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  • Writer's pictureMichael Lenzi

(Re)Collection: Aladdin Sane

The Record and Tape That Started It All

It wasn't until many years after I bought this LP that I realized the title was a play on words. A Lad Insane. Uh, I can be kind of thick. I just loved the songs and the cover art. Over the years, I have come to terms with my innate ability to misapprehend songs/titles/lyrics/themes. I just flat out miss what the artist or musician is actually trying to say most of the time. In school, I liked reading books and short stories, but I would do horribly on tests and in discussions about them. I just enjoyed reading them and getting lost in them. I am ok with that now. People should be allowed to get art wrong. Or at the very least understand art however they choose to understand it.

I hate being overly critical of music I genuinely like. Dissecting it, analyzing it. Coming up with arguments about why it is the best or worst. It makes me dislike the music and the myself. But I am comfortable talking about music I love if you love it, too. So, David Bowie. I love David Bowie. He made music that speaks to me independent of what anyone else said about it. I am thankful for finding his records. Or for his records finding me. I am also thankful that his music was popular because otherwise I would have not been the type to know to look for it. It was around a lot. At some point, I decided it was mine. Big step.

I was a late bloomer. Many of my friends were music lovers before they even hit their teens. Not me. I was more of a Sporty Spice. Then I discovered that sports were not where my mind was. I didn't relate to the people I played with. I felt like an outsider in that aggressive, male world. I loved playing games of skill, but everything else attached to them made little sense to me.

When I started high school, I discovered that I liked languages. I was required to study Latin and had to pick another language. I chose German. I joined the German Club. Herr Gedman was my German teacher and ran the German Club. He was popular among the students. He had a way of getting us interested in the language without really telling us we needed to be interested in it. It was a natural thing. To his credit, he also initiated a foreign exchange program with a school in Bonn, Germany. The amazing part was that it was with an all girls Catholic school. My school was an all boys Catholic school. Genius.

Naturally, many boys in German class wanted to get involved. Juniors were eligible. I jumped on that. So did my friends Ben and Dave. We knew a good thing when we saw it. The girls from the Ursilinen Schule came over first and stayed with host families. I hosted a girl by the name of Beate. Then we flew over, and I stayed with Beate's family.

In Germany, I discovered how awesome it was to drink beer legally at 16. I also enjoyed being a minor celebrity in a German girls school just because I was an American boy. The bar was low, because I assure you we weren't a bunch of swaggering James Deans. That didn't matter. Anything American was somehow cool.

I have nothing sordid to share about our trip. We all basked in the glow of female attention, kissed a few girls, went to parties, got a little drunk and enjoyed our freedom. I clearly remember one night coming back late from a party with Dave. We were both happily buzzed. He was riding a bike and pulling me behind on a skateboard down a road that cut through a flat field. I had my Walkman on. In the Walkman was a tape I had made earlier that day.

We all had gone shopping in Bonn, and I stumbled into one of those soulless record stores with fluorescent lights and rows and rows of shrink-wrapped records. I spotted the David Bowie Aladdin Sane record right away. It was in the bargain bin. I think they used to call those low budget reproductions of popular records Nice Price or Best Buy or something.

It was 8 Marks 90. I bought it. The price tag tells me it was March of 1983. I took it back to Beate's house and propped her mono, handheld tape recorder up against the speakers of her home hi-fi and recorded the album. So much for sound quality.

That record was blasting in my headphones. Dave was swerving back and forth on the bike trying to make me fall off the skateboard, and we were both laughing like crazy.

Somehow Aladdin Sane didn't scare me even if it had many of the same attributes of music that genuinely did. My mind could roam around in the weirdness. His voice soothed me, spoke to me. The songs were disjointed, nostalgic little movies filled with mesmerizing images and layers of sound. I felt a freedom to not understand what the hell it was about. I embraced it.

When friends who know I love Bowie ask me what my favorite Bowie record is, I say Aladdin Sane. It just makes sense to me. Forget the fact that I have probably misunderstood the meaning, significance, references and context of every song on that record. I know what it's about in my mind. That's what matters.

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