Note: This feature was original published in April 2014.
#RealLife is a monthly feature where Consequence of Sound staffers join forces with a diverse cadre of writers to share personal stories inspired by one legendary album. Some may be inexorably linked to the album itself, others may just share its themes, tone, and atmosphere. Regardless, they’re all real.
David Bowie may have been ready to retire Ziggy Stardust after 1973’s Aladdin Sane, but Ziggy wasn’t content to dissipate with the glam-rock trend that had conjured him. His bright red shock-top appears on the cover of Diamond Dogs, Bowie’s first post-Ziggy record, and traces of his persona can be heard on the title track and, of course, the ubiquitous “Rebel Rebel”. The merging of these with the plastic soul of “Rock n’ Roll With Me” and “1984” mark Diamond Dogs as an important transitional record in Bowie’s discography, one that’s essential to understanding the man as an artist.
The songs on Diamond Dogs turn 40 this week. That’s 40 years of concerts and parties, road trips, and cover bands. And after so much time, these songs become more than just music; they become wallpaper for your brain. To celebrate this milestone anniversary, we’re scouring that wallpaper in search of the stains, rips, and tears made by our memories. This is #RealLife.
Future Legend/Diamond Dogs
By Ian Belknap
And in the death, as the last few corpses lay rotting in the slimy thoroughfare…
Re-listening to these dolesome opening strains, sounding like some dystopian cabaret in the sewers of Berlin or something, I am struck by the gulf (in discernment, in your capacity to forgive excess, etc.) that opens up inside you between your first encounter with a thing you come to love and the version of you that you eventually become. The years have put many miles of hard road in my rearview since I first goth-wallowed in the dank expanse of “Future Legend”, which in a minute-eight succeeds in evoking a fully realized, if overwrought, world.
I was like eight when Diamond Dogs was first released in 1974, so I remained unaware of it till a few years later, when I emerged as a smug know-it-all shitheel teenager. As I listen to this first track now, as a smug, know-nothing, grown-ass man, I toggle back and forth between my then-self, whose mind was blown (“he really GETS the world, man”) by the line “fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats” and my current self, who hears “10,000 people-oids” and can’t help thinking Bowie’s coasting on that singular British ability to intone malarkey-rubbish with convincing gusto. Because, let’s be honest: this is like an ass-hair away from Austin Powers-style self-parody.
What continues to lay claim to my mind after all these years, though, is this: the transition between “Future Legend” and the title track; restive crowd noise, then “This ain’t rock and roll, this is… genocide!” is one of the single rocking-est song lead-ins ever committed to vinyl. The sad fact is that the song itself fails to deliver on this promise. It’s essentially six minutes of mid-tempo letdown. Which, as I listened to these two tracks for the first time in a long while, drove home a sad reality of living. Too frequently, the artistic haymaker of your youth that snapped your head back and rocked you on your heels, proves to be, when thrown in adulthood, a weak jab or faltering left cross.
The good news: you’re not the dupe you were as a dewy-eyed child. The bad news is you’re generally less dazzled and blown away. By pretty much anything. Part of what you sacrifice by growing smarter and more skeptical is that wonder and amazement that spread around you like a wide, wide meadow when you were young. That meadow shrinks with time to a patch about as big across as a dish towel.
On the face of it, this is grisly as hell. But actually, when you think about it, this dish towel-sized patch of amazement is greater and more sustaining than the wide, wide meadow, because the totality of the less frequent amazement here on the dish towel patch is more full and satisfying than any of the dimly remembered and shabby contents of the meadow.
By Zac Thompson
In ancient epic poems, there always seems to come a point where the hero has to undertake a journey to the underworld—a moldering, mirthless place where shadowy figures shuffle around, speaking in hushed, doleful tones. To me, it sounds an awful lot like this one gay bathhouse I first visited in my early twenties.
It reeked of mildew and marijuana, and, except for the steam room, there was soggy carpeting throughout. You had to walk on it with your bare feet, too, because at bathhouses you’re not supposed to wear anything but the scratchy white towel they hand you at the front desk, presumably so that we can all keep up the illusion that we’re there for nothing more than a therapeutic shvitz.
Odysseus and Aeneas get all fearful and weepy in Hades; I recall feeling repelled, horny, and deeply embarrassed, all at the same time (and there’s my twenties in a nutshell for you). The interior was eerily silent, not because it was devoid of patrons but because they had reverted to the pre-Grindr mode of wordless cruising—lots of smoldering glances and sustained eye contact.
The exception was a garrulous, fiftysomething guy with the build and head-to-toe auburn fur of an orangutan. When I passed by him, he launched into a carnival-barker pitch about his unseen boyfriend. They had a private room, he said—a key was dangling from an elastic band around his bicep—and the boyfriend was about my age and the orangutan would love to introduce us. “Maybe you’ll think he’s attractive,” he said with a little who-knows shrug. “I think he’s attractive. Maybe you will, too.”
He opened the door to their room with an air of showing me the merchandise, and I saw that the display of modesty in the hallway was just for show. Because the boyfriend was flat-out beautiful—blond, beamish, and way out of my league. I did not, however, dive right into the three-way implicitly on offer. I felt put on the spot and a little put off by the prospect of joining the orangutan as he genuflected at the feet of this god from Olympus slumming it among we shades of the underworld.
I said I had to go. Like I was running late for a 3 a.m. dental appointment or something.
The orangutan was annoyed. “What do you want, roses and violins?” And he made a sawing motion across his chest to indicate fiddling.
Not knowing what to say to this, I just sort of slinked away, rejoining my companions aboard our ships and setting out once again upon the wine-dark sea.