Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Do you remember your President Nixon
Do you remember the bills you have to pay
Or even yesterday?
--David Bowie, "Young Americans" (1975)

I'd have to say, yup ... yup ... yup. But the other question asked by Bowie's song is: "where have all papa's heroes gone?" Well, a few of them have birthdays this week. David Byrne turned 55 on Monday, May 14th, Brian Eno turned 59 on Tuesday, May 15th, and Robert Fripp turned 61 today, Wednesday, May 16th.

The Bowie lines occurred to me because I also remember 1979 when all three of papa's heroes could be found on one of my favorite records of the year: Talking Heads' Fear of Music. Eno produced three Heads albums, 1978-80, but he also was a feature on two Bowie albums in 1977, and Fripp played memorably on Bowie's "Heroes" album (that riff on the title song, in case you don't know) and on Lodger and Scary Monsters. Fripp and Eno collaborated on several albums, and Eno and Byrne collaborated on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts in 1980. These three guys helped to define what came to be called the "art-rock" of the late '70s/early '80s, a New Wave-y treatment of what might otherwise be called "prog-rock." Fripp was an early exemplar of the latter with his band King Crimson, particularly the years 1969-73, but with the addition of Adrian Belew (who played on the Heads' 1980 album), Crimson became noticeably more Heads-y on Discipline (1981). Eno got his start with the glam-prog band Roxy Music in 1972, but his solo recordings of '73-'78 are still the must-haves of his career, in particular Taking Tiger Mountain (1974) and Another Green World (1975), but it's "King's Lead Hat"(1978, a scrambling of the letters of Talking Heads) that notes his fruitful association with the band.

Where are they now? Byrne's got a blog, but I haven't heard new music from him since 2004's Grown Backwards, not bad but not as good as the excellent Look into the Eyeball (2001). Eno's album of 2005, Another Day on Earth, is reminiscent of his Another Green World era. Fripp's most recent King Crimson album was in 2003, which wasn't as good as the album of 2000. I've seen the latest incarnation of Crimson perform three times, 2000-03, and will generally avail myself of any opportunity to hear the Frippster play live. Rock guitar gods are dwindling...

Still, what I associate most with these guys: becoming enamoured of Fripp's acoustic guitar work on Lizard and Islands in the mid-70s, and of course those patented distorted riffs of the "Larks' Tongues" songs; finding in Byrne's Heads of '78-'83 THE definitive cool music of the times, quirky, arty, fun, sufficiently estranged but not in too dark a manner; finally getting around to Eno's solo albums in '82 and finding in them the perfect music to compliment some of the artier sounds of the time, like King Crimson's return to form with Beat, Kate Bush's astounding The Dreaming, Peter Gabriel's advanced Security, and of course the career pinnacles not yet come down from of the Heads' Remain in Light ('80) and Bowie's Scary Monsters ('80).

Maybe this is all just to remind me that the early part of the '80s was actually interesting -- thanks largely to these three birthday boys of May.

The other musical question Bowie asks, famously, is: "ain't there one damn song that can make me break down and cry?" Actually, the last one that came close was Greg Brown's "Where is Maria?" sometime in the late '90s -- but that's another story...

1 comment:

Andrew Shields said...

For me, it's Louis Armstrong singing "It's a Wonderful World". Along with a bunch of Greg Brown songs! :-)