Our Unique David Bowie Experiences

We can agree on why we all miss him. But we can’t agree on his best work. And that is beautiful.

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David Bowie passed away two days ago after an 18-month battle with cancer. I have never been so sad and shocked at the death of an entertainer, which took me a bit by surprise. I’ve never considered myself a Bowie expert or anything, but I’m realizing just how strong of a personal connection I had to the man and his music.

Why do we miss him so much? I think we can agree on a few reasons.

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Sufjan Stevens and Our Parallel Memories of Eugene, Oregon

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Sufjan Stevens and I share something in common: we both grew up spending summers in Eugene, Oregon. I used to go with my family to visit my grandparents, uncle, aunt, and cousins, often for weeks or months at a time. Stevens went to stay with his mother and stepfather for a few years, from the ages of 5 to 8.

The instant I heard that Stevens’ new forthcoming album, Carrie & Lowell, would center around Oregon, a rush of excitement flooded me (there was even a track specifically called “Eugene!”). Stevens obviously has a history of paying tribute to different states, and so I looked forward to putting the album on and letting Stevens’ always-exquisite songwriting take me on a trip back to a place that I hold dear. I knew that the album would also deal with the death of Stevens’ mother, but I subconsciously pushed that to the back of my mind. I wanted to focus on Oregon.

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The Major Rise and Minor Fall of Danger Mouse

How my favorite producer’s impeccable musical taste and respect for history has been both his biggest strength and biggest weakness.

danger mousePhoto: Dave Lichterman, KEXP

“It was not my intent to break copyright laws. It was my intent to make an art project.”

If the Beatles had The White Album and Jay Z had The Black Album, that’s just asking for a Grey Album, right? Brian Burton thought so. Now, over twenty albums and three Grammys later, Burton, otherwise known as Danger Mouse, has been proclaimed not just “Producer of the Decade,” but one of the most influential people of the 21st century so far. Hyperbole? Yeah, probably. But he has certainly been one of the most influential people to me. He has created both chart-topping hits and critically-acclaimed masterpieces. In my opinion, he has even claimed a spot alongside George Martin and Rick Rubin in the pantheon of transcendent music producers.

However, something troubling has developed over the past two years — lately, Burton has been coasting in neutral. Where his production was once fresh and original, it has gradually become a little stale and overbearing. It’s something we need to analyze.

Burton’s career can be broken up into four phases:

  • Phase I: Danger Mouse the Hip-Hop Producer
  • Phase II: Danger Mouse the Genre-Blender
  • Phase III: Danger Mouse the Excellent Neo-Psychedelic, Ambient, Indie Rock Producer
  • Phase IV: Danger Mouse the Stale and Overbearing Neo-Psychedelic, Ambient, Indie Rock Producer
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    Leon Bridges, ‘Selma,’ and the Mini-Revival of 1960’s R&B

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    One of the unsung strengths of the recent film Selma is its soundtrack. With the exception of the celebrated, Oscar-winning, gospel-rap of John Legend and Common’s “Glory”, Selma is full of of 1960’s rhythm & blues that succeeds at being both understated and evocative. No huge hits are used, but the music still expertly and thoroughly channels the spirit of the American South during the 1960’s.

    Two of my favorites from the soundtrack are the slow-churning, sweaty R&B of “Ole Man Trouble” by Otis Redding, and the spare, acoustic blues of “Alabama Blues” by J.B. Lenoir, as he sings “I never will love Alabama / Alabama seem to never have loved poor me.” The songs’ lyrics give us a glimpse into the oppression felt by black Americans in the South, and you can almost feel the heat and humidity in the music.

     

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