Fanatics! Henry Rollins' KCRW Show Tomorrow Night: Henry Dissects Bowie's 'Low'

KCRW Broadcast #193 for Saturday, December 8, 2012

See also: Henry Rollins: A Death in the Family

Fanatics! We are back with you live, almost all of us. Engineer X is out this weekend but Young Will Bentley will be on deck, so two thirds of the Big Three will be at Tha K for the first time on months! We will all be back together again next Saturday to give NPR what will probably be remembered later as a tremendous downgrade. Perhaps they'll keep us around for awhile longer.

Before we go Low with the Bo in hour two, let's take a look at what's happening right at the top. If you take a brief look at our first hour, Fanatic, you will see that it's a mix fo sho but a fanatic can't help but notice a lot of German music featured. I thought it would be a good idea, seeing we are getting into Bowie's "Berlin Trilogy" that we have mood that goes through the entire show. As well as all of the great German tracks, there are other main ingredients thrown in to make you think you won the sonic lottery!

I think this is our first visit with Lost Sounds, one of Jay Reatard's old outfits. As well, you get some pre-Saccharine Trust-era Jack Brewer with the Exxtras. These are new recordings of old songs, if I have that right. The label putting out the album is called Water Under the Bridge.

It's week number two of our five weeks of Bowie for this month, December 2012. Not to get into an argument with any of you Fanatics, but my favorite period of David Bowie would be the last five albums that preceded Let's Dance. Station to Station, Low, Heroes, Lodger and Scary Monsters, are to me, perfection. Besides Ziggy and Man Who Sold the World, these were the Bowie albums that grabbed me initially.

Arguably, the Bowie catalog is pretty damn amazing overall but after Let's Dance, when Bowie "came to America" if you will, that's when he kind of lost me. But until then, it's almost frightening how consistently good those records are, one right after another.

For an extremely well written and hard to put down bit of musing on Bowie and the Low album, I would recommend you head straight for Hugo Wilken's 33 1/3 series book called Low. There's a lot of great information in this slim tome.

If you spend a lot of time with the Bowie catalog, some of the things mentioned in the book have either occurred to you while listening or make a great deal of sense after you read it. The "Berlin Trilogy" as Low, Heroes and Lodger were referred to were not all made in Berlin. Perhaps the Berlin part was more an inspirational, mindset and awareness.

As I learned more about music, heard more, read more, it seemed to me that the Berlin/Kosmische/Motorik direction that Bowie went in started with Station to Station.

Wilken's research reveals that Bowie was quite into Can, Neu!, Kraftwerk and others well before making Low.


Also, another thing to keep in mind when considering the Low album is that it is closely tied in many ways to The Idiot by Iggy Pop. They were made close together, work on the Idiot starting first and gave Bowie ideas for Low. It was very tempting to put The Idiot in hour one of our show tonight but I thought it best if we had some diversity before we get album specific. Perhaps another time.

Another thing that really knocks me out about Low is how relatively untogether Bowie was when he went into the sessions. Apparently, he had bits of music on tapes, a few ideas, not much at all. He went into Château d'Hérouville studio with Carlos Alomar and the rest and had them just start jamming and it went from there. For having not much walking in, the basic tracks were cut very quickly. From there, in comes Eno and Visconti to add to the stew. When you hear Low, there's a lot to take in. You hear what Visconti and Eno are bringing to the table, the drum sounds, the synthesizers, the idea of using the studio as an instrument and creative tool all come into play here. As well, and don't take this the wrong way, but there seems to be a rushed or not all that well thought out quality to some of the songs compositionally. The A-side songs end almost abruptly, like they were only showing you the trailer. Perhaps that was the intent, to rush you through these ideas without staying for too long. "Always Crashing in the Same Car" clocks in around three and a half minutes, longer than any other track on this side. "Sound And Vision" seems like it's only getting started and all of a sudden, it's over. The b-side takes on a far more expansive and exploratory posture, almost entirely instrumental and innovative as hell. This was perhaps some of Bowie's Man Who Fell to Earth soundtrack ideas further realized. One of Bowie's greatest strengths was to know who to bring in and by allowing them to stretch, he got amazing results. Between Alomar, Eno and Visconti, you're in very, very capable hands but nonetheless, at the end of the day, it's a David Bowie experience. The Visconti and Eno factor cannot be under mentioned. Visconti, a multi-instrumentalist engineer and Eno, the very definition of visionary. Talk about a single person leaving a mark on music!

Low was one those albums; an incredible yield of one person's accumulation of experience, music, culture, time, place, etc. that became one of those go-to albums for countless others. If one wants to discuss post-punk, Low is certainly one of the records that is in that conversation.

Like many of you fanatics, I have listened to this album many times. I have been comparing and contrasting the three different masterings I have of Low and like many others, I prefer the RCA Germany mastering over the Ryko and Virgin versions. After playing all three in one day, the Virgin mastering stands out as the hardest to take. It is loud, compressed and has too much uniform presence for my ears. The Ryko version is far more palatable but has low end and midrange issues that are annoying. The RCA mastering is the most like the vinyl, which of course, is the best medium by which to check out this album.

As lauded as Low is, and you can count me as a fan, Fanatic, I much prefer Heroes, which will be featured next week. Until then, wait for the gift of sound and vision and STAY FANATIC!!! --Henry

Henry can be reached at:, or follow him on Twitter @henryrollins.

Read Henry's tracklist below.

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Hour 1

01. Iggy Pop - Baby (Alt Mix) / 1977 box set

02. Einstürzende Neubauten - Schwarz / Kalte Sterne

03. Kraftwerk - Mitternacht / Autobahn

04. Birthday Party - Wildworld / Bad Seed EP

05. Nico - Saeta (7" version) / All Tomorrow's Parties

06. Malaria - Eifersucht (Jealousy) / Compiled

07. Wolfgang Riechman - Abendlicht / Wunderbar

08. Cabaret Voltaire - No Escape / Original Sound Of Sheffield: Best Of '78/'82

09. Alan Vega - Deuce Avenue / Deuce Avenue

10. Lost Sounds - Destructo Comet / Lost Sounds

11. The Exxtras - When Waiting Calls / Waiting for You

12. Die Cheerleader / Terrorvision - The Model / Promo 12"

13. Conrad Schnitzler - Blau Bonus Track / Blau

Hour 2

01. David Bowie - Speed Of Life / Low

02. David Bowie - Breaking Glass / Low

03. David Bowie - What In The World / Low

04. David Bowie - Sound And Vision / Low

05. David Bowie - Always Crashing In The Same Car / Low

06. David Bowie - Be My Wife / Low

07. David Bowie - A New Career In A New Town / Low

08. David Bowie - Warszawa / Low

09. David Bowie - Art Decade / Low

10. David Bowie - Weeping Wall / Low

11. David Bowie - Subterraneans / Low

13. David Bowie - Some Are (Low Ryko Disc extra track)

12. David Bowie - All Saints / (Low Ryko Disc extra track)

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