Three weeks ago, David Bowie, one of vital artists to making me feel okay as a weirdo high schooler, left us. Today, Amanda Palmer, one of the other vital artists for weirdo high school me, dropped an all-strings David Bowie tribute album called Strung Out in Heaven.
With the help of composer, arranger, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Jherek Bischoff (who has previously collaborated with Amanda Palmer as a member of the Grand Theft Orchestra) and funded by her Patreon page, Palmer arranged Bowie’s songs, gathered guest artists, recorded, and released the EP in under two weeks.
For Palmer, creating the EP was a form of healing. In a blog post upon dropping the album, Palmer wrote, “It didn’t hit me until a week later, in the studio, why this was such a fitting project. We were immersing ourselves in Bowieland, living in the songs, super-glueing up some fresh wounds. Not just ‘knowing’ the songs, but feeling the physical chords under our sad fingers, excavating the deeper architecture of the songwriting.”
This is most apparent in “Heroes.” A string quartet deconstructs the original composition, but the act of deconstructing does not mean the emotion behind the song is gone. Rather, the emotion is at the core of the arrangement. The strings maintain a sonic malleability, mimicking the whining guitars in Bowie’s original with their precise dynamics. But the use of strings goes beyond tonal imitation; they carry out that sentiment of freedom we feel listening to “Heroes,” the belief that this song can make us fly if we sing it loud enough. The quartet rings out triumphantly, just as Bowie’s voice did, come the lyric “I can remember/standing by the wall.” These strings evoke the memories I’ve experienced to “Heroes”. They remind me of night drives singing by myself, of the feeling that anything was possible if I just kept going.
David Bowie was a star, one so meticulously constructed through the many characters he played throughout his lifetime. Amanda Palmer and Jherek Bischoff’s string quartet separates Bowie’s characters from his music, leaving behind the sinews and fibers that build his songs. It’s even further proof that Bowie’s music will stand the test of time. The artist may be gone, but the feelings he left us with are forever.
Listen here. Image from here.