Segues: Nathan Adler


Segue: Nathan Adler (1).
Segue: Nathan Adler (2).

What does Nathan Adler want?

I think Nathan Adler would require the world to come back to…certain parameters that he understands. He looks back rather nostalgically to a time when there was a seeming order in things. He’s really rather despondent that things are broken into this fragmented chaotic kind of state. Which of course it always has been. But in his own Apollonian way he sort of created the parameters for his society and how he should be. That’s him. And he’s got to solve this crime…

Bowie, interview by Moon Zappa, Interview, 1995.

Edmund Wilson, in 1944, wondered about detective stories: why were they so popular? why were so many of his friends and “respected” literary figures obsessed with them? So being Wilson, he read a stack of books and pronounced a verdict. He read Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe (“a dim and distant copy of the original [Sherlock Holmes]“), Agatha Christie (“[her] writing is of a mawkishness and banality which seems to me literally impossible to read. You cannot read such a book, you run through it to see the problem worked out“), and Dashiell Hammett’s Maltese Falcon (“a cold underworld brutality…[but] not much above those newspaper picture-strips in which you follow from day to day the ups and downs of a strong-jawed hero and a hardboiled but beautiful adventuress.”)

Wilson sniffed that detective stories were popular because they suited their shabby times, the interwar and war years, when the world “was ridden by an all-pervasive feeling of guilt and by a fear of impending disaster which it seemed hopeless to avert because it never seemed conclusively possible to pin down the responsibility.” In a mystery novel, by contrast, “the murderer is spotted and, relief!, he is not, after all, a person like you and me…[and] the supercilious and omniscient detective…knows exactly where to fit the guilt.”

Bowie’s Nathan Adler comes fifty years later, during another time of vaguely-perceived impending disaster. Speaking in an Englishman’s memory of a hard-boiled gumshoe’s voice, clad in the private eye’s uniform of trench coat, necktie and cigarette pack, Adler is the alleged protagonist and narrator of Outside. In his three segues (two official and one that’s part of “I Am With Name”), you might expect to learn something: background, clues, details on suspects, even a resolution.

You don’t get that. What you get is a stream of unaligned information: names, jargon, settings, incomprehensible actions. As Phil Sandifer wrote about the hip “paranoid” TV shows of the Nineties, especially The X-Files, which devoted years to sifting through layers of conspiracies within conspiracies, “the conspiracy does not provide an answer so much as it provides an interminable narrative stretching towards an answer that never arrives.” So Adler is a private eye who’s a red herring; his presence is a confusion. He’s a lost soldier of order who’s an unwitting element of chaos, and he’s as clueless as you are, if not more so (he may not have heard Baby Grace’s tape, nor is he privy to Ramona and Touchshriek’s thoughts).

This was a revision of Adler’s role. On Leon, Adler is far more present, speaking in each of the three suites. He’s still cryptic but his reoccurring presence acts as an adhesive that binds the bizarre suites together. On Outside, Bowie reduced Adler to cameo appearances. He was playing with the established role of the private eye: the loner who manages to break into a closed circle. Marlowe in The Big Sleep, Jake Gittes in Chinatown, Rick Deckard in Blade Runner. The private eye is a walking means to advance a story: he doesn’t know anything, so he asks questions; he pokes around and stumbles upon bodies and secrets; he eventually shades in the plot.

Adler* talks like his predecessors but no one talks to him, no one tells him anything. He’s not even trying to solve a killing but only to determine whether the murder qualified as art (he also works for an overseas employer: he’s a telecommuter). The screen detective he most resembles is Lemmy Caution in Godard’s Alphaville: an unflappable fragment of some lost narrative, blankly wandering through a world he can’t understand, still serving as a grounding point for viewers (and listeners, in this case). (Of course, a direct ancestor of Adler was Bowie’s cameo role as the lost FBI agent “Philip Jefferies” in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.)

The two Adler segues hail from different stages of the recording of Outside. The first is an edit of two segues from the “I Am With Name” suite and given a new backing track dominated by a jittery Reeves Gabrels guitar line (it’s possible it’s Carlos Alomar). The second, which is barely half a minute long, was recorded during a round of overdubs with Eno in early 1995 (it’s credited only to Bowie and Eno, unlike the other segues), and has Bowie muttering and moaning over a middleweight drum ‘n’ bass loop, an early sign of where Bowie would go next.

However, Adler also left a diary behind…

Recorded ca. May-November 1994, Mountain Studios, Montreux, and Westside Studios, London, with overdubs (and in the second segue’s case, the complete recording) at Brondesbury Villas Studio, London, January 1995.

* There’s plenty of speculation where Bowie took the name from. Candidates include the psychologist Alfred Adler, the 19th Century British rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler, the 18th Century Kabbalist Nathan Hakohen Adler (all dignified agents of order), and, Maj’s astute suggestion, Irene Adler. The name could also just be a joke about being “addled.”

Top: Gumshoe Jones.

21 Responses to Segues: Nathan Adler

  1. postpunkmonk says:

    And let’s not forget that Laura Palmer also left a diary behind…

  2. gcreptile says:

    First segue: really funky, so funky it MUST be Carlos Alomar. Why didn’t they make a song out of this?
    Second segue: Why was this made at all? It’s like Bowie said, Well, all of this didn’t make sense anyway – oh, here is a really good song from my previous album, listen to it.

    • Diamond Duke says:

      Regarding the first Nathan Adler segue…
      Pay attention to the bassline. Sound familiar? It should, because it’s the one from I Have Not Been To Oxford Town sped up! (But which came first, I wonder…?) 😀 And I agree with you regarding Carlos. I think it probably was his guitar playing, and what’s more I’m reasonably sure he’s also on Oxford Town.

  3. Momus says:

    Bowie has always been a detective in the sense that he is — like Dylan’s Mr Jones — constantly telling himself that “something’s going on here and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr Jones?”

    This sense of being drawn to something you’re outside — whether it’s art, or the future, or some incredibly hip subculture — is the true meaning of glamour. And that’s why a lot of Bowie’s Glam Rock was about othernesses he felt the need to approach and merge with, whether that was Warhol and the Velvets, or David Bowman in Kubrick’s 2001, or the droog-dudes in A Clockwork Orange. They were all “to be investigated” by the “detective”.

    The inevitable irony is that the moment these things were truly understood from inside, integrated and identified by others as some facet of Bowie himself, they lost their glamour and had to be abjured and abandoned, just as a detective novel has to end when all the facts are known.

    If we want to know what Nathan Adler is really investigating — what, in other words, is the particular glamour that needs to be approached, the place to look is in the lexis, the slang. Where once the tell would have been subcultural words like “freak” or “dude”, here it’s technological terms: portal, packet, router. The thing Mr Jones / Adler / Bowie doesn’t know about is the nascent internet. It probably excites him, in 1994, as much as Andy Warhol’s Pork did at the Roundhouse in 1971.

  4. col1234 says:

    For those of you who can’t wait for “The Next Day,” I think you’ll get a kick out of the “pre-cover” version of the album:

    What’s a pre-cover? As Ned Raggett describes it, a “pre-cover” is “members of the community…using details of a notable forthcoming album — who’s releasing it and what the song titles are — to create a completely alternate version of it before it actually appears.”

    • Or just taking their previously recorded tracks and renaming them after soon-to-be released David Bowie songs, gathering a few more hits in the process. As a musician, it pisses me off somewhat. Stand behind your work, stand behind your own name. Cowards.

  5. Maj says:

    I quite like the second segue, not only because of its length but I actually like the “middleweight drum ‘n’ bass loop”. 😉
    But even the first one is not that bad – mainly because of its length.
    Oh, and I like detective stories. Do I feel cheated by Bowie’s use of Adler on the album? Not at all. The last thing I’d ever expect from Bowie would be a proper narrative. 😉 His son does that well though.

  6. Diamond Duke says:

    First all, Bowie’s Jersey accent is to die for! 😀 Musically speaking, the Nathan Adler segues could definitely be referred to as slight (although that’s certainly no slight against them – hardy-har-har! Oh, how I just positively kill me sometimes…)

    Anyhoo…where was I? Oh yes, my critique of the Nathan Adler segues…! 😉
    As stated in my reply to gcreptile above, the funky bassline for the first segue is actually the same as the one for I Have Not Been To Oxford Town, only sped up. I love the reference to Leon getting up on a stage with his machete and cutting a zero on everything, even the fabric of time itself. In my comment for the previous entry, I mentioned how Bowie makes use of a futuristic sci-fi jargon throughout the Outside album. Here we have “nameserver,” “shoulder surfer” (or perhaps “cipher”?), “update demon” (referring to Ramona A. Stone – is this term somehow related to the “window demons” mentioned elsewhere?), and of course “interest drugs” (which you’ll remember Baby Grace having been dosed with before her death).

    As far as the second one is concerned…Very brief little drums ‘n’ bass mood-piece, very poignant. “‘The ring is enough. I don’t wanna see his face again.’ Ramona was so cold…” Actually it makes for a very effective intro/prelude to Strangers When We Meet on the album.

    And BTW, I just saw the second-season premiere of The Hunger TV series on YouTube, the one starring Bowie as washed-up underground artist Julian Priest. Giovanni Ribisi delivers an absolutely hilarious line: “You hung around too long, and really, I mean, look what happened. Look what happened! You’ve created crap! Congratulations, you are Fat Elvis.”

    • Momus says:

      Yes, “nameserver,” “shoulder surfer”, “update demon”. The combination of internet jargon with a crime scene reminds me of the “moral panics” moment all new technologies have to go through, when the older media try to portray the newer one as illegitimate and criminal, using guilt-by-association (“Murder couple met on internet”). Did the web kill Baby Grace?

  7. A Creme Egg Wrapper says:

    I know it’s a tad late, but what’s a segue, what’s a suite, and what’s going on?

    • col1234 says:

      well, you might want to read the last month’s worth of posts, but a segue: the spoken bits on “Outside.” A suite: the three long pieces of music on “Leon,” the predecessor to “Outside,” from which said segues were taken. As for what’s going on: I have no damned idea.

      • A Creme Egg Wrapper says:

        As long as we’re together in the confusion boat then may our capsizing be glorious and avant-garde.

  8. fantailfan says:

    I had forgotten about Irene Adler; quite a character in the new Sherlock Holmes.
    I wonder how many times Bowie watched Blade Runner.

  9. The keyboard line at the end of the second segue always reminded me of Wonderful Life by Black

    The other reminder in these segues is from a 1993 Gary Oldman film which has a scene narrated by Oldman (who plays a crooked detective… hmm) early on which freeze frames, and the narration says something like “but wait.. .I’m getting ahead of myself”

  10. that Gary Oldman film name: Romeo Is Bleeding btw

  11. postpunkmonk says:

    Key seanmacgabhann – Romeo is Bleeding… yeeeeeah! One of my favorite 90s noirs. I never made that connection before in spite of owning the film since its release… on laserdisc! Saaaay… femme fatale Mona De Marco [Lena Olin] is also more than a little reminiscent of RaMONA A. Stone. Especially with her prosthetic limb and lust for chaos and pain. Hmmmmmm.

    • col1234 says:

      yeah, sean—I think you’re completely dead on w/r/t “Romeo Is Bleeding” (esp. as Oldman was a Gabrels/Bowie pal). well found!

  12. The Ziggurat says:

    For the hell of it I used Audacity and removed the vocals on the first Nathan Adler Segue. Holy shit! So damn funky. It’s really an amazing little instrumental now!

  13. Hi, there. I have some theory about 1.Outside. I would like to know if anyone may think what I thought…

    I’m thinking that Nathan Adler is the Minotaur, not him, but another personality of him, I’m thinking of a woman. I just thought of that just by hearing some lyrics:

    The Hearts Filthy Lesson: Paddy, who’s been wearing Miranda’s clothes?

    Hallo Spaceboy: Do you like girls or boys?

    The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (As Beauty): Research has pierced all extremes of my sex

    I’m thinking that maybe that other personality may be Paddy, that may be the reason why she doesn’t have a last name…

    I don’t know, I’m maybe wrong, but has anybody thought of that before?

  14. leonoutside says:

    Leon Blank was a Jewish, Romanian. He eventually made his way to New York, via London. He acted in Jewish theatre in NYC. Sang, danced, wrote too. Adler was the owner of a string of theatres Leon Blank performed in.1890 – 1910 (or so).

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