Segue: Baby Grace (a Horrid Cassette)

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.

17 Responses to Segue: Baby Grace (a Horrid Cassette)

  1. Maj says:

    Oh, he’s so wonderfully self-obsessed. Bless his little narcissistic soul.

    I don’t really get this, to be honest. I can barely make out what she’s saying…to me it’s just some random chipmunk rambling which mostly irritates me – and I do appreciate the intent but it still doesn’t make me interested in listening to it any more.

  2. Remco says:

    I always loved the language in this segue especially. A few posts ago Momus compared it to James Joyce and I’m inclined to agree.
    A line like “They won’t let me see anybody if I want to sometimes and I ask I can still hear some popular musics, and aftershocks” more than makes up for the silliness of the vocal effect, but I may very well be alone in this.

  3. usby says:

    I think prior to the release of Outside there was a special issue of Q Magazine with contributions from various rock stars. Bowie’s was an incomprehensible “short story” which turned out to be an early version of notes for the album. The title was something like “The Art Murder of Baby Grace Belew”, a reference to his old mate. I don’t have the issue anymore but I bet some friendly obsessive out there on the world wide Internet has

  4. MC says:

    I’m of two minds on the segues on Outside. A part of me feels they spoil the album as a listening experience, while on the other hand I appreciate their daftness. In a way, they’re that Future Legend/Glass Spider impulse dressed up in hipper 90’s pomo clothes, aren’t they?However, of all the segues, this is the only one I’d go out of my way to listen to. It’s the most fully formed musically, for me, and words and delivery are brilliantly rendered and genuinely scarifying. The approach suggests the likes of Scream Like A Baby, with varispeed used again to signify terrified abjection, while subject matter calls back to Shopping For Girls, albeit in more fanciful form. (The track also sets up the entrance of Hallo Spaceboy rather beautifully.)

    I guess I can understand the charge of exploitation being leveled at this track; this may be why DB altered the voice on the release version, as the varispeed creates a(maybe) needed layer of distance, just as the odd slanted perspectives of Shopping For Girls do on that song. The latter is a grim work of reportage, of course, where this is a garish “entertainment”, so I suppose it can be criticized. Personally, I don’t have have any great moral qualms about this, any more than I do with things like Henry or Twin Peaks or Se7en, I guess. This is a period when DB seemed scarily in tune with the culture – perhaps to a fault at times.

    One small correction: Grace is under the influence of “interest” drugs, I believe. (a very Burroughsian concept, actually)

    CO: Yes, thanks! Post corrected.

  5. A Creme Egg Wrapper says:

    What kind of self-obsessed narcissist listens to their own records?

    • Diamond Duke says:

      I guess periodically, he just needs to remind himself how in the heck he used to do those wonderfully crazy and creative things he used to do whenever he’s feeling blocked… 😉

    • col1234 says:

      to be fair, you’ll find other interviews where DB claims he hasn’t listened to his old records in decades.

    • Anonymous says:

      One who has to release 10 year anniversary editions.

    • 2fs says:

      Oh, I don’t know: I occasionally listen to songs I’ve recorded. I mean, given that I make them solely for my own amusement, why wouldn’t I continue to be amused by them? Also: there’s a sense in which “self-obsessed” isn’t at issue…because really, the music feels as if it embodies some set of sounds and rhythms and ideas partly in the air: not in any mystical sense, but simply that when we make music, music works through us, through its history, its grammar, its immediate present: we’re an entry in its index. At least it feels that way to me.

  6. Diamond Duke says:

    Personally, I think Popular Musics And Aftershocks would make a terrific title for somebody’s blog… 😀

    Weird, disturbing, poignant…Like I said, I’ve got a soft spot for Outside‘s character segues. In addition to Bowie’s wonderfully effective voice characterization (varispeeded and/or electronically altered, I presume?), I love the musical backing, particularly Reeves Gabrels’ gentle, bluesy wah-wah working as a sort of sad and strange lullaby(?).

    I remember watching Grant Gee’s 2007 Joy Division documentary on DVD, and there was an extra interview segment in which somebody (I can’t remember who) says that Manchester never really had a “swinging ’60s” because the Moors Murders had effectively killed it.

    With regard to the colorfully gruesome description of Baby Grace’s murder, some of the imagery is quite reminiscent of Bowie’s opening narration of Glass Spider, in particular that of the “splayed web.” Between these subliminal reminders of Gravedigger, Future Legend and Glass Spider, we’re getting multiple callbacks resonating practically throughout the entire Outside concept!

    • Diamond Duke says:

      (Chris, feel free to delete my first reply. Italic/boldface misplacement again, as usual… :()

      And Chris…as far as utter creepiness is concerned, Baby Grace has got absolutely nothingzipzilch…on Wishful Beginnings! 😉

    • Patrick says:

      Funny you should mention the glass spider narrative because I just watched ( and FF through some ) of the Glass Spider around 2 hr concert on YouTube. What a vacuous and sterile late 90s rock extravaganza exercise that looked like. Apart from the odd good tune, with the spoken narrative, But it starts with a “rap” version of Up the Hill backwards” from the Neu Kids on the Block.
      Anyway my point is , perhaps Outside might have worked better the accompaniment to a stage or art gallery performance , a play or some kind of “rock opera”.

  7. These segues are all I remember from Outside, which I haven’t hear in ten or so years. I often get the ‘Ramona’ voice popping into my head… May have to did it out and have a listen.

  8. gcreptile says:

    As a standalone, it’s indeed quite creepy and in bad taste. But in the context of the album I like it. Those early 90’s were really quite violent to girls…Twin Peaks, Silence of the Lambs, those murders… there’s a lot of Bowie’s almost giddy anticipation of the apocalypse in Outside, this time disguised as fear of the millenium. I guess the murders of girls sort of demonstrated society falling apart.
    In hindsight, the 90s however were a rather happy decade – after the Cold War, before global terrorism and financial crisis.

    • col1234 says:

      yes, the irony of a decade that was (generally) one of the most peaceful and prosperous in the 20th Century being obsessed with serial killing, extreme violence, paranoia, and other doom-and-gloom stuff is something we’ll get into more on the later “Outside” posts. Phil Sandifer’s essay on “hip” Nineties paranoid TV (X-Files, Twin Peaks, etc) also goes into this subject:

      • gcreptile says:

        Thanks for the link! Maybe the absence of huge problems gives way to the focus on smaller issues. Instead of, say, systemic injustice we focus on extreme singular cases, i.e. serial killers. Although I have to say that the paranoid 90s were mostly an American phenomenon, the Oklahoma bombings, the militia movement, black helicopters, Waco…. But through the pop culture channel they also came to Germany. As a juvenile, I WAS afraid of being abducted by aliens.

  9. Momus says:

    Definitely Bowie’s best bit of acting on the LP.

    It reminds me of something Bowie said on the Scary Monsters interview promo. Talking about Ashes to Ashes, he ventured to predict a lyrical trend (which would perhaps find its apotheosis in The Cure’s Lullaby): “It’s very much a 1980s nursery rhyme, and I think 1980s nursery rhymes will have a lot to do with 1880s-1890s nursery rhymes, which were all rather horrd, and had little boys with their ears being cut off and stuff like that. Well, I think we’re getting round to that again. I think the idea of the Sesame Street nice little nursery rhyme is possibly outdated. Unfortunately.”

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