Hunky Dory, David Bowie
RCA Records, April, 1971
Track Listing: 1. Changes, 2. Oh! You Pretty Things, 3. Eight Line Poem, 4. Life on Mars?, 5. Kooks, 6. Quicksand, 7. Fill Your Heart, 8. Andy Warhol, 9. Song for Bob Dylan, 10. Queen Bitch, 11. The Bewlay Brothers
True story. Once upon a time, on a perfectly bright sunny suburban day, I was sitting in French class when the teacher decided it was okay to say the following to a classmate of mine: “If you don’t believe in God or religion, you will have nothing but strained relations in life. Nobody will want to have anything to do with you.” Now, I’m pretty confident that when she got dressed that morning, Mary Ann (the atheist who this diatribe was directed at) could not have expected to be reduced to tears in front of her peers, least of all by an adult in a position of authority. But to our fearless dictator, Madame Gill, anyone was fair game, especially anyone remotely different from herself. This was the suburbs after all. You just didn’t dare stand out from the crowd. Talk about Queen Bitch!
David Bowie grew up in the suburbs too so perhaps it is not all that surprising that Hunky Dory is a Ziggy-Stardust-spaceship ride millions of miles away from Vanilla Street. Somehow, those ditches dug well beyond the outskirts of the city just couldn’t contain us all. Some just longed for a life a tad more glamorous, honey. Some of us needed sequins, baby!
“No room for me, no fun for you
I think about a world to come”
-from “Oh! You Pretty Things”
It started with a tickle that needed scratching. That was the beginning of an awareness that something (perhaps, me and you) didn’t belong on the conveyer belt. Such is the dreamer’s dream, to hold in their lovely manicured fingers a one-way ticket to a destination unknown.
“Now she walks through her sunken dream
To the seats with the clearest view
And she’s hooked to the silver screen
But the film is sadd’ning bore
For she’s lived it ten times or more”
-from “Life on Mars?”
It didn’t matter where. Anywhere but here. Music offered an invitation to a party where hoboes and homos were at the front of the line. It was a place where you could be anyone you wanted to be.
It’s Warhol actually.
Like punk, glam rock provided an alternative when alternatives didn’t seem to exist. It wasn’t a gimmick, it was a vehicle and Bowie was driving the ship, abducting kids from every last corner of the galaxy, welcoming them with open arms. His own escape from suburban drudgery made him the de facto leader, not that there weren’t others: Eno, Ferry, Alice Cooper, Marc Bolan, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, The New York Dolls. The party list grew and even included artists hidden from the mainstream, like Klaus Nomi, a resident alien hidden in the catacombs of New York’s underground scene. It was Bowie himself who would shine a spotlight on Nomi, asking him to be a backup singer during Bowie’s appearance on SNL, December 14, 1979. Maybe, he did this out of respect for the fact Nomi probably inspired Bowie to give birth to a new other-wordly persona of his own.
“She’s so swishy in her satin and tat
In her frock coat and bipperty-bopperty hat
Oh God, I could do better than that”
-from “Queen Bitch”
In a scene that thrived on diversity, Bowie still managed to separate himself from the pack. He was the head alien. He was the king. And the queen. To pay homage, I highlight Hunky Dory as my favorite Bowie release, even if my words are nothing more than a faint cry from an outpost hidden somewhere on this strange planet Earth.