Segues: Nathan Adler

February 6, 2013

addled

Segue: Nathan Adler (1).
Segue: Nathan Adler (2).

What does Nathan Adler want?

I think Nathan Adler would require the world to come back to…certain parameters that he understands. He looks back rather nostalgically to a time when there was a seeming order in things. He’s really rather despondent that things are broken into this fragmented chaotic kind of state. Which of course it always has been. But in his own Apollonian way he sort of created the parameters for his society and how he should be. That’s him. And he’s got to solve this crime…

Bowie, interview by Moon Zappa, Interview, 1995.

Edmund Wilson, in 1944, wondered about detective stories: why were they so popular? why were so many of his friends and “respected” literary figures obsessed with them? So being Wilson, he read a stack of books and pronounced a verdict. He read Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe (“a dim and distant copy of the original [Sherlock Holmes]“), Agatha Christie (“[her] writing is of a mawkishness and banality which seems to me literally impossible to read. You cannot read such a book, you run through it to see the problem worked out“), and Dashiell Hammett’s Maltese Falcon (“a cold underworld brutality…[but] not much above those newspaper picture-strips in which you follow from day to day the ups and downs of a strong-jawed hero and a hardboiled but beautiful adventuress.”)

Wilson sniffed that detective stories were popular because they suited their shabby times, the interwar and war years, when the world “was ridden by an all-pervasive feeling of guilt and by a fear of impending disaster which it seemed hopeless to avert because it never seemed conclusively possible to pin down the responsibility.” In a mystery novel, by contrast, “the murderer is spotted and, relief!, he is not, after all, a person like you and me…[and] the supercilious and omniscient detective…knows exactly where to fit the guilt.”

Bowie’s Nathan Adler comes fifty years later, during another time of vaguely-perceived impending disaster. Speaking in an Englishman’s memory of a hard-boiled gumshoe’s voice, clad in the private eye’s uniform of trench coat, necktie and cigarette pack, Adler is the alleged protagonist and narrator of Outside. In his three segues (two official and one that’s part of “I Am With Name”), you might expect to learn something: background, clues, details on suspects, even a resolution.

You don’t get that. What you get is a stream of unaligned information: names, jargon, settings, incomprehensible actions. As Phil Sandifer wrote about the hip “paranoid” TV shows of the Nineties, especially The X-Files, which devoted years to sifting through layers of conspiracies within conspiracies, “the conspiracy does not provide an answer so much as it provides an interminable narrative stretching towards an answer that never arrives.” So Adler is a private eye who’s a red herring; his presence is a confusion. He’s a lost soldier of order who’s an unwitting element of chaos, and he’s as clueless as you are, if not more so (he may not have heard Baby Grace’s tape, nor is he privy to Ramona and Touchshriek’s thoughts).

This was a revision of Adler’s role. On Leon, Adler is far more present, speaking in each of the three suites. He’s still cryptic but his reoccurring presence acts as an adhesive that binds the bizarre suites together. On Outside, Bowie reduced Adler to cameo appearances. He was playing with the established role of the private eye: the loner who manages to break into a closed circle. Marlowe in The Big Sleep, Jake Gittes in Chinatown, Rick Deckard in Blade Runner. The private eye is a walking means to advance a story: he doesn’t know anything, so he asks questions; he pokes around and stumbles upon bodies and secrets; he eventually shades in the plot.

Adler* talks like his predecessors but no one talks to him, no one tells him anything. He’s not even trying to solve a killing but only to determine whether the murder qualified as art (he also works for an overseas employer: he’s a telecommuter). The screen detective he most resembles is Lemmy Caution in Godard’s Alphaville: an unflappable fragment of some lost narrative, blankly wandering through a world he can’t understand, still serving as a grounding point for viewers (and listeners, in this case). (Of course, a direct ancestor of Adler was Bowie’s cameo role as the lost FBI agent “Philip Jefferies” in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.)

The two Adler segues hail from different stages of the recording of Outside. The first is an edit of two segues from the “I Am With Name” suite and given a new backing track dominated by a jittery Reeves Gabrels guitar line (it’s possible it’s Carlos Alomar). The second, which is barely half a minute long, was recorded during a round of overdubs with Eno in early 1995 (it’s credited only to Bowie and Eno, unlike the other segues), and has Bowie muttering and moaning over a middleweight drum ‘n’ bass loop, an early sign of where Bowie would go next.

However, Adler also left a diary behind…

Recorded ca. May-November 1994, Mountain Studios, Montreux, and Westside Studios, London, with overdubs (and in the second segue’s case, the complete recording) at Brondesbury Villas Studio, London, January 1995.

* There’s plenty of speculation where Bowie took the name from. Candidates include the psychologist Alfred Adler, the 19th Century British rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler, the 18th Century Kabbalist Nathan Hakohen Adler (all dignified agents of order), and, Maj’s astute suggestion, Irene Adler. The name could also just be a joke about being “addled.”

Top: Gumshoe Jones.


Segue: Algeria Touchshriek

February 4, 2013

glowers for algeria

Segue: Algeria Touchshriek.

Do I detect a character from ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ lurking on your new album?
Bowie: Not intentionally….
The guy who rents the room–
Bowie: Aha! Catshriek! Yes, the guy who owns the store in ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four.’
There’s a little bit of him, I thought.
Bowie: It is very much. A very English character, he’s almost the stereotypical shop owner.

Interview with Seconds, 1995.

Bowie meant “Charrington,” but he was so tickled that the interviewer had unearthed a piece of his subconscious that he blended Orwell’s character with his own. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Charrington is the junk shop owner who rents a room to Winston Smith for his liaisons with Julia. “The old man seemed seldom or never to go out of doors, and on the other hand to have almost no customers. He led a ghostlike existence. Wandering about among his worthless stock, with his long nose and thick spectacles and his bowed shoulders in the velvet jacket, he had always vaguely the air of being a collector rather than a tradesman. He had dragged out from the corners of his memory some fragments of forgotten rhymes.

Charrington turns out to be a Party member who helps bait the trap that lands Winston in Room 101. (Some scholars have argued that Charrington is a veiled T.S. Eliot, who Orwell had defended from attacks by leftist critics and who later “betrayed” Orwell by declining to publish Animal Farm.) The loyalties of Bowie’s character on Outside are more vague. Touchshriek is a 78-year-old shopkeeper who, according to Nathan Adler, “deals in art drugs and DNA prints [and] fences for all apparitions of any medium.” His personality is described as “harmless, lonely.”

Lonely, yes. Is he harmless? Touchshriek has one of the more opaque roles in the Outside “narrative.” He seems to have seen something (Grace’s murder, Leon or Ramona’s arrangement of the body), as in a deleted Leon segue, he mentions having been walking near the Museum of Modern Parts, where Grace’s body was displayed. He’s considering renting a room above his shop to a fugitive (perhaps Grace was once kept there), and it’s possible Touchshriek was involved with the killing in some manner. In another deleted Leon segue, he mentions that he “knew Leon once.”

But Touchshriek’s far more interesting than his cloudy role in Bowie’s admittedly plotless mystery. His Outside segue, an edited/re-recorded version of a segue on the “Enemy Is Fragile” Leon suite, is a clever, touching, sharply compressed piece of writing. Bowie opens with some Edward Lear- and James Joyce-inspired wordplay and, showing a fine touch for detail, he builds up Touchshriek’s enclosed world in a handful of lines.

The backing track suits the flow of the segue, with Reeves Gabrels guitar and Mike Garson piano lines cycling beneath Touchshriek’s monologue, as if they’re interrogating him. (In the original segue, Bowie spoke over a gradual crescendo of Garson piano glissandi and Gabrels arpeggios). Some Eno “jungle” sounds accompany Touchshriek’s last words, and he walks off stage to a quiet flow of synthesizer chords.

If the various Outside characters are refracted pieces of Bowie’s personality, Touchshriek is the withered end of one unlived life, a David Jones who had stayed in Beckenham, had kept up marginal ties to the local art scene (imagine him still running an Arts Lab at the Three Tuns in 1995) and who had grown old and alone there. In this vein, Touchshriek also ties back to Bowie’s Sixties character studies, his songs of shabby bachelors, elderly shoplifters and Gurney Slade-esque suburban dreamers: he’s the heir to Uncle Arthur, the Little Bombardier, and the lonely scholar in “Conversation Piece.

Recorded ca. May-November 1994, Mountain Studios, Montreux, and Westside Studios, London, with overdubs at Brondesbury Villas Studio, London, January 1995.

Top: Bowie, older than he is today.


Segue: Baby Grace (a Horrid Cassette)

February 1, 2013

sad girl blue

Segue: Baby Grace (a Horrid Cassette).

When I listen to Outside now—yes, I do play my own records at home—it’s also Baby Grace’s voice that touches me most. Perhaps because I based her story on a girl I know very well and who’s been through a whole bunch of bad relationships in which she was abused. It seemed like she really picked that kind of man each time…

Bowie, interview with Humo (Belgium), 1995.

A mystery needs a corpse to set things in motion, so Bowie opens his narrative with “the art-ritual murder of Baby Grace Blue,” whose eviscerated, dismembered and mutilated body is found (in various pieces) at the Museum of Modern Parts, in Oxford Town, NJ. The gruesome state of Grace’s body is described in obscenely loving detail in the first section of the Nathan Adler diary, and the first character “segue” you hear on Outside is Grace’s, allegedly her last words, found on a “horrid cassette.”

Bowie was playing with a tangle of cultural references here: Laura Palmer, the dead girl who lies at the heart of Twin Peaks, was obviously an influence. But there are echoes of actual horrors, too. As Nicholas Pegg noted, the Moors Murders tape, in which 10-year-old Lesley Ann Downey was taped pleading for her life by her killers, was an inescapable reference for a man who’d been a teenager in Britain in the Sixties. The “Grace” segue was also in line with a horror film trope that developed in the Eighties and Nineties: the use of “real” footage in a fictional horror. With cassette and video recording having become cheap and near-universal by the late Eighties, this enabled horror film directors to up the ante by including videotaped “real” killings (the most effective, and absolutely, utterly horrifying, in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) and using “found” footage to intensify a film’s sense of realism. This culminates in something like 1999’s Blair Witch Project, entirely filmed via hand-held video camera.

What to make of Grace’s segue? It’s a blend of absurdity and voyeuristic creepiness, with Reeves Gabrels playing wailing blues guitar licks and Bowie having a blast at imitating the rambling speech patterns of an adolescent (one admittedly under the sway of “interest” drugs). He told interviewers he got a kick out of gender-bending again. But Grace’s story, in which she hazily describes being prepared like a sacrificial lamb for a ritual that will result in her body becoming a bloody plaything for sadists, has enough real-life analogues in the past few decades that Bowie’s “tape” can come off as exploitative and cruel. (The original version of the segue on Leon is more disturbing, as Bowie’s voice is a fairly natural-sounding imitation of a teenage girl’s voice: on Outside, he altered his voice to near-Chipmunk speed). One of Bowie’s most (deliberately) tasteless works.

Recorded ca. May-November 1994, Mountain Studios, Montreux, and Westside Studios, London, with overdubs at Brondesbury Villas Studio, London, January 1995.

Top: Bowie attempts a second adolescence.


I Am With Name/ Segue: Ramona A. Stone

January 31, 2013

ramona

I Am With Name (Leon suite) (plus annotations).
Segue: Ramona A. Stone/ I Am With Name (Outside).

There was a theory that one creates a doppelganger and then imbues that with all your faults and guilts and fears and then eventually you destroy him, hopefully destroying all your guilt, fear and paranoia. And I often feel that I was doing that unwittingly, creating an alternative ego that would take on everything that I was insecure about.

Bowie, Arena interview, 1993.

So you are what’s been manipulated in each of these pieces [segues]?

Bowie: Yes, they’re all based on me.

Interview with Moon Zappa, Interview, 1995.

The five characters Bowie invented for Leon, and which he later imported into Outside, allegedly came out of his “orgiastic” improvisation session with the band in March 1994, with Bowie pulling together voices, intentions and actions by reading lines from sheets of paper scattered across a table. (Later interviews established that there had been some preparatory work done before this, with Bowie using his “Verbasizer” (an automatic cut-up lyric generator) computer program, among other things.)

In what seems like the “final” version of Leon, Bowie’s characters crept in and out of three suites: “Leon Takes Us Outside” focused on the detective Nathan Adler and the cipher Leon Blank, while “Enemy Is Fragile” was a revue, with all the characters making appearances. And “I Am With Name” was devoted, in spirit at least, to Ramona A. Stone, the villain of the piece. This was the most disturbing and weird of the suites, featuring two unnerving/irritating “anxiety raps,” where Bowie sounded like a man who believes rats are climbing all over his body, and a SF fascist sequence involving the “Leek Soldiers.” “Bit of a dark spiral with no end,” as old Touchshriek mutters at the close.

What survived of this suite on Outside was a re-recorded, edited version of one of Ramona’s two segues: her appearance on “I Am With Name.” This piece was mixed over the backing track of “I Am With Name” and then segued directly into the latter song. While it was Ramona’s only appearance on the album, she was elsewhere as a specter/object of malice and lust (“Hearts Filthy Lesson,” for example).

There’s a hierarchy of sorts in the Outside crew: Leon is kept the farthest distance away; Baby Grace and Touchshriek, victim and witness, are miniature character studies; Adler and Ramona, an interlocked pair, seem most like twisted self-portraits of Bowie. We’ll get to Adler in a bit, but it’s worth looking at Ramona here.

I won’t go as far as Steele Savage, who wrote that Ramona “represents everything that Bowie hates about himself,”*but there is the sense that Bowie’s using the character of Ramona—a futurist fascist, white supremacist and aesthetic murderer (an art critic who kills!), a vain “high priestess” of art (“I was an artiste!…in a tunnel”), someone so disgusted by aging that she dreams of becoming a machine—in the vein of the ugly parallel self he’d created with the Thin White Duke character. She’s a highbrow version of another reappearing Bowie doppelganger: the emotionally void, possibly homicidal creep of “Running Gun Blues” and some of the Tin Machine songs. As Momus said (in the comments to “I Can’t Read”), “this parallel self is a fink, a fish, an automaton, a killer-zombie, a wife-beater, a conformist, empty and dead inside.”

It’s not that grim, though (I mean, the picture of Ramona alone, with Bowie’s face imposed on a She-Hulk cyborg figure wearing a Mohawk, is pretty barmy). Ramona’s also a parody of Bowie as High Artist and cultural vampire. She first appears in Adler’s diary in “Kreutzburg, Berlin,” 1977, where she’s running a Caucasian Suicide Temple, “vomiting out her doctrine of death-as-eternal-party into the empty vessels of Berlin youth.” She turns up around the millennium in London, Canada, running a “string of body-parts jewelry stores,” and in her song, “I Am With Name,” she seems reduced to a pure automaton, a “good time drone” that, in Adler’s words, says “in the future, everything was up to itself.”

For the Ramona character, Bowie triple-tracked (or more) his voice, altering each with a vocoder and/or other harmonizing synthesizers, possibly Eno’s Eventide H3000. Bowie winds up sounding like a premonition of Andy Serkis’ “Gollum” voice. The only thing that’s not synthetic on “Name,” which is built on sounds generated by, among others, Eno’s Yamaha DX-7, E-mu Procussion Module and Lexicon JamMan, is Mike Garson, whose fleeting bursts of piano are a last bit of humanity left in the matrix.

Recorded ca. May-November 1994, Mountain Studios, Montreux, and Westside Studios, London (with overdubs at Brondesbury Villas Studio, London, January 1995). “Stone”/”I Am With Name” was released on Outside, September 1995.

* See also Angela Bowie’s typically barbed comment to Peter Koenig: “David wants to be a dictator, not God. His fixation is with himself and he strives to ignore his own self-loathing.”

Top: Bowie dresses in battle gear as Ramona.


Leon Takes Us Outside

January 28, 2013

tricky bird

Leon Takes Us Outside (Leon suite w/”I’d Rather Be Chrome,” “We’ll Creep Together,” annotation/links).
Leon Takes Us Outside (Outside).

Of what was once a tangled forest, all that remains are a few saplings. So the opening track of Outside, “Leon Takes Us Outside,” a minute-and-a-half piece consisting of guitar, piano and synthesizer accompaniment for a voice that murmurs a list of random dates and holidays, is the only surviving piece of a 21-minute musical suite.

Likely planned as the first of the three Leon suites, the “Leon Takes Us Outside” suite, which begins with the “Leon Takes” fragment, devotes much of its length to two movements that have been bootlegged —the “OK Riot/I’d Rather Be Chrome” sequence and “We’ll Creep Together,” the latter unfortunately circulating in a maimed version. Where the “Enemy Is Fragile” suite featured a set of paired characters (detective/suspect, child victim/elderly witness), “Leon” centers on the mysterious figure of “Leon Blank,” outsider artist and possible killer/martyr. The only other voices appearing in the suite are those of Bowie’s various deranged narrators and of the detective Nathan Adler, who apparently sings the climactic “I’d Rather Be Chrome” sequence.

While Leon Blank’s perspective survives in several of the Outside songs (“I Have Not Been to Oxford Town,” whose ancestor may be in the “Leon Takes” suite, is from his POV, for example), this intro fragment is the only time that you hear Leon “speak.” He’s just whispering a stream of random information, a conflation of American and British (Leon mentions both Michaelmas Day and Martin Luther King Day, says both “July 6th” and “5th March”), as though he’s programming a string of code, a sequence to wake up the machine. As Nicholas Pegg noted, its similarity to the buzz-and-murmur opening of one of Eno’s most recent projects at the time, U2’s Zooropa, is likely no coincidence.

leon can ya hear?

These ‘outside’ people were really the people I wanted to be like. Burroughs, particularly. I derived so much satisfaction from the way he would scramble life and it no longer felt scrambled reading him. I thought, ‘God, it feels like this, that sense of urgency and danger in everything that you do, this veneer of rationality and absolutism about the way that you live.’

Bowie, co-interview with Eno for Time Out, by Dominic Wells, 1995.

Bowie’s only published information about the Leon character was in the “Nathan Adler Diary,” which noted that Leon was a 22-year old of mixed race who had a rap sheet (including “plagiarism without a license”), and in one of the official Adler segues, where Adler recalled Leon jumping on stage at midnight and, wielding a machete, cutting “zeroes” in everything, and eventually ripping a hole in “the fabric of time itself.”

Even by the standards of the Outside “non-narrative,” the Leon character is a cipher. Still, he generally seems meant to represent the “outsider” artist figure that so fascinated Bowie and Eno at the time (e.g., their visit to the artist’s wing of Gugging Asylum). And in particular, the character seems partially inspired by Tricky, a young British musician who was a favorite of Bowie’s in the mid-Nineties and who Bowie would soon “interview” in a bizarre article for (see the upcoming “The Narratives.”)

Leon’s rap sheet seems to reference Tricky’s life. The son of a Ghanaian-English mother and Jamaican father, Tricky had spent time in prison as a youth for allegedly buying counterfeit £50 notes from a friend, who later grassed on him to the police. And by 1994, when Tricky had split from the rap collective Massive Attack and was finishing his debut Maxinquaye, he was arguably the most vital musician working in Britain. Bowie rewrote him as Leon, a boundary-shattering artist who gets caught in a narrative web, and he used some of Tricky’s sonic trademarks—ambient street noise, esp. the sound of rain, and Tricky’s own murmuring flow, which Bowie is arguably imitating on “Leon Takes”—as signifiers on Outside.

Was Bowie guilty here of fetishizing Tricky, or “outsider” artists (esp. racial minorities) in general? (The late Haitian-American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat is also in the mix here—soon after he made Outside, Bowie would play Andy Warhol in Julian Schabel’s bio-pic of Basquiat.) We’ll dig into this more in the upcoming “Narratives” entry. But it was in keeping with an established Bowie strategy. He was an adventurer who needed occasionally to replenish his stock of forward scouts, so he appropriated various “outsiders” for his own ends, whether as collaborators or as symbols (or, in Iggy Pop’s case, both).

Recorded ca. May-November 1994, Mountain Studios, Montreux, and Westside Studios, London. Released (“Leon Takes” song fragment) in September 1995 on 1. Outside.

Top: Tricky and Martina Topley-Bird, 1994.


The Enemy Is Fragile

January 24, 2013

gns

The Enemy Is Fragile.

The centerpiece of the Leon suite it (allegedly) titled, “The Enemy Is Fragile” is sung by a character who Bowie discarded when converting Leon into Outside. Pompous, vaguely academic, speaking in an exaggeration of Bowie’s “typical” voice, he’s Leon‘s narrator, its ringmaster. This was Bowie acting out the role Eno had assigned him: a member of an early 21st Century “Art and Language” band, one who makes incantations, permutations of something between speech and singing…a melange of several languages, since most of your audience now speak a patois that effortlessly blends English, Spanish, Chinese and Wolof…Your audience regards you as the greatest living exponent of live abstract poetry. Samuel Beckett is a big influence.

Bowie structured many of his early vocal improvisations around this character, who’s the dominant voice of the “Enemy Is Fragile” suite and who appears in the other two Leon movements. But as he developed more interesting (or at least more fun) voices, like Nathan Adler and Ramona A. Stone, the narrator’s use diminished. And as Bowie tried to make his “storyline” more open-ended, more disassociated, there was little need for an “author.” Leon‘s first voice had become a hindrance. So the first murder victim in Outside isn’t poor Baby Grace but this figure: a narrator who’s been killed and earthed before the album begins.*

Fanned across the “Fragile” suite are a few characters, like face cards in a hand. First the narrator, then Adler and Stone (they’re mirrors: art criminologist/artist, detective/suspect, etc.), later Baby Grace and old Touchshriek. But it’s mainly the narrator’s show, whether with his bizarre CD-ROM endorsement (while Ramona warns that the developing Internet is like a web, the narrator is a clueless booster) or his performance in the “Fragile” song itself, the hub of the sequence. Heralded by a tangle of percussion (Sterling Campbell’s kick drum, congas, synthetic “beaters”), Bowie starts the song off by gleefully naming the prime suspect of Grace’s murder:**

Hullo, Leon! Would you like something…really fishy?

The chorus kicks in with a sliding Erdal Kizilcay bassline, soon agitated on the top end by a whirling Mike Garson piano figure. The track’s rhythmic base is a stew of influences: Eno’s work with the Talking Heads (especially “Born Under Punches”) and, in Gabrels’ case, Adrian Belew-era King Crimson. (“A Small Plot of Land” has a similar ancestry.)

The narrator soon gets to work, channeling voices and playing roles: Henry II ordering the murder of Thomas Becket (“who has seen this FURIOUS MAN”? Who will rid me of this shaking head?“), a somber exorcist (“the enemy has always been here“), a murder detective. The latter finds a “fading photograph” in a sofa “forgotten by the last tenant” (Touchshriek’s tenant? and Baby Grace said she felt “like a fading photograph“), and soon enough he’s going over Grace’s corpse. “There’s something in her mouthsomething between patois and Becket(t)**…I bet it is a speech.” He probes into a corpse’s mouth and finds something lodged in her throat, but instead of the moth pupa of Silence of the Lambs, he extracts an accent.

Halfway through his “investigation,” he snaps, ordering his suspect to dance. This triggers the highlight of the track, a fantastic 16-bar break: Campbell bludgeoning his snare as if it had done him wrong, Kizilcay roaming on the loose, Gabrels playing an air-raid siren obbligato worthy of the Bomb Squad. Afterward everyone takes a breath, allowing for a message from sponsors—a return of the CD-ROM spiel that the narrator gave earlier in the sequence. “Sample techniques, exponents of the greatest Wolof band of the 21st Century… Phase techniques, and rich 21st Century Spanish incantations.

For the last section, the band kicks into life again, Campbell now accenting his furious kick beats with constant sizzle from his ride cymbals. The narrator unspools into a string of words, tearing apart whatever structure he’d tried to build. You ARE: a permutation! You ARE: a patois! You ARE: speech delay! You ARE: fighting to the death! And so he dies: “Enemy Is Fragile” collapses into a spittle-spray of language. It ends with one of the survivors: Garson, airily pursuing a flight of thought across the high keys of his piano.

Recorded May-November 1994, Mountain Studios, Montreux and Westside Studios, London. Unreleased.

* In a few interviews to promote Outside, Bowie name-dropped Barthes’ Death of the Author.

** Another possible influence on Bowie’s writing was the set of grim UK police shows of 1992-1994, esp. Prime Suspect and Cracker, each of which used serial killers of young women as staple villains.

*** Words taken directly from Eno’s summary, with Bowie also playing off the earlier Thomas Becket reference and Samuel Beckett’s dialogue (a modernist patois).

Top: Ron Aviv, “Kids Play Soldier,” Sarajevo, 1994.


Nothing To Be Desired

January 22, 2013

reality

Nothing To Be Desired.

So 2013 is the year where you scrap everything that you once concluded: the Year of Shattered Hypotheses. First, Mr. Bowie returns and spoils my grand narrative that would’ve had him retiring with “Little Fat Man.” Then, after spending nearly a week trying to get a handle on the confusing mess that is the Leon sessions, and writing my conclusions about sequencing, etc., on “I’d Rather Be Chrome,” I got to hear the actual Leon tape. (I’ll likely revise the “Chrome” and “We’ll Creep Together” posts soon to reflect this.)

The 70-minute Leon is the Rosetta Stone of this murky period in Bowie history: everything scattered around the Internet in fragments and under various assumed names all fits together in it. Leon, in what sounds like its finished state, was meant to be three movements: “Leon Takes Us Outside,” “I Am With Name” and “The Enemy Is Fragile.” It seems likely that Leon as a whole was the “operatic” piece of music that Reeves Gabrels once referred to. So a new theory, one likely to be discredited soon enough: Bowie decided (or conceded) to turn Outside into a single CD in 1995. While the more discrete songs recorded in the 1994 sessions, like “The Motel” and “Hearts Filthy Lesson,” easily made the transfer, it was difficult to extract pieces from the intricately-sequenced and dense Leon movements. Only a few of the (severely) edited segues and two songs survived.

Besides “I Am With Name,” the only officially-released piece of music from the Leon movements was the fragment “Nothing To Be Desired,” issued as a B-side of the US CD single of “The Hearts Filthy Lesson.” This was an extract from the “Enemy Is Fragile” suite, which I annotated in insane detail here.

The “Fragile” suite begins with Bowie in a character not heard on Outside—a “narrator” figure who mainly speaks in Bowie’s actual voice (I’m guessing this was DB playing the role Eno had assigned him, the “town crier” of the 21st Century). After appearances by Nathan Adler and his adversary, Ramona A. Stone, the narrator returns to tout the wonders of a CD-ROM (Bowie rolling the “r” like he was going for an elocution prize) that’s an interactive compilation of Wolof music. The narrator concludes his pitch with: The editorial apparatus of this CD-ROM leaves nothing to be desired.

All along, a snaking bassline has been playing beneath the narrator’s pitch and suddenly he gives way to it, savoring the sound of the last four words, chanting them like a mantra. He’s soon joined by a chorus that include his own distorted “Laughing Gnome” imp voice. They echo his “nothing to be desireds” and a subsequent chant—mind changing, change your MIND changing MIND changing. A piece of pompous ad copy from a CD-ROM pitch has become a religious invocation. The chants build, driven by Mike Garson’s pounded piano chords, the bass holding on a root note, Bowie bracing himself (“stand by! stand by!”) until the tension breaks with a simple drum fill. The singers repeat the phrases for another minute, Bowie sounding increasingly unhinged, until a fade links the sequence to the next spoken segue.

The B-side finishes the joke. On Leon, “nothing to be desired” transmuted from an empty phrase in a ridiculous advertisement into a tribal chant. In its official release, the phrase, torn loose from its original, now-forgotten function, became just an empty piece of language, just another dance floor hook. For the B-side, Bowie prefaced the Leon extract with a minute of high-mixed drums and Gabrels’ guitar that continued throughout the vocal section (it’s hard to determine whether Bowie rerecorded the backing track entirely or just layered in a set of new overdubs—the bassline seems to be different than the Leon original.)

Released without notice in 1995 and barely remembered in the near-two decades since, “Desired” is one of the few surviving pieces of the original Leon; it’s a strange orphan that Bowie dressed up and cast out into the world, without any letters of introduction.

Recorded May-November 1994, Mountain Studios, Montreux, and Westside Studios, London. Released as the B-side of the US “Hearts Filthy Lesson” CD single digipak (Virgin 7432 8 38518 2 9), and later included on the 2004 2-CD limited reissue of Outside.

Top: Janeane Garofalo, Winona Ryder and product placement, Reality Bites (Stiller, 1994).


We’ll Creep Together

January 17, 2013

ah-HAH

We’ll Creep Together.
We’ll Creep Together (studio performance, Outside Electronic Press Kit, 1995).
We’ll Creep Together (alternate “Garson” version, part of “Inside” sequence).

An old man totters out upon the balcony. He hears the crowd well before he sees them. When he reaches the railing, he looks down upon the masses pooled in the streets below. Lit by torches, kerosene lamps, cigarette lighters and glow-sticks, the crowd is a wide, soughing sea, extending outward in great rivers of people, well past the gutted skyscrapers, past the Church of Dogs, beyond the calamity tents and mechanoid farms, perhaps as far as the harbor. It’s a warm night and the air clings to the skin, but the man, who wears his last silk suit (which has frayed at the cuffs and which has gone threadbare in places) is too proud, and too dessicated, to break a sweat. He sees children, borne in their mothers arms, with their ears pierced by thick chrome bolts. Men wear superhero masks, women dress in drag. A ball, or no, actually a severed head, is tossed around.

The man is, perhaps, a British Marshal Pétain. Or some last remnant of some fallen order (he’s a parallel to the gumshoe Nathan Adler—it’s another dying 20th Century voice, here the refined, decayed hauteur once associated with Merchant-Ivory films and Noel Coward records), one who’s revered by those who seethe happily below him. He is their last grandparent, and he has his duties. His aide, who has a thin pewter rod that links his left earlobe with his left nostril, carries out the microphone stand. The man gathers breath from whatever pockets of it remain within him and speaks, his words echoing from the set of speakers, supported by hemp ropes, that are suspended over the crowd.

Friends….of the trust. You’ve been a breath-filled crowd tonight. A fine start. Cheers, bottles raised to him. A happy fistfight breaks out near the base of the building.

You’ve been positively…fly, boys. This condescension is a real hit—there are screams and hoots, bursts of applause, and the severed head is hurled into the air so high that the man wonders if it will hit one of the speakers. He forces a smile, leans into the microphone as if the wind is picking up.

We are surely on our way! Upon that superhighway of information. A slight dip in enthusiasm, some mutters. The man quickly recovers.

As far as I’m concerned, you are all number one packet sniffers! Screams, wails, guns fired, chains rattled, the head again sent aloft, as if its hurler hopes it to achieve orbit. And now, to bring it all home.

The man raises a hand, makes a slight bow, stiffly sweeps his arm across his chest, then swings it back upward, shakily setting a tempo. A cough, and he urges the song out of his lungs. It’s the last song in the world. We’ll creep together, you and I….under a bloodless chrome sky…

Or, if you’d like:

One of the more intriguing Leon fragments, “We’ll Creep Together” was part of the middle section of the “Leon Takes Us Outside” suite, directly following “I’d Rather Be Chrome.” There are two circulating versions: the “Leon Takes” version, which is prefaced by Bowie’s “packet sniffers” speech and which is built on a loop of keyboard chords, and a slower, “jazz” version that was part of the “I Am With Name” suite, with Bowie sounding as though he’s free-styling over Mike Garson’s manic piano improvisations.

Recorded May-November 1994, Mountain Studios, Montreux, with overdubs later in the year at Westside Studios, London (and possibly in New York, ca. January-March 1995). Two minutes of video footage of Bowie singing the “packet sniffer” version of “We’ll Creep Together” was released in September 1995 as part of Outside‘s “Electronic Press Kit.” (see above).

Top: Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) hosts Knowing Me, Knowing You in Paris, 1994.


OK Riot/ I’d Rather Be Chrome

January 16, 2013

cruelty in art

OK Riot/I’d Rather Be Chrome.
I’d Rather Be Chrome (different edit, with “Nathan Adler” dialogue).

The main problem with the Eighties was the Eighties. One of the first things [Eno and I] talked about when we got back together again…was the fact that both of us really hated the Eighties. It was such a nebulous, commerce-oriented period that we both felt invalidated. Brian went off to Malaysia for quite a long time and I went off to bed for a lot of that period.

David Bowie, interview by Seconds, August/September 1995.

I’m an atheist and the concept of god for me is all part of what I call the last illusion. The last illusion is that someone knows what’s going on.

Brian Eno, unpublished interview for New Route, 1992.

One Man Goes to the Wedding

On the first Saturday of June 1992, in the “American” church of Florence, Brian Eno was at the wedding of a man who he hadn’t seen in thirteen years. He was taken by how Bowie and Iman’s wedding seemed intended for a studio audience; it was a spectacle funded by Hello! magazine. So Eno turned correspondent. In the words of his biographer David Sheppard, Eno “spent time observing the body movements of Bowie and Iman as they worked the floor, creating a typically whimsical illustrative diagram in his notebook.” A month later, Eno, in London, gave a lecture called Perfume, Defence and David Bowie’s Wedding.

At the reception, Bowie mentioned to Eno that he’d written some instrumental pieces for the wedding, some of which eventually appeared on Black Tie White Noise. The groom commandeered the DJ’s system to play Eno some tapes (the other guests must have been delighted). Eno was intrigued: Bowie seemed to have awoken from a long slumber. “We were suddenly on the same course again,” Bowie later said. They agreed, tentatively, to work together.

There have been very few occasions where I feel there’s somebody who actually meets my requirements, that I feel is either intellectually or aesthetically aware of what I’m doing as Brian. He knows what I’m doing. No other fucker that I’ve worked with actually has a clue half the time…Brian is incredibly selfish, which I very much admire about him.

Bowie, interview by Moon Zappa, RayGun, 1995.

A year and a half passed. Eno was a beehive, producing and making a half-dozen albums, among other activities (lectures, exhibits, a new daughter). Bowie made Buddha of Suburbia. The latter convinced Eno that Bowie was serious about experimentation again—he even sent a letter of praise. Bowie and Eno occasionally mailed each other “mini-manifestos about what we would and wouldn’t do in the studio, so that at least when we went in we’d have a set of concepts that would enable us to avoid all the things we find boring and bland in popular music,” Bowie recalled to Interview.

So the album began as a negative: Eno and Bowie defining what they would not make, in the hopes of finding spaces left open. Eno, to Musician, said that “a big ‘won’t” in this case was, we don’t want to make another record of a bunch of songs. That just is not an interesting thing to do at the moment. There’s got to be a bigger landscape in play than that.”

But as they started work in early spring 1994, the pair, despite their revolutionary communiqués, fell back on tried methods. In particular, those of their last project, Lodger, whose random-at-gunpoint methodology—Eno using Oblique Strategies cards on the session musicians; making the band change chords whenever he pointed to a new one on a chalkboard—would also be the guiding force of Outside. For Bowie, it was 1980 again. “It was almost as though no time had been wedged in, like we were carrying on from the third album together.

Lodger had been released without much fuss, while Bowie and Eno would make far greater claims on Outside‘s behalf. The more “avant garde” cast of players on Outside also meant a receptive environment for Eno’s art pranks in the studio (well, except for Erdal Kizilcay, see below). But Bowie and Eno began already boxed in, spending much of their time trying to upend their and their public’s expectations. It was a seemingly impossible task. There was now an established method to make a “Bowie/Eno” album, and the two of them were dutifully following it.

dhshark

How would you describe your part in the music history?

Interfering. Mischief maker.

Bowie, interview by Stockholm TV, 1996.

At times they accepted the futility of being “new” again, and used their past as raw material. Bowie had been a experimental nostalgist on Buddha, after all. He had lived long enough, he’d made enough music, that he could call up his past as if it was a set of songs on a jukebox, and use a taste of some old edition of Bowie to season a track. And Eno had become a brand (he would give lectures to both the EC and Tony Blair on “cultural issues” in the mid-Nineties) and had started playing with brand identities. His work with U2 on Achtung Baby and Zooropa had used “Bowie and Eno in Berlin” as a genre, exploiting the images and the textures that the period invoked.*

Outside would be aptly named. While the album featured some of Bowie’s finest songs of his later years, they were hard to discern. The bizarre quasi-narrative that Bowie created to frame the record was a ruse, just David Lynchian window-dressing, but it also was a crazy quilt of Bowie’s various obsessions—Arthurian legend, Gnosticism, Aleister Crowley, etc.—a stream of associations flooding into the work, as if a dam had burst. Outside was defined by, and consumed with, interpretation and perception. It seemed to be nothing but a frame, a frame that housed smaller frames and circus-house mirrors. Its underlying tension (it’s Bowie’s most claustrophobic album, which is saying something) came from the collision of the public image of “Eno and Bowie” and the pair’s thwarted desires to erase themselves. So Bowie called himself an author, creating a set of characters in a narrative that intentionally made no sense, while Eno wrote a set of science fiction scenarios and made a group of rock musicians act them out.

Over 1994 and 1995, with the specter of Scott Walker’s impending new album looming over the mixing sessions (Bowie was convinced Walker would show him up, and arguably, with Tilt, Walker did—we’ll get to this on “The Motel”), Bowie and Eno kept upping the ante of their project, raising each other’s pretensions with each new interview.

So an album that had started as a radical experiment, a few weeks of identity games, art therapy and anti-jam sessions, wound up marketed as a hyper-text non-linear narrative, the first in an intended five-album series. Bowie and Eno would put out an album to commemorate each remaining year of the millennium; the later records might continue the Nathan Adler non-storyline that Bowie devised for Outside or he might devise other characters.** “It’ll be the Nicholas Nickelby of rock by the time it’s finished,” he told Moon Zappa. The series would distill the remaining days of the 20th Century, flatten and preserve the years as if they were dried flowers in the pages of a book. And the scheme would culminate, Bowie said, in a grand concert in 1999, possibly held at a Viennese opera house, possibly at the Salzburg Festival, possibly directed by Robert Wilson, possibly six or eight hours long (“pack a sandwich!” Bowie said in a few interviews). Then the world would end.

Two Men Go to the Asylum

see the shark how red his fins are

I’m a creature of eclecticism, aren’t I? I think I like complications. I like things that tend to be endless puzzles…I like thickly textured things.

Bowie, press conference for the European Outside tour, 1995.

None of this happened (well, maybe the world ended, and we weren’t told). Outside had the same fate as other Bowie projects, especially Diamond Dogs: grand inaugural claims, a compromised first product, a tour, which led to new interests, with Bowie then visibly growing uninterested in the old project, which he soon discarded. So all that exists of the colossal millennial dream of Bowie and Eno’s collective imagination is a 74-minute album, a few B-sides, a piece of fiction Bowie wrote for Q magazine that was recycled as liner notes and, marginally, a few music videos.

Could they really have pulled it off? I can’t imagine so, and I can’t imagine Bowie and Eno wanted to. Outside is just the ticket stub from a conceptual art project that Bowie and Eno carried out in the press during 1995 and 1996. Much like Bowie’s detective story, the millennial project was mainly left to the reader or listener’s imagination, where it would fare better than if Bowie and Eno had been on stage for eight hours in Vienna. The sheer amount of information Bowie said he was processing, his apparent attempt to collocate seemingly every thought he’d had in the Nineties, made any attempt to turn his public effusions into art a Sisyphean task.

But go back to 1994. Bowie and Eno began by crossing off what they wouldn’t do. What were the positive inputs? (“We were looking for grist for the mill,” Bowie said.) For Bowie, there were a host of ideas he was playing with, which we’ll get into in future entries. These included: his fascination with the growing appeal of piercing and tattooing, how that reflected a growing “tribalism” and how it was a domestic version of the extremities of the body artists, who trafficked in mutilation and death as performance art (something that had intrigued Bowie since the Seventies, see “Joe the Lion”); the collapse of cultural “narratives,” usurped by an ever-broadening chaotic stream of information; his love of Twin Peaks. And his sense that the West, in the Nineties, was entering into a period of cultural binging and purging, a shedding of skins before the millennium, with a taste for violent sex and stylish murder—hence the popularity of serial killer movies and TV shows, the paranoia of everything from Oliver Stone’s JFK to The X-Files. Bowie predicted that the 2000s would be a calmer, more reflective period, which perhaps it was for him.

out of sight

Eno shared another of Bowie’s hobbyhorses: “outsider” art. Again, this wasn’t anything new: Eno’s work in the Seventies with the Portsmouth Sinfonia, a symphony of players who’d never touched their instruments before, had been a variation of this. But in early 1994, the two of them, in their first act as collaborators, went to an artist’s asylum in Vienna. This was the Maria Gugging Psychiatric Clinic, whose therapy included housing mentally ill patients with artistic ambitions in one wing, where they were allowed to paint the walls, couches and even trees.

Bowie spent two days sketching the artists, while Eno recorded their conversations. For Bowie and Eno, these were the true late Twentieth Century artists: people making art without any knowledge of contemporary styles and tastes, directly channeling their internal temperaments onto canvases or walls, working seemingly without ambition or influence. They were artists who, in some cases, literally did not know who they were, and as such were inspirational. “We felt an exhilaration watching them work,” Bowie said.

Six Men Play Games

mereenfant

It occurred to me that this raw material was, in its own chaotic and perilous way, as much a part of their work as the songs that would finally grow out of it.

Eno, on his work with James.

Another template Eno used for the first sessions was what he’d done with the Mancunian band James in the summer of 1993. Over six weeks at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios, Eno set up a split-screen creative process. During the day, James recorded their official major-label album, Laid, whose title track would become a worldwide hit single. Then late at night, in a second studio, Eno pushed the band to make what he called a “shadow album,” where James would improvise without being given any sense of direction. Their lead singer Tim Booth, towards the end of the sessions, would add first-take vocals to a set of tracks that Eno chose and quickly mixed.*

Now the goal was to do nothing but a “shadow album,” a dark mirror of a commercial album Bowie never made. Eno crafted an immersive role-playing group improvisation. He brought his Oblique Strategies cards out, but he also devised characters for all musicians and engineers to play, giving them names, tastes, habits and back stories, all of which they weren’t to share with the other players (see here).

There was some resistance to this from Erdal Kizilcay, who was in the position of Carlos Alomar on Lodger-–a professional musician and longtime Bowie collaborator who resented the antics of Eno who, in Kizilcay’s words, “couldn’t play four bars.” But Gabrels and Mike Garson were inspired by the games (Bowie: “With Garson, for example, we could just say: “Mike, be yourself,” and it’s so nutty that there was no need to set parameters“), while the drummer, Sterling Campbell, was a strong and supple enough player that he gave any random, bizarre improvisation some needed heft.

[Eno and I] had an idea that we wanted to create some kind of situation that never really happened, but film it as though it had happened, document an event which never took place.

Bowie, press conference, 1995.

So the sextet (Eno mainly keeping to the control booth) started recording in March 1994, working for about three weeks in Mountain Studios. Gabrels came to Switzerland a week early to reconnect with Bowie, who he hadn’t seen since the Black Tie sessions. Gabrels thought he would be doing some preliminary writing with Bowie as well, but Bowie was more interested in having long conversations, and allegedly had prepared nothing for the sessions. On the official first day of recording, an overall-clad Bowie greeted the players and handed them tools—paintbrushes, wallpaper hangers, carpets, canvases. Before playing anything, they would first redecorate the studio. Each player would get a corner of their own: Bowie turned his into an atelier, painting and sketching the players for days before he sang a note.

Eno ran the sessions like a man trying to break children of bad habits. He disrupted the jams whenever he thought they were growing conventional, using “strategies designed to stop the thing from becoming over-coherent.” What happens when four musicians come together in a room and jam? They always start playing the blues, Eno said. Eno was a dedicated enemy of the blues. So he had everyone wear headphones, through which he would pipe in samples of clocks, words looped from French radio broadcasts and songs from Motown tapes, all while the musicians played.

dhdisc

I see no way we can go back, philosophically, to a world of absolutes. Which I feel very comfortable with and I always have done….I think seeing the problems that historians themselves have with revisionism of history it seems almost nonsensical for the layman to even bother to try and analyze history any more in a straight narrative way. In a way history almost ceases to exist—possibly we can’t really entertain the idea of a future in the same way. Which may be not a bad thing.

Bowie, interview with Ian Penman, Esquire, 1995.

The peak moment came, Bowie said, on 12 March 1994 (or 20 March, according to another interview). The band improvised for three and a half hours while Bowie, with pages of random-generated lines spread out across a table before him, channeled a series of characters. He tried out a new accent, a new perspective, every few minutes, reading stray lines from various sheets, tumbling out words. Out of this “blindingly orgiastic” (Bowie’s later effusion) session came the core of what would be Outside—some of the music, and most of all the origin of the various characters Bowie would devise for the album’s narrative, like the detective Nathan Adler and the victim Baby Grace Blue. The work soon became known as Leon, after one of Bowie’s characters.

According to Bowie and Garson, anywhere from 22 to 35 hours of material came out these sessions. It’s unclear how far along the sequencing and editing of Leon went, but the avant-garde wing of the group, Gabrels and Eno (and possibly Garson), pushed for some version of the sessions to be released quickly. (Gabrels said the final Leon was around four hours in length.) Eno proposed putting a two- or three-CD album out without a name, like Bowie’s “Pallas Athena” single. Gabrels said one model could be Prince’s Black Album (or his later-to-come Crystal Ball): a quasi-bootleg, an artillery barrage of music, offered without explanation.

Instead, the Leon moment passed. Bowie kept working on the tapes, calling back Gabrels to Switzerland every other month throughout 1994. Perhaps today Bowie would’ve just seeded the complete Leon sessions on a torrent, but in 1994 he needed a record label again. And he found himself with a set of tapes that, while filled with ominous moods and brilliant moments, were commercially unreleasable. As with Tin Machine II, Bowie spent a year trying to get a label interested in his tapes, and in early 1995 he went back in the studio and recorded a set of more “palatable” songs (almost half of the final album, including his revised “Strangers When We Meet”) to sweeten the pot.

So Leon became Outside. In his 1995 diary, Eno complained that Bowie had cluttered up the songs too much. Gabrels would also publicly regret what he considered an unfortunate compromise of one of Bowie’s most radical works. “It would have been a very serious musical statement (and maybe pissed off more people than Tin Machine),” he recalled on his website a decade later. “Gary Oldman and I used to commiserate on how your best stuff….your most real and honest work seems to be what ends up on the cutting room floor. Uh huh.”

And One Gumshoe Gets Shod

92dam

Happily (or not), we have some evidence to examine Eno and Gabrels’ claims. Some of the Leon tapes leaked in 2003 (Gabrels speculated they were stolen from Westlake Studios, where they were mixed in late 1994) and have been scattered across the Internet ever since, existing in fragments. The two best assessments of Leon are at the Illustrated DB Discography site, which lists the contents of the complete 70-minute leaked Leon tape, and a sequencing by the blog Russman’s Records. Russman proposes, and I agree, that at some point Leon appeared to have been sequenced as a two-part work. The first group was a series of discrete songs, while the second was a 22-minute suite, allegedly called “Inside.”(This may be what Gabrels once referred to as an “operatic” work that was part of Leon.) The first section of the suite, “I Am With Name,” was hived off to become a track on the official Outside, as we’ll see.

[Update: After hearing the Leon tape, I can instead say that Leon (at least one proposed disc of it) was actually three suites, of roughly 20 to 28 minutes in length apiece. Annotations on the "Leon Takes Us Outside" suite here, "The Enemy Is Fragile" suite here and "I Am With Name" here.]

“OK Riot/I’d Rather Be Chrome,” the centerpiece of the “Leon Takes Us Outside” suite, is a fairly coherent song by the standards of Leon. Bowie sings it in the “Forties gumshoe” voice of Nathan Adler, who would be the narrator of Outside, and it opens like the first scene of an SF noir film. It was the night of an OK riot. (The ancestor of Adler’s voice was one of Bowie’s vocal guises that briefly appears on “Sweet Thing”: if you wannit, BOISE.”) Adler recalls Ramona A. Stone: she swanned along the street, with her wavy hair and her research greens. Bowie later said that Adler represented, for him, a dying piece of the 20th Century, a small figure of resistance to the millennial tide. Adler was a man who’d once existed in a recognizable narrative structure (in this case, a detective serial) and who was trying to solve a crime using his old methods, which no longer applied to the chaotic environment of Oxford Town in 1999.

Still, this was a perspective Bowie offered long after Adler first appeared on Leon. After a minute of the “OK riot” sequence, Bowie in his Adler voice, moves into a chorus in which he seems to be calling out for mechanical conversion, singing  in a sharp, barking voice. I’d rather be CHROME! Than stay here at HOME! Gabrels, in the second verse, plays a riff that calls back to Television’s “Glory,” while Garson’s piano slowly increases in tempo, becoming a series of spikes. Campbell, constantly shifting his patterns throughout, at one point plays something akin to a reggae “one drop” pattern (hitting bass and snare on the third beat of each measure); he keeps the group at their labors like a man supervising a prison gang.

Adler mutters in disgust, as the sketch he tried to fill in starts to flake away. Leon, can ya hear? An urban tribe appears on the street in the distance: “they’re black and white and LOUD!” Applause. The song disintegrates: Gabrels plays solemn arpeggios, Garson plays frenetic chords, as if he’s following a metronome whose pace a prankster keeps jacking up. Then there’s a jump cut into…

Recorded May-November 1994, Mountain Studios, Montreux, and Westside Studios, London. Unreleased.

* The early Nineties is when the “Berlin” Bowie albums were canonized (and became an influence for a new generation—viz. Trent Reznor, allegedly listening to Low daily). While the albums had been indifferently reviewed and had sold relatively poorly, the release of the trilogy on CD by Ryko, in summer 1991, kicked off their rehabilitation. By decade’s end Low had supplanted Ziggy Stardust as the “top classic” Bowie album in critics’ lists.

** Though the later records are simply rumors, consensus has it that the second one was to be called either 2. Inside or 2. Contamination. That the third was to be titled 3. Afrikaans is an unconfirmed bit of apocrypha.

*** This record, called Wah-Wah, would be a sore point for the band. Booth wanted to rerecord some of his vocals and there were arguments as to what to do with the album (release it as a bonus disc to Laid or, as happened, put it out as an ill-received sequel record in 1994).

Sources: I am greatly indebted to the magnificent Bassman’s David Bowie Page, which has transcriptions seemingly of every major interview Bowie gave in 1995. Also, thanks to Ian McDuffie for some help with Leon.

Top to bottom: Damien Hirst, Away From the Flock, 1994 (in the Saatchi Gallery, London); Two Similar Swimming Forms in Endless Motion (Broken), 1993; The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991;  Out of Sight, Out of Mind, 1991; Mother and Child Divided, 1993; Philip (The Twelve Disciples), 1994; She Wanted to Find the Most Perfect Form of Flying, 1992.


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