Gospel According to Toni Basil

Crash Course for the Ravers
Album: Never Let Me Down, 1987, and the Glass Spider Tour, 1987
Prior Level of Acquaintance: Minimal
Three-Word Review: Tuneful, toe-tapping, spooky


A couple of weeks ago, the Internet fell in step with my agenda. On the day I watched David Bowie’s Glass Spider concert film, its choreographer, Toni Basil, went briefly viral with a new video clip.

I’ll say this for the 1980s: suddenly much easier to find visual aids. This is the full Glass Spider concert. Better yet, go and buy it here!

Like many people, I’d seen Basil’s work plenty of times but never noticed her name, until I sat back breathless through the concert credits. And then there she was all over Facebook.

This is the Buzzfeed article with the recent video.

Never Let Me Down, the album: nice to commute to. I’m partial to ‘Zeroes,’ though in my head it’s about Jiro Horikoshi, which might not have been Bowie’s intent. ‘Glass Spider’ itself kind of freaks me out. And then there’s ‘Day-In Day-Out,’ which I swear begins with a reference to Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

“To be born, or at any rate bred, in a hand bag, whether it had handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution. And I presume you know what that unfortunate movement led to?”  – Lady Bracknell

As for the concert: yes, it was the straw that broke the camel’s for some Bowieites, the point when spectacle decisively overcame substance. But since a lot of those same people weren’t too keen on the album itself, maybe the spectacle has its place. Different, true, from the days when the man himself, and his clothes, were the only onstage focus, but after a few minutes of sensory overload I got entranced by the set, the props, and whatever the heck is going on with Frankenstein Crutch Dude.

glass-spider-1-dancers

Bowie’s burial by his own special effects isn’t just accidental, either: a disturbing amount of the choreography has him bound up, beaten down, rejected, or maliciously ignored by his own cast. It’s the same level of drama that always underlay, say, Diamond Dogs, but now as an open visual because the songs alone don’t sustain it.

Even tunes that came with choreography, such as ‘Fashion,’ come in for fresh, gymnastic, and shocking revamps under Ms. Basil’s guiding hand. And new ones get interpretations you’d never perceive from listening alone. Am I the only one who now thinks that ‘Never Let Me Down,’ so innocuous on record, is actually about cocaine? Shades of Paul McCartney/’Got to Get You Into My Life’/marijuana, except one could be excused for assuming that one was just another silly love song. Bowie almost never writes pure love songs, casting suspicion on anything that seems to be one at first glance.

neverletmedownlady3

Other details I have to mention:carlos-alomar

This look that the egregiously talented Carlos Alomar is rocking…frampton

…while his fellow wizard Peter Frampton didn’t bring a look, just epic guitar face.

skisThis thing this woman does on these skis, holy crap. Watch it here. And to ‘Sons of the Silent Age,’ my sleeper “Heroes” fave.

But enough about that – let’s have some more Toni Basil. This is her own YouTube channel, which shows that we’ve all seen her dance in loads of movies from the 60s on without realizing it.

In the 80s she had a string of truly forgettable pop singles with amazing dancing. Here are two:

Can’t help noticing that here, once again, is a white artist who’s out in front while people of the race that invented the style back her up – but I can hardly blame Basil for that, especially because she takes great care to credit her teachers. Listen and watch in awe as she explains James Brown and the Famous Flames on the 1964 TAMI Show. You’ll never see them the same way again.

Before I head Tin Machine-ward, I have to confess that I hadn’t a clue about the Bowie/Pat Metheny Group collaboration ‘This Is Not America,’ beyond a vague feeling that it suited our current toxic election season, until I realized it was from a movie. This at least explained why Timothy Hutton is in one of Bowie’s music videos in place of Bowie himself. No offense, Mr. Hutton, but I’d rather look at Bowie.

Next: Take my Brecht away.

2 thoughts on “Gospel According to Toni Basil

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