“The cigars are ballast, sweetheart. Sheer ballast. If he didn’t have a cigar to hold on to, his feet would leave the ground. We’d never see Zooey again.” pp. 191
Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger
One night in my dorm room in West Quad in Ann Arbor, listening to Hunky Dory by David Bowie for the umpteenth time in the past few weeks upon its discovery, I made a lifelong commitment to be an artist as my primary thing. I’ve seen friends fall off the wayside of the way of the artist – some hovering torpidly in dilettante-land, some not even picking up an artistic utensil since the 20th Century.
So, as you might’ve imagined, I’ve followed Bowie’s career like the fanboy I remain. I bought his last studio album in 2016 the day after it came out; I popped it in my Grand Prix’s CD player right in the parking lot of the Barnes & Noble on Rochester Road. I loved it as I drove home from seeing my elderly mother.
Bowie died the next day.
A Rolling Stone article came out well-nigh contemporaneously with Blackstar about the album. It disturbingly mentioned that the title track was sheered like a sheep or a matted black cat to fit the draconian ten-minute time limit arbitrarily set by iTunes of Apple Inc. Bowie, the article said, was adamant that, to avoid confusion, the album version of the title track of Blackstar be the same length as the iTunes foreskin of the song. It is sad when an artist is forced to make such a Sophie’s Choice, as it were.
So, instead of the unexpurgated, untainted track of over eleven minutes (or perhaps 10:40 or 10:45 according to Mr. McCaslin), most of the 7.6 billion people of Earth only’ve heard the 9:57 iTunes version of the song Blackstar. Thanks, Apple Inc. You suck. The song is about ISIS, Apple Inc. So you are aiding and abetting ISIS by destroying a song meant to confront the terrorist group in an artistic way. You suck the scummiest scum of the scummiest sea. You are an enemy of Civilization. What you did is no better than when ISIS took sledgehammers to the artworks in the Mosul Museum.
I went to the Flint Jazz Festival tonight, July 29th, 2018 because Donny McCaslin was headlining with his group. They threw down. His keyboardist, Jason Lindner, plays psychedelic jazz. The band would be amazing even without Donny.
The entire audience, including me, was mesmerized.
His bass player, Tim Lefebvre, played this amazing intro for a song by Cannonball Adderley called Memphis Redux. I vidded a little clip of it that follows this write-up.
And Mark Guiliana on drums even sings, not missing a beat!
And Donny! Well, Donny threw down with amazingly soulful wails emanating from an ancient-looking sax that was huge and earthy brown, not some shiny, ostentatious thing. It looked like the holy grail of saxophones, full of ballast. Without Donny’s sax, the whole human population of Earth might just float up and join Major Tom in uncharted outer space! Except for Zooey, of course.
After the last note of the last song, Mr. McCaslin thanked the audience and said he’d be happy to talk to us in a few minutes up where he was selling his latest CD (with one song with Bowie in the credits). But one couple snookered Donny into a conversation right in front of the stage; so I followed their lead and walked down ten or eleven steps and waited my turn. I eventually interrupted them after an appropriate time, telling Donny I’d seen Bowie on his Serious Moonlight tour. Donny was impressed. I also mentioned, I, too, like him now, lived in Brooklyn. Finally, the garrulous couple left, and I had Donny all to myself.
I decided to throw down, too, for Bowie, for Art, for Mankind.
“I want to ask you one serious question.”
“Sure, go ahead,” said Donny, graciously, openly, as only an artist can be open.
“Just one serious question,” I said, delving in like a hawk in a coal mine. “I heard that Bowie’s song Blackstar was cut from like 11 and half minutes or whatever to ten minutes so it could be on Spotify or something. It’d be cool if the uncut song was released if it still exists. Hopefully, it does. Maybe you can use your clout to see if that could happen.”
“That’s true,” Donny admitted, painfully, “but it was Apple, I think, not Spotify.”
“Oh, yeah, like iTunes,” I said.
“Yeah, and it was cut by like 45 seconds or so. It wasn’t over 11 minutes. And there weren’t any new verses cut,” he said. I could tell he still knew that was bad.
Frustrated at the fate of the title song on Bowie’s last studio album being messed with by Apple Inc., after a moment of ballast, I blurted out, “Who are they to tell Bowie to cut a song?”
We were both silent. Both outraged and frustrated. We were brother fanboys.
“They’re nuthin’,” I added, finally, disgustedly, and firmly.
“I know; it’s horrible,” Donny chimed into my groove.
“Maybe you can get the full 10:40 or 11:12 song on You Tube. They’d play it,” I said to Donny, his eyes looking into mine with hope and appreciation that I was tackling this issue that had clearly been gnawing at his subconscious.
“Yeah! You Tube would play it!” he said joyfully, as if we had just solved the space-time continuum. (Which we sort of did.)(Mind you, my memory for dialogue isn’t as good as it once was. This convo is a close approximation. I was only a classmate of Michael Cohen in law school; so I didn’t tape this conversation!)
Before we parted ways, I told Donny, I, too, was an artist. I left it at that.
He acknowledged hearing that. Finally, he said, “I’ll think about that. I hadn’t thought about it.” I could tell I had moved him. I hope he cashes in his clout card!
I certainly, avidly hope Donny decides to search for the full track of Blackstar, and, if it’s gone, maybe he can recreate it with the other surviving members of that studio session; but hopefully, the missing minute is still extant.
And, just think, the Apple Inc. brass that took a chink out of David Bowie’s legacy – a nameless mass of mediocrity; interchangeable mass men and women – are probably just as oblivious now as they were in 2016. It is sick how such thoughtless people have such power and influence over Westerndom and the entire civilized world. They probably go to Davos every year.
At any rate, as I drove south on I-75 back to Metro Detroit, I felt good that maybe I saved Bowie’s legacy a little bit. It boggles the mind to think Apple Inc. was able to sully the title track to Blackstar. How evil! What rotten ingrates!
Thank you, Mr. McCaslin, for being responsive to my serious question. You are the best! A virtual virtuoso! And thanks to the Flint Jazz Festival for reeling in Donny – and for having a great jazz festival in general!