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This is our last dance. (Remembering David Bowie.)

24 Jan

Bowie, 87

David Bowie’s music was the first I listened to in my childhood days – next to Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Michael Jackson and Wham. In the poppish 80’s, it took me a couple of years to fully explore his classic earlier work – but once I got to the Berlin trilogy of LowHeroes and Lodger and the Soul Train era of Young Americans I was never the same.

A big fan in my childhood / early teen days, I so badly wanted to visit Bowie’s Hamburg concert of the ‚Glass Spider Tour‘ promoting the Never let me down album (which I’m apparently one of the few to like until this day) in 1987, but my mother thought I was too young to join the masses. So I stood with my parents in Hamburg’s central park, yelling my heart out, while I couldn’t attend my first concert ever.

Nine years later, I finally got to watch Bowie in 1996 for his Outside tour. It wasn’t his best performance, but the Bowie magic was around every second. I’m glad I had that one concert. I’m not too fond of his experimental phase in the late 90’s (except for Trip Hop-ish Little Wonder), but I loved the two comeback albums in early 2000’s, Heathen and Reality.

If it hadn’t been for the stroke in 2004, this could have been his „September of my Years“-like decade. When Bowie released his reminiscent Berlin album The Next Day nine years later, I already felt this could be some kind of a closing statement, a retrospective of places and stages in his career. Turns out, the long goodbye started there. While going all over Bowie’s records over the past 5 decades, these are my eternal #25.

25. Modern Love. 

The opening track from Let’s Dance. Still modern after 33 years.

24. A better Future

Love the hymnic nature of this track from the Heathen album: ‚I demand a better future‘, repeated three times.

23. Golden Years

The most soulful Bowie ever, performing my favorite track from the incredible Station to Station album at Soultrain. Bonus: Superstrange interview at the start.

22. Where are we now

The beginning of the end – the great retrospective of the Berlin years:
„Had to get the train / From Potsdamer Platz / You never knew that / That I could do that / Just walking the dead / Sitting in the Dschungel / On Nürnberger Straße / A man lost in time / Near KaDeWe / Just walking the dead“

21. Blackstar

What to say. It’s almost unreal and very painful to watch (Lazarus is unbearable) – an 10 minute epic that will never be judged on its own but as a post mortem.  It’s a classical Bowie track that rises to epic proportions  between minute 4:20 and 6:30.  This is how resurrections must sound like.

20.  Zeroes

No one ever remembers this persiflage of Heroes for the Never let me down album – but ‚til this day I can’t help liking it as much as Glass Spider (Mummy come back ‚cos the water’s all gone). One the best first lines: „You’ve arrived in the land of a thousand different names…“

19. The Wedding Song

The happiest Bowie I can ever recall – intro and outro on Black Tie, White Noise. I always thought I want to have this track for my weeding – and then I forgot about this one. But not about Bowie! Let’s dance had its special place at our wedding…

18. The Man who sold the world

Rediscovered this gem like so many of us through the Nirvana cover. Original still a class of its own…

17. Something in the Air

Highly underrated cut form the ‚hours‘ album that sounded like an instant classic back 1999.

16. Thursday’s Child

Epic video and best track of the surprisingly smooth structured ‚hours‘ album foreshadowing the one big theme of his last works: aging.

15. Everyone says ‚Hi‘

Another hidden gem from the Heathen album: Love the sentimental, slightly frustrated tone of this one – „Hope the weather’s good / And it’s not too hot / For you /  Everyone says ‚Hi'“

14. Never let me down 

Everyone hates the album, but I don’t agree. At least half of Never let me down offers some of Bowie’s best pop efforts even though this ’87 release had not been nearly als successful as predecessors Tonight and even Let’s dance. Or maybe it’s nostalgia talking: It was the first Bowie album that I impatiently awaited in my teenage days…

13. Sound & Vision

My second missed chance to see Bowie perform in Hamburg: In 1990, Bowie retired his 60’s/70’s back catalogue with this ‚Greatest Hits‘ tour. Tickets sold out in a couple of minutes, though. What stuck on my mind was this hymnic title track of the Sound & Vision tour – „Blue, Blue, Electric Blue…“

12. Wild is the Wind

Dramatic cover of the 50’s smash by Johnny Mathis and a couple of years later Nina Simone from the fabulous Station to Station album, which contains am extended six minute version – such a beautiful arrangement.

11. Buddha of Suburbia

Highly underrated soundtrack song in the summer I graduated. Never watched the movie, but always remember the killer line ‚Can’t tell the bullshit form the lies‘. Lenny Kravitz playing the guitar on this one, btw…

10. Absolute Beginners

One of those first five Bowie songs I listened to when I was a kid. I remember listing to this nonstop on a Hitachi tape recorder while being in hospital. By the time I got out, I was know by the doctors and nurses as ‚the Bowie Kid‘

9. Ashes to Ashes

I was too young for this, but MTV made me catch up quickly – and love this track instantly. Plus: It made more curious about that Junkie Major Tom…

8. Young Americans

My favorite from Bowie’s Soultrain era in New York around the time I was born. This track features two historic performances. One with Cher…

…and the other featuring a background singer, that should turn into of the biggest voices of R&B: That’s right, the first guy in the right corner is no one else but Luther Vandross…

7. Little Wonders

The most modern track in the Top Ten – Bowie discovered Trip Hop and Dub in the mid 90’s. I always thought this one should have been in Trainspotting.

6.  Underground

One of my childhood anthems and first vinyl records.  I was 11 or 12 when it came out along with the Labyrinth movie – which even at that time I found a little weird set-up. (Thanks for reminding, BuzzFeed.)

5.  Heroes 

One of the big epics. I still remember watching „Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo“ in biology class as a preventing example for drug abuse – and defending Bowie to the teacher after confronting the class with Bowie’s own history of drug abuse.  The things you do for your childhood heroes.

4. This is not America

The very first Bowie track to I remember. I  tried to figure out the title and singer for a year or so when being 10 or 11.

3. Let’s Dance

The epic of all epics. This was my favorite track for years and the one big reason I became such a Bowie fan in the 80’s – for all the wrong reasons die-hards of the 70’s might argue. But what gives: I discovered the Golden Years later.

2.  Space Oddity

Like the ultimate Bowie anthem, which I really enjoyed rather late. But the more I do by know. One of the best records of all times. Timeless and pure.

1.  Under Pressure

Still, this one beats everything – even though I was at no time a fan of Queen nor Freddie Mercury. Next to Let’s dance this is the quintessential pop record as Slate pointed out – with the best finish in pop history ever:
This is our last dance.
This is ourselves.

RIP, Starman.

The Autumn of Roger Federer.

4 Sep

First things first. I’m the biggest Federer fan you can imagine. Which means, if you were born like me in the 70’s, quite a lot. I grew up watching McEnroe, Connors and Lendl duelling each other even before we saw an unprecedented tennis boom in Germany with Boris Becker and Steffi Graf. And while I was never nuts about Boris since it was usually painful to watch his childish behaviour on and off court, I spent most of the 90’s cheering for Agassi. Andre was always my hero, even though Sampras beat him most of the times terribly. Then Sampras aged fast and Agassi came back from the dead just to battle in the autumn of his career with this new kid from Switzerland.

Foto 1

At first, I didn’t take Federer seriously. Ok, he beat Sampras in 2001’s Wimbledon, but everyone had its lucky day. He lost the next day to Henman (Tim Henman, seriously!) and didn’t win anything the next year. But then Roger had his breakthrough in 2003 with the first Wimbledon victory. I changed my mind about Federer after the US Open Quarterfinal against Agassi in 2004. I so wanted Andre to win the Open just one more time, but this Swiss played tennis from another planet.

It was chess on court, executed with the most elegance tennis had ever seen. Another generation had taken over. Federer reminded me of Sampras just that he won the rallies from the baseline. The second half of decade was Roger’s to win. Like no other player before, he dominated the scene. It’s fair to say Federer is the best player of all times, most stats – including 17 Grand Slams Titles – will back-up this thesis.

But nothing lasts forever. First it was Nadal, then Djokovic, then even Murrary – and now Robredo at the US Open. A straight 3 set-loss in the 4th round that seemed unthinkable just a year ago when FedEx still reigned the world as #1. I’m not entirely surprised, though. When I finally watched Roger on the Centre Court of Rothenbaum at the Hamburg Masters this summer, he reminded me very much of Stefan Edberg, John McEnroe or Ivan Lendl in their final year on the tour. Federer’s strokes are still brillant to watch – if you are looking for shots from the playbook, watch Roger. Just skip every second one, which he missed like I have never seen him before.

Foto 2

It was painful to watch the former  #1 struggle so badly against the German #3, Florian Mayer, #45 of the world, who in Federer’s best days had won a game or two at best. This July evening, Mayer won the 2nd set, leading 5-1 and even 5-4 in the third before Roger pulled his act together one more time like he did so often in his career, just the opponents changed. While in his best times, the only surface to beat Roger was clay,  it seems these days as if every match on clay could be Roger’s last. The next day he lost to qualifier del Bonis in two tie-breaks. I was not surprised. This would have not happened one or two years ago.

There is never such a thing as a happy ending in sports. All great athletes retire way after they had reached their peak. But some declines are faster than others. Roger’s acclereated this year faster than expected. He battled with Nadal for years for the crown. Then Djokovic came from nowhere. Now even Andy Murray surpassed him clearly. And due to the two month break in spring and the early loss in Wimbledon even David Ferrer, Berdych and Del Potro did so. It wouldn’t surprise to see Roger dropping out of the Top Ten by the end of the year.

If Federer continues to play for another 2-3 seasons like he hopes for, still hitting hard with 35, his last years on the tour could turn into one long lesson in humility. Federer has always proven to be such a player – very humble and generous. Even after his unflattering quarter final victory against Mayer, he paid tribute to the German. I’ve seen no other athlete more humble than the Swiss.

Foto 3

Still, it hurts to see FedEx in free fall these days. Federer, like no athlete in the last decades, dominated his sport. He defined modern tennis – more than Sampras, Lendl or McEnroe. Federer was the complete player. 2013 Federer transformed into something else: An aging giant whose time has come. At some point this summer an unknown feeling emerged watching the Swiss perfectionist: You started to feel sorry for Federer.

While there’s nothing terribly wrong about his game these days – he just needs way too many chances and produces one unforced error after another. He’s a different player by now than the one that won Wimbledon seven times. All these straight losses against players like Tsongas, del Potro, Robredo, players he dominated for a decade easily, and then those unexplainable defeats by no names like Benneteau, Stakhovsky, Brands – players on the tour you ain’t even heard of. Suddenly, it’s getting terribly late in the game…

While I do think, it will be tough to grab another Grand Slam title, history has proven often enough, there’s one last punch left. I still think, Roger could make it into a Grand Slam final one last time. Just like Agassi did in 2005’s US Open when he was already 35. Almost a decade later, at 32, Federer is following Agassi’s path. In the end, that might be as much as there’s left for FedEx. And yet – just how lucky we have been to witness the most amazing player ever in our time.

Why Gatsby is still so Great.

28 Mai

It’s very easy to write the new Great Gatsby adaption off as overblown. Yet, it’s a big mistake. Baz Luhrmann’s 125 minute epic is nothing short of a modern masterpiece in 3D with fitting urban HipHop beats, almost 100 years from the future. Kudos to Leonardo DiCaprio for stepping in the footsteps of Robert Redford. It’s been a tough act to follow, but it worked – which, unfortunately, cannot be said about Daisy’s cast Carey Mulligan falling terribly short of Mia Farrow’s dramatic 1974 appearance.

The Great Gatsby. © Warner Bros.

For me, Gatsby is one of the three novels that brought me to writing. I still favor the unfinished The Last Tycoon as Fitzgerald’s best work, yet Gatsby is doubtlessly his most fascinating character. What’s not to like: The very American ideal of early success, the monumental parties, the glitz and blitz of the Roaring Twenties.

Of course, as captured very well in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris two years ago, we all tend to romanticize. The past always seems more meaningful and real than the future – I’ve personally subscribed to nostalgia all my life and I certainly know it’s not too healthy.

The Great Gatsby.  © Warner Bros.

Like it isn’t for Gatsby: You can’t repeat the past, Nick Carraway (Toby Maguire’s finest role since Everything is illuminated) lectures Gatsby in the key passage of the novel and movie – to which the selfmade mogul replies astonished: Of course you can.

I like that sentimental approach, though everyone knows it’s quite often the seed of tragic endings – especially at the stock market which is the hidden framing of this 20’s boom and doom epic. One of the movie’s finest tricks actually comes in the narrative form of telling the story in retrospect after the epic Wall Street crash of 1929 (unlike in the novel).

It seems unthinkable how Gatsby would have fared after being caught on the wrong side of the trade. Yet, it’s a fascinating thought how Gatsby’s life could and would have continued if not on that one, not so fine morning everything ended in disaster, forestalling the crash on an era.

The Great Gatsby. © Warner Bros.

And how would the modern Gatsby look like?  Would it be another Jay – Jay-Z? Or a Roman Abramovich like figure? I’m sure the modern Gatsby wouldn’t reside in East Egg, rather in Moscow, Dubai or Marina Bay Sands, Singapore.

In the end, we all love to believe in the green light, in the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster,  stretch out our arms farther…

Argo’s other History Lesson.

10 Dez

Gun to head: This is my movie of the year: Argo. Yes, I loved Clooney in The Descendants. And, of course, there’s no way I couldn’t fall in love with To Rome with Love itself. But Argo is the movie for me in 2012. Best Ben Affleck ever, thrilling plot even though you know the end in advance and a great piece of Zeitgeist of the Iran Revolution 1979.


Then again, there is one more thing. It’s scary in another way. In fact, the thing that stroke me the most was the descent into the world of my childhood – the world of the late 70’s in that you were still allowed to smoke in a Swissair plane (not that I ever wanted to), MGM dominated the film industry just like RCA the record industry. In short: They are all gone by now.

That’s something to think about when looking back to this decade in 10, 20, 30 years. If you want to capture the spirit of our time, you will capture it with people running around in the iWorld – just like in the introduction of the recent NBC Tim Cook Interview.

iPhone 5.

2012: This is you, living in your own iWorld, the world of your iPhone and iPad. (And yes, maybe even Android phones.) Now here comes the scary part – at least for Apple investors: Will the most fancy products that doubtlessly define our era still be the ones that define the next decade and the decade after?

Pan-Am TV Series

Photocredit: ABC/Sony Pictures Television

It never happened in history for one global brand to dominate for decades. Think Kodak, think Pan AM (Trailer of the ABC TV series), think GM. That’s the scary side-aspect of Argo. It reminded me of one thing painfully: Even the biggest growth story in history will end at some point. It’s inevitable. The trillion dollar question for Apple shareholders remains – just when.

Apple, Inc. on Top of the World.

9 Aug

One moment in time: Apple, Inc. briefly overtakes Exxon Mobil as the most valuable company on the planet. At 1:19 Eastern time, Apple was valued at 341,45 billion $ (shares trading at 368,42 $), while Exxon was worth 341,42 billion (trading at 70,22 $ per share). Congratulations, Apple! It’s been a long time coming…

Zwischen Agnes und Alice.

20 Apr

Es hat nicht sein sollen mit Alice. Seit Mai 2009 trage ich sie mit mir herum, doch es klappt einfach nicht mit uns beiden, was eigentlich gar nicht sein kann, dafür liebe ich ihre Vorgängerinnen viel zu sehr – die beiden Judith Hermann-Veröffentlichungen Nichts als Gespenster und Sommerhaus, später.

Dreimal jedoch bringt nicht immer Glück: Ich habe es wirklich versucht mit diesem Büchlein, aber ich bin immer wieder darüber eingeschlafen, habe manches zehnmal gelesen und mich immer wieder aufs Neue gelangweilt – was auch vielleicht daran liegt, dass ich nichts über Sterben lesen will, sondern über das Leben in den 30ern, über das Leben, nachdem „die große Party vorbei ist„, wie Judith Hermann selbst einmal gesagt hat – das wäre spannend gewesen.

Und wenn es schon ums Sterben gehen muss, macht es Agnes besser. Das ist die Protagonistin eines anderen hochgelobten deutschsprachigen Autors, der tatsächlich Schweizer ist. Agnes ist der vor mehr als zehn Jahren erschienene Debütroman von Peter Stamm, dessen An einem Tag wie diesem ich vor paar Jahren in Zürich in die Hände bekam. Ähnlich lakonisch geschrieben, aber eine Handlung, die ist erkennbar.

Agnes ist tot. Eine Geschichte hat sie getötet. Nichts ist von ihr geblieben als diese Geschichte. Sie beginnt an jenem Tag vor neuen Monaten, als wir uns in der Chicago Public Library zum erstenmal trafen. Es war kalt, als wir uns kennenlernten, kalt wie fast immer in dieser Stadt. Aber jetzt ist es kälter und es schneit.

Bei Peter Stamm ist die Lektüre bis zur letzten Seite Genuss, bei Judith Hermann mühsam, beschwerlich und am meist sogar ziemlich quälend. Nur am Ende blitzt sie noch einmal auf, die alte Magie der Judith Hermann in der alternden Alice.

Drei Jahre dauert es, bis der Verlustschmerz nach dem Tod eines geliebten Menschen vorbei ist, hat der Protagonistin eine Freundin mit auf den Weg gegeben. Sie sieht ihren verstorbenen Lebensgefährten Raymond auf der Treppe sitzen, als sie sich nach einer Nacht voller Trost auf dem Balkon ihres rumänischen Gelegenheitsliebhabers auf den Nachhauseweg begibt:

Alice.

Später ging sie nach Hause. Durch die sehr freundliche Nacht. Sie winkte noch ein ganzes Stück lang, winkte, ohne sich umsehen, sie sah ihrem Schatten auf der Straße zu, ein expliziter Schatten, scharf geschnitten, die winkende Hand viel zierlicher als ihre eigene. Sie wusste, dass der Rumäne, auf seinem Balkon stehend, zurückwinken würde, bis sie um die Ecke gebogen war. Auf Wiedersehen.

Sie ging an den geschlossenen Cafés vorüber, vor denen die Stühle aufeinandergestellt, an die Tische gelehnt waren, die Straße am Park lang auf das Haus zu, in dem sie noch lebte und in dessen Zimmer im dritten Stock sie das Licht hatte brennen lassen. Um den Park herum der Geruch von Gras. Vor dem Haus saß Raymond. Auf der Stufe vor der Haustür, mit dem Rücken an die Wand gelehnt, ruhig und wartend. Erstaunlicherweise rauchend, Alice konnte den Glimmpunkt seiner Zigarette sehen.

Es sind die letzten Dinge. Es ist die letzte Geschichte. Die letzte Geschichte für die nächsten sechs, sieben Jahre?

Das Beste daran.

20 Nov

Noch einen Roman fertig gelesen dieses Jahr: Das Beste daran von Johanna Straub, die ich bisher nicht kannte – Amazon hat sie mir vorgeschlagen, weil ich Judith Herman mag, das muss ja passen. Und tatsächlich: Die Schnittmenge ist irre groß, es geht um die großen, stillen 35+-Dramen, mithin um die „Lebensmittekrisengeschichte“, wie es ein Protagonist beim Online-Date beschreibt: „Es geht immer um alles.“

Man weiß : Man ist nicht mehr ganz frisch, es liegt die Hälfte hinter einem, aber liegt auch noch die Hälfte vor einem? So ist das wohl, Mitte dreißig, wenn man die großen Entscheidungen verpasst oder verfehlt hat: Noch nicht geheiratet, noch kein Kind in die Welt gesetzt, vielleicht nicht mal den richtigen Partner gefunden.

Oder, schlimmer: Die Partnerin erwartet ein Kind, man will das aber nicht und betrügt sie stattdessen mit der nächstbesten Jüngeren, die den Nächstbesten nimmt, weil sie nicht allein sein will. Und, am schlimmsten: Ein anderes Paar kann keine Kinder bekommen und droht daran zu zerbrechen. Soul Searching am längsten Tag des Jahres irgendwo im hohen Norden.

Das Beste daran.

Man kennt das alles aus Nichts als Gespenster, das auch schon wieder siebeneinhalb Jahre her ist und fragt sich, warum es eigentlich an Johanna Straub war, dieses Buch über die Generation danach zu schreiben, warum Judith Hermann so ein missratenes drittes Buch vorgelegt hat – vor allem aber: wo die Zeit geblieben ist.

Wie Inseln in der Zeit sind die Tage, an denen alles möglich ist. Meistens im Sommer, wenn er gerade anfängt und eine Energie in der Luft liegt, von der man nicht mehr gewusst hatte, dass es sie gibt. Wenn es eine Verständigung gibt, eine Einigkeit, eine Übereinstimmung, die alles andere in den Hintergrund treten lässt, und Worte überflüssig werden.

Trotzdem bleibt die Frage: Ab wann muss man sich entscheiden? Die Kernfrage des Romans lautet aber eigentlich: Wie lebt man weiter, nachdem man die größten Chancen seines Lebens ausgelassen hat? Wenn man weiß, dass etwas nie wieder kommt, dass der Gipfel überschritten ist? Die Antwort lautet: Enthemmt lebt man. Wie in den letzten Tagen von Rom.

Man bekommt zum ersten Mal ein Gefühl dafür, wie es ist, wenn man etwas unwiederbringlich verpasst hat. Selbst wenn man sich sofort verliebt und Kinder in die Welt setzt, wird man einer der späteren Väter sein. OK, bis 40 ist ja noch Zeit. Oder sonst eine Frau, die schon eins hat, eine Mittdreißigerin, mit sechsjähriger Tochter, das wäre vielleicht auch eine Möglichkeit. Ach, irgendwas geht schon immer noch.

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