musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Category: Nostalgia

The Art of Letting Go

TheArtOfLettingGo

Inspired by Victor Robert Venckus’s Expanding Awareness program with Yvonne Donovan about decluttering one’s personal space.

I have always been exceedingly sticky. Things stick to me. People stick to me, too.

Have you ever had a piece of cellophane refuse to let go as you attempt to shake it off into a trash bin? That happens to me all the time.

I listened to the woman speak, but she never scratched her way below the surface, as much as I tried to encourage her psychically from my couch as I sat staring at the radio. She preferred to focus on how marvelous it is to clear away all your clutter — how freeing it is to be unencumbered by all those belongings.

But sometimes those sad old objects are all you have left to remind you of who you once were, who you perhaps still are and who you once loved.

The direct memory fades with the dispassionate passage of time. The right song at the right moment, can, if you’re lucky, bring it all back. So too can a well-worn, familiar object, however seemingly junky and insignificant.

I realize it isn’t altogether healthy, to remain attached to the past by means of a physical possession. When Mom and Dad died, as I systematically went through the contents of a 7-room, 4-level, 50-year family home, I found myself sentimentally attached to the silliest of things. Not because of their value, but because of the personal meaning they held.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), my folks, despite having been children during The Great Depression, were devout gifters. A piano I never quite took to as a child taking lessons was given to, I think, a community center. A pool table, which we enjoyed when I was young, ended up going to an old folks’ home. The Jacuzzi, a treadmill, a hammock and garden furniture, all kinds of artwork and decorative items, vintage clothes, virtually all my old toys — somewhere.

And so, when I was faced with the task of moving special items from a spacious 7-room split level to my tiny 4-room ranch, it was easier than it might have been. I simply didn’t have the space. But still, even without the old furniture, I’m surrounded by boxes of photographs, slides, cards, letters, old films, books, records, CDs, documents, artwork and decorative pieces, household items and even electronic devices, all bursting with the essence of their former owners.

Or so it seems to my sticky mind.

As if I didn’t already know that one can be mentally and spiritually burdened by possessions, I periodically have my bag lady dreams. In them, I’m inevitably trying to leave a place, or catch a train, or make a flight, or follow someone out of a room, except that I must first decide what to do with all my baggage. And I mean that in a literal sense. I have bags, or boxes, or just stacks of things, all of it apparently mine, but quite often stuff I don’t even recognize. Regardless, I’m convinced that it must all be thoroughly gone through before I can proceed. I typically wake up feeling oppressed and frustrated.

I used to be a collector. I stopped actively collecting specific items like music memorabilia and films or TV shows of an actor I enjoyed. But I still collect objects from my past, and after the major sell-off of 2018, I suddenly don’t want to part with anything else. Ever. But I’ll probably feel differently about it in the light of a new day — or when I can no longer stand the claustrophobia of being surrounded by boxes.

There are far worse hoarders than me. Oddly, I think of Andy Warhol and his cookie jar collection. Maybe he just liked cookie jars. Or perhaps he experienced some sort of great loss in his life and collecting those cookie jars gave him a feeling of comfort and wholeness. Things are solid and tangible, unlike people, who can come in and out of your life on the wings of birds.

I met him once, Andy, at the B. Dalton’s on 8th Street in the Village. The year was 1985 and he was signing his latest book of photography, America. I had just purchased the Velvet Underground and Nico’s ‘peelable banana album’ at a record show in New Jersey, with the intention of sending it to a guy in the U.K. in return for Bowie memorabilia. And that night, as synchronicity would have it, I saw an ad in the Village Voice for the book signing the next day. So, there I was, standing in line with the city’s hipsters, waiting for Andy. He walked in with his painted black leather jacket, sunglasses and white hair. We were all transfixed.

When it came my turn, I handed him the requisite book to have signed, and then quietly said, “Hi Andy, I wonder if you would indulge me?” With that, I handed him the album. Andy, in an equally quiet voice, said “Sure.” I heard someone in line behind me say, “Oh man, I have that; I should have brought it!” Andy marveled at the legendary album of his own design and said, “Oh, I haven’t seen this for so long!” He loved it, and signed his name proudly, big and bold, across the entire length on one side, before handing it back to me. From one collector to another. Of course, that British guy never did get his album.

I remember when Andy died. I was loading tapes onto video machines at a public television station in Hartford, Connecticut. I must have seen it on a news feed and learned that he was gone. It felt like someone grabbed inside my body and removed my heart. I just felt this emptiness — an inexplicable sense of loss. I didn’t know him, had only met him briefly just that once, and yet his passing stayed with me. Sticky.

Such is the power of objects from the past. They can stir memories that you thought were long forgotten. Not all of this is bad, is it? I imagine it becomes a problem when you find yourself, in life or in dreams, paralyzed by your memories and your possessions, unable to move forward. And then, it’s time for a rigorous round of spring cleaning, to rid oneself of things that are old, sticky and full of cobwebs.

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David Bowie’s Never Let Me Down album is reborn as part of the upcoming Loving The Alien (1983-1988) box set

Bowie_LovingTheAlienBoxSet

David Bowie’s Never Let Me Down album, while frequently panned, then and now, by the musical elite (and by some fans) for not being his best work, holds a special place in my heart. It was at the time of this record’s release and subsequent world tour that I was most deeply immersed in my Bowie fandom. I had just begun publishing a David Bowie newsletter with legendary fan Rose Winters called ‘Bowie Bits’ (her name, not mine! It would soon be changed to ‘Sound & Vision’), and I followed the European and U.S. legs of that tour, reporting on the highly ambitious and wildly extravagant Glass Spider Tour shows. So now, 31 years later (egads!), the much-maligned Never Let Me Down album has been not just re-recorded but remade by former Bowie collaborators Reeves Gabrels, Mario McNulty and others, as part of an eye-popping 11-CD, 15-record box set called Loving The Alien (Warner Music/Parlophone), which will see its release on October 12.

Before I launch into all the info., which is head-spinning, have a listen to “Zeroes,” the first single from the collection.

Gone is the overbearing, leaden ’80s production, and in its place, a sleek, clean acoustic guitar centered mix that puts Bowie’s vocals up front and center, where they belong. From the original, they kept the best parts — David’s acoustic guitar and vocals, and Peter Frampton’s classy sitar lines, which come along like a delicate string of pearls to beautifully offset the otherwise sparse and understated instrumentation. The old version now sounds quite dated, but this sparkles brightly and sounds timeless. It’s exquisite.

As Reeves reveals in a recent BBC Radio 6 interview, David was not happy with the NLMD album. The year after it came out in 1987, he was already voicing his disappointment with the production. In 2008, he remixed “Time Will Crawl” with McNulty, recording new strings and new drums (courtesy of Bowie’s drummer from 1991-2004, Sterling Campbell, who is also on this upcoming release). In the album notes, Bowie wrote, “Oh, to redo the rest of the album.” He has now gotten his wish.

Other musicians featured on the reimagined Never Let Me Down album include David Torn on guitar and Tim Lefebvre on bass, who played on ★ (Blackstar). Also part of Never Let Me Down (2018) is a string quartet with arrangements by Nico Muhly and a special guest cameo by Laurie Anderson on Shining Star (Makin’ My Love).

The set includes newly remastered versions of Let’s Dance, Tonight and Never Let Me Down (original and 2018 versions), Glass Spider (Live Montreal ’87), the previously unreleased Serious Moonlight live album, Dance (a collection of original remixes) and Re:Call 4, a non-album, alternate version, b-sides and soundtrack music compilation.

Loving the Alien (1983 – 1988) was clearly designed with the fan in mind. NLMD’s new artwork features previously unpublished images from Greg Gorman’s original cover photo session. The 128-page booklet has rare images from many Bowie photographers of the time, including Gorman, Herb Ritts and Denis O’Regan; historical press reviews and album technical notes from producers/engineers Nile Rodgers, Hugh Padgham, Mario McNulty and Justin Shirley-Smith.

Read all the details and see the full track listing for the Loving the Alien (1983 – 1988) box set — and Pre-Order It On Amazon!

This is Parlophone Records’ fourth box set in a series of special releases that pays tribute to Bowie’s career from 1969. The other critically acclaimed sets include Five Years (1969 – 1973), Who Can I Be Now? (1974 – 1976) and A New Career in a New Town (1977 – 1982).

For Gabrels, the re-recording of Never Let Me Down was an emotional undertaking. As he explains in the BBC Radio 6 interview,

The first song I worked on was Zeroes… One of the things that we used to do all the time was David and I would often record the acoustic guitars facing each other, both of us playing at the same time. It gave it a little more of a natural feel. So, we would record together. I had my headphones on, and I had my guitar that I was playing in my right ear, and David was in the left ear, and his vocal was in the center in the headphones. I had my eyes closed while I was tracking. And in my mind’s eye, I saw David sitting across from me, and the way his body language was, and the way his eyes would look while he was playing. Because he would get this faraway look, but he was looking at you at the same time. I recorded a pass of me playing acoustic guitar with David, and when I stopped, I opened my eyes, and I expected to see David sitting there. I got that feeling out of the way early, because I knew at some point I was going to hear his vocal or something was going to happen that would bring tears to my eyes… In my mind, he was there.

david bowie official site | reeves gabrels official site | BBC Radio 6 interview (starts 45:00 in) | David Bowie – Loving The Alien (1983 – 1988) press release

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On my Airborne Toxic Event anniversary…

(from The Beantown Bloggery, posted 7/30/2008)

(from The Beantown Bloggery, posted 7/30/2008)

A brief commemoration is in order today. On this very evening five years ago, I first saw The Airborne Toxic Event. It was upstairs at an Irish-Mexican bar in downtown Boston called Jose McIntyre’s, a curious gathering called “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” sponsored by WFNX. I actually just stumbled upon an advertisement of this event on The Beantown Bloggery. How cool. here’s my review of that pivotal event in my life. Sadly, this was before I started documenting, but you can see my first video of the band from later that year at Knott’s Berry Farm (see below). And be sure to check out (sorry, can’t seem to embed) this extremely cool video I unearthed of an old interview with the ‘FNX guys backstage at their Miracle on Tremont Street show in December ’08, where they talk about the show back in July. Good times.

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