Planet of Dreams

deadman

Planet of Dreams.

The story of David Bowie’s music is that of a boy’s club. There obviously have been women (a great many) in Bowie’s personal life; on stage and in the studio, it’s been a far different matter.

There were muses and fellow performers: Hermione Farthingale, Dana Gillespie, Ava Cherry. His Arts Lab co-founder Mary Finnigan. Fellow composers like Lesley Duncan. Angela Bowie, who in the early Seventies was essentially Bowie’s manager, strategist, minder, roadie and work-engine (for all we know, Iman’s played the same role in the past 20 years). Corrinne Schwab has quietly run his empire since the mid-Seventies. There were choreographers and costumers like Toni Basil and Natasha Korniloff. Backing singers like Emm Gryner, Holly Palmer and Robin Clark. Occasional studio contributors, like the violinist Lisa Germano.

But there’s only been one woman who stands in the “frontline” of Bowie musicians, the only one whose name ranks with the likes of Gabrels or Garson, Alomar or Slick: Ms. Gail Ann Dorsey.

And that said, there’s a sense of missed opportunity with Dorsey and Bowie. While she had a marvelous voice, she rarely sang on Bowie’s albums and, more strikingly, she didn’t play on many of them. We’re about to say goodbye to her for a time, as Mark Plati and Tony Visconti were the only bassists on the stretch of albums between Hours and Reality (as fate would have it, the one album she did play on during this time, Toy, was never issued). Dorsey would remain Bowie’s touring bassist.

Some of her absence was possibly due to timing: she’d been a solo artist since the Eighties and was working on her own material, and she was in demand for other sessions. Some of it was a matter of logistics: e.g., when recording with Visconti, it was simpler to have Visconti play the basslines. But Dorsey seemed to have some regret that she hadn’t been more involved in the records. “It’s hard for me to get a look in with all the great bass players that hang around David. But I enjoy playing with David in any capacity,” she said in a 2003 webchat.*

After the Earthling sessions, Dorsey and Bowie collaborated on “Planet of Dreams,” a track slotted for a 1997 compilation to benefit the Tibet House Trust.** “Planet of Dreams” is little like the rest of Earthling. Recorded mainly with acoustic instruments, its establishing mood is a vague “Eastern” vibe: a glacial sense of grandeur as conveyed by a slow tempo, a wide-panned stereo mix featuring a rotating cast of tastefully deployed sound-colors (among those here are congas, a singing Gabrels guitar line and Garson rumbling on the bass end of his piano); it’s the sort of soundscape favored by late-career Robbie Robertson and Peter Gabriel and seemingly by any post-1990 travel documentary set in the Himalayan region.

Built on a single verse, Bowie singing each phrase to the same rising melody, that ramps up to a ten-times-repeated single-line chorus, “Planet of Dreams” has a sweep and power to it. Its lyric begins with intimations of reincarnation, takes an odd detour through Clark Gable’s eyes and “Eisenhower blam[ing] the poor” and closes with the title phrase, a more cutting idea than the aspirational-sounding “we’re living in planet of dreams” suggests. The line’s more likely Bowie playing on the Mahayana Buddhist concept of māyā, in which we perceive the world as if we’re audience members as a magic show, taking the illusions unfurled on stage as real.

Dorsey’s harmony vocals, coming midway through the verse, strengthen the song as Bowie’s single-tracked verse vocal is flighty and wavering in the first lines. Their harmonies on the chorus, soaring over rolling Zach Alford fills and cymbal crashes and the quiet musings of Dorsey’s own graceful bass, make the title line hypnotic. What saves the track from an icy loftiness is a slight sense of humor: the piano line that winks at George Michael’s “Freedom”: the “Walk on the Wild Side” vocal tag that Dorsey sings.

“Planet of Dreams” could have been the start of a promising partnership on record. Instead, Bowie and Dorsey would remain a stage collaboration only.

Recorded August 1996, Looking Glass Studios, New York [? possibly early 1997? see comments]. Released on 23 June 1997 on Long Live Tibet (EMI 7243 8 33140 2 7).

* A follow-up question was more blunt: Gail were you pissed off Bowie didn’t ask you to play on Heathen [?]
GailAnnDorsey: No. I am always surprised that I am still in the band after all these years. Besides, I always get called in for the hard work.

** The song was credited to Bowie and Dorsey on the CD sleeve. I didn’t find the copyright on BMI’s site (where DB’s songs usually are registered) so I don’t know if Dorsey got songwriting credit (I’m assuming it would be for music).

24 Responses to Planet of Dreams

  1. James says:

    A wonderful simple song. Catching the end of the century pretty well. There’s a comet in the sky.

    • Mr Tagomi says:

      Never heard this before, but I do vaguely remember reading the title somewhere. Had no idea it was an actual finished, released song.

      It’s a bit like Your Turn to Drive, isn’t it?

  2. 87Fan says:

    Huh. I had no idea this song even existed. Listening to it now – very cool. This site continues to amaze!

  3. Roman says:

    Are you 100% sure it was recorded during the Earthling sessions? I read that it was recorded – or at least written – during breaks while making the video for Dead Man Walking. (Alas I can’t remember where I read that.) Bowie was toying with producing an album for Gail at this time. Among the tracks he wanted her to record were Outside, Oh Superman and this one. But it was apparently Gail who wasn’t as eager as Bowie – she just wanted to play bass.

    • col1234 says:

      that’s really interesting (the date is from Dave Thompson’s admittedly dated Hallo Spaceboy, the only reference I found of its recording): as that makes sense. “Planet” really sounds like it’s from another session entirely. if you find this source, let me know.

      • Roman says:

        I think I’ve figured out where I heard it. It wasn’t a magazine. A friend was in regular contact with Reeves circa 95-99 (by email). And he was the one who told me. It was quite cool – for example I knew all the new old-songs that had been rehearsed for the Earthling tour even before the Dublin rehearsal gig – V2, Stay, etc. Anyway, that’s where I heard all the Dorsey related info in the post above. Planet of Dreams was a result of Bowie bored onset and he just started jamming around with Gail – while in the throes of trying to convince her to do an album. Planet of Dreams was their only attempt at writing a song together. Apparently Gail found it very intimidating and didn’t enjoy the process at all.

  4. s.t. says:

    Wow, this is my first time hearing it, and I like.
    Strong connection to “New Angels of Promise,” even Bowie’s pseudo Adam Ant yelp is there.

  5. twinkle-twinkle says:

    If you include ‘Toy’ – as it was apparently intended for release – then, that’s 3 of the last 6 studio albums contained lovely Gail’s bass. Not that shoddy.

    I also remember Gail being less than keen to play the songs from ‘hours’, so maybe that ruled her out early on for that one. Shame you felt the need to include the ignorant question Gail was asked about being ‘pissed off’, but – hey, what’s one more stir of some ‘no-marks’ shitty stick? It adds so much more to our understanding.

    • michael says:

      Worth including for her answer.

      • twinkle-twinkle says:

        Hi Michael.

        I disagree.Gail’s answer tells us nothing other than the fact that she is diplomatic.

        One might imagine a similar scenario in a different area of expertise:

        Questioner. “You’re a highly regarded freelance journalist whose written for many top publications, including ‘Starman Mag’. Yet every time a leading article is required by them, the Editor often seems to gives it to someone else to write, does this piss you off?”

        And the freelance journalist with ambitions, an ego and who probably likes the pay cheques replies… ?

        I don’t think the answer would include anything approaching, “You’re damn right I’m pissed off!”

        The nature of the question and the words used were never going to elicit a truly open and honest answer from Gail, unless that IS what we got – we can’t know. Gail revealed more to the earlier questioner who asked about Gail’s favourite album that she had played on.

        The inflammatory use of words of the later question killed any possible insight into any serious disappointment on Gail’s part stone dead. Whether this was clumsy use of colloquial speech, or just plain malicious, it was never going to do anything other than piss Gail off.

        I doubt that Gail – or anybody – would have been happy being put in the position by the questioner of looking and feeling ‘second rate’, and possibly offending her friend and employer with her answer into the bargain, (Perhaps ‘dissing’ Bowie was the questioners intention?).

        I’d say the way the question was phrased was unlikely to get more than what we got, which wasn’t very enlightening, and I still feel Gail’s comments could have been used without highlighting the ignorant questioner. (The link was there for anyone interested in the whole transcript).

        As for the track.The song starts interestingly but doesn’t really go anywhere; nice intro, but a song of two halves, or is it really only half a song? A pleasant B Side, but hardly enough to engender breast-beating and worry about the ‘lost double act’. History has proved that Bowie’s collaborations almost always fall into 3 areas.

        1. He wants to learn something from someone

        2. Tick-boxing the latest fad and fancy

        3. Bowie himself admires someone, or they have some personal resonance for him.

        With all due respect for her obvious talents, Gail isn’t really a P.J. Harvey figure; her Wiki page cites her main claim to fame as being Bowie’s bass player.

      • col1234 says:

        do you really feel what I wrote constitutes “breast beating” and “worry”? seriously? I simply said Bowie never had a first-rate female collaborator and it’s a shame this one, which had the most potential, didn’t work out (as much due to her as him, possibly). that’s it.

        agree that the question was boorish and GD’s response was as diplomatic as could be. Included it as a footnote solely because it was the only other mention in the chat of her absence from DB records; its insight is pretty worthless and i may wind up cutting it.

      • twinkle-twinkle says:

        Hi Chris,

        Yeah – I probably over-egged it a bit with the defensive hyperbole, it wouldn’t be the first time, lol.

        Mea culpa.

    • s.t. says:

      The link to the full chat added to my understanding of Gail, especially the revelation that my chances with her are “almost impossible,” rather than “highly unlikely.”

      • twinkle-twinkle says:

        Hi s.t.

        Yeah – Kate Pearson from the B52’s and Gail Ann lovely Dorsey – two fantasy’s ruined by Sappho. D’oh! Although I suspect they were well out of my league for so many other reasons too, lol.

        I was lucky enough to meet Gail a couple of times and she was lovely with or without horns and tail. The willpower it took not to stroke her head, lol.

        One of my favourite Bowie memories is of being in a small recording studio and Macy Gray’s ‘I Try’ coming over the speakers. Bowie’s face lit up and he spontaneously reached out and pulled Gail into his arms and danced a ‘slowy’. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? Sigh.

        I haven’t seen Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, or watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate, but I did see this… moments… to be lost in time… like tears in rain…

      • s.t. says:

        Wow, what a delightful sight to see, and what a wonderful opportunity to be with them in the studio! Are you by any chance the author of “What’s Really Happening?” If not, what session are we talking about? Perhaps you can provide some insights here when the time comes?

        Alas, I have not had many celebrity moments worth mentioning. Most were at signings, and felt suitably artificial. I did see Dave and Lou (from several rows back) at Carnegie Hall for an Antony & the Johnsons concert. But I didn’t want to be that guy to bug them on a night out. So, I guess that’s better than my nautical or military records…

      • twinkle-twinkle says:

        Hi s.t.

        I forgot to mention Gail’s beatific smile as she beamed up at Bowie while they danced.

        Mmm… As for your interesting question… This is where the internet throws up opportunities to be playful or malicious, but I wouldn’t mess around with those games. It’s a wonderful thought – writing a lyric to a Bowie song – but sadly, that wasn’t me. Although, perhaps my slight delay in replying has led you to wonder if you are right, that this denial is simply an attempt at concocting an understated bluff.

        Oh – what the hell! You’ve cleverly teased it out of me. I am actually ‘Sailor’, doing a bit of ‘method’ and test-driving a new persona for my next project; obsessive fan becomes a serial killer, seeking revenge on those he feels have done his hero wrong, ha-ha-ha! I’m going for a ‘Braveheart’ meets Travis Bickle vibe. What d’ya think?

  6. stuartgardner says:

    Thanks for introducing me to this. It’s not the first time you’ve covered work by Bowie I hadn’t known existed (actually, you’ve introduced me to quite a few things, and certainly more than I would have thought possible).
    That the obscurity of such items as this doesn’t condemn them to brief coverage is marvelous, and appreciated.

  7. SoooTrypticon says:

    Love this song. It makes a lovely closer to Earthling, or a wanted addition to Hours in my playlists.

    Col, I can’t wait for your write ups on the Hours material. I’m of the opinion that it’s an album pieced together from at least three different projects.

    An acoustic album.

    Left over bits from Outside, (lyrics at least).

    And finally, that video game soundtrack.

    Have you found any overlap with Outside?

    • col1234 says:

      I’m glad there’s such anticipation for Hours. I’ll just warn everyone that we’re not getting there until the end of Sept., most likely. There are a lot of one-off songs, covers, collaborations to get through in the ’97-’99 period first

  8. gcreptile says:

    Thanks very much for this one! It’s new to my ears.

  9. timspeaker says:

    Wow, hadn’t heard that before! Makes me wonder what else you have up your sleeve for us?

    Another great find. Would have been an excellent inclusion to Earthling or …hours, and probably improved either.

    Thanks again for continuing to add essential commentary/analysis to the Bowie canon.

  10. Maj says:

    Don’t think I ever realised Gail Ann didn’t really play that on the albums. For me she was the most prominent member of Bowie’s touring band when I started listening to him – and she seemingly was around since the Outside tour, so I kind of failed to realise that indeed, she doesn’t play on the albums following Earthling & preceding TND. Wow, what a revelation.

    The song itself is Peter Gabriel Meets Bryan Ferry, The Sleepy Edition. At least on the first few listens – no, I have not heard this one before. I will most likely grow on me.

    I’m really looking forward to the new two months of bits and pieces from the late 90’s. I’m sure I’ll discover a lot.🙂

    • Maj says:

      *fookin ‘ell. so first sentence I have have no idea why I included “that” and later on there’s a typo. I won’t grow on me. Ever, but “it”, the song, might.

  11. marki says:

    I was happy to see your credits to Angie in the intro. Well deserved and quite valid in my recall.

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