It's a chapter he doesn't seem to talk about too much these days, but the late 80's were a tough time for David Bowie. After a clutch of increasingly slick and poorly-received albums, Dave decided to re-invent himself as the front man of a proper rock band. Roping in Iggy Pop's old rhythm section (Hunt & Tony Sales … the sons of Soupy) and a noodly guitarist from Long Island named Reeves Gabrels, Bowie & cohorts christened their new venture Tin Machine and proceeded to talk to a slew of glossy music mags about their chummy new combo. I remember reading a piece on Tin Machine in SPIN during the second semester of my senior year of college and being none too convinced.
But, being as I've always been a Bowie fan, I dutifully picked up Tin Machine's eponymous debut album in 1989. While I'd been left cold & clammy by Tonight and what little I'd heard off of Never Let Me Down Tonight (or whatever it was called, I never bought it), I still counted Diamond Dogs among my favorite-ever albums, so perhaps there was life in the old boy yet. The reviews, however, were savage. Nobody bought the new direction. Despite the flak, though, Bowie soldiered on for a second album and even an tragically unsolicited live album before finally pulling the plug on Tin Machine. It would take him years before his credibility would recover. Some suggest that it never fully did.
Twenty-one years after its release, I still don't really mind the first Tin Machine album. Sure, it sounds forced, clunky and overproduced, but it does have its moments. I like the squealy riffage on the band's theme song (which, as I noted yesterday, fleetingly alludes to the "sonic anger" of Glenn Branca's sound, although it remains entirely unclear as to why). Reeves Gabrels now sounds like a hopelessly masturbatory player, spraying his playing all over proceedings like a messy tangle of Silly String while Bowie puts on his comedy cockney accent here and there. Once again, it's botched, but I still have a soft spot for it.
So why am I bothering to mention it here? Well, not only did the afore-cited Branca piece of yesterday jog my memory, but I'm also halfway through John "Bloodclot" Joseph's sprawling autobiography, "The Evolution of a Cro-Magnon." John, as you might remember, found his biggest notoriety as the burly vocalist of the Cro-Mags (although it takes him forever in the book to actually get to that part of the story, but I digress). Anyway, if you look close enough, you can see Cro-Mag mainstay Harley Flanagan bounding up onto and off of the stage in the clip below (along with other sundry NYC punk types, notably Stelphen Lelip of the False Prophets). In a seemingly vain attempt at capturing the reckless rock abandon of the New York hardcore scene, Tin Machine filmed the below clip at the Ritz on East 11th street during the rambunctious glory days of NYHC and hired some local color to parade around accordingly. As such, you see a gaggle of punky archetypes engaging in the rituals of the day, however incongruously and unconvincingly to the comparatively tame strains of Bowie's little beat combo. As a music video, it seems pretty contrived, but as a somewhat unintentional reminder of what the late 80s scene at The Ritz was like, it's worth a viewing.
Shortly after this video was filmed, the Ritz officially closed up shop and moved uptown to the site of the old Studio 54. The building that housed the old Ritz on 11th street reverted to its original name and became the comparatively genteel dance club, Webster Hall. Webster Hall still hosts live bands, but the vibe seems quite different from its days at The Ritz.