appear in rock music after the 1960s. Without Bowie, there would be no Lady Gaga or Nirvana, no U2 or Madonna.

Bowie appeared when the standard for rock & roll credibility was authenticity. Musicians were expected to sing their diaries, to perform in the same jeans they wore off stage.

Bowie did not value authenticity one bit. He knew that as soon as a performer stepped into the spotlight, he was in theatre. Why not use all of the tools and resources theatre offered? 

He denied his songs were about himself. Like an actor, he moved from role to role.” 

I was too young to have seen Bowie in the ‘70s, and for one reason or another never got to see him in the ‘80s either. But at that point, I knew him only for his hits — the songs played on FM radio as I grew up; the ones found on his greatest hits package, Changesbowie. 

The first time I saw Bowie live was on the Outside Tour, in October 1995, at the Forum in LA. It was a fascinating and riveting performance, pairing Bowie — somewhat oddly — with Nine Inch Nails as co-headliners. Bowie said he was well aware that most of NIN’s audience was very young, and that most of them were unfamiliar with his music — especially since he was not playing his hits. He felt challenged to win them over each night. He also admitted that most of his fans didn’t like the pairing of the two bands. 

On the opening day of the tour, September 14, 1995, Bowie asked USA Today, “How do you commit commercial suicide? Well, you do this: play songs from an album that hasn’t been released yet, and complement it with obscure songs from the past that you’ve never done on stage."

That encompasses the daring of Bowie. He was always up for a challenge. 

I saw Bowie once more on his final tour, in support of the album Reality. On April 22, 2004, I sat center-stage, in the third row, at Hollywood’s Greek Theater and had my mind blown. Bowie was the consummate performer: powerful, alluring, charming, sexy, sophisticated, witty and in great voice. The audience was enraptured and couldn’t take their eyes off him; he was a powerful presence. It was a stellar performance, and he made it look effortless. I felt so fortunate to be there. Little did I know, he would never tour again. 

But Bowie remained vital and highly creative right until the very end, releasing (after a ten-year absence) his brilliant The Next Day in 2013, and finally his coda, Blackstar, on his birthday this year. They are not the works of an artistically spent man. They speak to his vitality and artistic vigor. They are the standout works of a highly creative man with lots more to say, and give.

While life is a challenge, so is dying gracefully. Yet, Bowie pulled it off with aplomb, as he had done with every other artistic challenge he confronted during his five-decade career.  

As Tony Visconti, his longtime friend and collaborator, put it, “His death was not different from his life — a work of Art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift."

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In what are perhaps the final photos of Bowie, promotional shots taken for his Website in conjunction with the release of Blackstar, he is seen smiling joyfully, and dressed splendidly in a perfectly tailored grey suit, with a matching fedora. 

As a friend said to me, “He was a model for how to live and experience joy, right until the very end.”

I concur. Bowie’s smiling, cheery and triumphant image reveals a state of grace.

David Bowie didn’t just teach us how to live creatively, fearlessly and honestly. He taught us how to die joyously.

What greater legacy could one have?

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©2016