Crash Course for the Ravers
Album: Hunky-Dory, 1971
Prior Level of Acquaintance: Intimate
Three-Word Review: Joyous, imaginative, fatalistic
Oh man oh man, I love Hunky Dory. I love it so much I want to say everything about it. Here are a whole bunch of things I love about it.
The “oh yeahs!” at the start of ‘Changes’ and ‘Queen Bitch.’ It’s gonna be good, folks.
That time Bowie died and ‘Changes’ was the song I immediately wanted to listen to (though I accidentally heard ‘Fame’ first)—“I watch the ripples change their size/But never leave the stream/of warm impermanence and…”
The cinematic quality of ‘Oh, You Pretty Things’ with the character who gets up in the morning, casually glances out the window, and there’s something either out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Monty Python
How Peter Noone made a hit recording of ‘Oh, You Pretty Things’ despite clearly having zilch notion of what the song is about. His label didn’t do any better; it calls it ‘Oh, You Pretty Thing’ as if it’s addressed to the girl next door. (Though, in other news, Peter Noone is awesome. I’m in this crowd singing along, and it was the best fun time.)
How cheery almost the whole album is full stop – but especially for something remarking that Homo Sapiens have outgrown their use
Seriously, just watch this:
How the button on ‘Oh, You Pretty Things’ is also the first chord of ‘Eight Line Poem’
How I can’t deal at all with ‘Eight Line Poem’ because when Bowie pauses after the first few words my brain transforms it into Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Help Me Make It Through the Night.’ I know this suggests that my brain is on drugs, but I can’t help it. So it goes “The tactful cactus/from your hair…” and now we’ve got hair full of cactus, and that’s not helping anybody.
That time I bawled ‘Life on Mars’ with friends at a karaoke bar
The grand Twentieth Century Fox orchestration of ‘Life on Mars,’ especially the end
Bowie’s fearless expansion of his voice to the range and power heard in ‘Life on Mars’ (just wait till he gets to ‘Heroes’)
Bowie’s patter before the first-ever performance of ‘Kooks’ on the BBC on June 5, 1971, where he says he wrote this song because he was listening to a Neil Young album when he heard about the birth of his son “on Sunday” – less than a week before.
The ‘Kooks’ chords getting sunnier and happier and less Neil Young between the guitar-only BBC version and the chiming album version
So Bowie may have had a touch of New Dad Brain when he rhymed ‘dry’ with, um, ‘dry’ (“We bought a lot of things/To keep you warm and dry/And a funny old crib/on which the paint won’t dry”). On the other hand, he’s David Bowie and he can just fucking do that.
The fact that ‘Kooks’ is about Duncan Jones, who is a fantastic film director. Start with this disturbing, important work: he got some old rock star to write the score. It’s a short, but it’s available on the DVD for the equally outstanding Moon.
Also drop everything and see Source Code.
I have a weakness for musicians’ songs about their children. (You want me weeping? Play John Lennon’s ‘Beautiful Boy.’) Hunky Dory contains three songs about people that Bowie obviously considers to be the shit – Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, and his own kid.
The disbelieving laugh from the studio audience when BBC announcer John Peel says that ‘Kooks’ is about Zowie, pronounced to rhyme with Bowie.
John Peel’s comment that these songs may turn up on an album called Hunky-Dory, “that’s if we can find out how ‘hunky-dory’ is spelt.”
Oh so well-read – Aleister Crowley, Nietzsche, Lovecraft in ‘Quicksand’ alone
The apparent confession of addiction to extremes in ‘Quicksand’: “I’m torn between the light and dark/Where others see their targets/Divine symmetry”
The internal argument/opposing worldviews of ‘Quicksand’ (“I’m sinking in the quicksand of my thought/And I ain’t got the power anymore”) and ‘Fill Your Heart’ – (“Gentleness is everywhere/Fear’s just in your head…So forget your head/and you’ll be free”)
How that forget your head thing just might be ironic
The eighth iteration of the word ‘free’ in ‘Fill Your Heart’—you know the one I mean
The crazy swinging strings in the middle of ‘Fill Your Heart’
That time I walked around the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh (you should go!) reciting the opening of ‘Andy Warhol’ to prove I knew how to pronounce Warhol – “as in holes.”
That time I went into the Warhol Museum room with all the TV screens and instantly spotted Bowie looking fabulous
The studio chatter and laughter at the beginning of ‘Andy Warhol.’ I always suspect that Bowie’s laughter is utterly staged, but it’s infectious anyhow.
The insinuation that Andy Warhol, a professional painter, would rather spend his time any way other than painting – “what a jolly boring thing to do.”
Bowie playing Warhol in Basquiat and holding his own opposite the mesmerizing Jeffrey Wright
Bob Dylan wrote ‘Song for Woody Guthrie,’ so Bowie wrote ‘Song for Bob Dylan’ and I love anything that references Woody Guthrie
The exquisite understanding of
Robert Zimmerman : Bob Dylan :: David Robert Jones : David Bowie
The gentle imitation of the overly-imitable Dylan in the refrain of ‘Song for Bob Dylan’
The evocation of Big Pink-era The Band in the ‘Song for Bob Dylan’ refrain
The little Elvis Presley moment before the second chorus of ‘Song for Bob Dylan’: “While troubles are rising/We’d rather be scared/Together than alone”
The scatty count-in to ‘Queen Bitch’
The unapologetic sassy camp of ‘Queen Bitch’ makes me feel like I’m wearing nail polish and maybe a boa
The phrase ‘satin and tat’
The ongoing question of how to spell bipperty-bopperty (bippity boppity? Bibbidy bobbidy, with or without boo?)
Any number of perfectly bipperty-bopperty hats in that year’s photos
Bowie’s impeccable diction always, but especially with words involving the syllables assa – in ‘Queen Bitch’ with ambassador and later on with Vaseline
‘Queen Bitch’ was apparently written as an homage to the Velvet Underground, but (forgive me) I like it much better than everything I know by the Velvet Underground
And after all the joy and wit of this album, daring to put ‘The Bewlay Brothers’ at the end
And yet it reminds me a little of the first David Bowie album, which closes with ‘Please Mr. Gravedigger’
It’s generally suggested that this is the brother song – literally – to ‘All the Madmen’ from The Man Who Sold the World. That would make it Bowie continuing to wrestle with his brother Terry’s mental illness. “He’s chameleon, comedian, Corinthian and caricature” – either brother might be the caricature of the other. Or then it might all be deliberate obscurantism…after all
“We were so turned on/by your lack of conclusions” – perhaps a further urging to “turn and face the strange”?
In ‘Oh, You Pretty Things’ the books were found by the golden ones, but in ‘The Bewlay Brothers’ the solid book we wrote cannot be found today.
Is that the Laughing Gnome voice again in the playout of ‘The Bewlay Brothers’? Not so funny now, is it, Fred?
Wait, what’s that? Could it be a Starman waiting in the sky?