Go Now

Go Now (Bessie Banks, 1964).
Go Now (The Moody Blues, 1965).
Go Now (Wings, 1976).
Go Now (Tin Machine, live, 1992).

At one point Bowie said Tin Machine would also be a three-album project. Does that mean there’s only one more record to go?

“He said that this was a three-album thing,” Tony Sales says. “It will take three albums, possibly, for people to start to understand where we’re coming from.”

Said Bowie last year: “I think our intention is to stay together as long as all of us have the same enthusiasm that we have now. I think once it starts to feel like a job, I think that’s the last thing we want to feel.

Roger Catlin, “Everything’s Hunky Dory With Bowie’s Tin Machine,” Hartford Courant, 24 November 1991.

After months of sporadic rehearsals, warm-up gigs and occasionally baffling television appearances, Tin Machine began what would be its last tour in October 1991. It was a gradual trek westward, starting in Europe (Bowie took time off to propose to Iman in Paris), then going on to Britain in early November. At the last UK show, at the Brixton Academy, Bowie was struck in the eye by a pack of cigarettes that someone had hurled on stage, a preview of the even ghastlier eye injury he’d receive a decade later.

The Machine was in America by mid-November. As with the European shows, the band generally played clubs, including two of Connecticut’s finest: Toad’s Place and the Sting.* It was both a reaction to the arenas of the Sound + Vision tour and a blunt acceptance that Tin Machine generally couldn’t fill a 10,000-person hall. “There’s a fair amount of improvisation in terms of how we approach some songs. And that wouldn’t hold well in a large place—particularly at this stage,” Bowie said at the time. “First of all, the people don’t know the material at all. I don’t know how many people would be interested in coming to see a Tin Machine show in an arena. I’d imagine a lot might come along hoping I’d be doing old songs or something. We don’t want that feeling at all.”

On 20 December 1991, the band was in Seattle, playing the Paramount Theatre, for its final US gig. By then, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” had conquered MTV (and would peak at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 the following month), Seattle was the center of a gold rush of record labels and promoters, and the Machine was irrelevant, yesterday’s insurrectionists, playing to a less-than-full house.

By then there were other tensions and fractures. The tour was getting middling to scathing reviews (Greg Kot, on the Chicago show: “there was nothing noble about a group of graying rock ‘n’ rollers collectively working through a midlife crisis on stage and then having people pay to watch it.”) And Bowie, who still didn’t have a solo record contract, was essentially funding the tour himself. “A small room packed with people is a cool thing, but it’s not economical,” he recalled to Kot in 2002. “I was paying for that band to work, and I was gradually going through all my bread, and it became time to stop. I had to build my audience back up again.

And allegedly Hunt Sales was at low ebb, regularly using drugs (see “Sorry”), which soured the group’s camaraderie and made Bowie in particular agitated. “That really destroyed the band, more than anything else,” he later recalled. It got to a situation where it was just intolerable. You didn’t know if the guy was going to be dead in the morning…We just couldn’t cope.”**

The Machine played a final leg, a short trip to Japan in January and early February 1992. The last song that they played at the Budokan, on 17 February 1992, was the first song that they’d recorded, “Heaven’s in Here,” which Bowie now infused with bits of Roxy Music’s “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” and Perry Como’s “Dream On, Little Dreamer.” There had been vague talk about cutting a third Tin Machine album, about going on another tour in a year or so, but Tokyo was the end, and they knew it.

So there’s a poignancy in Tony Sales’ version of “Go Now,” which he played throughout the tour. Tony Sales tends to be forgotten amidst the discussions of Hunt’s antics, Gabrels’ guitar playing and the various doings of their charismatic lead singer, but he was a fine bassist and R&B singer for whom Tin Machine was the payoff of a professional life of near-misses. It’s easy to imagine that he took the band’s demise the hardest.

“Go Now” was a hit for the Moody Blues in 1965, though it was also notable, in retrospect, for being another sign that American R&B was being supplanted by British copies (while it had been a minor R&B hit for Bessie Banks the year before, the Moodys’ version all but erased the original from common memory). A waltz built on a set of descending piano thirds, “Go Now” was built so sturdily that it could withstand a good deal of emoting, though it worked best when sung simply and moodily, as by Banks or Denny Laine. So it’s a shame the Machine yet again couldn’t resist overkill, as their performances of “Go Now” were often garish overextended affairs, the song flogged to the point of being unrecognizable. The song’s title proved too apt a target, with people in the audience occasionally yelling “yeah, go now!” back at Sales. It was a fittingly heartfelt, frustrating and chaotic close to Tin Machine, and here we’ll let the band lie in peace.

“Go Now” was performed throughout the “It’s My Life” tour.

An endnote on Oy Vey, Baby: This live album, issued in July 1992, is arguably the most unloved release in the entire Bowie catalog, having failed to chart in the US or the UK upon release. It’s currently out of print. Composed of tracks taken from the Chicago, Boston, New York, Tokyo and Sapporo gigs, it’s actually a decent live document of a band that, even as they were slowly disintegrating, was still putting on tight shows. “Amazing,” from Chicago, is better than the studio version; the Tokyo “Goodbye Mr. Ed” has Bowie in fine voice and Gabrels on form. The asinine title, a Hunt Sales jibe at the latest U2 album, didn’t help the record, nor did the inclusion of a 12-minute “Heaven’s in Here” and an eight-minute “Stateside.” The mix was mainly the work of Reeves Gabrels, who described it as “deconstructionist R&B,” and who later said it was his favorite Tin Machine album. The video release (also out of print) is a wholly different beast, being entirely taken from the 24 October 1991 show in Hamburg.

* As I was a teenager in Connecticut in the late Eighties, I’d regularly gone to these clubs. As fate would have it, I was living in Boston by the time the Machine came to them.

** This quote, the most open that Bowie ever got about the Sales situation, is found in both Nicholas Pegg’s book as well as Dave Thompson’s Hallo Spaceboy. In both cases, the interview it’s taken from is not cited and I could find no original print source for it. I’m assuming it’s from a TV/radio interview, most likely the BBC’s “Golden Years” radio doc from 2000.

Photos: video stills from one of the last Tin Machine shows, Tokyo, 5-6 February 1992.

17 Responses to Go Now

  1. Maj says:

    I think I know the Wings version of this, didn’t know the song’s history, so thanks for that.
    Tony was not a bad singer. Gabrels’s guitar totally doesn’t fit this song at all – their version was OK up until he started doing his guitar wailing.
    Goodbye to Tin Machine indeed. While it had its nice surprises for me (I only gave the TM albums a listen abt 8 years ago & never came back) I’m really glad this era is behind us now.
    I know many people here hate Black Tie… but unless with most Tonight – TMII songs I’ll actually find familiar ground here again. Actually, it’s been ages since I gave that wedding album a listen in its entirety but I at least should be able to remember all of the songs featured on it, if tortured. ;)

    Thanks for all the write-ups, Chris. Writing about this period of Bowie’s work must have been quite difficult, yet you managed to do it informatively and objectively – it’s been a pleasure reading these even if it was not always a pleasure to listen to the songs the entries were about. :)

  2. joeb says:

    i cant wait till this blog makes me feel ashamed for having a soft spot for “the wedding song” or “youve been around”, much like it has for “glass spider” and “criminal world”

  3. tin man says:

    Chris, i don’t think the “Amazing” version from “Oy Vey, Baby!” is better than the original one; by the way, the main thing about Tin Machine is that they were for sure (and that’s my definitive point of view) a Live Band! a line-up made for playing f… good performances! so… the “no overdubs mot d’ordre”… remember this original 1988/89 Saleses instructions. I must admit that this is probably “The Reason” why i was & still am a huge fan of Tin machine even 23 years after their 1st Lp issued. The way i see their live performances: they were at their best during the first tour, it was the peak of the Tin Machine affair. I ‘ve got 9 dates, 9 recordings from this era (NYC, LA, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Paris, London, Bradford), the sound may sometimes be “poor”… but the stuff is simply amazing, this is pure energy, a mix of trad rock things & deconstructivism (i’m also a huge fan of Branca), Reeves Gabrels ‘guitar sound is more “basic”, less corrupted by electronic effects and with no acoustic guitar parts. Kevin Armstrong played “straighter” than Eric Schermerhorn (the european influence?). Also, there was improvisation in that band with tempos modifications (sorry for the translation….); you should feel what i’m speaking about…
    i got to confess that when i look at what maj said just before… i really need (kinda basic instinct) to become the devil’s advocate & shout ” F… you, I like TM”; don’t want to follow the crowd at all; so i never thought this band could survive a long time but i think it was a fantastic era in Bowie’s career, a genuine musical & human experience, a certain kind of rough & radical mutant rock idiom that featured David Bowie.
    Concerning “Go now”, it was not one of my favourite but Tony’s a pretty good singer!

  4. Sky-Possessing Spider says:

    I remember the first time I heard Tin Machine I. When the opening bars of “Heaven’s In Here’ kicked in I just went, “y-e-e-s-s, finally”. By the time the title track’s weird and angry lyrics emerged I was grinning from ear to ear.
    It was the exact polar opposite sensation to the one I’d felt upon hearing “Tonight” for the first time,which had been an extremely deflating experience, as one bloodless cod-reggae arrangement had limped out after another, follwed by an over-wrought Beach Boys cover.
    In this regard Tin Machine fulfilled its mission perfectly, which was to chase away the audience that Bowie had gathered with his foray into mainstream MOR, and wipe the slate clean again. I seem to recall reading somewhere at the time that Tina Turner’s mother didn’t like the new direction. And that can’t be a bad thing…..

  5. Momus says:

    During the 1970s I pretty much only listened to David Bowie’s music; it was sweeping, synthesised, intelligent, artificial, encyclopaedic, critical, charming, speculative, sexy, ambitious. If and when any other rock music managed to slip through the defence shields, it sounded to me… well, very much like this: a dismal, sweaty, sincere, macho, styleless cat-strangling din being churned out in a rock toilet for people slopping beer.

    So what on earth was David Bowie doing, purveying the very thing he was born to slay? Did he get sick of being St George and want to be the dragon for a while?

  6. Jeremy says:

    Actually I have a soft spot for Tim Machine, the first album mainly. It really was a smart move by Bowie, but went on a bit too long. So I’m glad that this era is over and BTWN does have its moments, as flawed as it is. Should be fun.

  7. MC says:

    For all the excesses of TM I and the compromises and half-assery of TM II, I still have a lot of time for the Machine. With these records, Bowie got back to being the figure he had been before the mid-80’s Dark Ages, albeit a lot more inconsistent and admittedly with a lot more macho posturing. (Where I differ from Momus is in my feelings on Bowie’s relationship to rock & roll: for me, Bowie was fundamentally a rock artist in every sense of the word, one of the ones who showed just how elastic and resillient the music could be.) After his return to Year Zero, future greater glories became possible – though the follow-up record we’re about to get into definitely doesn’t count among them.

    As a semi proud owner of the Oy Vey Baby CD (one of the few), I concur largely with this assessment of it, though I always sorta liked the extended Heaven’s In Here (though granted, I don’t think I’ve heard it for about 20 years). I also got to see TM live, at a tiny Montreal club. I remember a great deal of energy and enthusiasm from all the participants, whatever the strains backstage. The main things I remember otherwise:

    1) A phalanx of enormous red-shirted security bruisers lining the front of the stage. This seemed a little much at first, but I was grateful when a junkie started screaming in my friend’s face, and one of the bruisers intervened, grabbing the guy by the shoulder so hard I swear he dislocated it. Didn’t hear a peep from him after that.

    2) DB wore a shirt that looked strikingly like the one he sports on the cover of the RCA reissue of The Man Who Sold The World.

    3)Most amusingly, the one hint of Bowiesque theatricalism in the show, in presumably deliberate low-budget contrast to the garish spectacle of Glass Spider and the arty B&W video accompaniments to the S&V tour – a tv wheeled on stage prior to the band’s entrance, tuned apparently randomly to a local French station showing the Nick Nolte-Walter Hill movie Extreme Prejudice. After a few minutes of this, Bowie stepped forward with a mad grin, his face illuminated solely by the tv screen. The TV came off, the lights came on, and the band launched into Crack City.

    PS: Chris, at the show I attended, the band covered Neil Young’s I’ve Been Waiting For You, with Reeves on lead vocal. Were you planning to cover this when we get to Heathen?

    • col1234 says:

      yes–debated about it, but it’s gonna go with the Heathen tracks. Also, the Morrissey/Bowie “Cosmic Dancer” duet from ’91 is getting folded into the entry on the Moz cover on BTWN

  8. Mike F says:

    Like many, I am relieved to bid adieu to La Machine. Bowie’s instinct to move away from 80’s production gloss was good but the result – TM was a major miscalculation. We have to get through one more musical misfire, BTWN, and then things get really interesting again.

  9. Mother says:

    I never thought I’d look forward to Black Tie White Noise so heartily!

  10. david says:

    Everyone seems to have wrapped up this entry as a Tin Machine post script, so I’ll mention the song with my singular experience of seeing it performed live. It was in Liverpool-at the Royal Court-and indeed Col is correct in his post-poor old Tony’s song choice invited mockery, when one of the less discernible blokes in full scouse mode bellowed ‘so fuck off then’.

    It was Bowie’s reaction that jarred with me though, for he let out a giggle, before biting his lip, but it was too late, I sensed then that the writing was on the wall.

    The only other thing I recall from the performance is that at the end of the night, our man turned his back to the audience, and thrashed the shit out of his guitar on the outro of Crack city, much to the bemusement of the Sales bros.

    If he was turning his back on the band, then for me his next step-‘cool world’ was one ten years back to my mind.

  11. NiggyTardust says:

    We need OVB on DVD, that’s all I can say

  12. Remco says:

    Call me crazy but I’m actually going to miss The Machine a little. Sure they missed more than they hit and some of their misses were absolute disasters. But the songs that ARE good (and I’d agree with Chris that it’s about half of TMII and maybe one or two from the first one) are REALLY good, or at the very least a hell of a lot better than anything on the albums that came directly before or after the Tin Machine period.

    I’d even go so far as to say that some of the not-quite-brilliant-but-pretty-decent Tin Machine songs are preferable to some of his solo work of this era. I’d take ‘Betty Wrong’ or ‘You Belong in Rock ‘n Roll’ over anything from Never Let Me Down.

    So here’s to Tin Machine, they were a silly lot and they produced some absolute crap but they were hardly ever boring, which is more than can be said about the next album.

  13. David L says:

    1. Goodbye Mr. Ed
    2. Baby Universal
    3. Pretty Pink Rose
    4. Tin Machine
    5. Heaven’s in Here (would have scored higher if it weren’t for the tortuous last 2 minutes of guitar overkill)
    6. Shopping for Girls
    7. Under the God
    8. Bus Stop
    9. Sacrifice Yourself
    10. Baby Can Dance

  14. SoooTrypticon says:

    A shout out to a fellow Connecticutian! My parents used to record shows at Toad’s Place and the Sting for a local TV show. Sadly no Tin Machine. I’ll never forgive myself for not driving the ten minutes to go see the Outside Tour kick off in Hartford.

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