The Map Ahead


A few things of note.

  1. The blog will resume publishing after Labor Day, with the “last 10″* entries, and with the hope (but no guarantee—come on, you should know me by now) of finishing before year’s end. I hope that commenters who’ve drifted off during reruns will come back for the endgame. It would be good to hear from everyone, one last time.
  2.  Ashes to Ashes, which will cover every song from The Idiot through Blackstar, should be completed by next summer and Repeater should publish it sometime after then. Progress is going okay, with five of 15 chapters in decent shape.
  3. At some point in 2017, I’ll start a new project. It will be about, among other things, temporal architecture, television, the American business voice, art school, the religion of work, disco, public relations, guitars, sanctioned bohemias, talk radio, American cities, and the songs and performances of Talking Heads.

Have a good summer: I’ll put up a few more reissue posts now and then.


* I think there’ll be 10 but possibly more, possibly less. Haven’t decided whether to break the 3 Lazarus songs into separate entries—much will depend on whether the soundtrack album comes out this fall.

95 Responses to The Map Ahead

  1. tj says:

    Looking forward to the new posts! As a new reader, have found the blog to be a beautiful space. Have a great summer, Chris!

  2. James says:

    The notion that you are going to go through al this again, but this time with Talking Heads is sublime.

  3. Phil Obbard says:

    Enjoy the summer, and thanks for the update. But does this mean I have to wait until 2017 to pre-order your book? 🙂

    The next project (and the next day and the next and another day) sounds equally enticing…

  4. Anonymous says:

    What a wonderful photo.

    • Mikael says:

      I was just about to write just that, but you typed the words right out of my keyboard.
      Really great, he looks so calm, and so happy.

      • GH says:

        He usually seemed that way, didn’t he, especially in his later years. …and all without an hour of therapy in his whole life (I dont think).

  5. leonoutside says:

    Chris, you ain’t bad, for a Yankee. Ain’t bad at all. So that’s the Plan. Little Wonder. Still in 10 years time, Where Does The Horizon lie…with all the unreleased stuff out, all the revised, updated and new memoirs published, the university history, English, culture, art, design, fashion, music courses in full swing; statues in Bromley, Aylesbury, Brixton and Berlin, I’ll expect a White Square over Rebel Rebel, and Ashes to Ashes, as you come back to The Jones Boy, Last of Lafayette.

    • col1234 says:

      yeah, we’ll see. one day, maybe, but I really need a break after i finish the book.

  6. djonn says:

    Excited about the new project for 2017 (how the hell did we get to the late 20-teens already?!!?) and the prospect of the last chapter Pushing Ahead (though I will also miss it terribly). Thank you as always Chris for the amazing amount of time and work you put in.

  7. Looking forward to Ashes to Ashes . Have a wonderful summer. P

  8. RamonaAStone says:

    Gangster of Loooooooove
    I can’t wait to read your insights on the psycho killer and the creatures of love!


  10. jbacardi says:

    Was just listening to Remain in Light and “Houses in Motion” yesterday… looking forward to your takes on the Heads.

  11. Iain Tweedy says:

    Awesome! Thanks!!!

  12. President Joan says:

    Nice map, Chris. Looking forward to all of that.

    Have a lovely summer!

  13. Jaf says:

    Cannot wait for the next installment. Hope you (and all your readers) have a great summer

  14. Hometime says:

    My first post here, so close to the end.

    I stumbled upon this blog in those sad days of mid-january, looking for some relief, and indeed I found it, joyful reading until today.

    Looking forward to the Blackstar posts, my first vinyl in 30 years, an album only today I´m starting to be able to listen all the way through.

    Que pases un buen verano!

  15. postpunkmonk says:

    Well, Talking Heads will be a decidedly more finite target! Love the first four albums. Indifferent to the last four. The first live album was great. That band were definitely a case of Boiling Frog Syndrome®.

    • BenJ says:

      What’s your opinion on Everything That Happens Will Happen Today? Reason I ask is that large parts of the album remind me of what Speaking in Tongues to Naked would have sounded like if Eno had stayed on as producer.

      • postpunkmonk says:

        BenJ – Surprisingly, I’ve not heard anything from it. So large does “My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts” loom in my world that I was reticent to hear an undoubtedly lesser album. I should also say that I totally lost my taste for David Byrne by the 90s. The last of his albums I might want to own was “The Catherine Wheel.” Maybe.

      • s.t. says:

        I think The Catherine Wheel is one of his best, Heads included.
        Speaking in Tongues was when the edge started to get polished away, but it’s a solid album and damn fun. Little Creatures has two good songs (the singles), lots of filler, and a few tracks that actually make me angry. True Stories is more consistent, but no less bland. Naked was the de facto birth of solo Byrne, for better and for worse. The first half is mostly excellent.

        As for solo Byrne, I mainly listen to The Knee Plays, Look Into the Eyeball, Grown Backwards, and Lead Us Not Into Temptation. The highlights from those albums are quite wonderful. I’ve been disappointed with Byrne’s recent output: Everything That Happens, Here Lies Love, and Love This Giant. Maybe collaborations are no longer his thing. Hopefully his Joan of Arc project will yield more memorable results.

    • dm says:

      I love 2,3,4 and 6 but love a lot about 1 and 5. But I can definitely understand losing faith from 5 onwards. Wihout reducing it to some “selling out” narrative, they do seem decidedly less ambitious after RiL

  16. Talking…Heads…? Have you been driving around inside my mind or something? This is excellent news. There’s a slight chance I may have a lot to comment about for the Heads. Have been enjoying “Rebel Rebel” and can’t wait for “Ashes to Ashes.”

  17. Paul drew says:

    Loved rebel rebel book. Read it cover to cover. Can’t wait for the follow up

  18. KSH73 says:

    Hi Chris. I too found this blog in January and found it fascinating reading. Thanks for all your work. I bought Rebel Rebel and look forward to the next volume. Just a question though – considering how much you’ve already written on 1977 onwards, isn’t there a case for two more volumes, say up to TMII in the first and then from Real Cool World on in the last? Might be a bit more user friendly too?!

    • col1234 says:

      no for my own sanity it needs to just be one more book.

      also to be frank it’s a hell of a lot easier to sell a book with “Heroes” and “Let’s Dance” and Labyrinth than something whose most well-known songs would be “I’m Afraid of Americans” and maybe the Blackstar stuff

      • KSH73 says:

        I take your point! I’m a bit of a completist though and couldn’t imagine anyone who bought the first two volumes not wanting the third! Good luck with it all and thanks again.

  19. BenJ says:

    Mixed emotions here. I’m very much looking forward to your full take on “Heat” and the Blackstar tracks. For that matter I’m inordinately curious to see the pictures you use to illustrate the essays. This blog’s had some great matches in that way, like Patti Smith warbling atop “What in the World.” At the same time it’s melancholy to be looking at the end, and I hope some releases from the archives extend the life of PAOTD.

    The upcoming project has me excited, though. I already have strong interests in a few of those subjects, especially Talking Heads.

  20. Ramzi says:

    Just started to properly listen to Talking Heads this weekend as it happens, so this is grand news

  21. dm says:

    I still check the blog everyday!

  22. marta says:

    Same as BenJ, mixed emotions.

    As many of other fans are probably doing, I’ve been studying the Top100books list DB offered in 2013.

    I’ve read (and reread) some of those western culture classics in my teens/early 20s (The Stranger, Madame Bovary, The Great Gatsby, 1984, Lolita…) but seeing them all bundled together gives them a new meaning and, yes, I’m intending to re-read them.

    On the other hand – and this is what I’m finding quite fascinating – I’m going through the books I didn’t know (Money) or had never heard of before, (Billy Liar, The Bird Artist, …) and realising how much of a “formative” list it is. As if DB were telling us: I read these books and they made me be David Bowie.

    As “neat” and “perfect” the list is as a formative – and informative – curriculum, nothing prepared me for the wiki article on Jessica Mitford and her The American Way of Death. Learning about her own choice of a funeral gave me the goosebumps (go ahead, read it!).

    He certainly gave *something* away.

    I’m in perpetual awe of the man.

    • Diane says:

      “i’m in perpetual awe of the man.” My sentiments, exactly.

    • djmac says:

      I just finished reading The Bird Artist by Howard Norman because of this list and the quote in bowiesongs tumblr- great book and I’ve ordered two more Norman books since then. I think that list will be a goldmine in time to come!

    • Matthew says:

      Just read it, phew.
      I’d forgotten about the list. A quick scan down reveals that, if you discount the magazines/comics, I’ve only read 5 of them! Gives us something to read over the summer though.

  23. col1234 says:

    the book list is his autobiography. I recommend any Bowie fan read as many as they can—every book has something that makes you go “Oh…I see now.”

    • Re: “The book list is his autobiography.” – Beautifully stated.

    • marta says:

      Exactly. Thanks for saying it. I wasn’t daring to 😉

    • With some research, I’m tempted to attempt to read them in roughly the order he did… although I suspect that for any lack of external clues given via interviews, titles, etc, the sequence of influence becomes apparent when reading through the list. To leave a book list rather than a memoir…that’s a great way of looking at it. He just never ceased the potential multiplying of meanings.

      • col1234 says:

        yeah, starting with the stuff he read in his childhood/adolescence makes sense. “The Iliad,” for instance, seems like a very late-in-life favorite.

      • All those pages of Nietzsche, on the other hand… (Heh heh)

      • Rebel Yell says:

        I found Simone Weil’s “The Illiad, or the Poem of Force” a useful frame of reference.

    • leonoutside says:

      Chris, Waiting for Godot, (Samuel Beckett) is not on the list, but the stage play, including stage directions, is darn interesting to study side by side of the unreleased, Outside suites. And I’ve a feeling The Tempest (Bard)/ Bartholomew Fayre (Jonson) & StationToStation and TND esp Dirty Boys, might be too. Also Bowie “42 words” and “25 albums” interesting too. Had to be 42, after Adams’ nod to Bowie, and Bowie back to The Hitchhiker

      • col1234 says:

        oh yeah there’s plenty more than the “list” (which was altered a few times, too). Saunders Redding’s “On Being Negro in America,” for instance, was a big book for DB in the ’60s but isn’t on the list. Neither is Michael Moorcock and Philip K Dick, both of whom he read extensively.

    • leonoutside says:

      True enough. Anne Robbins, (Curator, The National Gallery in London) calls an artists own collection as “the most secret kind of self portrait”

  24. spanghew says:

    Very much looking forward to this. And, one hopes, maybe a handful of “new” Bowie tracks…the ones Visconti mentioned…?

  25. GH says:

    Getting boosebumps and a knot in my throat thinking of those last 10 entries. It’s a long wait, but you’ll make it worth it, I’m sure.

  26. ragingglory says:

    Welcome back, great to hear from you again. Love the blog, bought the book, thanks for all your great work.

  27. Rebel Yell says:

    Bruce Chatwin’s “The Viceroy of Ouidah” at one time was on Bowie’s reading list, probably got replaced with “Songlines.” In “Guidelines for the Perplexed” Werner Herzog says Bowie tried to buy the movie rights from Chatwin. So I’m fixing to go on vacation and the Viceroy is going with me. And I am forced to wait for your entry on “Heat” sigh.

  28. pramsey342 says:

    Talking Heads? You’re doing God’s work, sir. Thank you.

  29. Bruised Passivity says:

    I realize I haven’t written any real comments here since those first painful days in January, grief can be a strange beast and where I at first found comfort I later found only tears so I stepped away for a while. But now I smile as I write this because I can once again feel the joy this blog create in me.

    Thank you again for the wonderful community you created here and I know I’m not alone in wishing you great success with your next project. I’ll admit I am a total novice when it comes to the Talking Heads so I’m really looking forward to taking that journey with you.

    I also thank you in advance for your hard work on the final 10 entries I’m sure they will be thoughtful and insightful as always.

    And I still have that spot reserved on my bookshelf for a copy of Ashes to Ashes. 🙂

  30. muddy mouth says:

    Have a great summer, Chris. If you could use any concert photos for your Heads project, I took a bunch in ’78-’79.

  31. Sylvia says:

    Welcome home, Chris! I’m so excited for what’s next– on this blog and whatever comes after (which, for the record, I was already extremely hype for but with that little teaser I’m unspeakably excited). Can’t wait to see what you have to say about Blackstar, and can’t wait for the second book!

  32. Diane says:

    Just recently subscribed and can’t with to see what you will have for Black star. What a wonderful job you have done!

  33. Toma says:

    More post about buildings and food, please!

  34. Jason Das says:

    Looking forward to it all! Can’t help feeling like there might be significant “new” Bowie material before too long, though …

    Talking Heads is a great focus for the Chris O’Leary song-by-song treatment—like Bowie’s, their work is well-known and well-liked, but still underexamined. And they crossed paths with and engaged with all kinds of fascinating stuff.

    I’m hopeful it will include side-projects that happened while they were a going concern (Bush of Ghosts, early Tom Tom Club, Byrne’s theater work, True Stories soundtrack…). It’s a bunch of extra material for sure, but would feel incomplete without it.

    • col1234 says:

      trust me, that stuff will be covered. let’s just say digressions will be a big part of the new thing

  35. Craig says:

    I’ve loved this blog since the days of the Bewlay Brothers back in 2010 and will be sad to see it end. Can I ask a few quick questions?
    1 Forgive an ignorant Scot for asking but when exactly IS Labour Day?
    2 Didn’t you plan to write a blog about the songs of Pete Townshend at one point? Asking for selfish reasons as I’m more a Who fan than a Talking Heads one! ( I needn’t worry anyway considering how much I enjoyed your pieces on Bowie I’d never heard!)
    All the best and cheers!

    • col1234 says:

      1) sorry for the US-centrism. It’s the first Monday in September.
      2) Townshend was the other candidate for what this blog became. Maybe one day I’ll do something about him, but wanted to, as contrast, do something about an American group

  36. Greg says:

    This is excellent news Chris. I’m especially looking forward to your Blackstar entries. I’ve yet to read anything about the album that I think really captures it, musically or lyrically. That villa of Ormen, you know?

  37. Stolen Guitar says:

    Great news, Chris. Yes, it would be nice to hear from everyone for, perhaps, one last time. Where is Maj?? Will be sad to reach the end of the Dame road, but all good things must come to an end. At least we’ll always have the books.

    Talking Heads I’m excited about, but not as much as I would be if you were to swing your insight towards Ferry and Roxy (first five records are pretty much unmatched by any other artists’ equivalents…., Bowie included!), but I get the attraction to you, as a great cultural digresser and dissembler, of the Heads and I’m very much looking forward to your autopsy of Wordy Rappinghood… you will be covering it, won’t you? Ah, this ain’t no fooling around…!

    Thanks for all the splendour, Chris; you’ve certainly enriched my life.

    • princeasbo says:

      I don’t think you meant ‘dissembler.’ Dissembler – n. a person who professes beliefs and opinions that he or she does not hold in order to conceal his or her real feelings or motives. Synonyms: dissimulator, hypocrite, phoney, phony, pretender Types: charmer, smoothie, smoothy, sweet talker. At least I hope you didn’t! 🙂

      • Stolen Guitar says:

        Ha-ha… yes, you’re quite right; dissembler is the wrong word, and certainly not what I believe Chris to be! Diffuser, diverger and dissector would have have been much more appropriate… must try harder! Thanks for the friendly correction, princeasbo.

      • princeasbo says:

        Disseminator, p’raps.

  38. s.t. says:

    1) Can’t wait!
    2) Can’t wait!
    3) Can’t wait!

  39. THANK YOU FOR THIS. I loved “Let’s Dance” when I was an 11 year old in 1983, and didn’t really listen to any other of Bowie’s music until an architecture school field trip to NYC in 2005–hearing the Reality album playing in a bar and asking the waiter, ‘Is this David Bowie?’ Then the pleasure of retracing his entire discography in the years from then to now–up until the strange urge to record 55 of his rare tracks off the internet one evening in January… only to find out from my wife that David Bowie had died. I cried. I love your blog, and feel a sense of community here that is entirely unavailable while I sit for the many hours alone, working on my comics pages while listening to Bowie’s entire career again and again. Take care, Chris, get some rest.
    Matthew Brown

  40. Greg says:

    Hey Chris, are you taking suggestions on which old entries to bump up? My vote would be the post that mentions Julien Lennon – for the life of me I can’t remember what the song/subject was, but I’d love to re-read.

    • BenJ says:

      That was the title track to Never Let Me Down. There’s a good Robert Christgau quote in it. While Julian’s Oedipal sparring with John’s ghost can be tiresome, I have to give him credit for being much spikier than anyone thought back then.

  41. Lee Johnson says:

    Gutted to hear that ‘Dame’ will be ending. I will admit that I use so many of your quotes (credited) as background to my music social network posting at God’s Jukebox, and will continue to do so if you are minded to agree, as there are no better summaries and assessments than yours when it comes to Bowie. Thanks for a fantastic blog.

  42. WRGerman says:

    Will be worth the wait, I’m sure.

  43. danmac says:

    Good luck Chris – this has been an amazing journey so many thanks

  44. Tim says:

    Thanks Chris for all the insights, looking forward to the TH sagas! Tim (Noggin)

  45. James LaBove says:

    Thanks for the update, Chris! I can’t wait to read the new entries. Your writing has been a reliable source of comfort to me in the months since Bowie’s passing- thank you so much for that. Congratulations too on the headway made on Ashes to Ashes! Can’t wait to pick it up.

    Thrilled to hear about the new project! Outside of a handful of songs (especially the brilliant Life During Wartime), I’m not incredibly familiar with the Talking Heads. I cannot think of a better way to dive into their catalog than with your writing as a guide.

    Can you tell us yet if the format is going to be the same as PAotD (Talking Heads, song by song), or is it going to be a bit broader? No complaints if so, but your description of the project almost makes it sound like TH is going to be a vehicle for the discussion of tangential cultural bits, which sounds great too. Either way, can’t wait!

  46. Matthew says:

    Having only discovered this blog in 2015 I’m looking forward to following your next project from the beginning. Thanks for all your efforts, I think you’ve made a great deal of difference to many people over the years and especially this one.

  47. s.t. says:

    Somewhat off topic, but what do Talking Heads fans think of the 5.1 surround mixes of the albums?

    (for those who don’t know, you can get FLAC versions of a downmix based on the 5.1 surround mix here)

    I find them incredibly interesting to hear, although I tend to favor the original compressed versions. Still, some songs sound amazing in 5.1, particularly Life During Wartime, Animals, Electric Guitar, and Drugs.

    • Gabe says:

      I love them. I can’t listen to “Fear of Music” or “Remain in Light” any other way now.

  48. Like many others – I found your blog after that sad day in January – searching for interpretations of the Blackstar songs – not wanting to admit he was really gone, and as if understanding the songs would help me hold on just that little bit longer. All that was a diversion – the songs tell everything – through their tone, their atmosphere if not their lyrics, and I still can’t listen to the end without crying. I hope to keep revisiting here – there is such a wealth of information and I’d like to join with others to thank you 🙂

    • That is a lovely note Claire – I have found myself utterly unable to listen to any Bowie since his passing but I am very much looking forward to that changing soon. With this blog the journey will be so much easier.

      Cheers, have a nice summer

      • Greg says:

        It’s odd, I’ve listened to nothing BUT Bowie since January. Guess everyone grieves in his or her own way, right?

  49. MC says:

    A belated happy summer to all! Looking forward with fevered anticipation to the next (I won’t say last) 10 entries. And I also can’t wait for the new blog next year. Cheers everyone!

  50. John D. says:

    Your new blog topics sound delicious Chris – and I use that word quite deliberately. When I pick up a new book by, for example, Malcolm Gladwell, I get excited about how enjoyable it is going to be. I feel the same way about this, even if architecture (which I don’t know a lot about) will be the focus and Talking Heads (whom I do know a lot about) are one of several backdrops. Besides the obvious singles, my first Talking Heads album was Remain In Light and as a 20 year old kid I just didn’t get it. Move forward about 9 years however and after every night out I would have friends back at my flat (apartment) to watch Stop Making Sense, which remains awe inspiring. Before all this we have your takes on the Blackstar songs to enjoy. I’m in Scotland and dont know when “Labor Day” is – will check – I hope it’s soon!

  51. Manish Dubey says:

    A belated happy summer to all! Looking forward with fevered anticipation to the next (I won’t say last) 10 entries. And I alsocan’t wait for the new blog next year. Cheers everyone!

  52. rainman says:

    o.k., so where is it!? way passed labour day in this part of the world. looking forward to some analysis on blackstar. thanks.

  53. Bruised Passivity says:

    Patience is a virtue

  54. Forever grateful & appeciative

  55. Ann K says:

    Like many others, I discovered this blog in January. I’ve loved Bowie and his music since I was a teen in the 80’s – though when I was a kid, he kinda scared me 😉 He got me through high school, college, and young adulthood. We lost track of each other for a while, but the old feelings, the lyrics, and memories of seeing him live three times never left me.

    I’m so glad that I found your blog, and pleased to revisit my favorites (and discover new ones) through a lens of maturity and experience I didn’t have as an awkward 16-year old, or smug 20-something. Your writing is precise and detailed – and very often it’s quite beautiful. Your pace is fine by me, because I’m enjoying the slow walk with my old friend. And anyway, writing this good can’t be rushed.

    Looking forward to the next chapters, even as I continue to make my way through (and sometimes revisit) what’s already here. The Man had such an impact on my life; I guess the full weight of it didn’t hit until January 10. Your posts offer great insight not only into his lyrics, but to him – or, as much as can be gleaned from such an enigmatic figure. Thanks for devoting such time and energy to this project, the fruit of which is so very beautiful.

    • Jukka says:

      Being a teen on the 90’s, probably on the other side of the world, your beautifully written comment could easily be mine. The only difference is that I got back on the track with Next Day, listening it on regular basis from the release to Blackstar video and getting more and more worried over the time. The day Blackstar video was released I said to my wife that this is it. She thought that I was nuts but the signs were obvious and there was also this sadness that came from somewhere else – an intuitive confirmation that spoke even louder than the facts. That started the period of unexplainable sadness – one that just keeps going on and on and on.

      Even though I kinda lost him for a while in the 00’s and in the endgame was also prepared for the worst, I had no idea how empty I would actually feel. I know he was just an artist, but then, there was also something else. He is the one and the only artist in the popular music genre that wrote his own story and saved the best to the last. Sure, Elvis, Lennon, Dylan, Reed (just to name a few) did a fair share of groundwork before him but he was the one that picked up everything they left behind and – IMHO – shaped a way wider perspective to the life of a generation – or five of them.

      It would be easy to praise him endlessly which brings us to the Blackstar – that is the first and the last gracious obituary that was presented to us in the rotting corpse of pop culture. To the people who have lived the period of “meaningful” pop music (that was of course created more by the fewer number of possibilities and competitors than the content itself) have lost way more than a singer. To me this presents the end of an era – that obviously ended already way before his passing.

      What makes Bowie so special is that he is the only one who was shaping the scheme of things in the early days of mass pop culture and kept commenting and also shaping it through the years – all the way until bitterish end.

      For me this is the funeral but I’m still kinda missing the relief that usually comes after the seremony. I hope I could say that it was nothing to me but instead I’m staring at a void.

      Where do we go from here? Chris?

      Where do we go from here?

    • Matthew says:

      “Enjoying the slow walk with my old friend.”
      Thank you for that, so very positive.

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