Are there any big-name musicians out there who seem to be universally loved but that you sort of don’t get? Yeah, me too. And it’s always kind of bugged me. So much so that I’ll often revisit the music just to see either what I’ve been missing (maybe a light bulb will finally flicker on) or to confirm my usual feelings.
I had a related discussion with a friend of mine just yesterday. She pointed out that there’s pretty much no accounting for taste. That’s very true. There’s resonance and then there’s anti-resonance, neither of which we have much control over. I mean, I’ve got a friend who doesn’t like Steely Dan because he can’t stand Donald Fagen’s voice. Similarly, I’ve never much liked Roxy Music because of Brian Ferry’s voice. Neither of us are wrong. We just hear that sound…and we don’t like it.
But here’s the one that bugs me, an artist whom I’ve revisited several times: David Bowie. The man’s been around forever. He was all over the radio with all sorts of hits. Hits with staying power — “Space Oddity,” “Heroes,” “Suffragette City,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Fame.” I used to enjoy those songs when I heard them on the radio. A band I used to play in covered “Suffragette City” (because who doesn’t like to sing “Wham bam, thank you ma’am!”?) For some reason though, I never found myself interested enough to go out and buy an album. I’m pretty sure that the only one I’ve purchased over the years was Let’s Dance. I say this and the reaction is usually one of incredulity. “What?! Bowie is awesome!”
After thinking about it for a while (I should say “re-thinking,” since I’m probably up into the double digits at this point) it all comes down to Bowie’s voice. I just don’t hear any humanity or warmth in it. Given the other rock singers I avoid — Peter Gabriel (the Genesis years in particular), Brian Ferry (Roxy, solo), Robert Smith (The Cure…blech!), Peter Murphy (Bauhous…double-blech!), Matt Berninger (The National) — this makes sense to me. If there’s any warmth in there I just don’t hear it. Instead, it’s mostly detachment that I get out of it.
The weird thing about this is that on paper, David Bowie should be right there in my wheelhouse. He’s gone through so many stylistic changes that the eclectic nature of his career should be a huge draw for me. Except that it’s not.
So is there maybe a different point of entry? This time around, I’m going to try the sideman route. Lodger has guitarist Adrian Belew all over it, or so I’m told. That should be (in theory) more important to my ear parts that even the presence of producer Brian Eno. We’ll see. There’s no accounting for taste, right?
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