Phillip David Raskin turns to face the strange with a tribute to Bowie classic "Changes"
It must be a bizarre experience to write the one song about yourself that so precisely articulates not just what you are – but also actually what you will be for your entire 50-year career – all before you turn 25, and have it all fit into a strangely symmetrical 3 minutes 33 seconds. Weirder still must be singing it years later (or worse yet, having people appropriate and return to you the distant echoes of yourself speaking in a young man’s voice that never ages, even if the person in the song does), and having it all be oddly appropriate after all these years.
From the first time I heard it, I loved everything about “Changes” the slow start, the closing coda, the vocal twangs (“I watched the ripples / chawnge their siwze”), the mood swings from verse to chorus, the backing vocals that get a little too excited post-bridge, and that smart-ass kid warning the rock and rollers to look out! The song was always there for me. It understood the secret frustration I had, (and quite honestly many days still have) the burning itch to do SOMETHING, but frozen in uncertainty about what that something would be, coupled with the chilling dread that I would someday be found out, worst of all by myself. For some reason I felt like Bowie (-then and me-later) had the same problems, the same concerns – and by writing those lyrics and putting them forth into the world he somehow understood me and all the other me’s out there. And that in that moment, I understood him too.
Apparently “Changes” is actually the last song Bowie ever performed live (in 2006). But I didn’t see it. In fact, I never saw it live. With The Icon’s passing this week, I went back through my Bowie concert history (what did we ever do before Setlist.fm?) and totalled up songs from the five shows I saw from 1987 through 2004. I found a highly representative collection of almost every famous song he’s had … and off-center ones no one expected, but no Changes. The fairly annoying (for me) Panic in Detroit THREE TIMES. But never Changes. And now, never will it be. Not this time. Not next time. Not in your time.
But perhaps that’s how this song is meant to be. Its very message of not staying in the past, moving ahead before anyone else does or realizes it (even yourself), to never catch a glimpse… Turn and face the strange(r). And remember that time changes all of us, even chameleon rock gods, philosophical art intellectuals, experimental performance artists and mimes, electronic music collaborators, or just a dad trying to spend as much time with his family and teenage daughter before it all ended.
Goodbye David. I can’t trace time either. But I know it – and you – changed me.