David Bowie collaborated with Brian Eno, Robert Fripp and others on what’s referred to as his Berlin Trilogy, three albums made between 1976 and 1979 (Low, “Heroes”, Lodger), all overseen by his long-time producer, Tony Visconti. The albums, particularly Low, are a real departure from the soul and funk of Diamond Dogs and ‘Young Americans’ and Bowie’s “Thin White Duke” persona of the previous album to Low, Station to Station.
Much of Low is instrumental; extraordinary for Bowie to leave lyrics as a secondary part of the music. Instead, he opted for several ambient tracks, most of them quite brooding and serious; influenced by the dividedness of Berlin where he was living at the time. The production is sparse as well, not the full-sounding production of Young Americans and Station to Station or the earlier albums, though it is a good sound for the music.
Between Diamond Dogs which was made with his original band (once known as The Spiders from Mars in his “Ziggy” period) and Young Americans, Bowie made a massive transition toward a new core band that would follow him for many years and his next stages: Carlos Alomar, guitar; Dennis Davis, drums; George Murray, bass; plus other vocalists and instrumentalists from time to time (like Eno and Fripp; even Pete Townsend and his guitar made an appearance on Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).
Despite its overall low-ish (depending on the track) mood, Low did produce a successful single, “Sound and Vision,” with the unmistakable Alomar guitar riffs amidst the Eno keyboard and synthesizer treatments. There are a couple of non-ambient instrumentals of varying tempos as well, including today’s song, “A New Career in a New Town.” Like others on the A-side, it is not suffused with the darker, brooding tones of the record’s B-side.
I had bought two copies of Low; one lived at my house and one at the home of my then-girlfriend, a fairly short-lived relationship that, quite honestly, took several years to get over the loss of. Music was a constant companion in our time together in her room, and it remained a loyal friend to me after the split.
I also remember a recurring nightmare that occurred during the same time Low was insinuating itself into my consciousness. In the dream, I was driving in a car (didn’t drive at the time; had no interest in getting my licence until I turned 19) in a mystical landscape and at the end, some great creature jumped around a corner to attack. The dream reoccurred for a long time, then just as mysteriously, it vanished, but it is a permanent part of the memory of this album.
Later, just after the Berlin Trilogy ended with Lodger (1979), Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) soon followed in 1980. I remember 1979-81 as being part of a long, intense period often darkened by loneliness. Intimate relationships seemed hard to find and harder to keep, and while I had a good, well-paid job (yes, to support my continued obsession with buying records and recordable cassettes to make tape mixes for the car stereo), I look back on that stage of my life as being rather purposeless.
During this time the song, “Ashes to Ashes” (and the video for it; videos were exceedingly rare at that time) was a hit and the video was on TV in a bar when I was visiting Vancouver, British Columbia, trying in vain to nurture an unlikely relationship with the subject of my infatuation. At one point, enamoured by her, her friends and the BC life, I thought I’d leave my job and make a fresh start there (perhaps part of the significance of the title of today’s song). I didn’t make the move, and while she sought me out later and we crossed paths several times over the years, in 1985 I decided it was time for me to move on with my life. I did, and while it’s been a rollercoaster ride at times with courtship, marriage, kids, staying home with kids, divorce, under- or unemployment, re-coupling and marriage, I am deeply blessed with my sweety and our life, our kids and grandkids, and friends.
As I approach my 60th birthday, I am reminded so often of the “speed of life,” and the track of the same name on Low reminds me again. And Sharon Van Etten’s phrase, “halfway through this life…” from “Seventeen” (please see my January 11, 2020 post, for that song) is even more significant and moving for me, knowing I’m well past the half-way mark.
In many ways, though, I’m more alive than ever: loving deeply and knowing I’m deeply loved; unencumbered by the stresses of a career; having the time, space and energy to spend on those I love; healthy and healing, fit and now passionate about endurance road cycling; and yes, having much more time to spend listening to my ever-expanding collection of vinyl, CDs and digital format music. Heck, I’ve even tackled a few handy-person jobs!
“A New Career in a New Town” carries a building sense of optimism, along with wonder and openness for a future possibility, and positivity in the face of the anticipatory anxiety that can sometimes accompany change. The harmonica line seems like it’s maybe a farewell to the past, disappearing under the synthesizer in the ending bars. It’s quite an engaging track, though fairly short at two minutes, 53 seconds.
Low is an album I visit along with its box full of memories fairly often. And in more recent times, one of my sons has taken a great shine to the opening, instrumental track, “Speed of Life.” Yes, “Life moves pretty fast,” as Ferris Bueller says.
Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Please enjoy.
Here’s the song (not an official version, but one of the few that is high definition for the sound):