From the “What the Hell?” File

Did you know that Barbara Streisand does a version of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?” From 1974?

Why does this hurt my frontal lobes so very much?

You know who would do an awesome version of that song? Kate Bush. Someone should make that happen. And then I can use it to rinse out my brain.

28 Comments on “From the “What the Hell?” File”

  1. I like the Seu Jorge cover. I realize that it is heresy to say it, but I frequently find Kate Bush’s styling to be too self-consciously affected. How about Kate Havnevik? Or Bjork?

    Yeah. Bjork. That would be cool.

  2. There is an image missing in this post … Safari says it can’t find “c:/Users/John Scalzi/Desktop/rg2tu101507.jpg”

    Hey, it happens to all of us :)

  3. Totally off the subject, but…

    Your most recent posts on By The Way (which live on in my Bloglines cache) have vanished. This leads my sleep deprived brain to jump to the conclusion that you are a casualty of the most recent AOL layoffs. My logic being, “Why give them free content if they decided not to pay you anymore…so he deleted the Monday posts.” Please say it isn’t so and AOL-J is just being a bitch, like it often is.

    I did the Monday photo shoot and everything. *sigh*

  4. I heard it once. They played it on a local (small town Florida) easy listening radio station. I am guessing this was the first and only time a Bowie song rode their airwaves.

    In an interview a few years later, Bowie stated that he hadn’t liked that cover. “Sorry. Barbra,” he said.

    I don’t believe Bowie is an easy artist to cover.

  5. Yes! Kate Bush covering Bowie!

    You know who else could do it? Either Marillion or Fish. I’d prefer Marillion because Steve Hogarth’s voice is better suited to doing Bowie material, but can you imagine what Fish, the guy who sang “Kayleigh” for Marillion, would do with that song?

  6. the real question is, what Streisand songs should David Bowie cover? “People”? “Papa Can You Hear Me?” a duet with Kate Bush of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”?

  7. changterhune – Before you hear lies from Chang Terhune himself, we thought we’d tell you the truth: without us, his old action figures, he’d be nowhere. He loved science fiction from way back and began reading it at an early age, but it was through us that he acted it all out. That’s what led to the writing. He watched a lot of science fiction shows like Star Trek, U.F.O, and movies, too. But we were always there to do his bidding. And it’s like they say: you always forget about the little people on your way up. Oh, the 70’s and early 80’s with him were good times! He’d use these blocks and make all the crazy buildings for us to be in his stories. I gotta say the kid’s imagination was pretty damn fertile. Oh, he had friends, but they just weren’t into it like him. He was like the Lance Armstrong of action figures. And of science fiction. At first, when he began writing in the eighth grade, we didn’t mind. He still made time for us. And we knew that when he was holding us in his sweaty little hands and he got that far off look in his eye, he’d come back to burying us in the back yard or - god forbid! – blowing us up with firecrackers. But it was worth it for a part in one of those stories. We loved him for it. He kept us around even when we were minus a leg or two - or even a head. In that mind of his, he found a use for all of us. Then he discovered girls. October, 1986. It was like the end of the world. One day we’re standing in the middle of this building block creation he’d pretended was some marble city on a planet near Alpha Centauri and the next we were stuck in a box in the closet. Not even a “See ya later!” Nope, it was into the closet, then we heard some high-pitched girly-giggles then silence. We didn’t see him for years. We got word about him once in a while. Heard he took up writing, but it was crap like “The Breakfast Club” only with better music. We couldn’t believe it. Not Charlie. What happened to those aliens with heads he’d sculpted out of wax? Spaceships? Those complex plots? All gone. For what? You guessed it: Girls. Emotions. “Serious fiction.” I tell you, it was like hearing Elvis had left the building. During our two decade exile in the closet, we heard other things about him. He went to college. He wrote a lot, but not much he really liked. We knew it even then. It was like he didn’t dare write science fiction. Some of us had lost hope and just lay there. Others kept vigil, hoping for a day we didn’t dare speak about. Then we heard he’d stopped writing in 1996. Did he come to reclaim us? No. He took up music for ten years or so. He took up yoga. Once in a while, he’d visit us in the closet. But it was half-hearted. His mind was elsewhere. Then one day, he really did come back for us. One second we’re in the dark and the next thing we know we’re in a car headed for Massachusetts. Suddenly we got a whole shelf to ourselves out in broad daylight! Then he bought a bunch of others form some planet called Ebay. He’d just sit and stare at us with that old look. But why were we suddenly back in the picture? He had a wife now, who didn’t mind that he played with us. So what had happened? Turns out he’d never forgotten about those stories. He’d been thinking about all of us and the stories he’d made up and then remembered he’d been a writer once. From the shelf we could see him typing away. Before long he’s got a whole novel together! Then he’s working on another one. Word is there are two more in the planning stages! Some short stories, too! It’s good to see him using his imagination again. Its good to know he never abandoned us. He returned to his true love of science fiction. We hear the stories are pretty good. Someday we’ll get one of the cats to score us a copy of the manuscript. Man, it’s good to be out of the damn closet! --- I'm smarter than you I'm harder than you I'm better than you I'm just raw I'm hotter than you More popular than you More clever than you And goshdarn it, people like me I'm smarter than you I'm harder than you I'm better than you I'm just raw I'm hotter than you More popular than you More clever than you And goshdarn it, people like me
    Chang O.C., the Original Changsta

    Oh, you think Kate Bush covering anything would sound good.

  8. I don’t believe Bowie is an easy artist to cover.

    Bauhaus did an awesome cover of “Ziggy Stardust” back in the way back when. Which isn’t be the least bit surprising. 10,000 Maniacs did a pretty good cover of “Starman,” which surprising (to me, anyway: I tend to run hot and cold with Merchant and the Maniacs).

    The Wallflowers’ cover of “‘Heroes'” should just be taken out and shot without a trial. I’m sorry. No I’m not. It sucks. I don’t care if it did get nominated for a Grammy or won it or whatever. They sucked all the air right out of that song.

    In terms of David Bowie covers, what still tickles me is Bowie doing a cover of Jonathan Richman song (“Pablo Picasso,” on Reality). That’s at least, like, I don’t know, nineteen kinds of awesome. Maybe twenty, but don’t ask me to actually list them.

  9. An Eric:

    Peter Murphy and Bowie have similar voices, which is why I think that Bauhaus cover works (major Peter Murphy/Bowie fan here). I haven’t heard the 10,000 Maniacs cover.

    I really like Bowie’s cover of “Cactus” as well.

  10. Chang:

    “Oh, you think Kate Bush covering anything would sound good.”

    I don’t she would particularly well serve, say, “Welcome to the Jungle.”

  11. Peter Murphy was asked if he was a Bowie fan by the press once. He replied, “I was when I was younger.”
    “What are you now?” they asked.
    “A sincere admirer.”

    Unfortunately, it isn’t returned. I think Bowie said something to the effect that the Bauhaus cover completely misinterpreted the song or something. Also, is it just me or does he sneer at Murphy when he leaves the party in The Hunger?

  12. I am old enough that I remember when Streisand first appeared. I could never understand why people liked her – until I heard her rendition of “Memory”, from the Broadway show “Cats”. IMO, that one performance is so incredible that anything else she does, or has already done, is irrelevant.

    I am still not a Streisand fan, but I now understand why other people have been raving about her for decades.

  13. Unfortunately, it isn’t returned. I think Bowie said something to the effect that the Bauhaus cover completely misinterpreted the song or something. Also, is it just me or does he sneer at Murphy when he leaves the party in The Hunger?

    Funny. To my ears, the Bauhaus cover sounds almost identical.

    I had read somewhere that Bowie wasn’t very gracious to Murphy and Co. during the filming of The Hunger. He refused to meet with them after the filming of the opening scene, iirc. I don’t remember if he was still in his cocaine phase then. Not that he wasn’t occasionally a jerk when sober.

    I like them both. I think their voices are damned similar, although I think Murphy’s is stronger. Amazing since they both smoke–I think Bowie’s voice reflects the damage more.

  14. I agree that the Bauhaus cover of “Ziggy” is pretty damn faithful to the original.

    Given that Murphy sounds a lot like Bowie, that Bauhaus was obviously influenced by mid-70s Bowie, and possibly even the similar controlled-substance habits, I have to wonder if Bowie’s dislike of Bauhaus was an example of someone seeing a reflection and not liking it. It happens sometimes.

    I wonder if Bowie’s attitude persists. He’s mellowed out a lot over the years, and sobered up. As a f’r’instance, he was on-the-record as hating post-Barrett Pink Floyd back in the 70s, but last year joined David Gilmour for a live version of Barrett’s “Arnold Layne.” (Which seems like something he wouldn’t have done 25 years ago.)

  15. I have to wonder if Bowie’s dislike of Bauhaus was an example of someone seeing a reflection and not liking it. It happens sometimes.

    Could’ve just been that he didn’t like people covering his stuff, which is funny given the number of covers on his most recent albums. I was really surprised to see he’d covered Neil Young–“I’ve Been Waiting For You.” Not sure he pulls it off, but it’s one of my favorite Young songs and I like it as it is.

  16. For a good brain rinse, here’s a live performance of “Heroes” by King Crimson. The guitar work is even better than on Bowie’s original version.

  17. Kristine: If Bowie doesn’t like others doing covers, it would be ironic because he’s always done covers. “Amsterdam,” “Wild Is The Wind,” and “Kingdom Come,” not to mention Pin-Ups which is entirely covers. (I don’t have Pin-Ups, can’t tell you if it’s any good.) Matter of fact, I recently got the 2-CD version of Diamond Dogs, and the second disc includes Bowie’s version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Growing Up.” (He does it justice.)

    The guy’s gotta be okay with people doing covers, else he’s a total (although brilliant) asshat.

    izzy: I can’t watch YouTube at work, but I look forward to seeing that video. Y’know Fripp did the guitar on the original, right? Anyway, thank you, and I can’t wait to click that link.

  18. An Eric:

    Pin Ups is not Bowie’s best overall, but it has great moments, specifically “See Emily Play” and “Sorrow”.

    Sure I know that Fripp played guitar on the original “Heroes”. I wouldn’t have thought it possible to top that, but here he just did it.

  19. I don’t she would particularly well serve, say, “Welcome to the Jungle.”

    That’s because the “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Should I Stay Or Should I Go Now” both deserve to have been sung by Ethyl Merman.

    Seriously. Make sure no one is listening, then channel Ethyl singing one of those songs.

    It’s perfect.

  20. The Streisand albums from 1963 through about 1979 are pretty good. Life On Mars is pretty much a cabaret staple thanks to Streisand’s interpretation. It’s worth a listen.

  21. I don’t think Bowie minds people covering his songs, but he might wince a bit, seeing as how they’re so often bungled by those who do. (Although Franz Ferdinand’s recent cover of “Sound and Vision” was pretty decent!)

  22. Would you believe I heard Barbra Streisand’s version of “Life on Mars” BEFORE hearing the original? :) I like both versions of the song; if you give hers a chance, you might find that she did a decent interpretation of it.

  23. I like the Flaming Lips cover of Life On Mars. The singer doesn’t use a microphone; he sings the lyrics into a guitar pickup. It’s very cool and hovers on the edge of understanding— if you know the lyrics, you can get what he’s singing, and if you don’t it will probably sound alien.

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