Quin's Progress

Sorry, Starman


starmanThe Internet is full of reminders today that David Bowie died exactly one year ago. As if I could forget. Gentle friends, it’s time I came clean and confessed. You see, it’s my fault. I may have killed David Bowie.  Kind of.  Probably.  In a way.

I didn’t mean to! It was an accident, I swear. Let me explain.

img_0554One year ago today, I took the train from Zürich to Montreux, Switzerland, a charming, small town that spills down the side of a mountain into Lake Geneva. Montreux is a mecca for music lovers and historians, for many reasons. It is the home of the eponymous Montreux Jazz Festival, as well as the Montreux Casino (see box note, below), which sits right on the Lake’s edge, and used to house the world famous Mountain Studios where the likes of the Rolling Stones, Queen, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Phil Collins, Yes, Duran Duran, Sting, Michael Jackson, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King, Marvin Gaye, and, of course, David Bowie came to record music history in relative peace.

img_0597The band Queen bought Mountain Studios in 1978 for tax reasons, and owned it until 1995. Queen had recorded many albums there, even before they bought the studios. Indeed, their album Jazz was named as a hat tip to the Montreux Jazz Festival. Queen and David Bowie—who lived nearby in Blonay at the time—wrote and recorded Under Pressure in a spontaneous, one-night jam session at Mountain Studios.

img_0860Freddie Mercury recorded his final tracks there in 1991, just before he died. They are some of his most emotional, transcendent vocal achievements; astounding, especially, given his weakened state. The cover of Queen’s subsequent album, Made in Heaven, features the breathtakingly powerful statue of Freddie that now stands on the shore of Lake Geneva at Montreux, “the place at which Freddie had written and recorded his last songs, and which had so inspired and influenced him.”


Now, Mountain Studios has moved, and in its former place inside the Montreux Casino is the Queen Studio Experience, an exhibition of a dizzying array of Queen artifacts, including the recording deck where Under Pressure and all of Freddie’s last songs were recorded. img_0795Proceeds from the Queen Studio Experience go to The Mercury Phoenix Trust, funding education, research and outreach projects fighting HIV/AIDS in honor of Freddie Mercury.

Okay, so…back to me killing Bowie.

img_0845A big fan of Queen, Freddie Mercury, music in general—and, of course, David Bowie!—I had to stop in Montreux for a few days on my way to the Matterhorn. As you can imagine, many of the lodging options in Montreux are music themed, for the entertainment of the thousands of visitors that come for the Jazz Festival, as well those, like me, who come to see the glittering shrine to Freddie Mercury that is the Queen Studio Experience. I stayed in one such place, the TraLaLa Hotel.

12552646_10207037227880867_4702047785080605022_nEvery inch of the TraLaLa is covered in music memorabilia and photos of music luminaries who have graced the shores of Lake Geneva at Montreux for the Jazz Festival. Each room at the hotel has a theme inspired by a particular musician. 12507253_10207037227520858_6530174264735288645_nGiven the fob on my room key, I thought I was going to sleep in the Prince Room (who, I swear, I did not kill).

But, lo! When I opened the door, I realized I was in the David Bowie suite. It was a special room, too, because Bowie is a very popular local figure around Montreux. Not only did he, as I mentioned above, live very close by in Blonay for many years, but, he married Iman in nearby Lausanne, and had a home there as well. mjf-poster-95He was good friends with Claude Nobs, founder and director of the Montreux Jazz Festival, and even designed the 1995 Festival’s promotional poster. He only performed at the Festival once, in 2002, but it was a very memorable show, locally, as he jokingly invited the whole audience back to Nobs’ house afterwards. So, it was an honor to stay in the David Bowie room, let me tell you.

12439140_10207037226880842_7070700296455231411_n 1234_10207037227400855_7926709277622535523_nDavid Bowie’s face was everywhere in this room, on the wall, the coasters, the Do Not Disturb sign. Most striking was the huge photo of Bowie that hung on the wall opposite the bed.

There he was, Mr. Z. Stardust and his spooky, different-colored eyes…staring intensely, right at me as I lay in bed, trying to sleep. (Yes, I know his eyes weren’t really different colors, but just looked that way because one pupil was dilated from an injury during a boyhood fistfight over a love triangle. But, still, it’s creepy when those eyes are boring holes into you while you are trying to sleep.) how-can-i-sleepI even posted on Facebook to my friends about it. They had a good laugh at me.

Sometime after midnight, unable to sleep with David Bowie staring at me, I finally got up and hung a blanket over the photo. And in the morning, it was all over the news: he was dead.bbcrolling-stone-bowie

Clearly, it was me! It’s my fault! I inadvertently voodoo’d David Bowie by suffocating his image with a blanket. How careless of me to not recognize the mystical musical and Bowie-specific vortex that is Montreux, and to do such a reckless thing there. To be fair, though, I didn’t know he was sick. No one did, he kept it quiet. But, still…I feel responsible. Go ahead and blame me, I deserve it.  I feel terrible.

So, I am sorry, Starman. I’d take it back, if I could, if it would bring you back to us. We miss you so much.  For what it’s worth, wherever you are, I don’t mind if you want to watch me sleep. I’ll keep the blankets on the bed this time, I promise.


The Montreux Casino

purple The Montreux Casino has the added distinction of inspiring Deep Purple’s iconic hit Smoke on the Water. In late 1971, Deep Purple was recording at the Montreux Casino, where the Rolling Stones had a mobile studio at the time. On December 4, 1971 Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention performed in the Casino’s concert space. During the performance, someone fired a flare gun and set the place ablaze. A spectacular conflagration quickly consumed the casino, as well as the concert space, studio and equipment inside (except, hilariously, a cowbell). Thanks to Zappa’s composure and instructions to the audience, everyone at the concert got out fairly unscathed.

montreux-fireThe sight of the terrifying inferno destroying the building and sending smoke and ash into and across Lake Geneva profoundly impacted Deep Purple’s lead singer Ian Gillan: “The wind was coming down off the mountains and blowing the flames and the smoke over the lake. And the smoke was just like a stage show and it was hanging on the water.” When Deep Purple resumed recording after the fire, in a makeshift studio in a room at Montreux’s Grand Hotel, Gillan penned the following fairly literal lyrics about the experience:

Smoke On The Water

We all came out to Montreux
On the Lake Geneva shoreline
To make records with a mobile
We didn’t have much time
Frank Zappa and the Mothers
Were at the best place around
But some stupid with a flare gun
Burned the place to the ground

Smoke on the water, a fire in the sky
Smoke on the water

They burned down the gambling house
It died with an awful sound
Funky Claude was running in and out
Pulling kids out the ground
When it all was over
We had to find another place
But Swiss time was running out
It seemed that we would lose the race

Smoke on the water, a fire in the sky
Smoke on the water

We ended up at the Grand Hotel
It was empty, cold and bare
But with the Rolling truck Stones thing just outside
Making our music there
With a few red lights, a few old beds
We made a place to sweat
No matter what we get out of this
I know, I know we’ll never forget

Smoke on the water, a fire in the sky
Smoke on the water

journal-de-montreaxThe reference to “Funky Claude” in the lyrics is to Claude Nobs, the founder and director of the Montreux Jazz Festival, who was at the scene of the fire, reportedly running in and out of the burning building, helping concert goers escape.

Deep Purple returned to Montreux in 2006 to perform their most recognized hit at the rebuilt scene of its inspiration.

(For my email followers, click here for a video of that incandescent performance.)

zappaIn a final eerie coincidence, Frank Zappa—who was so instrumental in preventing many senseless deaths in the blaze that destroyed the Montreux Casino—died on December 4, 1993—the 22nd anniversary of the fire.

2 thoughts on “Sorry, Starman

  1. Quin:
    You are incredible, greatly appreciated and missed. Not being a Facebook fan, I’ve suffered the loss of your writings. I don’t know what possessed you to share this one with me, but I’m grateful. I had heard from someone that I had to join Facebook to keep up with you, but alas, I would have to be tech savvy enough to do that, which I intend not to become.
    If ever you manage to embrace the mundane by re-visiting Oaktown, please let me know. I’d be happy to host a gathering of your local fan club.
    In the meantime, continued Happy Trails,

    • Hi Tim! Yes, I fell out of the habit of blogging last year, but, I am in the mood again. Many stories backed up waiting to be told! I miss you, too! Hope all is going well. When I invade the Bay Area again, I will give a shout. It would be lovely to see everyone again. 😊

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