Monday, March 10, 2008

David Bowie - Ashes To Ashes

(RCA, 1980)

Time for another legendary Bowie Persona, and for this go-round it’s the unforgettable “Asshole In A Clown Suit.” Yet again, an artistic bulls-eye for Mr. B; yes sir, it looks like David’s successfully gone from Ziggy to Zippy! Oh… ZING!! ZING ZING ZING! Better call the jape-crisis hotline, Bowie, because you just got japed bigtime by a serial japist: ME! HAW! But seriously, folks, all my cleverness aside, this isn’t a bad single at all – even if the B does lazily recycle Lodger’s percussive “Run On” for some reason; ho-hum other than the tom-toms and the droning backing vox. Right? Now, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the sproingy guitar (??) effect that pops up throughout “Ashes to Ashes,” but doggone me if this isn’t a catchy friggin’ song, and it’s got SO MANY DIFFERENT LITTLE SEGMENTS. I mean, it’s complicated stuff; it keeps changing and changing and changing! Weird! And the whole thing still works! If there’s gonna be an argument made for Bowie as a Smart Songwriter, “Ashes to Ashes” is the song to put on display. There’s also a perverse pleasure in hearing him trash his past by recasting Major Tom as a junkie in the chorus …which fact, he deadpans, we all knew about Tom all along. Did we?! I sure didn’t! If I had known, I woulda DONE something about it: laffed at the stupid weak junkie! And OK now lemme ask you this: Is there another pair of singles in your brainspace where the B-side of the first leads directly into the A-side of the second?? Cuz that tear-jerk remake of “Space Oddity” on the flip of “Alabama Song” is definitely setting the table for “Ashes to Ashes.” You’re a canny cookie, David, a canny cookie indeed.


Donald Brown said...

Ok, just to get that Major Tom reference straight, kids: "Space Oddity" is from 1969, the year of the Apollo moon landing. It IS about getting lost in space (a popular TV show title, even). See, back then, we weren't so blase about space travel; sure, Star Trek was on the tube, but . . . are you sitting down? There was no Star Wars. Nope. So, you can see that space could still be scary, and not just for creatures that burst out of people's chests, neither.

OK, then you see Bowie went through some changes: he was bi, he was Ziggy, he was black, he was the Thin White Duke, he was a junky in Berlin hanging around with Eno and arty folk, and so "Ashes to Ashes" contains ironic comment on what we all now know about that Major Tom (who has been conflated with his creator the way -- you guessed it, Ziggy was).

Who will save a lad insane -- from himself?!?!

Donald Brown said...

And another thing, the previous single you reviewed might be considered a canny preview of this one for another reason: he sings in French on that one and on this one he's technically not in a clown suit but is a pierrot. Mais, oui.

(Also I left out an important Bowie alter-ego in my list, before the Berlin period, he was "The Man Who Fell to Earth").