Future Legend

Future Legend.

It works ’cause we said it worked.

John Lennon, 1980.

The one-minute “Future Legend” is almost the entirety of the Diamond Dogs LP “concept.” Not for Bowie the libretto and motifs of Pete Townshend’s Quadrophenia, or the painstaking dreamscape theater of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. As a narrative, Diamond Dogs barely exists. Its story is told only in abstracts: the back cover and inner sleeve of the LP, and the record’s first two songs.

Bowie neither had the time for nor the interest in making his songs a narrative, even a loose one. As he told William Burroughs, he got distracted easily, and while he seemed to like the idea of making odd concept records, he managed to avoid the grim business of actually having to write one. And time was pressing: Bowie was going on tour again in the spring of ’74, needed a new record, and didn’t have the material for an LP on the Diamond Dogs idea alone (hence the scrapped 1984 songs were used to fill a side).

Bowie could argue he had a fine precedent: the king of all concept records, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. As John Lennon later said, Sgt. Pepper’s‘  “story arc” consists of the LP cover, the title song, maybe “With a Little Help From My Friends,” and then the “so-called reprise,” as Lennon described it, late on the second side. The rest of it was a set of random Beatles compositions: if they fit together, it was only because the listener wanted them to.

So “Future Legend” is stage setting for an absent play, with the SF juvenilia of the lyric (“fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats,” etc.) set against a rolling scrim of ominous music—air raid sirens; dog howls; synthesizer washes; “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” on electric guitar; what sounds like an impersonation of Scott Walker singing “Any Day Now”; lost children wailing in the streets. The obvious influence is the aural montage opening minutes of Lou Reed’s Berlin. “Future Legend” ends with canned applause and genocide.

Recorded ca. mid-January 1974.

8 Responses to Future Legend

  1. Andrew Tucker says:

    I’m sure I read somewhere (maybe the letters page of the NME at the time) that the audience applause was nicked from the live Faces LP Coast to Coast, and that you can hear Rod Stewart shouting towards the fade.

  2. col1234 says:

    that’s true–am going to ref. that in the “diamond dogs” entry.

  3. Diamond Dog says:

    The opening Future Legend fired up my imagination as a an 8 year old lad sat at my cousins house playing his new l.p’s and so began a life long love of Bowie.
    I must commend you on this staggering piece of work your doing collecting all the references and a real sense of place for Bowie’s music, you not shy of repremanding him of some of his pretensions and musical theft. Great read !!!

  4. ledge says:

    “fleas the size of rats…” echoes a bit in Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes:

    ‘Ulmers? Goffs?’ Jim gazed upon him thoughtfully, for that was how the boys talked of the creatures who dragged and swayed and slumped through their dreams. In the bad dreams of William, the ‘ulmers’ moaned and gibbered and had no faces. In the equally bad dreams of Jim, the ‘goffs’, his peculiar name for them, grew like monster meringue-paste mushrooms, which fed on rats which fed on spiders which fed, in turn, because they were large enough, on cats.

  5. Momus says:

    In a lakeside house in Montreal in 1974, the feral, haunting howl with which this tone-poem begins made my father howl in protest (“That’s awful, Nicholas!”), which only made the 14 year-old me like it even more. It didn’t take much to convince Dad, though, that the scenario that followed owed a lot to a poem he held in high regard, TS Eliot’s The Wasteland.

    Regarding the album’s “laziness”, while I do agree that Bowie puts in a lot less plot — and graft — than, say, Rice and Webber, I’d have to say he achieves vastly more in terms of texture, atmosphere and character. Sweet Thing, for me, is the best thing he ever did.

    For Bowie — an artist who used his body more, and better, than most — characters were concepts to be worn, rather than written. Make-up counted for more than continuity. Narrative was an excuse for a certain kind of histrionic delivery, a string for fragmented fantasies.

    Films, theatre and musicals based on Ziggy, Diamond Dogs etc are conspicuously thin on the ground. I mean, how would you even go about scripting one? You’d have to start from scratch. And your plot would be pretty spurious, and would finally detract from the whole thing. What did Halloween Jack do when he met the 15 Financiers? Do the Diamond Dogs end up chewing the bones of the Circling Skeletons? Do we really have to go there? What matters is the immediate drama, pretext for the flickering emotions, the tone of voice, the timbre of the instruments, the churn of chords, the poise, the flange, the glamour, the despair.

    And this is still a brilliant, brilliant album. It says a lot more about how life felt in the 1970s — chaotic, decadent, exciting — than any well-made plot could’ve done.

  6. Momus says:

    (Unfortunately I was forbidden to attend the opening concert of the Diamond Dogs tour, just a few kilometers away in downtown Montreal. The whole thing — covered on the TV news, with queues of mutant “Bowie freaks” — struck my parents as deeply dangerous.)

  7. I’m wild again…beguilded again…a simpering, whimpering child again….

  8. Mike says:

    However it sounds now, I thought it was the coolest thing ever when I was twelve.

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