Bring Me the Disco King

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Bring Me the Disco King.
Bring Me the Disco King (video).
Bring Me the Disco King (“Loner Mix” (Danny Lohner)).
Bring Me the Disco King (live, 2003).
Bring Me the Disco King (live, 2003).

Interview transcript, 5/9/2005: OSTERMAN, D., RHINEBECK, NY.

I missed the ’76 tour but I was there at the Garden in August ’77. You’ve heard the show, right? Yeah, right? My kid got the boxed set a while back. I didn’t want to hear it. I heard it once, you know? All you need. All I need, at least.. [inaudible] well, look, the show took forever to get going. Like two hours of lights dimming and going back up, to all these big moaning groans from the crowd, and this fucked-up metal-shredding noise kept playing on the PA, setting everyone on edge. The mood, you can expect, was just…off. Everyone in my group, five of us, was seriously high—we had some ludes and some pot that was laced with who knows what. Not just us. The whole crowd was high on something, or were just tensed for something.

Finally the lights went down for good and Bowie came out. He was pin-thin and wore all black—black suit coat, black rosette in his lapel, black shoes. Black hat? Maybe. Black cane, yes. Leaned on it a lot. Contrast to his face and hands, which were just…I’ve never seen skin shine like that. Like moon-skin. And he was still living in LA then, right? I guess he never went outside [laughs].

He started, I remember, with “Five Years,” and it was just the slowest, most dragging version that you could imagine—was like a year between the drum hits. And he just stood there, just propped against the mike stand, and after a long while he started singing, low, real ghostly. [sings] “Pushing through the market square…” You know how it goes. Then he seemed to kinda wake up and the band really kicked in. He had, maybe, three guitarists? A guy on a huge keyboard too. Drummer had a gong.

There was a bunch of disco stuff, really savage-sounding stuff. Couldn’t really dance to it: too fast. “Fame,” “Stay,” “Calling Sister Midnight,” “Gimme Sweet Head.” He would sing some, then let his band jam for like 10 minutes, then he’d pick up again. While they played he looked out at the crowd, like he was scanning for someone he knew. He did some new stuff, too, maybe ones he never recorded, like this one song I just remember he was yelling “bring me the disco king!” Over and over again. That was most of the song. His hands were up in the air, like someone had a gun on him. Then he did this lunge, this weird pivot, at the mike and said something like, “here’s a new one for you New Yorkers, it’s called “Blackout!””

And you remember the blackout had happened just the month before and everyone in that room was probably there in the city during it and..I mean, parts of the city were probably still on fire then! And Bowie sent like an electric current through the place. Have you ever been on a boat during a storm? The crowd was listing, listing, like, say the right side of the Garden kind of convulsed and then it sort of shivered across until the left side got all worked up. Screams, really big shrieks, you know. This guy the row up from us started shaking, having a fit. Making this awful noise, I still remember, this little hut-hut-hut-hut-hut sound. Bowie was really caught up in the song, just wailing at it, but then he’d crouch, almost squat down on stage, like he was like holding off punches. I couldn’t breathe all of a sudden and my friend Cindy was crying, so when the strobe lights started, I figured we just had to get out of there. Nearly got in two fights just getting into the walkway.

We got out on Eighth Ave., probably by the time of “Station to Station,” when that kid got stabbed, right? I was happy to be out. Though I loved Bowie, you know? Really. I was such a fan. But that wasn’t a good place. And what happened to him in ’78—well, you can’t be surprised, really, though, can you?

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Excerpt from Musician, May 1990, “The London Gang’s All Here.”

Musician: So everyone in the group was in London with you? In the ’60s?

Bowie: Yes, although we didn’t all work together then, except for John [Hutchinson] and I. Andy [Mackay] wasn’t quite there—he was still at university until 1969 or 1970, I believe. But he knew the scene, went to a lot of the shows, same as I did. Bill [Legend] of course was Marc’s drummer, on all the great T. Rex singles. Oh and yes, Herbie [Flowers] was on one of my records and one of Lou’s, and he even produced a single that no one ever remembers, called “Holy Holy.”

M: And the band’s name is a tribute to one of your other old singles? That no one remembers?

B: [Laughs]. It wasn’t even on the radar enough to be forgotten! But I always thought it my first proper recording, my first proper song, and it meant a great deal to me. Though we weren’t quite proper London Boys! I was in Beckenham until 1971 or 1972. Hutch was in Canada.

M: Have you gotten flak for going down this nostalgic route? You’re going to be playing a lot of old songs, and you haven’t made any new records since Never Let Me Down.

B: Which has few supporters, I’ve found. No, I wouldn’t call us a nostalgia act at all. There’s a Buzzcocks song that goes, “nostalgia for an age yet to come.” Well this is a nostalgia for a past that never was. I think we bring something new to the table. Though of course we’ve all been on the scene for quite a while. But never quite in this combination.

M: And this is the last time you’re singing your old songs? Are you recording new ones?

B: That’s the plan, yes. Once we’re back from South America later this year, we’re going to see what happens in the studio. One possible title is Bring Me the Disco King [laughs]. You can just see the cover image, right? Henry V, ordering some flamboyant conquered foe to be brought to him in irons.

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“Bring Me the Disco King” first went public in a mix (for the soundtrack of Underworld) in which the Bowie track’s sole elements—Mike Garson’s piano, Matt Chamberlain’s drum loop and, for a good chunk of the song, Bowie’s vocal—were erased and replaced by Nine Inch Nails guitarist Danny Lohner. In this alternate world, Lisa Germano plays piano, John Frusciante’s on lead guitar and Josh Freese drums. And Maynard James Keenan sings some of it.

You may wish to listen to the remix first, because it feels like the most “complete” version of the song, making Bowie’s track sound like a polished, slightly avant-garde demo. The Lohner remix builds steadily, from Frusciante’s looped, distorted Fender in the intro to the string settings and Keenan taking over the refrains.

This wouldn’t be the first time that a “sequel” to a Bowie song supplants the original recording: I’ve long argued the recut/overdubbed version of “Rebel Rebel,” completed in New York months after the Diamond Dogs version, is the superior recording. You could say the definitive “Station to Station” is the (likely doctored) Philadelphia live recording on Stage (used in Christiane F.), and that some of the Reality songs hit harder in their tour versions.

Consider if the remix was the only version of the song, that the Bowie/Garson take was as “lost” today as the Nineties versions of “Disco King” are (see below). That Bowie’s grand finale existed only as a mid-sequence mood piece on a Kate Beckinsale vampire movie soundtrack.

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Excerpt from Simon King, The Royal Scam: A Misspent Youth In the Advertising World (Clearwater: 1995):

Bill said DJ wanted me in his office “yesterday.” First, a trip to the men’s room (thankfully, I still had some coke from the night before). I was bracing for the worst. So, it seemed, was Bill. “King, bring me the disk before you go upstairs,” he said while I was putting on my jacket and pinching some life into my face.

I’d never ever spoken to DJ before, only seen him from across the floor. He worked in three different offices—London, here in NYC and Tokyo—but he was more like some global embodiment of Jones & Bond, his official residence a first-class airplane seat. DJ was a figure of abstract terror for our office. He’d show up on a Friday afternoon and within an hour three people would be packing their desks and you might be reassigned to a new account that had a project due on Monday morning at 8 AM.

His secretary, who looked like a Modigliani come to life, waved me through. DJ was at his desk, which was immaculate and had nothing resembling work on it. He asked me to sit. It’s hard to describe how incredibly striking-looking he was. He was around 40 but looked at least a decade younger. No visible work done, just a sense that life hadn’t managed to touch him yet. He was steeped in charisma. This was a guy who’d started in the business in ’63, when he was barely out of high school, and in two years he was all but running the show at Collett Dickenson Pearce. His own shop by ’68. He could have been anything—an actor, a prime minister. (Rumor was he cut a few Beatles-type singles back when, but no one at J&B has turned up anything).

I tried to meet his gaze. He had an irregular right pupil, permanently dilated, so naturally you were drawn to it but you also kept trying to not stare at it. He, of course, was entirely aware of this situation and used it as a power play, making whoever was across the desk look at anything else (there was a Japanese-looking guitar on the wall, I noticed).

“Simon,” he began. “You consider advertising to be beneath your substantive talents. Is that a fair assessment?”

I think I flushed. Here it comes. “You spend your nights in the East Village and give off that you’re a frustrated, sadly corrupted artist. I quite empathize, but you must realize this is a rather tedious existence.” He took a Gauloise from his pocket and lit it with a bone-handle lighter produced seemingly out of thin air. “Substantive art is not born from such a cliche.”

“I was very much in your shoes once. But I came to realize that advertising has a much greater purchase on the imagination than any painting. What’s the promise of art? What’s its potential? Immortality? Fame? Power? If you want to colonize dreams, if you want to create a desire—to make someone need something they never knew they needed—if you’d like to stage how people regard reality itself, our field offers some promise.”

He drew out another cigarette and pushed it towards me across his desk. “A Tibetan lama once said there are two forms of art—black magic to turn people’s heads and “white” reality art. We’ve well enough of the latter. Simon, would you care to work on some black magic with me? It should prove interesting, at least.”

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Review: “Expatriates in Berlin: 1980-2000” (James Cohan Gallery, until May 23).

The exhibit includes six works by David Bowie, the former rock performer from the 1970s best known for his gender-fluid chameleon figures on stage. Bowie has worked as a painter and an avant-garde filmmaker since his retirement, though his technique has shown little signs of improvement and his subject matter remains obscure and, in its way, provincial.

Of the pictures (three in oil, one black pencil, two mixed-media), the most promising was “(Bring Me) The Disco King and His Wives,” a 6′ x 12′ abstract work with some furious brushwork and a good sense of scale. Unfortunately even this pales to the work of other Berlin-based artists featured, especially the Archine sisters. One wonders why Bowie has abandoned a field in which he was so capable to devote his time to one in which he’ll always be a second-rater.

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“Bring Me the Disco King” dated to the early Nineties, Bowie said. He wrote the song for the Black Tie White Noise sessions in 1992. “I initially did a version of it which played to the title, alarmingly…I wanted it to sound cheesy and kitschy, and be a kind of real uptempo, disco-y kind of slam at late Seventies disco. And the trouble is, it sounded cheesy and kitschy, ha ha! It just didn’t work. It didn’t have any weight to it.” Attempting it again during the Earthling sessions (“we did it in a sort of muscular way, like the band was at that particular time“), he found the track still lacking.

Of course, there are no circulating demos or outtakes of these early versions of “Disco King,” so there’s no way to trace the song’s evolution. And it’s tempting to wonder whether there were any early versions. After all, Bowie likes to lie to us, so perhaps he invented a tangled family history for his big album-closer, which was one of the longest tracks he ever recorded and which, for a decade, was his Last Word on Record (though it wasn’t, quite).

Let’s take Bowie at his word. “Disco King” doesn’t seem originally intended for piano, in the way that, say, “Lady Grinning Soul” or “Oh! You Pretty Things” were. It’s possible the song began as a simple guitar piece in E minor (with a capoed first fret to move the song, vocally, to F minor), and chord-wise it’s fairly standard (if it was written on guitar down a half-step, the verse chords would be Em/D/B/Em or C/Em/D/C).

But the chords on the Reality track were Garson’s choices. Bowie played the latter his vocal over the drum loop and told Garson to “show me the chords,” using Bowie’s top melody as a guide. So Garson’s intro and outro loops F minor, A# and G# (calling back to “Aladdin Sane,” where Garson soloed over the latter two (flattened) chords), and he’ll swap chords for climactic effect—shifting “bring me the disco king” to F minor after Bowie initially sings it over C# and D#, or reversing the latter two chords for the last extended refrain (“soon there’ll be nothing left of me”). (Thanks to regular commenter “CrayontoCrayon” for his help.)

Giving the song a lost, troubled ancestry adds more dimensions, echoes—the ear wonders how “Disco King” could have worked with a disco or techno beat (“I had those drums on it, the works, you know, it’s a 120-beats-a-minute,” Bowie said), how Bowie’s phrasing would have changed (imagine the “don’t let me know we’re invisible” sung varisped at double the tempo).

It fits how Bowie’s final “Disco King” was partially assembled out of lost songs—its “dance dance dance/through the fire” nearly the same melody as Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie,” its drum track cut by Matt Chamberlain during the Heathen sessions in 2001 (“playing to a completely different song,” Tony Visconti said. “We just recorded ‘Disco King’ over the loops that I’d made of his performance”). Or how the notes of Garson’s piano are essentially samples, as he played his lines on Bowie’s Yamaha digital piano in New York.

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The Goblin King was driven out of his kingdom by a palace revolt. Now this wasn’t much of a revolt, as revolts go, more a minor insurrection of a few disgruntled goblins and a set of confused bureaucrats. It could have been crushed with some choice spells and head-whackings. But the King was weary of his throne and he saw a choice opportunity to escape.

He traveled in the cities of the Western Lights, where, in his sweeping cloak and shining boots, he cut a noticeable figure in the marketplaces and piazzas, and for a time he attended the monastery balls each evening, once winning a dancing contest against a Kermode bear. But there was a melancholy in his step and his demeanor, and he found the crowds oppressive, especially as it was growing near carnival time. So he went further westward, out to the few scattered settlements and ranch towns along the Peninsula. He took up residence in a two-story hotel that was perched on the thin end of a frozen lake.

One night he was at his usual table when a man came in. The latter was known to the proprietor, a woman of few words, who called him “El Mayor,” and he sat by the fire, not acknowledging his fellow guest. This was fine for the King, who had no appetite for conversation. Still, as the two saw each other on the succeeding evenings, they began talking, took their meals together and played checkers afterward. The proprietor played songs on guitar: “Out On the Lamplighter,” “Aubergine,” “Traiga La Disco.” “King me,” El Mayor said, ending a game with a hopscotching movement across the board. Later in the evening, he was walking up the staircase to his room when he saw the King descending.

“Whose story are we in?” El Mayor said.

“I couldn’t tell you, Tomás,” the King replied.

“But it’s a story nonetheless.”

“I suppose. Its length is its only virtue.”

“It’s not a very good story, then?”

“Are they ever?”

“Sometimes,” El Major considered. “I’m happy: hope you’re happy, too.”

“Not particularly,” the King said.

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“Short Picks,” JazzWeb, 10 May 1998.

Label: King (Disco 1). “Bring Me The French Reserves.” Zurich free-jazz ensemble Malachi (rumored to include David Bowie among its ranks—its LPs never feature credits) offers two 30-minute free form jams featuring a distorted alto saxophone, vibraphone, car horns and arco bass. Recommended.

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Garson’s piano solo on “Aladdin Sane” gave Duncan “Zowie” Jones nightmares when he was a child, Garson recently said. Likely not the only one. Garson’s solo on “Aladdin Sane” is one of a few endpoints in Bowie’s work, being Bowie’s most avant-garde (if outsourced) moment on record. If you were to constellate Bowie songs, the solo would place “Aladdin Sane” out along the edges.

So it’s fitting that Bowie chose Garson to be the harmonic support for “Bring Me the Disco King,” which at some point in the Reality sessions Bowie had pegged as an album closer. It’s very unlikely at the time that Bowie considered Reality as any sort of last work (he would mention a new album throughout the tour and into 2005). But given the weighty end-of-days imagery he’d been playing with since Hours, perhaps it seemed appropriate to have a grand summary piece, in the way a television show uncertain of being renewed will shoot a final episode that could double as a series-ender.

What a difference between the madcap Garson of “Aladdin Sane,” a man running a series of parlor tricks and throwing Cecil Taylor and Keith Tippett figures into a blender, and the more stately figure on “Disco King,” whose opening riff seems a slower, truncated version of the intro to Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne” (possibly because Bowie’s first line sounds a bit like Donald Fagen’s: “while the music played, you worked by candlelight“).

Often keeping to his bass keys, Garson gives brief ascending or descending chord figures as hooks, laces Bowie’s verse lines with discreet note runs, provides chordal support just when Bowie expects it, on a dramatic pause or an emphasis, while also rhythmically playing off Chamberlain’s looped drum figure. His solos on “Aladdin Sane” had acted as if Bowie’s vocal melody was off in another dimension, whereas here Garson remains in gracious service to the song, never straying too far from its confines, worrying out the “disco king” melody in his closing solo. This is, as of this writing, Garson’s last performance on a Bowie record; there have been no finer last acts for Bowie sidemen.

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Excerpt from Hollywood’s Greatest Disasters (Methuen: 1988).

By May 1980, The Cubists was $10 million over budget, only four complete scenes had been shot and Stoppard’s script (which Godard had never consulted) was still being revised. After having seen dailies, producer De Laurentiis called a temporary halt to the filming for a week, at the end of which he fired Godard (who had already left the set) and said he would recast the Braque and Léger roles, much to the consternation of De Niro, who had developed a good rapport with Depardieu during the shooting of 1900 and was upset the latter would no longer be playing Léger.

The replacement leads, however, were at first warmly received, particularly Bowie, who played well against De Niro. To the shock of nearly all concerned, the first two weeks of resumed filming went smoothly, with much of the Paris exteriors completed. The move to Cinecittà, however, proved disastrous. Walken fell ill with colitis, De Niro was acting increasingly erratic (at times speaking in a pidgin French no one could understand) and Brando had still yet to appear on the set. A stage hand fell to his death, the atelier set burned down in a mysterious fire (some suspected the desperate producer’s hand). There was, consecutively, a flood, a rat infestation, a bomb threat by a remnant of the Red Brigades, a supporting actor suddenly becoming mute, a second fire, a third fire, and the violent reappearance of Godard, who demanded he be restored to the director’s chair (by this point, the 2nd AD was doing much of the primary shooting).

Throughout it all, sources said, Bowie was unflappable, even when summoned to the set by De Laurentiis yelling “bring me the disco king.” His long years in live television, co-hosting revues with Petula Clark and Cher, had inured him to chaotic situations on set, and he entertained fellow actors with impromptu songs he played on guitar during the many breaks in filming. De Niro recalled hearing a charming one “about some kind of astronaut rock star” and said he wished Bowie would have made a “proper album, as he was never really given his due.” “Bowie was the only good thing about that misbegotten wreck,” Walken later said. “It should not have been his last movie.”

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“Bring Me the Disco King” isn’t Bowie’s last song (anymore), but through its lengthy verses and lengthier refrains you can see Bowie begin to plot his own demise. Take the last refrain, with his ominous command to “close me in the dark/let me disappear,” then punning on a release from jail and being freed from the album release cycle, as he’d earlier punned on “balance” (as a way of life and a bank statement). His abstruse lines of half-remembered decadence: Hunger City seen off in the distance, fading nights in a lost, divided Berlin. Killing time in the Seventies: wasting one’s life in nightclubs, or being victorious over time (temporarily, of course).

You promised me that the ending would be clear, he begins, but this isn’t a promise David Bowie would ever make. The lines about opening the door may reference Brel’s “My Death,” an old Bowie obsession, but if there was a death here, it proved temporary. “Bring Me the Disco King” sets the stage for a world in which David Bowie is only a memory or a legend, a world that’s waiting to be born. He’ll be okay, most likely, but he doesn’t know about you.

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Recorded: (drums) August-September 2001, Allaire Studios, Shokan, New York; (vocals, digital piano) ca. March-April 2003, Looking Glass Studios, New York. Its first release was on 2 September 2003 as the “Loner Mix” (by Nine Inch Nails guitarist Danny Lohner), on the soundtrack to Underworld (Lakeshore LKS, 33781). Bowie’s version was released on 16 September 2003 on Reality.

Top: Jon Gosier, “Misfilter @ the Remote Lounge,” 2003. “My band performed at the Remote Lounge in New York in late 2003. The whole club is monitored by cameras which they post every night on a website that clubgoers go to to get pics of themselves.”

79 Responses to Bring Me the Disco King

  1. jamfree says:

    Thanks… This is an amazing post. So many texts which go off the beaten path, whether they be factual or imagined. Did I miss the source for the Goblin King text? Also are you willing to supply any context for the interview excerpt which starts this post? And… I’ve never heard of an NYC tour date from 1977…anyway misremembering can be refreshing in this age of great precision.

  2. MrBelm says:

    I don’t just hear “Kid Charlemagne,” I hear a lot of “The Royal Scam” in that piano opening.

  3. this [all of it, but especially this article] is just excellent journalism of the collage/patchwork variety that lets you synapse connections potentially always there, like the better of Bowie’s works

  4. Patrick says:

    Can’t help being reminded of Joy Division’s “Dance, dance , dance ….to the radio” from “transmission” in the refrain. Surprised it’s from the early 90s originally.

  5. Vinnie says:

    Oh, if only Simon King’s “The Royal Scam: A Misspent Youth In the Advertising World” were a real book. I went to Amazon in a hope to buy a copy, and here I am. Great recollection of the show as well – I’d love to have a bootleg😉

  6. Deanna says:

    Fantastic entry…this is my all-time favourite song.

    It’s just timed so perfectly, isn’t it? A drawn-out metaphor about death that was kicked around for years and years before it finally got to be heard and mean something. It went through the same phases Bowie did before it was stripped of all its pretension and slight tackiness–just like Bowie and his tours–and quietly placed at the end of an album nobody listened to. It wouldn’t be as fantastic if it wasn’t this obscure.

    Of course it goes without saying that the Disco King is Bowie himself. That’s not a huge revelation. But it wouldn’t be nearly as profound if he had released it in the 90s and then kept going with his career. (I’ve listened to the track on 1.5 speed and it oddly works. The drums do, at least. Maybe that’s as close to the original we’ll ever get).

    Is it cliche to talk about the death of “Bowie”? Is that brought up too often? But this was the last song on the last album Bowie ever talked to us about. He ordered the head of Bowie to be brought from him and, really, we never heard from him again. In the (very beautiful) video for the song, one Bowie watches another die. Obviously we’ve gotten more music from the man, but we’ve not gotten any more of his explanations, his views, his performances. And with Bowie being such an actor, I find those things to be very important parts of his albums. With TND we don’t get any of that.

    I’m okay with the idea that “Bowie” is dead (while David Jones continues to live a very happy life, obviously), nor do I think it makes TND any less meaningful. It gives him a great depth to go out this way. In the song, it’s Bowie confronting his life and everything he’s done in his career, and it’s a dignified acceptance of the consequences. Where else is there to go from there? Despite all of the other points of view on Reality (the refusal to age, the disdain for world leaders, the regrets, the anxiety), this song is the chosen outlook. I don’t think he would end the album this way if it wasn’t.

    …and death, of course, is the end of reality.

  7. gcreptile says:

    I wonder if Bowie, around 2005, after his health problems, sat in the studio, listened to Reality for inspiration and then said, “That’s it, you can’t have better final song”. But true artists never have final songs until they die. For example, while we’re talking about Danny Lohner, Trent Reznor almost certainly intended “Everything” to be his final song as Nine Inch Nails, a real good bye, maybe as part of a Greatest Hits record. But he couldn’t stop himself from making a whole somewhat derivative album around it. Or Scott Walker’s “Rosary” (“I gotta quit…”) [or Scott Walker’s “This is how you disappear…” on Climate of Hunter].

  8. crayontocrayon says:

    Bowie likes a grand finale on his albums and I think he recognised that it would be tough for anything to follow it had it been sequenced anywhere else. Though of course it is easy to look at it as a final word given what happened. It’s a damned good ending either way you look at it.

    On the topic of 80s movies, I hear a little of ‘le gibet’ (featured prominently in ‘the Hunger’) in the later sections of Garson’s playing although I doubt Bowie would have given any direction in this way – It’s more that this style is Garson’s default territory. I also get reminded by Lady Grinning Soul when he drifts into arpeggio.

    And I really hope a full on tacky disco version exists.

  9. StevenE says:

    The Lohner edit is nice but the non-Bowie vocals on it tank the whole thing.

  10. StevenE says:

    this (the album version) was my first favourite Bowie song though. and it’s still up there.

    Think what appealed to me was how it sounded not unlike the vibe Kate Bush started ploughing with Aerial a while after (and then 50 Words), with Aerial being the being my favourite album of the 21st century (alongside Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. (Kanye’s the 21st century’s only Bowie BTW, i digress).

    Always thought Lady Grinning Soul was basically used as the model for Kate’s first two albums, and I don’t think there’s any single song out there that seems to bare more of am imprint on her work. In my head it’s almost her singing it.

  11. timspeaker says:

    Wow, I went straight to Google to immediately find out about that show from 77 I had no knowledge of…brilliant stuff as always Chris. I look forward to buying the book when it is released on Amazon this month.

    Cheers,
    Tim

  12. Jack Womack says:

    This one goes right in the top three. Magnificent.

  13. Jack Womack says:

    Meaning your post! Song’s all right.

  14. billter says:

    Love the snapshots of Alternate Bowies. There’s something very “I’m Not There” about them.

    I thought I remembered a different remix (not the Lohner version) of this song, but now I can’t seem to find it. Ring a bell with anyone else?

  15. SoooTrypticon says:

    One of your very best posts. I hesitate to even call it that. It’s just a beautiful piece of written work. If this is what you have in store for the “lost years,” do please continue.

    The song itself deserves the winding narrative you’ve crafted. What an odd, lonely, shrug of a song.

    Perhaps someone should craft a half scribbled setlist for that ’77 show… something stained, and faded.

  16. What a beautful piece. I had been waiting for your post on this song for a long while, hoping your research and your insights would shed some light into this enigmatic song. You gave me what I wanted, but in the exact opposite way I expected it. Feed me no lies, indeed.

    Somehow, even though on a surface level they are very different, this piece feels spiritually linked to your Station To Station entry, which I’m guessing is going to be the closer on Rebel Rebel, and is still my favorite post in this blog.

  17. Brilliant!! I knew there was something off about this all but I fell for it, I truly wish “The Royal Scam” were a real book. Excited for the post-Reality years!

  18. Not only was this entry brilliant, but the ‘Lohner version as entrypoint’ thing was great… I still feel like that’s the proper version of the song. All due respect to Mr. Garson, but comparing the two is Hammer Horror vs a strip club in Buffalo.

  19. Gary C says:

    Probably one of the best things I have read online in years. Excellent combination of fact, fiction and the rest. For me the bear minimum of any music journalism is to send me back to the music, if it isn’t already at hand. Your writing has done that often, but this entry takes the, pardon the pun, King Biscuit.
    Y’know if I was still running a bookshop, I would stock your book without hesitation. As it is, I will merely purchase it and take it with me around the world, telling all my customers to stock it.

  20. s.t. says:

    Loved the post. I’m wondering if your except from The Royal Scam was inspired by Alan Moore’s thoughts on advertising, as covered in his “Mindscape” doc?

    • col1234 says:

      never read it. If it was inspired by anything, it was my decade working in NYC financial journalism

      • s.t. says:

        Interesting. Here’s an except with the relevant material:

      • col1234 says:

        & also Bowie (in our timeline) was obsessed with a book called The Hidden Persuaders, an ad industry expose. There’s a bit in my book about it (in the “Someone Up There Likes Me” entry.)

      • rob thomas says:

        Thanks for the Moore post- a bit overstated as you might expect, but he’s on the right side. And, the problem is not advertising’s wearing down of ‘personal transformation’ in favour of ‘entertainment’ as he puts it (towards the end).

        The problem is rather the *adoption* of ideas of ‘personal transformation’ by these forces of consumption.

        That’s why the text of so many brands sounds like it was lifted from Sartre and Nietzsche. (Lacoste: ‘Become who you are’…etc)

      • s.t. says:

        Yes, I don’t think Moore would disagree with you. The trend among “artistic” intention and audience expectations for distracting entertainment is very likely shaped by those forces of consumption.
        It’s all quite compatible with that Adam Curtis documentary “Century of the Self.” Part of the shift covered in the film was “top-down” engineering, and part of it was consumer-driven. Perhaps not surprisingly, Moore and Curtis are buds.

      • col1234 says:

        no spoilers but I think you’ll really like the “Alternative Candidate” & “Somebody Up There” entries in the book

      • s.t. says:

        Color me intrigued!

  21. Uor Nefelino says:

    Fantastic entry, like always. But the live ”Stage” Station to Station better than the album version? Just…no. Anyway, what that guy means saying that Bowie sung ”gimme your sweet head”?

    • rob thomas says:

      agreed: the Stage version pales (and rushes) in comparison with the album version.

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        x2. And while we’re on the subject, NO WAY does that faux-Latino latter version of Rebel Rebel improve upon the original. An obscure and little-played curio at best.

      • jamfree says:

        Rebel Rebel 45 version is amazing! With you on STS though…gotta stay with the 76 vintage.

      • col1234 says:

        you will see the light one day!

      • Vinnie says:

        @jamfree, have you been to the doctor recently? I kid, I kid.

        The single mix of “Rebel Rebel” is like being politely slapped, every time I hear it. It misses so much.

      • Rob Thomas says:

        p.s. Chris, is there a discussion of Stage anywhere in the blog or in the comments? I’ve only had it a while and really love it.

        There seems to be a bit of received wisdom (and the rhetorical power of Shaar Murray) that Stage is a bit redundant and badly put together (esp. the non-remastered version).

        I think, in short, that it rocks…

      • col1234 says:

        “Stage” gets addressed in the “Alabama Song” entry, I think.

      • s.t. says:

        I think the Rebel single was his first attempt at (She Can) Do That.

      • rob thomas says:

        Sorry Chris, I see that i’ve not only read your brief discussion of Stage, but have commented on it already.

        Such is the nature of spending several years reading one blog- you lose track…

        I take your (and everyone’s) point about the daft chronological re-ordering of the first version, but recording-wise, I really like the clarity and detail you get from it coming straight from the desk.

        And I don’t think that this clarity compromises the ambience, either.

        Anyone else like it?

    • I’ll back Chris up on his assertion that the Stage version of STS is better than the original (fuck yeah Adrian Belew) but I have never understood the appeal of the Rebel Rebel single edit – it’s always sounded really cluttered to me.

      • Patrick says:

        I’m listening to the love STS now on YouTube. Like most of Stage. it’s very so-so. Not bad but not particularly good or memorable and not IMO better than the original.

      • Patrick says:

        “live” not “love” – damn edit

    • Galdo says:

      Uor, I guess he meant Bowie played ‘Sweet Head’?

  22. rob thomas says:

    Knockout post, Chris.

    And I agree about some of the Reality song’s coming off better when performed live. I’ve only just started listening to the album, and the live versions grab me much harder.

    Both Reality and Heathen are prone to ‘syrup in the mixing desk’

  23. stuartgardner says:

    Gorgeous, gorgeous work, Chris.

  24. Momus says:

    1. Bravo! That was my first reaction. No need to be a clever dick this time, just say bravo, because both the song and the imaginative analysis of it are masterful. They both demonstrate why we’re here. Successful Bowie-O’Leary synergy: the raisin d’etre, the fruit of this particular vineyard. But then I did start to think there might be little things I could add. For instance, something about how the little stories — the downright lies — in this account excited me so much, and how they relate to the coming silence, the lost years.

    2. One of the unkindest things I’ve said here was something about Bowie lyrics: “It’s not really lyrics, it’s just the power to charm.” I’ve thought many times since then about how unjust that was, because Bowie has created entire universes in my mind with his words. It’s just that, on one level (to the grammar Nazi English teacher in me, at least), they’re eccentric doggerel: “Passionate bright young things / Takes him away to war (don’t fake it) / Saddening glissando strings / Uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh (you’ll make it)”. The verbs and the nouns don’t even agree! And how could you fake being taken away to war? Where’s the orchestra? It makes no sense!

    3. “They’re atmospheric,” Bowie once said of his lyrics. But actually, what I’ve underestimated is that the vagueness is tactical. Bowie has also said that he’d be delighted if his work allowed people to find different characters within themselves. In order to do that, you don’t overdetermine things. There’s a kind of negative capability in not being too intentional, too specific, too narrative. This is artistry on a higher level.

    4. So when Chris makes up these scenarios about shows that never happened, or when I live out, in my way, the life of the Bowie who disappeared off to Japan in 1978 and never came back, we can do it because — a bit like Marcel Duchamp, or ambient Eno — Bowie didn’t do too much. He set up a system which inflamed one million imaginations, then let it run according to its own rules, and went off to play chess or “make his money work for him” while the rest of us lived out the implications.

    5. It sometimes seemed like the more Bowie did — the more live shows, the more crowd-pleasing, the telephone polls, the small club gigs, the between-song cracks — the less he meant, and the less he did, the more he meant. In 2004, when Bowie stepped out of the limelight, Moody’s had downgraded Bowie Bonds to Baa3, one notch above junk status. When he returned, the aura was back. Negative capability.

    6. Someone else who did this was Bowie’s hero Jacques Brel. When he retired from live performance in 1967, Brel seemed tired and out of time. When he returned in 1977 — already dying of lung cancer — the aura was restored. Absence had made hearts fond. The public was ready for the lifetime perspective, the long view. There was only one Brel, and he’d been missed.

    7. Somehow, Bring Me The Disco King reminds me of a Brel song from that final album. Especially in the Danny Lohner remix, with its musicbox tinkle and lush strings. It could be Voir Un Ami Pleurer, or La Ville S’Endormait. There’s the same dark romanticism, warm despair, tender bitterness. The singer addresses his own death in familiar terms.

    8. Like the monster in a horror film, the Bowie character seen being laid to rest in the video for this song did come back one more time, and may return again. Bowie recently bought for his archive a set of Bowie masks made by Mark Wardel, who uses the likeness taken from the deathmask we see being made in the Cracked Actor video. Increasingly (as in his masked NME cover) Bowie uses the deathmask for Bowie appearances, as if the interment we see in the Disco King video really was the end of Bowie, the character who occupied Jones the way Hyde occupied Jeckyll.

    9. But this looseness, this separation between man and persona, has been there all along. It’s in the plot of the early short film The Mask. It’s in the self-description “the actor” on the Hunky Dory sleeve, and in the succession of characters through the 1970s. This looseness is the same thing as the negative capability, the tactical vagueness in the lyrics. When the artist is lazy, the audience works harder. When the story is ill-defined, we set to work defining it for ourselves.

    10. The mime in The Mask dies onstage at the London Palladium because he can’t get the damned thing off his face. “The papers made a big thing out of it,” Bowie says in the coda. “‘Strangled on stage,’ they said. Funny though, they didn’t mention anything about a mask.” Bowie, on the other hand, got his off, because he always knew to wear it loose. Now it belongs to all of us.

    • Galdo says:

      Wow. We were expecting a long and great entry this time (could it be the one mentioned on the comments of ‘Uncle Floyd’ – a ‘Nite Flights’-sized entry?). But we could never expect an entry like this. Maybe the best post on this blog? I don’t know but it was the one which impressed me the most. Amazing job!

      I waited for this song to come some much, now I’ve just read this entry, it feels like an end of a long journey on this blog… (or maybe just another chapter end?)

    • rob thomas says:

      …and your point 3. connects with your previous recent discussion about over-determination and narrative, with DB quoted as wanting to challenge narrative’s power (I nearly wrote ‘hegemony’- quite unnecessary).

  25. MC says:

    What a great piece: fascinating alternative histories. I was particularly enthralled by the opening interview. Spooky stuff, imagining (as many of us DB freaks have) what would have happened if Bowie hadn’t made it to Berlin…

    For me, Bring Me The Disco King is the one major song on Reality. Exquisite stuff. Haven’t listened to the Underworld mix yet, but I can’t imagine it having the same haunting melancholy. I do recall the song title coming up in a Rolling Stone piece on BTWN, where Bowie said it was a song about “the sad late Seventies”; it appeared again in RS in an article about the making of Earthling, where the writer recounts DB directing Garson with typical Eno-esque instructions. I was really psyched for it when it finally emerged. And, as much as it closes a door, it also seems to me that it anticipates Where Are We Now? thematically and Sue musically.

    I’ve mused here before about DB’s propensity for re-recording songs, which he did to a remarkable degree even before the multiple remix era of the 80’s and 90’s. Is it possible that this postmodern strain in pop music, with the “song” as an endlessly pliable object, was yet another tributary leading back to Bowie?

    • Anonymous says:

      MC, now you’ve listened to the remix, have you changed your mind about its possibility of a ‘haunting melancholy’?

      I rather prefer the remix: the treatment of Bowie’s vocals are, pace Chris’s view (i think), a little more raw and intimate.

      • MC says:

        Hi, finally listened to the Loner Mix and it is really good. Still not sure it replaces the album version. (Also, I could do with less Keenan and more DB on vocals)

  26. Maj says:

    What a great read, Chris!
    It might have taken me two days to read it (not continuously of course) but it was definitely worth it!

    Honestly, as much as I think Disco King is a quality song (and record) I have to say I found this post infinitely more interesting and fascinating.😉

    The remix is interesting. Can’t say I like it better than the album version though, but somehow, for me…I always felt slightly awkward about Disco King being the Last Statement…it’s like for me, the ideal, final version of the song doesn’t exist yet.

  27. postpunkmonk says:

    Oh, how I wanted “”Bring Me the Disco King” to be the next vector for his career to take after “Reality.” Bowie + jazz = monastic bliss. Then came the Wilderness Years, and it sure looked like the final artistic statement. As such, it worked like a fiend for me. I could conceive of no such finer thing. When he popped up in 2013, I was actually a tad disappointed that all of this new music [excellent as it was] laid waste to the crowning career epitaph that was “Bring Me the Disco King.” Almost no one creates a song of such majesty in their 40th year going. It’s still in the handful of favorite Bowie songs for me. As for this posting, yes, it’s transcendental. [applauds]

  28. NiggyTardust says:

    col1234, do you know for sure if “Loner mix” is authentic remix title, or just a misprint of Lohner’s name on CD?

  29. Dave L says:

    Took me a long time to get this song. It was such a change of pace from the rest of the album, especially coming after the frenetic “Reality.” I didn’t really get it until seeing the live version of it, and then it seeped into my bones and now I love it. It’s not just a change of pace, it’s a change of genre and that always threw me off so much I didn’t have patience for it. Great track and excellent write-up. As someone above said, would love to see DB do more jazz (aside from Sue).

  30. Ian McDuffie says:

    The thing about alternate timelines is that you never get to visit them. We just made the switch from one. The previous world is still so close you can squint and remember what it felt like. Yet already it’s fading, moving away, off into the distance. Off into the forest. That world is a friend, moved away.

    Then the friend visits again, and it’s so great to see them, so great to be around them, listen to them, be in their power. But it’s different now, they’re different. There’s just something missing behind they’re eyes. They’ve grown, you’ve grown. That’s fine, you don’t begrudge them that. You couldn’t— that wouldn’t be fair, everyone grows. That’s life.

    So Reality ends up changing in the wake of Bowie’s return. The fact was that his disappearance made Reality a better album. Not that it was bad, ever, but it the only reason it was important at all was because of it’s status as “The Last One.” “Disco King” was chief among this legend, and not only because it happened to be placed right at the end (though where else could it have gone— could you imagine it coming after “Try Some Buy Some?”). It *was* a monolith, it *was* a scrying glass, a cauldron, tea leaves, whatever— it was big, you could read whatever you wanted into it, and it was the last you were ever going to get. So yeah, for Bowie’s “Wilderness Years,” “Disco King” was the new “Bewlay Brothers,” the one where you spent your time wondering what He meant. Then he came back and spoiled the whole thing.

    I mean, obviously, he didn’t. “Disco King” is still an amazing song, genuinely one of his best. The Next Day was hell on Reality because it made Reality have to stand on its own legs as an album for almost the first time. In its defense, the only real difference is that now we *really* wish Try Some Buy Some was a B-Side.

    And “Disco King” lost all its myth-making. Which bums me out a little, because it’s always exciting to look into a void for answers. It’s great that “Disco King,” stripped of magic, stripped to the core, is still a really, really good song, blessed with one of Bowie’s top vocals, period. But I miss the way I used to know it. The magic way.

  31. sidthecat says:

    I played “Aladdin Sane” for a friend’s eighteen-year-old son, who considered himself something special on the synthesizer. He didn’t get all the way through Mr. Garson’s solo before he threw off his headphones and ran out of the room in terror.
    I confess it made me smirk.

  32. Galdo. says:

    ““Bring Me the Disco King” sets the stage for a world in which David Bowie is only a memory or a legend, a world that’s waiting to be born. He’ll be okay, most likely, but he doesn’t know about you.”

    It’s so eerie to read that now.

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