Reissues: All the Madmen

The unearthing of a never-before-published interview [which I believe is legit, not a clever fiction] with Bowie from February 1971 inspired this reposting. In it, when asked about “All the Madmen,” Bowie said:

“The guy in that story has been placed in a mental institution and there are a number of people in that institution being released each week that are his friends. Now they’ve said that he can leave as well. But he wants to stay there, ’cause he gets a lot more enjoyment out of staying there with the people he considers sane. He doesn’t want to go through the psychic compromises imposed on him by the outer world. [Pauses.] Ah, it’s my brother. ’Cause that’s where he’s at.”

All the Madmen.
All the Madmen (single edit).
All the Madmen (live, fragment, 1971).
All the Madmen (live, 1987).

In a closet of that church, there is at this day St. Hilary’s bed to be seen, to which they bring all the madmen in the country, and after some prayers and other ceremonies, they lay them down there to sleep, and so they recover.

Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy.

In a general way, then, madness is not linked to the world and its subterranean forms, but rather to man, his weaknesses and illusions…There is no madness but which is in every man, since it is man who constitutes madness in the attachment he bears for himself and the illusions he entertains…In this delusive attachment to himself, man generates his madness like a mirage.

Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization.

Everyone says, ‘Oh yes, my family is quite mad.’ Mine really is.

David Bowie, to Cameron Crowe, 1975.

Bowie’s family, on his mother’s side, was riddled with mental illness: his aunt Una was institutionalized after a breakdown and died in her late twenties; another aunt was diagnosed with manic-depressive psychosis and lobotomized; a third had schizophrenic episodes. Then there was his mother’s son, his half-brother Terry Burns, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. (In 1966, while Bowie and Burns were walking to a Cream concert, Burns fell to the street and screamed, claiming he saw flames rising up from cracks in the pavement.) When Bowie recorded The Man Who Sold the World, Burns was a regular ward at Cane Hill, a Victorian-era psychiatric hospital in Croydon, and occasionally released to stay at Haddon Hall on weekends.

At times, Bowie seemed to believe he had considerable odds of going mad. The prospect bled into his work—all the lyrics about identity, control and insanity, the devising of various personae as means of escape, writing songs as conduits. “One puts oneself through such psychological damage in trying to avoid the threat of insanity,” he recalled in 1993. “As long as I could push these psychological excesses through into my music, into my work, then I could always be throwing it off.”

In “All the Madmen,” his first overt attempt to grapple with his inheritance, Bowie references Cane Hill (“mansions cold and grey”) and the treatments offered there: EST (electroshock therapy), Librium (brand name of the anxiety drug chlordiazepoxide) and “good old lobotomy.” And his refrain is a homage to one of Burns’ (and his) favorite books, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road: “The only people for me are the mad ones…the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles.”

The idea that the institutionalized were, in Bowie’s words, society’s “organic minds kept in a cellar,” was becoming common in the Sixties. The psychiatrist R.D. Laing argued much of what was diagnosed madness was instead a sensitive mind’s defense against the oppressions of family and modern civilization. In his The Politics of Experience (1967) Laing argued the schizophrenic could be the most “sane” person of an insane society, and that behavior labeled schizophrenic was instead a “special strategy that a person invents to live in an unlivable situation.” Similarly, the idea of involuntarily confining the insane to a mental institution had come under attack. Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Michel Foucault’s Madness and Civilization and Erving Goffman’s Asylums depicted the asylum as society’s washroom, its bureaucratic means of removing the mad from common life to better enforce cultural norms (like having homosexuals “cured” via shock treatment). Institutionalization created its own self-fulfilling cycle of admittance-treatment-breakdown-readmittance. It was a prison culture. The anti-psychiatric movement, proposing the deinstitutionalization Goffman and other sympathetic writers favored, came out of this ferment. So did “All the Madmen.”

(Two films stand on either end of the divide: Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945), where the asylum is a stately Vermont manor, the “mad” are the misdiagnosed, the repressed and the malformed, and the face of modern psychiatry is the gorgeous Ingrid Bergman in a white lab coat; and Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), where the asylum is a jail, and the insane are no longer puzzles to be solved or worthy citizens to be rehabilitated, but truth-tellers, the last honest men, who society hates and demands silenced and locked away. The face of mental illness treatment is now the sadistic bureaucrat Nurse Ratched.)

Aversos Compono Animos

One of the first songs recorded for the album sessions, “All the Madmen” begins with Bowie on his 12-string acoustic, slowly panned left to right. A brusque performance with ringing open strings, Bowie keeps a constant low E as a bassline while in a closing bar of 5/4, he’s topped by a “violining” C note from Ronson. After a second acoustic verse marked by a descant recorder duet (Ronson and Visconti) and Woodmansey ringing on his cymbal bell, Ronson kicks into the refrain with a distorted power chord; soon he’s off on a two-harmonized-guitar solo. After a spoken interlude by what sounds like Deram-era Bowie, with its newscasters and eerie children, “All the Madmen” becomes Ronson’s show again. He rips through the last verse with pick scratches, as if mocking the recorders’ tippling accompaniment (they’re soon swapped out for Ralph Mace’s Moog, which acts as a string section).

The song also had Bowie’s mordant sense of humor, his collagist sensibility (he tweaks the Beatles’ “You Better Hide Your Love Away” and “Fool on the Hill” in his lyric) and his taste for shock and ghoulishness. He mingles “The Laughing Gnome” (“he followed me home Mum, can I keep him?” he pips in a sped-up “kid” voice) with Friedrich Nietzsche. Like “Width of a Circle,” Bowie used the “Tree on the Hill” chapter of Thus Spake Zarathustra, in which Zarathustra encounters a young man who desperately yearns for transcendence, who wants to free the dogs from his “cellar” so that he can climb the heights. The closing Dadaist-inspired line (“zane zane zane, ouvre le chien (open the dog)”) referenced this: “thy wild dogs want liberty, they bark for joy in their cellar when thy spirit endeavoureth to open all prison doors.” More prosaically, if you break open your own asylum, you’ll unleash your basest instincts along with your nobler aspirations.

Given this backdrop, it’s fitting that “All the Madmen” was Bowie’s most harmonically radical piece on the album. Opening with shifts between E minor and augmentations of the E major chord, the verse soon establishes two spheres of influence: E major and F major (“the far side of town”), while the arrival of a G major chord (“heavy as can be”) in the pre-chorus offered another candidate. With E major, F major and G major vying for control, “All the Madmen” feels chaotic, as those chords don’t coexist in any key, a conflict never resolved (see “Station to Station”). But as E, F and G are chords often used in flamenco, Ronson and Visconti, in an inspired response, wrote a “bolero” style accompaniment for Ronson’s solo (starting at 3:07).

After dabbling for much of its length, “All the Madmen” commits to madness. It closes with Bowie chanting “ouvre le chien” in descending phrases while voices swirl around him and echoed handclaps sound him out. One of his most brilliant compositions to date, “All the Madmen” was also the keystone of an inspired musical sequence, the first side of The Man Who Sold the World, where “Madmen” douses the spirits of “Width of a Circle” and presages the ashen side-closer “After All.”

Recorded 17 April-22 May 1970. While Bowie’s American label Mercury released it as a promo single in December 1970 to accompany Bowie’s first-ever American press tour, the only contemporary live recording of “All the Madmen” was captured at a party by the Los Angeles DJ Rodney Bingenheimer in early 1971—part of the poor-sounding recording turned up in a 2004 documentary on Bingenheimer’s life, Mayor of the Sunset Strip. Bowie let “Madmen” lie fallow for the rest of the ’70s, but garishly revived it for his Glass Spider tour in 1987. He left it alone after that.

Top: Marcello Mastroianni in John Boorman’s Leo The Last; an alternate cover of The Man Who Sold The World LP, with the administrative wing of Cane Hill Hospital in the background.

46 Responses to Reissues: All the Madmen

  1. fantailfan says:

    For the pedantic, the cowboy (US) cover was technically the first cover, as the album was released here in late 1970, six months before it “dropped” in the UK. Maybe Mercury needed the US release more than Phillips needed a UK release, but it is kind of odd.

    As for the song, it is one of those I like on TMWSTW (title cut, “Width of a Circle”) but the album is a hard listen since I firmly dislike other cuts (“Running Gun Blues”).

    • Patrick says:

      Always thought that was probably the worst Bowie cover image ever, though that is is definitely Cane Hill in the background drawing. Who is the cowboy figure? Presumably Terry? Why the shotgun and empty speech bubble?

      • col1234 says:

        more in the book version, but the figure’s based on a John Wayne photo. the speech bubble once had words–see the “Man who Sold” entry

      • Alon Shmuel says:

        I wonder why is Cane Hill on the cover, when the album was still called Metrobolist. And I like the empty speech bubble, it has a stronger impact than the original text, and it reminds me of the TND cover.

    • Dave L says:

      fantail – agree with your assessment of TMWSTW, this is one of three decent tracks, with the title cut and Width way above the others. (actually I also have a soft spot for “Supermen” because there’s something infectiously goofy about it).

      In general, though, the album is a slog, with a murky, garage-band production and occasionally amateurish musicianship that all adds up to juvenilia in my view.

      • s.t. says:

        Running Gun Blues and She Shook Me Cold are pretty terrible, but the rest of the album is strong.

      • MikeB says:

        I enjoy it more when I think of it as a Spiders album that happens to be fronted by Bowie than a Bowie album backed by the Spiders. I listen more to them than him on songs like Black Country Rock and Running Gun Blues.

    • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

      I think the entire album is a masterpiece, and I voted it as my number one in Chris’s recent favourite Bowie albums poll. I was bitterly disappointed that it didn’t even make the top 10. Oh well, everybody’ s loss….

  2. BenJ says:

    The sleeve is weird in the context of Bowie cover art. It’s not just that the US version is one of the few that doesn’t show the singer at all. It’s of it’s time – late hippie comedown – in a way that you wouldn’t expect, especially with the dollar sign in “Sold.”

    This song and “After All” are my two favorite cuts on “The Man Who…” and they feel very much interrelated.

  3. Phil Obbard says:

    That lost interview is really something.

    If anyone gets the chance, GO SEE HOLY HOLY performing this tour; they are coming Philly again in April (I just saw them in Boston last week). They bring this entire LP to life. “All the Madmen” is one of many highlights. (You can find many clips on YouTube; they don’t do them justice).

    • TWD says:

      I have to laugh at the pearl clutching in the introduction. How terrified of Thoughtcrime is the modern Socialism-Indoctrinated Journalist cum Agent Of Change!

      I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last couple of week, seeing the fawning pieces by a usually-Social Justice obsessed media. Imagine Bowie comes around today: ‘Let Me Sleep Beside You’ would be labelled as Sexist and Controlling; his 1972 ‘I’m gay’ interview with Michael Watts, where Watts is rightly-sceptical that it’s a pure shock tactic for attention would have labelled him as perpetuating to negative gay stereotypes of the Nancy; his frequent discussions of Nietzsche would have gotten him no-platformed from most English campuses.

      His use of Kabuki in the live performances of Ziggy would have gotten him accused of cultural-appropriation; recording in Philadelphia would have have meant ‘Young Americans’ was both another instance of ‘cultural appropriation’ and meant he was ‘literally racist’.

      ‘The Thin White Duke’ character and related interviews would have had him shut down from entering certain countries as a Nazi, with Amazon Petitions to No-Platform him; ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ would be a ‘creepy rape anthem’; the hook and lyrics of ‘China Girl’ would have been Racist; ‘Blue Jean’ would have been Female Objectification; ‘Labyrinth’ would have been sneered at for its creepy sexualisation of an age-inappropriate love interest.

      ‘Yassassin’ and ‘Loving the Alien’ would have been labelled as deeply-problematic suggestions of Islamophobia; Bowie lifting Romy Haig’s lipstick smear and the Blitz Club’s New Romantic style would have been subcultural theft; a cis-white male in drag in the ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ video would have been transphobic.

      Feminists would have labelled Baby Grace Blue a Woman In A Refrigerator; ‘Be My Wife’ would have been male entitlement; ‘All The Madmen’ and ‘Aladdin Sane’ would have been criticised for a neurotypical daring to address these issues; ‘Black Tie White Noise’ would have been shouted down to let minorities speak of their own experience, whilst the Tin Machine years would have revealed Bowie’s ‘recurrent misogyny’.

      Mark my words: Modern Journalism’s obsession with Identity Politics guarantees there’ll never be another Bowie, and when I see Journalists linked from here who have vomited standard-issue bile and dehumanised those they consider ‘Subhuman Comment Section Scum’ from their Ivory Towers, for crimes far lesser than Bowie’s, I think of how dreary Bowie, with such an open, curious mind, would find them.

      I think the future for us artists is to reject the so-called Intelligentsia as an audience entirely. Band together. Go Underground. Start a new movement that utterly rejects traditional criticism. You need to create art to enter the dialogue, preferably both Good and Challenging. Do it for him.

      • eirenehogan says:

        I think you are just telling everyone you are getting old and are out of step with the modern world. “Young people today …” syndrome.

  4. roobin101 says:

    One of my top five songs if I remember correctly. I love this. MWSTW is not a great album but the best bits are fantastic. The lyric, the melody, the harmonies, the arrangement are one. The anguish and defiance in Bowie’s never fails to move me.

  5. King of Oblivion says:

    I love TMWSTW! Width, Madmen, After All, Shook, MWSTW, Superman.. all great! And I caught Holy Holy in Boston and that was great too.

  6. Matthew says:

    Here’s an alternative link for the edited single version released in 2015 as the pitchfork link will not play here in the uk.
    All The Madmen (Edit)

  7. Phil says:

    I caught up with this album quite late – mid-70s – and immediately identified with the Laingian anti-psychiatric vibe of this track in particular. Where can the horizon lie, indeed.

    I had no idea the US cover to the album depicted Cane Hill (or that the original was a Lettrist work, of all things – although I didn’t hear of the Lettrists till some time later). I actually worked at Cane Hill in 1979, between school and university. Lodger came out during that time & briefly affected me quite deeply (I remember singing Fantastic Voyage in an empty ward & breaking down in tears at the end of it).

    The odd thing is that, until I read this post a couple of days ago, I had no idea that Terry Burns had been there at that time – and the main ward I worked on was one of the two wards for long-term male schizophrenics. I don’t remember all the men’s names after all this time, but I think I’d remember that. I can only assume that Terry B. was on the other l.-t. m. s. ward, and (more interestingly) that his presence had been fairly effectively hushed up – after all, you’d think I would have heard about Bowie’s Mad Brother being on the premises, even if I was never actually in charge of getting him dressed in the morning.

    • col1234 says:

      that’s interesting! i believe, vaguely recalling Terry B’s chronology, that he wasn’t in Cane Hill then—-he got recommitted around 1981 or 1982.

      • Phil says:

        Ah – I didn’t realise he hadn’t been in there continuously.

        I feel for anyone who was looking after him when he made his suicide attempts, particularly the successful one. A patient died while I was there – a stupid, avoidable death – and the memory upsets me even now.

    • David from London says:

      Terry was on Guy ward in 1981.

      • David from London says:

        continued, also wondering if you worked on Guy or Ferrier ward.

      • David from London says:

        Sorry, I think Faraday, not Ferrier was the long stay ward next to Guy ward. Also Pugin ward was another male long ward. Anyway Terry was on Guy ward, and also he spent time on Blake ward, one of the two admission wards. Jack and Joe were the nurses on Guy ward in 1981. I hope someone can help verify this.

      • Phil says:

        (Background not so much for David as for anyone following this conversation)
        Cane Hill was a purpose-built hospital with wards on two floors spaced out along ground-floor corridors – i.e. there was only one corridor; access to the first-floor wards was from the same side entrance (only with more steps). The first-floor and ground-floor wards at each turning off from the main corridor would be named with the same letter of the alphabet and have the same kind of patient.

        I worked on Shaftesbury ward, which was directly above Salter. I also worked on Vanbrugh (short-stay, although at least one patient to my knowledge had been there for years) and on a secure ward (violent patients kept heavily sedated) whose name (and initial) escapes me. But no, I never worked on Guy or Faraday. Pugin rings a bell – I wonder if that was one of the geriatric wards I worked on.

    • David from London says:

      The locked wards were Ruskin for male patients and Cruden for female. Salter ward was converted to a secure unit in 1981. Norman Tidy was a nurse on Ruskin then Salter. He went on to work at Broadmoor as did Stephen Burrow who wrote a book about his nursing experiences called ‘Buddleia Dance on the Asylum’. He changes names but it is about Cane Hill and Broadmoor. It was no secret that Terry Burns was a patient at the time, but he was on Guy ward which was at the back of the hospital overlooking the cricket field, and spent a lot of time in the dormitory.

  8. Jason Das says:

    I like this song, but I liked it even more when I first heard it at age 18. One of the first Bowie songs I learned to play/sing along on the guitar. It’s still good, but relatively shallow/overt for a Bowie lyric. Juvenalia for the both of us?

  9. Sparkeyes says:

    I like the run out. It’s, I suppose, the second example of what a biographer (read too many to recall who) once called Bowie’s ‘rock outs’. First being the album version of Memory Of A Free Festival – a little sedate. This one – quite dark. Next, Mott’s All The Young Dudes. The end of Satellite Of Love on Lou Reed’s Transformer. Finally (as far as I’m aware) the end of Somebody Up There Likes Me. All different but very similar, I feel, with the repeated refrain, often a soaring vocalization and the hand-claps.
    A totally different animal, of course, is the la-la-la run out of such as Starman and Time.
    In a class of it’s own is the bu-bu-bu-bum of Love You ‘Til Tuesday 😉

  10. comicalArchitect says:

    Since this seems to be the thing to do, I’ll put my opinion on TMWSTW in general here. Width of a Circle is great, but it’s so long and such an involved listen that I generally skip it in shuffle. All the Madmen is an all-time classic, showing off all the best things about early Bowie. Title track is great, but feels a little slight. After All is extremely unique and I appreciate it for that, but it’s honestly not that fun. Supermen is amazing; I’d put it at number 2 on the album, just below All the Madmen. She Shook Me Cold is stupid, but pretty fun. Black Country Rock has some cool guitar stuff but is otherwise completely forgettable, and Running Gun Blues is, like, aggressively awful. Overall, I’m never gonna listen to the album as a whole again, but it’s a record that I’m glad exists.

    • comicalArchitect says:

      Oh yeah, forgot Savior Machine. It’s cool lyrically, and Bowie does some great vocal work, but there’s so little going on musically that it’s a hard track to enjoy casually.

  11. Sky-Possessing Spider says:

    With the recent news that Bowie’s ashes are to be scattered in Bali, perhaps Tumble and Twirl or Amlapura should be your next re-issues?

  12. Matthew says:

    I tend to be a ‘listen to an album right through’ sort of person as sometimes the order of tracks is important to the enjoyment of an album. Not so much on this one I grant you but I can even find time for ‘Running Gun Blues’ now and again!
    Back in my younger days, listening to vinyl, it was a long way from the comfy chair to the record deck to skip a track…..

  13. Galdo says:

    TMWSTW is an album I tend to overlook in his discography – I rarely listen to some of its songs out of the album context and this one is one of the exceptions (the others being the title track, The Supermen, After All and Saviour Machine too). This is an album that should be listened from the beginning to the end for me, I enjoy the songs more this way. I think it’s a strange album with a strange sound for Bowie, maybe it’s because he was more concerned about his new family than the album.

    That interview is interesting, it was kinda of personal.

  14. Ramzi says:

    I’m having trouble believing that interview is real. Just seems far too “perfect” if you know what I mean. I’m probably being too crackpot about it

    • col1234 says:

      i felt the same at first. but the details check out: Zygote was indeed an American magazine; the writer wrote other pieces for them; the time frame of the interview fits. If it’s a fake, it’s a very, very well crafted one, so kudos.

    • Matthew says:

      I know what you mean. Seems real though, haven’t seen anybody seriously saying its a fake. Thing that sticks in my mind is Bowie saying he’s already got 20 songs together for the next album – Hunky Dory – but not sure which ones will be on it. I wonder if there’s a load of unknown demos gathering dust somewhere. Very wishful thinking!

      • col1234 says:

        keep in mind DB wrote Hunky Dory and Ziggy together, for the most part, so some of the “20” were likely Ziggy tracks

      • Matthew says:

        You’re right of course and we’ve probably heard some such as Bombers and maybe Sweet Head or Velvet Goldmine. Ah well.

  15. MC says:

    Carr and Murray wrote of The Man Who Sold The World LP that this is where the Bowie story really starts. I don’t quite agree with that, but for me there’s no question that it’s Bowie’s first fully-realized album. It would rank in my personal DB Top 15 for sure. So many great songs; even the filler tracks like Black Country Rock are terrific showcases for the nascent Spiders. The title track is, of course, a bona fide classic, and I think All The Madmen isn’t far behind. I was thrilled when it was revived for Glass Spider (even if I was less-than-happy with the high 80’s arrangement). I was really challenged and unnerved by ATM when I first heard it at age 11, and for me it still retains its disturbing power, while being catchy-as-all-hell, enough to make Lennon and McCartney envious (and this is the beauty of Bowie’s music in this period, isn’t it – dark visions allied with great tunes).

    TMWSTW (the album) is an important first step for Bowie in other respects. I would say it’s the first in a long line of dystopian DB albums, stretching throughout his career, in which the darker tendencies of his thinking really take over and dominate the proceedings, with an accompanying harshness in the music. Diamond Dogs would be an obvious successor, and Scary Monsters its realist, post-New Wave equivalent. Tin Machine is in many ways a very self-conscious followup, recasting Bowie’s cracked, semi-parodic take on metal for the era of Sonic Youth and The Pixies, while Outside pushes the dystopian narrative to its vanishing point. Of the later work, maybe The Next Day qualifies as a final squaring of the circle, with the young Bowie’s crackpot doomsaying (so wonderfully crystallized in this newly-discovered interview) now leavened by a bemused stoicism in the face of the horrors of war, all the mass killers and assassins and angry gods – with the bitterness and anger still not far off.

  16. comicalArchitect says:

    Are you still planning to make open threads for Bowiebruary?

    • col1234 says:

      are people doing that still? haven’t heard anything for a while. i’m not doing one everyday but could do a weekly open thread thing, if there’s interest

      • comicalArchitect says:

        I mean, a few people said they wanted to do it, and the open threads would create quite a bit of interest themselves.

  17. Bruised Passivity says:

    A weekly thread for Bowieburary would be great, I’m beginning the listening today. 🙂

  18. col1234 says:

    ok, open thread is up:

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