Russ here. So I texted Chris (Hislop) on Saturday…
My hope was that it would be cool to talk about PMAC and 3S Artspace‘s upcoming Bowie and the Moon project and involve as many voices as possible. So the following series of blog posts attempts to do just that. Come along for the ride….
Russ Grazier is co-founder and CEO of PMAC (Portsmouth Music and Arts Center) and a composer and saxophonist.
Russ to Chris:
I’m not sure you know this, but you were one of the first people I reached out to about the idea of this show. We sat down at White Heron Tea and I asked you about what local bands would be a good fit for this show – we came up with a dozen or more bands that afternoon. Thinking back on this, I have two questions for you, both related and unrelated:
- What did you think of the idea when I first brought it to you?
- What’s your earliest recollection of Bowie‘s music? What do you think about him and his oeuvre?
Chris Hislop is the music writer for the Portsmouth Herald and The Edge. He is a key player in Bright & Lyon, producing concerts throughout the Seacoast.
At first I thought it was equal parts fascinating and daunting. Bowie’s catalogue is vast. That said, I loved thinking about the bands/talent we have represented here in the greater seacoast music scene and how the options were limitless when it came to reimagining some of his material through the lens of musicians/bands in the area. It was a super fun exercise. I’m looking forward to seeing/hearing how the evening comes together.
My dad introduced me to Bowie when I was maybe 8? 9? somewhere in there… Bowie, when stacked up against the rest of the music my father spun in his five-disc changer, was, admittedly, way out of his wheelhouse. That said, my dad has eclectic taste in music and I wasn’t too surprised by the Bowie inclusion into his musical cannon. It wasn’t the most eloquent introduction in terms of how he delivered it to me (which is a story for a different time), but I’ll never forget that first taste of Bowie. It came in the form of “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” The way the drums march in from a fade in the opener, “Five Years”, and then give way to the launch of the simultaneous guitar and piano “lick.” I’d never heard an album fade in like that. It started slow and then quickly gave way to so much movement. As an impressionable youth this album struck a real chord with me in a way that not many others have, or likely ever will. I had no idea how to play guitar (still don’t), but this album led me to pick up the dusty old acoustic sitting in the corner of the den and strum along to “Ziggy Stardust.” It didn’t sound anything like the chords coming through the speakers, but just the act of integrating myself into the music was moving. I’m still a riveting air guitarist – in large part due to the self-teaching that stemmed from being exposed to this record. My dad then moved on to “Aladdin Sane,” which he proclaims as his favorite Bowie album, but “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars,” was hard to shake. It still resonates with me to this day and remains my favorite work (though “Blackstar” would prove to be an absolute mind fuck that I’m still attempting to sort out…”) I wanted to paint my face and be Bowie.
“Heck, I still want to paint my face and be Bowie.”
– Chris Hislop
There’s a lot of “true original” context given to artists, but most pale in comparison to how that anecdote is applied to Bowie – The Thin White Duke. In my opinion, there is no single artist/musician with a greater creative arc or a greater sense of mystery… Bowie seamlessly blurred the lines of music, theater, fashion, and culture, while taking on myriad characters throughout his career and living them thru-and-thru. Bowie was all of those characters at different points in time. All of those characters were Bowie. He’s a fascinating study that offers a bit of something for everyone. He’s a rare cultural phenomenon. There will never be another artist like him due to an assortment of reasons. He never stagnated, walked down many different paths simply to see where they’d take him, and went out the same way he came in – by raising eyebrows, tickling eardrums, and forcing the collective question, ‘what on earth was that?’ We were all the better for his existence. Even if you didn’t like everything he did, you respected it, and you found some intrigue in it. That is a near impossible feat that he 100% championed. If you’re paying attention, you can find a bit of Bowie in all important pieces of artistic significance. His influence looms large.
It’s great that you still want to paint your face and be Bowie because at this show you CAN! 3S is planning to bring in makeup artists to Bowie-style face paint audience members – one of many cool activities happening that go beyond the music. Stargazing is on the agenda for the evening, and we have an entire afternoon of activities planned for families, but before we get to all of that….
Eric Klaxton was the next person I brought into the planning conversations for this show.
I really needed to bounce this idea off a musician I looked up to, someone I trusted, and someone who was also really into Bowie. That led me directly to Eric. We’d done a jazz tribute to Bowie at The Music Hall Loft in 2016, shortly after Bowie’s death, and throughout that entire production he showed a deep knowledge of Bowie’s music and wrote some impressive, beautiful jazz arrangements. Bringing Eric on board was a no-brainer.
Eric – what excites you the most about this project? And talk a little about your perspective when it came to selecting musicians to perform.
Eric Klaxton is a saxophonist and composer, member of the Soggy Po Boys, and teaching artist at PMAC.
I think it’s a great concept. David Bowie, much like space travel, was larger than life and both deserve to be remembered and celebrated. His whole image and artistic output was always pushing the boundaries of cultural aesthetics, just as space travel is literally pushing the boundaries of human achievement and exploration. It’s no surprise that the theme of space is prevalent throughout the body of Bowie’s work.
I’m thrilled that this event will be a multimedia affair. One medium tends to enhance the next until the whole experience is elevated. I’m very excited to see the visual spectacle that will unfold throughout the course of the evening.
When I was helping curate the artists for the event, I really wanted to see as much variety on stage as there was in Bowie’s music. I heard about Mother Superior, batted around some ideas about a few other groups local to the seacoast, and then started thinking about artists in the greater seacoast region from Portland to Boston. The concept of the event is excellent, and I didn’t want to shy away from its ability to broaden our sense of community. When thinking of other regional treasures, Moe Pope came to mind. I was really excited to reach out to his group STL GLD, as they are a fiercely creative group with a bold aesthetic. I know those guys are interested in working across genres and was also just curious to see what they’d come up with. It was an honor to be able to have them on the bill.
I was thrilled when Mother Superior and the Sliding Royales decided to reunite for this show. If you remember, there were two major seacoast NH acts that had disbanded in the past several years that we reached out to. One said no, but Mother Superior jumped right in, excited to get together to play some Bowie. They were picking songs as soon as they replied to the request! When Eric and I sat down, we culled a list of dozens of bands down to six (the list that Chris and I began), and your suggestion of Moe Pope and STL GLD really solidified the concept for me. I knew that STL GLD could bring their own unique interpretation of Bowie to the show, and that gave all of the other acts the freedom needed to create their own vision of Bowie, molding the music in their own unique style. Once we had Mother Superior and STL GLD, we thought that working with bands that had a close association with PMAC made the most sense. The event, after all, would be a benefit to support local arts and culture and PMAC would be one of the two beneficiaries. The other is 3S Artspace.
Beth Falconer is Executive Director of 3S Artspace in Portsmouth and past ED of the Firehouse Center for the Arts in Newburyport, MA.
It’s true, Russ, I was a tiny bit skeptical, but not about working with you or supporting PMAC! It’s the word “tribute”. We are a contemporary arts center, and dedicated to the artists and social issues of today. While we can (and do) make some exceptions, we tread pretty lightly in tribute land. And wow, was this the year of the tribute pitches! From our Clash event in March, to Bowie and the Moon, to Woodstock revivals, it does paint a pretty incredible picture of the culture shift in 1969.
Once we talked more about the collaborative nature of the event- about the capacity to use the theme to inspire our youth programs, the modern take on the songs, the opportunity for stargazing and dreaming, and the simple message that PMAC and 3S Artspace bring complimentary opportunities to the community through the arts- I was hooked.
It’s hard to say what I’m most excited for. The 3S staff might say it’s an excuse to feature TANG on the concessions menu. Or having my photo snapped with a lifesize Bowie cutout. Pretty excited to see what the youth have been up to in our respective programs!