80s (and sometimes 10s) Music Rules ~ Criminally Underrated Artists/Bands ~ SLAVE to the SQUAREwave Again!

Be forewarned—I’m going to drop the stuffy, professional interviewer persona and let my fan-gurrrrl flourish…

OMG—they’re back! And not a moment too soon! I’m excited beyond words!

This year has been the year that keeps on giving, and I’m not going to rehash that. It has been the year that will forever go down in history as sucking rancid canal water. So lately, whenever there’s a glimmer of hope, it tends to shine like a blinding beacon through the storms of hell.

That said, SLAVE to the SQUAREwave, the incredible duo of Rob Stuart and Colin Troy MacPhail, is back with an outstanding 90-minute collection of new music that, even if this year hadn’t been the epitome of everyone’s worst nightmare on steroids, would STILL rise like a phoenix above the ashes of contemporary music. These guys have been at it for 20 (count ‘em!) years, and the music is still as fresh as any debut album, let alone the latest in an already brilliant catalog. So what’s the album called? Why, “20/20” of course. Get it? Twenty extraordinary years of musical collaboration that just happens to coincide with the infamous calendar year 2020.

What makes S2TSW’s music really shine is that it always has something for everyone. Rob and Colin are not pigeonholed into one particular sound or style. They unabashedly experiment with sound, lyrics, instrumentation, orchestration—you name it, the sky’s the limit. This album is no exception. But lest you think it’s a hodgepodge of random notes forming a mishmash of unrelated songs under the guise of a collection, think again, honey. The progression is deliberate and logical and delightful to aurally behold.

And one last fan-gurrrrrl observation. I am a David Bowie fan, pure and simple. I’ve written in the past about my undying love for Bowie because he literally saved and validated my life over 40 years ago. And, that’s what makes S2TSW so important, so relevant, so vital a part of my life. In addition to the brilliant rhythm, melody, arrangement, and production that Rob brings to the table, there’s Colin’s voice. He has Bowie’s range, emotion, and creative delivery all wrapped up. This duo has filled an enormous void for me—both when Bowie retired and when he unfortunately passed on. Few musicians can make that claim. I’m making it for SLAVE to the SQUAREwave with deep-felt love and sincerity.

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MissParker: Well, here I am in the enviable position of asking my favorite duo questions about music I adore. Can it get any better than this? OK, before I absolutely embarrass myself in front of you guys, let’s get started.

It’s been 3 years since the last album release, “Jigsaw.” When did you first realize that it was time for another album?

Rob Stuart: It’s just natural for us to start working on a new album right after we’ve released one. It’s in our blood!

Colin Troy: It’s quite funny, I told Rob after we had finished the new album that I was a bit burnt out but of course 2 days later, I was jamming a new baseline for a new song. It’s a bit masochistic. (Laughs)

MissParker: The album’s name is just so perfect. When or how did it dawn on you that not only had you guys been doing this for 20 years, but that you’d have another album release in the year 2020?

Rob Stuart: Colin put that together. It was the perfect motivation to attempt to write 20 songs and meet a tight deadline. I can’t believe we did it!

Colin Troy: Actually, I believe we never intended to write 20 songs. However during the past seven months or so a lot of good and bad things occurred, so there was a lot of inspiration to continue writing. I agree with Rob, I can’t believe it either.

MissParker: David Marsden, God love him, has been teasing us by playing selected tracks during his live broadcasts for quite some time, now—maybe a year? So that tells me this album has been in the works for a while. Do you have a process that you follow for writing and recording songs? For example, I know that Colin generally writes the lyrics and Rob creates and arranges the music…is it usually lyrics first, then music? Or does Rob come up with a concept melody and add the lyrics later? Or a little of both?

Rob Stuart: It’s all of the above. I don’t write lyrics, only music. So, I’ll write a solid, structured music bed with a verse/chorus/bridge etc. and send it to Colin who will write a lyric and melody. In the past he would come over to my studio to record the vocals but during COVID he recorded most of the vocals in his own studio. Depending on the lyric Colin comes up with we will rearrange the song. Sometimes the intended chorus becomes the verse, the bridge becomes the chorus or the verse can become the bridge, or not. There are no rules. On other occasions, Colin will send me a fully realised track with music and lyrics already completed and then I’ll put on my producer hat and get to work by chopping it up or adding to the song to finish it off.

Colin Troy: I find writing the music the easier part of song writing. The lyrics are usually the last thing to put down because I find it is the most difficult part of song writing.

MissParker: I’m big on lyrics—it’s probably the frustrated poet in me. To me, the lyrics are just as important as the overall song. I feel the lyrical angst in some of 20/20’s tracks, which makes a whole lot of sense, given the state of the world. But, I also feel joy and hope in others, and I love the balance. It’s like you’re saying, “It’s been a shit year, but hang on, there’s something good around the corner.” Was that intentional? If so, how did it evolve?

Rob Stuart: I’ll defer to Colin.

Colin Troy: It’s funny—when I listen to the new album, I view it in two parts—the 2019 lyrics versus the 2020 lyrics. With the exception of a few songs written in 2020, most of the material became quite personal due to what was going on in my life these past 6 months. There was no intention other than writing in the moment. The only evolution I would say is letting mother nature take its course.

MissParker: I love movies that you watch over and over, only to discover something new each time. I gotta tell ya, I’ve been listening to 20/20 over and over again the past few days and it continues to sound fresh and new each time, hearing something different with each play. I truly believe that ability is deliberate and couldn’t possibly be accidental, and something I enjoy to this day with Bowie’s music. I don’t mean to put you on the spot, but what in the world is your secret?

Rob Stuart: We put a lot of work into our music, so I appreciate the question. Some things do happen by accident but a lot of thought is put into our music. A good example of a happy accident is the lead vocal cutting out in the last chorus of “Something’s Kind of Weird.” That was unplanned, but it added drama and suited the song, so we made the decision to leave it in. The other day our good friend, Scott MacLean, called up and said that he was just listening to our song “Supernatural” from our first album and had just noticed me whispering in the bass breakdown even though he had listened to the song many times before. That was something I had done deliberately. I think adding layers like that is fun for a producer and is also rewarding for the listener.

Colin Troy:  Accident or not, when it comes to producing music, no one does it better than Rob.

MissParker: Does Colin lay down all of the vocal tracks himself, or do you guys use other back-up singers?

Rob Stuart: Yes, Colin has such a versatile vocal range that he lays down all of the vocals himself although my wife, Kim sings backing vocals on two or three tracks on the album. A good example of them singing together is the opening of “Souvenirs.”

Colin Troy: We have used backup singers before on previous albums. A great singer named Liz Tilden, Coco Brown, and also a great singer, Penny Robillard,  who also used to join us for the live shows who now lives in Australia. The past couple of albums, Kim has stepped up to the plate which is great because she softens the belting back-up from me.

MissParker: OK, I have to admit it. For some reason, I’m always looking for influences in music. With that in mind—and I mean this as a huge compliment—if Kate Bush were male, don’t you think “Something’s Kinda Weird” would be her musical doppelganger?

Rob Stuart: That is a huge compliment. Colin and I have always equated Kate Bush as Peter Gabriel’s counterpart. Now that you mention it, I could see both of those artists taking on that track. Wouldn’t that be great!

Colin Troy: I absolutely love Kate Bush. She can sing any of our songs at any time.

MissParker: And the intro to “Hot Mess” made me sit up straight in my chair. It puts me in mind of Trio’s “Dah Dah Dah.” What a blast from the past and a breath of the 80s—am I right?

Rob Stuart: You’re bang on. That is the sample from Trio. Actually that track is loaded with sampled drum loops. There’s the DA, DA, DA Loop, Eminence Front Loop–The Who, Sound Of The Crowd Loop–The Human League, Crabs Loop–Jean Jaques Burnell, Dancing Fool Loop–Frank Zappa, in the bridge, Conversation Piece Loop–David Bowie, and throughout the song, Read My Mind Loop–The Killers. My goal with this song was to make it sound reminiscent of Devo.

Colin Troy: Again, Rob is a genius producer. I near s*** my pants with laughter when I heard the initial Trio sample.

“It was 20 years ago today…”

MissParker: And I have to mention “Model Citizen.” It’s a brilliant song all on its own, but the video totally takes it over the top. What was the inspiration for the screenplay? And, before you answer, let me just throw this out there—I didn’t think there was much left that would make me blush in my old age, but Colin—wow!

Rob Stuart: That video was all Colin. (Pardon the pun!)

Colin Troy: Ha, ha, ha! The inspiration for that song, and in particular the video, comes from working in the service industry for so long. I have seen a lot of “business suit facade.” I have seen a lot of skeletons come from those business suit closets. And, it ain’t pretty!

MissParker: Can we look forward to other music videos for tracks from 20/20?

Rob Stuart: Yes, a video to “Hot Mess” is on its way. Colin will explain.

Colin Troy: Yes, David Raetsen and I teamed up together again and shot a video last Monday. We are still in the editing process and the footage looks a lot of fun and will be released next Tuesday (Dec 22).

MissParker: Woo hoo! One of my favorite tracks on 20/20 (and coincidentally, there are about 20 of them) is “Bonnie and Clyde.” I’m intrigued by the lyrics and what inspired them. Oh, and I couldn’t help but hear the reference to “Station to Station”—very clever!

Rob Stuart: Colin!

Colin Troy: I have to confess that “Bonnie and Clyde”  is a kind of continuation of “Texan Thugs and Rock ‘N’ Roll.” It’s about two people being badasses. I’m not a badass, only on stage! (Laughs)

Of course I had to make a reference to Bowie because he was the ultimate on-stage badass, right?

MissParker: Absolutely! And speaking of badass, I’m completely gobsmacked by the various instruments in each of the songs, some sounding like you have a backing band of at least a dozen eclectic musicians. Does each instrument’s unique sound have to be layered in individually, and if so, about how long does it take to lay down so many tracks?

Rob Stuart: We work with a lot of loops but as we’ve aged we’ve had a harder time keeping up technology which has forced both of us to go back to basics by playing live. I’ve never had the patience to figure out technology beyond its use for my personal requirements, so rather than waste time figuring out how to make things work, I’ll just play by hand. My lack of technical ability has actually made me a better player. These days my main tool for sounds is my iPad Pro. You can literally take all of the beautiful, old synthesizers and analogue drum machines that I have in my studio, plus much more, and put it into an iOS device.

It does take a long time to lay down individual tracks, but depending on the song the time can vary greatly. Most of the time, we are working with 60+ tracks. Those tracks will usually be mixed into sub-mixes before the song is finally mixed down and mastered.

Colin Troy: Personally I believe that you should use every music tool that is available whether it be an acoustic guitar, a keyboard, a drum loop, or an electronic synth loop. The beauty of sound is endless. I tend to write a structure and I will let Rob flourish with all the details.

MissParker: I’m curious to know how you come up with the melodies. I know a lot of musicians will hammer out a rough draft on a piano or guitar. Do you guys have a favored method, or does the magic just happen?

Rob Stuart: Sometimes the melody can be obvious and I’ll know where to go with it, other times I’ll sit at the keyboard and hammer out a melody line over and over again until I find something that works. Then I’ll usually figure out a counter melody or harmony.

Colin Troy: Honestly, I find writing the melody the easiest part of the song. I may not have a structured lyric but I will still sing a gibberish melody that sometimes becomes an unconscious lyric. Kind of like speaking in tongues.

MissParker: Totally selfish question here—are there any songs currently under development for another SLAVE album in the near future? One can only hope the answer is “Yes,” and that we won’t have to wait another 3 years!

Rob Stuart: We have some songs left over that did not make the final album that need finishing but we did cut this one close. Colin wanted to add a last minute funk tune, so he wrote the song “20twenty” while I was actually uploading the tracks for final distribution. He played me the idea over the phone, so I knew it was going to be a great track. We got it done at the last minute, but that being said, I think we are all tapped out for songs at the moment. Knowing us, that never lasts long. As I said, it’s in the blood!

Colin Troy: Don’t get mad Rob, but I’ve already started working on a new tune. (Laughs) I really do think I’m a musical masochist!

MissParker: I want to sincerely thank you guys for the two decades of hard work and absolute listening pleasure you’ve given us. There’s nothing better than the gift of hope, and over the years, that’s what your music has been to me, and others I guarantee.

Rob Stuart: Thank you so much for supporting independent music and for your support of S2TSW.

Colin Troy: Awwww, thank you so, so, much for your support and love. AND to all the squareheads who love and dig our music! We can’t wait to see you guys at a live show soon. I know we’ll all be dancing and singing and having a great time together again!

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SLAVE to the SQUAREwave’s album 20/20 dropped on December 15, 2020. What on earth are you waiting for? To miss out on this fantastic collection of life-relevant songs really would put the year in the dumper. So, get over to wherever digital media is sold and grab your copy now. It’s the perfect antidote to a year the likes of which we’ve never seen before and hope to never see again. Consider it an aural vaccine.

Model Citizen ~ SLAVE to the SQUAREwave

Headphones ~ SLAVE to the SQUAREwave

Feet Don’t Fail Me Now ~ SLAVE to the SQUAREwave

 

 

80s (and sometimes 10s) Music Rules ~ Criminally Underrated Artists/Bands ~ Boys’ Entrance/Tim Cain

One of the enormous perks of being a part of the David Marsden family of fans and musicians is the priceless opportunity to hear new music that David promotes. A simply fabulous band I first heard on David’s streaming show via NYTheSpirit.com is Boys’ Entrance. What makes Boys’ Entrance even more endearing is that they are based practically in my back yard.

Boys’ Entrance currently hails from the Tampa Bay region of FL. Front man Tim Cain has a timeless alto voice that draws the listener in to the music like a bee to honey. According to the intro on their website, they have been making wonderful music for 28 years—an amazing feat. BE has earned accolades from throughout the music industry—well-deserved and acquired through hard work and talent.

Even though we share a state, I’ve yet to have the pleasure of experiencing Tim Cain and Boys’ Entrance live. I know—sounds strange, doesn’t it? But I’m several hours away (Florida covers a LOT of territory!), and solo road travel is never a favorite adventure of mine. One of these days, though, I’ll find a road-trip buddy and drop in on a Boys’ Entrance show. It’s a bucket list goal I’ve got my sights set on.

In the meantime, Tim Cain has graciously accepted my invitation for a Rave and Roll interview. I’m excited to share his thoughts and opinions on the state of music, the world, and just about everything in between. I think you’ll find him just as real and as captivating as I…and the music…I believe it will be as irresistible for you as it is for me.

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Missparker: This is something I tend to ask most of the musicians I interview, because I’m very curious to uncover the “why” behind what you do: What made you decide to form a band and perform in front of people?

Tim Cain @ the original Boys’ Entrance, Chicago, IL

Tim Cain: First of all, Sandy, I want to thank you for your gracious invitation to speak with you. It is a privilege to speak with a fellow traveler in music. We are both devoted to music and I think it feeds our souls. So I feel comforted to know we share a friend, Mr. Marsden and music itself.

My father had a gift. He could play any song on the piano if he heard it. His right hand was where this gift resided. There was a direct channel between his “ear” and his right hand, and he amazed family and friends throughout my childhood.

His left hand was erratic and unguided by his ear. He would bounce back and forth between two or three notes—in time—but not necessarily in key. I suppose he had seen “stride” players play in honkytonks and wanted to emulate their style. But he had never been taught. So, it was a crazy thing to me to watch him, because I had the “ear” as well. I knew how amazing his right hand was, but his left hand drove me crazy.

Years later, I don’t know, maybe I was in my 20s, I callously said, “What are you doing with your left hand? The notes aren’t right.” I never heard him play again, and that is one of my biggest regrets in life. I wish I had just kept my mouth shut. But I opened my mouth and the toad leapt out and there was no taking it back. I know he has forgiven me though.

Missparker: It would be great to have a do-over—I think we all long for that ability at one time or another during our lives.

Tim Cain: I think my whole career—now 45 years—has sprung from my father’s ear. I was always a singer. That came naturally. My proudest moment was when I sang “The Lord’s Prayer” in rehearsals for my sister’s wedding. My mom and dad were sitting in a pew with their backs to me. I sang and the voice that sang through me was astounding. Everyone started to cry. They all turned to watch me, except my dad. When I was done, everyone applauded. My dad sat motionless, until he turned, and I could see he had been weeping. I felt a power I had never known, and I never wanted to stop using it.

My first actual band was called Flyht—our logo was a drawing of Icarus. (Strangely, my husband who is also the bassist in Boys’ Entrance was also in a band about the same time, and it was called Icarus!) So this was about 1975. We covered popular rock songs, and broke up after one show.

“The Wolf Is at The Door” single cover by Julie Perry

My second band was, Talltrees. This band was way more successful. We played around Central Illinois from 1979 – 1986. We appeared on a compilation album of bands from Champaign/Urbana. We had two major labels express interest, and even had a video play on Musicbox Television, (an MTV precursor, in Europe).

I moved to Chicago in 1987 and joined a prog-rock band called, Random Axis. I am still friends with two of the guys from that band to this day. In fact, the bassist, Tom Heslin plays on our “Tunnelvision” album! That band only lasted a couple of years, though.

That takes me to Boys’ Entrance. In 1991, I traveled to San Francisco and met up with my friend, Jon Ginoli. We had been rivals (as DJs), lovers, and co-workers (in record stores), during our college years.

He played me demos for his new project, Pansy Division. I was blown away by his audacity. The songs were the most blatantly QUEER songs I had ever heard. They were in-your-face and unapologetic. While I was the first queer musician Jon had ever known, my songs were always couched in universal pronouns. He schooled me and dared me to do more with my music. Twenty-eight years later, we are both still at it.

Missparker: What an amazing journey! What can you tell me about the current members of Boys’ Entrance, and have you always had the same line-up with them  throughout the years?

Tim Cain: Boys’ Entrance began as just me on keyboards, bass, & guitar. It was enabled by my Ensoniq VFX workstation. This keyboard is a sequencer, and it allowed me to record my musical ideas and store them on floppy discs. I am on my third VFX as of this interview. This keyboard allowed me to have a three- decade career with this band because, like my father, I have a great “ear” and “right hand.” I cannot play a song on a piano, using both my hands. But I can compose using this tool. My dad never had that option, but I did.

The first “live” Boys’ Entrance band was a trio—my keyboard sequences, and three guitars! We had no drummer, or bassist. All that came from the Ensoniq. It was I,  Cie Fletcher on lead guitar, and Mike Ferro on rhythm guitar. Later we added a percussionist, Amelia Soto.  The band broke up after a few years when Fletcher died of AIDS.

Mike and I continued and brought in a real drummer, Christine Anderson, and a Serbian lead guitarist named Vojo. That lasted a year or two. There was a punk trio version, with drummer Timmy Samuel, Mike, and I. There was a version of the band that incorporated my friends from Random Axis. You can see that version on our Jon-Henri Damski video.

All this took a toll on me. My personal life was always in turmoil. I was depressed and sometimes suicidal. I began preparing to die. I had written a lot of material over the years, so I went to my friend, Timmy Samuel and asked if he would record the songs, to document them. I don’t know if he knew why, but he recorded them all. These are the DEMOcrat records on iTunes. There are actually three—only the “Songs from Tunnelvision” is iTunes.  There is a record of instrumentals, and a record of covers, too. Once the recording was done, I was preparing myself to depart.

MissParker: I am so sorry to hear that—how awful. Obviously, I’m glad that you didn’t depart this lifetime. Is this how you ended up in Tampa?

Billy Ramsey and Tim Cain at David Bowie Is exhibit in Chicago

Tim Cain: Oddly, when my then-partner placed a gun in our home to facilitate my departure, I realized the problem was my life in Illinois. I fled to St. Petersburg, and have never been happier in my life. I met my husband, Billy Ramsey. I completed the Tunnelvision album with his help in 2016. When the rock opera was produced at Studio@620 in St. Pete in 2017, we were the “pit band” for 8 performances and were singled out by critics as being “amazing.” We were nominated that year in Creative Loafing’s “Best of the Bay” awards as Best Local Band.

The band has had a few guitarists since we began in Florida, but now has solidified into the current lineup: Billy and I, drummer John Spinelli, and lead guitarist Keith Otten.

Missparker: I think I know one of them, but who are your influences, and why?

Tim Cain: Yes, you and I share an avatar in David Bowie. He dominates my aesthetic, musically and artistically. As a songwriter, I emulate his atmospheres, but not his subject matter. I tend to bounce between the poetic and political—much more definitive than Mr. Bowie. But I would say I am filtered through the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, T Rex, Cars, Devo, Talking Heads, and more.

Missparker: Personally, I always find this type of question difficult to answer, and sort of stupid. But, I think it gives people some insight into what makes a person tick, so bear with me. If you were marooned on Mars and only had 5 albums with you, which ones would they be?

Tim Cain: Oh dear! Well here goes: Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane,” Beatles’ “The Beatles” (White Album), Prince’s “Sign of the Times,” Stevie Wonder’s “Songs In The Key of Life,” and Brian Eno’s “Another Green World.”

Missparker: I love the glam look you project onstage. You seem perfectly comfortable with it and well-suited for it. Who does your make-up and clothing?

Tim Cain: You are so sweet, Miss P. I am guilty of my costumes and make-up.

Missparker: Who writes your music? Is it a solo effort, or collaboration?

Tim Cain: I am the sole writer of Boys’ Entrance.

Missparker: What inspires your music? In other words, where do you gather the ideas that you translate into aural artistry?

Tim Cain: Sandy, I believe I am a conduit for music from elsewhere. I am also a filter—so I influence the outcome. When I am in a situation where I have a receptive band, and the ability to record, 7 songs pour into (or out of) me. Once the band learns those 7, seven more will come. It is not always 7, but this is frequently the case. I have experienced riding a bicycle and having a song hit me in the face as though I rode through a spider’s web—the music and words—all at once. Back in the day, I would carry a tape recorder with me and capture the songs as they came. Today it is easier with cell phones.

Frequently, when I am drawn to the Ensoniq, I go into a trance, and the whole song is completed without my remembering how it came to be. I think I am channeling—who knows who—maybe my Dad? Maybe Fletcher? I don’t know. If you listen to the song “Hush” on my “In Through The Out Door” record, that is a one-take trance song.

Missparker: That’s amazing. Additionally, does the current disarray so prevalent in our own world also fuel the creativity as a pressure-valve release, so to speak?

Tim Cain: I sometimes brood over a song or a theme for a very long time.  Case in point is a new song that took a decade or so to write. The song is called, “Chant For The Hauntlings” and is about the spirits of all the animals I pray for when I pass their lifeless bodies along our roads. I pray, “ God bless you sweet spirit. Return to the Mother. Return to the Light.” That is the chorus to the song. It will be on my next solo record, I think. So yes, I frequently write about ecology, politics, and spirituality. The songs help crystalize my feelings about life.

Missparker: You’ve shared that you’re working on a collection of David Bowie covers, along with covers of other well-known glam bands and singers. What led you to go in that direction?

Tim Cain: While we are rated the #1 Alternative Rock band in the region on Reverbnation—one of the most amazing reasons I love Florida—the music venues are not geared toward original music. I thought it might be easier if we did our own spin on Glam rock. So I came up with the term, 21st Century Glam Rock. We can play the “tribute band” circuit.

Boys’ Entrance LIVE, cover of China Girl

Missparker: How did you decide which songs and artists to cover?

Tim Cain: Our new project is called, Bowie’s Entrance, and it is all music inspired by Bowie from the 70s, 80’s 90’s and 2000’s.

Missparker: What can we expect to see from Boys’ Entrance over the next 5 years?

Tim Cain: First up, we have a new live album called, “Boys’ Entrance presents, Bowie’s Entrance.” We recorded it this month live in a studio—12 songs in 5 hours and the band is astoundingly good. This is the 42nd anniversary of the release of “Heroes”.  So you know we had to record it. The result is amazing. It sounds so alive. All of the songs do. That is what this is all about- keeping the music alive! It is so good to hear it as an audience hears it. Thereafter, who knows? I am sure we will continue recording original music—I have too many sitting around.

Boys’ Entrance LIVE 2015, cover, All The Young Dudes

Missparker: What advice would you give to aspiring singers and musicians? How would that advice differ for members of the LGBTQ community?

Tim Cain: PLEASE, do it if it is important to YOU! Don’t do it for external reasons. Make it MEAN something. Content is key. As for the LGBTQ audience, I wrote music for them for 30 years. They never wanted to hear any of it because it was rock. We have always been more popular with straight audiences because they like rock. Oddly enough, our most popular song with straight audiences is “Mr. Sissy.” I don’t know if it is the novelty of hearing someone say those words, or the defiance in the song. I don’t suppose it matters. For some reason they love it.

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I’m very grateful to Tim Cain for his time and his gracious insight. Please get acquainted with, and show your support for Tim, Boys’ Entrance, and this wonderful musical experience.

www.boysentrance.com

www.reverbnation.com/boysentrance

Experiencing David Bowie Through His Friends and Former Bandmates

On Friday night March 15, 2019, my friend Sharon and I had the great pleasure of attending “A Bowie Celebration” at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall in Ponte Vedra, FL. This was actually our second time in attendance, with the first exactly a year ago at the Plaza Live in Orlando.

I am so grateful that we decided to attend the event once again. Something felt a bit “off” last year–in fact, after comparing notes with fans who attended in Ft. Lauderdale a year ago, it seems the Orlando show was abruptly cut off, making it about 30 minutes shorter than the South Florida performance. It still rated very highly with me, and the line-up of musicians was brilliant.

The same can be said for this year’s performance. March 15’s show featured Mike Garson, Carmine Rojas, Lee John, Charlie Sexton, Earl Slick, Bernard Fowler, Corey Glover, and 2 wonderful back-up vocalists/percussionists Naia Kete and Imani Elijah.

Sharon and I arrived an hour early for the meet and greet, but instead of being bored, we met some wonderful new friends (Jana, Kiera, and a fashionable, very cool couple who drove up from Vero Beach), and Carmine Rojas came outside just to chat. He was warm and friendly and made us feel so welcome after a LONG (nearly 3 hours in traffic) drive.

When the time finally came, the VIP group (about 8 of us) were invited in for special swag (T-shirt, tote, pins, laminate badge and signed poster) and to witness the sound check. It’s hard to find the right words to describe the elation at seeing the band honing their craft onstage. These were people who had actually performed with David Bowie, or were super fans themselves who wanted to honor his music. We were allowed to watch the rehearsal/soundcheck for about 30 minutes. Then, Mike Garson and Carmine remained onstage as the others retired to their dressing rooms. I have to admit I was a bit disappointed, because I really wanted to meet Slick, Sexton, Fowler, Glover, et al. But the warm welcome we received up onstage with Mike and Carmine soon alleviated any feelings of disappointment.

After we had a chance to meet these two great musicians and have our pictures taken with them, we were ushered to the swag area where we were given a bonus gift–a limited edition numbered poster especially created for the concert in Ponte Vedra. It features a reproduction of the famous, iconic “Bowie Mugshot” from his arrest in Rochester, NY in 1976. I had it framed within hours of returning home and will treasure it always.

The show–here’s where it becomes REALLY difficult to find the words. Trying not to sound cliched by utilizing tired, over-used adjectives, and failing miserably– the performance was outstanding, fantastic, awe-inspiring, emotional, energizing, breathtaking, magnificent…it was everything the 300 or so in attendance could ever hope for it to be. I loved the fact that the venue was small and intimate. Because there were only a few seats placed along the walls, most of the group was up on their feet and dancing in front of the stage the entire time. I know I was–days later I can still feel the soreness–but it was so well worth it.

I have blogged before about how David Bowie saved my life. As trite and banal as that sounds, it’s the truth. To hear Garson, Rojas, Slick, Sexton, Fowler, et al perform the music that shaped my world over 40 years ago, and that still helps me to get through each day, was absolutely exhilarating. Bernard Fowler and Corey Glover did extreme justice to the songs they sang by making them their own and not trying to copy/imitate Bowie. Charlie Sexton and Earl Slick absolutely killed the guitar solos with Sexton’s added bonus of his beautiful and impassioned singing on several of the night’s songs. Lee John and Carmine Rojas were phenomenal in bringing their rhythm and bass expertise into each and every piece, along with Naia and Imani (and a guest percussionist who joined later in the performance).

And Mike Garson…what can be adequately stated about his obvious love of Bowie, his poignant anecdotes, his killer piano performances? I mean, seriously, this is the man who gave us the masterpiece piano solo in 1974’s “Aladdin Sane” that blew even Bowie away. Because of Mike’s genuine love of his friend, mentor, fellow musician, and maestro, we have the privilege of hearing Bowie’s music performed live in a way that I know is making Mr. Bowie himself smile, laugh, and dance up in heaven.

Thank you Mike Garson, and all of the accompanying musicians, for something I will cherish for the rest of my life.

 

Happy Birthday Starman – 2018

(c) Mick Rock

I tend to measure my life in milestones–when Dan passed away, the subsequent annual memorial, and his birthday–and since that awful day in January two years ago, I’ve added David Bowie’s birthday and the day of his passing. Today marks what would have been David Bowie’s 71st birthday. Wednesday will mark the second anniversary of his death.

Today is a celebration. Wednesday will be a day of deep mourning and reflection. David Bowie did, after all, save my life. To many people, that’s a source of irritation–how can you mourn someone that you never knew? But Bowie’s fans did indeed know him. He was whatever we needed him to be–a mentor, a trail-blazer, a validator–he fit many, many roles for many, many people. That was the appeal that made him seem to be our own personal friend, family member, and yes, even lifesaver. He easily infiltrated our lives and we gladly accepted him, because he gave our wretched existences value.

Bowie fans understand. They do not judge. They accept every other fan’s reasons for loving a man that formed an important and necessary part of our lives. We don’t ask–we just nod with sage wisdom when another fan shares a Bowie story. It is the special brotherhood that bonds us. And we are blessed to be a part of this massive network.

(c) Sukita

Because we do not celebrate, mourn, or reminisce alone. We are a community that supports one another. This is an enormously important part of David Bowie’s legacy. Something that would have probably made him scratch his head in wonder, but something he would absolutely embrace and endorse, because he loved and respected us all. It was that unconditional flow of love back and forth that kept him in his creative game and kept us putting one foot in front of the other, even when we thought we wouldn’t make it through another day. He felt the strength and love that we freely gave back to him and it allowed him to complete two massive projects–a musical and an award-winning album–just weeks/days before his death. The “Lazarus” musical and “Blackstar” album were his parting gifts to us–the strength and love we collectively channeled to him was our gift back to him.

Happy birthday, Starman. There are no words to describe the love and loss, but please know that the love will be all-enduring even if the loss is nearly suffocating. One very important lesson we’ve learned from your own journey is that we can survive whatever life throws at us–even if it means living in a world that you no longer inhabit. And, we are comforted by the images and music that you left behind–until we meet again beyond the stars.

Life Without David Bowie

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Photograph (c) Mick Rock

It’s hard to believe that it will soon be a year since David Bowie passed from this world into the next–nearly as difficult as imagining, back on that darkest of days in January 2016, what the world would be like without him. Well, we’ve all since gotten a taste of life without Bowie over these past 11+ months, and it hasn’t been pretty. In fact, the whole of 2016 was very much like a poorly behaved child who acts out when he doesn’t get what he wants.

Oh, 2016 you’ve gotten way more than you deserved.

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Bob Masse limited edition giclee

For me, the past year was spent stuffing the recesses of my empty life with music and memorabilia; a futile search for something to make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside–for the psychological spackle that would fill the huge gaping holes in my soul. I busied myself replacing original Bowie vinyl with CDs, building a humongous digital playlist to play over and over, day and night, in an effort to soothe the inner pain and immense feeling of loss. While that helped a tiny bit to take the edge off of the all-consuming grief, I continued my quest for peace by acquiring (somewhat) affordable artwork to display throughout the house, and am currently toying with dedicating a room (my home office) to all things Bowie.

I’m obsessed, much like I was several decades ago when I first discovered this incredible being who made such an impression upon me that it led to the life-altering decision to clean up my act and become a productive part of the human race. A small cog in a big machine, perhaps, but I didn’t end up killing myself, which is what my abusive habits would have surely yielded. And the ultimate prize was being smacked upside the head with the fact that it was OK to be “different.” Not only OK, it was downright cathartic. All because of one impossibly talented and other-worldly creature named David Bowie who flounced into my life on red patent leather platform boots, dressed in the finest of glam, and adorned with the most exquisite make-up palette ever. Even when he eventually eschewed the glam accoutrements, and let his inner Bowie shine brightly, he was always a vision of beauty, peace, and artistry untouched by any other.

tattoo_finishedI’ve spent hundreds of hours poring through YouTube videos, watching classic David Bowie performances, interviews, and cameos and collecting photographs from the Internet. I’ve invested in limited-edition artwork heralding Bowie’s physical beauty, in an effort to always remember him in a perfect light, frozen in time. My first-ever tattoo, inked last May, is a Ziggy caricature along with Blackstar, signifying the “beginning” to the “end.” I even brought Ziggy Stardust photographs to the nearby hair salon and asked for a Ziggy-esque shag. I’ve not yielded quite yet to the ginger color, but that may be achieved in the not-too-distant future.

Even though I continually strive to acquire Bowie-related “things,” something is obviously missing–because I still feel like shit. I felt much the same way when my husband Dan died over 4 years ago, and I should have known from experience that it never does get better, no matter what the “cure” appears to be. But, I honestly thought that with Bowie the hurt would ease up much faster because, after all, I didn’t know him personally. Or perhaps I did–more than I could ever have imagined.

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Photograph (C) Jimmy King

David Bowie laid himself open, raw and uncensored, physically and spiritually, for all to see and to share. He let us glimpse into the darkest reaches of his soul through his music, his numerous interviews, his recollections, his personal relationships, his vast collections of books and art, his collaborations, his frustrations, his passion, and his unequaled genius. We all knew him intimately, because he allowed us into his life. It was a bit of a shock when he backed away from the spotlight for nearly a decade, but we also understood, because he made us privy to how much he loved his family and wanted more time with them. The only thing he decided not to share with us was that he was dying. Why? Only David Bowie knows for sure, but I think he wanted to spare us, and him, the worry and despair that such news would bring. Instead, he decided to throw himself into everything he had the strength to tackle, and allowed us to go along blindly and naively with our own lives, without the burden of opening the news each day to see if the end had come.

So, when it came, it hit us hard. We weren’t prepared. But even if we had known, it still would not have prevented that huge, sucking hole that opened up in the universe and swallowed our Starman, catapulting him out of our lives and into a dimension that we, the living, can never fully comprehend. He may be physically gone, but his legacy lives on–through his vast music catalog, his images, both video and still, his band mates, his friends, his family, and of course, through us, his devoted fans.

And, I’ll continue to build my own personal collection of Bowie memorabilia, knowing fully that it will never make me feel completely whole again; but also understanding that if I can’t have the flesh and blood Bowie in my little corner of the universe, the tangible mementos of his brilliant life will just have to do.

How a Starman (David Bowie) and a Hero (DanBH) Validated My Life

David-Bowie-1974Nearly four months on, and I am still trying to grasp the concept of a world without the physically comforting cosmic genius of David Bowie. But, that’s nothing new for me. It has been 3 years, 8 1/2 months since my late husband Dan passed, and I’ve not really moved on from that. Sure, I’ve changed jobs (and subsequently returned to my original company), moved residence, resumed most of my creative interests…but the grieving process seems to be stuck. It must be the stuff I’m made of.

One thing I’m usually very good at is blocking the bits of my past life that are dark, desolate, and decidedly depressing. David Bowie’s death dredged that stinking muck back up and forced me to confront it head on. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, because now I’ve been able to let go of a lot of repressed anxiety born of stuffing ungodly visions deep down the memory hole. But, it was a thousand times more painful than satisfying.

Thirty-five+ years ago (a lifetime for many), the lifelong feelings of being a misfit in an un-accepting world reached a head. I found an artificial way to cope, which involved ingesting large amounts of illicit substances. The chemical cocktails made me perceive the world to be a place where I actually fit in, felt productive, and gave me a sense of purpose. Little did I know (or want to believe) that the sense of purpose would end up being a daily visceral drive to find new heights of chemically-induced bliss. The miracle in all of this is that I lived through it. That’s where Mr. Bowie comes in.

With no Internet at my disposal back then, I received music news in bits and pieces from magazines and Bowie_smile_3television (MTV was in its infancy stages). I “discovered” David Bowie late-70s and just prior to sinking to my lowest point. I remember reading a story about how he had been in a similar mess, but had the stones to walk away from it and clean up his life. Not only was he creating and delivering superior music, he was having a ball finding himself, a quest that would end up being a lifelong journey. I so admired his strength and his ability to slip seemingly effortlessly through the world; not as a knock-off wanna-be clone, but as himself. Decidedly misfit, but happy in his own skin.

I started sleeping in front of the stereo, Bowie vinyl platters piled high, listening through huge headphones, lulled to sleep by endless stories of struggle, (at times) defeat, and redemption. His poetic verses described cold, unfriendly worlds, damning events, uncaring accomplices, herculean trials–but they always had a glimmer of hope, a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel, and a sense of purpose in a chaotic world unsympathetic to those who refuse to walk lockstep to the boringly predictable drumbeat.

Bowie_Serious_1Eventually, I, too found the stones to walk away from certain self-destruction, and into the light of the satisfaction of knowing that yes, I’m “different,” but it doesn’t matter what the world thinks of me, as long as I somehow make the world a better place for others. That’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it?

I had a setback a decade later, following a divorce and entering into an abusive relationship. Bowie’s music was forbidden in the new household, lauded as “fag crap,” and only the Rolling Stones (I wonder if Mr. Sensitive knew that Mick and David had had a dalliance) and ZZ Top were allowed. Thank God I had the presence of mind to hide away and hang onto my Bowie vinyl. I remained in that nightmare of a relationship for 5 very long years (queue up Bowie’s “Five Years” here) until I met the second hero of this maudlin story, my late husband Dan. But sadly, I had lost touch with Bowie’s world. I knew he had gotten married, and was still making music, but not much more beyond that. I had been too busy trying to survive by not poking the hornet’s nest.

Dan_Christmas_1999With Dan, another of life’s misfits and a kindred spirit, came a sense of renewal. Not only had I been given a second chance, but now a third, and I was not going to muck it up. He was truly my soul mate, the one that my bad choices put me on the right path to meet. He, too, was a Bowie fan, but we both were bogged down with work and trying to stay afloat financially. We moved from FL to GA and then back to FL, all in the span of 6 years. Life was busy, and something was wrong with Dan’s health, so it became challenging and a balancing act that consumed most of our free time. David Bowie suffered a heart attack in 2004, and Dan had his in 2005. Along with Dan’s attack came the grim news that he also had a rare and incurable vasculitis disease called Churg Strauss Syndrome. The two heroes in my life were forced to make life-altering decisions at almost the same time.

I made it my quest to ensure the remainder of Dan’s life had a note of quality and dignity. He died August 21, 2012 after a courageous struggle. Part of me died with him, but I am convinced his spirit walks with me, overseeing many of my decisions and helping me through the rough spots. David Bowie started releasing music a year later (2013) after a long hiatus to be with his beloved family. The floodgates opened for him and remained open until January 10 of this year, right up to the end. He and Dan shared something very special. They refused to accept death as a possibility, and especially not an end,  and for that reason both of their spirits shine brightly among the stars, still very much a part of this life and those who loved them.

Shortly after Bowie’s death, which was incredibly and personally devastating, I started replacing my vinyl, and ripping the CDs to my computer (which has a decent speaker system). I also filled in a few of the missing pieces and put together one helluva playlist. I have been sleeping to it every night (and playing it every day while working) for the past 3 months, and that has been what keeps the decades-old demons at bay.

During those moments when I can see clearly through the haze of grief, I consider myself very lucky, indeed, to have 2 such incredibly gifted and “different” angels watching over me for whatever time I have left on this world. After that, I will make it my eternal mission to follow them both to the ends of the universe.