Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tin Machine, Time Machine

Heading to New Hampshire to see college pals and their spouses tomorrow naturally turns a man’s thoughts to the music of his college years — and so it strikes me that everything that was new then is around twenty years old now. Take the first Tin Machine album, for example, with the song “Under the God” on it, which turns twenty next year.

(The video for “Under the God” is really just one excerpt from the amazing and rarely-seen twenty-minute-or-so multi-song video for the whole album, in which they perform all the songs on one sound stage as if in one go but do radical restagings of the set between numbers, in a split second between songs — and that live performance I linked a few words before that was the first time the world beheld Tin Machine, on live TV during an awards show, like some glorious, unexpected monster hauling itself into view where an effete elf kingdom had once existed.)

I still think of the two-album lifespan of Tin Machine as “late Bowie” — but now it’s only about halfway through his career, just as Star Trek: The Next Generation’s start in 1987 now marks the halfway point in the forty-three-year history of the Star Trek franchise.

So I think the one great song Bowie did in what I can now call the second half of his career — performed with Tin Machine guitarist Reeves Gabrels but without the sons of Soupy Sales, who were the bassist and drummer of Tin Machine — was “Dead Man Walking,” so good it inspired me to buy the Live from 6A album of performances from Conan O’Brien, and, no matter how unhip it may sound to say this, that is probably one of my favorite CDs.

What seems harder to believe than Tin Machine (and the self-titled track from that self-titled first album, a powerful, macho, too-early-to-be-grunge number I like to think of as “The Theme from Tin Machine”) being twenty, though, is stuff that feels decidedly later than that — like my The Smoking Popes Get Fired CD by the Smoking Popes — being at least a whopping fifteen years old. How did that happen? That means in just a few years, given twenty-year pop cycles, it’ll be time for the kitschy retro-grunge/90s-alt-rock “revival,” as if the growling has actually subsided for five minutes since 1992 and given me any time in which to grow nostalgic.

For the revival, though, I suggest imitating Smoking Popes and Sebadoh and Harvey Danger. Oddly enough, one band that already sort of fits the bill is that Christian rock band mewithoutYou that Daniel Radosh likes.


jenny said...

i picked up the first tin machine album in the winter of freshman year (‘89-’90), having gobbled up all of the rykodisc bowie reissues that were available at that point. it took me a bit to reconcile the sound with the boppy labyrinth soundtrack (really my only bowie exposure up until that time), and it still sits in the back of my cd collection. maybe it’s time to dust it off.

Todd Seavey said...

Herewith the cool lyrics to the aforementioned Christian rock band’s song above, by the way (“Nice and Blue, Part 2″ by mewithoutYou):

You were a song I couldn’t sing

caught like a bear by the bees with its hand in the hive

who complains of the pain of the sting

when I’m lucky I got out alive!

a life at best left half behind,

the taste of the honey still sweet on my tongue

and I’d run (Lord knows I’ve tried)

but there’s no place on Earth I can hide

from the wrong I’ve done

then I saw a mountain and I saw a city

steadily sinking but suspiciously calm

it wasn’t an end, it wasn’t a beginning

but a ceaseless stumbling on

there, strapped like a watch on my wrist

that’s finished with gold but can’t tell the time

was all or what little pleasure exists

seductively sold and uselessly mine

our horse was fast and first from the gate

with the lead of a length at the sound of the gun

and the last of our cash laid down to fate (at 17 to 1)

but by the final stretch in the rear of the pack

that nag limping bad in the back

we reluctantly gave all the money we’d saved,

a fifth to the commonwealth and the rest to the track

then I saw a forest grow in the city

& a driftwood wall of birdhouse gourds

and I’m still waiting to meet a girl like my Mom

who’s closer to my age

the true light of my eyes is a Pearl

equally emptied to equally shine

and all or what little joy in the world

seemed suddenly simple and endlessly mine

I was once the wine and you were the wineglass,

I was once alive when you held me,

but G-d became the glass,

all things left are emptiness

but oh, you’re just a little girl

if you look out and see a trace

of a dark red that was once my face

in the clarity of such grace,

you’ll forget all about me

Todd Seavey said...

On another less rocking but interesting religion/music note, Dimitri Cavallli just forwarded this link to video clips of the staff of _First Things_ playing songs by Dolly Parton, William Butler Yeats, and others:

Maybe needs clips of punk/editor Brian Doherty’s performances…