It’s going to take a while to write the next entry, a baggy thing that has to cover all of Bowie’s Internet and video game antics in the late Nineties. In the meantime, here’s something I’ve meant to ask readers for a while.
“Don’t Be Afraid” (aka “Oh Darling”) is one of the big question marks of the Bowie outtakes “canon.” Included on a number of bootlegs and assigned to the confusing period of early-mid 1971, when Bowie was grinding out songs under assumed names and with variety of bands and singers (see “Rupert the Riley,” “Looking for a Friend,” “Man in the Middle“), “Don’t Be Afraid” remains a shaky addition to Bowie’s oeuvre. In his latest book revision, Nicholas Pegg argues that the “balance of evidence suggests that ‘Don’t Be Afraid’ should be filed…as a piece of 1971 apocrypha.”
The best argument for “Afraid” being apocryphal is that for a long time the track was classed with “Something Happens,” another alleged 1971 bootleg. (The legend is that the tape of “Afraid” came from an American radio interview in early 1972, which seems baffling even if the track is a legitimate Bowie song.) Then in 2008, the illustrated DB board conclusively proved that “Something Happens” was actually a Colin Blunstone song called “Something Happens When You Touch Me,” just slowed down and murked up. So the odds that “Don’t Be Afraid” has a similar secret origin are substantial.
That said, no one has yet to come up with any competing theory as to where the track came from. And there were a lot of Bowie demos cut at Radio Luxembourg’s studio in 1971. The singer is obviously not Bowie, and the players aren’t Mick Ronson and the rest of the Spiders. They could be, however, Mickey King (singer of “Rupert”) and the Arnold Corns crew of Mark Pritchett et al.
I still don’t know whether, in my book, to dump this song in the “apocrypha” appendix or to include it in the chapter with the rest of the Ziggy Stardust/ Hunky Dory songs. So now’s your chance to vote on the canon: is this a Bowie song or no?
[P.S.: July 2014: it’s not! It’s a demo by the UK prog/metal band Czar–see comments]
Top: Bowie’s first night in America, January 1971.