Zion (or Tragic Moments, or A Lad In Vein)

Zion (or Tragic Moments) (or A Lad In Vein).

This is the black hole of Bowie songs, bereft even of a title—various bootleggers have dubbed it “Zion,” “A Lad in Vein,” “Love Aladdin Vein” and “Aladdin Vein,” while Bowie, in his one public reference to the track*, said it was to be part of a musical called Tragic Moments. Nor has anyone turned up any direct evidence as to when it was made, though it was almost certainly cut in either the last Aladdin Sane sessions in January 1973, or (most likely) the Pin Ups sessions of July-August ’73, or (least likely) the early Diamond Dogs sessions of October-November ’73.

Nor is “Zion” really a composition, as Bowie just provides dummy lyrics over a series of improvisations (though the track’s not a jam—it’s definitely arranged and mixed). The track’s more of a vestibule between Bowie’s early ’70s work and the latter half of the decade: it’s a musical sketchbook burgeoning with ideas—melodies, riffs, rhythms—with Mike Garson developing on his “Aladdin Sane” piano solo, while also providing some gorgeous accompaniment on Mellotron, while Mick Ronson’s full-blooded guitar makes you mourn that he didn’t appear on Diamond Dogs. Some phrases and melodies in “Zion”‘s middle section turned up as connective tissue between “Sweet Thing (Reprise)” and “Rebel Rebel” on Diamond Dogs, while Bowie’s vocal melody, which ranges from music hall to the slightly Eastern (there’s a touch of “Silly Boy Blue” in it), seems an ancestor to a number of tracks on Low, Lodger and other later records.

* Nicholas Pegg points to an interview Bowie did with Martin Hayman during the Pin Ups sessions of summer ’73. Hayman, after hearing a rough mix of Pin Ups, then heard a demo of “perhaps seven minutes of…highly arranged, subtly shifting music with just a touch of vaudeville,” while Bowie said “there are no vocals on it yet, just my la-la-la-ing.” I agree with Pegg that this has to be “Zion.”

In the interview, Bowie described the demo as being part of “the next project,” about which he said “this is something I’ve always wanted to do…I envisage a scenario first, then the music.” So “Zion” is the earliest surviving piece from what would be a series of stillborn musical theatrical scenarios in late 1973, with various false starts and leftovers eventually making up the core of Diamond Dogs. “Zion” should have been called “Future Legend.”

Top: “WillemGT,” “Smoking blind accordion player,” London, 1973.

7 Responses to Zion (or Tragic Moments, or A Lad In Vein)

  1. snoball says:

    If you were ever kidnapped by aliens and asked to explain what Bowie sounded like in the early 70s, you could sing them this…

  2. Diamond Dog says:

    Its one of the best outtakes ever with some blistering Ronson guitar and sounds like its from the Alladin sane sessions to my ears..we can only guess?
    I think Bowie does just fine on Diamond Dogs without Ronson , in my estimation he comes over as quite an accomplished player and theres some fine grating experimental material in there (end of Sweet Thing)in my humble opinion better than many of his later session players.

  3. pinkindustry says:

    Very entertaining — must come back and read everything — a must for Bowie fans!

  4. Martian Martian says:

    Actually I think this confusion has spread because charles Shaar Murray mentioned an unfinished track called Zion while at the Aladdin sessions.I feel for sure that it is Mick Ronson playing on the alternate Candidate,and this is actually the Zion trackI think that the Zion track everyone actually refers to,with the la las is the first Candidate Demo that kevin Cann refers to in Any Day Now.The odd thing is,if you look at the credits on the Diamond Dogs vinyl Ryko 1990 it says that the Alternate Candidate was recorded in JANUARY 1973,which would place it among the Aladdin sessions

  5. Newton says:

    Thanks for finally writing about >Zion (or Tragic Moments, or A Lad
    In Vein) | Pushing Ahead of the Dame <Loved it!

  6. Tyrell says:

    Why has nobody asked Mike Garson about this song? Maybe he has some memories about it when it was recorded.

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