Rich Wilhelm

Posts Tagged ‘David Bowie’

New Year’s Thoughts Recorded During My First Listen to a Vinyl Copy of David Bowie’s “Blackstar”

In David Bowie, Music/Opinion on December 31, 2016 at 2:25 pm



Tall Father Christmas was honored to take a few spins on David Bowie’s “Blackstar” album. Santa is happy that Rich’s mom gave him this super cool piece of vinyl for Christmas.


I will admit it: David Bowie’s album, Blackstar, is the only record made in 2016 that I have truly delved into and listened to in depth. Not to go blaming the year 2016 itself — though,  why not? 2016 is being blamed for all kinds of things.– but, for a variety of reasons, this was not a year in which I sought out new music and listened to it often and deeply enough to get a handle on it.

As someone who loves music, and likes to keep up with it, I wish I had been more diligent. As it happens, I’m making up for it now, diving into amazing albums by artists ranging from A Tribe Called Quest to Sturgill Simpson to Loretta Lynn to Solange to Leonard Cohen to Drive By Truckers. And, yes, of course I will give Lemonade a listen. Maybe I’ll write about those albums someday, but for now, I want to focus on Blackstar.

It was my intention to go out and get Blackstar (on CD. I’m still a little backward.) the day it was released, January 8–Bowie’s 69th birthday. That didn’t happen, nor did it happen over the next two days. Then, Bowie was gone.

Even just hours after the awful news of Bowie’s passing had hit, it was becoming difficult to find copies of Blackstar in stores, but I drove up to Plymouth Meeting Mall during my lunch break and found it at the FYE store. I began listening to it on my way back to the office and I’ve been listening consistently to it ever since.

It is important for me to note this: Bowie could be alive and well right now — and don’t we all wish he was? — and I would still consider Blackstar to be a major piece of work. Of course, the circumstances of the album’s creation and release lend a deeper resonance to the songs, but now that Bowie can no longer speak for the merits of Blackstar, the album easily speaks for itself.

Despite that, I think Blackstar might have become an intimidating listen for some people because it was labeled Bowie’s “death” album the moment Bowie died, and once something becomes a death album, some listeners might step away from it.

The truth is, Blackstar is dark and eerie in places. But it also crackles with dark humor at times and the music is spectacularly played by Donny McCaslin and members of his avant jazz group. Bowie’s voice is magnificent, he contributed some nice guitar playing, and his lyrics are as odd and cryptic as ever.

In short, Blackstar is Grammy Album of the Year material and ought to have been a shoo-in for a posthumous nomination. It would have been the most deserved posthumous Grammy award ever, and yet the folks who decide these things felt that Justin Bieber’s latest album needed an Album of the Year nod more that Blackstar did.

Whatever, Grammy people, whatever. And I say this as a guy who doesn’t even have any serious issues with the Biebs or his music.

Can’t let the Grammy’s lack of foresight derail my train of thought though. The seven songs on Blackstar, from the sprawling –and, yes, eerie — title track to the oddly uplifting closing song, “I Can’t Give Everything Away” are well worth hearing here and now and, I think will be well worth hearing 50 years from now. If you’ve heard Blackstar, you know what I’m talking about.  If not, I agree with Bowie: I can’t give everything away about Blackstar. You ought to give it a spin.

I have a feeling that Bowie would have preferred that people simply pay attention to the music on Blackstar, rather than the circumstances under which it was recorded, and I get that. But, particularly on the last day of what many people consider to have been a crummy year, it is worth noting that, when faced with the ultimate deadline, David Bowie got down to the business of being David Bowie.

Of course, that meant writing and recording Blackstar, as well as a musical called Lazarus. I’m sure it meant taking early morning walks through his beloved adopted hometown, New York City, at least when he felt up to it. And, of course, spending time with his wife and daughter. Bowie seemingly spent his final year fully being David Bowie. With Blackstar, we have all benefitted from the fullness of Bowie’s final year, but most of all, I hope Bowie shuffled away knowing he’d made the best use of his time that he could have.

And I’d suggest that could be our challenge for the coming year, and the years to follow. While we all hope to not receive the dire diagnosis Bowie did, each of us will face struggles in 2017. And it’s no secrete that many of us here in the United States are not happy with the incoming presidential administration and are trying to work out our best response to that situation. But if each us reached deep into ourselves and attempted to live the best versions of ourselves, if we each tapped into whatever mysterious force David Bowie accessed during the final year of his life, maybe 2017 won’t be so bad after all.

Happy New Year, people. Let’s do something with 2017. And, thank you David.





16 Posts from 2016

In Uncategorized on December 29, 2016 at 7:03 am


A late December evening, 2016. I add a little stronger peppermint to my peppermint mocha, listen to the most recent works of Wilco, Bob Dylan, and the late great Leonard Cohen, and contemplate my year by strolling through the last 12 months worth of entries in this blog.

Earlier today, the editor of the magazine for which I write (ASTM International’s Standardization News), created a list of the Top 16 stories in this year’s issues. This has given me the idea to do the same with my 2016 blog entries.

As it happens, I sat down at my laptop nearly 40 times this year to say something via Dichotomy of the Dog, so I had to stop and consider which 16 entries might be my favorites, the ones that sum up the year. But the 16 that I link to below–in Casey Kasem countdown format–tie my 2016 together about as well as anything else could.

There is a fair amount of introspection going on in many of these entries and I’ll be the first to note that I am not, of course, the first to note these sentiments. But getting all this down in writing seemed to take on extra importance for me this year, and I’m glad I did it.

If you happened to read some of these entries as I posted them this year, thank you! I truly appreciate your time!

Finally, a warning: a few of these entries are silly. But now more than ever, maybe we need silly.

16. Knee Deep in Knee Deep in the Hoopla. The first entry in a ridiculous and abandoned series of entries written while listening to Starship’s infamous Knee Deep in the Hoopla album. Just because I abandoned this idea does not mean I won’t return to it someday.

15.There Is No Way In Hell I Will Ever Vote for Donald Trump. My political statement of the year. I stand by it, and always will.

14. MonkDay 002. My first blast of post-election weirdness.  More weirdness lies ahead, I’m sure.

13. raspberry strawberry lemon and lime what do I care (Happy Birthday Bob Dylan)  Just a quick few lines, dashed off on Bob Dylan’s birthday. I was happy to be writing about a living musician for a change.

12. Too Much Thyme on My Hands. Originally written years ago, this resonated enough with me this year that I wanted to revive it.

11. I Dream of Hall and Oates. I may have offended John Oates.

10. Sunday Morning Beury/Sunday Morning Lorraine. Chris and I visit cool old buildings, take photos.

9. Shiny Happy People Revisited. Or, “Why I’ll Never Hate ‘Shiny, Happy People’ the Way Some Hardcore Fans Hate ‘Shiny, Happy People.'”

8. Row.And.Stop. Memories of my ninth grade typing class, one of the most useful classes I ever took.

7. Bono at WaWa. Self-explanatory.

6. Laurel Hill Tales #002: Augustus Goodyear Heaton. Some thoughts on one of my favorite “permanent residents” at Laurel Hill Cemetery. Author of “The Amorous Numismatist.” If you like this entry, try William Duane, an early American journalist whose story is relevant to our current sorry state of affairs.

5. Oh What A Week That Was. The week Jimmy graduated high school and Chris was promoted from middle school to high school. A big week.

4. The Somewhat Better. Trying to figure things out and learning to live with a life that might not be the “best” it can be, but is better than it was.

3. Kids Take You Places. In which Chris and I visit abandoned spots and I think about other places he and Jimmy have taken me.

2. The Moments. A song by my friend Cliff and the removal of an ancient tree remind me to “hang on to the moment.”

1. Dear Eighteen-Year-Old at the David Bowie Concert. Of all the celebrity deaths this year, Bowie’s hit me hardest. Though Bowie was so much more than a “celebrity,” of course. Writing this just after Bowie’s January death paved the way for everything else worthwhile that I wrote this year. Also, devastating to think that I needed to write this way about both Prince and Merle Haggard this year as well. Don’t let anyone convince you that the death of an admired artist of any sort won’t have an effect on you.

Dear Eighteen-Year-Old at the David Bowie Concert

In 1983, David Bowie on January 17, 2016 at 3:32 am


Dear Eighteen-Year-Old at the David Bowie Concert,

I can see you clearly, waiting for the show to start. Your seat is behind the stage, not the best view, but the best tickets you could get. You have been to a few concerts before, but have not seen Bowie. It’s the summer between your high school graduation and your freshman year at college. Your mom didn’t want you to get tickets for Bowie’s Serious Moonlight tour, but you bought them anyway. It was a tiny rebel rebellion on your part.

You are at the Spectrum, a legendary Philadelphia showplace where Bowie recorded parts of his live Stage album a few years earlier. The night before or the night after the show you’re attending, Bowie’s crew would film the footage that would become his celebrated “Modern Love” video. Philly crowds love Bowie and the crowd gathered around you at the Spectrum that night in July 1983 is no exception.

You know Bowie’s latest album, the smash, Let’s Dance, and you know the hit singles that appeared on the ChangesOneBowie compilation, but you don’t really know what to expect.

As a matter of fact, there is so much you don’t know about Bowie, and lots of other things, as you sit with your pals Joe and John, wondering what Bowie’s first song will be.

Beyond those big, glittery hits, you’ve never dived deeply into Bowie’s discography. But Bowie and his large, great band would stray beyond the hits that night, leaving earworms that would eventually lead down audio rabbit holes with titles like Low, “Heroes”, Lodger, Station to Station, and Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). Plus, that cover of “White Light/White Heat” would whet your interest in the Velvet Underground and their early proponent, Andy Warhol. And learning about Andy would lead you to learning more about this thing called Pop Art. And so it would go, a single concert leading to a lifetime of discovery.

But you don’t know any of that at the time.

You don’t know, as the lights go down, about a moment that will happen deep into the show. As Bowie performs his Major Tom songs, “Ashes to Ashes” and “Space Oddity,” he’ll enter a large clear plastic tent/spaceship and walk toward the back of the stage, facing you, Joe, John and the other behind-the-stage fans. You’ll be at eye-level with David Bowie at this point and, even though he’s not really looking at you, you’ll feel connected to him in that moment. You’ll think to yourself at that point, “I am going to remember this moment for the rest of my life,” and you will be right.

You don’t know that Bowie and his music will be a constant in your life. Or that you’ll see him live two more times and keep up, more or less, with his work over the years. Some of it will be great, some just so-so, but, as both you and Bowie get older, you’ll appreciate how age did little to dull his creativity. You don’t realize how Bowie will become a model for you for how to grow older with your creativity, enthusiasm and openness to new experiences–to life–intact.

You don’t know that, more than three decades after the show you’re about to see, on a dreary January morning in the 21st century, your wife will say “Isn’t it shocking about David Bowie?,” and when she does, tears will spring to your eyes and you’ll have to sit down for a while to collect yourself. And you don’t know that, as you sit there, you’ll think about how, in the days prior to this awful news, you have talked to your older son–who is 18, the age you were at the concert–about how the new Bowie album was influenced by somebody named Kendrick Lamar.  You’ve also just talked to your younger son about who Ziggy Stardust was.

Most of all, you don’t know how, decades after this concert, you would spend a week mourning—hell yes, it was mourning—David Bowie’s passing by listening, over and over, to Blackstar, a compelling final album released just two days before his death. And by watching, many times, the eerie, provocative video for “Lazarus,” a song from Blackstar. And how listening and watching will get you to thinking about all kinds of things, in much the same way that listening and watching the concert you’re about to witness will get you thinking about all kinds of things.

You don’t know any of this as Bowie hits the stage that night. All you really know is that you think you’re about to experience something pretty damn mind-blowing.

And that is all you need to know.

Take care, and I’ll see you in about 33 years,



Patrick F. O'Donnell

writer, editor, general wordsmith and scribe

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