Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Monsters: Scary Monsters

David Bowie: Scary Monsters

I currently live in Tarrytown, New York, which is right next to Sleepy Hollow, and our two villages share many things—a school district, a library, sports programs and a love of Halloween. Over the past few weeks, the streets have been filled with tourists, the villages are decorated with all manner of Jack O’Lanterns, scarecrows and other ghouls. We have parades, hayrides, haunted houses, bonfires and the like. I’m glad that our local merchants are able to cash in on the craze, and people seem to enjoy it, but I think that Halloween, like so many holidays, has gotten out of control. Little kids dressed up like superheroes or princesses are cute. Drunk adults dressed up like vampires or slutty nurses, not so much. I guess it is part of our culture now to try to hang on to our youth longer and longer, and while I’m in no way advocating a return to men wearing suits and hats all the time, or women having to wear dresses and stockings, I do think that there comes a time when putting on a costume in public is just silly. Except, of course, at my college reunion. And get off my lawn, you damn kids!

Speaking of college, when I worked at WPRB, David Bowie released Scary Monsters, which turned out to be another career resuscitator for him. It had a bunch of good and interesting songs, top notch musicians, including Robert Fripp, Roy Bittan and Carlos Alomar, and it hit a sweet spot between commercial and experimental, with rock, disco and electronic influences. It was both a commercial and artistic success, and is commonly considered to be Bowie’s last great album.

Princeton is only a few miles from Grover’s Mill, the site of the alien invasion from Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio show, which was a Halloween trick and treat of its own back in 1938. Common wisdom was that the broadcast caused wild panic, but more recent studies indicate that the craziness was overstated. I got the idea of getting a bunch of extra copies of the album from the record company and sending some WPRB staffers out to Grover’s Mill on Halloween to hand out the albums to people. What I don’t remember is what we required before we would give out the precious vinyl, who went, and how, in the pre-cell phone era, we reported this on the air. I know that we had some sort of a remote board, but maybe one of my reader/friends will have a better memory.

I do remember thinking it was a pretty funny idea. And it wouldn’t surprise me if my copy of the album, sitting in a box in my basement, was from that same package of freebies.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


1978 was generally a pretty good year for lycanthropy. Warren Zevon had been one of the few Americans to crack through my then very Anglocentric and punky taste in music, with his shaggy west coast looks beguilingly betraying his in your face attitudes. "Werewolves of London" is arguably a pretty slight song, essentially repetitive and without a middle eight, relying almost totally on it's pounding piano motif, quirky lyric and howl-a-long chorus. Rely away, it worked and it still works for me. OK, it helped that I was a devotee of the Lon Chaneys, junior and senior, namechecked in the song, and who each played myriad mosnters in the black and whites. I had also been to Lee Ho Fook, the Chinese restaurant then a staple of the Sino-British food connection, with drying and seemingly decaying ducks hanging forlorn in the window, and more fried rice than you could ever eat. (Quick interweb check reveals it's still here, alarmingly, or reassuringly, as I swiftly add seemingly to the sentence ahead of this.) Some of the rest of the lyric was beyond me, but folklore has it that the perfect hair of the unknown be-tailored individual was some sly reference to James Taylor. (No, me neither.) What I didn't know, however was that the rhythm section on the song was Messrs Fleetwood and Mac(Vie). Here it is, anyway:

I was a convert, and bought up his live LP, Caught in the Fire, baffling and bemusing my friends with the other strange lyrical deviations of this innocent looking madman. Looks, I gather, perhaps enabled him to get away with much excitable behaviour in his real life, too, to all intents maybe a man not too nice to know, as drink consumed him, rather than the other way round. I have his biography on my shelf, waiting to be read, and it is said to be an uncomfortable read. Ironically it wasn't alcohol but tobacco, his other vice, that killed him, via lung cancer, in 2003, leaving a later legacy of songs a little more reflectful. But only a little.

My loyal reader, hi, Kenny, knows I am a lover of the cover, with a bad habit, expensive anyway, of hoovering up other versions of songs I like, so here is a scattering of those who have covered this paean to panmorphism. I offer you David Lindley , The Flamin' Groovies and even The Grateful Dead. Aficionados will note the date of the last performance. I guess you had to be there........

Retail therapy