Hear Demo Recordings of David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust,” “Space Oddity” & “Changes”

These days “demo tapes” are often radio-ready recordings, and bands often record one before they’ve even played their first gig. It’s a recent development, a byproduct of the revolution in affordable home recording technology. For most of the history of rock and pop music, demos were raw sketches, preserving ideas, tempos, changes, moods, but not at all ready to air. Listening back to demo versions of songs we already know well can be like excavating strata underneath a site like Stonehenge. Sometimes you find nothing but sediment. Sometimes you find another Stonehenge. Take for example John Lennon’s hypnotic demo recordings of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” the Beatles’ acoustic White Album demos, or Roger Waters’ early demos of The Wall. Intriguingly rough gems all.

Today we bring you demo recordings of another artist whose work typically bespeaks polish and studio panache. As in the past, songwriters today still push play on cheap voice recorders—or expensive iphones—and capture new songs on the fly. But nobody today writes like Bowie did in his “Ziggy Stardust” phase. At the top of the post, hear Bowie’s solo acoustic demo recording of that song. You’ll find it on the second CD of the 30th Anniversary edition of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which also includes a demo version of “Lady Stardust” and two versions of “Moonage Daydream” and “Hang on to Yourself” by “Arnold Corns,” the original name of Ziggy. I’ve heard more solo acoustic versions of “Ziggy” than I’d care to remember, played by earnest coffee-shop crooners and guitar-bearing party guests. But Bowie’s original demo I could listen to again and again.

While the “Arnold Corns” incarnations of Ziggy Stardust songs definitely fall into the category of not-Stonehenge, the 1969 demo recording of “Space Oddity” has a very monumental feel indeed—if that monument were 2001’s enigmatic Monolith. Set here to clips from that film, it seems like the perfect accompaniment to the glossy foreboding of Kubrick’s space vision. This drumless arrangement sounds somehow more contemporary than the recording we’ve heard countless times. It also sounds much closer to the psychedelic folk on the rest of the Space Oddity album, a collection of songs many Bowie fans, myself included, greatly admire, but which his first audience didn’t take to so readily. “Space Oddity” went through at least one more iteration before landing on the album. Hear the slightly more funked-up version, and see its awkward video, below.

Perhaps no song other than “Ashes to Ashes” so well articulates the creative destruction of Bowie’s many rock star personae—and the toll those metamorphoses take—than 1971’s “Changes.” But it’s a song written and recorded early in his career, before Ziggy Stardust, the character that first broke him into superstardom. The song appears on Hunky Dory in a recording with the Stardust band—Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder, and Mick Woodmansey—but it’s such a Bowie-centric lyric that it outlasted hundreds of costume changes and served as the obvious choice of title for the 1990 compilation Changesbowie.

Does the piano demo above reveal an alternate pre-history? Not really. The handclaps and odd vocalizations are half-formed ideas at best, and the poor audio quality is not a feature. But what it does demonstrate, as do all of the rough recordings above, is that Bowie is Bowie—a stellar songwriter and vocal performer—whether captured on a cheap home tape machine or the best studio equipment money can buy. Studio wizardry of the present can do things producers forty years ago could only dream about, but no amount of technology can substitute for raw musical talent, nor for the long years of practice Bowie endured.

Related Content:

David Bowie Recalls the Strange Experience of Inventing the Character Ziggy Stardust (1977)

The Story of Ziggy Stardust: How David Bowie Created the Character that Made Him Famous

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.


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Young Joni Mitchell Performs a Hit-Filled Concert in London (1970)

It’s hard to imagine the young lady seen performing her own songs on the BBC in the video above twerking or even tweeting, for that matter. The utterly unadorned quality of this performance suits the now-legendary purity of her youthful voice.

Woe, the deleterious effects of her longtime cigarette habit.

Now, back to 1970, when just shy of 27, Joni Mitchell played a hit-filled set to a British studio audience, despite a “little London flu” she alludes to more than once.

If it seemed unpretentious at the time, it’s even more so now, nary a laser beam or back up dancer in sight. No costume changes. Barely any makeup. Just Joni, her guitar, her piano, and a nifty custom dulcimer made by “a dynamite girl who lives in California.”

Passing the time as she tunes this last instrument, she mentions that the upcoming song, “California,”concerns an adventure to which she’d recently treated herself. She’d written it before her return, as a sort of postcard home. Meaning that that park bench in Paris, France was barely cold! This is way more exciting to me than a bevy of hair extensions, served with a practiced snarl and a side of auto tune.

A girlish giggle and dignified bow seal the deal. Classy!

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Ayun Halliday is an author, homeschooler, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

 

 


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How to Jump the Paris Metro: A Witty, Rebellious Primer from New Wave Director Luc Moullet (1984)

Luc Moullet, a French New Wave filmmaker and long-time critic for the Cahiers du cinéma, makes films “known for their humor, anti-authoritarian leanings and rigorously primitive aesthetic.” Case in point, the 1984 short film Barres, which comically documents the best ways to jump the Paris metro. It’s something of a sport in Paris. Arguably the sport most Parisians really take part in. Unlike other versions of the film on the web, this one has English subtitles. Enjoy.

h/t ubuweb

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81-Year-Old Professor Charlie Warner Goes to Burning Man: A Short Documentary (NSFW)

Charlie Warner. He’s an 81-year-old media professor and former media executive from New York. He’s had bone marrow cancer. (It’s now in remission.) He had open-heart surgery. He still has diabetes. And yet he made the journey to the Burning Man festival, in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, to experience something transcendent. And the festival didn’t disappoint. Filmmaker Jan Beddegenoodts documented Warner’s experience in a short film called Charlie Goes to Burning Man. You can watch the touching short in an embedded format above. But it’s even better to go to the film’s website, where you can view it in a visually-appealing, full-screen format. Be warned: It’s Burning Man, so there are some Not Safe for Work (NSFW) moments in the film.

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Eight Free Films by Dziga Vertov, Creator of Soviet Avant-Garde Documentaries

Has any filmmaker, of any era, had more influence on documentaries than Dziga Vertov? We know the early 20th-century Soviet cinema theorist and director of avant-garde non-fiction films has a place high in the documentary pantheon by virtue of his 1929 Man with a Movie Camera alone. We’ve previously featured that motion picture’s rise to Sight and Sound‘s designation of the eighth greatest of all time, and if you didn’t watch it free online then, you can do so above now. Just after that, we featured his unsettling Soviet Toys, the first animated film ever made in that then-nation. But given that the age of Vertov’s work — not that time has diminished its aesthetic relevance or excitement — has brought it into the public domain, why stop there?

Today we offer a roundup of all the Dziga Vertov movies currently viewable free online, a collection that allows you to watch and judge for yourself whether he and his collaborators succeeded in making a dent in what he called “the film drama, the Opium of the people.” Despite the thoroughly low-tech nature of these pictures, even by documentary standards, you may find yourself moved after having watched them — not necessarily by the Soviet causes he sometimes extolled, but by his cinematic rallying cry: “Down with bourgeois fairy-tale scenarios. Long live life as it is!”

  • Kino Eye (1924) Vertov’s first documentary not made from found footage journeys, according to a contemporary newspaper, “from the Pioneer camp, through the peasant courtyards, through the fields, through the markets and slums of the town, with an ambulance car to a dying man, from there to workers’ sports grounds, and so on and so forth, peering into all the little corners of social life.”
  • Soviet Toys (1924) A “cartoon” that, in the words of our own Jonathan Crow, “displays [Vertov's] knack for making striking, pungent images,” “yet those who don’t have an intimate knowledge of Soviet policy of the 1920s might find the movie — which is laden with Marxist allegories — really odd.”
  • Kino-Pravda #21 (1925) Also known as Lenin Kino-Pravda, “a special, longer-than-usual issue of [newsreel] Kino-Pravda,” as the Harvard Film Archive describes it, “in which Vertov jumps with boldness and ease between newsreel and drawn animation to illustrate Soviet Russia’s way up under Lenin’s leadership, the decline in Lenin’s health, and the year elapsed since his death.”
  • A Sixth Part Of The World (1926) A mixture of newsreel and found footage that, according to the Internet Archive, the film depicted “through the travelogue format [ … ] the multitude of Soviet peoples in remote areas of USSR and detailed the entirety of the wealth of the Soviet land,” making “a call for unification in order to build a ‘complete socialist society.’”
  • Stride, Soviet! (1926) “What began as a commission by the sitting Moscow Soviet for a promotional movie,” says the Harvard Film Archive, “was transformed by Vertov into something else entirely: a film experiment, an emotional film – anything but a picture that would help the Mossovet be reelected.”
  • The Eleventh Year (1928) A celebration of “the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution” which, according to the Harvard Film Archive, presents that decade of socialism “in the eyes of a left-wing artist of the twenties” as “a radical social experiment [ … ] required to be presented in a radically experimental way.”
  • Man with a Movie Camera (1929) “Made up as it is of ‘bits and pieces’ of cities from Moscow to the Ukraine,” writes Senses of Cinema‘s Jonathan Dawson, it “remains a perfect distillation of the sense of a modern city life that looks fresh and true still,” “the strongest reminder that, in spite of the extraordinary pressures on his personal and working life, Vertov was one of the greatest of all the pioneer filmmakers.”
  • Three Songs About Lenin (1934) Also known as Three Songs of Lenin and Three Songs Dedicated to Lenin, a delivery of exactly what the title promises — but with a Vertovian stylistic slant.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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Sound Effects Genius Michael Winslow Sings Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”: Vocal & Guitar Parts

Ladies and gentlemen, we present Michael Winslow, the Man of 10,000 Sound Effects, singing Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” And by sing, we mean that he performs the lead vocals, and the distortion-filled sounds of the electric guitar, all with his voice. The performance took place one night, back in November, 2011, on Norway’s TV show Senkveld med Thomas og Harald (aka Late Night with Thomas and Harold). Winslow is joined by folk pop-musician Odd Nordstoga on the acoustic guitar. When you’re done picking up your jaw, you’ll want to watch Winslow perform the Sounds of 32 Typewriters (1898-1983). It’s quite magnificent. Or watch an old re-run of Police Academy. That’s never hurts, either.

via Metafilter

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Sound Effects Genius Michael Winslow Performs the Sounds of 32 Typewriters (1898-1983)


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100 Great Bass Riffs Played in One Epic Take: Covers 60 Years of Rock, Jazz and R&B

Back in June, our very own Josh Jones took us on an audio tour of five great rock bassists, breaking down the styles of Paul McCartney, Sting, John Deacon, John Paul Jones & Geddy Lee. If you got into the groove of that post, you’ll almost certainly enjoy watching bassist Marc Najjar, accompanied by Nate Bauman on drums, taking you through 100 great bass riffs. The rhythm duo covers 60 years of music history, in 17 minutes, just above.

The riffs were notably performed in one continuous take, with a Sandberg Umbo HCA Crème bass. (Find more gear used in the video here.) And the clip was put together by the Chicago Music Exchange, the same folks who assembled the 2012 viral video, A History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in 100 Guitar Riffs. They also sold me a sweet acoustic guitar that same year.

You can find a complete list of the riffs, and the songs from which they came, below. (Click the “more” link to see them, if they’re not already visible.)  Please note that the bass sounds a little muted at the outset, but it quickly comes to the fore.

(more…)


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Hear David Foster Wallace Read His Own Essays & Short Fiction on the 6th Anniversary of His Death,

Yesterday, of course, marked the 13th anniversary of the horrible attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Today marks the 6th anniversary of David Foster Wallace’s death by suicide. The two events are related not only by proximity, and not because they are comparable tragedies, but because Wallace’s work, in particular his 1993 essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction,” has become such a touchstone for the discourse of “post-irony” or “the new sincerity” since 9/11, when Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter and others proclaimed the “end of irony.” But the cultural consciousness has shifted measurably since those heady days of fervent affirmation. In a reconsideration of Wallace on irony, Bradley Warshauer writes, “he wasn’t wrong—but he is obsolete.” Our national discourse—as much as it can be defined in broad terms—may have, some argue, swung further toward sincerity and sentimental reverence than Wallace would have liked. And he may have been much more an ironist than he liked to believe.

Wallace, writes Warshauer, was “a wannabe sentimentalist who was too absurdly talented and probably too obsessed with the artificiality of fiction to be the sort of ‘anti-rebel’ that he himself talked about.” While he may have romanticized the high-minded figure who “stands for” things in uncomplicated ways, Wallace himself was complicated, prickly, and just too hyper-aware—of himself and others—to be seduced by easy sentiment, what Somerset Maugham called “unearned emotion.” While his work pulls us still toward deeper levels of analysis, toward contemplation and critique, toward serious considerations of value, it does not do so by eschewing irony. In the descriptive force of his prose are the evasions, parries, asides, circumlocutions, and jarringly odd juxtapositions of the ironist, the satirist, and—what might be the same thing—the moralist. “The inherent contradiction”—the irony, if you will—of Wallace’s stance, Washauer argues, citing 1999’s Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, is that he himself “was addicted to ironic detachment.” But, of course, it’s not so simple as that.

Today we bring you several readings by David Foster Wallace of his own work. We begin at the top with “Death is Not the End” from Brief Interviews, that collection of “weird metafiction” that couches raw and painful confessions in layers of irony. Below it, from that same collection, we have “Suicide as a Sort of Present,” a piece that, in hindsight, offers its own potential morbidly ironic readings. Just above, hear Wallace read the short story “Incarnations of Burned Children” from the 2005 collection Oblivion, full of stories Wyatt Mason described as “tightly withhold[ing]… hiding on high shelves the keys that unlock their treasures.” Replete with tiny mechanisms that can take many careful readings to parse, these stories are fine-art studies in ironic language and situations.

One may class David Foster Wallace as a master ironist, despite his critical stance against its overuse, but this reduces the full range of his mastery to one mode among so many. His work embraced the voice of irony and the voice of sincerity as equally valid rhetorical means, alternating between the two in what A.O. Scott once called a “feedback loop.” “The View From Mrs. Thompson’s,” the essay Wallace reads above from 2005’s essay collection Consider the Lobster, is a piece he wrote just days after 9/11. Written quickly as a commission from Rolling Stone, the essay records his trenchant observations of the reactions in Bloomington, Illinois between September 11-13. It’s a piece that showcases the tension between Wallace’s sincere desire for immediacy and his almost uncontrollable impulse to amused detachment. And hearing Wallace commemorate the tragic events we remembered yesterday highlights the sad irony of memorializing his own death today.

You can hear many more of David Foster Wallace’s readings and interviews at the David Foster Wallace Audio Project, and be sure to stop by our sizable collection, 30 Free Essays & Stories by David Foster Wallace on the Web.

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Read Two Poems David Foster Wallace Wrote During His Elementary School Days

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


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Portraits of Vice Presidents with Octopuses on Their Heads — the Ones You’ve Always Wanted To See

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Last year, after parting ways with a punishing, thankless corporate job but before my wife gave birth to my first child, my friend invited me to participate in the From Dusk til Drawn fundraiser at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santa Barbara. Basically, it involved drawing for 24 straight hours. At that point in my life – i.e. before children – sleep deprivation was a novelty. It sounded insane. I was in.

I knew I needed a system. The last thing I wanted was to be struggling for ideas of something to draw at four in the morning. So after some debate, I decided to draw portraits of all 47 vice presidents of the United States. With octopuses on their heads. Why?

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It probably started with Walter Mondale. I was on the couch with my mother watching the returns for the 1984 election. When it became clear that he was not going to become America’s next chief executive, my mother, who spent her formative years in Berkeley during the thick of the ‘60s, stood up, proclaimed “Well, shit!” and stormed upstairs. I was in seventh grade. This was the first election I cared about. Mondale had reached for glory and failed spectacularly. Starting that night, I became fascinated with those who aspired to history but ended up a footnote. So obviously, I became interested in vice presidents.

The Constitution is surprisingly vague on the veep. Vice President Charles Dawes – a man who won a Nobel Peace Prize and who wrote a tune that would later become a pop hit, all before becoming Calvin Coolidge’s number two guy – summed up the job while talking with senator and future VP Alben W. Barkley like this: “I can do only two things here. One of them is to sit up here on this rostrum [in the Senate] and listen to you birds talk without the ability to reply. The other is to look at the newspapers every morning to see how the President’s health is.”

Though the position bestows on it all of the authority and pomp of the U.S. Government, vice presidents throughout history have struggled to find purpose in a poorly defined role, all the while waiting for death. It’s a bit like life itself. A few, through ambition, talent and a lot of luck, ascended to the top job. Most moldered in obscurity. No wonder then that John Nance Garner, one of FDR’s three VPs, called the job “not worth a bucket of warm piss.” I added the octopuses because I thought they were funny. It takes a rare person to pull off an air of dignity with a cephalopod on his head. It seems to fit with the absurdity of the job.

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During From Dusk til Drawn, I was a machine. I cranked out 22 portraits of vice presidents in 24 hours. That’s one an hour, excluding a 2am jaunt to get a rice bowl and a handful of bathroom breaks. Over the next year, I drew and redrew them all from John Adams to Joe Biden and then, starting this past July, I began posting one picture a day on my site Veeptopus. I’m up to Hubert H. Humphrey now. During this time, I learned a lot about formerly important people who are now almost entirely unknown.  People like William R. King, who died of tuberculosis three weeks after getting sworn in as VP, or John Breckinridge, who fled to Cuba to avoid getting arrested for treason. You can see the fruits of my crazy scheme here. I hope you enjoy.

Above, in descending order, you can find portraits of 1) Garret Hobart (1897–1899), the 24th Veep under William McKinley; 2) Thomas Jefferson, who bucked the VP trend and made something of himself; and 3) George Clinton who served under Jefferson and Madison. Don’t confuse him with the guy from Parliament Funkadelic.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.  And you can check out his online Veeptopus store here.


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John Lennon’s Ice Bucket Challenge

Ice bucket challenge, 1965

The ice bucket challenge is pretty played out. So why post this photo? Quite simply because I can find scant little information about this curious Beatles pic. One Beatles blog dates the picture back to 1965. After that, bupkis. No information. So, for once, I’m throwing up my hands and asking for a little help from our friends. Somewhere out there, an ardent Beatles fan knows the story, and we’re hoping that you can give us the lowdown, either by email, or in the comments section below. We thank you in advance…

Update: We got an email from a former radio exec who offers more details. Jon tells us:  “These shots were done in the Bahamas back in 1965 while the Beatles traveled the world to film their second movie Help! This sequence most likely came as a result of set close up shots that director Richard Lester needed of each Beatle during a pool sequence since John is wearing that same shirt during several of those water sequences shot in the Bahamas. Ringo has always said it was cold during the shoot as they filmed it during a cooler time (Jan.?) that year. That would explain John’s look after being doused.” And there you have it!

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