Red Money

Red Money.

The last track on Bowie’s last record of the Seventies, “Red Money” is freighted with symbolism, so much that it seems like a snare Bowie laid for would-be interpreters. It’s obviously (way too obviously) Bowie closing down the Eno, Iggy Pop and Berlin era, coming full circle by recycling the music of “Sister Midnight,” the opening track on Pop’s The Idiot (and so the first piece of music from the era), while in “Red Money”‘s refrain he sings “project cancelled!”

Uncut asked Bowie in 2001 about whether this indicated “the curtain being drawn on the Eno triptych.” Bowie replied, “Not at all. Mere whimsy.” (Tony Visconti, asked the same question, said he had no idea. “Ask David.“)

One should never underestimate how much of Bowie’s seemingly calculated moves were mere whimsy. Still “Red Money” fits with the themes Bowie was developing in Lodger, and which would further play out in Scary Monsters—fears of being reduced to an influence, impending obsolescence, a weariness with songwriting and performing, a broadening of perspective beyond the hermetic theater of the mind to (possibly) the greater world. “I am what I play,” Bowie sang in “D.J.”: “Red Money” is, literally, Bowie covering himself, making a palimpsest of a track, erasing Iggy Pop from the song that Bowie gave him.

“Sister Midnight” was a summoning, “Red Money” is a dismissal. Pop had coolly invoked the muse, raged into an Oedipal dream. Bowie offers men “who aren’t men” stranded in diseased, surreal landscapes, collecting blood money, aborting their missions. Bowie once told an interviewer the image of “the small red box” (“I couldn’t give it away/and I knew I must not drop it”) symbolized responsibility for him, with “Red Money” being in part Bowie’s resignation letter. Still, that could have been yet another red herring.

Visconti said that none of the Alomar/Murray/Davis band recut their performances for “Red Money,” so the reworking is essentially a Bowie solo track, with Bowie (and likely Adrian Belew) responsible for the new guitar dubs and the clattering electronic percussion. Bowie sings the title line in four-part harmony with himself, closes the decade down by singing “it’s up to you and me,” his voice drowning in guitars.

Recorded September 1978 at Mountain Studios, Montreux, and March 1979 at the Record Plant, NYC.

Top: Lalla Ward regards her future ex-husband with faint amusement, Paris, 1979.

Impending break

I’ll be on vacation for much of July, heading off to Scotland and London. It’s a good time for it, as I need a break from this beast; I had intended to finish Lodger before I left, but what can you do. So after the next entry (coming early next week), there won’t be any new posts until July 20 or so. See everyone then.

13 Responses to Red Money

  1. Jeremy Earl says:

    “One should never underestimate how much of Bowie’s seemingly calculated moves were mere whimsy”

    So true…

    “Sister Midnight” was a summoning, “Red Money” is a dismissal.

    Great line – you could have just written that and moved onto the next track!

    So if the rhythm section did not recut their parts does that mean it’s from the Idiot sessions? Or, more interestingly, is it from the version they cut in the Bahamas (?) at the beginning of the 76′ tour? Or are they one and the same anyway? Will that 76′ version ever surface?So much to ponder.

    A great closing track and i don’t mind the recycling at all. Regarding the small red box, i recall a Bowie interview in which he said that he kept on painting red boxes in his paintings and he realised that it must have symbolized something significant.

    Love the doctor Who picture – I’ve been a fan since the 70’s. Enjoy your holiday. What are we all going to do?

  2. Brendan O'Lear says:

    First things first – enjoy your break. You’ve brought a lot of pleasure to quite a few people and given us cause to question all kinds of long-standing assumptions; that’s something to be genuinely proud of, if that doesn’t sound too patronising.

    That sentence about ‘mere whimsy’ captures so much of his career; it’s particularly apt in light of the ‘planned accidents’ working title for Lodger, since it was when he tried to plan (felt in control of) the accidents that they stopped working perfectly.

    Red Money? It contains so much of what is both right and wrong with Lodger – and most of his post- Heroes work. Until recently, I was very down on his cannibalising of previous material, as I thought it was him scraping the barrel. However, after hearing the recent “C’est la vie’, which turned into ‘Shadowman’, I realised that this is a pretty consistent theme throughout his career. It was just that in the mid-seventies he was so prolific – and busy – that there was no time to go back and re-work things. Lyrically a million times better than the sophomoric, cod-Oedipus of Sister Midnight, but I still prefer the ‘original’. Does anybody have any idea what Bowie is singing about in those rehearsal versions of Sister Midnight?

  3. ian says:

    I think it’s a case of youthful ignorance/bias, but I’ve always *gasp* preferred Red Money to Sister Midnight. I am absolutely sure it’s because I heard Lodger before I heard The Idiot. It’s pretty crazy that they didn’t even re-cut the rhythm tracks for this, as I always thought it sounds less muddy than Ig’s version (which is also crazy, considering how muddy most of Lodger sounds anyways!)

  4. Jaf says:

    Have a great holiday, you deserve a break!

  5. jopasso says:

    Have a great holiday
    Thank you very much for this blog, a real delicatessen for Bowie fans

  6. ian says:

    I guess it’s an apt time to tell you guys that I’m going to be participating in One Week // One Band next week. If you don’t read that blog already, y’all should—every week, someone different takes on a different band and writes whatever they want about them for a week.

    Anyways, I’m going to be writing about David Bowie in the 1990s!!! It’s a little bit of a time jump from where this blog is, but maybe it’ll ease the pain of a “Dame Holiday”? 😀

    see you there!

  7. Remco says:

    I love the bookend concept, and I wish he hadn’t done the additional overdubs. I think it would’ve worked better as a concept if he had only replaced the vocal track and kept everything else exactly the same.

    I wonder why he opted for ‘Sister Midnight’ instead of ‘Red Money’ for the Reality tour.

    Enjoy your holiday

  8. diamond dog says:

    I hope you have great break.
    Must say I never thought much of red money and I do prefer sister midnight. The lyric was not as good in my humble opinion and I never thought it strong enough to revisit. Iggy gave it some magic with its twisted visions. Its a limp stumble over the finish line.

  9. Anonymous says:

    The way the rhythm guitar riff comes in at the end is one of clearest moments of saudade in Bowie’s work. Your palimpsest image brings out this aspect very well. Thanks for pointing out the end of an era angle on this song. Always one of my favorites!

  10. col1234 says:

    one more and you get the boot

  11. BenJ says:

    Shearwater covered all of Lodger for the AV Club. Their version of this song was a standout.

  12. stowethelion says:

    I was listening to Everly Brothers – Cathy’s Clown and straight away heard a link to Red Money in the vocal melody and lyrically sorta similarity

  13. stevev44 says:

    I think of Red Money as summational. What a powerful clatter. And that last line about “responsibility…it’s up to you and me” sounds like the man centering himself for the political and personal barrage of Scary Monsters.

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