Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.
Showing posts with label David Bowie. Show all posts
Showing posts with label David Bowie. Show all posts

Monday, January 25, 2016



Like a lot of people, I’ve been playing my David Bowie albums since the great man died, especially Scary Monsters.  And no doubt it’s because I make some claims to be a pedestrian that I’ve been fixating on those words, “She could’ve been a killer if she didn’t walk the way she do.”

It’s a great line but does it mean anything? I’m not sure that it does, and I’m absolutely sure it doesn’t matter whether it means anything or not, but I have been wondering what style of walking prevents you from being killer.  I suspect there are no easy answers.
One of the more interesting pieces written after Bowie’s death was by Steven Kurutz, in the New York Times, titled “David Bowie: Invisible New Yorker.”  Apparently there was a time about ten years ago when Bowie and John Guare would get together once in a while to talk about the possibilities of collaborating on a theatrical project.

It never happened, but Guare is quoted as saying, “We would take walks around the East Village and I was always praying somebody would run into us so I could say, ‘Do you know my friend David Bowie?’”  He was understandably disappointed that never happened either.

The article claims that Bowie could pass unnoticed even among the crowds of New York.  Guare again,  “He traveled with this cloak of invisibility - nobody saw him.”   Well, I’m here to tell you: not always.

About 15 years back I was in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, on a Sunday morning, and there, large as life, and very conspicuous, walking through one of the galleries was Mr. Bowie, accompanied by an entourage of half a dozen young men.  They were looking at paintings and every now and again Bowie would say stop and say something about the art, and the young men would hang on every word.  Before long everybody in the gallery was looking at Bowie and it became impossible to look at any of the art on the walls.  Iman and an all-female entourage were in the adjacent gallery but they were much less compelling.

This was on my mind last Sunday as I walked along West Temple Street in Los Angeles, on the way to see a “sound installation" by William Basinksi, in a storefront gallery called South of Sunset.  There was work by Chris Oliveria, and Steve Roden in there too.

Basinski has said in interviews that he changed from clarinet to saxophone because he wanted to be more like Bowie, and as a member of a band called the Rockettes he supported Bowie on the Serious Moonlight tour.  Of course he’s somewhat influenced by Bowie, because what modern musician isn’t, but I think he’s rather more influenced by the people who influenced Bowie: Eno, Steve Reich, John Cage.

Anyway, one has heard grander – and god knows louder - sound installations than the sound at South of Sunset.  Basinski’s music was more than minimalist, being played quietly on distinctly low-fi reel to reel tape recorder, but somehow the extreme modesty of the event was part of its charm.

West Temple is a bit bleak, a bit rough at the edges, but hardly the meanest of streets, and after the gallery I was wandering, taking the occasional photograph, including this one:

As I took the picture, a tough-looking Hsipanic guy who was out washing his car in the street yelled at me “Hey, why are you taking a picture?”  And I said, calmly, “Because I like the mural.”  And he said, not much less aggressively, “Who are you taking the picture for?”  And I said, “For me.”  This, rather unexpectedly, seemed to satisfy him, though it left me thinking there must be some story there I didn’t know about.  Was the guy simply fed up with hipsters photographing his neighborhood, or did he think perhaps I was a man from the city, come to inspect and maybe order the painting over of his mural?  I have no idea.  But when this was over, a much older, very benign-looking Hispanic guy who’d witness the exchange, he to me in a very friendly way, “Yes, it’s a great mural, isn’t it?”
         And I agreed that it was, though I think maybe I like this one better.  I think it’s the juxtaposition of the Virgin Mary and the Bud Light ad.

 In fact I can't even tell you the title of the installed Basinksi piece.  It wasn't this one, but this one's good too. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014


Before I was “settled,” I lived all over the place in London, including once, briefly, in Stamford Hill, then and now a prosperous suburb with a large Jewish population that at some point had included Marc Bolan, (originally Feld).

I didn’t know that at the time, and only discovered it when avant-garde composer John Zorn released a sort of tribute album Great Jewish Music: Marc Bolan as part of his Radical Jewish Culture series.  I’m not sure that Bolan's Jewishness plays much of a part in songs such as “Get it on” much less (pedestrian allusion coming up) “Beltane Walk:”

Walking down by the westwind

I met a boy he was my friend

I said boy we could sing it too

And we do

Give us love

Give us little love

Give us little love from your hearts
And then we'll walk.

The place I lived in Stamford Hill was not conspicuously prosperous, nor conspicuously Jewish.  I had a nasty room in a nasty shared flat, one of three in a nasty house, with just one nasty bathroom for all of us.  Knowing that Marc Bolan had lived nearby wouldn’t have made me very much happier.

One of the supposed advantages of Stamford Hill was that it was on the Tube, and most of the accommodation I could afford was not.  But whenever I managed to find a place in a neighbourhood served by the Tube there was always at least a mile-long walk to the station, and that was the case here, plus my flat was at the top of the Stamford Hill, while the Stamford Hill station was at the bottom.

These days I tend to think that a mile-long walk at the beginning and end of each day is a very good thing, but back then I was filled with resentment.  A mile-long slog up a hill, after work, to get to a nasty room in a nasty flat didn’t make my heart sing.  I moved on as soon as I could, though not in fact to anywhere much better.

And now, even as I suspect there may be more to the story than has been reported, I’m cautiously prepared to join in the general and predictable “outrage” that posters have appeared on the streets of Stamford Hill saying, "Women should please walk along this side of the road only," while presumably, though perhaps not necessarily, saying the same thing in Hebrew.

According to the Independent newspaper these posters were put up by “an orthodox Jewish group” in preparation for a Torah Procession. One Chaim Hochhauser, from the Stamford Hill Shomrim Group, (shomrim being a kind of heavy-duty and apparently very successful neighborhood watch group), said it had contacted the organizers to inform them that the posters "lacked explanation in the English text, and therefore could have offended people who don’t understand the Hebrew wording and the logo.”

The implication here of course is that if people did understand the Hebrew wording then they wouldn’t be offended; a proposition that I doubt.  And is this really a question of offence and understanding?  Isn’t the issue that a religion which dictates where and when women can walk, even in a procession, is, you know, questionable.  I mean, why weren’t there signs that said, "Men should please walk along the other side of this road," though I admit that would only have been very slightly better.  The local council, in its wisdom, had the posters swiftly removed.

Above, for comparison, is a picture of a Torah Procession from Ahavat Olam in Miami, Florida.  It doesn’t seem as though G-d has much problem with men and women walking on the same side, or apparently right in the middle, of the road, although I would be the first to admit that Stamford Hill is not Florida.

And for those of you who missed the allusion in the title of this post, it's Reeves and Dave and Gary, "The King of Stamford Hill" - it's a bit potty-mouthed I'm afraid, but it's good.