I’m a big David Bowie fan, but not because I heard his songs and listened to him on the radio. The first song of his that I liked was the collaboration with Queen “Under Pressure,” and even then (early to mid-80s) I associated that song more with the supergroup than I did with just Bowie. Radio hits of the 80s that followed (“Let’s Dance,” “Blue Jean”) were a welcome splash to the otherwise repetitive string of pop put out at the time.
Because pre-internet times demanded to do so, I was a member of the Columbia Records and Tapes Club, and one fine day, after failing to reject the album of the month, I received a copy of “Nirvana Unplugged in New York,” which I diligently listened to, it being the 90s and surely anything by Nirvana was worth listening to. The truth is, only one song stuck in my head, and that was “The Man Who Sold the World.” I couldn’t quite understand who Kurt Cobain credited the song to, although I was able to figure it out in not-too-long a spell (I actually had several conversations with friends and co-workers — pre-internet days, remember?).
It was during those times that I also frequented driving to the big Metropolis (Houston) to visit the big stores (Barnes & Noble) and I was able to secure my own CD copy of Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World, and suddenly, maybe 20 years too late, I became a big Bowie fan. I don’t know that I can easily rattle off the names or melodies of the rest of the songs in the album, but “The Man Who Sold the World” is enough to fill a library of memories, hopes and doubts that were otherwise filled with synthesized chords and other regrets.
After my initial approach to “The Man Who Sold the World,” slowly I absorbed the rest of the Bowie library, which lives with me even without the help of Spotify or any other recorded medium.
Nirvana’s cover was a faithful rendition of the song, and I guess that any artist that attempts to do so will triumph in his or her or their own way, which is why that accidental CD delivery made up my mind once and for all that performing a cover song is indeed the most sincere form of flattery. If I had any talent at all, I would pick up an instrument and record R.E.M.’s “Find the River” and call it a life.