Today’s post is a slight departure from my usual “cover of the week,” which I typically post on Mondays. This is the third and final installment of the interview with Marc Lowe, however the featured video is one of his Bowie covers— “All the Madmen” from The Man Who Sold the World.
The topics covered in the last two days’ segments largely focused on Bowie, so at this point you might want to know more about Marc. As I alluded to on Friday, he answered the open ended question, “who are you?” in a way I wasn’t entirely expecting. So that’s where we’ll pick up today.
But before we dive in, I just wanted to once again highlight a link to Marc’s expansive website, where you can access much more of his excellent material (click here to link).
Q. Who are you?
Oh my, how to approach this simplest — yet most difficult — of questions? (Laugh.) OK, well, I will try not to get too philosophical about it and try and give as direct an answer as possible…
Who am I? Well, I am a single man (once divorced) who turned 50 last year (I will turn 51 on February 26) who might say that his life and personality are defined by being an individual who has followed his own heart in terms of career choices and making music (which I do almost entirely on my own, from A-Z, rather than with a band or a producer or whatever), but that this sometimes leads him into long periods of solitude, reflection, senselessly obsessive (non-commercial) art-making (music, video, writing – both fiction and non, etc.), though the latter does not produce any income. On the downside of this slippery slope, it also imbues, at times, this “Who am I?” with a deep sense of loneliness (I have been living alone in Tokyo for over four years now, and spend much of my time alone), frustration with the state of the world (like most people, I imagine, though I dwell on it a bit more than the average married-with-kids-and-a-steady-9-to-5-with-a-pension individual would likely have the time or energy for, especially if they have young children at home!), and a stubborness that sometimes causes me to feel myself a bit of a “black sheep.”
How is that for a muddled answer?
Q. You have a sizable amount of content online. Do you have a suggestion of where to start?
A. Oh boy, another great question, but where, indeed, to begin?
So, firstly, let’s cut to the chase before I start going off on my various tangents, shall we?
Here are a few links to my work (click on each to link):
So, now to give a more thoughtful answer to your question (I’ll do my best!)…
Well, I guess it would go something like this: It depends!
Let me make an analogy here. How would one answer the same question for David Bowie’s catalog? Someone comes up to you, John, and says, “I am interested in listening to a David Bowie song or album. Can you suggest where I should start?” How would you answer this?
The simplest answer I can imagine (in the case of Bowie) might be to say something like, “How about just starting with one of the many ‘Best Of’ compilations and then decide from there,” right? That’s a pretty general answer that might be good for a certain kind of music listener, but maybe not the best answer for everyone. Needless to say, there is not one “Best Of” collection one can go to for my music, of course, and as all of it is self-produced, who can/should decide what to include, other than me? (Not very objective!). That being said I do, in fact, have many compilations one can find where I’ve collated things from different “eras” in my own career, since, frankly, I have so much material, not all of which would otherwise be available to the public.
To give a few examples here, “Reincarnations” (there are two parts) covers some of the material I wrote and recorded between the years 2017-2020. “Redux” is a collection of remixes I did of earlier material (mostly frequently-performed or rearranged songs, with some “rarities” thrown in for good measure) in 2021, during the Covid pandemic, taking a break from recording the final two LPs in a four-LP sequence that year that make up my ’21 “Tetralogy” (namely, the albums Hope/The Sun Is Coming/The Answer Is Inside/Moment). “A Glass Sun,” which I more recently released via my distributor, also includes all kinds of material (almost all of it different from what is featured on “Reincarnations,” by the bye) culled from 2017-19, but in “Bricolage” form; that is, long-running tracks (around an hour each) that include both excerpts and full songs, but mixed together so that it flows like a soundtrack, if you will, or an uninterrupted DJ set. I also have four new such Bricolages I will be officially releasing soon, featuring more recent work of mine (i.e. 2020-2023, with the material from 2020 coming from the latter-half of the year, after Covid began and my music — and life situation — changed rather radically). These “Bricolages” (entitled: “Inner Worlds Collide”) can actually be streamed right now on my YouTube page — all four parts are collected there under a single folder, for ease of access.
A second way of answering the question above (getting back to Bowie, for a moment) might be to consider who is asking the question in the first place, and what his or her tastes might be, right? So, if you know that this person really digs, say, ’60s and ’70s rock, like the Stones or Led Zeppelin, you might well recommend Ziggy Stardust, or even, say, The Man Who Sold the World, Aladdin Sane (e.g. songs like “Watch That Man,” “Panic In Detroit”), or even the rockier tracks on Diamond Dogs, like “Rebel Rebel” and so on… On the other hand, if your friend or acquaintance is more into, say, Art Rock or instrumental music or stuff that is a bit more on the “experimental” side of the spectrum, you could easily recommend Low or Lodger or Scary Monsters…or Outside from ’95.
As the bulk of my music is experimental in some way (though not everything is necessarily so, and who’s to say what is and isn’t “experimental” anyway…), I would maybe answer something like, “Just dive in and see for yourself!” since this is the spirit of “experimental” music and art itself. I do a lot of improvisational things these days, so depending on whether one is looking more for bona fide “songs” or enjoys longer, less pop-song structured things, ambient music, noise music (though let me clarify that I am NOT a “noise artist,” simply someone who uses different styles of noise or distortion at times as a spice or an accent) and so on, I would, again, say, “Just listen and see what you do and don’t like”…
Finally, let me add that, if one is more generally into acoustic or “raw emotional” style songs, rather than electronic or experimental music (another of my major influences is Jeff Buckley, by the way, who was a very different type of singer and performer than Bowie, whose vocal style tends to be described as “cool” and “dispassionate,” whereas Buckley’s is anything-but…), I could recommend some of my acoustic-only and/or piano-vocal only material. For a recent album that is primarily acoustic “singer-songwriter” style material, but also somewhat loose and experimental in its approach, too (it’s basically a collection of rearranged/rerecorded songs I’d written in around 2015-16, when I was the leader of a band, so perhaps it’s equivalent to my “Toy” album, in a sense…), I’d suggest “022623.” This album, just to give a little bit more background information on it here, was recorded around a month before my 50th birthday, and in fact it soon led me to complete a trilogy of LPs, what I now refer to collectively as “Triad” (2023), with the second and third parts being more experimental and abstract on the whole. I’ve also done many acoustic-only compilations, such as the “In My Room” series (all songs recorded “live and unplugged” and without any studio wizardry at home), “Revisited,” a collection of earlier acoustic recordings from 2018-2020 or thereabouts, with slightly (shall I say?) refurbished sound and a new recording of my song “Coda” from last year, and others as well.
Finally, if one is inclined toward “electronic music with a lot of beats,” or, in other words, Industrial style music, such as the aforementioned Nine Inch Nails, Coil, etc., you can’t go wrong (I think) with my solo side-project This Dark Shroud, also at Spotify, Apple Music, and other such streaming services. (The artist name is different, but it’s still me and my original songs and tributes to other artists.)
Q. Who is your audience?
A. Me. And anyone else who wants to come along for the ride.
Q. I’m guessing that you were not born in Japan— how is it that you came to live there?
A. Now that is a very long story, but I will do my best to keep it relatively brief.
I came here as a study-abroad student in 1995 (going back to my story about Outside for just a moment… That was the first CD I bought in Japan, when I saw it on the shelf of a Tsutaya CD/DVD shop, completely unaware that Bowie had been working on a new solo album up until that very moment!). After spending one year (actually, it was more like nine months total) in Japan studying the language and also Japanese literature, I returned to the States, graduated, and then returned to Japan again in the late ’90s. Eventually I ended up doing graduate school (twice) in the U.S. — I have an MA degree in Japanese literature from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and an MFA in Creative Writing from Brown University — and then I returned to Japan in 2011, just weeks after the “3.11” earthquake and nuclear disaster in Fukushima (located in the north), living at the time on the southernmost island of Kyushu in Fukuoka, where I taught language and literature at university full time for what ended up being eight years (my initial contract had only been for two, but I was able to find teaching work in another department for an additional 3+3 years). Then, in 2019, after my university contract there ended, I moved to Tokyo, both to find new teaching work and to continue my “musical career” as an artist making non-traditional music (the quotes are really necessary here, not because I am trying to be cheeky or clever, but because music and creative work, per se, is not my bread-and-butter: that would be teaching at university). Then came, well…all sorts of stuff I won’t go into here, though you can read about all of it in a long essay I wrote last year on my writing blog.
Let me just add here, as an aside, getting back to Bowie for just a moment, that although he did not speak the language, he definitey did have a great love of Japan and some strong connections to the culture of Japan. He was especially fond of Kyoto, and used to come to Kyoto just to walk around and enjoy it as a tourist. (I myself lived in Kyoto for a single year, between ’99-’00, as an aside, so I can understand what Bowie must have seen in it, from a cultural perspective.) Most long-time Bowie fans will of course also be familiar with the role Kabuki theater had on him when creating the stage show for Ziggy Stardust (this via Lindsay Kemp, Bowie’s mime teacher early on in his career, who himself had an interest in the Kabuki theater and in onnagata, etc., which I won’t get into here), that he wore kimono designed for him by Kansai Yamamoto, that he did an advertisement for Japanese sake in 1979 (the song for which would later be reentitled “Crystal Japan”), that he starred in Nagisa Oshima’s “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” in the ’80s alongside Ryuichi Sakamoto, the Japanese composer and electronic musician, and that the famous cover shot of “Heroes” was taken by his friend, the photographer Sukita Masayoshi. But I’ll stop right here, since I don’t want to end up writing a book about this as a part of the blog interview, especially as this particular question was supposed to be about me and not about Bowie!
Q. Tell us about the class you taught on Bowie and if you have plans to teach it again?
A. Well, I was asked three years ago by one of my universities to do a course on American or British Studies. At first I had considered teaching a novel by the author J.G. Ballard, since I thought it would be a nice opportunity to teach outside of what I normally do (i.e. American and sometimes Japanese literature), but when the professor who had taught the course before me sent me his syllabus as a sample, and when I saw that his theme had been “African American and Jazz Culture in the U.S.,” a metaphorical lightbulb lit up in my head, and I asked if it would be possible to do a course on David Bowie, the “U.K. musician and artist.” Well, I got a very encouraging response almost immediately from the professor in question, so that’s how it came to pass…
I’ve taught the course three years in a row now, two sections each during the fall semester (though not in the spring term). This past term another university where I teach American literature courses suddenly requested me to teach a course on British Culture, since I guess the professor who had been slated to teach it could no longer do so for whatever reason, so I was able to add yet an additional section of it to my fall line-up. That particular section had over 100 students in attendance, a pretty large class! (I don’t mind teaching to such a large group, but grading their papers… That’s another story!) Unfortunately, it appears that I am not scheduled to do British Culture at either university next academic year (I am teaching other courses on American and Japanese literature, as well as Creative Writing and Current Events, but not British Culture this time).
That being said, I am now planning (if there is enough interest) to hopefully teach some version of the Bowie class/course online, via Skype or perhaps Zoom (it could be done as a sort of open lecture or workshop, Q&A style class, creative class… Whatever format would be most beneficial to anyone interested — I am rather flexible…).
So, well… Any takers out there??
Q. Is there anything else you’d like my readers to know about you and your work, or about Bowie?
A. Very kind of you to ask, John. I think I will leave the rest to your readers’ discretion. But let me just end everything here by saying thank you so much, John, for granting me this unique opportunity to discuss David Bowie in conjunction with my own work, and also to share it with you and your readers. It has truly been a pleasure and an honor.
Thus concludes the interview. I’ve been doing this blog for years, and this was one of the most satisfying and revelatory experiences I’ve had thus far. I’m extremely grateful that Marc Lowe took so much time and care to share all this, and while today end the interview, I suspect that this won’t be the last time Marc Lowe appears on this blog.