Dirty Song

Dirty Song.

Written with his friend Ludwig “Lud” Prestel, Brecht’s poem, known variously as “Baal’s Song,” “Dirty Song” or just the opening line “If a Woman’s Hips Are Ample,” dates to July 1918 and was included in the first version of Baal. It’s in Scene 7, in which Baal has been reduced, like a fading rock star, to performing as a burlesque of his former self at a seedy club called the Night Cloud. He haggles over his “contractual brandy” rations, sings dirty ballads (while dressed in tails and a child’s sailor hat) to a drunken audience. He finally flees into the latrine with his guitar, crawls out through the window and runs off into the woods.

“Dirty Song,” described by John Willett as Baal’s “last disgusting gesture,” is the shortest Bowie song since “Don’t Sit Down;” with its “stage Cockney” vocal and woodwind/horn arrangement, it could’ve been an outtake from Bowie’s debut album. Three quick, nasty verses and it’s over with a plop.

Baal was taped on 8-12 August 1981, BBC Television Centre (unfortunately there’s no accessible footage of “Dirty Song” and the other two remaining songs); shown on BBC1, 2 February 1982. Studio version recorded in September 1981 at Hansa on the Wall, Berlin; EP released 13 February 1982.

Top: Augusto Braidotti, “Heidelbergerstrasse,” 1981.

16 Responses to Dirty Song

  1. Jeremy Earl says:

    Should have been remixed or re-recorded into a disco epic like John I’m Only Dancing (Again)…

    Then it could have been played at a club in a non-ironic way that would have ironically actually been ironic.

    Would have made the RCA bigwigs dance to it like drunken bunnies after counting all the money it had made for them…

    I really don’t know what I’m talking about.

  2. Portsmouth Bubblejet says:

    Yes, Brecht dropped “Baals Lied” after the first performances of the play for being too insubstantial and one-dimensional, but there’s a nice recitation of the German version by Blixa Bargeld of Einstürzende Neubauten, if you can find it.

  3. Portsmouth Bubblejet says:

    And wow… that picture takes me back a bit too! Heidelberger Straße in Berlin-Neukölln was one of the streets where the two halves of divided Berlin were at their closest. I lived right next to the Wall for a while, a little further north in the Kreuzberg district, and still remember the disorientating feeling of looking out over watchtowers and the “death strip” as soon as I got up every day.

  4. diamond dog says:

    I watched baal last night and cannot say it appealed to me at all. Your text on the songs and play sparked my interest but it was like seeing the coolest lad from school many years later down and out with scruffy clothes and looking awful …it did not interst me at all …a let down. It remains for me an artistic folly with limited appeal.

    • Jeremy Earl says:

      Yes, it’s unusual to see Bowie so scruffy, even in character. Could be though that it’s all very culturally disorienting for the likes of us.

    • Maj says:

      Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed? ;)

      TBH I take this over the mullets later in the 80’s any day. I have the TV play here somewhere, I’ll watch it this weekend and see for myself how unappealing the look is. As far as I know the character’s supposed to be quite icky so it’s nice to know Bowie wasn’t vain enough not to play Baal properly. Poor hygiene & all. ;)

      SO…..am I the only one enjoying the Baal posts? I’m really grateful for them, I never thought I could discover any “new” Bowie stuff I’d enjoy…and voila!

  5. col1234 says:

    am i right in thinking much of the readership is patiently waiting for the Baal stuff to be over?

    two more helpings of broccoli to come. then plates of ice cream. think of it that way.

    • Maj says:

      Probably much but definitely not all. ;)

      Also I love broccoli. And spinach.

      Bring it on! :)

    • Gnomemansland says:

      Bowie’s Baal is so bad it is having the curious effect of making me look forward to Lets Dance – which is saying something

    • I really enjoyed the Baal posts. I’m more curious about Brecht than an outright fan of his work, but I’d never even heard of this project, and though I wouldn’t place it among Bowie’s best work, I actually like the music. So, thanks for sharing this material with us.

  6. Brendan O'Lear says:

    Certainly not this reader. Take your time and linger as long as you want here. The Baal EP has been an eye-opener for me. If we’re doing food analogies, I’d say we’re currently in a local organic restaurant that’s been there forever but always looks empty – all very worthy but the food is a little hit and miss – and the only other restaurant in town is the McDonald’s just down the street.

  7. Pinstripe Hourglass says:

    All the Let’s Dance hate! It’s a good album, darn it! Certainly not McDonald’s, at least.

  8. diamond dog says:

    I remember at the time the bbc pushing Baal on the cover of the Radio Times and the intro was ‘Bigging’ up Bowie’s involvement.
    Pinstripe as ive said im with you on Lets Dance its a classic album and very under appreciated , the production i think is impeccable the playing top notch . For me Bowies worst album is one i dug out last week Black Tie White Noise which is awful , truly the pits and im not a big fan of Tin Machine ..sorry .

  9. Frankie says:

    I for one really liked the Baal project very much and I still have my old 45 rpm vinyl (I wish the whole thing was digitally remastered) and I find this survey very interesting and informative, recording dates and locations…. I think it’s among his best work of genuine music. His voice is fantastic on Baal, nobody can tell me I’m wrong..

  10. diamond dog says:

    Daves voice is generally good on all the songs he has ever sang ,I think any fan would agree its just personally I don’t connect to the lyrics etc. To me its a vanity project and must have fully pissed rca off a nail in the contract. I can appreciate it as a piece of art and he put a lot into it.

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