Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Man who Sold the World meets the One to Sing the Blues: on Lemmy and Bowie

            No sooner did Lemmy shake off this mortal coil than David Bowie followed close behind, stealing most of his thunder. Bowie was more respected, and so got more coverage, most of which was sincere and heartfelt (though there was on piece from the Toronto Star – typical – which pissed me off. Less a tribute to Bowie than a passive aggressive snipe at some of his contemporaries and – presumably – their fans. I even detected a bit of dig at some Bowie’s own material, the “stadium-friendly” stuff of his earlier days (which this author happens to overwhelmingly prefer). It made me wonder who gets to decide what’s “cool”, respectable, credible and worthy of notice. More on that another time).

Grizzled veteran
            Bowie surprised me. I hadn’t realized he was as old as he was, and had no idea he was sick (not sure anyone did besides his doctor). See, Lemmy looked his age. He always seemed on the cusp of death, playing poker with Pinhead, if not chess with the Reaper. His lifestyle was about as unhealthy as was possible, and mortality was a constant theme in his music, as if he’d come to terms with it long before it became an issue, unlike his fans who thought that if it hadn’t killed him already, it probably wouldn’t. But Bowie? I didn’t realize he even aged.

            Immortal each, but in pretty much opposite ways.  

            Among Metalheads, Lemmy was a sort of revered grandfather figure, whose approval we all craved. His songs all had the aura of hard-won experience born of having been there and done it all first.  He was already a grizzled veteran by the time he started Motorhead, and did the whole grizzled veteran thing so well it was impossible to imagine he was ever young. He was walking monument, a museum, a historical tome, etched in stone, ageless and eternal.

Bowie was the other side: he always struck me as some kind of font of eternal youth - always being
Always young
reborn, regenerating Doctor-like every few years into new forms, always at the forefront of what was new and innovative, always inventing and creating, always new and vital.

There are pratfalls to both: obsession with age can lead to conservatism and stagnation – I’m always amazed how many older Metalheads simply refuse to support younger bands. The cult of youth can bring about cultural amnesia, neurosis, and art with the lifespan of a mayfly. Nor would it surprise me if it contributed to the deaths of so many young musicians. But there's a right way to go about it as well. 

I daresay these guys were the best of their kind. . .

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