>> Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Bowie could be gloriously weird. I don't mean "weird" in the sense that there's anything weird about taking on the persona of an extraterrestrial, or in having a weird and mercifully brief flirtation with fascist iconography. I mean "weird" in the sense of uncanny or supernatural. E.g. when he'd do something like tap--almost like he was telepathic or precognitive--into some musical vibration that everybody would be doing in eighteen months.1
"Everybody" in this case being Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno (who may have had an in, since he was working with Bowie during the Lodger (1979) era, which is where we find "African Night Flight"). The following year, Bowie would release Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (1980, duh), and that would also prove to be about a year-and-a-half ahead of its time.
I don't know if there's cause and effect. I mean, probably there is, right? Probably, what happened was Bowie would release a record like Lodger with a track like "African Night Flight" and Peter Gabriel listens to it and is like, "Whoa." And over on the other side of the Atlantic, David Byrne picks up a copy of Lodger, puts it on the turntable and is like, "Whoa." And meanwhile Bowie is already moving on. Except this sort of leaves you wondering where Bowie is getting these vibes from.
I think--I don't really know what Bowie's listening habits were--but I think, from interviews where he was asked about influences and from looking at the range of songs he covered from other artists, that Bowie must have been a voracious listener, and just a totally unprejudiced listener. I'm not, as much as I'd like to be: e.g. I just can't quite get Classical Music, and while I occasionally will stumble onto a few composers I like, Classical just usually can't hold my interest for very long and a few notes in I'm done. And I'd like to say I'll listen to anything, but I'm a liar. Truth is, there's really a pretty small slice of musical pie I dig into and vast amounts of not-that-slice pie that I just don't get. But I suspect--maybe it's projection or wishful thinking or hero worship or something--that Bowie really did suck it all in like a great open ravine hungry for the flood.
What a fantastic song.
1I wish I could pick a different number, since that's how long his family said he was struggling with cancer, but it's the number that's about right.