ultimos amarres

Safe (remake of “Safe in this Sky Life”).

It is not the literal past that rules us, save, possibly, in a biological sense. It is images of the past. These are often as highly structured and selective as myths. Images and symbolic constructs of the past are imprinted, almost in the manner of genetic information, on our sensibility. Each new historical era mirrors itself in the picture and active mythology of its past or of a past borrowed from other cultures…

George Steiner, In Bluebeard’s Castle, 1971.1

The past, it almost shimmers down


What happened in 1998?

The president of the United States was impeached for perjuring himself about a shabby affair. Around the world: wars, calamities, children, television, the usual things. Never mind that. What happened to Bowie? It was the year he finally was consumed by the past.

He entered 1998 still talking up jungle, still acting out Earthling, but he left it readying his next face. This would be the “street clothes” Bowie of the turn of the millennium: flannel shirts, his hair a rat-brown fringe, granny glasses. And as a variant, a wan majordomo figure first seen on the cover of Hours. In either case, this new Bowie came off as something like a decommissioned rock star; an aging hipster caretaker of his past lives.

Sure, he’d changed his look before; he’d soon change it again. But any subsequent changes would be minor cosmetic variations on this image. The “new” Bowie of 1999 would be his last edition. He stopped here. As the cliche has it, he finally fell to earth.

He’d always had a curatorial side, surprising fans with the carefully-deployed antique, weaving a fresh song over the bones of an old one. But there was also his obverse: the man devoted to the present, seemingly bent on claiming a stake in the future: an artist happy to be a tuning fork for more discordant sounds, the ambassador of the weird to the straight world.

Now the future side of him went into remission. Rather than make another evasive maneuver like Tin Machine, he went inward, back into his old music. Not all at once (his next album would shuttle between a world-weary tone and the last squawks of his mapgie self); he edged into rock classicism as one does a hot bath. But his music became, more and more, extensions to and rewrites of his old work, rather than attempts to claim new territories. It began, as these things do, with the cartoon Rugrats.


Karyn Rachtman, an executive producer and musical director of the first Rugrats film, asked Bowie to contribute a song. Rachtman (sister of Ricky, late of Headbanger’s Ball) wanted to make the soundtrack hip. This was the coming thing: children’s entertainment had to appeal to parents, to assure them they hadn’t lost their souls by reproducing. So she got Iggy Pop, Beck, Patti Smith, No Doubt and Elvis Costello (the last two in a duet). From Bowie, she wanted a proper “David Bowie song.” Ziggy Stardust guitars, sweeping strings, the Thin White Duke croon. (“A little bit of ‘Space Oddity,’ ‘”Heroes”‘ and ‘Absolute Beginners’ rolled into one,” its producer said). An amalgam of the popular imagination’s Bowie. And Bowie gave her what she wanted.

As the song, “Safe In This Sky Life,” was never released or bootlegged, all we have to go by are descriptions of its making, which was elaborate. The track featured a 24-piece string section, Reeves Gabrels on guitar (he’d co-written the song), harmony vocals by Richard Barone (the Bongos), drums by Clem Burke (Blondie) and keyboards by Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater). To produce it, Bowie had dialed up his past.

Tony Visconti hadn’t worked with, or even talked to, Bowie in 15 years. There were reportedly sore feelings on both sides, Visconti for being elbowed out of Let’s Dance and for his contributions to the “Berlin” records erased in the press; Bowie for Visconti’s alleged verbosity in interviews.2 Visconti said the reconciliation, when it came, was simple: Bowie just called him up one day and asked him to make a record. As it happened, Visconti reappeared just as Bowie’s relationship with Gabrels had begun to fray. By the end of 1999, Gabrels was gone; Visconti has been Bowie’s collaborator ever since.

“Safe in This Sky Life” was cut from the Rugrats film during editing, after the sequence for which it was intended was deleted. There was apparently nowhere else in the movie for the song to go (not even over the end credits?). “He delivered a song far beyond my wildest dreams, and now I can’t even use it,” Rachtman lamented to the press. Bowie, saying that the song “doesn’t fit in with what I’m doing at the moment,” put it on the shelf.


The released version of “Safe” is one Bowie and Visconti recorded during the Heathen sessions in 2001. All that remains in it from the 1998 take are the string tracks, Visconti said.

So it’s difficult, even foolhardy, to speculate what the original sounded like based on its remake. The guitars, played possibly by Mark Plati or Bowie himself, do sound as if they’re tracing over Gabrels’ original lines. But much of  “Safe” feels as if you’ve heard it somewhere before in the Bowie catalog. The verses begin with close to the same top melody as “The Supermen” (cf. “When all the world was heavy hung” to “frozen to the glass again“). There’s a “period” synthesizer effect that sounds like the Stylophone of “Space Oddity” at times. Visconti’s strings, anticipating and parrying the vocal, have a massed lushness that calls back to the likes of “Win” or “In the Heat of the Morning.”

It’s a song as a series of sensory triggers: its dramatic moments—the rising chord progression in the verses, the guitar-smeared shifts to the chorus, the long-held “skyyyliiiiiifes”—suggest a common idea of a “great” Bowie song. “Safe” rewarded your perseverance as a fan: this is what you wanted, and here it is, better than you imagined. (Matt Chamberlain’s drumming could power a small city). It’s Bowie starring as “Bowie”; it was as if he was covering himself. The lyric also carefully matches a gentle conservatism (safety, acceptance, resignation) with a spiritual yearning—after all, it began as a song for hip parents. It’s a lovely song, one of his best of the period, and there’s something hollow inside it.


So what did he think about Glam being big again?

“Was it really?” he says in his campest ‘suits you sir’ voice. “I felt that it was a synthetic recycling on the back of the belief that Velvet Goldmine would be a smash movie and be able to sell all those spin-off books and records. It was PR led. It didn’t come from the streets. When I saw the film I thought the best thing about it was the gay scenes, the only successful part of the film frankly. The film didn’t understand how innocent everyone was then about what they were getting into,” he says, pausing for a moment. “Also there was a lot more shopping.”

Bowie, interview by Andrew Davies, The Big Issue, January 1999.

When Bowie and Visconti first cut “Safe,” glam nostalgia was thick in the air, thanks in part to Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine, released in autumn 1998. A barely-veiled Bowie biopic as directed by an obsessive Bowiephile (it even has characters based on Kenneth Pitt and Corrinne Schwab), Velvet Goldmine was the middle piece of a trilogy Haynes made about pop stars and stardom. Superstar enacted the tragedy of Karen Carpenter via Barbie dolls; I’m Not There would split Bob Dylan into six incarnations of fan myths, from amphetamine hipster to Guthrie disciple.4

Haynes had sent Bowie an early version of Velvet Goldmine’s script and had asked to use seven songs (“All the Young Dudes,” “Sweet Thing,” “Lady Stardust,” “Moonage Daydream,” Bowie’s cover of “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” “Lady Grinning Soul,” and the title track). Despite lobbying by Michael Stipe and Kim Gordon, Bowie denied Haynes permission. He didn’t like the script, he said: all that his analogue character, Brian Slade, did was give blow jobs.

You can see his point: Slade, played blankly by Jonathan Rhys-Myers, has no inner life; he’s just a series of beautiful reactions. Haynes’ film was sharp, some of its casting was inspired (Toni Colette’s tragic Angela Bowie), and it was lovingly detailed.5 But for Bowie Goldmine came off as obnoxious and cynical (in perhaps the same way he would find this project misguided and tone-deaf.)6 Haynes film was an aging glam fan’s perspective, rewriting the glam era as a collective fan myth (hence Slade winds up as an Eighties fascist global pop icon, sporting Billy Idol hair). The film’s language was half-remembered Bowie gossip; it played with pieces of Bowie’s life for sport. It cast Bowie as a character in someone else’s drama, where Bowie had always written his own lines.

That said, there was another reason for Bowie’s rejection. In 1998, he was planning a Ziggy Stardust film of his own, and didn’t want his songs appear in what he considered a competitor picture.


This Ziggy Stardust project was first mentioned in autumn 1998, and it seems to have filled the gap left by the collapse of the Outside sequels and concerts (see the upcoming “Seven”). The grandiosity of the Ziggy plan, its wild scope matched by apparently nothing resembling a budget or a workable blueprint, suited Bowie’s restless mood of the time: his jumping from film to film; his agreeing to host a season of The Hunger; his various immersions in the Internet and video games.

It’s hard to tell just how far the Ziggy project ever got: were there scripts commissioned? sets designed? (probably the latter: he always loved making set models.) Ziggy was supposed to appear in 2002 to commemorate the album’s 30th anniversary. It would be a three-pronged attack. A film (“an objective piece about how [Ziggy] is viewed and perceived by his audience,” Bowie said—so, in other words, Velvet Goldmine), a theater piece (“more internal, more reflective of the immediate repercussions of Ziggy and his effect on the people around him…his close intimates, how he thinks and what his perception of the world really is,” possibly including mime sequences) and “Internet” (the latter would be “pure fun, with hypertext links so you can find out who his mum was, and things like that—a huge exploration of his background. It’s sort of factground, and startlingly info-packed maps and photographs“).

Naturally, there would be tie-ins: a new book of photos by Mick Rock, a DVD with rare concert footage and a double-CD with unearthed and re-recorded Ziggy Stardust outtakes (including the legendary “Black Hole Kids”). In an interview with Radio One’s The Net in 1998, Bowie waxed effusive: “..I’ve found bits and pieces of songs that I obviously had written for [Ziggy Stardust] but never finished off. It’s as if I’ll be complementing what’s already there with other pieces that were started but not actually finished at the time, so they have an authenticity of the period about them. For me, I think it’ll be an extraordinary thing to see what kind of animal it becomes eventually!…It’s just a question of finishing off what might be a 90-second or a two-minute piece, taking it obviously the way it wanted to go and finishing it off and keeping the sound of the material in the period.”

(This idea—Bowie taking a scrap from an old session and working it into a releasable track, is the closest he’s come to explaining alleged “Berlin-era” outtakes like “I Pray Ole.“)

Gabrels thought the project had the potential for disaster. The only way it could have worked, he later said, would be to record the new Ziggy songs at Trident Studios with Ken Scott or Visconti, using only 16-track decks and keeping to the instruments that Mick Ronson and Bowie had used in 1971: Mellotron, Moog, recorder, 12-string acoustic, a single Les Paul guitar with a Cry Baby Wah-Wah pedal. If you’re going for nostalgia, get the details as right as Todd Haynes did. If not, Bowie’s new Ziggy tracks risked sounding like the surviving Beatles’ ghost-duets with John Lennon in the Anthology series: a glossy simulacrum of his old music, made palatable by nostalgia and the indulgence of fans.

The Ziggy project apparently died around the turn of the century. By 2002, when Ziggy Stardust‘s 30th anniversary was only commemorated by a CD that repackaged the Rykodisc extras, Bowie told Rolling Stone that “I’m running like fuck from that [idea]…Can you imagine anything uglier than a nearly 60-year-old Ziggy Stardust? I don’t think so! We actually tried a few years ago to pull a movie together but at every turn it was like…” Ziggy Stardust deserved to remain an idea, a fan memory, he said, rather than “presenting some nerd in a red wig, having run through a really slack arsed movie script.”


So: a seeming debacle avoided. Yet the Ziggy project still had consumed much of Bowie’s time around the turn of the millennium, and it paralleled his decision to rerecord his old Mod songs for Toy. Both of these, his biggest ambitions in 1999-2000, would wind up as unreleased failures; both were excavations and reworkings of past glories. It’s easy to see why he didn’t have much time for the present. He’d been used to making knight’s moves across the board; now, with his pieces depleted, he was left to devise workable defenses.

“Safe,” a “Bowie-sings-‘Bowie'” track intended for and scrapped by a cartoon soundtrack, and which wound up being issued as its own obscure cover, sums up this period as well as anything could. There’s a majesty in “Safe,” but it’s a borrowed majesty. One line from it in particular could serve as the credo of Bowie’s post-millennial years:

…From now on,
The things will move more slowly…

Recorded (“Safe in This Sky Life”) ca. August 1998, unreleased. “Safe,” cut during the Heathen sessions of July-September 2001, was released as a download for BowieNet subscribers in June 2002, then as a B-side of the “Everybody Says ‘Hi'” CD single on 16 September 2002. The only edition of Heathen on which it appears (in a longer edit) is the rare SACD.

The Ziggy Stardust Companion was especially valuable for this entry, as it’s compiled the most details about Bowie’s reaction to Velvet Goldmine as well as the ill-fated Ziggy revival.

1 Cited by Bowie as one of his top 100 books. The list is as much an exhibition piece as the Ziggy Stardust costumes of Bowie’s ongoing show: it’s a scavenger hunt for fans.

2: There’s a detail in Marcello Carlin’s wonderful piece on ABC’s The Lexicon of Love: that Visconti and Bowie visited ABC during Lexicon‘s recording, and that Bowie was taken by “The Look of Love” in particular. You wonder if Bowie had stuck with Visconti for Let’s Dance (recorded in late 1982) instead of using Nile Rodgers, whether that record would’ve been more in line with what Martin Fry et al were doing at the time.

3 The biographer Dave Thompson claims, citing an anonymous “latter-day associate,” that Bowie had been irritated by Visconti spilling the beans in interviews over the years. However, this theory is weakened by the fact that a few months before Bowie contacted Visconti, Mojo ran an article in which Visconti was on record saying essentially that he and Mick Ronson had co-written The Man Who Sold the World (this was the article that inspired Bowie to snap at journalists to go back to the record and listen again: “no one writes chord changes like that“). If Bowie was so irked by such statements, this was a pretty big one.

4: Though Haynes braced for Dylan to freeze him out like Bowie had, Dylan instead let Haynes use whatever songs he wanted, including the Basement Tapes era title song, released for the first time on the film’s soundtrack.

5: Curt Wild’s band is the Rats; Slade’s first words to Mandy, “do you jive?” were allegedly Bowie’s first words to Angela; a boy recites the Hughes Mearns poem that inspired “Man Who Sold the World”; one of Slade’s press conferences has him say, almost word for word, a notorious line Bowie told Rolling Stone in 1971; and so on and so on.

6: According to David Buckley’s bio, Brian Eno was spied at the cinema, laughing his way through Velvet Goldmine.

Top: Dante Busquets, “Últimos Amarres: Laurie, Mariana y Leslie, Cuernavaca, Mor, 1998”; various shots from The Rugrats Movie (Kovalyov/Virgien, 1998) and Velvet Goldmine (Haynes, 1998).

44 Responses to Safe

  1. Mr Tagomi says:

    One small thing that I remember from that time was DB saying to an interviewer that when he tried to write a Ziggy Stardust script, he disliked the way the character was diminished, that pinning Ziggy down to specific details in a full narrative undermined his mystique.

    He cited this as a reason for giving up on the project.

  2. James says:

    Thank god he stayed out of it, it would have been worse than the Never Let me Doww/Glass Spider debacle.

  3. 87Fan says:

    Yes, thank goodness the Ziggy project died – it would be like the Star Wars prequels – totally unnecessary and in fact damage the originals.

    BTW – I don’t ever remember hearing about all these plans for a Ziggy “revival.” Thanks again for your deep research, and sharing with us. Cool stuff.

    Incidentally – the song Safe does nothing for me :/

    • Diamond Duke says:

      An analogy completely lost on someone such as myself who happens to believe that Revenge Of The Sith totally clobbers Return Of The Jedi (heh-heh-heh)! 😉 I also happen to think Attack Of The Clones is highly underrated (devastatingly insightful observations on the comparative roughness of sand masquerading as romantic overture notwithstanding, of course)…

  4. postpunkmonk says:

    Personally, I always thought that the Ziggy movie concept was just Bowie’s cover story for denying Haynes the rights to his music for what was obviously an effete slap in Bowie’s face by a fan who felt jilted [as I did, too] by the dumbed-down sellout of the “Let’s Dance” era. I though it was an artistic disaster for Bowie, but for Haynes, who is gay, there were further layers of betrayal, with Bowie now taking great pains to portray himself as a flaming heterosexual [albeit with a ludicrous bleached blonde quiff that no straight man would countenance]. The character at the end of “Velvet Goldmine” who used to be Brian Slade was now a quasi-fascist popstar who looked like a withering parody of the ’83 Bowie. Faced with this turn of Bowie events, I chose not to buy Bowie music for five years, but Haynes had the resources to make a movie about how disappointed in Bowie he was. I liked the fact that Bowie withheld music because the faux-Bowie tunes on the soundtrack were tremendous! That Ferry signed on was even juicier.

    • Mr Tagomi says:

      On the Velvet Goldmine film itself, I thought it contained enough material for a good film to be reassembled out of it, but the film that was released was fairly boring.

  5. gcreptile says:

    I can’t listen to the song because of the restrictive german copyright laws, but… I wrote two entries ago about the precise point when Bowie decided to quit trend-making/chasing and turned neo-classicist. This must be it. All those swirls of retromania and the simultaneous death of Brit-Pop left him rudderless. An artificial “Bowie”-song, an artificial Glam revival, the failure of the Ziggy movie… Bowie was acting without a script, so he had to rely on his foundations.

  6. MC says:

    Haven’t had a chance to listen to the track yet, but it’s a fascinating backstory; I had no idea what went into the song. (I’d just assumed from what I’d read over the years that it was an …hours outtake.) I think that the excavation of old Bowie on what I like to call the “twilight trilogy” of albums was a much more interesting revisiting of the past than the projected Ziggy musical would have been. I think this creative direction was a moving and valid response to where DB was at that time, and to what rock culture had become, and it yielded some terrific songs. (Only one of the albums truly achieves greatness for me, though…but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.)

    I’m a great proponent of Velvet Goldmine, though there’s something very fragile about Haynes’ achievement here; it’s an easy movie to poke holes in. I find it incredibly moving and hugely funny. I think the Roxy songs plus the originals – the absence of Bowie music on the soundtrack – was a plus as far as constructing this sort of private, alternative universe, where Glam is this queer revolutionary force. And I always got a kick out of the re-imagining of Serious Moonlight-era DB as the pompadoured Tommy Stone (with his endorsement of the policies of “President Maxwell”)

    • Mr Tagomi says:

      Which vaguely reminds me of how in Liverpool Fantasy by Larry Kirwan the early demise of the Beatles in the 1960s led to a Tory coalition with the National Front in the 1980s.

  7. Ramzi says:

    Great write-up as per. For what it’s worth I think this should’ve been included on Heathen, preferably instead of A Better Future (a horrendous track on an otherwise masterful album, in my opinion). Although I think it’s a little harsh to describe this (and the rest of Bowie’s work from here on in) as pure rock classicism – I think there’s plenty new and interesting in these.

    All I knew of the song is that it had something to do with the Rugrats movie, so it’s great to have that actually explained; likewise with the Ziggy film that never came to be…thankfully so, I should add, it would probably have been dreadful. One thing that did make me laugh was the “Internet” phase of the project. The story of Ziggy Stardust explained via HTML, for heaven’s sake! As someone born in 1995, Bowie’s dealings with the internet in the late 90’s always make me laugh (the contest where you had to guess which out of the three was Bowie is particularly hilarious for someone who wasn’t there).

    • Steve Mallarmy says:

      A Better Future may not be the best cut on Heathen but I rather like it. To my mind it is to Heathen what Kooks is to Hunky Dory – a sentimental throwaway that I only really warmed to after becoming a father myself.

      • s.t. says:

        I’d much rather have A Better Future than Everyone Says Hi!

      • humanizingthevacuum says:

        Seconded. “Everyone Says Hi” has a repulsive twinkle.

      • mark shark says:

        Everyone Says Hi always reminds me of a song Springsteen might have given Bowie. Didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the recording

      • Ramzi says:

        yeah, Everyone Says Hi and A Better Future really don’t go with the rest of the album. Whenever I listen to Heathen I usually skip from 5:15 to the title track. As I said, I’d prefer to have Safe.

  8. Maj says:

    I’ve never heard Safe before today TBH. It sounds like Bowie covering a Suede track. Now that I’ve stopped listening to it, it even replays in my head with Brett Anderson’s vocals instead.

    It’s frightening how much Bowie seemed to be into the Ziggy film idea. Man. I would elaborate but midnight is striking as I type. Anyway, the whole idea makes me shudder.

    As for Velvet Goldmine, love it. And actually not using Bowie’s music is the best thing that ever happened to the film. Helped me discover some to me unknown music from that period, also while I usually dislike Thom Yorke’s voice, he does a great job on 2HB specifically.
    And Jonathan Rhys Meyers I think for once really fit his role. I really dislike him as an actor but his Ziggy-inspired persona is IMO spot on. The thing is, the film is not about him, not really, so he remains a half-blank, half-over theatrical figurine.

  9. Diamond Duke says:

    On the song Safe
    I happen to really love this song a great deal. In fact, this is one of my all-time favorite late-period Bowie tracks. Of course, I have no idea what the original Rugrats take sounded like, so I have no basis for comparison with the version I heard (from Disc 8 of the David Bowie Box set, featuring the Heathen extras). It actually doesn’t seem to be a contrived attempt to be an amalgam of Bowie’s best-known moments – at least not to my ears – but the Heathen bonus version does have this spine-tingling vibe about it that strongly reminds me of the “haunted nursery” ambience (I don’t quite know what else to call it) of earlier Bowie “deep cuts” such as All The Madmen and The Bewlay Brothers. It’s actually quite unsettling, with its major/minor tug-of-war and the looming, threateningly overcast dissonance of the chorus. It’s really quite jarring the way the verse melody suddenly ascends (“Cold I am, tonight I am / Tomorrow’s really on my mind”), as though being forcibly dragged up a staircase by the hair toward the inevitable chorus. I also love the guitar solo at the end, before the fade. If indeed the original Visconti string section was the only thing to survive from the Rugrats version, then that’s definitely an effective forgery of Gabrels’ style. (And if not actually Gabrels, then…Bowie? Gerry Leonard? Mark Plati? David Torn?) (BTW, good call regarding the vocal melody’s similarity to that of The Supermen. That never occurred to me before, but I definitely see the resemblance…)

  10. s.t. says:

    Excellent post. Brought back memories of when I would read sporadic updates about this Ziggy project and 2. Contamination, and then Toy, thinking each time “Ack! Just move on, for God’s sake!”

    Of course, that mind set, my expectation that he flit to the next new sound or theme, was the wrong one to have around this time. He never released those oft-advertised projects, but moving on was no longer part of Bowie’s M.O.

    And I guess “Safe” is a pretty good transition point into the Neo-Classicist period. I hadn’t realized that it was originally recorded in ’98, but it makes sense. After all, it’s a close cousin to “We All Go Through,” and fits nicely with the slightly spiky rock tracks from the Hours era.

    It’s a nice song, but just compare it to Buddha of Suburbia, Strangers When We Meet, Voyeur of Utter Destruction, and Architects Eyes…it just sounds so simple, so stiff. So conservative. Buddha was another example of him digging back into “classic Bowie” sounds, but it feels so much more open and dynamic…multiple melodic progressions, mood shifts, soaring vocals.

    So from here on out, even when he would hit upon moments of beauty and poignancy, Bowie would opt for a simpler, humbler approach to his music.

    “Safe” is the best way to put it.

  11. Diamond Duke says:

    On the film Velvet Goldmine
    I think to really cut to the heart of what Todd Haynes was trying to achieve with his film, you need look no further than the Baby’s On Fire sequence, which intercuts the younger version of Arthur Stuart (the Christian Bale character) getting…how shall I say?…excited…over the magazine imagery of Curt Wild and Brian Slade and having his father break down the door and catch him in the act, with the performance sequence in which Brian “goes down” on Curt’s guitar, the imagery of the music papers moving along the printing press, as well as the orgy sequence. Haynes is making a very powerful observation about the imagery of popular culture and how that it can strongly resonate with the inner lives of the young people who consume it. It’s almost a form of media critique, in a way, and one’s own reaction to Velvet Goldmine is largely dependent upon whether or not one believes that musical artists are somehow responsible or culpable in terms of how their image is used and manipulated by the media. Personally, I think Haynes arguably goes a step too far with the insinuation that the faux-Bowie figure Slade had “sold out” and betrayed everything he was before. Some might argue that with glam, there was really nothing to betray, and that Haynes makes a mistake in ascribing a sexually revolutionary character to it. Or perhaps that’s just simply a more literal, Americanized sort of perspective (Haynes of course being American), that glam had to “mean” something deeper. But I think that Haynes does a good job in pinpointing something which I think is too often relegated to an unfortunate “elephant in the room” status – namely, the feelings that were aroused in many young misfit fans by the androgynous imagery of glam (these skinny, beautiful, painted young men resplendent in tight pants, stacked heels and feather boas), and how liberating the music and the imagery was for them. By no means is Velvet Goldmine intended to be a literal telling of the David Bowie story, and I certainly don’t think it’s intended to be taken as such by anybody. But I think the very fact that it quite evidently isn’t proved to be creatively liberating for Haynes, for it allows him to distance himself from any pretense to “realism” and whole-heartedly embrace the mythology of these people (as disseminated in books such as Angela Bowie’s Backstage Passes and Tony Zanetta and Henry Edwards’ Stardust bio). If Haynes were attempting to do an actual Bowie biopic, this would be a highly irresponsible approach, to be sure! But the mythologizing and recasting approach of Velvet Goldmine better enables Haynes to get to the bottom of how Bowie and glam rock in the early ’70s resonated with and affected the lives of the fans, probably much more effectively than a straightforward approach would.

    • col1234 says:

      well said. It’s telling that DB’s main critique (as per Mick Rock) was that the Slade figure was too passive, too remote. He was upset that the film didn’t show him as he really was: an ambitious, plotting hustler! It’s as if he couldn’t grasp what his public image had been to some fans in the glam years.

      • s.t. says:

        Yes, I agree that Haynes film is a rather personal take on the glam movement, a love/hate letter to a former idol who shaped and later discarded a fan’s sexual and aesthetic identity.

        I think Bowie didn’t care for Haynes’ fan perspective of the Ziggy myth because, as you mentioned, Bowie wanted to control how his myth was managed. He’s always been protective of his image, and perhaps most so in later years.

        Still, I agree with another criticism Bowie had mentioned around this time: the glam world of Velvet Goldmine is far too clean and pretty to evoke the feeling of the real movement. Glam was more of a seedy rag tag freakshow, sexy and repulsive at the same time. Haynes’ pretty boy glitz is way more 80’s than it is ’70s, and Bowie opined that it was off the mark.

    • MC says:

      D. Duke, you’re right on the money about the movie. My friends and I got a huge kick out of the scene in which young Christian Bale points at C. Wild and B. Slade cavorting on TV while his parents look on in disgust, and crying out, “That’s me! That’s me!” so of course we’d quote it any chance we got. I’ve thought about what a Bowie-led Ziggy movie would have looked like, and I don’t see it connecting with the fans’ experience of Ziggy with anything like the same humour and poignancy, or with the unabashedly Queer sensibility Haynes brings to the table.

      BTW, I used to have an issue of Movieline Magazine with DB on the cover (the January ’92 issue I believe, from the halcyon days of Tin Machine II and The Linguini Incident). In it, he talks a lot about his abortive film projects of the 70’s, and he mentions a script he was then working on, supposedly Cassavetes-inspired, about life and relationships in LA. Only place I’ve ever seen it mentioned. Anyone know anything else about this?

  12. Steve Mallarmy says:

    This may be the moment of the neo-classicist turn, the turning away from sartorial and musical flamboyance, but it’s worth noting that the return to “authenticity” has been as much a part of Bowie’s career as the thieving postmodern artificiality for which he is most celebrated.

    We have the earnest folky singer-songwriter of the late sixties. There’s the masks-off-this-is-the-real-me of Low. There’s regular-guy-heterosexual of the Let’s Dance era. There’s the regular-guy-in-a-rock band of Tin Machine, etc, etc.

  13. sidthecat says:

    I worked on a “Rugrats Movie” event around the time of its release. I wasn’t a Bowie fan when the movie came out, or I would have asked someone to play me the track. Missed opportunity.

    By the way, my problem with “Goldmine” was how it conventionalized the Bowie/Iggy relationship into something very simple and Hollywood-ized. Their story would make a great movie, but a much more nuanced one.

  14. and isn’t that john I’m only dancing right at the beginning?
    Good song, but not too impressed by velvet goldmine, that’s not how I remember uk glam

  15. s.t. says:

    Regarding “Safe,” I also sense a kinship with “Seven Years in Tibet,” just with a more conventional rock arrangement. The sudden switch from a short muttered verse to loud chorus (complete with initial fakeout), similar keyboard, the steady stomping drums.

    On “Safe” though, he returned to his old-man-Ziggy voice, first heard on Tin Machine 2 (right?), which thankfully became more prominent in his later albums. Plus…strings! Such a perfect compliment to Bowie’s music (like Visconti himself), so thankfully they made a return as well.

    So there’s your Neo-Classicist Bowie. The simple songs of Earthling stripped of their trendy trappings, and clothed in the comforting sounds that approximate a bygone classic era.

    But of course, being Bowie, his transition into tasteful statesmen was messier and more convoluted than this song would suggest.

  16. The Ziggurat says:

    On Ziggy at 30
    “Gabrels thought the project had the potential for disaster. The only way it could have worked, he later said, would be to record the new Ziggy songs at Trident Studios with Ken Scott or Visconti, using only 16-track decks and keeping to the instruments that Mick Ronson and Bowie had used in 1971: Mellotron, Moog, recorder, 12-string acoustic, a single Les Paul guitar with a Cry Baby Wah-Wah pedal.”

    I’m glad someone (Gabrels, most definitely) probably said this to Bowie’s face. Perhaps that’s why they stopped working together? (I’ve never read of an exact reason). Bowie as Ziggy 30 years after the fact would have been horrid. I’m glad he never went through with it – can you imagine just how bad it might look? He probably would have shot it on Mini DV (“emerging technologies!”) or had poorly animated CGI space aliens hang out with Ziggy (With the quality of Playstation 1 or Dreamcast graphics).

    I find this to be the exact reason why I can’t listen to the bootlegged Toy often. (OR, The Next Day‘s worst song “I’d Rather Be High.” A waste of space, the make believe that we’re all ‘travelling back in time’ or something via song. So horrid.) The only way to get those sounds is by using the right hardware, not the latest, top of the line whatever. Otherwise, it just sounds cheap.

  17. david says:

    On Visconti: Though it may have suited Bowie’s purposes around the time of Lets Dance to dispense with Visconti’s skill’s, I do believe the major sticking point around the time was an interview with 1983 edition of the fanzine-Starzone magazine, in which the producer detailed David’s protectiveness of his son, and spoke of Joe ( Duncan) in possibly a cavalier fashion. Coming on the heels of the autobiography, Alias David Bowie-its entirely possible that David had become wary of ex colleagues giving personal incites to the press.

  18. zappuccino says:

    This song is completely new to me. After several plays, I reluctantly agreed with you that despite it’s loveliness, there was perhaps something hollow inside it. And yet, I find myself listening to it again and again. There’s something quite beguiling and hypnotic about the harmony and chord structure.
    Lyrically and musically (particularly the sense of yearning introspection and the rising chord sequence) Safe brings the Rogers and Hart song “Where Or When” to mind. Below are the opening lyrics to that song.

    “When you’re awake, the things you think
    Come from the dream you dream
    Thought has wings, and lots of things
    Are seldom what they seem

    Sometimes you think youve lived before
    All that you live to day
    Things you do come back to you
    As though they knew the way

    Oh the tricks your mind can play”

  19. decosabute says:

    A great entry as always Chris – the quality of the blog has kept me avidly reading despite my hitherto ignorance of most things outside of Bowie’s 1970-83 ‘prime’.

    I wanted to ask about one thing you touched on briefly when you said that Bowie would ‘perhaps…find this project misguided and tone-deaf’. Have you ever had any direct or indirect suggestion that the man himself has read the blog?

    • col1234 says:

      nope, zero. My stock answer is that he may well be aware of this blog’s existence, but I very much doubt he’s ever read it (& why would you, if you were him?). I’ve made an ongoing gag of a fictional Bowie reading the blog and getting irked at me, but it’s meant as a meta-joke.

      • The Ziggurat says:

        A man as self-interested as Bowie must be doing something with all of his time spent at home (when he’s not in fashion short films). He’s not seen much outside. Reading PAotD must be on his (Google) Reader like the rest of us.

      • decosabute says:

        It does make sense to think ‘why would he bother reading about his own recorded history?’, but I’ve always had the impression from several of his quotes that he has paid close attention to what the critics have said throughout his career. I’d like to think that as a fierce guardian of his own legacy, maybe, just maybe he’s interested to read the foremost gathering of Bowie criticism and information in the internet age. At the very least, one can indulge oneself in the fantasy of him kicking back and reading all of the entries from Station to Station, filling in so many blanks with images of Doheny Drive, Bel Air and Cherokee studios.

  20. s.t. says:

    Chris, I have a question about Iggy Pop’s sexuality, and this post seemed like an appropriate place to include it.

    At a conference two weeks ago, the issue of Bowie came up, and my friend from the UK mentioned that Americans tend to defensively dismiss the notion that US tough guy Iggy Pop and Bowie had sex–and particularly the idea that Iggy was the bottom. True to form, I did get a bit defensive. Not because of any hang ups about sexuality, but simply because any mention of sex that I’ve heard or read from Iggy himself was decidedly about women, and so he always came across as straight. Moreover, the story just seems to reek of myth, the type created about anyone associated with Bowie, whether peddled by Angie or spread by a still-homophobic listening public (and later exalted by Haynes in Velvet Goldmine). I’ve never accessed any hard or reliable information about an affair between the two of them, and so I said I was inclined to dismiss it.

    At the same time, I have never heard Iggy confirm or deny his sexuality, or his involvement with Bowie. Perhaps I’m just poorly informed on the matter? Is there anything that you know that could speak to this (admittedly very trivial) issue?

    • col1234 says:

      huh. I really haven’t heard this rumor before, unlike the Bowie-Jagger stuff. There’s no evidence that it happened: Iggy’s a pretty straight-forward guy, and was pretty open to Paul Trynka about everything–hospitalizations, drugs, various other scrapes—so you’d think he’d have mentioned it at some point. And even the usual gossip sources haven’t offered this one.

      Also, Bowie was a pretty opportunistic and relatively rare bisexual, from all verifiable evidence, and there’s no evidence of him ever being with a man once he left the UK in ’74. I would agree Americans may get defensive (wrongly) about an Iggy/Bowie relationship, but this also dismisses the idea of a strong, emotionally intense but sexually platonic male friendship, which was quite common in the 19th century, for instance (e.g., see Pres. Abe Lincoln’s youth). There’s a bit too much of a focus on the “either/or” here, ignoring the fluid oddness of human relationships.

      so: could it have happened? of course, absolutely. Did it happen? if I had to wager, I’d say no.

      • s.t. says:

        Okay, yes, that’s what I was thinking as well. Not that it really matters; it just didn’t seem well founded. I did happen to Google “iggy pop bisexual” and a few UK articles mention this affair with Bowie. Maybe “Velvet Goldmine” actually made some people conflate Jagger with Iggy? No idea. In any event, thanks for the input.

%d bloggers like this: