Greetings, Time Travellers! 👋
It’s April 4, 1993 again
📰 Tragedy in Hollywood as Brandon Lee dies during an on-set accident while filming The Crow. 📽️ Big new release in cinemas is One False Move starring Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton.📺 On telly, the Larkin family says goodbye in the final episode of The Darling Buds of May.
🎶 Number One song in the UK Top 40 is ‘Young At Heart’ by The Bluebells. But today we’re talking about…
This week’s Number 21: ‘Jump They Say’—David Bowie
Hey folks! A quick content warning: this one contains mentions of depression and suicide. Nothing graphic, just giving you a heads up.
Like most late-70s babies, one of my formative memories involves a magical Saturday in the summer of 1985, when I poured some cereal, turned on the TV, and spent the next twelve hours watching Live Aid. The rest of my family joined me on the sofa as the day wore on, and we were all together as the dusk settled on Wembley.
This was my moon landing. The best part of Live Aid was knowing that everyone was watching. Not just everyone in my house, or everyone on my street. Everyone. Billions of people across the world, all of us clapping along to ‘Radio Ga Ga’.
I was seven years old, and this was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me. The world felt so big; the future felt so open.
When comes the shaking man
Eight years is a long time when you’re a kid.
By 1993, I was 15, and I wasn’t doing so great. Nothing serious, just your typical teen blues, although I had them pretty bad. I actually don’t remember a lot from around that time (because it turns out that serotonin is essential for forming memories—who knew?)
One thing I do remember is the feeling of stuckness. Adolescence seems to go on forever, and an unhappy adolescence feels like purgatory. Once you were small and happy, and now you’re big and sad, and that’s all you know. That is the breadth of your universe. So it feels like there’s no end to it. It is endless, bottomless. Part of me, I think, believed that I would be 15 forever, in school forever, unhappy forever.
Worst of all, I felt like I would be me forever. I couldn’t imagine myself growing or improving or evolving. The wind had changed, and now I was stuck like this. Forever.
Years later, I learned that this is actually a symptom of depression. Neurotypical human brains can perform a kind of time travel: we can daydream about what lies ahead and construct a mental image of the future. Depressed people often can’t mentally time travel. When they imagine the future, they don’t even see pain. They see nothing.
And I think this is one of the most urgent red flags. From my own—experiences and from many years of supporting friends and family—I would say that people will generally be okay as long as they see a path ahead. Even if they imagine that path is full of torment, they’ll keep going, because seeing the path is enough to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
But when someone can’t see any path ahead? That’s when they’re in real danger.
They say he was born again
Eight years is a much longer time in pop music.
Live Aid turned out to be the worst thing that happened to music since Buddy Holly’s plane crashed. Live Aid’s stars became a kind of rock aristocracy, elevated above the vagaries of the pop charts, and that seems to have affected their creativity in the same way that Twitter has affected Elon Musks’s brain. They became insular, smug, risk-averse, and utterly separated from their pre-Live Aid selves. And their music sucked.
Bowie suffered a terrible case of Live Aid Syndrome, although he had been showing symptoms since 1982 when Let’s Dance became a commercial hit. Bowie absorbed the yuppie spirit of the 80s and embarked on several money-making projects: the albums Tonight and Never Let Me Down; and the lavish Glass Spider tour. I think it’s fair to say this of all three projects—Patrick Bateman would have loved them.
But Bowie’s greatest talent has always been his ability to reinvent himself. The late 80s saw him start a band, and, while Tin Machine weren’t exactly a creative breakthrough, at least he was trying.
1992 saw Bowie marry Iman, the supermodel best known for appearing in Michael Jackson’s ‘Remember The Time’ video. At the time, it seemed like your typical middle-aged-rock-star-marries-supermodel gossip column fodder, and journalists no doubt drafted a “Bowie and Iman split” story that they could run in six months.
But, in hindsight, Bowie’s reinvention as a married man was perhaps his most important. The couple mostly kept their marriage out of the limelight, but the few details that emerged suggested that they were a surprisingly normal family, and David just spent most of his time watching Spongebob with his daughter.
In 1993, Bowie released Black Tie White Noise his first solo album since 1987’s Never Let Me Down. The record was largely inspired by his new relationship, beginning with a track called ‘The Wedding’ and ending with ‘The Wedding Song’.
And it was… pretty good! The lead single made the Top Ten, which was something Bowie hadn’t achieved since ‘Absolute Beginners’ in 1986. He did not appear live on Top of the Pops, sadly, although he did perform on some other TV shows.
Don’t listen to the crowd
‘Jump They Say’ was inspired by the suicide of Bowie’s half-brother Terry who played an influential role in Bowie’s childhood, introducing him to the records and books that shaped his tastes.
Burns had lifelong mental health issues, eventually dying from suicide in 1986. Talking about the origins of ‘Jump They Say’, Bowie told this story:
“One of the times I actually went out with my step-brother, I took him to see a Cream concert in Bromley, and about halfway through he started feeling very, very bad… He used to see visions a lot.
“And I remember I had to take him out of the club because it was really starting to affect him – he was swaying… we got out into the street and he collapsed on the ground and he said the ground was opening up and there was fire and stuff pouring out the pavement, and I could almost see it for him, because he was explaining it so articulately.”
Bowie also points out that ‘Jump They Say’ isn’t just about his half-brother’s suicide, but also his own flirtation with destruction over the years, and a meditation on whatever divine force may have protected him over the years. Essentially, the song is wondering why he lived but Terry did not.
After all, Bowie had some close calls. Famously, he spent the mid-70s living in L.A. and subsisting on a diet of milk, red peppers, and cocaine. He was heading for an early grave, but suddenly he packed it all in and moved to Berlin, where he recorded one of the greatest album trilogies of all time.
People often talk of this as one of his amazing reinventions, like the transition from Ziggy to the Thin White Duke. However, if you look past the records and the mythology, it’s actually the story of a more mundane—and more impressive—transformation. A guy with a serious addiction problem managed to get clean, and then he rebuilt his life. He saved himself. Or allowed himself to be saved, which is kind of the same thing.
That’s actually a more impressive feat than recording ‘Heroes’.
They say jump
As a contented middle-aged dad myself, I can now fully appreciate Bowie’s 90s transformation.
He has lots of experiments still to come, and he will spend much of the 90s trying on new ideas and styles. Some will work better than others, but we’ll forgive any failures because… it’s Bowie.
But his biggest transformation was happening in secret, and we’ll never know what it was like. Only his family got to experience Middle-Aged-Dad era Bowie. And that’s as it should be.
I like to imagine him cuddled up with his kid, laughing at Spongebob while some part of him wonders, “How did I survive long enough to enjoy this?” And the answer is simple. He just kept going. He put one foot in front of the other. That’s the only way anyone survives.
Elsewhere in the charts
Number 9 (↑ from 11): ‘Don’t Walk Away’—Jade
Banger pop song.
Jade were one-hit wonders outside of the States, failing to make the same impact as En Vogue or SWV. However, they dropped one killer tune with such interesting production that A Tribe Called Quest sampled it on Midnight Marauders.
Jade are given a grungey look in this video, complete with flannel shirts and Docs. I asked my kid’s opinion on this aesthetic and her verdict was: “ew, no.”
Number 12 (↑ from 22): ‘U Got 2 Know’—Capella
A fun, slightly daft club choon.
I’ve noticed that bonkers rave anthems like these are slowly disappearing from the Top 40. 1992 had tons of crappy house and techno records, with some wild stuff appearing in the lower reaches of the charts. But now everything feels a bit more slick and polished—and a bit less exciting. It almost makes me miss the Smart-Es.
Number 19 (New Entry): ‘Livin On The Edge’—Aerosmith
Welcome to episode 78 of our ongoing series “How Big-Time 80s Acts Transitioned Into The 90s”. Today, we’re looking at Aerosmith, who had been absent since 1989’s Pump.
Aerosmith executed a two-step strategy:
Throw an absolute fuck-ton of money at the videos
Change nothing else
And it worked! The 90s were great for Aerosmith. This video features Edward Furlong, who is possibly still wearing his T2 wardrobe.
Number 35 (New Entry): ‘It’s A Shame About Ray’—The Lemonheads
Ray is, apparently, an Australian kid who had been expelled from every school in his neighbourhood. That is a shame. Hope he’s okay now.
Number 37 (New Entry): ‘How I’m Comin’—LL Cool J
LL Cool J leans into gangta rap. It’s not great.
Album of the Week
Okay, the bad stuff first.
The general consensus about the first two Suede albums is that the fast songs are better than the slow ones on Suede, while the reverse is true on Dog Man Star.
I don’t disagree, although I’ve always liked the closing piano ballad, ‘The Next Life’, which was bizarrely used in a ropey Charlie Sheen action-comedy:
(Yes, that’s Henry Rollins as a cop, it’s a weird film.)
Another criticism of Suede is that it doesn’t quite hang together as an album. Again, true. At times, it does feel like three EPs mashed into a single LP, which I guess is kind of accautre.
Biggest problem with Suede: it doesn’t have ‘My Insatiable One’. A perverse decision.
However, all that aside, Suede remains an electrifying debut and a startlingly effective bit of anti-grunge counterprogramming. After years of angry, earnest Americans pounding their guitars, who could resist the joyfully sluttiness of something like ‘The Drowners’?
The four big singles—‘The Drowners,‘So Dead’, ‘Metal Mickey’ and ‘Animal Nitrate’—may overshadow the other tracks, but they also deliver on some of that Best New Band In Britain hype. At it’s best, this record just crackles, burning with enough energy to power a small village.
Elsewhere, the album offers a delightful blend of Butler’s soaring riffs and Anderson’s overwrought Byronisms. ‘Sleeping Pills’ is very good and was almost a single at one point, although I personally think ‘Pantomime Horse’ is a better version of the same idea:
All-in-all, it might not be as coherent as Dog Man Star or even Coming Up, but it’s thrilling in a way that only ever happens on debut records. A joy.
Get daily posts from This Week In The 90s on Mastodon, Instagram and TikTok. There’s also the growing 1993 playlist on Spotify.
Finally, share if you like this and subscribe if you haven’t already! See you next week!
I remember that feeling from my teens all too well.... music was my saviour and has been many times since. I agree with the consensus about Live Aid to some degree: it bought the old guard back and a beigeness to mainstream music, similar to what streaming has done today, but there was and is great and innovative music to be found on the margins.
That could've described me at 14-15. That was a really bleak era for me, and it didn't help that the school I went to was overcrowded, had low ceilings and very little light. It's not a stretch to say that music- or more importantly our little group of music nerds- saved me.
More importantly, I'm glad that era passed for you, and you're still here to write about it.