So, Scary Monsters was one ending. It took Bowie back down to Earth, even though he still sounded like nobody else; it was lurid and vibrant and emotional all at once; it filtered his past through a new present and crafted a wholly contemporary sound. Maybe it’s too contrarian to argue for it as the best Bowie album, even with its feel of an imagined greatest hits collection. But Scary Monsters is where everything coexisted and still mutated further. It was the album that best captured everything Bowie was about — and it will always be the conduit through which everything travelled, all of his old selves folded in and carried forward through the rest of his life.
Three years before he died in January 2016, David Bowie made a list of the 100 books that had fuelled his creative life – from ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ to ‘A Clockwork Orange’, from Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ to John Cage’s ‘Silence’. UK writer John O’Connell has done the reading for us, and in ‘Bowie’s Books’ he explores this list in the form of 100 short essays, revealing their influence on many of Bowie’s greatest songs.
Anna Goldsworthy is a concert pianist, member of the Seraphim Trio and sometime festival director. She has published two volumes of memoir – the best-selling Piano Lessons (2009) and Welcome to Your New Life (2013) – and now her first novel. Melting Moments is not about music, but music is never far away. For one thing, Schubert’s Moments musicaux provide not only the novel’s title, but also its structure.
Goldsworthy discusses the development of a book that is a series of opening, of moments, rather than a narrative arch. This fragmented structure is taken in part from the music of Schubert and the way in which a piece may start in minor only to end in major. Asked about what makes a successful music piece:
Goldsworthy: I wonder whether the mark of a really successful piece of art is that it allows you to dismantle the critical apparatus. You are no longer thinking, how did they do this? You’re just submitting to the experience and then subsequently you might go back to it and look for the mechanics. But I guess I’m just like everybody else, I’m yearning for those moments of transport, of forgetting all the stuff you might bring to your own practice, when you can see the cogs, when you can see the process. There are some very celebrated writers who I still feel when I see their prose that there very much the product of maybe a creative writing program or maybe a whole lot of planning, there is a quality of painting by numbers. I can see the work, and I don’t like seeing the work. But there are some pieces of writing that are just driven and utterly disarm you and take you by surprise. And subsequently you go back and think, how did they do that? Can I do that? Could I learn something from that? But ideally you wish to surrender to the experience in the reading of it, I think.
Ford: Yes, it’s like there’s actors you see them acting, and it can can be thrilling, but then there are actors you don’t notice the acting at all. You just believe.
Goldsworthy: I think that’s the ultimate, the invisibility of technique is probably what we all aspire to on some level. My teacher, Eleonora Sivan, used to say, “A compliment is not that it looks difficult, a compliment is that it looks easy.”
Sivan’s comment reminds me of something from Chilly Gonzales:
The rest of the world experiences music. They don’t care if I’m technically good, they just want to feel something.
In the second half of the podcast, Ford speaks with O’Connell about his book Bowie’s Books: The Hundred Literary Heroes who Changed his Life. He also recounts how David Bowie used to take a library on tour. For example, while filming The Man Who Fell to Earth he had a collection of 1500 books.
On what would be David Bowie’s 72nd birthday, relive one of his best and biggest parties – his star-studded 50th bash at New York’s Madison Square Garden
Added to this are the wealth of guests.
‘The Hearts Filthy Lesson’
‘Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)’ (with Frank Black)
‘Fashion’ (with Frank Black)
‘Hallo Spaceboy’ (with Foo Fighters)
‘Seven Years In Tibet’ (with Dave Grohl)
‘The Man Who Sold The World
‘The Last Thing You Should Do’ (with Robert Smith)
‘Quicksand’ (with Robert Smith)
‘Battle For Britain (The Letter)’
‘The Voyeur Of Utter Destruction (As Beauty)’
‘I’m Afraid Of Americans’ (with Sonic Youth)
‘Looking For Satellites’
‘Queen Bitch’ (with Lou Reed)
‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ (with Lou Reed)
‘Dirty Blvd.’ (with Lou Reed)
‘White Light/White Heat’ (with Lou Reed)
‘Happy Birthday To You’ (performed by Gail Ann Dorsey)
‘All The Young Dudes’ (with Billy Corgan)
‘The Jean Genie’ (with Billy Corgan)