Tag Archives: Harry Potter

Aladdin Sane Vs. Ziggy Stardust

There’s no doubt that David Bowie is one of rock’s most influential artists. Anybody who has taken odd detours, and even remotely strange owes a huge debt to Bowie. Glam rock would not exist without him. Bowie was also one of the first artists to bring sexual ambiguity to his performances. And while The Who may have invented the Rock Opera, Bowie took rock theatrics to a new height – something that Queen would try to emulate throughout their entire career.

But which of Bowie’s incarnations is more culturally significant? Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane?

The obvious choice would be Ziggy Stardust. It is constantly ranked as one of the greatest albums of all time and its influence is undeniable. Musically the album covers proto-punk, glam-rock, soul, and folk-rock sing-alongs. At least three of its songs are classic rock staples – “Starman”, “Ziggy Stardust” and “Suffragrette City.”

For lack of a better, term The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars is epic. It sweeps and moves you along. Yet for all its grandiose ambitions, it also retains its cool. “Moonage Daydream” opens with a fierce riff courtesy of Mick Ronson which Bowie showing his teeth declaring, “I’m an alligator/I’m a rock and roll mama coming for you.” As the song draws to its conclusion, Ronson takes the song to outer-space with one of the era’s best guitar solos. Elsewhere, Bowie offers up some of rock’s best descriptions of Ziggy with his “screwed-up eyes and screwed down hairdo, like some cat from Japan.”

Ziggy Stardust proved to be a huge record for Bowie – it sent him into superstardom. While promoting the album, Ziggy and Bowie were one and the same. It was hard to tell the two apart. Ziggy allowed Bowie to indulge in his deepest rock fantasies.

Its follow-up, Aladdin Sane (intended pun: a lad insane) while containing some stellar material, finds Bowie taking on yet another persona. Although the album differs from Ziggy Stardust – the science fiction elements are gone and replaced by New York cool – it still treads much of the same territory.

Yet, Aladdin Sane has penetrated pop culture in a way that Ziggy Stardust failed to do. While the character of Ziggy may have embodied Bowie for several years, for many casual fans (and even those unfamiliar with Bowie) the iconic cover of Aladdin Sane has become the image of Bowie. (Though it could be argued that for many people of my generation, he still remains the scary dude in Labyrinth. Ziggy Stardust, it seems for many only exists in song form. Bowie may stopped being the character, but the character has become him.

The image is striking. His eyes are closed. There’s the famous rainbow lightning bolt slashed across his face screaming to be heard and seen.

If there’s any doubt about the picture’s cultural affect, you only need to go to an MGMT show. Dozens of girls in the audience had make-up on their face complete with lightning bolts, no doubt mimicking MGMT themselves. But it was all Bowie, even if the girls didn’t know. On a recent episode of Glee, Sue Sylvester disguises herself as the character. A couple weeks ago, at Baltimore’s Artscape Festival, I saw a t-shirt combining Harry Potter’s face with the iconic Aladdin Sane make-up.


“Did you see the Harry Potter t-shirt?” A friend asked me later that day.

“Yeah, the Aladdin Sane one?”

“Yeah, the Bowie one.” She replied. I felt weird for knowing the image by its actual source. For her, it was Bowie. Not just a character.

As for Bowie himself, you really got a good thing going here.





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“My Mummy’s Dead”: The Connection Between John Lennon and Harry Potter

The abandonment of a parent can leave a scar.  John Lennon was forced to live with aunt and uncle as child, abandoned by his parents after a heated argument. Lennon harbored deep emotions for years, even if on the outside he sang, “All You Need is Love” with The Beatles.   The fictional Harry Potter, received a scar as a baby when his parents were killed by the evil wizard, Voldemort.  Both would end up living with their respective aunt and uncle for years, and both would be famous for entirely different reasons. Yet neither could ever truly escape the events that happened to them when they were younger.

Lennon’s fame did nothing to soothe his pain.  In fact, it only got worse.  On the outside, he may have sung about love, but on songs like “Help!”, he was desperately crying out.  “Julia”, was an ode to his mother who had died in a car crash when he was 17.  By the time The Beatles broke up in 1970, Lennon had been a drug-addict, his love-affair with his second wife Yoko Ono was scorned by fans, the media, to a certain extent, other Beatles.  When he recorded his first “proper” solo album Plastic Ono Band in 1970, here was a man close to the edge.  The cries of “Mommy don’t go! Daddy come home!” at the end of “Mother” were real and cut to the bone.  Lennon didn’t scream his way through “Well Well Well”, because the song required it.  It was a form of bereavement from his childhood, finally catching up with him.

This confessional collection was a long way from The Beatles early songs such as “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You”.  The Beatles may have started out as a “pop” band, with fans getting swept up in “Beatlemania”, but with each new release they took rock music further than any group before or since. And yet, their popularity never wavered.  Each new release was met with excitement and captured the imagination of entire generations.  At the end of “God” on Plastic Ono Band, Lennon declared that  “the dream is over”.  This statement must have come as a shock to fans, who had looked up to Lennon as something of a spokesman for peace and love.  If he was presenting this disillusionment, things must really be dark.

JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series also captured the imagination of the world.  “Pottermania” was not unlike the “Beatlemania” thirty years earlier. At first it was deemed “kids-fare”, but it quickly moved into darker territory with each new book eventually reaching adults who would not normally read a fantasy series as well.

As a baby, Harry Potter survived an attack by the evil wizard Voldemort that killed his parents.  Harry was only left with a scar, but Voldemort was left powerless.  As a result, Harry would be forced to live with his non-magical aunt and uncle, unaware of his true fate – that he would be destined to destroy the very same wizard who hunted down his parents.  By the time that Harry began attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry he was famous because of what happened that fateful night.

Throughout the 7 book series, Harry is forced into situations that would test even the strongest of wizards.  He narrowly escapes Voldemort’s wrath several times.  Yet the death of his parents is what truly haunts him even as Voldemort plays tricks with his mind.  When he looks into the Mirror of Erised, which reveals a person’s deepest desires, Harry sees himself reunited with his dead parents.  He later learns that it was his mother’s love and sacrifice that caused him to survive Voldemort’s attack as a baby.

Harry has his “Plastic Ono Band-moment” in the fifth book of the series, Harry Potter And The Order of Phoenix. No one in the wizarding world seems to believe him that Voldemort has in fact returned to full-power.  Fictional articles are written about him in the newspapers, and even his closest confidant, Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, is ignoring him.  He is angry at everyone even his closest friends, and even throws tantrums for no reason.  After his godfather Sirius Black is killed in battle, he takes his anger out on the headmaster smashing some of Dumbledore’s possessions.  Everyone he knows has abandoned him in one form or another.

Lennon probably felt similarly while recording Plastic Ono Band. The media hung him out to dry with his relationship with Yoko Ono.  Many accused her of breaking up “the world’s biggest band”.  Paul McCartney, Lennon’s songwriting partner and closest friend announced he was leaving The Beatles in 1970 as a way to promote his first solo album, even though Lennon had in fact parted ways with the band the previous year.  Pain was the only thing he could turn to.

In the final book of the series, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Harry is forced into a final showdown with Voldemort.  In order for Voldemort to truly be destroyed, Harry must sacrifice himself.  It is this same selflessness that forced his mother to sacrifice herself for Harry when he was a baby.  As he is about to accept his death, Harry uses a magical object known as the Resurrection Stone to bring back the spirits of the dead – his parents, his godfather, and one of his former teachers – to comfort him on his final journey.  He asks his mother to stay close, before Voldemort makes the kill.

Some five years after the release of Plastic Ono Band, Lennon himself also makes a sacrifice – though not as drastic as Harry Potter. With the birth of his son Sean in 1975, Lennon took an extended break from music for five years. He left music – his lifeline for so many years – to become the father to his son that he never had. (It must be noted that Lennon did have a son from his earlier marriage.)  But he finally found out love, and was willing to give up his career to be with his family.  He became domesticated, and seemed to enjoy life at home – something for years he had strived to get away from.

Ultimately, Harry does not die at the hands of Voldemort.  Part of Voldemort’s soul had attached itself to Harry during the attack as a baby, and that was the part that was destroyed.  After being in limbo, and talking with the dead Dumbledore, Harry is given a choice to go back and finally take down Voldemort.  In the end, Harry wins the battle, because he has outsmarted Voldemort, who cannot understand love and sacrifice. This inability to understand human nature, becomes the evil wizard’s ultimate undoing.

Though the story is told in compelling and interesting ways, at the core of JK Rowling’s entire Harry Potter series is the concept that love will conquer all.  Harry’s mother let herself be killed in order to save baby Harry.  And Harry’s desperation for love from his dead parents, and his ability to love his friends and family and let himself be killed is the very thing that finally sets him free.  The relationship that Harry has towards his parents is at the center of everything he does in the series.

While Plastic Ono Band is a significant piece of work, it ultimately does not live up to the rest of Lennon’s or The Beatles’ work because of its pain.  While The Beatles changed rock and roll forever, their songs remain enduring in part of they sung about love and peace.  John Lennon’s death was a terrible tragedy in part because it was a violent death for a man who desperately wanted to be loved, but also spread the message of love.  In the end, both Harry and Lennon discovered that “love is all you need”.

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Oscar Nominations

This year has been a pretty crappy year for movies.  I actually had to think for a while in order to think of a movie that really blew my mind like previous years.  Actually, I take that back.  Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen did in terms of how awful it was.  I could only really think of two movies that were really good – Up, and Where the Wild Things Are.  Both challenged how a family/children’s movie could be presented and made.  Up might have contained one of the most emotional scenes in a few years.  The montage of Carl and Ellie’s life is what movie magic is made of.  

So I suppose I shouldn’t be too pissed at the Oscar nominations this year, but how cannot I not when Avatar is nominated for 9 awards?  I could go and on and on about how awful, racist, degrading, insulting Avatar is.   But the real problem with Avatar receiving all these nominations?  It’s proving that technology is now getting the awards, instead of the story.  Shit, if you wanted to give a movie with special effects and a story so many nominations why not give it to 300 or Watchmen a couple years back?   Is the Academy  afraid of James Cameron going off the deep-end and thats why they’re giving him so many nominations?

Enough of Avatar.  The other shock of the Oscar Nominations was the decision to include 10 movies for Best Picture.  Sure, it might let in some independent movies in that might otherwise get over-looked.  But it also takes away from the value of the concept of best picture.  By including more, it decreases the value of each individual picture.  Maybe I’m just being grumbly because I only see two pictures worth picture.  Also, if you’re going to include 10 where’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince?  (Dead serious here.  It’s not the best of the franchise, but it’s good.)  More deserving than say The Blind-Side – a sappy, sterilized feel-good sports movie that for once didn’t star Denzel Washington.   (And yes, Baltimore I know who it’s about, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good movie.)  Speaking of the Blind-Side isn’t it nice that Sandra Bullock got an Oscar Nomination for having a southern accent?

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Halloween Etc

Halloween is great.   As a kid, it’s great, because you get free candy and you’re encouraged to eat candy.  It can’t get any better than that.  Unfortunately, I never had a great costume.  One year I was a ghost, and I don’t remember anything else I was, because I can assure it was never original, or inventive.  

In high school, I didn’t care for Halloween too much.  Maybe I felt like I was too “grown up” for Halloween being high school.  But it was probably more for the fact that I could never think of a good custom.  Why I could never think of a good one, I’m not sure.  Especially since I have a slight obsession with masks – both literal and figuratively.  (Must be the English Major in me.)  

In college, Halloween became cool again.  It was an excuse to have a party.  Can’t get any better than that.  I managed to dress in drag a couple of times.  I’d be able to pull it off a bit better these days, consider I now have long hair.  

While I like a lot of things about Halloween, there’s also a lot of things I don’t like about it.  

Favorite Things About Halloween:

Candy (Even at 27, this is still a big draw.  Especially when it involves Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.  I’m a peanut butter fiend.)

Mythology About Halloween.   The History Channel is full of specials on the devil, witches, ghosts, and all kinds of other cool stuff.  These specials also rival the specials on 2012, and all of the specials devoted to anything Dan Brown related.  Almost.  My favorite was a story involving a card game in the Middle Ages.  A bunch of guys were placing bets on Saturday night, close to the Sabbath.  Around midnight a mysterious stranger comes in and they keep on betting past midnight, and at the end the stranger reveals himself to be Satan, and burns them all because they were betting on the Sabbath.  Awesome.

Classic Halloween Specials.  It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is still the quintessential Halloween special.  When I first saw it, I kept thinking that there might actually be a Great Pumpkin.  Pretty much all of the Simpson’s Tree House of Horror specials are all fantastic.  My personal favorite is the episode where Homer sells his soul for a donut.  

Bad Things About Halloween

Horror Movies.  Okay, I know you’re going to say, ‘Matt you’re no fun’.  It’s true, when comes to horror movies I’m not.  Ridiclious plot lines, bad acting.  Need I say anymore.  I’m not a person who is scared of blood or violence, but today’s horror movies rely too much on unneccessary violence and gore.  Use your imagination people!

And while I’m thinking of Halloween, let’s take at Halloween through the years:

1517 – Martin Luther posts his 95 theses on a church door in Wittenburg, ushering in the Protestant Reformation

1926 – Harry Houdini dies.  

1961 – In the USSR, Stalin’s body is removed from Lenin’s tomb.  

1964 – Bob Dylan plays the Philharmonic Hall.  (Later released as the Bootleg Series Vol. 6.  Contains the famous, “Got my Bob Dylan mask” quote.)

1981 – Harry Potter becomes “the boy who lived” when Voldemort’s killing curse backfires.  (Did I just reveal my inner nerd?)

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