33 And 1/3 Under 45 – Track Two: The Berlin Trilogy Part 1 – Low

Low by David Bowie

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

Baby, I’ve been breaking glass in your room again

Listen don’t look at the carpet

I drew something awful on it

See you’re such a wonderful person

But you got problems

I’ll never touch you

It’s been a rough month. The only way I can bring myself to describe it is transitional. And my main companion throughout it has been David Bowie. Last month, I talked about why and when I started listening to Bowie, so I won’t reiterate, but the shorthand context is that I just got married and election day came and went. And for this month, I’m going to dive into my favorite era and for the next few weeks, I’ll be covering an album from the Berlin Trilogy.

Up first is Low.

I’m new to the whole Bowie catalog and… lore would probably be the best way to describe the many personas and phases of his career. The first album that really resonated with me was the incredible Station To Station, under his Thin White Duke persona. Which if you don’t know, is an interesting and controversial era for him, when he made a lot of seemingly pro-fascist remarks, which he later attributed to cocaine and drug abuse. Following the end of that era, Bowie moved to the still-divided city of Berlin to escape the toxicity of his lifestyle in LA and work on his next three records with Brian Eno, the first of which is Low.

When I first learned this context, I had already fallen in love with the record, after getting caught in a blizzard with it for a very tense two hour drive home in the snow, but the story behind it made me take a closer look at what Bowie was trying to say. I was soon struck by just how much it really resonated with feelings over the last month. From “Be My Wife.”

Sometimes you get so lonely. Sometimes you get nowhere

Please be mine

Share my life

Stay with me

Be my wife

I hadn’t realized just how much of my anxiety and anger at the world was being scapegoated into the aforementioned wedding and election. I was constantly saying “Once we get through this, we’ll finally have time to…” and “Once this all goes right, I’ll be way better, I promise” to no one but myself. Afterwards, I felt… empty? The wedding was perfect and the election was a wave. Objectively, everything should be great now, but I wasn’t being honest with my problems in the first place. Just like Bowie’s (and America’s) temporary love affair with unchecked fascism, I was putting so much faith in this larger idea to just fix everything without having to actually rectify the issues inside of me. Hoping to be saved left me bottling up a lot of things I’ve struggled with for years, like my anger. I started really retreating into myself, choosing headphones over my stereo and sitting alone in my office instead of working in the open living room. Too often, when I tried to open up, I just found myself in another argument. More often than not they were either my own fault or I was over exaggerating the effect of someone else’s flaws. The next song, “What In The World,” lays it out better than I can.

Deep in your room

Something deep inside of me – yearning deep inside of me

Talking thru the gloom

What in the world can you do?

I’m in the mood for your love

 

I’m just a little bit afraid of you

So what you gonna say and what you gonna do?

Ah, what you gonna be?

I’ve always struggled with a lot of internal rage. At society, at my friends, at my family, the list goes on. I’m always aware that I’m flying off the handle, but I just can’t bring myself to stop. Even when, no, especially when those that I love are the focus, I can’t help it. I hate it, but I’m trying. Throughout Low, Bowie talks a lot about how hard it is to break the toxic cycles that define us, even when you know you’re being watched by those affected. In “Always Crashing The Same Car:”

Jasmine, I saw you peeping

As I put my foot down to the floor

I was going round and round the hotel garage

Must have been touching close to ninety-four

But I’m always crashing in the same car

Structurally, Low is a fascinating album. The first 7 songs are complete, but only just. They’re primarily shorter snippets, some instrumental, that fade out right when you start to get the feel of what Bowie was going for. As soon as I felt the connection and message I was looking for, Bowie leaves, leaving us both with the same problems I had before he started. This happens over and over on the record; I’m never ready to hear the end of a song like “Sound And Vision.”

Pale blinds drawn all day

Nothing to do

Nothing to say

Blue Blue

 

I will sit right down

Waiting for the gift of sound and vision

And I will sing

Waiting for the gift of sound and vision

Drifting into my solitude

Over my head

 

Don’t you wonder sometimes

‘Bout sound and vision?

And the way the album ends is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. The final songs are mostly instrumental (or with atmospheric and often non-English vocals), so I can’t really show you any excerpts here. During the following year’s tour, he opened with the first of these “Warszawa” to make sure the audience was patient and ready to really experience the show (side note, listen to David Bowie: Stage, it might be my favorite live album now). These pieces sound like the perfect soundtrack to my favorite movie, whether it exists or not. They’re somber. They’re complex. They’re so… deep and rich in instrumentation and tone. This is exactly what I’ve been feeling sounds like and that… helps.

The Berlin trilogy’s first entry really means the world to me and really set me up to try to face my issues head on instead of projecting and scapegoating. How’s that going? Next week, I’ll talk about how “Heroes” started to help me answer that question.

Bowie in 77

Care-line driving me – Share bride falling star

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