David Bowie and “Music for Airports”

Monday morning, January 11, 2016

Present tense entry:

I wake up (6:30 a.m.) and check my e-mail. Near the top is a subject line from the Huffington Post: “The Legacy of David Bowie.” A very slight unease seeps up, but I don’t fret as such. Two lines further down, the LA Times puts it bluntly: David Bowie has died. The hastily written Times article, unfortunately, is more of a list of his albums and collaborators than anything else. The bottom of the article lists several links, though, so I go to the NY Times article on Sunday, July 11, 1971. Section D, page 23, and I hit unexpected cultural treasure. No, it’s not the nostalgic prophecy of Bowie’s emergence from the music underground.

Instead, adjacent to the article, which takes up two and a half column inches total and is spread out over one full column and three half-columns, are two advertisements taking up the entire rest of the page, both ads featuring one of the following:
A) a used car dealership announcing its first clearance sale of 1970 models
B) a grocery stores chain with specials on fish and coffee
C) a record store and audio equipment outlet
D) a furniture store announcing 25% percent off sale on Lazy-Boy recliners

If you guessed “C,” then you astutely asked yourself who would most likely be supplying the money for the NY Times to write a check to the author of the article on Bowie and Marc Bolan that allows the Times to call itself something other than an advertising circular. (In case you didn’t know, a publication must feature a certain percentage of its page space as “news” or “public information” in order to qualify as a newspaper. The current LA Weekly is a fine example of a publication that strives to meet that minimum and print nothing else beyond that that might require someone be paid for it; in order words, maximize the ratio of advertisements to news articles in order to increase the profit of each sheet of paper.)

“The World’s Largest Record and Audio Dealer” is the claim for the Sam Goody ‘ad’ (the word is put in quote marks), which you must bring with you in order to take advantage of the following special:
6 Days Only
from July 12 through July 17
Every LP and Pre-Recorded Tape
EVERY LP and PRE-RECORDED TAPE (bullet) in OUR HUGE
INVENTORY of THESE SEVEN TOP LABELS
• COLUMBIA * BUDDAH * KAMA-SUTRA
• ANGEL * HOTWAX* CURTOM* SUSSEX
ALL AT THE EXTRA SPECIAL SALE PRICE OF 25% OFF OUR LOW EVERDAY STORE SALE PRICES
•NEW RELEASES, SPECIAL AND LIMITED EDITIONS ON THE SEVEN LISTED LABELS ARE INCLUDED.

(It should be noted that one band does receive some publicity in the advertisement: BLOOD, SWEAT, & TEARS runs in a vertical banner along the left hand side of the larger ad, accompanied by a smaller ad for audio equipment. Beneath the above promotional offer there is also the following announcement: “Now available on Angel Records” “The Musical Enchantment of the Year” – Peter Rabbit and Tales of Beatrix Potter.)

The prominence of labels in this advertisement rather than individual musical artists suggests that its target audience (the record-buying public, i.e., customers who might make use of an American Express, Master Card or Uni-Card credit line) is familiar with those labels enough to know that the music they want to get a bargain on is included in this sale. That labels are advertised in the sale rather than individual artists suggests something about the cultural work being done by the record companies that deserves more attention, in much the same way that book publishers need to be the through-line of surveys of literature.

* * *
In memory of David Bowie, I am not playing any of his songs as I finish this post and prepare to load it onto my blog. Instead, I have his collaborator Brian Eno’s Music for Airports playing. If one were to write about Bowie as an artist at any length and with any substantial appreciation, it would behoove those who do so to spend time addressing the projects of those he collaborated with instead of isolating Bowie in the obstreperous cocoon of pop music adulation.

“I am a DJ / I am what I play.”
Here’s what I’d play today after Eno, and then after this baker’s dozen of a set list, Eno again.

“Rebel, Rebel”
“Cracked Actor”
“Under Pressure”
“Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)”
“Panic in Detroit”
“Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”
“Candidate”
“Starman”
“Breaking Glass”
“The Jean Genie”
“Ashes to Ashes”
“Hang on to Yourself”
“Heroes”

Post-script added 12 or so hours later:
Music as gestural poetry, and lyrics that gestured with music. All on a very intelligent, visceral level. He was a masterful accomplice of accessible astonishment.