Strung Out In Heaven: A Bowie String Quartet Tribute
— AN OFFICIAL PATRON-SUPPORTED RELEASE, FEBRUARY 5, 2016 —
(cover art by Sarah Beetson)
IF YOU LIKE IT….PLEASE SHARE THE MUSIC AND THIS PAGE.
YOU ARE THE MEDIA.
This whole project was financed by almost 7,000 supporters at patreon. More on that below…but THANK YOU to ALL the PATRONS. Your money made this happen.
We found out he’d died – by text from Neil’s daughter – at 3 a.m. in Santa Fe. We were visiting family, to introduce them to the newborn lying in bed beside us. A tiny fleshy reminder that Bowie, like our other friends, mentors and heroes who’ve been consumed by cancer in the past few months, was just…passing through. The baby is Ash. Dust to dust. Funk to Funky.
I was talking on the phone to Jherek the next day talking about our arrangement for “machete”, the song we’d just tracked in LA.
Bowie meant so much to both of us, growing up. and i knew that if we didn’t do this NOW, we’d say it was a good idea and then find a million reasons not to get around to it.
We gave ourselves a deadline of two weeks. We made it.
Jherek put the petal to the metal, arranged a song a day, recorded his A-list string quartet in L.A. in 3.5 hours, then I spent two straight days in the studio doing vocals.
It was the longest time yet i’d been away from the baby.
My mom took care of him one day, a babysitter the next, and Neil took the night shifts.
I’m back at work. It feels right.
photo taken by jono manson
We invited UK indie guitarist/vocalist Anna Calvi to play and sing on “Blackstar”….
photo by Nick Pomeroy from Anna’s official instagram feed.
here’s Anna in the studio…
….and we invited our friend John Cameron Mitchell (of Hedwig and the Angry Inch fame) to sing on “Heroes” and “Helden” (yes…the german version)
WHO RECORDED HIS VOCALS ON IPHONE….
….and, finally, Neil did the countdown for “Space Oddity”.
Do you really need a picture of Neil?
Here he is doing his Adam Driver impression.
Then…we emailed a ton of artist friends and they all contributed Bowie-and-song inspired artwork.
It felt like a truly fitting family tribute.
Jherek slaved on the mixes and I listened to them on the go…in the car, on headphones while breastfeeding, in the bathrooms of people’s houses.
here’s Jherek recording the strings in LA – this is “space oddity”…note the TIME magazine with Bowie on the cover. :*)
and here is the quartet recording heroes:
We’re really, really, really proud of what we made, even though we cranked it out in a short time.
Music is the binding agent of our mundane lives. It cements the moments in which we wash the dishes, type the resumes, go to the funerals, have the babies. The stronger the agent, the tougher the memory, and Bowie was NASA-grade epoxy to a sprawling span of freaked-out kids over three generations. He bonded us to our weird selves. We can be us. He said. Just for one day.
It didn’t hit me until a week later, in the studio, why this was such a fitting project. We were immersing ourselves in Bowieland, living in the songs, super-glueing up some fresh wounds. Not just “knowing” the songs, but feeling the physical chords under our sad fingers, excavating the deeper architecture of the songwriting (especially with a tune as bizarre as “Blackstar” (which we realized was constructed like a sonic Russian nesting doll).
Bowie worked on music up to the end to give us a parting gift. So this is how we, as musicians, mourn: keeping Bowie constantly in our ears and brains.
The man, the artist, exits. But the music, the glue; it stays. It never stops binding us together.
We love you.
and now, a word about the patreon, which made this all possible….
This whole project was financed by the supporters at https://www.patreon.com/amandapalmer
the patrons covered the artists, babysitting, studio costs, strings, the web team, all the guest appearances….you name it.
We would not have been able to work this fast and put this project out without this funding.
All the $3+ patrons will get the tracks emailed to them.
Since it costs me/us about $.54 ($.09 per song x 6 songs) in licensing fees to the bowie estate every time you stream for free, please consider donating that $1 on bandcamp. Any leftover money from the $1 will go to the cancer research wing of Tufts Medical Center (https://giving.
THIS IS THE WEIRDNESS PATREON MAKES POSSIBLE….a budget with which to just GET TO WORK.
PLEASE CONSIDER JOINING TO HELP US MAKE MORE RANDOM BEAUTIFUL THINGS!
Amanda Palmer – Vocals
Jherek Bischoff – Double Bass/Arrangements/Conducting
Serena McKinney – Violin 1
Alyssa Park – Violin 2
Ben Ullery – Viola
Jacob Braun – Cello
Anna Calvi – Vocals/Guitar (Blackstar)
Jono Manson – Amanda’s Engineer (The Kitchen Sink)
Alex Thomas – Anna Calvi’s Engineer (Bruce Grove Studio)
Chris Fogel – Jherek/Strings Engineer (Hyperion Sound / ELBO Studios)
Bryan Carrigan – Jherek/Strings Asst. Engineer (Hyperion Sound / ELBO Studios)
John Cameron Mitchell – Vocals (Heroes and Helden)
THE BACKSTAGE CREDITS:
Jherek recorded the strings in LA at Hyperion Sound / ELBO studios engineered by Chris Fogel (engineer) and Bryan Carrigan (Asst. engineer).
Anna Calvi (guest vocal and guitar on Blackstar) recorded in London at Bruce Grove Studios engineered by Alex Thomas.
I recorded vocals in Santa Fe, NM, at The Kitchen Sink, engineered by Jono Manson. Jono added the acoustic guitar on “Space Oddity”.
John Cameron Mitchell sang his back-ups in his apartment in New York into his iPhone.
Jherek mixed and mastered the entire record at home in LA.
THE ARTISTS AND ARTWORK:
The artwork was created by artists from three continents.
We’ll be posting their stories over the next few days for the patrons, then depositing them here.
I have known that David Bowie could die
I was working the box office of a sold
out David Bowie dance party.
I thought, “People love David Bowie.”
After every shift at the box I get a shift drink and if i get off early enough I get to enjoy the party.
As I stood at the bar and watched the glitter covered crowd wiggle around I noticed there were so many different ages and none of them overpowered the other. It was a beautiful mix of 18-40 year olds dancing together.
They weren’t just dancing, they were singing too.
A multi generational crowd all knew the same lyrics and they were all dancing together.
I thought, “People love David Bowie like a god.”
Everyone’s mouths opening and shutting and shouting all in unison got to me and I started to cry.
There might have also been glitter in my eye.
Then it occurred to me that David Bowie was not a god.
David Bowie could die.
He will die.
When I was up at three in the morning three years later I found out he did die.
The first thing I thought of was all those people dancing and singing that night and their faces when they would find out and how we need to have another dance party.
I now work at an elementary school. That Monday after his death I finished reading a book to the kindergartners about a naked mole rat and I asked if there were any questions.
One kid had his hand raised,
“What happens when you die?”
“Oh…why are you asking?”
“David Bowie died.”
I guess the span of generations that David Bowie has affected is much larger than the 18-40 year olds at the club.
“Yes. Well, I don’t know what happens when we die.”
Then I asked the class,
“Does anyone know any David Bowie songs?”
Many hands shot up.
“Casey, is ‘Rudolph the red nosed reindeer’ a David Bowie song?”
Another kid was waving their hand back and forth,
“Is ‘Fireworks’ a David Bowie song?”
Come on, maybe the span is smaller than I thought.
Then I called on another kindergartner with their hand raised straight and high,
“This is ground Control to major tom…” and continued singing and singing
and I knew we would have plenty more dance parties.
About Cassandra Long:
Cassandra Long is an unidentified artist based out of Boston. You will never see her wearing a name tag or her driver’s license. Although many people have tried to point her out in a crowd by the time they get their hand up and their finger out she has ducked down on the floor. lol. I went to school and learned how to paint
and I do that sometimes still as well as make cartoons and write about stuff
that happens to me on my way to work. I live in Boston at the Cloud Club and I
am in a band called the Over Easies. I met Amanda Palmer when I was 18 with
ovarian cancer and we became friends and I love her a lot.
Cassandra Long is a visual artist,
writer, teacher, box office employee, band mate and roommate based out of Boston.
(note from amanda: you can follow casey’s highly amusing tumblr here: http://cassandramarielong.tumblr…, though she isn’t using it very much, and i keep trying to get her to start a patreon for her weird writing and painting and art projects.)
Discovering the John Peel sessions via the Bowie at the Beeb box set became the soundtrack to my blooming illustration career in London, the Jacques Brel cover Amsterdam has been threatening to inspire a series of art ever since, The Dresden Dolls cover fueled it further). Bowie was the poster boy for revelling in your own
uniqueness, and looking at his incredible costumes and personas through the years gave me the confidence to wear whatever the hell I wanted and was a huge influence on my crazy style. The V&A exhibit in London was worth travelling 24hours from Australia for, and I was moved to tears upon seeing the handwritten lyrics to Rock n Roll Suicide. He has entered my art on numerous occasions, via dreams and babies and sexually suggestive poses. So when Amanda asked if I would create something for a tribute record she was working on, I jumped.
All my life I have been obsessed with Space – NASA launched the shuttle program 12 days after I was born, and I grew up in an era when teachers were being sent up to conduct lessons in zero gravity. So Space Oddity resonated with me in my teens from the moment I first watched the music video on a 90s Britpop show, sandwiched between Pulp and Blur. Last year, I even went to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, where I learned to pilot the space shuttle, commanded mission control, and performed an EVA (extra vehicular activity) in full spacesuit. Last week, Tim Peake became the 1st British astronaut ever to walk in space. I borrowed his suit to portray Bowie. The reactions on social media pointed to our Major Tom headed up to Mars; I even read an article about a NASA conspiracy also involving Lemmy and Scott Weiland – so that’s exactly how I portrayed him, aged 69, in Tim Peake’s spacesuit, headed for Mars on the Russian Soyuz, looking back towards the moon and earth and bidding us farewell.
Cover (Aladdin Sane)
When Amanda told me she and Jherek planned to create Bowie covers entirely using stringed instruments, the first image that entered my head was the Aladdin Sane cover, with a violin and a cello in place of the lightning bolt. To me it is the iconic Bowie image – one which I would not wish to recreate without re-interpreting it in some way. (As I had done in an earlier piece about war involving a baby sporting the red and blue bolt and illustrated with the lyrics from 5 years). I’d considered changing the colours to actual wood tones – but ultimately decided on the striking importance of the red and blue. His two-tone eyes are of course the absolutest most perfect detail for an artist to portray.
find more sarah at: www.sarahbeetson.com
When I was 15, I took the bus to high school with an mp3 player. Along with the Dresden Dolls songs and movie soundtracks and whatnot, there was the Ziggy Stardust album. I don’t even remember how I got into it, but that music was on loop through nine months of drawing classes.
Bowie released 28 studio albums throughout his career. In all the years since high school, I have managed to listen to about twelve of them, and only properly know my way around eight or nine. Like the best music, it refuses to immediately lodge itself in your brain. It just doesn’t fit. It’s oblique, you need to look at it and figure out the angles. It requires your attention, and then it stretches you from the inside, like a growing fetus. You’re never quite the same afterwards.
See, Bowie’s entire life was a powerful act of magic: by the time his body left us, his spirit had managed to possess all of us who welcomed it. As long as his work lives, the spell will never be broken, instead only finding more hearts and minds where the Bowie will be housed.
Since the morning he died, every time I’ve tried to make music or conceive an image, he’s in there somewhere, his hand on my shoulder, whispering in my ear that I can strive for more, that I mustn’t lose sight of ant potential for the interesting, beautiful, extraordinary.
Bowie won’t be releasing anything new anymore. So now we’re all a little more responsible, we all have to try a little bit harder.
I find that exciting.
Part theater, part harlequin, part pragmatist, Bowie was great at being Bowie, no matter who or what he was.
His aim, he once said,was to be a prop for his own songs.
And though he admittedly extracted pieces of the world around him, trying them on, to ”create a person”, he was unique, wholly inimitable.
So when he passed away at age 69 from cancer, it felt unreal. Impossible.
It wasn’t denial of the truth. I know we all have to go sometime.
It was the realization that this artist who had repeatedly created and recreated himself for decades, impacting myself and millions of others,
wouldn’t be making any more transformations, except of course to that of another Departed Legend, category of Far Too Soon, subset Goddammit.
His wellspring for innovation and exploration seemed bottomless. He couldn’t be finished, I felt, because he wasn’t done.
But here I was at 3 AM, alone in stunned saddened silence, trying to translate the loss I felt into an appropriate tribute, a thank you.
I chose the eyes. The mirrors, windows facing inward. The part of Bowie that remained constant though his every metamorphosis, every incarnation.
It’s a meager ‘thank you’ to David Bowie for his gifts to us of his music, his mind, his life. Meager, but heartfelt.
**Bill Sienkiewicz is an Emmy-nominated, Eisner Award-winning artist/author. A descendant of Nobel Prize-winning novelist Henryk Sienkiewicz, he is perhaps best known for redefining the visual language and the public’s perception of Comics as an Artform, by his use of innovative multimedia techniques and versatile stylistic approaches. He continues to influence new generations of creators. He is also a NY Times best-selling artist and also produces work in Film,TV, Animation, and Music. He has exhibited worldwide.