Sometimes, nothing else will take your mind off crappy news of the day than Ann Magnuson channeling David Bowie. I have been combing through my old video archives and seeing what’s worth preserving and—as an old therapist liked to tell me—”lifting up” for your attention.
On the occasion of David Bowie’s 64th birthday on Jan. 8, 2011, Ann, a native West Virginian, reprised in Los Angeles a Bowie homage show first performed in her hometown of Charleston, W.Va., at the Empty Glass.
Here is footage from that show on July 15, 2010, featuring Magnuson and a band led by Chuck Biel on bass and cool hat and shades, with Ryan Kennedy on guitar (and a rare appearance in a snow-white suit); Vince Biel on drums; Laurel Denny on backing vocals; and Doug Payne on sax and black feather boa.
Magnuson’s LA shows at the Steve Allen Theater featured her backing band, the Star Whackers From Mars (Kristian Hoffman, Jonathan Lea, Joe Berardi, Kristi Callanand, Miiko Watanabe, plus guest performer Michael Des Barres.)
But that site, or at least that article, is vaporware (though maybe I should hunt for it on the Wayback Machine). Below is a snippet of the interview still up on the Youtube page of this video. For more on Ann’s colorful resume—did you know she once sang for five hours in the Whitney Museum elevator?—see her IMDB page and Wikipedia page. It features this fine quote about Ann from a 1990 New York Times profile: “An endearing theatrical chameleon who has as many characters at her fingertips as Lily Tomlin does.”
WARNING: This video was shot with an old Motorola Razr phone camera. It shows. I must have felt abashed, as you’ll witness the “Crappy video ahead” scrolling text on the original lumpy video editing I did. (We were so young, then, with our Razr phones ….) PS: Stay for the final roundhouse kick.
QUESTION: Why exactly does Bowie still matter in popular music, do you think?
ANN MAGNUSON: “He wrote SONGS. Very good and smartly crafted songs. With melodies. That told very evocative –and quite frequently seductive — stories.
“Plus, by his own admission, he ‘purloins’ and he tends to purloin from very interesting sources—at least he did when I was buying his records in the 1970s. I think those albums are still radical.
“I just watched the D. A. Pennebacker documentary of the last Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars show from July 3, 1973. Both the music and the visuals still hold up. If anything, the simplicity of the presentation makes it far more radical than anything out there today, since the likes of “American Idol” and Lady Gaga have turned rock into some kind of fast-food commodity, trundling out the samo-samo, with everyone trying way too hard to be ‘outre‘.
“What struck me during this latest viewing of the Ziggy doc is how little Bowie actually does on stage. He’s so clearly in his element and knows how to just let his charisma do most of the work, choosing to be very economical with his movement. That mime training surely helped.”