photo & text by nacrowe
to me TRANSFORMER (RCA, 1972) is the definitive LOU REED record, if that is even possible given that he was one of the most contrarian and mercurial artist ever, often making radical sonic and artistic departures between records. what TRANSFORMER has is arguably his most consistent set of great songs which includes iconic tracks (and lifelong personal favorites of mine) like "SATELLITE OF LOVE," "PERFECT DAY," "VICIOUS" and (of course) "WALK ON THE WILD SIDE." less revered but no less sensational are songs like "I'M SO FREE," "ANDY'S CHEST" and "MAKE UP."
a common theme throughout his the transmuting nature of art. that MARCEL DUCHAMP-ian concept that we are who we create ourselves to be. in "WALK ON THE WILD SIDE" we are famously introduced to a cast of misfits and superstars associated with ANDY WARHOL's FACTORY scene (of which REED was famously a participant of with THE VELVET UNDERGROUND), all of whom have self-made themselves into their current state to varying effectiveness. in "PERFECT DAY" there is the self-illusion and self-mythologizing that comes with falling in love, where the target of such affection has effectively altered his self-identity with the amazing lines you made me forget myself, i thought i was someone else, someone good. with "MAKE UP" the daily ritual of physically changing your appearance is a forbearer for liberating your soul to outside world. there are literally too many great lines to go over but that is its joy in a sense, much like memorizing the best MEL BROOKS one-liners from SPACEBALLS (MGM, 1987) or BLAZING SADDLES (WARNER BROS, 1974).
the whole album is a remarkable and singular artistic achievement, written by a poet with an eye for the hidden and forgotten elements of society. this album, literally evoked with its iconic MICK ROCK (R.I.P.) sleeve portrait, presents a sense of ANDROGYNY that must have been interpreted as entirely transgressive during the period of its release in the early 1970s. i always wonder what the baby boomer generation's true tolerance was for this type of message post- SUMMER OF LOVE. its one thing to question the role of institutions like marriage and courtship rituals and yet another entirely to transcend GENDER itself.
as a cultural artifact of its period, a collection of poetry and a ROCK N ROLL record, TRANSFORMER succeeds on all accounts. it is required listening. and i didnt even mention that DAVID BOWIE produced it with assistance from MICK RONSON. doesnt matter, go listen to this record.
sadly in recent years there has been a series of documentaries chronicling the demise of the recording studio, most notably the DAVE GROHL-directed SOUND CITY (review linked HERE). inevitably the repeated narrative is about what has been lost with the advent and rise of powerful (and mobile) digital recording technology (i.e. PROTOOLS), such being the spontaneity, feeling and magic that happens when musicians make it happen in close proximity to one another.
ROCKFIELD: THE STUDIO ON THE FARM (IE IE PRODUCTIONS, 2020) follows the story of the notable WELSH residential recording studio, ROCKFIELD STUDIOS, that has been utilized by the likes of everyone from BLACK SABBATH, QUEEN, IGGY POP, DAVID BOWIE, ADAM ANT, JUDAS PRIEST, ROBERT PLANT and HAWKWIND to THE STONE ROSES, CHRISTIAN DEATH, OASIS, BAUHAUS, MANIC STREET PREACHERS, ROYAL BLOOD and even COLDPLAY among countless others. what is interesting about the studio is its isolation. when it was created in the 1960s by two brothers, it was completely unique in that all other studios of its caliber were owned by record labels and located in LONDON. atmosphere-wise many of them were effectively sonic laboratories and had the vibe of a dental office. ROCKFIELD was located far removed in the WELSH countryside on what was effectively a pig and dairy farm. artists could rehearse and record with little to no distractions and effectively no volume restrictions. this was the setting that bands like BLACK SABBATH and HAWKWIND perfected their decibel rattling sound.
this isolation and lack of distractions also means that there is an intimacy to the experience of recording at all hours for an extended period of time. recording at ROCKFIELD came with cooked meals by the family that ran the studio and sleeping on the premises that they also maintained. apparently THE STONE ROSES famously stayed for 14 months straight during their peak creative and prolific period. it went the other way as well since some of the participants spoke of it as a prison, especially if your band was not clicking.
given that DEER GOD ran a recording studio for a period that was deliberately removed from the hustle and bustle of NEW YORK CITY (we were located in a late 19th century victorian mansion in southern STATEN ISLAND), its always interesting for me to listen to the shared experience of working with artists. in all these films it seems that one gig leads to the next. with SOUND CITY there was a long dry spell in the 1980s until NIRVANA came which begot RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, TOOL, KYUSS, MASTERS OF REALITY, SLAYER and so on. same with ROCKFIELD STUDIOS with a similar trajectory in the 1980s followed by THE STONE ROSES who begot OASIS, THE CHARLATANS, THE BOO RADLEYS and several members of BRITPOP royalty.
the recording studio as a destination is now an outmoded anachronism. which is sad. im glad documentaries such as ROCKFIELD: THE STUDIO ON THE FARM exist since it allows us to take stock in the moment of a period of transition as music and art "progress" forward with the advent of ever more powerful recording technology.
its interesting to consider what lays ahead and how music production will shift and evolve moving forward. whether or not the human element in music will survive. its an endlessly captivating topic.
the artistic and cultural legacy of DAVID BOWIE is so massive that i often feel like i consume him by way of his acolytes and those inspired by his ability to constantly shape-shift without losing any sense of authenticity. i see his influence in everyone from TRENT REZNOR, MIKE PATTON, BJORK and BECK to basically any artist who ever attempts a radical creative departure or rebranding whether such is successful or not. BOWIE was never afraid of taking public risks and was willing to jump headfirst into new invigorating collaborations, identities and experiences with a sense of abandon and wonder.
sadly i never got to see him play as he ended his touring life in 2006 (a few years after i resettled to the EAST COAST and started regularly going to shows) with his run of A REALITY TOUR live dates that ended prematurely when he had a mild heart attack in EUROPE. it was an interesting tour in that he came out as himself, not as a character as in the past. he never toured again after that and basically became a homebody in NYC for the next several years raising his daughter with his wife IMAN.
the BRITISH documentary DAVID BOWIE: THE LAST FIVE YEARS (BBC, 2017) recounts his reemergence after an almost decade of his self-imposed sabbatical throughout the 2000s with his final two albums, THE NEXT DAY (COLUMBIA, 2013) and BLACKSTAR (COLUMBIA, 2016), as well as a musical, LAZARUS. this end-of-life narrative is told through interview with his many intimate friends and collaborators: most notably his producer TONY VISCONTI, touring and recording band members EARL SLICK, GAIL ANN DORSEY, CATHERINE RUSSELL, GERRY LEONARD, CARLOS ALOMAR, DAVID TORN, ZACHARY ALFORD, REEVES GABRELS, AVA CHERRY and MIKE GARSON, long-time childhood friend WARREN PEACE and directors TONY OURSLER and FLORIA SIGISMONDI and graphic designer JONATHAN BARNBROOK. the film goes through decisions behind notable songs and visuals with these collaborators and provides insight into where his head was at during this period. what emerges is that he was interested in themes surrounding fame, identity and death/rebirth.
his LAZARUS musical in particular revisited his extraterrestrial THOMAS NEWTON character from NICOLAS ROEG's THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (BRITISH LION, 1976) film in order to explore the nature of human connection, which is an ongoing theme in BOWIE's work since the experience of fame for him was a barrier to an authentically lived reality. in the play, finding an authentic connection in another person is a means of unlocking a proper preparation for death. for seceding from lived reality in totality. its interesting to think of the implications of such a gambit: was he saying goodbye to his audience? maybe hello for the first time?
the hall of mirrors that was BOWIE's personas reveals insight into the nature of our own public-facing images, especially in the age of digital media and social networks. we are all a copy of a copy projecting our ever-shifting hopes and dreams out into the ether. just like MAJOR TOM we are all lost in space searching for some kind of recognition.
i found this documentary highly engrossing and recommend it to any fan of BOWIE or anyone interested in the power of ART.
photo & text by nacrowe
i remember my senior year of high school, a few months after relocating to SACRAMENTO from KUWAIT in the aftermath of 9/11, visiting a childhood friend in ORANGE COUNTY over winter break. i always find it interesting how music has a way of presenting itself to you at a point when you are ready to receive it. this friend had lots of opinions on music, some i agree with and many i dont, but i remember being in a car with him for that few days with a copy of DAVID BOWIE's THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS (RCA, 1972) on repeat. by the end of that trip i was a BOWIE fan by osmosis and basically sought out the rest of his discography.
i think what captured my imagination at first were the lyrics and how they utilized this premise of an otherworldly being as a rock star to showcase real emotions regarding isolation and being an other. im thinking of songs like "FIVE YEARS," "MOONAGE DAYDREAM," "IT AIN'T EASY," "STARMAN," and "ZIGGY STARDUST" specifically. you can read into that depiction a pretty powerful character study of what it must have been like to be a BOWIE or any cultural phenomenon dealing with issues regarding fame and mass adulation. on one had you are raised up and admired but that distance is cutting into your very sense of identity and personal self-worth. "ROCK N ROLL SUICIDE" and "HANG ON TO YOURSELF" really dig into that territory lyrically.
i remember during my time working abroad i was constantly aware of my own exoticness and being an other, especially when living in MYANMAR, JAPAN and ALBANIA. you had to be aware that people noticed you and that it was nearly impossible to blend in and be anonymous. i think that is probably why i gravitated to this BOWIE album in particular when living and working overseas.
i should also mention that guitarist MICK RONSON is a beast and the feedback-drenched saturated soundscapes he came up with for this record make it sonically transcend the FOLK MUSIC and acoustic foundations that obviously underpin it. this record was a gateway drug to another of my favorite artists, T. REX, and the whole back-to-basics, less-is-more mentality of 1970s GLAM ROCK in general.
BOWIE obviously had a varied career with lots of creative peaks, this just being one of them, but the world opened herein made me receptive to new sounds and ideas which to me mark any work of significance. it literally expanded my appreciation for what could be accomplished within the construct of ROCK N ROLL. it made me a more receptive listener.
i think people are aware enough of the innovative and controversial shenanigans that have taken place on the HOWARD STERN SHOW over the years. it is pretty amazing that he is being finally recognized in his late career for his singular interviewing skills, i'd even argue that his shows now are among the best of his career. just wish he'd stay off those lame network talent shows.
regardless i think often overlooked as well are the number of amazing music performances that have taken place on his radio show, mostly of the ALTERNATIVE ROCK, METAL and CLASSIC ROCK variety including the likes of CHRIS CORNELL, JOHN FOGERTY (CREEDANCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL), FIONA APPLE, DAVE GROHL (NIRVANA/FOO FIGHTERS), BILLY CORGAN (THE SMASHING PUMPKINS), ROB ZOMBIE (WHITE ZOMBIE), DAVID BOWIE, PERRY FARRELL (PORNO FOR PYROS / JANE'S ADDICTION)
definitely check some of these out and see what i mean.
JONATHAN ROSS doesn't look like it but he is a bit of a trouble-maker. he is the host of a late-night comedy show that has ruffled the notoriously stoic BRITISH upper-crust and famously he was suspended from the BBC for a prank call gone wrong with fellow muckraker RUSSELL BRAND. his first stint was on the BBC1 with FRIDAY NIGHTS WITH JOHATHAN ROSS (2001-2010) that was followed by the ITV show THE JONATHAN ROSS SHOW which has continued airing to date.
the BRITISH comedian has had some incredible musical guests on both his primetime shows over the years including NIRVANA, DEPECHE MODE, LADY GAGA, DAVID BOWIE, RIHANNA, THE LIBERTINES and GORILLAZ among many many others. definitely check them out these performances.
if you are fan of music then you already know about NILE RODGERS. he is arguably one of the great composers, arrangers and musicians of the 20th century with a list of musical collaborations that spans from DAVID BOWIE, SISTER SLEDGE, DEBORAH HARRY, MADONNA and BRYAN FERRY to AVICII, DURAN DURAN, DAFT PUNK, GRACE JONES, THE B-52s and even his legendary 70s outfit CHIC. he is very much a musician's musician and no less a guitar-playing connoisseur than JOHNNY MARR named his son after him. just let that one sink in for a moment.
but until recently his public profile was behind the scenes in production.
the documentary NILE RODGERS: THE HITMAKER (BBC, 2013) is attempt to change all that. filmed during a break from rehearsing for a worldwide CHIC tour at time he was fighting prostate cancer, this film very much feels like an opportunity for the man and his admirers to give their props should the worst happen (thankfully he survived and continues to work to present day).
and survive the dude has. raised by heroin-addicted, bohemian parents in MANHATTAN, he grew up intimately aware of street life and drug culture along with the lexicon of music by devouring his parents JAZZ and CLASSICAL vinyl records. their is an aspirational quality to the uplifting, kinetic rhythms of CHIC and their escapist messaging to the audience of the emerging DISCO scene all over NYC. their is an almost symbiotic relationship between his guitar work and the pulsing, driving FUNK rhythms of bassist and collaborator BERNARD EDWARDS. They rode that initial wave in the late 1970s until the xenophobic, anti-BLACK and anti-LGBT DISCO SUX wave effectively stopped them in the their tracks. this led to his production career which was jumpstarted by DAVID BOWIE with the "LET'S DANCE" record basically has sustained him since as an in-demand writer, arranger, composer, guest musician and producer.
what i appreciated most about this film was how past collaborators spoke of his uncanny ear to see space in a mix where he could contribute a guitar line or texture. these small contributions are the details that make a record pop and although maybe unnoticed by your average listener, these are the sonic details that musicians strive to achieve in the studio. they notice. participants included that of BRYAN FERRY, JOHNNY MARR, DEBBIE HARRY and CHRIS STEIN of BLONDIE, JOHN TAYLOR of DURAN DURAN, STEVE WINWOOD, LA ROUX, NORMA JEAN WRIGHT of CHIC and NILE RODGERS himself.
I think it is touching that this documentary was showcased before his biggest hit in decades, "GET LUCKY" by FRENCH electronic duo DAFT PUNK, was released to worldwide admiration. just proves the dude always has something up his sleeve.
normally i'm pretty ambivalent about sci-fi films since they more often than not rely on spectacle and set/prop design to propel the narrative rather than an interesting conceit, which is ironic given that science fiction as a literary genre is the inverse of that. in sci-fi literature, future/alternate technology is compelling given its effect on humankind and their decisions relationships to each other. perhaps this focus on spectacle in films is why sci-fi films become dated fairly quickly.
british director NICOLAS ROEG's THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (BRITISH LION FILMS, 1976) starring DAVID BOWIE is one of those rare sci-fi films that reaches literary expectations. its narrative consists of an alien being who reaches earth in search of water in order to save his home planet.
what impressed me about this film is the "realistic" conceit that an alien would attempt to fit into human society by utilizing its knowledge and technology to prosper in our global economy. i can't think of any other film that showcases the exploitation of alien technology as a means of gathering economic and political influence. the cliche is obviously military action, but here economic dominance ensures undiluted power without all the bad aspects of fame and notoriety.
or so it would seem. the idea of an alien coming into our world and excelling in it, only to become alienated by capitalism is reminiscent of PLATO's "Allegory of the Cave." what does that say about human society if an intelligent being with now bias towards humankind is corrupted by it.
that is the central question of the film in my opinion. what does that say for the rest of us?
watch HERE for our most recent episode of DEER GOD RADIO dedicated to the cultural legacy of DAVID BOWIE.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, and THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW are available here at the DEER GOD website.
tonight's episode of DEER GOD RADIO at 6PM on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC is dedicated to the profound cultural legacy of DAVID BOWIE.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST and THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW are available here at the DEER GOD website.
artwork by nacrowe
sometimes there is art that cuts so deep that they inevitably remold your worldview. i count MARTIN SCORSESE's 1988 film THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST on that list. it makes me question the root of any belief i hold. it compels me to examine the nature of doubt each time i watch it.
based on the NIKOS KAZANTZAKIS 1955 novel, this film like its source material explores the dual nature of christ: the idea of him being fully human and divine at the same time. the film really gets at the heart of the origins of faith and the struggle that comes with the weight of power and responsibility, as jesus would've felt when learning of his fate that he had to be sacrificed for the benefit of all humanity. its that struggle that continually draws me back to the story, not so much the religious overtones. but if you are of the religious persuasion, as KAZANTZAKIS (greek orthodox) and SCORSESE (catholic) most definitely are, the film is a helpful dissection of the root of belief since the film asks what happens if jesus had chosen NOT to die on the cross, but fulfill his human desires of connection by finding love and raising a family. if anything the film explores and answers that "why."
now i don't want to give the film away, more just to say most emphatically that if you haven't seen it you must. it is expertly acted by WILLEM DAFOE as jesus christ and HARVEY KEITEL as judas iscariot. DAVID BOWIE even makes a masterful appearance as pontius pilate. the dialogue was masterfully written in the modern vernacular of the time, which gives the film a raw edge that allows the themes to cut deeper as opposed to using king james english as other films by CECIL B. DEMILLE and others had done before (think THE TEN COMMANDMENTS), which is equally a construction. there is no doubt that during that period a common carpenter would've spoken a common pedestrain form of aramaic, so the dialogue choice is beyond apt.
the film also has one of the most evocative scores ever courtesy of PETER GABRIEL which i would put up their with anything ENNIO MORRICONE or BERNARD HERRMANN ever produced. the score infuses vocals and instrumentation from the region into a lush evocative soundscape that instantaneously draws you into the world of the film. PASSION: MUSIC FOR THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST is required listening.
months ago the DEER GOD team had the pleasure of attending a joint exhibition at LAST RITES GALLERY in manhattan put on by METAL BLADE RECORDS for polish painter SYLWIA MAKRIS and sculptor TOMASZ GOORNICKI and the artwork they produced for polish metal band BEHEMOTH's recent I LOVED YOU AT YOUR DARKEST record.
i had the pleasure of speaking with GOORNICKI about his sculpture (pictured below) depicting an uncrucified christ and no doubt, he was quick to state it was influenced by both the KAZANTZAKIS novel and SCORSESE film. he felt in poland that faith unfortunately was a matter of national identity and that inherent in true belief is a sense of doubt. his sculpture was an attempt to draw people into examining the dual nature of christ and the significance of his sacrifice by invoking doubt (no cross, no stigmata = no sacrifice). some would call that heresy, as the sculpture could not be exhibited in poland apparently due to fear of retribution, but i would say that his work requires self-examination and thoughtfulness for it to bear fruit, which is the sign of any good art. at least in my opinion.
check out the film and if this topic sparks an interest, you must read the novel.
photo by lj avalos
art by nacrowe
now that DEER GOD RADIO on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC has been going on for a good while, i thought it would be cool to look back at one of the (in my opinion) standout shows and playlists from the series. that being our 14th show on 1970s GLAM ROCK that aired on AUGUST 19, 2018.
1970s glam rock has long been an obsession of mine since it has a goldilocks balance of elements: 1) the songs are immediate and catchy 2) there's experimentation with technology 3) lyrics and presentation question normative prescriptions surrounding gender 4) music is just fun to listen to and 5) there are several stellar legendary musicians at the peak of their powers (MICK RONSON, JOHNNY THUNDERS, BRIAN ENO, MARC BOLAN, ASHTON BROTHERS, etc).
there is a reason this brief genre setup the punk movement shortly thereafter, all the hallmarks of that genre are there (except maybe the fun bit, punk took itself WAAYYY too seriously). this show was a blast with TOM FERRIE and MAGIE SERPICA stopping by unannounced due to their enthusiasm for the genre. i feel this playlist is representative of the connecting power of music wish to revisit it again nearly a year later.