Thursday 28 January 2016

Worst to Best: Sonic Youth

Worst to Best: Sonic Youth

I could tell you the arduous tale of how I was first abused by the mighty Sonic Youth's apparatus, only to learn after many moons how to connect on their level, and then finally allowing them impregnate me with their carnivorous fungus which grew into my brain and forced them as my favourite band in the world. But I won't bore you with that story, because we don't have enough time or fancy words left in us. However, I will confess this article to be one of the most challenging bits I've ever had to write. This burden was not primarily strenuous due to the group's coarse nature (as I am sure most of you would assume), but rather due to their stubborn sound which doesn't exactly stray too far away from a rough epicentre, building a discography of fairly similar entries which were difficult to individualise and even tougher to order. I mean, there are only so many times one can use the word 'noisy' to describe something, am I right?

Which is why I wasn't initially all that confident about this post's execution whatsoever, spending many nights in a deep worry that the article on hand was far too sloppy to release outloud to the public. But that's when I realised, within the context, 'sloppy' was probably what the band would have preferred after all. And I guess, when it really came down to it, that wasn't the main point. The main point was that Thurston Moore cheated on Kim Gordon, and now Sonic Youth are no longer a band. Personally, I could only deal with my agony though this very cathartic release, and it was the least I could do for them. It was the least I could do for myself.

But first, there is one rule, listen closely. Only full length Sonic Youth studio albums were considered for this list. That means no film scores, no EPs (of which, their self titled debut definitely falls under, regardless of what the band may tell you), and none of those weird SYR releases (because I'm not quite ready for that just yet) were allowed in. If this ruling is satisfactory enough for you, then we are off to a good start! Please forgive me as I wreck everything along the way. Shoot:

Worst to Best: Sonic Youth: 16. NYC Ghosts & Flowers

16. NYC Ghosts & Flowers (2000)

Experimental Art Noise Rock

Unlike anything the band had faced before, NYC Ghosts & Flowers’ birth was immediately treated with a global level of opposition. To some degree, everyone agreed that this monotone offering felt a little less inspired and lazier than the difficult heart attacks we had already paid for, our monitors currently beating at a regular pace, or even flatlining from ... boredom? Sonic Youth? Impossible! That said, time has been good to this lifeless album, as many have weakened their initial stance, sorrowful for their misjudgement, now faster to defend this anxious darkness as one delicately alluring and spooky record rather than any of the direct grotesque pretensions we had perpetually demanded in the past. And I can appreciate both sides of this argument. However, my core problem with NYC is exactly that: the contrasting opinions from fans. When I heard about the quote unquote 'worst Sonic Youth album ever,' I was praying for an unbearable car crash, one where the noise-line was pushed far too far, and the 'terrible' label really hid the word 'terror' beneath. Instead, I found something much neater and polished than anything they’d done previously, which was a refreshing listen by all means, except too ordinary, too normal, and way too insignificant. That said, it did set the pace for the fantastic spree of albums which followed in the 2000s, so I guess we can grant it a little slack there.

Sides: The drastic style change of NYC has been credited to the theft of all Sonic Youth's instruments during a 1999 tour. Certain irreplaceable modified equipment was now gone, forcing the band to start over and write this album using a completely different approach. But even if I hold such a negative opinion over the move, I have to admit the title sums the record up better than I ever could: NY (the birthplace of their sound) Ghosts (haunting and eerie) & Flowers (pretty and graceful). Poetic!

Worst to Best: Sonic Youth: 15. Confusion Is Sex

15. Confusion Is Sex (1983)

No Wave Noise Rock

In many ways, Sonic Youth’s debut is the most dangerous album they’ve ever made. The band were young, and they had absolutely nothing. No money. No label. No one to impress. No one to tell them what to do. And not a goddamn thing to lose. Throw a bunch of experimental misfits like this into a budget studio, and what did you think was going happen? Well, I’ll tell you what happened: the ugliest, harshest, most undeveloped noise from the whole Youth catalogue. They wrecked their tuning by stabbing their instruments with screwdrivers, whilst causing an endless repetitive hum of hypnotic drone until the strain of dissonance could only be cried out as some sorta rambling mess of one excruciating endurance test. And while such a stressful roughness does work surprisingly often in their favour (The Stooges’ I Wanna Be Your Dog cover, for example, is Gordon at her utmost viciously expressive, and if Kurt Cobain heard Shaking Hell back in ‘83, Nirvana would make a little more sense now), it's still repeatedly agreed upon as perhaps the band’s most forgettable album—fearlessly innovative, certainly, but far too unripe to stand against what followed.

Sides: Later copies of this album came with the Kill Yr. Idols EP as a bonus, which was just as intense and amateur, yet an appreciated addition to the experience all the same. Recommended.

Worst to Best: Sonic Youth: 14. The Whitey Album [Ciccone Youth]

14. The Whitey Album [Ciccone Youth] (1988)

Experimental Industrial Noise Rock

Only Sonic Youth could attempt to parody a mainstream disco album and fuck it up so magnificently that it turned out to be the most interesting and experimental release from their entire inventory. Drum machines looped out hip hop beats; synths and samples blurred into the passive guitarwork; and the trademark Youth noise naturally found a way to sneak into the program, leaving us with a band who shed all of their rules (even when they didn’t have that many to begin with), and released the only entry on this list which actually sounds like the era it came from. And yet ... this is not the strangest aspect of The Whitey Album whatsoever. No, what truly sets this exceptionally weird record sideways, is its troubling infatuation with superstar Madonna (the hottest thang back in ‘88). Some of her songs were reinterpreted for the project, her face adorned the cover, and the band actually changed their name to Ciccone Youth (being Madonna’s birth surname) for this release only, which was utterly ridiculous. So, yes, while we can forgivably disregard this piece as essentially a joke album, it is still one perfectly executed joke, and I love it more than most.

Sides: Just to prove how loose this record is, Kim performed Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love at her local karaoke booth, and decided to put it on the album. Who the fuck does that? It’s actually pretty good though, one of the most normal things she has ever sung.

Worst to Best: Sonic Youth: 13. Bad Moon Rising

13. Bad Moon Rising (1984)

Experimental No Wave Noise Rock

Probably the most impressive facet of Bad Moon Rising, is how differently it compares to their Confusion Is Sex debut—especially when considering the mere one year age gap between them. Of course, it’s no secret that the word 'noisy' defines Sonic Youth (which still stands sturdy here), but this was the album where said noise was not shoved out just for the sake of it, but rather, focused into actual songwriting, building a cleaner and more standard musical basis, then only utilising said noise as icing on top ... more or less ... kinda. Such an approach was a drastic step towards the SY we know and love today: less hardcore, but still undomesticated, deranged by an overall bondage of poetic depression and slow horror, all the while exploring the 'dark side of America'. You know, like Charles Manson. Or Satanism. Or Halloween. Or the early European settlers' encounters with Native Americans. Just average stuff like that. Uglify the subject even further with textured segues which work as seamless interludes, connecting the whole dismal atmosphere as one singular unit, and you have the very first Sonic Youth album that feels somewhat important, indicating that these New York degenerates may have been onto something all along.

Sides: This album is as old as me and, yes, it was titled after that Creedence Clearwater Revival song. Some versions of the record came with four bonus tracks, which are a decent enough fit for the most part. I also thought Thurston's lyrics on I’m Insane that go “inside my head my dog’s a bear” actually went “inside my head my dog’s embarrassed,” which I preferred.

Worst to Best: Sonic Youth: 12. The Eternal

12. The Eternal (2009)

Alternative Rock

When a band has been together for three decades, certain inevitable factors come into play. One good factor, would be the group’s built-up chemistry which an outsider could easily misconstrue as telepathy, and on The Eternal, Sonic Youth have acquired just that. These guys have never gelled so well, this album being their tightest ever, coming across like a collaboration rather than just members presenting their own compositions and allowing the others to molest them with static. And this solidarity seemed like a warm, fun place to be. On the negative side, however, is the unavoidable factor of getting older. And while Sonic Youth have aged respectfully by rocking more aggressively on this record than almost their entire career, it still falls into a much more directly conventional and accessible vibe, hardly any noise now, rather sitting comfortably on the modern alternative couch instead of blasting it the fuck apart like before. More tragic still, is that this piece ended everything, as the last Youth record ever :( The band broke up shortly after, far from at a high point, leaving their tale all that more sour. But even with this considered, no one could deny Eternal as a great album, and while some call it slightly unimaginative and nothing new, it's still all we got, so take it and shut up.

Sides: After the band's contract with Geffen Records expired, the two parties went their separate ways, and Matador snapped them up. I imagine the new label were pretty bleak when they only got one album for their money, but hey, at least they were granted the honour of being the first to announce the news of the split, delivering the blow which informed us all that the godfathers of modern noise-punk were gone.

Worst to Best: Sonic Youth: 11. A Thousand Leaves

11. A Thousand Leaves (1998)

Experimental Psychedelic Noise Post-Rock

Having earned a fair profit from their 1995 Lollapalooza festival appearance, our heroes decided to build their own studio which came with the luxury of an unlimited time schedule and less people to answer to. However, many consider said luxury to have been A Thousand Leaves’ curse, removing the urgency with hookless improvisational jams stretched out to unnecessary lengths, void of all punches, and slowly going through the motions as one tediously dreary journey all the way up Sonic Youth’s own ass. And because I personally prefer my meal to come dosed in a splatter of feedback, I too agree that this endeavour is one unstimulating and energy-less exercise in murky psychedelic waffles, which doesn’t always work and is not one of their best. But even with that in mind, it still boasts its hefty share of merit, as this unresponsive album opts to target the groove above all else, hushing the disarray by wearing the band’s age without shame—a midlife record, but not a midlife crisis, which is a difficult thing to pull off. The result is a rare, refreshing, and oft-overlooked bullet in their arsenal, with almost enough pearls to warrant the excessive timeframe it demands. Almost.

Sides: To prove how productive the band were at this stage of their career (or, rather, evidence as to why they sounded so exhausted), they released three highly experimental EPs around here too, namely Anagrama, Slaapkamers met slagroom, and Invito al ĉielo, all of which were recorded at the same time as this album. Another interesting goody from this release, is that the video for Sunday starred Macaulay Culkin, of all people

Worst to Best: Sonic Youth: 10. Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star

10. Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star (1994)

Alternative Noise Rock

One could argue that the early-90s accusations of betrayal and commercialism had begun to weigh burdensome on Sonic Youth, threatening their integrity and forcing their hand to produce something which somewhat harked back to the good old days. And Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star was that response. However, instead of relying on their trademark turbulent onslaught or absurd looneyness, they confused everyone by confidently presenting a nonchalant piece of melodic noise, which was a dreamier and quieter alleyway above any they’d dared to explore before. The short songs spat plenty of ideas which came and went so fast that nothing had a chance to develop into anything substantial, but that’s exactly what made this subdued record so unique, and is exactly why I hug this album in such high regards. Unfortunately, not everyone felt the same way, as new fans were overwhelmed and had a hard time penetrating the dense clamour, while old fans had already given up a long time ago, placing this release in a very awkward position indeed. However, hindsight has been kinder to the experiment, countless critics considering it one of Youth’s most underrated projects, and many praising it as a defining mid-90s alternative triumph. Well, that's ok then.

Sides: To save money, Experimental Jet Set, Trash And No Star was recorded over the band's previously used master tapes, and so if you turn up your volume real loud, you can just about hear their album Sister leak through during some of the quieter parts. This is also Sonic Youth's first album to feature a hidden track, which itself sounded much more like old SY than the whole album put together.

Worst to Best: Sonic Youth: 09. Sister

09. Sister (1987)

Alternative Noise Rock

Oh my God! How is this possible?! The classic Sister? One of the highest regarded masterpieces from Sonic Youth’s career?? Sometimes even the highest regarded??? So low on this list???? Blasphemy! Let’s stop reading this stupid article right now! Let’s send the writer offensive messages! Let’s question his dedication to the cause! Alright alright, calm down everybody, it’s only an album, Jesus. Look: I have tried to explain multiple times as to why I consider this record to be the most overrated on offer here, but then I realised nobody has convincingly explained to me anything otherwise. Yes, I acknowledge its influence on other artists. I applaud how its edges point towards a more traditional sound (giving it great purpose on the overall Youth timeline). I idolise the warmth of its analogue production (my favourite aspect about this release, in fact). It's melodic. It's aggressive. It’s a fucking great album, I know this! But the issue is that its own reputation sinks it, surviving from occasional peaks of powerful genius, but frequently coming across slightly dated, and definitely not as superior to the rest of Youth’s catalogue as so many seem to think it is. On a normal day, it simply passes me by, and I guess I’m sorry about that? What do you want me to do? Lie? Although I happily admit that there will probably come a day when I'll regret leaving it here, but oh well. Moving on as fast as possible...

Sides: Science fiction author Philip K. Dick claims to have always been haunted by his fraternal twin sister who died shortly after their birth. Which sucks, sure, but it did prove to be a decent inspiration for this album.

Worst to Best: Sonic Youth: 08. Rather Ripped

08. Rather Ripped (2006)

Alternative Indie Rock

As I hope this list will accurately illustrated in time, Sonic Youth were always a band who enjoyed fiddling with the line between accessible and non-accessible music. And it’s this notion which makes Rather Ripped so distinguishable, unchallenged as the most radio-rock and commercially sympathetic product in their entire backlog. The ear-bleeding noise and endurance-teasing experimentation were completely eradicated from this record (and this record alone), leaving nothing but a pure indie rock album behind, cautiously cleaned to a borderline poppy sleek, and even featuring some actual melodies almost sung in tune! Wow! Naturally, many fanatics felt forsaken by this straightforward direction, but those with an open heart appreciated Rather Ripped as perhaps the easiest entry point for those troublesome friends who were unaccustomed to guitar torture and just “didn’t get” our beloved idols. As for me, it’s one of the Youth releases I defend most firmly, simply because it proves the band weren’t a one-dissonant-pony, and in fact had the talent to pull off a pleasantly songful alternative album all along (and, what’s more, even better than most). That said, the sound suited them almost too well, so perhaps it's for the best they didn't pursue this pathway any further, lest our treasured secrets actually became popular.

Sides: The name Rather Ripped came from a Californian record store, chosen above the working titles Sonic Life and Do You Believe in Rapture?. And as it stands, my favourite review for this record ever came from RYM user Fotzepolitic, who called this his "mum's favourite Sonic Youth album.”

Worst to Best: Sonic Youth: 07. Goo

07. Goo (1990)

Alternative Noise Rock

Predating the Nirvana explosion by one year, Sonic Youth had already started to harvest their own brand of unpredictable success in 1990. Affectionately known as their ‘sell out’ album, Goo marks when our band went major, signing to Geffen and releasing the first slickly produced record of their career. And while many purists winced at the more digestible sound, most of us were relieved to find that no amount of money could truly tame the anxious disobedience of the Youth, rather only polish the scene so we could view the wreck in higher definition. The end result is one of their most memorable releases which works as an excellent entry point for virgin listeners, complete with some of their catalogue’s greatest songs. The haunting Tunic, for example. Or how about Kool Thing, their most famous single, standing as the pinnacle of the super loud/fast/mad riff and feedback approach, yet somehow distorting the message into a legitimate (almost commercial) rock song—exactly what they were always trying to achieve. That said, something about Goo doesn’t quite sit right with me. Too cheerful? Too comical? Too childlike? The unfortunate 'title track' which is one of their worst songs ever, warping my memory’s associations into a ball of cringe? Choose your own adventure. But also don't listen to me, it fucking rocks.

Sides: The cover artwork is an illustration by Raymond Pettibon, based on a paparazzi photo of the witnesses to the Moors murders, namely Maureen Hindley and David Smith. It has gone on to be pretty much the representative image of the band, as this blog's very lead image would indicate. In other news, this album cost $150,000 to make, which was a fucking fortune for the band at the time.

Worst to Best: Sonic Youth: 06. Sonic Nurse

06. Sonic Nurse (2004)

Alternative Indie Noise Rock

When Sonic Nurse came out, plenty praised it as the best Youth since (x) or (y) or (whatever other renowned SY record you want), indisputably appreciated as one of the band’s greatest latter day creations. Said applause rang loudest for the record’s songful balance, one which achieved the perfect harmony between clutter and delicacy, and an effort which actually sounded like a real album for a change. There was no getting lucky or forcing nervous accolade by veering too far into the dark abrasiveness here. Instead of hiding under layers of feedback, they rather utilised their noise to enhance an emotion, like a paint job instead of a centerpiece. It was uncomplicated, the snug place in the middle of a team who had developed into something more musical, allowing the process to evolve naturally without jump-starting ideas via bursts of clashes and shocks. Thurston continued his trend of improving per release. Gordon has perhaps never sung better than on I Love You Golden Blue. The album title was perfect. The artwork was perfect. And while a few moaners mumbled some mehs of opposition (boring? familiar? standard indie rock?), you won’t hear any such words from me, as I consider this album to be the closest Sonic Youth came to releasing a classic without quite getting there.

Sides: Kim Gordon and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream is about Mariah Carey's nervous breakdown, originally titled Mariah Carey and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream, but changed for obvious reasons. Another interesting song title would be Dude Ranch Nurse, which was also the name of a Richard Prince photographic series. The man was known for his Nurse Paintings series too, where this cover art came from. Circles!

Worst to Best: Sonic Youth: 05. EVOL

05. EVOL (1986)

Experimental Noise Rock

On their third album, Sonic Youth progressed their intentions of sluggishly approaching a more melodic alternative sound, which one could almost suspiciously accuse of commercialism if it weren’t for that pesky detached noise which saturated the drabby material surrounding them, weighing their bodies down, causing lethargy during an already gloomy journey. And it sounded wonderful. Why wouldn't it? For this was the point where the band had started to take their game much more seriously. They had just hired drummer Steve Shelly, whose accomplished percussion patterns enhanced their message immeasurably, right until the very end of their career. They built a dimly lit trips of aggressive-less violence which was as creepy and grim, as it was disinterested and abstract, as it was beautiful and atmospheric. Thurston in particular really came into his own here, sounding more confident than ever, completely dominating this album’s vocal duties with his poetic musings and monotone deliveries (perfect for this particular mood). And they packaged the whole experience with arguably the greatest artwork of their career (still). It’s no wonder, then, that EVOL is almost always regarded as Youth’s first 'masterpiece', and even if I consider it a touch hyped-up, it has completely earned the title.

Sides: After Minutemen's bassist Mike Watt lost his band member and friend D. Boom to a car accident, he was reluctant to play music ever again. However, the Youth convinced him to perform on the track In the Kingdom #19 (coincidentally, a song about a car crash), and the experience was so enjoyable, that he credited this very recording as a major influence to his return to the industry.

Worst to Best: Sonic Youth: 04. Murray Street

04. Murray Street (2002)

Alternative Indie Noise Rock

In the midst of recording this album, those evil plane attacks hit the Twin Towers, and the Murray Street sessions crashed down like the buildings themselves. Our band halted their studio work, and instead focused their starpower on admirably performing benefit shows to help the tragedy in their city. The influence such events had on the resumed recordings some time later is often hypothesised yet never confirmed, but everyone agreed that whatever happened, this was one of the Youth’s greatest in almost a decade, or perhaps even ever. The basic structures and enticing grace gave the album an uncharacteristic consistency throughout, keeping your body steady and keeping your mind settled. It was a refined and concentrated type of welcoming persuasion, hiding the ominous thoughts and exhausted cracks of ageing underneath unconventional modesty by submitting a summary album rather than one of innovation, clearing the stage for who they were now, and who they wanted to be. And yet, perhaps the most surprising aspect of all, was that Murray Street was a flawless record from a band who built their successes on flawed music, proving that between this, Ripped, and Nurse, the group had some intriguing spunk left in them still, which once again leaves the break-up all that more heartbreaking and difficult to deal with.

Sides: Remarkably, the most interesting features of Murray Street had nothing to do with Thurston (who otherwise dominated this record) or Kim (who is disappointedly pushed to the end with fairly generic contributions), but rather with the other participants. For not only was this the first SY album to feature Jim O'Rourke as an official fifth member, but Lee Ranaldo's Karen Revisited composition is probably the best damn thing on offer here. It is also worth noting that this (tied with Rather Ripped) is Sonic Youth's highest rated album on Metacritic as we speak, with an 82%.

Worst to Best: Sonic Youth: 03. Dirty

03. Dirty (1992)

Alternative Noise Rock

After the Nevermind atom bomb obliterated all of music everywhere, there was a mad rush following to find the next Nirvana, and all hot bets were placed directly on Sonic Youth. It made sense, as they were massively inspirational to Kurt, and were already signed to the same label, Geffen. To increase their chances, Nevermind producer Butch Vig was promptly hired to enrich the soil, tighten the wobbles, and apply just enough Seattle grunge scene pressure to hopefully cash-in on Nirvana’s recent success. And I honestly feel Sonic Youth gave it their best shot, attempting to sell-out, but unable to, simply because their brains weren’t wired that way. They were far too raw, too juvenile, and too fundamentally punk to be slicked down by some fancy production, instead spitting out (probably their most aptly titled record) Dirty, an angry album complete with political messages and feminist anthems, biting into the grunge movement rather than imitating it, and then choking on the blood. Naturally, something like this didn’t sell as well as the execs had hoped, but it still stands as one of the greatest releases at the epicentre of SY’s heyday—even if some spoilsports called it 'untrue to themselves' (whatever that meant).

Sides: Still on the Nirvana topic, it is interesting to note that the grunge kings signed to Geffen after Sonic Youth suggested they should join the family. When Nevermind was ready for release, the label hoped it would sell around 250,000 units, based on how many copies Youth's Goo had sold. 24 million something later, and it's no wonder they were disappointed with Dirty's lack of success, Geffen Records executive Mark Kates even once stating that the singles he chose from the album were "one of the biggest professional mistakes of my life". Regardless, I did call Dirty my favourite Sonic Youth back in 2012, as well as my 30th favourite record ever, so that's gotta count for something, right, Geffen?

Worst to Best: Sonic Youth: 02. Washing Machine

02. Washing Machine (1995)

Experimental Alternative Noise Rock

A year before Washing Machine drifted out, Kim and Thurston had their first (and only) child, Coco Gordon Moore, and by all accounts, the new role of parenthood dominated this album’s aura like a protective blanket. The afterglow of childbirth had slowed their tempos down to a patient calm, as they wandered aimlessly throughout this unfamiliar playing field, slightly unsure as to where they might be going, but aware of the surrounding open space required to allow their growing baby to breathe. That said, do not misconstrue this new melodic approach as some sort of landmark where our punk couple turned soft, as this is still a difficult formula to digest, standing firm as one of their most proudly anti-commercial offerings from the 90s, perhaps even resembling a sad washing machine itself, as it soaks the colours out of everything in a watery cycle, hypnotically slurring out its feelings with no regard to your time or quarters. In other words, it is an underrated masterpiece which somewhat steps back towards Youth’s more classic sound and welcomes us with love into this cold, scary world filled with darkness and sorrow. Oh, and please don’t even get me started on Diamond Sea. Jesus.

Sides: Did you know that this was the first Sonic Youth album where Gordon exclusively played guitar, resulting in a three-guitar and drums lineup? Did you know that Kim Deal from the Pixies featured on the incredible song Little Trouble Girl? Did you know that the album's cover photo only crops the heads off of the two fans because the band had no idea who they were and couldn't get their permission? Did you know that Sonic Youth actually considered changing their name to Washing Machine for this release, but the label thought that was crazy and said no? NOW YOU KNOW.

Worst to Best: Sonic Youth: 01. Daydream Nation

01. Daydream Nation (1988)

Alternative Noise Rock

Surprise! Ok, sure, there are a few wanky elitists who claim some other Sonic Youth record to be their best, but the fact is that they are wrong, and 100% of people agree (rounded off to closest integer). So excuse me while I enthusiastically suck this album’s dick and swallow, but Daydream Nation is where the band became gods. They trashed our faces with an onslaught of high-energy avant-rock, perfectly crafted into a lo-fi noise which screamed from an army of invigorated riffs that tore indie music right down the middle. It was less abstract. It was much tighter. It had no filler. It had no pointless meandering. It was just straight-to-the-point melodic filth which came across more like a best-of compilation over anything else. Because of these factors, the intoxicating masterpiece was worshipped as an instant classic from its very first day of release, but its legacy has gone on to outgrow itself, now considered a definitive milestone of 80s rock, as relevant and important today as it ever was, and inarguably one of the greatest albums ever made. And I simply do not have the confidence to argue against that, so here we are.

Sides: Check this out: Rolling Stone Magazine called Daydream Nation the 328th greatest album ever, as well as the 45th greatest album of the 80s. Guitarist UK called it the 11th most essential guitar album ever. Spin Magazine called it the 13th greatest album from 1985 to 2010, as well as the 9th best alternative album ever. Pitchfork called it the best album of the 80s, handsdown. And it has already been added to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress. Thank you very much.

Read This Next Maybe

Worst To Best: David Bowie
Worst To Best: David Bowie

Monday 11 January 2016

Dear David Bowie,

Dear David Bowie

I, like most people, am no stranger to the heartbreak of losing a close friend or a loved one. It is irrefutably the most hollowing of all human experiences, when a part of you that once sat undetected has now been scooped out from your spirit, and its sudden absence leaves a disorientating mess of surreal confusion and irreplaceable damage. You become consumed, normal everyday priorities appear frivolous, any stray thought will come crashing back into the memory of the departed, and a new pouch of tears rips open within the solar plexus, allowing us to cry a new brand of grief, for what feels like all the water inside of our body.

It's fascinating, then, how upset one can get over a person they have never met, but it does make sense. Celebrities play an integral part of our happiness and growth. They teach us lessons, good or bad. They inspire us to reach for what they have. And their lives provide us with a well-needed break when our own gets a little too overwhelming to bear.

But you, Mr Bowie, cannot be lumped so easily into this category. Your worth as an artist is above your average famous person (to say the very fucking least), which has been proven time and time again by sales figures, awards, your net worth, your influence on the greater art world, your legendary status, and the tributes we have seen at such monumental proportions today. You were the epitome of Rock God, immeasurably larger than any other human alive, leaving a very sad platform which will never ever be filled. You will forever stand as the greatest example of someone who shoved so much art into their trade that they themselves became the masterpiece. You were your masterpiece.

It's strange to say, but dying has been the most human thing you've ever done, which would explain the universal disbelief of your passing. You were never supposed to die. And now you have left us without any clue as to what we're supposed to do without you, and I am not exaggerating when I say that I don't know if I will ever be the same in the knowledge that another Bowie song will never be written again. Sounds silly, doesn't it? Although, then again, does it? Perhaps we never met, Bowie, and perhaps it was very one sided, but I spent a lot of time with you, man. I thought of you every day. You were the pinnacle. You were the type of dude that proved that there was a certain magical element to the world, a puzzling freedom, and through artistic expression, we all maybe had the chance of getting there ourselves. And that's the type of thought that makes your death seem further unique and special, above even that of someone I may have known in real life. Because, as I cry while typing this, I know there is crying around the world for you, and as a global unit, there is a really large fucking hole right now. Maybe in the afterlife they measure your impact by the volume of tears produced, and if so, you, sir, would surely be up there with the best of them. And I'm proud to contribute.

In a rare case like this, the mind naturally searches for counterparts who we can also place in the league of musical deaths which my lifetime will be remembered for. Kurt Cobain is a good contender. But when we step back and evaluate his contribution, we find a man who wrote a few generation defining albums and then ultimately self destructed into a rockstar cliché tragedy. I also clearly remember when Michael Jackson died, but by that point, his private life had fallen into such a media circus of controversy, that it outweighed his musical input, and much like Cobian, his fatal overdose resulted in yet another tragic death typical for the famous. But your story, Mr Bowie, was not a tragedy. Your health had been in question for almost a decade. You lived to the respectable age of 69. You continuously presented acclaimed work until just the other day. And your cancerous demise was an exit even the most cautious of individuals have been known to take. But what was anything but commonplace was your artistic donation, which was so substantial in volume and so immense in success, that it spread as one of the most well-known in the industry's history, yet was skewed so far sideways by its peculiar innovation and integrity, that your ladder stood alone, suggesting your legacy could never be regarded in the same breath as Elvis or Lennon or Sinatra, but rather a warped bubble floating out to space all by itself. And that's why none of this is an unfortunate disaster. This was the perfect lifestory, as if God himself was a massive Bowie fan and wanted your book to be a long and rewarding read, with a satisfactory beginning, middle, and conclusion.

And that is exactly what we got. It only took me a few minutes to grow suspicious, but it does now seem to be confirmed by Tony Visconti that you were desperately informing us about your fast approaching death just last Friday, and you were saying goodbye. The Starman, now a Blackstar. "Look up here, I'm in heaven". "I'm trying to, I'm dying too". "Something happened on the day he died". And perhaps the most eerie lyric of all (although probably coincidental), "Where the fuck did Monday go?". The references to fear and death and mortality are all too obvious now. You knew this was your final message, and you somehow delivered it from a podium you had never spoken from before, a genre untouched by your voice, which is seemingly impossible from a 69 year old man dying from cancer who had built an entire career out of reinvention and genre-hopping. I mean, already the critics had spent the last week unanimously worshipping this new sound you walked on, and I can only imagine how great that must have made you feel on your last days. Wow, what a wonderful thought that is. But now that you have abandoned us in the knowledge of what you were literally saying, we can only stand still in awe of your genius which was working until the bitter end, the album's newfound meaning suddenly proving your swansong to be perhaps your most potent, smartest, and calculated move yet. Which is an unheard of feat for a man who spent five decades releasing music, and who was only two days away from his final heartbeat. Oh, you sneaky sneaky alien.

To conclude on a personal note, I have to tell you that you were my #1. People would ask me which celebrity I wanted to meet the most, and my answer was always David Bowie. People would ask which act I'd like to see live the most, and my answer was always David Bowie. And to know that I will never get either of these opportunities has left me with a sickness I'm not sure I've ever felt before. You have to understand, you were my artistic everything. Not a piece of work I have produced wasn't an ode to you on some level. I stole everything I know from you, and the only reason nobody noticed is because I didn't have the guts to commit to it as far as you did. I guess what I'm trying to say is that there is not a single artist I love more than you. And I will miss you so fucking fiercely.

Thank you for everything, Starman.
You live on within us.

Jared Woods