I Am With Name/ Segue: Ramona A. Stone

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.

25 Responses to I Am With Name/ Segue: Ramona A. Stone

  1. BenJ says:

    I wouldn’t have guessed that the top picture is actually Bowie. It’s definitely 90s, though.

    He’d been using pitch-shifting technology of some kind or another for decades already, but these Ramona A Stone tracks seem to mark the point where he realized how funny creepy voices could be.

  2. Maj says:

    As part of Leon this seems fine, as the 4-minute segue it’s annoying and over-long. And it’s still one of the better segue segments on the album.

  3. Diamond Duke says:

    I must say I agree with Maj. It does have a wonderfully creepy and unsettling atmosphere, and Ramona’s a quite menacing and unsavory character. But even the shorter piece on the Outside album quickly wears out its welcome and gets rather tedious. (Interesting use of the Brian May sample, though. I always wondered what Brian thought of that…? :D)

    I will say, however, that I actually really like the character segues on the album. They’re actually rather amusing, and I don’t think Bowie really meant for anyone to take them all that seriously. (In the quite perceptive analysis of Nicholas Pegg: “Certainly [Outside] presents a soft target for anyone who seriously believes Bowie hadn’t noticed that impersonating a 78-year-old man called Algeria Touchshriek was going to be rather silly, but it seems more likely that he was in on the joke.”) On the album, anyway, they’re certainly brief enough not to be terribly obtrusive. And they’re really not a million miles removed from the old days of We Are Hungry Men, Please Mr. Gravedigger or that “He followed me home, Mummy! Can I keep him?” bit from All The Madmen!

    • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

      I’m with you DD, I always found the segues kind of amusing. From Baby Grace’s faltering whisper,which is a brilliantly observed take on the self-conscious,inarticulate speech patterns of young girls, to the rather sad reflections of the lonely old shut-in Algeria Touchshriek. And the fact that they are all so short means they don’t overstay their welcome. The only one that has always made me cringe is that line from Ramona A Stone, when she says she’s been dreaming of sleep, and ape men with metal parts.

    • Maj says:

      I don’t take pretty much anything Bowie does too seriously. Yeah, really. When I think about it. I’m laughing at him/with him all the way. Someone fetch a priest.
      Still, a lot of the segues and less melodic parts of the album in general, just break the whole thing into pieces for me. Say what you will about Earthling but it’s quite cohesive, compared to Outside.
      So what pretty much happens wherever I listen to Outside is I go “blah blah, next song please!” whenever these characters appear and wanna speak. Why can’t they just sing all they wanna say?

    • heynongman says:

      After listening to Leon, I have to disagree with you. It seems like he was sincere in his efforts to tell his story. The Outside segues, to me, represent a compromise between the album he wanted to make and the one he had to sell. Although I love Outside (easily one of my favorites), the segues never worked for me, even as irony. However, in their original context on Leon, they’re all fantastic.

      That all being said, I haven’t listened to Outside and Leon back to back yet. That might be something.

  4. V Delay says:

    To my ear and aesthetic sensibilites Outside is the most majestic and artistically successful work Bowie has produced since Scary Monsters (a trite touchstone, but no less true for that). I am a sucker for the grand vision and the apocalyptic messianism that has haunted the Dame’s work from Cygnet Committee (or We Are Hungry Men) onward. Outside has all of that in spades and was a great surprise and delight when I first heard it. As with many 90s releases it is over-long (the tyranny of the CD format as far as I’m concerned) but has been a minor obsession of mine since I first disovered it (many years after its release, incidentally. I was one of those who parted ways with him over the ironically named Never Let Me Down).

    Not being a Bowie fanatic (a mere devotee, natch), I was blissfully unaware of the ‘Leon’ tapes, the three movements that you have so brilliantly captured here and on the ‘extended’ website. Ever since disovering their existence I have hunted down the fragments, but of course this is the only extended-as-intended (presumably) piece that I have actually located, downloaded and listened to. Repeatedly.

    I almost wish I hadn’t. It is so very, very good. The other two movements now feel like phantom limbs (that’s perhaps overstating things just a little bit…) and it is frustrating (maddening!) to say the least that they remain unavailable. I for one would part with real money without blinking to add this marvellous work to my gallery of Bowie treasures.

    Perhaps a special 20th Anniversary release in 2014 is in order (are you reading this Team Bowie?)??

    In any case, I look forward to Outside’s pre-eminence in my humble reckoning being immanently downgraded in favour of The Next Day (one can live in hope).

    v

  5. likeallstars says:

    Fascinating insights on the making of Bowie and Eno’s work on the album can be read in Eno’s diary A Year With Swollen Appendices (1996, Faber). In it Eno says (I paraphrase) for him working on Outside was a duet in which one artist relentlessly filled-up the space and the other pruned and erased to make room for the next wave of colour to hit the canvas. No prizes for guessing who’s who in this picture. The tension of it must have been challenging.

    In the early to mid ’90s Eno’s work took a turn for the coldly mechanistic and harmonically abstract. I think some of his best works are from that period. I’m thinking in particular of Nerve Net, with its rootless, technoid anti-songs, and The Shutov Assembly, where his ambient music dissolved sublimely into dissonance. The alienated cosmic anxiety he displayed in them meshes beautifully with Bowie’s schizophrenic themes in Outside. I Am With Name, with its queasy, decentred chord work, is a cold beauty.

    There was a kind of philosophical dance the pair did when together. An example: In an internet chat broadcast by Q magazine in 1994, Bowie said ‘Our expectations of an ending or conclusion … learned from repeated story/film/narrative culture, gives us a completely unjustified set of expectations for life.’ Eno replied ‘ … the big breathkthrough is accepting that fades happen at both ends of whatever you are doing.’

    I like to read this small exchange as an expression of their mutual acceptance that the dystopian, palimpsestic, all-subsuming sci-fi opera advanced by Bowie was ironic, and impossible, from the start. There is acceptance in its incompleteness; beyond the catharsis of art-murder there is more than a hint of the becalmed surrender of the secular spiritual experience.

  6. TWDuke says:

    “The five characters Bowie invented…”

    — Nice try at worming your way out of your full obligations here, Mr. Blogger, but if you’ve been brave enough so far to try to untangle/explain these recordings to us, don’t forget we’ll soon be relying on you to shed some light on “Paddy” and “The Artist/Minotaur” in addition to the other five characters!

  7. Momus says:

    I’m really warming to this material, actually enjoyed the full-length Leon Suite quite a bit. It does relate to all those tantalising glimpses of “Dickensian” Bowie characters we got on Please Mr Gravedigger etc, as DD notes. It’s the Whole New School of Pretension thing, with the emphasis this time on Pre-Millennial Tension. Chris’ exposition is a rising mountain path which doesn’t so much clarify as make the confusion clearer.

    I think this is the last time we get this kind of zany playfulness from Bowie, and we’re going to miss it sorely in his “back to basics” recordings between 1999 and 2003. As for 2013, who knows?

    The “anxiety rap” impresses me particularly. It reminds me of the peculiar “public information poetry” of the GPO Film Unit, which made Night Mail (already glossed on Bowie’s Ricochet) and Coal Face, in which actual coalminers are given strange rhythmic mantras to sing, composed by Benjamin Britten. The famous Night Mail rap is by Auden, of course, who wrote Age of Anxiety shortly after emigrating to New York to escape the outbreak of WWII. I often find echoes of Auden in Bowie, who may be mapping 1930s anxiety to 1990s anxiety in his role as pre-millennial “town cryer”.

  8. Steve Mallarmy says:

    I rather like Outside, but just to play devil’s advocate for a moment, I do think there’s a problem with Bowie’s “experimentalism” in this era. Back in the Berlin days Bowie was essentially following his own nose and seeing where his curiosity led him, even if he had to sacrifice some of his popularity and rock star reputation. Subverting expectations was part of the exercise.

    Now fast-forward to Outside: as Chris pointed out the early 90s was when the Berlin albums were canonised. Outside in that context is a bid to capture past glories. Just as Never Let Me Down was an attempt to get back to Diamond Dogs, the Tin Machine fiasco a rerun of Iggy/Lust For Life, etc. Let’s hire Eno again, let’s visit Gugging Asylum again (he originally went during the Berlin era), let’s dust off the Oblique Strategy cards – which by now are less a circuit-breaker and more a mini-convention in themselves.

    Of course it’s hard for pop stars – the medium is eternally adolescent and there’s the pressure to reinvent with each album. There’s not that pressure in other media – artists tend to go through a brief period of self-discovery before hitting on a style they stick with for the rest of their working lives. (Ironically this is particularly the case for pop artists – Warhol and his silver screens, Lichtenstein with his cartoon dots…)

    There aren’t too many people in popular music who have done vital work in their 50s or 60s, although Scott Walker’s Tilt (rather than Bowie’s Outside) is the counter-example. As you get older it becomes impossible to be eternally projecting yourself into the future, impossible not to engage with your past and be in dialogue with it.

    Bowie has struggled with this but has occasionally turned it to his advantage – as I think he did with Toy, where he chose not to try and emulate a successful past but to ruminate on an unsuccessful one (and now doubly unsuccessful as the album was never released).

    • Momus says:

      I think this is interesting, and right, but it’s complicated by the fact that Bowie virtually blueprinted the “constant reinvention” thing in pop music, combining it with his own highly schizoid personality and an ideology of anti-authenticity (ie camp artificiality and actorish mimicry). He therefore finds himself in a bit of a bind: to be himself is to be not-himself.

      Rather, I think what we see is a dialectic between fear of failure and disgust at success. And I’d map that to the thing I noted the other day about the “sweet spot” between experimental improv and tight pop song structures. Bowie has been really good at locating that sweet spot between ugliness and beauty, failure and success, individual and society, structure and chaos. Blimey, “bit of a dark spiral with no end”!

      • Steve Mallarmy says:

        Agreed, and that ‘sweet spot’ is really the core of good art in general, playing a complicated game with convention, constantly recalling it while also fighting against it.

        But let’s not forget that Bowie’s “off-with-the-masks-this-is-the-real-me” schtick has been going on since 1977/Low, ie the period many would consider his artistic peak. The urge to be authentic is just as strong as its opposite.

  9. Kento says:

    “MIDI-life crisis” is probably my Bowie pun.

  10. gcreptile says:

    Ok, having listened to the whole suite now, I think that the monotonous rhythm goes on for too long. I like the segue, I very much like the Ramona character, “I’d rather be chrome” is my favorite outtake – but this kind of mechanic intenstiy should only be kept up for a few minutes, otherwise you just feel numb. Rhythmic changes, while keeping the mood intact, could have helped some.

  11. There is also a slightly longer Ramona-less version of I Am With Name that was released on some versions of the Hearts Filthy Lesson single that you haven’t mentioned here.

  12. s.t. says:

    Having now heard the full I Am With Name suite, the version included in “Outside” is even more frustrating to me. The segue clipped away the menace of the original, and I never even noticed what a great a groove it had. He should have kept the segue out of the album and released the full version on a bonus disc.

    Same goes for Algeria Touchshriek’s segue. As entertaining as the character is, the track goes on for too long and works against the momentum of the album. If Outside is played without these two segue pieces, it makes for a much better listening experience. Still an exhausting 60+ minutes, but the flow is smoother, and the strength of the songs really stand out as a result.

    What kept Outside from wider critical recognition, in my opinion, was its length. As a whole, it’s just overwhelming, despite the many moments of high quality Bowie that it houses. Thankfully the age of the mp3 has granted me control over my listening experience, and I’ve really come around to Outside as result.

  13. Jack SS says:

    The liner notes in the book say that there is a sample of “The Brian May Band” on this track, did Brian May of Queen play on this track or is this just a joke?

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