Bowie Variations – the Full Concert and Exclusive Interview with Mike Garson (Part 1 of 4) [Listen: 34:27](S02Ep03)
Interview Date: December 2, 2011 @2pm EDT
Special Guest: Mike Garson is an improvisational and multi-genre piano icon who is one of the most respected and sought after rock sidemen in the industry. In addition to his side work he has also had a successful solo career in both the classical and jazz worlds as well as worked with some of the most impressive people in music. But the thing Garson is most known for is the work he has done with David Bowie. Having worked with Bowie since his North American Ziggy Stardust tour back in 1972, the amazing stories and insights into Bowie's output helps to add a depth into Bowie’s art that few, if any, could touch. Through the years, Garson has helped shape some of Bowie’s most notable songs and albums including; Aladdin Sane, Pin Ups, David Live, Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, Black Tie White Noise, Outside, Buddha of Suburbia, Earthing, Hours, Heathen, and Reality. I met up with Garson when he played live at the Detroit Institute of Arts on December 2 2011 during his “Bowie Variations tour” promoting his new album. In this podcast, Garson and I talk about his new album “Bowie Variations,” his reason behind the songs he chose, the Aladdin Sane, and Battle for Britain solo and we get into the genius of David Bowie.
The David Bowie Countdown:
(to the “Top Fifteen Bowie Albums of All Time”)
Where is David Bowie? A question every fan has been asking and very few know the answer to. Some are saying he has retired for good because of his heart, others are saying there's a rumour that he is in Berlin recording another album . . . just keep looking.
For those of you who don’t know Bowie or his music very well, he came just after the British invasion, arriving a little later than the Beatles and the Stones. Bowie as an entertainer brought both theatrics and a big art flair to the rock stage (something that wasn’t really there before.) Known by many for his Glam-Rock, Ziggy Stardust days, he shocked audiences with his androgynous appearance and confused audiences by wearing his costumes both on and off stage (blurring the lines of what was acting and what was real.) To say that he has helped shape the music as well as the way it’s performed today is an understatement. He went on to create cutting edge electronic music and is largely responsible for creating New Wave with his Berlin Trilogy. He is loved and respected by all genres of music fans from Pop to Punk Rock and may be cited by more bands as an influence than any other living musician.
In 2003 while on the Reality Tour he suffered a heart attack off-stage. And since has decided to take an undefined indeterminate hiatus from public life, touring, and releasing albums. His absence from the scene has left Bowie fans like myself longing for the day when a new Bowie album will be released, wondering if it will ever happen, and sparking several rumours on his status.
Truth is though, he hasn't completely disappeared; there has been sightings at his son's movie premiere “Moon” in 2009; then there is the Scarlett Johansson album, “Anywhere I Lay My Head” he contributed on in 2008, and let’s not forget the David Gilmour “Arnold Layne” rare live appearance in 2006. At least Bowie’s website, "BowieNet" is still up and running, although he hasn't added to it for quite some time.
As best as I can reveal to you, is that I’ve heard from good sources that he is healthy and happy and living with his wife Iman and his little daughter Lexi, but as far as a new album “mums the word” for right now. Being a big Bowie fan, I thought it might be cool to shake things up again, possibly get the crowds stirring for more Bowie . . . So as a sort of tribute, I created my own top 15 Bowie albums of all time (or until he comes back and gives us a better reality.)
So let me start off by saying that this list could be taken one of two ways; first, as a list in which to introduce Bowie records to people unfamiliar with his work (start with #1 first and then go down to #15 after you develop your taste and appreciate his more experimental work). Second, it could be taken as a countdown to my list of what I think are his best works, starting at #15 and climbing to #1. I’ve gone with my gut feeling on this and chosen to completely ignore the often repeated but silly argument that Bowie hasn’t released a decent album since Scary Monsters. For a lot of Bowie fans this will be war. To them I say: Bring it on!
“I’m calling you out right now . . .” - Tin Machine 1988
Number 15: Earthing
Earthing – Just five days after coming off the “Outside Tour” Bowie, Reeves Gabrels, Mike Garson and the band were looking to capture some of the excitement that they were feeling from the road. A stripped back ensemble from the Outside recordings, Gabrels, Garson, and the band were able to follow through on some of the ideas left unexplored or discarded from the Outside sessions. This album is known by some as Bowie’s Drum and Bass, or Jungle beats record because of some of the late 90’s electronic club scene inspired tracks like Little Wonder and Battle for Britain (which is dangerously addictive on a decent sounding turntable). Possibly the best David Bowie tour ever, Bowie and his well tuned band with Gabrels (guitar), Garson (piano), Gail Ann Dorsey (bass and voice) and Zackary Alford (drums) were on fire at this point, and hit the road playing smaller clubs. If you don’t believe me, check out Bowie’s hidden album Toa Jones Index and their amazing live version of “Pallas Athena” or if you’re into bootlegs check out “Live in Budapest.” When I saw them at the Warehouse in Toronto they did the best version of “Fame” I’ve ever heard.
Notable tracks include: Looking for Satellites, Battle for Britain, Seven Years in Tibet, Telling Lies, and I’m Afraid of Americans.
Number 14: Station to Station
Station to Station – There is a common misconception in the art world via the media outlets that state a truly great artist must be a tortured soul or have trauma going on in their personal life. I find that although this may make for a great story, and in turn make the work more marketable, in reality, I find that drug abuse, depression, and/or personal turmoil is mostly a detriment to creativity (especially with Bowie.) Case in point, Station to Station; released in 1976, this is Bowie at his most paranoid and drugged out. I think the record mostly holds together because his talents were so strong at this point in his life that he was incapable of putting out anything “bad.” He would save the truly “bad” for the song “87 and Cry.”
Notable tracks include: Station to Station, Golden Years, and Stay.
Number 13: The Man Who Sold The World
The Man Who Sold The World – Although it parks itself between Space Oddity and Hunky Dory, I find that it is nothing like either one of them; it’s much darker both lyrically and sonically. In fact, if I had to compare it to a Bowie album, I would compare it to Ziggy Stardust (just not as good). The Man Who Sold The World centres itself sonically around Mick Ronson and that early 70’s heavy metal guitar rock sound that he was spitting out at that time. Ronson’s epic guitar playing drive songs like “She Shook Me Cold” and “The Width of a Circle” to its pre-glam conclusion. The real highlights for me though are Bowie’s more acoustic driven numbers like “All the Madmen” and “The Man Who Sold The World.”
Notable tracks include: The Width of a Circle, All the Madmen, The Man Who Sold The World, and Supermen.
Number 12: Scary Monsters
Scary Monsters – Known by some as being “the last great album Bowie ever put out.” I would reply that this record doesn’t even make my top ten! Not that it’s a bad album; it isn’t. In parts it’s phenomenal with songs like the desperate “Teenage Wildlife,” or his mind-blowing “Ashes to Ashes.” I just think that he has put out other albums after this that are better and more consistent. Less experimental then his previous works (but with extra emphasis on the visuals), this is Bowie unknowingly setting himself up in perfect position for what would soon become one of “the MTV generation’s first superstars.”
Notable tracks include: Scary Monsters, Ashes to Ashes, Fashion, Teenage Wildlife, and It’s No Game.
Number 11: Space Oddity
Space Oddity – Partly inspired by his study of avant-garde theatre with one of his greatest teachers, Lindsay Kemp, and partly being caught up in the moon landing, Bowie’s Space Oddity took all he had learned from failed attempts with songs like “Laughing Gnome,” “London Bye Ta Ta,” and managed to rework them into something sublime. It takes a bit of time to settle in to this album, but songs like “Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed,” “Space Oddity,” or my favourite track “Cygnet Committee” are more than worth your time. Too bad Major Tom became a junkie by the 80’s.
Notable tracks include: Space Oddity, Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed, Cygnet Committee, and Memory of a Free Festival.
List continues next week second part of podcast.
For those of you who enjoyed this performance, I would encourage you to check out Mike Garson's other works and his homepage:
I'd also like to thank the Detroit Institute of Arts for setting up an interview location and allowing me to record there. It really is a top notch American national treasure, and well worth visiting. You can check them out here:
I have two big announcements and both happen at the same time. The first is that Record Store Day is approaching on Saturday April 21, 2012 and the second is that on that day you may have a chance to get your hands on a really rare David Bowie limited edition picture disc of Starman/Starman (TOTP Mix). If you are wondering what TOTP Mix is, it stands for the legendary TV show “Top of the Pops” recorded in mono. To confuse matters though, there appears to be more than one version being released, so I don’t know what version I will be getting (if I will be getting one at all.)