Tryin’ to Get to Heaven

September 18, 2013

wildbills

Tryin’ to Get to Heaven (Bob Dylan, 1997).
Tryin’ to Get to Heaven (Bowie, 1998).

Bowie, Reeves Gabrels and Mark Plati spent the first weeks of 1998 sifting through and mixing recordings from the Earthling tour, for what Bowie assumed would be his next release: a live CD provisionally (and excitingly) called Live and Well. However, Virgin balked at putting out a live album. Earthling itself hadn’t sold well and its supporting tour had mainly played clubs and small theaters, thus reducing the “audience souvenir” factor that typically drove live album purchases. So Live and Well died. Bowie went off to act in three films in quick succession, Gabrels started planning a solo album, Plati was busy producing Duncan Sheik and Hooverphonic.

During these mixing sessions, the trio also had recorded a few potential bonus tracks, one being a version of “Fun.” The curio was Bowie’s impromptu decision to cover Bob Dylan’s “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven,” a song from Dylan’s just-released Time Out of Mind. Plati, who confirmed that Bowie’s cover hailed from this session and wasn’t an outtake from Hours, saidas far as why it was chosen, hmm…..beats me! I’d hazard a guess that David liked the song, and liked singing it. It was kind of like ‘Planet of Dreams‘, it just sort of popped up from out of nowhere. Which was fine by me!…I was psyched about it because it was a completely live track, and after all the programming we’d been doing it was a nice break in the cycle.”

Time Out of Mind was Dylan’s latest critical rehabilitation, beating out OK Computer in the Pazz & Jop poll of 1997. While similar (in overall tempo and production) to his previous critical rehabilitation, Oh Mercy, Time Out of Mind was the first collected evidence of Dylan’s “mature” songwriting. Having immersed himself in playing old country and blues songs, Dylan began making magpie collages. He would pilfer and quote from ghosts (he always had, to some extent). His new songs were palimpsests, sewn through with the words of other writers, with Dylan answering their voices, mocking them, shoring up their words with his own. He’d started out as a kid fervently playing these songs; now he broke them up, as if using them for kindling. He became the folk tradition (“the songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs” as he told Newsweek in ’97); he seemed to be walking backwards in time.

“Tryin’ to Get to Heaven,” which Dylan rewrote repeatedly during the album sessions, was a case in point. In its five verses, Dylan draws from Woody Guthrie (“Bound for Glory,” “Poor Boy”), Furry Lewis (“Turn Your Money Green“), various trad. folk songs (“Miss Mary Jane,” “Lonesome Valley,” “The Rising Sun Blues”) and for its chorus, he used a variant of a 19th Century hymn that Southern black churches had kept alive until the Thirties: “The Old Ark’s a-Movering” (“she trying to get to heaven ‘fo they close the do.'”). Yet the song hangs together as a single purgatory: a blasted world in which Dylan’s character wanders, from New Orleans to Baltimore, through valleys and across train platforms, subsisting on memories that are becoming a debased currency. He lies on the parlor floor, hoping for sleep, wondering if death will come in its place.

soy-bomb

Maybe Bowie saw in Dylan’s developing late style a means to craft his own: the idea that history is over, or is merely repeating in lesser variations; accepting the past, or at least breaking it up and using it for spare parts; quarrying from memory; disappearing into your old, false selves. In 1971, Bowie had written his “Song For Bob Dylan” in the voice of a cult follower whose master’s gone to ground. In 1997, as he had back in the days of Self Portrait, Dylan had escaped into a songbook. But now he wasn’t in hiding anymore: he was living a public life again, seemingly touring every minor league baseball stadium and county fair that he came across (and his cult had become gentlemen academics).

Bowie’s version of “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven” (which, at least in its circulating edit, cuts Dylan’s second verse and squeezes the fourth and fifth into one incoherent lump) is, essentially, a first draft of what would become Hours. The take begins somber and ashen enough. Yet the circularity of Dylan’s singing on “Tryin'”, conveying a journey undertaken but never in danger of ending, seemed to frustrate Bowie: he needed a narrative.

So in the “people on platforms” verse, Bowie builds to a manic desperation, as if he has to make an eleventh-hour sale or he’ll be sacked by his proprietor. We get a rattled “cha-hay-hay-hain,” a squeaked-out “looose,” the creaking onomatopoeia of “cloowwoose the door,” and a gargle. Having made a hash of Dylan’s last verses, Bowie latches onto a line as if he’d drawn it by lot to torture: “I’ve beeen! to Sugar Town-I shook! the su!gar down!” Dylan sang those words with an earned swagger, like a spendthrift man recalling a spent-out life. Bowie sang them as if he was just passingly familiar with the English language.

Whenever Bowie covered someone, he typically tended to go overboard in various directions (see “God Only Knows“). I once interviewed Tim Curry, who said when playing villains he’d give his directors different wattages for different takes: under the top, over the top, top over the top. “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven” seems to decide, midway through, to go top over the top. But what really murders the track is its backdrop: the cruddy reduction of Jim Keltner’s drum pattern on the Dylan track; the beyond-cliche blues licks that Gabrels plays; the somnolent keyboard “bed”; harmony vocals as a collective aural NyQuil. Bowie had been tasteless before, sure, but he’d never been so devotedly mediocre.

Recorded Looking Glass Studios?, ca. January-February 1998. Its only semi-official release was on a promo CD that also had the Danny Saber remixes of “Funhouse,” though fans learned of the Dylan cover when a Catalan radio station played the promo (and offered it as a download) in late 1999.

Top: Ted Barron, “Wild Bill’s, Memphis, Tennessee, 1998”; Dylan ambushed at the Grammys by Michael “Soy Bomb” Portnoy, 25 February 1998.


Heaven’s In Here

April 25, 2012

Heaven’s In Here.
Heaven’s In Here (video).
Heaven’s In Here (fragment, rehearsal, 1989).
Heaven’s In Here (International Rock Awards, 1989).
Heaven’s In Here (Oy Vey Baby, 1991).
Heaven’s In Here (live, 1991).

I knew David wanted to do a different kind of music. [But] I always thought if I gave it back to him, it would end up going back to the Spiders from Mars. That’s exactly what happened.

Carlos Alomar.

…even Baudelaire’s Voyagers, who set out to look for the unheard-of and were ready to face shipwreck in the attempt, found in the unknown, and in spite of every unforeseen disaster, precisely the same tedium they had left at home. To be on the move, however, is better than nothing…The air creeps into one’s clothes. The ego dilates and contracts like a Portuguese man-of-war. This gentle loosening of the bonds, which replaces the uniform with a pair of pyjamas, is more like an hour’s break in the school timetable than the promise of the great demobilization.

Claudio Magris, Danube.

Bowie flew to Los Angeles in the spring of 1988 to try out a prospective band of studio guns picked by Bon Jovi’s producer, Bruce Fairbairn. These included two members of Bryan Adams’ band, guitarist Keith Scott and drummer Mickey Curry, the bassist Rene Worst and the keyboardist John Webster. Bowie and the group cut a few demos—an early version of “Pretty Pink Rose,” a song Bowie later reworked and gave to Adrian Belew; “Lucille Can’t Dance,” the ur-“Lucy Can’t Dance,” which Bowie would throw away as a bonus track on Black Tie White Noise; and a cover of Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” which Mick Ronson would later salvage.* Bowie found the sessions, intended to map out his next EMI album, dull and unrewarding. A few months after he’d burned the Glass Spider, he was falling into the same trap again: a fresh round of recording with top professionals, another glum search for a single, another turn on the treadmill.

So he returned to Switzerland, unearthed Reeves Gabrels. Once Gabrels and Bowie began working on songs in late summer 1988 (they soon discarded the West musical idea in favor of original compositions), Bowie found a producer, Tim Palmer, who had made a name recording the Cult and the Mission. As for the rhythm section, some provisional names included players with art-rock bona fides: Terry Bozzio, a Mothers of Invention veteran who had drummed for the Missing Persons, and an old Brian Eno hand, the bassist Percy Jones. After some consideration, Bowie balked again. He could do a new album of “edgy” rock, a Scary Monsters 2, and vie to outplay Peter Gabriel at the art-pop game, but wasn’t that just another version of the trap?

Bowie went back to his records, listening to Low and “Heroes” for the first time in years. What struck him was their emotional immediacy, their sense of having no mediation between the songs and the listener, of little forethought to the music: the records sounded as though they had been created and recorded in one fluid motion.

Of course that wasn’t true. He’d had top professional musicians working for him then, but they were men of an R&B/funk/jazz background who Bowie challenged by throwing odd, harmonically-vague, fragmented and at times highly personal pieces at them. They responded by translating the pieces into their language and playing them back for him. It was a conversation: neither party had known how it would end. But now Bowie felt that any musician that he chose, when offered an “envelope-pushing” Bowie song, would think, “oh, like “Heroes”” and play in that style. His avant-garde material had become a genre.

The answer came from Iggy Pop in absentia. Bowie listened to Lust for Life and had an inspiration: Hunt and Tony Sales, the Katzenjammer Kids of rhythm sections, whose antics had proved even too much for Iggy at the time (Pop had dismissed them during a 1977 tour, saying “you guys are like heroin.”) The Sales’ had been around the record industry, he knew their brutalist style well enough, but they weren’t “cheque-book musicians,” as Bowie later sniffed about the type of pros Bruce Fairbairn had offered him. Bowie also knew they wouldn’t treat him with any reverence. Subconsciously or no, Bowie was surrounding himself with people—Gabrels, Palmer and the Sales’—who all thought that his Eighties records and tours had been weak.

Tin Machine began in part as Bowie attempt to make an Iggy Pop album without Iggy: Pop is the ghost in the well. What else is the album’s lead-off track, “Heaven’s In Here,” than a six-minute Pop homage, with Bowie singing verses in a Pop-like croon (or summoning Pop’s own influence, Jim Morrison)? He even called back to their old collaboration “Tumble and Twirl” in the last verse.

Bowie had met Tony Sales again in Los Angeles, at a party for the end of the Glass Spider tour. Sales recalled Bowie sitting around looking bored, but he perked up once he saw Tony (the last time they’d met was the US Festival). He started bubbling about the new guitarist he’d found, and soon enough he recruited Tony and his brother into coming out to Switzerland.

Gabrels and Bowie had been working at a clip for about a week at Mountain Studios. They had written “Bus Stop,” the music for “Baby Universal,” and most of “Amazing,” “Baby Can Dance” and “I Can’t Read.” Then the Sales brothers arrived. They were like two sides of a vicious charismatic personality—Hunt, who walked into the studio wearing a “Fuck You I’m From Texas” T-shirt and had a knife tucked into his belt, was a walking piece of chaos, while Tony, who had nearly died in a car accident some years before, was cold order. He had become nearly straight-edge, even once lecturing Bowie about the perils of alcohol when he saw Bowie drinking a glass of wine.

The Sales’ made it clear they weren’t going to be sidemen. They were going to sing, they were going to write songs, and they were going to veto whatever they didn’t like. They began by hazing Gabrels mercilessly, shooting down his solo ideas, until he learned to just ignore them. In an act of blunt symbolism, Hunt set up his massive drum kit on a 20-foot-high riser (he had to use a ladder to reach it) in the studio. He played so loudly, had such prominence in the room, that the guitarists Gabrels and Kevin Armstrong could barely hear themselves play. The Tin Machine mix wound up being drum-conquered.

The Sales’ also pushed for a punishing first-take philosophy, which Bowie found enticing. No overdubs unless necessary for guitar solos, no synths (the old Queen boast), and most of all, no lyric rewrites. The band would go to lunch and return to find that Bowie had written out a complete provisional lyric for whatever song they were working on. But that was as far as he was allowed to go: he was forced to keep to his first instincts. Sometimes this worked out, sometimes it didn’t (see “Crack City”).

Given these strictures, Bowie and the band stuck to music “that didn’t have too much orchestration about it,” as Bowie said in a 1989 interview. “If it got too chordy and arranged, it wouldn’t be anything what we wanted to do. The structure had to be as loose as possible so that we could improvise.” Rather than reworking songs, they just kept cutting more, with as many as 35 to 40 pieces coming out of the sessions. So most of Tin Machine is basic blues-centered rock, with the average song having no more than five chords: it lacked the harmonic ambiguity and structural games of Bowie’s older work. While the record often worked on a song level, with 14 tracks on the CD version, the album was a wearying listen. Few records are as exciting in miniature and as draining as a whole as Tin Machine.

The first track that the band completed, rehearsed and cut in a single day in Montreux, was the bluesy “Heaven’s In Here.”

It opens promisingly: a taste of studio ambiance, a hint of feedback, then a snarling riff (either Bowie or Kevin Armstrong, the ringer brought in to play the rhythm guitar parts that Bowie said he couldn’t do well enough) that’s overshadowed four bars later by the Sales’ bludgeoning entrance, while Gabrels plays a singing lead. Bowie’s first appearance is confident and poised, a sly, mid-register insinuation that’s escorted by Gabrels’ slide playing. Bowie often keeps to the third notes of the chord (so singing a G note (“dream,” “blade,” “stumble”) when the song’s in E), while the chorus finds him channeling Morrison (especially on “rock-et TO Mars“). He seems enlivened by the music (“I’m telling you loud but selling it small“): his lyric, an ode to sexual healing, is plain and artless by Bowie standards, thanks to the first-take rule.

Gabrels’ first solo is nice bit of peacocking offset by Hunt Sales’ blunt snare chastisements, and the “rave up” section after the second chorus, while a bit leaden, gives the track some punch. But after the last chorus, the track extends for another two minutes of soloing. And here we find a core problem with the Tin Machine material: the tortured interplay between Gabrels and Hunt Sales. It’s a pair of rivals trying to outplay each other, criticizing each other, failing to respond to each other’s cues, and sometimes actively working to undermine each other. Gabrels seems lost in his own squall-world while Hunt’s turnaround fills are often club-footed and seem like they’re trying to kill off the song every eight bars. As most of the tracks were cut live in the studio, they lack the nuances that overdubs could’ve provided while Hunt’s elephantine drums serve as a dictatorial presence in the mix.

So the first completed track from Bowie’s attempt at enforced community found him being sidelined in his own song, with one of his better vocals in years overrun by a fight between his shrieking guitarist and his madman drummer. The Tin Machine project began with Bowie under siege, which soon forced him to devise some sallies of his own.

On tour, the band would extend “Heaven” over ten minutes, making it a vehicle for mutual excess. The Oy Vey Baby version features a two-minute-plus Gabrels jackplug feedback solo, during which Hunt Sales seems about to nod off, while Bowie took over stretches by cobbling together bits of songs, everything from Sly Stone’s “You Caught Me Smilin'” to Roxy Music’s “In Every Dream Home A Heartache” to Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere.”

Recorded ca. August 1988, Mountain Studios, Montreux. Released May 1989 on Tin Machine, while an edited version (4:14) was issued as a US-only promo 12″/CD (EMI SPRO 4374). The live version released on the Oy Vey Baby album and video was recorded at NYC’s Academy on 29 November 1991, and the Machine also played “Heaven” for the BBC in 1991.

* I’ll get to these songs when it makes more thematic sense to do so: during the Sound + Vision era and the Black Tie/White Noise era, respectively.

Top to bottom: the various editions of Tin Machine: LP, CD, cassette. [Edit]: the fourth variation, which I neglected to find, was on the CD longbox (see comments).


Chapter Eleven: Tomorrow Isn’t Promised (1998-2000)

December 17, 2018

Front_5

Epigraphs   Eno: to Mark Sinker, The Wire, 1992; Pyzik: in Helibo Seyoman.

442  Trying to Get to Heaven  it appeared on a Virgin promo CD-R that also had a Danny Saber remix of “Fun” (photographic evidence on this Illustrated DB thread); Time Out of Mind: for instance, it topped OK Computer in the Village Voice “Pazz & Jop” critics poll of 1997; nice break in the cycle: Plati, on his website’s message board (reprinted on Teenage Wildlife); should just give up: to Michael Kimmelman, NY Times, 14 June 1998; Tim Curry: said to young CO at a press junket in October 1993. Curry was the villain in a now-forgotten remake of The Three Musketeers, and was talking about his performance in that film in particular.

443  Battle Hymn  As Bowie’s only singing the chorus, he could be singing “John Brown’s Body,” the song that “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was adapted from. But as his character Sikora looks as if he’s wearing a variant of a Confederate uniform, it would be odd if he was singing the Union marching song. Perhaps he’s doing so ironically; perhaps this is an alternate Earth where the Confederacy won; perhaps (here’s a guess) no one involved in the film had a clue about this issue; first release: it didn’t appear in the US until was issued, under the title Gunslinger’s Revenge, as a DVD in 2005.

444  Suite for a Foggy Day  apparently its official title, though the Red Hot + Rhapsody CD just uses the Gershwin title, which I also use as the primary way to identify this track; make it very Badalamenti: East Village Radio interview, ca. March 2014; transcription by Pieter Dom, 13 January 2016. There’s of course the story that Bono wanted to do this song but Badalamenti had already booked DB—I didn’t mention it in this essay because it seemed like the story had been recounted by 200 websites in the months after Bowie’s death, so I figured you didn’t need reminding.

445   Safe  oddly difficult to determine when exactly it was offered to BowieNetters. Its first physical release was on the “Everyone Says ‘Hi’” CD single, issued on 16 September 2002; a real old woman: The David Bowie Story, 1993; three hours reminiscing: Billboard, 26 September 1998. The reunion had begun a year or so before, but had a pause when Bowie apparently got irked with Visconti talking to Mojo in 1997 about how he and Mick Ronson had been essentially co-composers of some of The Man Who Sold the World; far beyond my wildest dreams…doesn’t fit in: MTV News, 9 October 1998.

446  objective piece: to Stuart Clark, Hot Press, 10 November 1999; more internal…world really is: to Chris Norriss, Spin, November 1999. Responding to a fan query on a web-chat on BowieNet (27 April 1999), Bowie said:

At the time of Ziggy, there was so 
   much more going on in my head than just the idea 
   of a new synthetic rock star
<David\bBowie> that I want to fully explore all the 
   fragments that made up in my own mind the Ziggy 
   world.
<David\bBowie> And hopefully I'll be able to do 
   quite a complex overview in 2002.
<David\bBowie> And it will have great shoes...
<hj> 28BebeBuell says:rnSpeaking of Ziggy will the 
   1980 Floor Show ever see the light of day again??
<David\bBowie> What a charming name, Bebe...
<David\bBowie> I'm very keen to try and get this 
   released and I would like to combine it with 
   outtakes from that night.
<David\bBowie> It should be this century...maybe 
   next century, but we've all got patience haven't 
   we?

info-packed maps: Hot Press, 10 November 1999; Ziggy’s parents perspective: shown in a plot sketch included in the David Bowie Is exhibit; I’ve found bits and pieces…keeping the sound of the material in the period: Radio One “The Net” interview, 23 July 1998 (Ziggy Stardust Companion is a good source for more details about the ‘Ziggy 2002’ project.)

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447 Velvet Goldmine:  Haynes sent Bowie an early version of the script and asked to use seven songs (“All the Young Dudes,” “Sweet Thing,” “Lady Stardust,” “Moonage Daydream,” Bowie’s cover of “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” “Lady Grinning Soul,” and the title track). Despite lobbying by Michael Stipe and Kim Gordon, Bowie denied Haynes permission. “When I saw the film I thought the best thing about it was the gay scenes, the only successful part of the film, frankly. The film didn’t understand how innocent everyone was then about what they were getting into Also there was a lot more shopping,” Bowie said to Andrew Davies (The Big Issue, 11-17 January 1999); so ecstatic about Tommy Stone: Haynes, conversation with Julia Leyda, 29 March 2012; got really nervous: Jones, 379.

448  running like fuck from that one…slack-arsed script: to Michael Dwyer, Rolling Stone (Australia), June 2002.  Mother   it’s unclear whatever happened to this Lennon tribute album, still unreleased as of this writing. You’d think at some point, tracks recorded for it would have come out, as seemingly everything else Lennon-related has; lonely little kid: quoted in Jonathan Cott’s Days That I’ll Remember; journalist saw him: Martin Hayman, Rock, 8 October 1973. “At the corner of the settee nearest the fire…sits a familiar figure, eyes half closed, head bowed, nodding gently, almost imperceptibly, to the pain and anger of John Lennon’s “Mother” growling out of a loudspeaker at each corner of the spacious hunting lodge room…you might think he was falling asleep were it not for the slight tightening of the eyebrowless forehead at the compelling anguish of the shrieking fade-out.”

449  stepping stone: to Jérome Soligny, Rock et Folk, December 1998; first attempts at manipulating music in a computer: Visconti message to Bowie Wonderworld, ca. September 2006 (the year I believe “Mother” was bootlegged).

450  20th Century Boy    we were in key at least: Melody Maker, 17 April 1999; old Judy Garland thing: Gay Times, December 1998.

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451  New Angels of Promise The Omikron: The Nomad Soul version appeared on the 2004 ‘hours…’ 2-CD reissue.  BowieNet: users were charged $20 a month to use it as their internet service provider ($6 for a no-frills subscription). After four months of operation, it was reportedly valued at $500 million (as per Time Out, December 1998), though Bowie was skeptical about how much he really was earning from it: “I can’t even buy a packet of cigarettes on the proceeds from this fucking thing…There is no money in what we do. It’s like being in the silent movies”; Subeez Café: 30 September 1998 BowieNet web chat. I’m being mean in choosing these particular questions—there were some funny and perceptive ones, too; almost metaphysicalon the cusp of something: BBC2 Newsnight, 3 December 1999.

452  once everyone can sample…no longer church: Bowie, chat on Eden.vmg.co.uk, 2 February 2000. Interviewed by Yahoo! Internet Life in 1999, he predicted music would soon be “on tap” through computers like water. But touchingly, he still imagined that record stores would remain central to music consumption, predicting that clerks would download tracks for you from some licensed database. “You go in and you’d ask the assistant for the menu and you choose exactly what tracks you want. And then they’ll be burned into a CD—if you’re that old-fashioned—or put onto a player”; bit Bond Street: Mojo, October 1994; core competencies: Financial Times, 26 January 2000; Bowie bonds: among the more misunderstood things that Bowie was ever involved in. He didn’t “go public,” he didn’t put himself on the stock market, fans almost certainly couldn’t have bought them, etc. For more, see the blog post; Bowie’s trading desk: to Forbes, 4 March 2000 (“People don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘Gosh, I’m really turned on by my bank,’ says Goodale, but he and Bowie didn’t see why something that is useful, like online banking, couldn’t also be sexy and fun.”) To Peter Paphides (Time Out, December 1998), Bowie said “when I was a kid, music was the fascinating alternative future. But now it’s just another career choice such as banking or being a travel rep”; BowieBanc: run by USABancShares.com Inc. It’s worth briefly recounting the history of this company. In 1887, the Peoples Thrift Savings Bank was founded, which thriftily endured for a century. Then in 1995 an investment banker named Kenneth Tepper bought it, renamed it BankPhiladelphia (mashed/multi-capitalized bank names were in vogue), bought other local banks and merged their operations, took this company public, renamed it again to USABancShares, which increased its valuation from $18 million to $350 million in four years. Its internet bank division launched in 1999, of which BowieBanc was the first big venture. Bowie had no exposure to USABancShares, put up no capital, and was paid for the use of his name and image. So he was possibly the only person left unscathed from the venture, which had a mere 1,500 depositors by mid-2000 and lost $9.7 million that year. Tepper resigned in March 2001; the bank was delisted by Nasdaq and traded for a dime a share (“the expectations on us and on technology in general were unrealistic,” Tepper told the Philadelphia Business Journal (1 April 2002—much of the above comes from various Philadelphia Business Journal articles of the period).) USABancShares was soon sold to a company run by its former chief financial officer, which in turn went out of business in 2017; Zysblat: FT, 26 January 2000.

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453   Boz as a patchwork quilt: Game Center, 25 October 1999; plenty of strip clubs: New Zealand Herald, 26 June 1999.

454  man does not hear: Herron, Call of the Cross, “The Divine Method of Culture,” 74.

455 Jahangir labeled “Jangir” on the Omikron game booklet, so I threw in both names.

456  Survive first distributed on a promo giveaway CD included with the 8-14 September 1999 issue of Les Inrockuptibles. It was also a 2-CD single (Virgin 7243 8 96486 0 7, 7243 8 96487 0 6) released on 17 January 2000, which included Marius de Vries’ mix, the Walter Stern-directed video clip and a live performance of the song from the Elysée Montmartre, 14 October 1999.

457  composed throughout the year: descriptions of the ‘hours’ composing/recording process as per Gabrels to CO, August 2018; window of opportunity was there: Buckley, 463; stripped-down affair…music for Omikron: Plati interview with Trynka, ca. late 2000s; see what will come out of it: Rock et Folk, December 1998. “Reeves Gabrels and I have written a lot in during the last few months…We compose for the pleasure and our spectrum is wide, between purely electronic music and acoustic songs.”

458  had my druthers, not put out an album…how I tend to think: to Robert Phoenix, Dirt, 5 October 1999; full album in London: Gabrels to CO, August 2018; Diamond Dogs quality…fretless bass: Ives interview, 20 February 2017; looking where songs would land: Trynka interview, ca. late 2000s.

q99

459 just like a bloke: Chris Roberts, DB interview tape for Uncut, 29 July 1999; circle of friends…feel claustrophobic to me: Ives interview, 20 February 2017; evolves as an artist…why he’s not old: David Bowie Story, 1993; wrinkled, shaggy-haired: AP, 9 September 1999; every cliché in the book…poignant, sad life: to Jim Sullivan, Boston Globe, 9 February 1997.

460  people get mellow…aren’t true to their lives: to Stuart Maconie, NME, 13 September 1991; flounder a little…when they were younger: to Gil Kaufman, ATN, October 1999; living a lie or mistake: Liquid Love, 55; boy was the flame dead: Roberts tape, 29 July 1999.

461 Something in the Air   The American Psycho remix appeared, unsurprisingly, on the soundtrack of Mary Harron’s 2000 film and was later collected on the 2004 ‘hours…’ reissue.

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462  terrible conflict…it’s terrible: ATN, October 1999; present sensibility…so has the future: Roberts tape, 29 July 1999; pairs of chords: both verse and refrain open by shuttling between tonic and flatted VII chords (so D to C in the verse, A to G in the chorus), darken midway through with a run of minor chords and each closes by setting up the opposing key (so the verse ends with a G that the A major opening of the chorus resolves; the refrain just sinks back to D); faux novelist: ATN, October 1999; Peacock: to Bill Reynolds, Crawdaddy, April 1989. Bowie had been a fan since the early Seventies, having his Astronettes record Peacock’s “Seven Days” in 1973, and had apparently wanted to work with Peacock on what became ‘hours…’ But as with Bowie’s oft-expressed wish to work with Glenn Branca, the collaboration never came to be.

464 Brilliant Adventure    luverly instrumental: DB, web-chat on BowieNet, 4 July 1999; something very odd came from all this: Bowie, 24 August 1998 web journal entry.

musicup

465   Thursday’s Child   BowieNet members voted on the single mix: both the “Radio Edit” (their choice) and the “Rock Mix” (guitars trace over the synths; Bowie lead vocal sounds like it’s being routed through a metal tube; gargle-orgasm-drum fill break) appeared on the UK/EU CD single; a “Hip Hop Mix” was never released. A longer (by ten seconds) version is in Omikron: The Nomad Soul: this version, titled the “Omikron Slower (sic) Version” was included on the 2004 reissue, as was the Rock Mix; Eartha Kitt:  in addition to titling her autobiography, Thursday’s Child was also one of the Kitt LPs released in Britain in the Fifties; prediction rhyme: altered during the 19th Century, perhaps to bring it more in line with Christianity, as Friday was now “full of woe” and Sunday got some of Thursday’s glory.

466  teeth-grinding get it done guy: Roberts tape, 29 July 1999; her friends rather than grown-ups: Buckley, 471.

467  We All Go Through   faux-psychedelic: DB on BowieNet, 27 July 1999; a series of transitions without scenes: Momus, 10 January 2014.

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468  Seven  the album’s third single, 17 July 2000 (Virgin 7243 8 96928 2 2, UK #32), a CD that included the DeVries Mix, the “demo,” the album version, a live version from the Kit Kat Club, NYC (19 November 1999; another live recording is on the “Survive” single) and Beck Mix #1. All but the live version were included (along with Beck Mix #2) on the 2004 ‘hours’ reissue; song of nowness: VH1 Storytellers performance, 23 August 1999; seven days to live…the present is the place to be: to David Quantick, Q, October 1999; each day to be really good…until death strikes: to Charlie Rose, 31 March 1998; only the person the greatest number of people believe I am: Q, October 1999.

469 Pretty Things Going to Hell a different mix (notable mostly for the occasional sub-Nine Inch Nails loop) was issued on 24 August 1999 on the Stigmata soundtrack, though oddly another mix (jacked up in tempo) was used in the actual film (both tracks are on the 2004 reissue of ‘hours…’). The Omikron: Nomad Soul “performance” is the Stigmata soundtrack version. An edit of the album version was issued as a lead-off single in Japan and Australia, and as a promo-only CD single in the US. A live NYC performance (from the Kit Kat Club, 19 November 1999) is on the “Seven” single; something more rambunctious: ATN, October 1999; their day is numbered…very serious little world: Roberts tape, 29 July 1999.

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470   I wrote a song about stand-up: ATN, October 1999; low ugly simple perfect: to Buckley, 472.  We Shall Go to Town   Confusing its B-sides, Virgin listed the track as “We Shall All Go to Town” on the CD single; key track…less jolly than Thursday’s Child: Ives interview, 20 February 2017.

471  done in a heartbeat…went to town as it were: Plati to CO, April 2016.

473  What’s Really Happening   very soul searching: Roberts tape, 29 July 1999; impertinent, scanned well: ZDTV interview, shot at the overdub session, aired 14 June 1999; color commentary: BowieNet transcript from 24 May 1999.

474 Jewel    pursuit of the new…diverging from what I needed: Buckley, 476. That said, Gabrels soon took his own traditionalist turn. For his Rockonica, he went analog. “Having spent the previous six years using Logic/Pro Tools on everything I wrote or produced…I was pretty tired of the “man alone in front of a computer” thing. In fact, that whole treated-drum-loop-electronic-rock-band-vibe that I was into in the middle of the last decade seemed soooo tired out to me,” he told Music Dish. “While you can’t fault the technology (computers don’t make boring music, people do), I just felt like to record digitally would have been so very, very nineties.”; becoming too VH1…imposing my will: to Kenneally, October 2000 “Noneradio” interview; drug myself to death: to Trynka, Starman, 376; workload got heavier: to Spitz, 384.

475  descriptions of the “Jewel” session via RG to CO, August 2018, and Bowie’s web journal entries, 1998-1999. Sector Z    overriding feature: Visconti, Brooklyn Boy, 342; we freaked out: Gutter to CO, February 2014 (source of recording details in this entry). Gutter once played a prank on Visconti in which he called him up pretending to be Bowie, not knowing that Bowie and Visconti were now regularly talking to each other.

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476  Hole in the Ground  As Toy, as of this book’s publication, is still a bootleg, it couldn’t appear in the Discography (well, it could have, I suppose). The sequence of the 2011 leak, which has not been verified as the intended release sequence, is: Uncle Floyd*/Afraid*/Baby Loves That Way/ I Dig Everything*/ Conversation Piece/ Let Me Sleep Beside You/ Your Turn to Drive (Toy)/ Hole in the Ground*/ Shadow Man/ In the Heat of the Morning*/ You’ve Got a Habit of Leaving/ Silly Boy Blue*/ Liza Jane*/ London Boys. (* = tracks or mixes still unreleased); Anthony Newley stuff: Q, April 1990.

477  invigorated sense of purpose: ATN, April 1997; re-recording some early songs: Bowie web journal, 29 October 1998; Up Date I: Bowie web journal, 3 January 2000; waste the energy of a show-honed band…sing till my tits drop off: Bowie journal, printed in Time Out, 21-28 June 2000; weren’t out to reduplicate original tracks: Plati essay for The Voyeur, April-Sept. 2002.

478  belting his brains out: to Dan LeRoy, Greatest Music Never Sold, 42.

479  her vibe would be perfect…arsenal of eccentric instruments…beg it to stay together: Plati, Voyeur, Aug.-Sept. 2002; cool drones, like a John Cale vibe: Germano to LeRoy, 47; hard to believe they were written so long ago…in the Sixties: 28 September 2000 Bowie web journal.

480  Pictures of Lily   glam version of Crazy Horse: Plati web journal, 1 November 2000.

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481 Afraid   until he had the goods: LeRoy, 53; interesting deceit: quoted in Pegg, 15.

482 everything will be alright: Bowie web journal, 23 May 2002.

483 The Uncle Floyd Show: the life of Floyd Vivino and the Uncle Floyd Show comes from a number of sources including Amy Krakow’s profile for New York (21 January 1980), Jack Silbert’s NY Times interview with Vivino (8 December 2002) and most of all Beth Knobel’s profile, written as the show entered syndication, for the Columbia Daily Spectator (21 July 1982). Other details are from a long-shuttered website run by Floyd Show alum “Muggsy” (http://archive.is/I6boc); show’s production values: One example of the show’s rhythms: R. Stevie Moore is playing “Sit Down” on the Uncle Floyd Show in 1980. After the performance, Uncle Floyd greets each member of the band. The guitarist blankly says that his guitar is wrapped in a sheet of newspaper from the day he was born (“well, that’s different,” Floyd says). Floyd vaguely insults the bassist, while the drummer is hostile (“can you shake my hand at least? Don’t you wanna meet me?”). Throughout Floyd is calm, unruffled, a king; Bones and Oogie: “If you didn’t know about Uncle Floyd, you’d think the characters in the song were Bowie characters,” Bowie introducing “Slip Away” on A&E, 23 June 2002; living room in New Jersey: Bowie web journal, 23 May 2002.

484  doing a song about me: NY Times, 8 December 2002; semi out of tune piano: Plati web journal, 1 November 2000; Mark Ryden painting: LeRoy, 42.

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485  Toy is finished and ready to go: BowieNet chat, 4 June 2001; complicated scheduling negotiations: BowieNet, 4 July 2001; new material over Toy: BowieNet, 29 October 2001; Bowie would never talk about it: LeRoy, 60; new writing takes precedence: quoted in Pegg, 403.

486  so much more haunting: LeRoy, 55; a nicer time…anxiously into the future: Rolling Stone, June 2002.

487 Isn’t It Evening  one street guy in there: to Jeff Slate, Music Radar, 26 February 2013; almost like making a demo: to Gerry Galipault, Pause and Play, 9 December 2003; doing a little something: Billboard, 31 December 2003; seven rough pieces: to Lisa Sharken, Vintage Guitar, March 2004; sat around for a long time…just had a thing: Plati to CO, April 2016.

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488 Nature Boy   resurrect the audience: to Harvey Kubernick, 2006 (collected in Kubernick’s Hollywood Shack Job); eden ahbez: Born George Alexander Aberle, in Brooklyn, 1908. We first meet him in Los Angeles in 1947, failing to get backstage at a Nat King Cole concert at the Lincoln Theater. He gave Cole’s manager a soiled, rolled-up score for “Nature Boy.” Cole was taken with it, but the “eden ahbez” on the score had no known address (ahbez said only God was entitled to capital letters). After scouring the city, Capitol executives (at least according to PR legend) found him camped underneath an “L” of the Hollywood sign. By summer 1948, Cole’s “Nature Boy” was a #1 pop hit, soon covered by Sarah Vaughan and Frank Sinatra. Cast by reporters as the embodiment of his song, ahbez was an ur-hippie, promoting vegetarianism, outdoor living, “Eastern” philosophies, and a live-off-the-land-or-someone’s-couch ethos. (In the Sixties, he hung out with Donovan, had his songs recorded by Grace Slick and attended Beach Boys Smile sessions; R. Crumb’s “Mr. Natural” was partially based on him). He stayed in California for the rest of his life, spending his last years working on a book and album, neither of which he finished. He died at 86, in 1995. (Sources include Ted Gioia’s entry on “Nature Boy” in The Jazz Standards; the marvelous blog dedicated to ahbez, “Eden’s Island“; a profile of ahbez for Life, 10 May 1948; and Brian Chidester’s “Eden Ahbez: The Hippie Forefather’s Final Statement to the World,” LA Weekly, 18 February 2014.)

489  Yiddish pop song: “Nature Boy” is just two 16-bar verses, with slight harmonic and melodic differences between the two. Its D minor progression has a chromatic descending bassline for the boy’s roam over land and sea in the middle bars and feints at a shift to A major at the end of each verse. Most of its phrases are pegged to the notes of each underlying triad (“was-a-boy,” “then-one-day” etc. are A-F-D, the notes of the underlying D minor chord (D-F-A) and so on). Scrapping ahbez’s waltz meter for a free rubato, Cole leisurely scaled ahbez’s wide intervals (like the octave leap-and-fall of “there WAS a boy”); Luhrmann: to Jones, 418-420.


Diamond Dogs at 33 1/3rd

April 16, 2020

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Glenn Hendler is a professor of English and American studies at Fordham University and author of the just-published 33 1/3rd book on Bowie’s Diamond Dogs. This is the second book in the 33 1/3rd series on Bowie’s albums—the previous one is Hugo Wilcken’s Low, now nearly 15 years old (!).

Given that Glenn’s book promotion was hit by the ongoing pandemic nightmare, I wanted to interview him in depth to give you a sense of what his study of Diamond Dogs is about. You can buy the book directly from his publisher here. He and I exchanged a series of emails in early April, which I’ve edited into the following conversation. Hope you enjoy.

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CO: Let’s start with the writing of the book. When did you pitch the idea to 33 1/3rd, and was Diamond Dogs always the LP you wanted to do? It’s the first in the series since Wilcken’s Low. One might have thought that 33 1/3rd would have gone with a warhorse like Ziggy or Scary Monsters as the next Bowie volume, so I was delighted when I saw they’d picked you.

Glenn Hendler: At least since I became someone who writes about culture—studying film history and theory as an undergrad, going to grad school and becoming an English professor—I’ve long fantasized about writing about David Bowie. Decades ago, I even sketched out an article about Lou Reed and Bowie, and their related but different ways of addressing their listeners (probably the only thing it would have had in common with the DD book is that it would have included the word “interpellation”). Somewhat more recently, I jotted down some notes about an article I wanted to write about singing “Kooks” to my kid from the time he was a few days old (I still do, most nights). But I kept writing about the 19th Century, which wasn’t going to lead me back to David Bowie.

Then two things happened. By sheer coincidence, I ended up sitting next to then-33 1/3 editor Ally-Jane Grossan on a plane, noticed that she was reading interesting-looking things about music, and engaged her in conversation. She asked—as I’m sure 33 1/3 editors always do when they encounter a chatty fan of the series!—what album I’d want to write about. I said that while the most obvious album would be Ziggy Stardust, I might have more to say about Diamond Dogs…and that there were lots of other options, too! She was politely encouraging, said there was only the one Bowie book in the series and they’d be open to doing another if the proposal grabbed their interest.

I kept that idea percolating for a long time. Then Bowie died, I took those notes about “Kooks,” and—very quickly, especially for an academic—pulled together an article that was published on the Avidly blog of the Los Angeles Review of Books. That got some positive responses…including from one of the then-new four-member editorial team at 33 1/3, Kevin Dettmar (who also wrote the volume on Gang of Four’s Entertainment). I just submitted a proposal in response to an open call, and was thrilled that it was accepted.

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CO: So, our first hearings of Diamond Dogs are rather different. You first hear it in 1974, at age 12, which seems like the perfect age! I was 18, in late 1990, buying the Ryko CD reissues in rough release order.

And I didn’t really like Diamond Dogs. I listened to it the least of the batch between Man Who Sold and Station. I’m trying to recall why. Something about it bugged me then—the “cabaret” songs like “Sweet Thing” and “We Are the Dead” didn’t connect at all and I even found them grating. I was into “Big Brother” and “1984” (in part because I already knew them from the Sound + Vision comp) and “Rebel Rebel” was, of course, the hit—the only song you’d hear on Connecticut classic rock radio then. Whereas you describe DD as “the first album that challenged me to study it.” Did it hook you immediately, or was there a period similar to mine where you had to really work to get into it? I feel like I failed the test, back then.

GH: So you grew up in Connecticut, too? When you say, “Connecticut classic rock radio,” I think WPLR—is that right? That’s what I grew up listening to…though my first radio listening came before FM had really caught on, and everyone listened to Top 40 AM radio because you didn’t have a choice.

CO: WPLR, yes, but more WCCC and WHCN, which were the two classic rock monoliths of the late 1980s in Connecticut. These were very canonical-minded—would often do Top 250 Best Rock Songs Ever Blah Blah weekends, etc. (“Stairway to Heaven” always #1). My best friend and I would call them up and ask them to play Husker Du or Fishbone & the DJs would get mad (“that’s not a real group, stop messing around” one said).

GH: I remember WHCN, vaguely. My Bowie listening started when he was mostly just not on the radio at all, at least not the radio I heard. It was totally word of mouth and all about who bought vinyl albums. I remember playing not Diamond Dogs but David Live; that was my real first exposure. It was the guitar on David Live that hooked me first (at the same time, I got into Lou Reed because of Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal; I can still reproduce in my head every note of the long guitar duet at the beginning of “Sweet Jane” on that album).

It was right about then that I got my first stereo and record player, and gave my parents a list of records to get me for my birthday. From that list I got most of the early Bowie albums. I think I liked Man Who Sold the World first—more macho guitars—and a lot of Aladdin Sane. For the same reasons I liked the guitar-heavy songs on the other albums, such as “Suffragette City” and “Ziggy Stardust.” As an indication, the other albums on that initial list included the first two by Bachman-Turner Overdrive (lots of crunching guitar chords; I heard them as similar to “Ziggy Stardust”). Plus: Elton John, who at first vied with Bowie for my affections. I got Caribou and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. There was some hard guitar there (“Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting”), but Bowie and Elton John both mixed the guitar rock with more piano-based, cabaret-like songs, and I guess that combination stuck with me.

While Diamond Dogs wasn’t the one that hooked me first, at the same time—for those last reasons—I didn’t find the non-rock stuff grating. In fact, because my first exposure was to David Live, and that documented the Diamond Dogs tour, there were more familiar songs on DD than on any other album. I suspect, in retrospect, that it mattered that the David Live version of “Sweet Thing” was more guitar-centric than the original on the album. But—as the book explains—I was really into the lyrics, and that’s what at first challenged me. It just annoyed me that there was no lyric sheet, and so I wanted to figure them out. That led to me listening to the songs with headphones on, over and over, putting the needle back over and over again till I got what I thought were the right lyrics. Since I found myself doing the same thing with headphones on decades later when I was writing the book, it really brought that time back.

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CO: The book opens with the 1980 Floor Show, which remains among the more bizarre things Bowie ever did. You describe Diamond Dogs as an album of transition: would you agree that the Floor Show is the true prelude to it?

Because the Floor Show jumbles everything: the Marquee Club (where DB had a “residency” as a Mod in the ‘60s), Mick Ronson, Marianne Faithfull, the Astronettes, Ziggy, with “1984/Dodo” as a warning sign to fans of what was coming next. Is there a premonition in how Bowie’s tearing down and churning up the past here? And it’s so wonderfully garish and ugly—the lighting is school-theatre quality at times. Did you have the Floor Show as the opening from early on, in the writing of the book?

GH: Yes, from early on. It was such a formative moment for me as a kid, seeing it on TV [it first aired in the US in November 1973 on The Midnight Special]. If anything in the book I understate how much that blew me away, and how much it stuck in my mind for all the decades between the one time I saw it and when finally YouTube came along and I could see bits of it again. I had trouble figuring out how to frame the book with it (especially when I realized I’d seen it in 1974, on its rebroadcast, which kind of ruined the idea that I was among the first to see Bowie on TV in the US).

It was also pretty clear to me that I could use The 1980 Floor Show as a way of concisely getting Bowie’s history before Diamond Dogs into the book. I couldn’t assume that readers knew all that, after all. I think you’re exactly right when you say Bowie was “tearing down and churning up the past” in that show: his own past, the history of rock and pop music, everything. The Troggs represented one weird version of the past (and also stood in a way for Iggy Pop and Bowie’s own (re)discovery of the primitivism of rock music); the songs from Pin Ups on the show represented another. Carmen—I want to research and write more about Carmen! I consulted with some of the major experts on rock and Spanish-language music in Los Angeles, and none of them knew anything about Carmen!—seemed to point toward a future. There’s so much more to be written about that show, and Amanda Lear, and Bowie’s recurring interest in Octobriana, and all the things converging at that moment. The photo book about that show came out as I was writing, and I came across Madeline Bocaro’s really useful blog…but there’s still more to be said.

CO: I forgot about Carmen! And yes, Lear and Octobriana. What could’ve been. Bowie is churning up so much stuff in those months after the last Ziggy show. He’s both liberated and I think rather terrified—he’s ended the thing that’s finally gotten him famous, and only after a year or so. So ‘where to go next?’ consumes him in late 1973. Managing the Astronettes and working with Lulu (at the exact same time he’s making Diamond Dogs!—it’s understandable his coke period reportedly starts around now) suggests he still thought he’d be a songwriter/producer for other acts, too, as a sideline to occupy him if his other projects bombed out.

GH: Yet another never-written chapter would have been about The Astronettes, and had a lot about Ava Cherry as his connection to black music. If my book release party had actually happened—just one week earlier and we wouldn’t have been under quarantine (though I fear we instead would have been unknowingly spreading the virus!), one of the singers was going to be Raquel Cion, who does a Bowie Tribute show called Me and Mr. Jones. Raquel actually knows Ava Cherry—I’d like to have developed that connection and found out some stuff from her! Anyway, I think that’s a good reading of Bowie’s state at this point; liberated but directionless and a little panicked.

Oh, and one other thing: The 1980 Floor Show was a useful way for me to foreground my status as an American writer writing about an artist who was still very British. And to do so unapologetically. It allowed me, essentially, to argue that while the earlier albums had been for a UK audience, at the time of Diamond Dogs Bowie was now playing for me.

CO: I find Diamond Dogs being a UK #1 album fascinating, because it shows how Ziggymania was still red-hot there and how different the cross-Atlantic markets were for Bowie in the 70s. Bowie doesn’t really start moving LPs in the US in substantial numbers until Young Americans.

GH: Yes—another thing cut from the book was a lengthy piece on the difference between the UK and US audiences, including the way radio worked. All that remained was the thread that was about him trying to make it in America in different ways, and that’s pretty undeniable. I am guessing that my rather jaundiced view of the song “Diamond Dogs”—even though it matches Charles Shaar Murray’s—is the thing in my book that would most distress many UK readers, since that song was a pretty big hit there. I’ve always wondered how the world would be different if Bowie had released either “1984” or even “Rock ‘n’ Roll with Me” as the follow-up single to “Rebel Rebel.” Would he have moved from the AOR niche he carved out with “Rebel Rebel” onto black (or rather interracial) radio earlier, before “Fame”? Would “Rock ‘n’ Roll with Me” have put him in competition with Elton John for the piano ballad mainstream? It really is an Elton John song in some ways. “Diamond Dogs” was just a terrible choice for a second single.

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CO: I liked your argument that while Diamond Dogs has three main tributaries—-the stillborn George Orwell adaptation, a Ziggy Stardust cut-up musical, and the William BurroughsWild Boys-inspired Hunger City/Halloween Jack stuff—there’s so much more blurring and interweaving between the concepts within the individual songs. Looking back, I think I pushed the “three albums” idea too hard—I now see DD’s far more of a conceptually murky album than I first considered. Is the power of DD in part because it’s so difficult to get a sense of where Bowie’s coming from?

GH: All I can say to this is “yes.” I think this was the aspect of my book that could have most easily been framed as building on you but also arguing with you—but also with so much other writing about Diamond Dogs that splits it up into parts. And yes, that’s the challenge of the album. I think it’s both more “murky” and more cohesive than it’s been made out to be. I know there’s always a risk of a critic imagining more cohesiveness in the object of analysis than the artist ever imagined, and so I’m sure that some of what I’m doing in the book is making it more cohesive. But even if that’s so, I think that in a way hearing it as more cohesive makes it more interesting to listen to.

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CO: You note how the Diamond Dogs lyrics are often an “I” character that’s addressing a “you,” and that this sort of design isn’t in the service of love songs but more, as you say, along the lines of a policeman yelling “hey, you!” to someone on the street. Was this something you noticed while writing, or had this been something you’d been aware of as a listener, years before? I thought it was an insightful observation. Is there a sense that the whole album is a dialogue between DB and his fans, in this cracked way?

GH: Definitely. If you’ve gotten to what I say about “Rock ‘n’ Roll With Me” (a song that I always found kind of dull, but came to see as a major part of the record), I think Bowie is kind of explicit about that. I don’t actually think the I/you structure is that unusual for Bowie; I think that’s something he used—selectively but importantly—throughout his career. (That’s what my “Kooks” piece is about, too.) And I think he often thinks about his relationship with his fans. I mean, the whole plot (such as it is) of Ziggy is imagining himself into a character who’s literally torn apart by his fans’ fanaticism. That he wrote and performed this before he really had many fans—that he made it come true through his own performance of it—is part of his brilliance. And that he could make fans (including me) feel that Blackstar was a parting gift to his fans (aren’t those Tony Visconti’s words?) without, this time, actually thematizing his fans (except, a little, in “I Can’t Give Everything Away”) is a sign, to me, that thinking about the performer/fan relation was one of the projects of his career.

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From the Terry O’Neill photo session, 30 January 1974

CO: I’ve called this record “diseased” and “rotten”-sounding before, which you seem to agree with. What do you suppose creates this kind of aural sensation? The distorted instruments? The use of doubling (the bass/harpsichord figures that you mention in “1984”)? Bowie’s scrungy lead guitar lines? The sort of seemingly rough edits in “Big Brother,” as you note? In line with how Bowie was ripping off the Stones openly on the title track and “Rebel Rebel,” I now wonder if it was his take on the sound of Exile on Main St.

GH: I do agree, so long as you meant “diseased” and “rotten” in a good way! And yes, all those factors play into the rottenness it conveys. I’d love to have a conversation with Tony Visconti sometime about what it was like to mix that album. He talks in his book about the brilliant work Bowie had already done in the studio, but it’s also clear that the tapes Bowie brought him were kind of a mess, and I suspect that some of the decisions he made (to accentuate the distortion) probably cover over some badly recorded or deteriorated tracks. And yes, I think the doubling of sounds, and of vocals, is crucial, not just for the general creepiness it produces, but that it also fits the paranoid themes of 1984. I think I say at one point that the second vocal track in “We Are the Dead” is like the state or the Party always watching, always knowing what was happening. [And on ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll With Me’: “You (the Party) always were the one that knew.”] I’m not even sure I quite believe, myself, the claim that the pre-echo of the piano line in that song deliberately refers to that aspect of 1984, but I think it works that way, that it has that effect.

CO: While I haven’t been much of a fan of the new mixes of DB’s old albums, I wouldn’t mind hearing substantially different versions of Diamond Dogs tracks. Feels like there’s so much buried—I wouldn’t be surprised if there were all sorts of backing vocals, saxophone, Mellotron lines that were turfed in the final mix.

GH: Even the minor remixing that’s reproduced in the Who Can I Be Now? collection that I now listen to the most—because I like The Gouster better than Young Americans—clarifies some instruments. The acoustic guitar strumming under “Rebel Rebel,” for instance. My sense is that Mike Garson is the player who lost the most due to the muddy mix on Diamond Dogs. When his piano emerges from the muck for a few moments, it’s either a gorgeous set of chords, as in “Sweet Thing,” or furiously wild playing that does not deserve to be way in the background, as in “Candidate.” I wonder, though, if a better mix might oddly decouple some of the instruments that are so closely mixed that you can’t hear them separately, like the two instruments locked together in “1984,” or whatever interlocked combination of Mellotron and guitar that is playing in “Chant” (I have little idea what the main instruments are there!).

And yes, there’s more to say about the Stones and the “anxiety of influence,” as (if I recall correctly) you call it. I can’t recall if it got into the book or was cut, but I read “Diamond Dogs” itself (the one song on the album I’ve never liked) as Bowie’s effort to create the kind of loose rock band sound that is epitomized on Exile on Main Street, but to do so by splicing a lot of tapes together rather than by gathering a band together in a big old house and recording the jamming together. That’s part of what’s so interesting about the album, is how Bowie hit a set of paradoxes here. Rather than trying to solve the tension between the ideology of authenticity that Simon Reynolds talks about in the 1960s, and the obsessive constructedness that was his method, he just stages that as a contradiction on the album, in song after song.

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CO: That’s a great point. Using a clip of a live Faces recording to kick off the album is part of that, too. “Sampling” rock ‘n’ roll in a way, making his own weird model kit version of it—akin to all the scale models and video clips he was making of Hunger City at the time.

GH: Looking at it that way, it makes perfect sense that he’d go from this to an immersion in the Gamble and Huff Philly sound, and soul music in general, because in that context, there just is no contradiction between authenticity and expressiveness, on the one hand, and a well-constructed and crafted studio album, on the other. I feel like those videos of him orchestrating the intricate call-and-response of “Right,” and then leaning back with a smile as Luther Vandross et al just do it, with feeling, show an artist who has come to a completely different resolution to the conflicts staged in the making of Diamond Dogs. Does that make sense?

CO: Yeah, the usual 180 degree move for Bowie? Young Americans is meant to be communal, live, made “on location” with American Latino and black musicians, with his fans camped right outside the studio while he works (though of course he tinkers with the tapes as much as he did on Diamond Dogs). Tin Machine, 15 years later, is another variation on this.

GH: It is a 180 degree turn in a way, but I think I read it more as a resolution to the problems he staged (fascinatingly) but couldn’t solve on Diamond Dogs. To get a bunch of musicians to work intimately together, but then to work with the tapes and do complex things in the production and mixing process, was not to do two antithetical things in the Gamble & Huff world; that’s just how the music industry worked. It’s only in the rockist (to use a word that wouldn’t have been used at the time) world shaped by people like the Rolling Stones that this would seem like a real problem. I think it’s all tied to Bowie’s shifting understanding of black American culture. The rock version of the ideology of authenticity—which (pace Simon Reynolds) he was still tied to even after the glam years, had to do with the white British vision of a cultural authenticity grounded in the blues. When Bowie started listening to soul and early disco, and the sound of Philadelphia, that kind of gritty authenticity started to seem irrelevant, and studio manipulation wasn’t in tension with spontaneity any more.

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CO: The use of stasis and repetition often gets overlooked on DD: I liked how you showed what “Rebel Rebel” owes to this, how “Rock ‘n’ Roll With Me” becomes a loop of refrains halfway through. But I’m intrigued by how you came to decide Steve Reich was an influence on “Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family”—I’d thought that was probably too early, but you make a very good case for it (also congrats on nailing the time signatures of that track better than anyone I’ve read—it’s a nightmare!) [I’m not going to spoil it—buy the book.]

GH: That part of the book was me just asking lots of smart people what they thought, and pulling together what they said until I had a synthesis that I thought was right. I put out a general call on Facebook to listen to “Chant” and help figure out the time signature; I asked colleagues in the music department here. And I got lots of technical and other advice that I incorporated.

I started trying to figure out the time signature of “Chant” when I was about 16 or 17. I was at a boarding school in Connecticut, and generally very unhappy there as a semi-local surrounded by rich kids. But my senior year there I got as a roommate a guy named Matt Brubeck, son of Dave Brubeck. He taught me to appreciate a much wider range of music (including jazz, which up to that point I hadn’t listened to, but when you’re spending weekends at the Brubeck home and going to his concerts, you learn to appreciate it). I also tried to convince Dave to appreciate Bowie, without a lot of success. He was an avid listener to all music, so he was patient. The one song he was fascinated by, as I recall, was “Sons of the Silent Age.” Make of that what you will.

At any rate, Matt and I would sit and figure out time signatures of rock and jazz tunes, and specialized in identifying rock songs that were other than 4/4. It’s the only musical concept that I’ve ever really internalized. And I remember sitting with Matt and trying to figure out “Chant,” to no avail. It stumped even him at the time. (I don’t think we ever played that for Dave; I wish we had).

CO: Oh, the idea of Brubeck covering “Chant.”

GH: Anyway, almost 40 years later, when writing the book, I got in touch with Matt and asked him to listen to it again. In the meantime, he’s gotten a Ph.D. in musicology; he is on the faculty at York University in Canada. He’s the one who first suggested Steve Reich-influenced phasing on the song, explained to me how it might work, and pointed me to some basic readings that would help me understand it. (Coincidentally, I also went to hear some Reich performed live at about this time). I took what he told me, wrote it out in a way I could understand it, and sent it back to him; he made a couple of suggestions and corrections, and said he thought I’d got it right. A few of the other people who’d commented on Facebook also agreed. So that’s how I got there—using other people’s brains and knowledge! What I don’t have is a smoking gun, something showing that Bowie was aware of the phasing technique. But there’s Reich music using that technique that Bowie could easily have heard. Here’s another place where I think talking with Tony Visconti could be useful; I bet he’d know more about how that song was put together.

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Bowie and Garson at Olympic Studios, 14 January 1974 (Kate Simon)

CO: When you were revisiting DD for the book, did you revise any opinions you’d long had about it? Did you listen to it in a different way? One trick I used when I was doing my thing was to completely rearrange LP sequences to try to hear them fresh—I often listened to The Next Day in its recording order; same with Blackstar. Curious if you did something similar.

GH: I’ve already mentioned that I never thought much of “Rock ‘n’ Roll With Me.” In writing the book, I came to appreciate what he’s doing there (and to like some live versions of it much better than the original; the backing vocalists produce much more dynamism in relation to the song’s repetition). I didn’t so much listen to the songs in a different order, as you did. Mostly I listened to them in isolation from one another, and wrote about them separately. I also initially wrote about them in order, which resulted in a manuscript about twice as long as what Bloomsbury wanted. They assigned me a content editor, who bluntly, though politely, told me what I should have already known: that 33 1/3 books that go in order, track-by-track, rarely work. So she helped me reorder the chapters, which made it much easier to pare down the length. Sometimes when I reread it I think the order works really well; sometimes it seems a little random to me. But I am reasonably confident that it’s much better now that there aren’t 100 continuous pages about “Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (reprise)” (OK, slight exaggeration), and that I deal with different aspects of that—my favorite Bowie piece ever—in different places in the book.

I had thoughts of using Raymond Williams’s keywords idea to organize my Bowie book, since I’ve spent the past decade-plus coediting Keywords books. But then Kevin Dettmar did that for his Gang of Four book. I do think a Keywords for David Bowie would be pretty fun to put together.

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CO: There wasn’t much in the book on DB’s sketches/video ideas for the album (like the Diamond Dogs living on “mealcaine” and the other bizarro stuff from sketches in the museum exhibit). At some point in the writing were you devoting more space to that angle (“the mutant crap” as John Lennon once called it)? Or were you always focusing more strictly on the music/lyrical interpretations, and found such material to be superfluous? 

GH: I’d intended to write more about that stuff when I planned the book, but then (as mentioned) wrote twice as much as 33 1/3 needed, just writing about the music and lyrics. Part of the reason is that I never got into the Bowie archive (despite corresponding with the two curators of David Bowie Is, who were supportive and helpful), and in any event I realized early on that my contribution here was going to be primarily interpretive, not archival. So no, I didn’t think it would be superfluous; I just didn’t take the time and didn’t have the space. I think a whole book could be written on the Diamond Dogs tour, including Bowie’s imagination of the film, how that translated into sets, etc. And that book should probably get going before more of the people involved pass away. There’s so much interesting stuff to be said, and in the course of my initial research I came across some stuff that’s never been in any of the biographies….but I decided that this book had to be just about the album. Even the 1980 Floor Show opening almost had to be cut for space…but I still thought the reader needed a way in, that reading a claustrophobic book about a claustrophobic album wouldn’t be a pleasant experience!

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CO: Did you hear the studio tape that just leaked of Bowie going through five or so takes of “Rock ‘n’ Roll With Me”? I found it charming and it made me like the song a bit more.  

[Glenn had not, and listened to the tape.] It is charming, indeed. That’s got to be Garson on piano, right? “Keep it clean, Mike”—trying to get him not to do his trills and frills that he loves so much. It’s so interesting, if this song was early (from the supposed Ziggy musical) that it was still not fully formed at this late date. But “I would take invaders into hand/while tens of millions failed to understand”—those lyrics make more sense in a Ziggy context, not so much in DD. And the shift from “tens of millions” to “tens of thousands” takes it from a global scale to the audience that might be present at a concert. I wonder when he changed the first word from “I” to “you.” That shift almost doesn’t matter: the “I” and the “you” are crucial, by my argument, but also often interchangeable. “Rental heats are counted down?” Yikes.

I guess what’s most striking is the lack of guitar. I wonder if he always intended to add it, or if he meant Garson’s piano to be the lead instrument. I’ve always wondered if Bowie played it himself (as the album credits would indicate) or if it’s another uncredited Alan Parker performance (as in “Rebel Rebel”). From just a few bars in, when the guitar should come in, to the final chords—which were clearly always part of the song but sound so weird just on piano, especially with a Garson trill at the end, as he keeps insisting on doing. Fascinating. Thanks for pointing it out to me.

CO: You didn’t go much into “Alternative Candidate,” the joker in a rigged pack of cards. When I wrote about it for the book, I found it exhausting to interpret—how does it fit in? Was it supposed to, ever? It’s the mystery at the heart of the album sessions for me. Curious if your thoughts on it wound up getting cut for space, since it’s not part of the proper album, or if you hit a similar wall.

GH: Everyone always asks me about “Alternative Candidate.” Someday I’ll have to figure out something to say about it. I never came up with any insights. I am fascinated by its existence, and its small lyrical links to “Candidate,” but I find the teenage boy/mountain-teenage girl/fountain opening just embarrassing, and think that while there are some cool lines (I like the three “I make it a thing” lines, for instance) and as you say in the blog, there are little fragments that either indicate Bowie’s obsessions of the time (the Fuhrerling is a fascinating word. So is the mention of Brylcreem) or would turn up later in other songs. Did you ever hear the unreleased Elvis Costello song “Seconds of Pleasure?” It’s this kind of storehouse of lyrics that later appear in other songs. Seems similar to me. The piano line is interesting—kind of boppy, but a bit ominous at the same time; I can see how he’d want to do something with it.

Ultimately, then, after that free associating, the answer is that I wrote more about the album as I heard it in 1974-5, so no “bonus tracks” come up, as far as I can recall. This is another difference I made consciously from what you did in your book (not to try to be better, but to be different). Yours is structured by Bowie’s creating the music: thus it had to be thorough, and it make perfect sense to write, song-by-song, in the order he produced them. Mine is structured by my listening to the album. No, it’s not in track-by-track order, but it is structured by what I heard then (and how those things seem now, looking back), not by what Bowie did when. I think that’s part of what occasionally makes us hear different things? But I’m not sure about that.

Thanks again to Glenn Hendler. A somewhat lengthier version of this conversation is on the Patreon, for those interested, along with other stuff.


Chapter Seven: The Battle of the Wilderness (1988-1992)

December 26, 2018

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Epigraphs  I really wanted to use another Coleman quote—”The guitar takes up so much space and sound; it’s the overtone system that’s fed the rock and roll community. And everybody finds their own emotions in that system”—but I could find zero references for it anywhere. It was just a line I’d written in an old notebook, taken from, as best as I can recall, a Village Voice “Ornette listens to contemporary music” feature in early 1987?, and the reference was to Husker Du’s Warehouse: Songs and Stories? However, the quote I used, from Michael Stephans’ Experiencing Ornette Coleman, 77, is about as good; Hunt Sales: from a TV interview shot during rehearsals for the International Rock Awards performance, ca. late May 1989.

276  Stamford Hill    play out of tune…but it’s mine: to Ted Drozdowski, Guitar.com, 1 November 2000.

277  circling the island: to Eliana Yu, Arts & Entertainment, Summer 2015; Z axis…possible surface area: to Jedd Beaudoin, for Ytsejam.com, 8 June 2003. Gabrels described Belew as having a “painterly, brushy” right hand, using a light pick on his strings; hyper conservative: Guitar Moderne, 13 February 2015; impact upon civilians…choir of angels: to Mike Keneally, Noneradio interview, October 2000; grabbing different notes…fool my own bass player…licks from 1952: Guitar.com, 1 November 2000. Gabrels’ gear during Tin Machine included a Steinberger with a Mesa Boogie Quad preamp and a Boogie Simul Bass Stereo 295 amp, TransTrem and Digitech IPS 33B pedals, and occasionally a Dunlop Fuzz Wah with a Roger Mayer upgrade.

278  why ruin it: Keneally, October 2000.

279  Deconstructivist architecture: The Museum of Modern Art had a retrospective in summer 1988, showcasing Philip Johnson and Frank Gehry structures, among others; while he was dancing…spires: to Sarah Corbett-Baston, Trebuchet, 22 November 2014; close-voiced: Keneally, 2000; Tascam Porta One: Reverb interview, 25 July 2018; the only barrier is you: to Buckley, 384; West: Bowie probably didn’t see it on stage, as he was touring for much of its run in 1983, but a performance aired on Channel 4 in late 1984. It was part of an early Eighties vogue for London thugs: see Bob Hoskins’ mob boss in The Long Good Friday, Terence Stamp’s “grass” in The Hit and Alan Clarke’s hooligan study The Firm.

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280  Heaven’s in Here  At least one alternate take of “Heaven’s in Here” reportedly exists, possibly to appear on an upcoming Tin Machine box set?; an edited version (4:14) is on a US-only promo 12″/CD (EMI SPRO 4374). Recorded: all recording dates/locations for Tin Machine as per Gabrels to CO, August 2018; engineered: David Richards was an uncredited co-engineer on some of Tin Machine’s Mountain Studios recordings; live: the version on Oy Vey Baby was recorded at NYC’s Academy on 29 November 1991. The Oy Vey Baby performance features a two-minute-plus Gabrels jackplug feedback solo, while Bowie takes over stretches by cobbling together bits of songs, from Sly Stone’s “You Caught Me Smilin’” to Roxy Music’s “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” to Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere.”

281  fired Carlos: Guitar Moderne, 2015; Spiders from Mars: to Buckley, 383; exciting guitar player: Words and Music, January 1988; destroy everything: to Buckley, Mojo, February 2015; thunderous nihilistic sound: to Charles Shaar Murray, Q, October 1991; Tony Sales: while this meeting has been described as having occurred on the last night of the Glass Spider tour in the US in 1987, that’s inaccurate—Gabrels confirmed that it was in June 1988.

282  band as an obstacle: to Tony Horkins, International Musician, December 1991; crap: to Joe Levy, Spin, July 1989; audio verité thing: Buckley, 389. Despite Gabrels’ favoring newer-made guitars, for Tin Machine, he and Bowie also used older gear including a 1963 Stratocaster once owned by Marc Bolan and a Marshall 100-watt Super Lead amp Bowie had lying around in Switzerland. Gabrels and Kevin Armstrong also tried to limit their use of chorus and delay effects (Gabrels once claimed no guitar effects he used were post-1974); to have to shut up: group interview with Elliot Mintz, ca. mid-May 1989; out the windowbands are a nightmare: Buckley, 388.

283  you have to break it: International Musician, December 1991; Reeves went to school: to Matt Resnicott, Musician, September 1991; rock star entitlement: Mojo, February 2015; fucked-up sound: Starman, 344; everybody could improvise: pre-International Rock Awards TV interview, ca. late May 1989; five chords: the only harmonically “busy” songs are “I Can’t Read,” “Prisoner of Love” and “Baby Can Dance.” The majority of songs are in E major, A major, or D major; E major vamp: E-D-G-A (I-VIIb-IIIb-IV); deconstructionist R&B: quoted in Pegg, 417 (in specific reference to the mix of Oy Vey Baby); struggling element: Q, April 1990.

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284   If There Is Something   someone else’s material…really got off on it: Robin Eggar interview with DB, 9 August 1991 (reprinted in Egan, 200).

285  it was all heart: Musician, September 1991.

286 Country Bus Stop   debuted in New York on 14 June 1989. A version from Paris the same month appeared on the “Tin Machine” CD single. The band usually played “Bus Stop” in its two versions throughout the 1991-1992 tour; vaudeville: to Adrian Deevoy, Q, May 1989; about faith: Scott Muni radio interview, 29 May 1989 (put up by Paste two decades later). Excerpts of this nearly hour-long conversation, one of the best early Tin Machine group interviews, were distributed as “The Interview” for use as radio station promotions.

287 Amazing   David sang over it: Kevin Hillier interview for RockSat (Australian radio) with DB and Gabrels, ca. July 1989; for my girlfriend: Muni interview, 29 May 1989. Baby Can Dance   secondary to improvise on: 5 July 1989 radio interview.

288 silly song: Q, May 1989; Zippy the Pinhead: Muni interview, 29 May 1989.

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289  Tin Machine   Live: there are two reported performances of “Tin Machine” in the 1991 tour (Oslo and the Tower Theater in Philadelphia), as per fan setlists on the Teenage Wildlife website. For Philadelphia this appears to be inaccurate—“Tin Machine” isn’t on the full bootleg recording. The Oslo tape is only the first half of the show and thus doesn’t prove or disprove the TW setlist. But the likelihood that the band would do “Tin Machine” only once during the entire It’s My Life tour is a bit low; 6 September 1988: as per RG to CO; since the Konrads: Q, October 1991; Tin Machine is a band: Spin, July 1989; the David Bowie name: to Billy Donald, Music Dish, 21 May 2003; Unity Mitford: Muni interview, 29 May 1989.

290  from a song on the album: Muni interview, 29 May 1989; white noise, too racist: to Ives, 20 Feb 2017; facsimile bagpipes: Spin, July 1989; spews out Watchmen: most likely a reference to the Moore/Gibbons comic. No way DB didn’t know about it by 1988.

291  Run  As with “Sacrifice Yourself,” “Run” only appeared on cassette and CD versions of Tin Machine. But by 1989, vinyl sales had cratered and retailers were stopping sales of new LPs—the CD/cassette should be considered Tin Machine’s canonical version, and I wouldn’t call either track a ‘bonus’. Even the official sheet music book includes them; Kevin does what I pretend to do: TV interview (pre-International Music Awards) late May 1989; mixed feelings: 2017 interview on Davidbowieblackstar.it; controlling fuck: Kenneally, 2000.    Video Crime: referred to as “Video Crimes” on the LP cover and currently called that on Spotify.

292 Under the God  issued as a single in June 1989 (EMI USA MT 68 c/w “Sacrifice Yourself”); simplistic, naïve, radical: Melody Maker, 1 July 1989; this could get worse: to Tony Parsons, Arena, Spring/Summer 1993.

293  50 fascho-bands: per Rodden, Repainting the Little Red Schoolhouse, 199; Orange County: Muni interview, 29 May 1989; Brown: “Subcultures, Pop Music and Politics: Skinheads and “Nazi Rock” in England and Germany,” Journal of Social History 38(1): 157–79; it’s painful being a democracy…David Duke: to Mike Heck, ROC interview, ca. autumn 1991; Spearhead: Buckley, 254.

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294  Sacrifice Yourself    blurry harmonic structure: as “Sacrifice Yourself” appears to be in A major, the B chord is the secondary dominant: the V chord of A major’s V chord (E, in this case). Thus much of the song, in both verse and chorus, is a struggle between secondary dominant and dominant (B and E): a war between two great powers.

295  Prisoner of Love  the album’s third single in October 1989 (EMI MT 76 c/w live versions of “Baby Can Dance” and “Crack City”); the fact she is young: Muni interview, 29 May 1989.

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296  Working Class Hero   John was the poshest: Breakout, Aug./Sept. 1983; Dorian A minor: a folk modal key with two tonal centers, A minor and G major. When the Machine put the song in A minor, they used the dominant chord of Am, E minor, instead of the G major of Lennon’s original. There are other slight variations: the last refrain line is Am-G-D-Am, suggesting a slight shift to G major (although the D major is barely there, it’s just used as a passing chord on the way back to A minor). The original recording of “Hero” is a good example of Lennon’s indifference to time (it’s not quite in 3/4— more something like one bar of 9/8, 2 bars of 6/8) and studio perfection, as he’s often not intoning bass notes “properly”; writing get in the way of our playing: Hillier RockSat interview, ca. July 1989.

297   Crack City  a live version from Paris in July 1989 was on the 12″ version of “Prisoner of Love”; white pigs: NME, 15 July 1978; merchant seamen: Marcus Gray, Last Gang in Town, 260 (quoting a Sean O’Hagan interview with Strummer from the NME, 1988); trouble on legs: Muni interview, 29 May 1989; crack in the hotel!: Musician, September 1991.

298  crack babies myth: see, among a number of articles; gonna kill you Tin Man!: as per Ricki Rachtman, Yahoo! Music, 5 August 2015; 449 says: to David Wild, Rolling Stone, 31 October 1991; deep injured stuff: Joel Gausten interview with TS, October 2015; Happy Mondays: AFN Backstage TV interview, ca. September 1991; drug dirges: Q, May 1989; Hendrix: Bowie and Gabrels were fans of the recently-released (November 1988) Radio One sessions, a CD that brought the label Rykodisc to Bowie’s attention; Crack City is the reality: to Steffan Chirazi, RIP, December 1991; written for other writers: Melody Maker, 1 July 1989.

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299 I Can’t Read  The live version recorded on 25 June 1989, at La Cigale, Paris, is on the 12″ single version of “Tin Machine.”

300  Purpose of daily life: Rapido, 30 May 1989; drag your soul back into your body: to Robert Hilburn, LA Times, 4 April 1993;  cried in front of the band: to Tony Parsons, Arena, Autumn 1991; ice it up…facade: Musician, September 1991; my own desperations: to Tina Clarke, Elle, May 1990; topple off: Muni interview, 29 May 1989.

302  new version: debuted at the Bridge School Benefit in California in October 1996; cut-ups…words in concrete: David Bowie Story, 1993. Maggie’s Farm   more details on the 1989 tour herenot gonna be a circus…playing for us: Muni interview, 29 May 1989; Prince and the Pauper: LA Times, 16 June 1989. There’s a wonderful story that Bowie was handing out flyers in the Village on the day of the first NYC gig.

303 Shakin’ All Over   A live version from Paris in June 1989 was on the “Prisoner of Love” E.P., while a 1991 Hamburg recording was on the ambitiously-titled 1993 compilation Best of Grunge Rock. Live: in 1991-92, it was often part of medleys in the middle of “Heaven’s In Here.” Bowie reconnected with his old drummer, John Cambridge, at a Bradford gig on 2 July 1989. Cambridge said he told Bowie the lyric to “Shakin’ All Over,” which Bowie claimed he’d forgotten, despite having sung it the night before.    Baby Universal    Recorded: all Tin Machine II dates/locations per Gabrels to CO, August 2018.

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304  disgrace: The reviewer, Jon Wilde (or someone claiming to be him), said in a 2012 Guardian comment thread that he’d been told Bowie had wept when he read the review. This possibly wasn’t an exaggeration—several people who knew Bowie over the years said that he took bad reviews from the UK particularly hard; Spin: Jonathan Bernstein, September 1991; meaningless lyric…sales bear out our assessment: Bill Wyman, Entertainment Weekly, 6 September 1991; Michael Jackson money: to Joel Gausten, 2000; start recording the next album tomorrowimmediately once this tour’s over: London press conference, 23 January 1990. He told the BBC’s Simon Bates that Tin Machine had cut 25 tracks in Sydney (late January 1990 TV interview).

305   excuses to make noise: Musician, September 1991; sensitively aggressive: 23 January 1990 press conference; eager to solidify the band: Q, April 1990; guitar has a world of sounds: International Musician, December 1991; keep them interested: Musician, September 1991; modal chromaticism: for example, if a song was in E major, Gabrels could use E Phrygian, a scale that would let him play “notes that shouldn’t be there” (say, an F instead of the “correct” F-sharp); his own obstacles: International Musician, December 1991.

306   almost like Texas: to Joy Williams, Tournye, 1991.

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307  Sorry    let’s talk about it, y’know?…my own addictions: RIP, December 1991.

308  Alomar: Buckley, 412; Schermerhorn: Starman, 351; personal problems…carry on: Uncut, October 1999; we just couldn’t cope: Golden Years: The David Bowie Story, 2000.    Betty Wrong Two additional versions circulate on bootleg: one sounds like a slightly-different mix of the released track. The other is an instrumental taken at a slower pace, with Gabrels still working out solo ideas.

309  Otis Rush…hardest to hear: Musician, September 1991.   Needles on the Beach  Bondi Beach: the beach was in great neglect at the time, with swimmers having to contend with raw sewage as well as syringes. By the late 2000s, it had been cleaned up and added to Australia’s National Heritage List.

311  Shopping for Girls   Recorded: Kevin Armstrong’s credited appearance on piano suggests at least backing tracks were cut during Tin Machine sessions; Kham Suk: Christian Science Monitor, 30 June 1987. Terry co-wrote the series with Kristin Helmore; collectively autobiographical: RIP, December 1991; fingerwagging about it: Musician, September 1991.

312    fairly fucking heavy: RIP, December 1991; narrator: a suggestion of Annie McDuffie; lyric: the odd line that opens the second verse (“a small black someone jumps over the crazy white guard”) is a play on the English pangram (“the quick fox jumps over the lazy dog”).  Amlapura    Bowie cut an Indonesian vocal, a version found on the B-side on the 12″ single of “You Belong In Rock n’ Roll,” and so added another language to his tally of Italian, French, German, and Spanish vocals (see the “Seven Years in Tibet” note). Alternate takes of “Amlapura” circulate—an instrumental and three other takes with more prominent drums, guitar and slightly different phrasing on vocals. A version from Hamburg, 24 October 1991, is on the video version of Oy Vey Baby.

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313   I particularly love…200 years ago: Japanese TV interview, February 1992; ashes scattered: as per a New York Times report on his will (“David Bowie’s Will Splits Estate Said to Be Worth $100 Million,” 29 January 2016), he’d wanted his body shipped to Bali to be cremated. As that was impractical, he was cremated in New Jersey on 12 January 2016, according to his death certificate.

314  Stateside   American dream: from the 25 July 1990 concert at the Niagara Falls Convention Center. Bowie continued with “all you got left is an Uzi gun and a crack haze. Everything falling to shit. Inner city blues. So what do you get from the government? You get the blues.” You Can’t Talk   Four alternate takes circulate on bootleg. One sounds like an early-stage version, going at a slower tempo, with Bowie trying out phrases. The others are close to the released track, with minor differences. For example, the break after “call you over under out” (@ 2:25) is followed by, in various takes, silence, hi-hat, or a guitar panned left-to-right.

315   Big Hurt  considered a strong enough track that it was performed on Arsenio Hall and weighed as a possible title track. Its BBC recording was released in October 1991 as a B-side of the 12″ “Baby Universal”; you serve two masters: Musician, September 1991.

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316  It’s Tough   The most “finished”-sounding circulating version of “Tough” reportedly comes from an early promo CD of Tin Machine II, showing how late in the day its omission was. Presumably it will appear in a Tin Machine box set.

317 You Belong in Rock ‘n Roll   issued as a single in August 1991 (LONCD 305, c/w “Amlapura (Indonesian version), UK #33). There was also a limited-edition single in a metal box—to produce it, Victory had to purchase used tins from the US Navy. A version from Chicago, 7 December 1991, closes Oy Vey Baby; Double Jeu: the date often cited for this appearance–21 September 1991– doesn’t seem to be accurate, as the band was in the US until at least mid-September, when Bowie also shot his scenes for Twin Peaks in California (it’s far more likely to have been in late October, when the band was touring Europe and doing other promotional spots on TV). I chose 27 October because it was the only off day in that period—the Paris show was 30 October 1991; half a chord progression: “You Belong” is mostly C major and G major; “With or Without You” is a cycling C-G-Am-F; vibrators: Gabrels told Musician that his touring vibrators were “a 4″ Ladyfinger and an 8″ variable speed, with a Panasonic electric razor as backup.”

318   talking about the feelings…but abandon from what: to Alan di Perna, Creem, September 1991; basically a bass song…against the bridge: Mike Heck ROC interview, ca. late 1991.

319  Goodbye Mr. Ed  I’d love it if Bowie had found the title in a headline in the 16 October 1990 Weekly World News; myth land to me: Cracked Actor; now I have the knowledge: RIP, December 1991; Fifties America: Musician, Sept. 1991.

320 tuning up thingjust a rhythm track: Tournye, 1991.

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321 Pretty Pink Rose   An alternate mix appears on the promo CD single: it’s about thirty seconds shorter, has less lead guitar, and omits the second verse. Belew also issued an instrumental mix on his 2007 download Dust; CDs: “CDs Overtake LPs for First Time, Industry Says,” AP, 26 January 1989. Until 1993, the US market leader was the cassette— it was cheaper and most cars didn’t have CD players yet. The transition happened earlier in the UK: by 1990, CDs sold more than tapes; RCA: The first Bowie CD reissues were in February 1985, with some exceptions—David Live and Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture weren’t issued and Stage was only available in the UK and Europe. The RCA CDs were taken from masters EQ’d for cassette, not from the original tapes. By contrast, with the exception of a few outtakes, all Ryko CDs were taken from the original masters. Yet some audiophiles still assert that the RCAs are the best-sounding Bowie CDs. Anytime a Bowie album gets a new issue, someone will, without fail, judge it against its RCA CD and find it wanting; rights were expiring: Rougvie goes into the creation of Sound + Vision and the reissues on his blog, which dispels a great many myths; most wanted on CD: Billboard, 10 September 1988; Ryko: because the label had few international connections at the time, EMI released the reissues in the UK and Europe; bonus tracks: a complete list of the Rykos can be found on Discogs.

322   writing at night: Belew, blog entry, 6 September 2007; oh gawd…quite what to do…half-time…right hand fingers: Belew blog, 16 September 2007. It’s possible “I Pray, Ole” was an early version of what became “Pretty Pink Rose,” as the closing “take me to the heart, to the heart, to the heart” melody also works over parts of “Ole.”

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324 Gunman  added a harmony note…rhythm guitars: Belew blog, 8 September 2007You and I and George  develop new material: interview with the BBC’s Simon Bates, late January 1990; coffer replenishment: for example, Bowie grossed $927,124 on his 6 March 1990 show in Montreal, filling 34,687 seats and earning more than comparable acts playing to much larger crowds, as per Billboard, 24 March 1990.

325   instrumentation of a four-piece band: Belew blog, 14 September 2007; for a particular generation…hope it won’t show…never Major Tom again: Q, April 1990; absolutely loathe Young Americans: Rolling Stone, 31 October 1991; wasn’t happy: Spitz, 348; Fox eating…turned off live keyboard: Buckley, 403.

326  fucking nightmare: titled the bootleg of the show!, 8 September 1990; Kelly: the song is only credited as “Arr. Kenton” on the album. I’ve credited it to Kelly, as the song is certainly not “trad.,” as some resources have claimed.

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327  One Shot   Smooth, sax-like: Musician, September 1991.

329 Debaser  Mass of screaming flesh: ca. 1999 Bowie interview, filmed for Channel Four’s Pixies documentary Gouge (2002); what it represents: to Sisario, Doolittle, 77; Chien Andalou: or Purple Rain, as the original refrain lyric was “shed, Apollonia!,” a reference to Apollonia’s nude scene in that film.  Go Now    Oy Vey, Baby: This live album, issued in July 1992, was the most unloved LP in the Bowie catalog since the Sixties, failing to chart in the US or UK upon release. Composed of tracks from Chicago, Boston, New York, Tokyo and Sapporo gigs, it’s a good document of a band that was still putting on tight shows until the end. “Amazing,” from Chicago, is superior to the studio version; the Tokyo “Goodbye Mr. Ed” has Bowie in fine voice. The title, a jibe at the then-latest U2 album, didn’t help sales, nor perhaps did the inclusion of an eight-minute “Stateside.” The mix was greatly the work of Gabrels, who later said it was his favorite Tin Machine album. The video release (also out of print) is a different beast, solely documenting a 24 October 1991 show in Hamburg.

330  fair amount of improvisation…don’t want that feeling at all: Creem, September 1991; nothing noble: Chicago Tribune, 9 December 1991; small room packed with people: to Kot, Chicago Tribune, 11 June 2002; simply misinformation: Reevz.net, ca. 2002; three albums, possibly…once it starts to feel like a job: to Roger Catlin, Hartford Courant, 24 November 1991.

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Chapter Five: The Strike Price (1983-1985)

December 16, 2018

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182  Let’s Dance   demo: only Nile Rodgers and Erdal Kizilcay have been credited on this—a photograph from the session shows three other people, presumably keyboards, drums and another guitarist or engineer?; sears through: to Timothy White, Musician, May 1983.

183  avatar of pure fame: a wonderful phrase coined by “Magic Fly,” one of Tom Ewing’s commenters on Popular’s “Let’s Dance” entry, 27 May 2009; RCA: New York Times, 13 December 1985; Bertelsmann: RCA was folded into the newly-formed BMG which, in 2008, would be sold to Sony; ten million albums: Washington Post, 26 April 1987; Lodger sold: Zanetta/Edwards’ Stardust lists purported Bowie global album sales as of 1983, noting that only Changesonebowie and Ziggy Stardust had gone platinum. But that doesn’t jibe with BPI platinum certifications in the UK for Scary Monsters and Best of Bowie (1981) and Hunky Dory (1982).

184  K-Tel: to Hopkins, 231. Best of Bowie was a UK #2; manager of the club: New York Post, 12 January 2016. There are lots of versions of this story—the funniest finds Rodgers desperately trying to get out of the way of a puking Idol, and that’s how he meets Bowie. Another version of the story has Bowie and Rodgers sitting side by side, silently, for hours until Rodgers gets the courage to say hello; in another, a less-inebriated Idol introduces Rodgers to Bowie, his fellow London suburbanite.

185 I want you to make hits…David’s directive: Juby, In Other Words, 187; urge to play around with musical ideas: to Chris Bohn, NME, 16 April 1983; two takes: to Robert Palmer, Penthouse, November 1983; old rock ‘n’ roll records…non-uptight music: quoted in Hopkins, 242, 244; vacuousness: Penthouse, November 1983.

186  my paint and canvas: to Jay Cocks, Time, 18 July 1983; that quality of necessity: to Kurt Loder, Rolling Stone, 12 May 1983; not happening, man: to Trynka, Starman, 315; Donovan meets Newley: Rodgers, Le Freak, 189; you won’t get played: to Buckley, Strange Fascination, 337; strummy chords: Le Freak, 190; afraid to chuck anymore: Rodgers, 7 November 2014, speaking at the Oredev Conference.

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187   don’t play that shit: Starman, 316; gated drums: for much more, see Greg Milner’s Perfecting Sound Forever. In 1983, Bowie described the Low drum sound as “that “mash” drum sound, that depressive, gorilla effect set down the studio drum fever fad for the next few years. It was something I wish we’d never created, having had to live through four years of it with other English bands, until it started changing into the clap sound we’ve got now.”; Collins fell in love with the gated snare: see the Collins-produced “I Know There’s Something Going On” by Frida, in which the former ABBA singer fights for her life against all-conquering drums; annihilates the drums: interview with Kevin Hilton, 21 February 2018; decay out fast…rhythm section was doing: to Stan Hyman and Vicki Greenleaf, Modern Recording and Music, July/August 1983.

188   snapshot of Bowie’s brain: Starman, 316; looked like the future…would be timeless: Oredev Conference, 7 November 2014. serious moonlight: a less occult origin for the line is that, according to Rodgers, Bowie would call a particularly good groove or track “serious.” Bowie once said the phrase was his attempt at an “Americanism”; red shoes: Tanja Stark’s “Confronting David Bowie’s Mysterious Corpses” brilliantly puts the use of the red shoes imagery into a universe of Bowie’s death imagery. David Mallet and Bowie made another iconic video, with red shoes as a corrupting symbol of modern capitalism. It’s best remembered for a few sequences: an Aboriginal boy dragging a machine down a Sydney street; an Aboriginal couple painting a snake on the wall of an art gallery; an immaculate-looking Bowie playing his song in an outback bar where some non-actors are growing agitated at the Aboriginal actors dancing.

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189  Modern Love    clean-up single: pop albums once had diminishing returns. A third single, if even released, often charted low. But by the early Eighties, labels were milking one album for years. Epic led the way with Thriller (seven charting singles from a nine-track LP), but many huge mid-Eighties hits were third or fourth singles: “Borderline,” “Purple Rain,” “Hello,” “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Walk of Life,” “Born in the USA.” Ten years later, labels were harvesting albums so ruthlessly that no one wanted to hear anything else the artist ever did again (e.g., the Spin Doctors, Alanis Morrisette, Hootie and the Blowfish); it all comes from Little Richard: Guitar Player, June 1997.

190  the questions of chaos: The David Bowie Story, 1993. In 1990, talking to the LA Times, Bowie said “Modern Love” was “not one of my favorites,” that he’d tried “to cover two subjects…religion and love…and I don’t think they linked too well….lyrically it was too wishy-washy.”

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191 Shake It   a longer version of the track (5:20, compared to the album version’s 3:49) was the B-side of the “China Girl” 12″ single; singer’s album: Musician, May 1983; fresh ears: to Tom Doyle, Mojo, August 2018; thumbnails: Le Freak, 191; spiky about my stuff: MTV interview, 27 January 1983.

192 Ricochet  fitting its outsider status, “Ricochet” was the only Let’s Dance track not to be issued on a single. It titled an odd promotional film, directed by Gerry Troyna, that documented Bowie’s Australasian tour in late 1983 (in which he didn’t perform the documentary’s title song); it should have rolled: Musician, August 1987.

193  just threw it out there: Rodgers, at a performance for Grammy Week, Village Recording Studio, 2015; “Night Mail”: the rhythm of Bowie’s “march of flowers, march of dimes” hook is a close match to Auden’s lines (“letters of thanks, letters from banks”)

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194  Criminal World  also the B-side of “Without You” biggest mistake: Rolling Stone, 12 May 1983; major miscalculation…image: Time, 18 July 1983; Robinson: interview tape, recorded ca. June-July 1983.

195  banner over me: Penthouse, November 1983. In the first The Book of Lists (1977), Bowie made the list of “Famous Homosexuals,” along with Janis Joplin and Elton John; now it’s changing: Serious Moonlight, 168; puritanical place: Blender, August 2002; I am Rod Stewart: to Spitz, 326.

196  spice in his image: The Face, November 1980; only person who knows this?: to Tim De Lisle, The Independent, 10 September 1995; station to station: to David Keeps, Details, October 1995; Metro: Browne, who died of cancer in 1993, and Godwin had hits as solo acts in the Eighties: Godwin’s “Images of Heaven” and Browne’s “The Wild Places.”

197  Without You   in the US, it was Let’s Dance’s fourth single, issued in February 1984, with a Keith Haring cover (EMI America 8190, #73); we’re the opening act: Sound on Sound, April 2005.

198 like a hawk…proud to show off his genius: Le Freak, 191.

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199 Waiata  older well-dressed audience…requests for tickets: Serious Moonlight, 44; literature of crowd psychology: New York Times, 26 July 1983; the guy who wrote about those people: Serious Moonlight, 54; for three concerts in Chicago…$1.2 million for a single show: Hopkins, 261; $50 million in 1983: Tremlett, 313; posh accent: Starman, 324.

201  Imagine The concert performance appears to have been filmed professionally, perhaps as part of the Ricochet documentary; hip ones of the Sixties: Lennon RKO radio interview, 8 December 1980; the unknown is what it is: Playboy, December 1980; might as well do ‘Imagine’: Starzone Interviews, 113.   Tumble and Twirl  the B-side of “Tonight,” whose 12″ single has an “extended dance mix” of this song by Steve Thompson, most notable for an up-mixed heavy bassline that sounds like a bowed cello at times.

202   certified platinum:  Billboard, 15 December 1984; he does deliver: to David Fricke, Musician, December 1984; huge mistake…scantily-dressed: Washington Post, 26 April 1987; too soon: Rolling Stone: David Bowie: The Ultimate Guide, 2016; much further: Rolling Stone, 12 May 1983; searching for me: Soul Interviews, 16 December 2012. All Bowie had heard of Bramble’s work were demos he’d produced for Jaki Graham; conscious effort to distance himself: Buckley, 359; Heatwave: a band with a rather cursed history. A rhythm guitarist was stabbed to death, their original bassist was stabbed and left temporarily blinded and paralyzed, and the lead singer was paralyzed from the neck down after an auto accident; guy upstairs: Musician, December 1984.

203   going in and doing it…after the snow had gone: Juby, 119; Le Studio: an “environmental” studio that opened in 1974, it had a floor-to-ceiling glass wall (as seen in Rush’s video for “Limelight”). It closed in the 2000s, being essentially abandoned to the elements until it was partially destroyed by fire in 2017; jack shit…wanted to get the record out: Buckley, 360, 362; violent: Musician, August 1987; breathing space…buying time: Wipe-out (Hong Kong TV), December 1983.

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204  Haiti: Pop and Friedman’s calamitous time in Haiti is well-depicted in Trynka’s Bleed; solitude in foreign climes: Musician, December 1984; Brooke Shields: NME, 29 September 1984.

205 didn’t want what I earned for myself: David Bowie Story, 1993; frantic complex swing: Musician, December 1984.  Don’t Look Down    mix: its backing tracks were used as incidental music in Jazzin’ for Blue Jean.

 206   proper reggae: NME, 29 September 1984; cut lines: Bowie changed the opening of the first verse, which Pop had repeated later in the song. Pop’s blunt “Why be bored? Who scared you? Why stay here? It’s no piece of cake” becomes “No, I won’t be bored/ I won’t be there. Look at life: it’s no piece of cake.” Blue Jean  exact release date is hard to pin down. It’s reviewed in the 8 September 1984 Billboard and the 15 September 1984 Cash Box; it’s first reported being added to radio playlists in the 10 September 1984 Eurotipsheet and in the 7 September 1984 Radio & Records. As there are other indications that the single was out in the UK the week of 3 September 1984, that’s my guess; Padgham: After Tonight, he went to London to record Phil Collins’ No Jacket Required, which in a way comes off as successful realization of Tonight: it has a similar production style and vocal treatments, rhythm guitar work that sounds like Carlos Alomar outtakes, horns, Arif Martin string arrangements. But NJR has an internal consistency—its uptempo singles are embedded within a wider set of gloomy pieces, making the former seem like manic flights in a depressive’s journal. Also, there are no covers.

207  Jazzin’ for Blue Jean: the Julien Temple video used the age-old formula where the star plays both nerd and mean cool kid (for a relatively recent example, see Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me”). Look for the Right Said Fred guy playing Bowie’s bassist. Mike Sarne’s 1962 UK hit “Come Outside,” where Sarne’s hapless character, failing to pick up a bored-sounding girl (he’s “a smooth-talking East End horndog who’s nowhere near as suave as he thinks he is,” as Andy Zax noted), is almost certainly an influence on Bowie’s sad-sack “Vic” in the video.    I Keep Forgettin’  given its more formal title (“I Keep Forgetting”) on Tonight’s first US release.

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208  Smokey Robinson…wild dance: Ken Emerson, Always Magic In the Air, 170; the single: Wand 126, released in July 1962, charted in September (#55 pop). While Leiber and Stoller are credited as co-composers with occasional collaborator Gilbert Garfield on the Jackson single, they’re the only ones credited on Bowie’s and other cover versions.   Loving the Alien  issued as a single in May 1985. Its video (directed by Bowie and Mallet), with its mix of surreal imagery (the backing band out of de Chirico paintings; the Gilbert and George reference first seen on the LP cover) and high Eighties cheese (Bowie’s primary outfit and ur-Rick Astley dancing) sums up the song in a way.

209  Anderson: though Bowie took pains to say that Glass was his only inspiration, “Loving the Alien” has affinities to “O Superman” and plays with similar themes of faith and power; Fairlight: played by an uncredited musician, Rob Yale, who later claimed he was one of the first people in Canada to have mastered the instrument; Salibi: in The Bible Came from Arabia, he argued that the kingdoms of David and Solomon were in the Saudi provinces of Asir and the southern Hijaz. While Salibi’s book hadn’t been published when Bowie wrote “Loving the Alien,” his ideas were circulating in articles in the Christian Science Monitor and other publications. Bowie mentioned him to Charles Shaar Murray as a “historian [who] is putting forth the idea that Israel is wrong and that it was in fact in Saudi Arabia”; sins hooked upon the sky: suggestive of a line in the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa’s The Keeper of Sheep (“One day while God was sleeping…[Christ] went to the chest of miracles and stole three…With the third he created a Christ eternally stuck to the cross/ and left him nailed to the cross in the sky/ and it serves as the model for others.”). It’s possible Bowie had read Pessoa, whose work had been translated into English in the Seventies; had to do with Major Tom: Buckley, 363.

210 alien Christs: Davies, God and the New Physics, 71; inherent in the song…not even in the lyrics: NME, 29 September 1984.

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211 God Only Knows   in our twenties: to Marc Myers, Wall Street Journal, 7 October 2011; instrumentation: some details from Albin Zak’s The Poetics of Rock.

212 original or better: Musician, December 1984; bit saccharine: NME, 29 November 1984.

213 Dancing with the Big Boys    just recorded it all: Musician, December 1984; threw out there: Juby, 119.

214  work together for survival: Musician, December 1984; one more set of pieces like that: Rolling Stone, 25 October 1984. This is Not America   release: Possibly the previous week (it’s reviewed in the 2 February 1985 Cash Box). The soundtrack album was released on 22 February 1985.

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 215  Boyce: He escaped from prison in 1980, became a bank robber for a time, and intended to fly to the Soviet Union to join the Red Army until being arrested again in 1981 (both he and Lee have since been paroled); Metheny: “He asked if any of us could sing (we couldn’t/can’t!), so he did all the background vocals himself, kind of transforming into what seemed to be two or three different people as he did each part.” (Metheny’s website, “DB RIP,” 11 Jan 2016); pop record: Billboard, 7 June 1986.

217  people in the film: Brian Jay Jones, Jim Henson: The Biography, 355; Lee: he was the one who named the goblin character Jareth; new challenger: Labyrinth: Ultimate Visual History, 29; David Lee Roth: Roth playing against Jennifer Connelly in this film would have been…well, something. Bowie got the nod in part because Henson’s son Brian thought Bowie “was cooler” and because Bowie had more film and stage experience than other candidates; I could see the potential…spoiled child: Inside the Labyrinth; June-August 1985: principal photography began on 15 April 1985 but Bowie didn’t report to the set until early June. Most of his scenes were filmed that month, including the “Magic Dance,” “As the World Falls Down” and “Within You” sequences. Barring a day’s shoot in August, Bowie had completed his scenes by the end of July; just this side of getting it: to Spitz, 336.

218  free hand: Inside the Labyrinth; virtually finished tracks: Labyrinth: UVH, 164; wasn’t a nightmare: Labyrinth: UVH, 123; re-do that whole sequence: Labyrinth: UVH, 131; Wild Things: after Bowie’s death, the demo went up on YouTube, complete with photographs of the session, which showed Eric Idle in attendance.

219 Magic Dance  Portnow: 2 August 1986, Billboard. He later became head of NARAS; filmed: by a 4 June 1985 script draft, the full lyric of “Magic Dance” was complete, though Jareth was originally supposed to sing the “puppy dog tails” line (as he does on the soundtrack version); baby gurgles: Inside the Labyrinth.

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220 As the World Falls Down   exactly the same age: Heather Henson and Jennifer Connelly were born within a week of each other in December 1970.

 221 Velimirovic: Labyrinth: UVH, 41; inner fantasies of this girl: Labyrinth: UVH, 53; Hollywood talent scout: Henson script memo, 24 September 1984; old-fashioned: Inside the Labyrinth; oh how she wants: lines from Laura Phillips’ script revision of August 1984.

222 Ferry: his Girls and Boys was released during the shooting of Labyrinth, in June 1985, Within You    Stone walls and crumbling power: Inside the Labyrinth.

223  little audiocassette: Labyrinth: UVH, 162.  Underground  The 7″ single edit (EMI EA 216, trimmed by over a minute), was backed by an instrumental version; the 12″ has an Extended Dance Version, Dub Mix and another instrumental (no choir this time). The sheet music has an extra verse not found in any mix, to my knowledge (“when will I afford you?/ don’t turn around./ You’re turning slower/ That’s underground”).

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225  That’s Motivation  Various release dates are cited for the release of the Absolute Beginners soundtrack, typically sometime in April 1986. Given that it was reviewed as a new release in the 23 March 1986 Observer, I went with the following day, the by-then-typical UK release day of Monday. Further evidence is that the soundtrack was reviewed in the 5 April 1986 issue of Billboard along with the Stones’ Dirty Work, which came out on 24 March.

226  sexless sparrows: “A Short Guide for Jumbles (to the Life of their Coloured Brethren in England)” (1954); wavering accent: Bowie said he took the idea from a “con man” ad executive he’d known (“there was this continual fluctuation between English and American”). See also MacInnes’ “Young English, Half English” (1957), about Tommy Steele: “[when Steele] speaks to his admirers, his voice takes on the flat, wise, dryly comical tones of purest Bermondsey. When he sings, the words (where intelligible) are intoned in the shrill international American-style drone”; high-falooting…real big number in the old tradition: to Tom Hibbert, Smash Hits, 26 March- 8 April 1986; scenes were shot: dates courtesy of Graham Rinaldi, whose upcoming book on Bowie’s films looks to be definitive; pied piper: Juby, 123; kind of devil: Spin, May 1986; million pounds over budget: The Guardian, 21 September 2005; Sinfield: Literature, Politics, 170.

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227  Release: “Volare” was only included on the 2-LP complete soundtrack, which didn’t get an American release at the time.

228   Absolute Beginners  hey, it’s yet another difficult-to-determine release date! “Absolute Beginners” first charted the week of 15 March 1986 in the UK and Australia (and 29 March 1986 in the Billboard Hot 100), but it was reviewed in the 12-25 February 1986 Smash Hits. While the release date was most likely 3 March 1986, it’s possible it came out the week before, on 24 February 1986; people forget they love: a commenter on Tom Ewing’s “Popular” whose comment I can no longer find. But I swear it once existed; glass eye: to Sandford, 242; Wakeman: added what he described as “classical piano/ Rachmaninoff type stuff” in a later mixing session, where he and Bowie (neighbors in Switzerland) spent a few hours reminiscing; cocaine: a goodbye indulgence, as it’s the last reported time that Bowie used it, as per Kevin Armstrong in Trynka’s bio (the source of the coke was allegedly Angela Bowie—it’s a bit too good a story). But Neil Conti disputed that account on my blog: “It’s absolute rubbish that Bowie was doing cocaine in the studio. He was very calm, happy and healthy, if a little overweight”; tension: The A major 7th possibly came about by Bowie moving a finger while fretting an A major chord (he’d played his chord ideas on guitar to Armstrong in the studio). Chord substitutions brighten the song—a C major chord is swapped in for what should be C# minor on “I’m absolutely,” so affirming that declaration; chords: “Magic Dance” in particular has similar D-Bm-G and F#-E progressions in its refrain (an insight of commenter Y. Tyrell); on a plate: to Buckley, 368; Janet Armstrong: Kevin’s sister, who worked at the clothing store Dorothy Perkins, as per Trynka (332). I say first “major label” performance as she seems to have been the vocalist on a few post-punk singles from the early Eighties.

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230  Dancing in the Street  its B-side was an “instrumental” version (the sort with vocals) with some Saturday Night Live segue-style saxophone noodling and a guitar solo.

231  music-less video: as per Donny McCaslin and other Blackstar musicians; healthy relationship with Mick: Musiek Express, June 1983.

232  cabaret band: Buckley, 367; ego tripsphinxlike: Sandford, 246; Madison Square Garden: Saunders’ blog (www.marksaunders.com), 22 January 2016; smiling, indulgent one: Starman, 332; Stones: The album the Stones were making in the summer of 1985, Dirty Work, sounded like the final, chaotic days of a marriage, with Jagger singing about nuclear war, money-grubbers, and violent sex, with a reoccurring motif of wanting to beat the shit out of someone. It should have been their last album.

234   When the Fires Broke Out      Looney Tunes: Its official title was The Bugs Bunny Looney Tunes 50th Anniversary Special, first airing on 14 January 1986. Other guests included Steve Martin, Billy Dee Williams, Bill Murray, Quincy Jones, Cher, Chuck Yeager, and Molly Ringwald.


Chapter Four: A Society of One (1980-1981)

December 16, 2018

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138   It’s No Game Pts. 1 & 2: While these songs are titled “No. 1” and “No. 2” on sleeves of some editions of the album, primarily UK and European pressings, “Pt. 1” and “Pt. 2” are always the LP/cassette/CD/download/stream label. Was this a late-in-the-day title alteration that didn’t get a follow-through? The change in name subtly alters the relationship of the two songs. Being “Pt. 2” makes the slower, less manic track the sequel to, or continuation of, “Pt. 1,” rather than being, as “No. 2” would suggest, another edition of the same song. There’s also a scatological pun with “No. 2” (“camel shit ”); recorded: sessions went at least to mid-March, as Bowie was in New York on 13 March 1980 for the opening party of an ill-fated musical staged by his former tour arranger, Michael Kamen; release: 12 September was the UK date; contemporary ads in the Los Angeles Times have the US date as 19 September; Scary Monsters: though sometimes referred to as Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), it’s mostly been identified as Scary Monsters on LP spines and tape, disc, etc. labels. But to make things confusing, it has on occasion had the full title, such as the original 1980 UK cassette , the first (1984) European CD issue and currently on Spotify; Fripp: to Kurt Loder, Rolling Stone, 13 November 1980; most glossy studio…stop experimenting: In Other Words, 100-101. Originally a Con Edison plant on West 53rd St. and 10th Avenue, the Power Station (hence the name) had opened in 1977. It was owned by Tony Bongiovi (cousin of Jon) and Bob Walters. Among its first users were Chic, who at times would book Studio B for months. After a long period as Avatar Studios in the late Nineties and 2000s, it’s now owned by Berklee and remains in operation: the last studio in Manhattan that’s large enough for a symphony or Broadway cast recording; awful lot of mistakes: Radio One interview (Andy Peebles), 5 December 1980, later issued as a promotional 12″; not as immediately as I used to: to Angus MacKinnon, NME, 13 September 1980; grinding and intense: Illustrated Record, 112.

139  Three Steps to Heaven: also the source of the “Queen Bitch” riff; mid-tempo beat: an earlier (bootlegged) take of “Pt. 2″ has a slower tempo, though that may be in part due to tape distortion; angry vehement statement: Peebles, 5 December 1980.

140  flange the combined sound electronically…Swiss chalet: High Fidelity, July 1982.

141  Japanese translation: the full Japanese lyric, as translated by Stephen Ryan: shiruetto ya kage ga kakumei wo miteiru (silhouettes and shadows are watching the revolution)/ mo tengoku no jiyu no kaidan wa nai (free [without restrictions] steps of heaven are no longer there/here)/ ore wa genjitsu kara shime dasare ([a ‘tough’ ‘masculine’ I] have been excluded from reality)/ nani ga okotteiru no ka wakaranai (I don’t understand what’s going on)/ doko ni kyoukun wa aruno ka hitobito wa yubi wo orareteiru (where’s the lesson [moral]? people’s fingers are being broken)/ konna dokusaisya ni iyashimerareru no wa kanashii (to be abused [taunted] by this strong-willed leader [dictator] is sad)/ nanmin no kiroku eiga (documented films of refugees)/ hyoutekini se wo shita koibitotachi (lovers are set as a background to the target)/ michi ni ishi wo nagereba (if you throw a stone into the road)/ konagona ni kudake (it is shattered into a powder)/ kino ni futa wo sureba (if you cover up [put a lid on] yesterday) /kyoufu wa masu (the terror [fear] grows)/ ore no atama ni tama wo uchikomeba (if you shoot a bullet into my head)/ shinbun wa kakitateru (the newspapers will write about it in an exaggerated way); Japanese girl typifies it…samurai kind of thing: Peebles, 5 December 1980.

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142   Tired of My Life: with a slight variation—the original lyric has “I’ll make all the papers”: list of targets: confusion and legend abound in re Mark Chapman and Bowie. Various accounts have: a) Chapman attending an Elephant Man performance days before he shot Lennon (possible but unlikely, as Chapman had arrived in New York on 6 December and spent most of his time over the next two days casing the Dakota, trying to meet Lennon); b) Chapman planning to shoot Bowie at the theater on the 8th if he hadn’t been able to get to Lennon that night (almost certainly wrong, as it was a Monday, the night when a Broadway show is usually dark, and Bowie was out on a date that evening, according to May Pang); c) Chapman had gotten a front-row ticket for Elephant Man on the 9th, the night that Lennon and Ono allegedly were supposed to attend. In 1999, Bowie told the radio host Redbeard this latter (Dec. 9) story, as well as that the NYPD had told him that his name was second on Chapman’s list of targets; going on in this world: as per Pang to Paul Trynka. An old friend (Lennon’s ex-girlfriend and Tony Visconti’s future wife), she was asked by Corinne Schwab to come to Bowie’s apartment once news of the shooting broke; Pang and Bowie arrived around the same time (Starman, 299.)   Because You’re Young  Never performed live, but as with “Scream Like a Baby,” it was played in 1987 tour rehearsals.

143   pretending to be a rock ‘n’ roll band: to Tom Hibbert, Q, July 1989; behind a desk: to Chris Welch, Melody Maker, 17 September 1977; hitting out at everybody: to Steve Rosen, Sound International, April 1980; personification of my worst fears: to Mick Brown, Sunday Times, 1985; Power Station: not confirmed, but it’s far more likely that Townshend cut his solo there rather than in London in April-May 1980. Townshend was already in the US in February 1980 to meet up with Nicolas Roeg about a potential film of Lifehouse; in April-May, the Who were on tour much of the time; wine: Townshend snapped “there’s no such thing as white wine!” when Visconti offered him a choice of bottles; bottle of brandy…can’t pull it off: Sound International, April 1980; old men…right rave-up: to Hopkins, Bowie, 217; foul, laconic mood…oh windmills: Brooklyn Boy, 285; chord as a drone: Sound International, April 1980.

144  old roué: Peebles, 5 December 1980 (a reference to Jacques Brel’s “My Death”); felt old all my life: see Melody Maker, 14 October 1978 & NME, 12 March 1983, among other interviews.      Kingdom Come  Verlaine’s song used the title of an unreleased Television song, but the two are otherwise unrelated; New York’s finest new writers: Peebles, 5 December 1980; Tom Verlaine look: Circus, 19 February 1980.

145  scattered scheme of things: NME, 13 September 1980; Porter: the connection here was Hazel O’Connor, on whose debut album Porter worked and whose follow-up Visconti produced. Porter went on to engineer hits like George Michael’s “Faith”; lugubrious…used a note of his playing: Brooklyn Boy, 285; Verlaine: to Kristine McKenna, in the November 1981 New York Rocker, he said “I didn’t go along with the Bowie version of “Kingdom Come” myself, but it’s always a thrill to hear someone else interpret your work even if you don’t like what they do with it. I’d love to hear Ray Charles do that song—I bet he’d do a great version.”

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146  Up the Hill Backwards  the last Scary Monsters single, issued in March 1981 and hitting #32 in the UK. Its Top of the Pops performance by Legs & Co. is a marvel—dry ice, hand chops, deadpan expressions. Few TOTP dance routines were ever choreographed to a 7/8 intro and a Fripp guitar line; poem for children: I found it in a 1964 kindergarten textbook, which may have been its only appearance; music carries its own message…ball of middle-classness: NME, 13 September 1980; Richter: Art and Anti-Art, 122; since 1924…high-energy Fripp: Peebles, 5 December 1980.

147  most exploratory of all the tracks: to Thomas Jerome Seabrook, Record Collector 299, March 2012; system of echo repeats: interview for Recorder Three, 1981; disguised in indifference: Peebles, 5 December 1980.

148  Scream Like a Baby rehearsed for, but not performed in, the 1987 tour; kleen machine: NME, 13 September 1980; anti-tech: Peebles, 5 December 1980; Brother D: Daryl Aamaa Nubyahn, a Brooklyn math teacher/activist who recorded, with the Collective Effort, for the Clappers label, founded as a Maoist effort; retrospection and pastiche: Fisher, Ghosts of My Life, 14.

149  key: verses are built of two clusters of three chords (Cm-Abj7-G7 (“hide under blankets”) and Bb-Ab6-Eb (“mixed with other colors”)), two descending progressions in the key of Eb. The refrain, however, builds to a major chord resolution, while the six-bar bridge centers on a troubled iii chord—Gm7/sus4, C#dim7, F5, C#°, Gm9, Gm7.  Is There Life After Marriage  other track: it’s been reported (but unconfirmed) that the real “Is There Life After Marriage” track was intended as a duet with Iggy Pop. After the book went to press, I realized I should have put quotes around this title, as it’s not the actual name of the bootlegged track. I also had thought of combining this entry with the “I Feel Free” one in Chapter 8, but thought some readers might have been confused by that. It may have been the wrong call. But hey, let’s move on; revue: An Evening With Quentin Crisp (the “life after marriage” line is quoted in the 7 January 1979 New York Times review). The phrase was also a feminist slogan and titled a chapter in a self-help book of the period, so who knows where DB picked it up.

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150  Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) issued as a single in January 1981; WXRT: this acoustic version by Reeves Gabrels and Bowie was released in 2005 on ONXRT: Live From The Archives Vol. 8; Londonism: Peebles, 5 December 1980; worked it up: Rolling Stone, 27 January 2016; major-chord: verses push between home chord (E major) and flattened VII chord (D major); refrains pit dominant and subdominant (B and A) against each other; British punk group: WNYC interview, March 2009.

151  right there at the Power Station: Momus blog, 5 March 2010; Kellogg’s: Bowie claimed this, but I found no evidence of this campaign, sadly; EDP Wasp: Designed by Chris Huggett and introduced in 1978, the Wasp was indeed wasp-colored in yellow and black. With a two-octave keyboard, it was one of the first digital/analog hybrid synthesizers (digital oscillators, analog filters) and would be key to early Eighties synth-pop: Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran loved it. Visconti possibly used the deluxe model, which had a three-octave keyboard and oscillator mixer; equalization changestriggered the sequence: Brooklyn Boy, 286, 283.

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152  Teenage Wildlife    Savage: The Face, November 1980; punk failures: Reynolds, Rip It Up, 326; checking out ideas…escape route: Record Mirror, 29 November 1980; Elms: The Way We Wore, 188-89.

153  most creative people: Blitzed, 43; Frith: Music For Pleasure, 176; TV show: the 1979 Kenny Everett’s Christmas Special. Numan had already filmed his performance and was hanging around to see Bowie play. “All of a sudden, this bloke I’d adored for years was throwing me out of a building because he hated me so much,” Numan told the Independent in 2003; image is to be copied: Trouser Press, January 1981; note to younger brother: Peebles, 5 December 1980; first convention: “The 1980 Floor Show: Bowiecon 1,” as per Cann, Chronology, 236 (the date listed was 27 April 1980—Kenneth Pitt and Cherry Vanilla were among the speakers). An article in the 7 June 1980 Sounds describes the day-long convention, which about 1,000 attended. There were screenings of Bowie films and videos and a Bowie lookalike contest that didn’t make the grade, according to Sounds (“13 very feeble entrants. Each one would come and on wriggle about to ‘Rebel Rebel’ for about five seconds. One man in a red plastic cape came on wearing rollers skates and did an Evel Knievel bit by jumping four chairs on stage.”) It ended with Pitt auctioning off memorabilia, including the jock strap Bowie wore in “The Mask,” his 1969 mime.

154   Conservative radicals: Peter York, Style Wars, 15; wanted heroes: Beckett, Miracle, 189; service industry: Q, July 1989; warm up to this track: Brooklyn Boy, 284; Hammer: Record Collector, March 2012.

155  splintery guitar…still enamoured: Mail on Sunday, 22 June 2008.    Ashes to Ashes   Tonight Show: Alomar put together the band: G.E. Smith (guitar), John Kumnick (bass), Gordon Grody (keyboards), Steve Goulding (drums). The Tonight Show was their only public performance, though they’re also seen in the concert filmed at Hurrah for Christiane F, and most are in the “Fashion” video. There’s some debate over the date of taping: Pegg has 3 September, Griffin 5 September 1980 (which is definitely the date of broadcast) Watching the entire episode, it’s obvious that Bowie taped his performance at a different time than the rest of the guests, but it’s quite possible it was earlier that day.

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156  accommodate your pasts: to Timothy White, Musician, July 1990.

157  where I left him: NME, 13 September 1980; complete dissolution…from whence he came: Peebles, 5 December 1980.

158  nursery rhyme: Peebles, 5 December 1980; old ska beat…chair and a cardboard box: to Charles Shaar Murray, NME, 29 September 1984.

159  decent moving stereo image: Brooklyn Boy, 279-80; People Are Turning to Gold: are the “little green wheels” in “Ashes to Ashes” and Bowie’s legendary lost Man Who Fell to Earth soundtrack piece “Wheels” connected? If so, is it then possible “Ashes” is yet another Scary Monsters song whose origins lie in the mid-Seventies? Perhaps we’ll know one day; riff: a fine, concise analysis is found in Aileen Dillane, Eoin Devereux and Martin J. Power’s “Culminating Sounds and (en)Visions.” As they note, the riff is a six-bar sequence. The first three bars are the complete melody: F-Bb-C/ C- F/ Bb-Eb. The fourth bar repeats the opening F-Bb-C melody, so the ear expects the two-note C-F bar to follow. Instead there’s an empty bar, then the Bb-Eb “closing” bar; chords: much of the verse and refrain is in Ab major, but the intro/outro is Bb minor7/ Ab major/ Eb minor/ Bb min7, in which both the Bbm and Ebm chords work against Ab establishing itself as the home chord; chord inversions: Record Collector, March 2012.

160  Gracyk: Rhythm & Noise, 168; smoking pistol: Countdown interview, 1 December 1979.

161  Tom Ewing: Popular, “Ashes to Ashes,” November 2008.   Fashion issued as a single in October 1980, hitting #5 in the UK.

162   strange aura about it:  Peebles, 5 December 1980; structural similarities: “Golden Years” also has two chords playing off each other for the verse. “Fashion” is in F major (with the Bb7 in the refrain the IV chord, and the bridge a slow game of moving from the iv chord, Dm, back home to F); Fripp: Graham Coxon allegedly was so intent on trying to capture the sound of Fripp’s “Fashion” solo on Blur’s “London Loves” that the song’s working title was “Fripp”; contemporary grammar: Rock et Folk, May 1995. Fripp’s Scary Monsters work was consistent with the guitar sounds on his own Exposure a year earlier. Compare “Breathless” and “Disengage” to “It’s No Game” and “Fashion”; just out of a truck: Electronic Musician, June 1987; end of Davis & Murray: Bowie let them go because he didn’t record or tour for over two years, and couldn’t keep them on retainer. Davis joined up with Stevie Wonder, with whom he played for most of the Eighties, and became a teacher: among his students was future Bowie drummer Sterling Campbell. Davis died a few months after Bowie in 2016. His son, Hikaru, has started a wonderful YouTube series, The HD Projects, in which he interviews his father’s old collaborators. George Murray got out of the game soon after leaving Bowie—his last appearance on record is Jerry Harrison’s 1981 The Red and the Black. He stayed close friends with Alomar and Davis, and is alive and well as of this writing (Hikaru Davis interviewed him in 2017).

163  more techno: Brooklyn Boy, 284 (the original idea was to remove the drum machine and just use Davis’ drums); grew into a monster: Five Years.                       Crystal Japan  unclear when first issued in Japan, but the single (c/w “Alabama Song”) has a 1980 copyright on the label. Crystal Jun Rock: incorrectly described as sake (by me, among others), it’s instead shochu, more of a vodka-like liquor; money is a useful thing: March 1980 Japanese interview quoted in Cann, Chronology, 205; B-side: an unknown Bowie track for many until its appearance on the 1992 Ryko reissue of Scary Monsters. That’s where Trent Reznor, who subconsciously nicked its melody for “A Warm Place,” first heard it.

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164  Cat People  Lots of different release dates out there. My source is the 27 March 1982 Cash Box, which reported the single was released on 12 March and the soundtrack LP on 1 April 1982; doesn’t speak French well: Sunday People, 10 May 1981.

165  time immemorial: Esquire, July 1982 (quoted in Kouvaros, 47); dream state…took it lyrically: New Zealand TV interview, filmed on the set of Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, ca. September 1982; I said ‘Jim’: comment on “Cat People” blog post, 6 March 2014.

166  really bothered him…same tempo: High Fidelity, February 1984; took instruments away: The Face, May 1983.  Under Pressure   first release: date as per the 17 October 1981 Record World.

167  Ewing: Popular,Under Pressure,” 4 February 2009; booked Mountain Studios: trying to pre-empt the pedants here. Yes, Queen owned the studio, but I think it’s fair to say they would still “book time” to record there; under the influence of Switzerland: NME, 16 April 1983; who paid what?: Sandford, 209; vocals removed: Brian May, in International Musician and Recording World, November 1982: “David just did a backing track. I don’t think anyone thought any more about it, except that it was a nice ornamentation. We just sent him a courtesy note telling him that we had used it and he said, ‘I want it taken off, because I’m not satisfied with it.’ Unfortunately he didn’t tell us until about a day before the album was supposed to be released, so it really set us back. It delayed the album’s release”; inevitable jams: NME, 16 April 1983; other people’s stuff: Absolute Radio interview (for “Killer Queen” documentary), 22 August 2011.

168  get a bit twitchy: New Zealand TV interview, ca. September 1982; from the ground up: response to BowieNet fan question, 19 April 2004; skeleton of a song…better as a demo: NME, 16 April 1983; this song appears: David Bowie Story, 1993; My God it’s caught fire: as recalled by Freddie Mercury to Simon Bates, Radio One interview, June 1985; press on instinctively…why the words are so curious…template for the final vocals: May, Daily Mirror, 11 January 2016; what he felt they should say: to Alan di Perna, Guitar World, October 2002.

169  West Side Story meets Queen: David Bowie Story, 1993; bassline: The case for Deacon: various interviews with May and Taylor over the years, including May’s 2016 article for the Daily Mirror. The case for Bowie: “The song itself is mainly David’s and Freddie’s idea. But we were all included in the credits. It was an interesting experience, because David wrote the bass-line, he owes the responsibility for it,” Deacon to Mizuno Kumiko, Viva Rock (December 1982) and “The bass line came from David, it took me a certain time to learn it. But there was also a strong influence from Brian for the middle part. It was an interesting experience which we might do repeat if we have a chance with David and other people,” Deacon to Guido Harari, Petite Reine (1984); pedal point: Ethan Hein delves more into this on his site); mixing: producer and author Bobby Owsinski first noted some apparent minor “UP” performance flaws on his Big Picture Music Production blog, 27 April 2010.

170  quite simply about love: International Musician and Recording World, November 1982.

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171 Baal’s Hymn  a wild lack of clarity on the release date for this EP. We have Bowie’s website in 2013 claiming that the EP came out on 13 February 1982. As this was a Saturday and weeks before the broadcast, this is…not likely? The recent New Career in a New Town set instead has the date as being 13 March 1982. But the only contemporary source I found, the UK trade paper Record Business (22 February 1982 issue), lists the EP’s release date as being 2 March 1982, the same day of the broadcast. Out of exhaustion, I’ve chosen this date, but it was perhaps the 1st (a Monday) or 26 February (a Friday); UK #29: Baal’s amazing UK chart placing—#29 on the singles chart for an EP of obscure Brecht—is a testament to refined British taste and/or undiscerning Bowie fandom; broadcast: I’m deviating from my usual listing of the date of filming in favor here of listing the actual broadcast date. I did so for clarity, as Bowie’s Baal performances were shot over five days, 8-12 August 1981; Marks: was a BBC stalwart, even writing four Doctor Who scripts; alienation: Verfremdungseffekt (also translated as “estrangement affect”), in which audiences are prevented from emotionally identifying with actors on stage via actions like having actors break character and directly address the audience or, as in the Baal production, using split-screen intertitles as narrative commentary on actions taking place “on stage”; lead actor: Clarke originally wanted Steven Berkoff, whom he’d used in Scum; Marks favored Barry Humphries (aka Dame Edna Everage). Willett claimed he’d been the first to suggest Bowie; career of acting: Juby, 104.

172  quintessential amoral artist: Juby, 104-105; human race…wants that: Radio Times, 27 February 1982.

173  two stanzas: stanzas seven and nine, the most redundant, were cut. For the BBC production, stanza three (“so through hospital…”) appeared between stanzas six and eight, but was restored to its proper place in the EP recording. Like the BBC take, the EP version puts stanza 11 (“Baal can spot the vultures”) after stanza 12; Willett’s translation: Brecht’s first line, “Als im weißen Mutterschoße aufwuchs Baal,” is translated by Eric Bentley and Martin Esslin as “in the white womb of his mother Baal did lie.” Willett instead keeps the Germanic sentence structure: “whilst his mother’s womb contained the growing Baal.” It gives the line more of a punch and lets Bowie dig into the bleating vowel in “Baaal”; construction noise: Bowie allegedly tried to stop it by going out into the hallway and yelling “lunch!” while another story has Marks storming through the studios to find the worker, who was using a pneumatic drill; bandoneónist…four strings: Starman, 307.

175  Remembering Marie A.  Brecht, arr. trad.: the lyric is Willett’s 1970 translation. Odd that he’s not listed as a co-songwriter but perhaps this was a BBC work-for-hire standard; Amman: her name is sometimes spelled “Aman.” In 1978, around age 80, she was the subject of an East German short film; “Marie A.” in German, it sounds like “Maria,” the Virgin Mary. Brecht was fond of “Marie” (as the name “spanned the distance between housemaids and Saint Mary”), using it in several poems (via Hugo Schmidt’s notes on Brecht’s Manual of Piety); Zuckmayer: Willett, 166; 1926 Baal: recollection of Oskar Homolka (note in Brecht, Poems, 527).

176  The Drowned Girl  RCA requested a video for “Drowned Girl.” Shot by David Mallet, its supporting band (the same used for a “Wild Is the Wind” video to promote Changestwobowie) is all ringers: Tony Visconti, Simple Minds drummer Mel Gaynor, Andy Hamilton (a British saxophonist heard on Duran Duran’s “Rio”), and Coco Schwab; magic spell…his own will on anybody: Fuegi, Brecht & Co., 128-129; Rimbaud: “Ophélie” also begins with a dead “white” girl in the water (“Sur l’onde calme et noire où dorment les étoiles/ La blanche Ophélia flotte comme un grand lys”). Rainer Nägele’s “Phantom of a Corpse: Ophelia From Rimbaud to Brecht” (2002) notes what Brecht owed to Rimbaud as well as connections that “Drowned Girl” has with other Brecht poems of the period.

177  phenomenon of death: “A Note Concerning Das Berliner Requiem,” May 1929, quoted in Kowalke, Kurt Weill in Europe, 504; Lotte Lenya: Bowie knew her version from Lotte Lenya Sings Kurt Weill (1955). She sang “Drowned Girl” to Brecht shortly before the latter died. When she asked if her performance suited his idea of epic theater, Brecht replied: “Lenya, you are always epic enough for me”; absolute tutorial: Starman, 367.

178  Dirty Song: Brecht allegedly cut it for being too insubstantial; Lud Prestel: enjoyed the fate of many Brecht collaborators in that he wasn’t credited.

 


Lazarus

June 15, 2017

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Lazarus (Michael C. Hall, Lazarus stage performance, 2015).
Lazarus (Hall, The Late Show, 2015).
Lazarus (Bowie).
Lazarus (Bowie, video edit).
Lazarus (Hall, Lazarus soundtrack).
Lazarus (Hall, live, 2016).
Lazarus (Donny McCaslin Quartet, live, 2016).
Lazarus (Gail Ann Dorsey and McCaslin, live, 2017).

Stage

Walking into a performance of Lazarus at the New York Theater Workshop in December 2015, the first thing you noticed was a man lying on his back on stage. You might have recognized the play’s lead actor, Michael C. Hall; if not, you might have thought it was someone playing a corpse, one whose presence would spark the drama once other characters shuffled in.

It felt a bit like being at a wake, those fifteen minutes before the lights dimmed. Hall didn’t move, barely seemed to breathe; people taking their seats spoke in hushed tones. (At a post-Christmas performance that I attended, my friend Rahawa and I sat directly behind Duncan Jones. Something had come full circle: not sure what.)

Lights dim. The alien Thomas Jerome Newton grudgingly resurrects. He stretches, stands up, walks over to his bed. An old friend appears, asks him “don’t you remember the person you were? Your life outside?” “That was before,” Newton replies. “There’s nothing left of the past. It left. This is it now.”

Behind a glass wall upstage is a band, who have been onlookers: a smaller audience to mirror the larger in the seats. Now, a keyboard line, a call to attention on snare, guitar and saxophone riffs. Newton starts to sing:

Look up here, I’m in heaven…

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David Bowie had always wanted to write a musical.

When he was 21, he drafted Ernie Johnson, a rock opera about a man throwing a suicide party. In 1971, he envisioned Ziggy Stardust as a hipper Jesus Christ Superstar: he’d originate the role, other singers would take it over for road productions. He was “keen on writing in such a way that it would lead me into leading some kind of rock musical…I think I wanted to write a new kind of musical, and that’s how I saw my future at the time.” Soon enough, he wanted to make 1984 a musical. He’d play Winston Smith, Marianne Faithfull was considered for Julia, the project was scotched. On it went: countless rumors, nothing produced. Outside was once talked up as a Robert Wilson production in Vienna. Around 1998, Bowie considered reviving Ziggy Stardust in a multi-tiered offering: play, film, website, album.

His itch to move on, to play at something new, was at odds with the time and drudgery needed to write and stage a play. There was always another tour, another album to make. And then there wasn’t.

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Script (1)

Around 2007, Bowie was done with long-term touring, was ambivalent about making new albums. He’d acquired the rights to Walter Tevis’ The Man Who Fell to Earth and was looking for a collaborator to turn the novel into a musical play.

An article by the novelist Michael Cunningham, published in GQ this January, sheds some light on this dim period. Cunningham’s prose style, his caginess about certain details and odd specificity about others, makes the piece read like a man recounting a long, bizarre dream, which is perhaps what collaboration with Bowie was like. (And there’s always the chance Cunningham made up the whole thing.)

Bowie allegedly contacted Cunningham and the two met for lunch in New York, where Bowie “admitted that he was intrigued by the idea of an alien marooned on Earth,” Cunningham wrote. “He’d never been entirely satisfied with the alien he’d played [in the Nicolas Roeg film adaptation]. He acknowledged that he’d like at least one of the major characters to be an alien.”

What apparently caught Bowie’s eye was Cunningham’s Specimen Days (2005), a collection of three novellas set in the past, present, and future, with Walt Whitman as a through-line. The SF story, “Like Beauty,” begins in a New York City full of reptilian refugees from the first inhabited planet contacted by Earth. A female refugee and a male cyborg flee the city, heading west. They meet a group who are planning to leave Earth in a spaceship and take their chances on an unknown planet, but the alien is old and dying, and she can’t escape her exile.

He imagined the musical taking place in the future,” Cunningham wrote. “The plot would revolve around a stockpile of unknown, unrecorded Bob Dylan songs, which had been discovered after Dylan died. David himself would write the hitherto-unknown songs.” Also, there should be mariachi music. “He’d be pleased if [it] could be incorporated, mariachi music being under-appreciated outside Mexico.”

Sermon

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For his play, Bowie was toying with the idea of using “Lazarus” in some way. A name with many stories corked within it. Notably, Lazarus is a double in the New Testament. He’s two different men, with no specific relation to each other.

In the Gospel of Luke (16:19-31), Christ tells a parable. Lazarus is a beggar at a rich man’s gate. He desires “to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.” Lazarus dies, is carried up to heaven; the rich man dies, goes to hell. He cries out to “Father Abraham,” asking for Lazarus to dip his finger in water and cool the rich man’s burning tongue for a moment. Tough luck, Abraham says (imagine him in the voice of Dylan on “Highway 61 Revisited”). “Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime received thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.” The rich man lowers his hopes. He asks for the resurrected Lazarus to go to his home and convince his family to change their ways. They already have the words of Moses and the prophets, don’t they? Abraham says. If that’s not good enough, well, even a dead man at the door won’t make a difference.

You can see John Calvin nodding in his Geneva study while reading this, his thin lips pursed. The rich man isn’t shown to be particularly cruel, Lazarus doesn’t appear to have been particularly holy. But each holds his position: the rich man prospers on earth, burns in hell; the poor man suffers in this life, sits at the head of the table in the next. There are no crossings between heaven, earth, and hell; there are no last-minute favors to be called in. Lazarus has grace; the rich man does not.

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But in the Gospel of John (11), there’s another Lazarus: Lazarus of Bethany, a friend of Christ. Lazarus is expiring of an illness, and his sisters ask Christ to intervene. But Christ hangs back for two days; when he arrives, Lazarus is dead. Christ is mournful, even seemingly angry. ““Where have ye laid him?” They said unto Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.” He restores Lazarus to life, calls him forth from the tomb.

You can wonder why Lazarus, of all mortals, gets a second chance at life; two millennia of biblical scholars have. Was the resurrection done for political reasons, to shore up the Christians in Bethany? To show that death is not the end, but merely a sleep in which we wake to another life? Was Christ despairing about the cruelty of death and just said, no, not today?

Lazarus has no lines in the gospel. We don’t know how he felt, waking up in a tomb after four days of death, his body stinking, swathed in bandages. He briefly intersects with the divine and then he’s left behind in the story. An exile, a resurrected alien stranded among the living. The man fated to die twice.

Sermon (2)

Emma_Lazarus

There were plenty of Bowie’s usual themes here—exile, doubles, death, resurrection, fate. And legend: the Biblical story echoes in the African-American folk songPoor Lazarus,” an outlaw hunted by a high sheriff and his deputy (“they blowed him down with a great ol’ .44”), and who’s left to die on a commissary table after asking his mother for a glass of water (the Luke parable is overturned—now it’s Lazarus who asks for his thirst to be quenched). But Bowie had another Lazarus on his mind.

David hesitantly said he’d been thinking about popular artists who are not considered great artists, particularly the poet Emma Lazarus, who wrote “The New Colossus,” Cunningham wrote. “What, said David, are we to make of a poet taught in few universities, included in few anthologies, but whose work, nevertheless, is more familiar to more people than that of the most exalted and immortal writers?” (Again, even if the Cunningham story is BS, Emma Lazarus was part of the play’s conception early on—“The New Colossus” is quoted in the script book.)

Emma Lazarus was a lifelong New Yorker (she’s buried in Brooklyn—to my knowledge, she was not resurrected), one of the first major Jewish-American writers. She wrote poems, polemics, translations, novels; she knew Browning and William Morris. And today she’s remembered for a few lines from one sonnet that she wrote for the Statue of Liberty (to be fair, I doubt many today could recall as many lines from Browning or Morris), a poem that her New York Times obituary didn’t mention.

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Perhaps another New Yorker, after a health scare or two, was wondering how his work would last. Would he also be reduced to a handful of lines? “Ground control to Major Tom.” “Put on your red shoes and dance the blues.” “Ziggy played guitar.” And yet those lines would still be alive—kids would hum them, ad campaigns would keep churning them up. Fragments of Bowie would still be around in 2117, where the complete oeuvre of John Ashbery could be forgotten.

Emma Lazarus would be central to Bowie’s play—a character who falls in love with Thomas Newton, “this most travelled of immigrants” (Enda Walsh), believes that she’s Emma reincarnated. (This character eventually became Newton’s assistant Elly, played by Cristin Milioti in the original run of Lazarus, who sang “Changes” in the spirit of Dorothy Parker.)

Songs

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Cunningham allegedly would suggest plot points or characters and Bowie would respond with “brief passages of music on a piano or synthesizer.” These pieces “had what I can only call a dark buzz of underlayer. They had urgency.” At one point, Cunningham devised a big climactic moment: the alien reveals his true self to his human lover. “I read that passage to David over the phone. The next day he phoned me back and played me a few minutes of music he’d composed for the scene. It was, unmistakably, a fucked-up, slightly dissonant love ballad.” (Bowie also apparently didn’t remind Cunningham that such a scene was central to Roeg’s film; another possible sign this memoir isn’t what it seems.) Halfway through a first draft, Bowie’s heart trouble returned and he needed immediate surgery, Cunningham wrote. “Our musical was put on hold. We never revived it.”

Bowie’s attention was returning to music. By 2010, he’d written many of the songs that would appear on The Next Day. His usual move would’ve been to devote himself to the album and ditch any idea of doing a play: maybe he’d bring up his latest lost idea years later. But Bowie wouldn’t let it go this time—he pressed on with developing his play even as he labored to finish The Next Day.

Maybe one morning over coffee Bowie realized doing a musical about lost Bob Dylan songs, extraterrestrials, and mariachi music was ridiculous even by his own standards. (And of course maybe Cunningham made it all up.) Whatever it was, he grew a touch more realistic about his play. To get it staged in New York, he’d have to offer some type of “jukebox musical.” If people are going to see a David Bowie play, sure, let them hear “Changes” or “All the Young Dudes” along with getting a lot of weirdness thrown at them.

An established playwright collaborator seemed preferable: two absolute beginners at musicals was too many. In the summer of 2013, Bowie asked his producer Robert Fox for suggestions—who’s a great young playwright? Enda Walsh, Fox said.

Script (2)

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Enda Walsh was born in Kilbarrack, a suburb northeast of Dublin, in 1967. Before he turned 30, he’d written Disco Pigs, a play about two teenagers fatally obsessed with each other (the play and its movie version starred Bowie favorite Cillian Murphy).

Reading up on Walsh, Bowie found a voice seemingly born to write his alien-exile play. Describing his Misterman (2011; another Murphy performance), Walsh told the Guardian: “I wanted it to be about a man and a building and for the audience to be asking from the off: ‘How did he end up there? What’s he trying to tell us and why?’ He’s looking for some rest, but his guilt is overwhelming and, besides, he’s existing on Fanta and Jammie Dodgers and cheap cheesecake, so there is no rest.” This is Lazarus in a nutshell.

When Walsh first met Bowie in New York, in autumn 2014, he recalled entering “a secret lift [and] arriving in a completely grey corridor, with this huge ridiculous fucking door at the end of it.” The door (Walsh later told Bowie, “that’s a really stupid door”) led to a gallery, where he found Bowie. Embracing Walsh, Bowie said “you’ve been in my head for three weeks.” True to form, he’d read every Walsh play, and started the conversation by asking about Walsh’s work. “I was just thinking, ‘this is easy,’ because I was talking about myself,” Walsh recalled.

Then Bowie slid four pages’ worth of ideas across the table, and that was the start of it. The two would collaborate for over 18 months, often by Skype: Bowie in New York, Walsh in London.

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He had it mapped out for me,” Walsh recalled. There was Thomas Jerome Newton; his savior, a dead girl; a woman (“Ellie Lazarus”) “who over this short period has a mental breakdown;” and the psychotic murderer Valentine, “who just wants to kill fucking love!” There wouldn’t be a straight narrative as much as a series of events refracted through Newton’s distorted mind: the perspective of a man who can’t leave earth and who can’t die.

Walsh described their writing process as “like making a weather report…I said to him, “Jesus, all we’re doing is constructing weather—it’s all atmospheres and rhythms clashing together.” The bizarre grocery list of earlier versions was gone. Now the play was becoming an ominous mood-piece centered on Newton’s exile and madness. The aim was to create an hour-and-a-half play that felt like a song. “It’s this dream piece, connecting sort of but not fully,” Walsh said. “We talked a lot about a man who effectively wants to die…can we make a piece that feels like it’s been infused with morphine?”

When Walsh learned Bowie had cancer, he wondered how much Bowie was grappling with mortality during the writing. “What must it be like to be David Bowie? [When you die,] are you truly dead?” When they were writing Newton’s final speech, Walsh thought “can you imagine the last moments of your life…to have that grief and fight with yourself, wanting to live, wanting to continue, but wanting rest. That’s what we ended up making…having a silent conversation with each other without it being, ‘let’s go down and have a pint’…how do you deal with the fact you’re not going to be here in three months’ time?”

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I’m done with this life—so a new universe I’ll dream big up there.

Newton, Lazarus.

Caged in his apartment, Newton begins Lazarus in the same condition as at the end of Roeg’s film: drunk, isolated, bereft, numb, missing his home planet. He’s the hollowed-out center of the play, around whom brighter, livelier personalities circle: the grinning murderer Valentine (Michael Esper), the angelic lost girl (Sophia Anne Caruso), and Newton’s assistant, Elly, who’s a set of walking nerves, scrabbling in and out of her clothes.

It was, among many things, a look into how Bowie’s mind worked: an early scene where Newton is thrown around the stage by a female Japanese samurai while they duet on “It’s No Game” could well be how Bowie envisioned the song in his head in 1980. An opportunity to have new songs performed on stage that Bowie never would play live (“Where Are We Now?” is essentially Hall covering Bowie). After January 2016, another layer of the play was revealed: a dying man saying goodbye to his teenage daughter.

“Visionary crap,” pronounced a man sitting behind me at the end of a preview performance.

Studio

lazbass1At first Bowie considered only using his catalog songs for the revised play, but his producer Fox suggested that he write a few new ones.

It’s unclear when Bowie started what became the play’s title and opening song. By 2014, he had a sketch known as “Bluebird,” which he proposed developing with Maria Schneider after “Sue.” That same summer, he demoed the song (now called “The Hunger”) in the studio with Tony Visconti, Zachary Alford, and the pianist Jack Spann. Renamed “Lazarus,” it would be one of the first tracks recorded in the first Blackstar session in January 2015.

“Lazarus” moves at morphine-drip tempo (it takes a minute to get through 16 bars—there are reservoirs of space between each hit of Mark Guiliana’s snare drum), and it’s harmonically bare—the verse dazedly moves from the home chord of A minor (“look up here, I’m in”) out to the VI chord, F major (“heaven”) and slowly back home again. There’s more turbulence in the bridge, which jolts from C major (“I was”) through E-flat major (“looking for your”) to land on D major (“ass”). A possible inspiration, at least for mood and tone, was the Cure’s “The Big Hand” (“it traces back to the Cure and New Order,” bassist Tim Lefebvre said of his opening bassline).

In the verse, the vocal line is confined to a five-note range, mostly keeping to the root notes of chords, with closing phrases dragged across bars (“see-een,” “loo-oose,” “be-low”). Bowie (and Hall) change their phrasing in the bridge: more declamatory phrases that sink a third to expire (“then I used up all-my-money“). They stick with this phrasing when the chords resume the verse’s Am/F pairing, which conveys Newton’s growing frustration at being stuck in limbo, and creates a structural tension—is this still a bridge? is it a new verse? an outro? The song winds down, unresolved; it feels like it’s been expiring for a long time.

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The Lazarus performance, on stage and in its cast recording, is meant for Newton to bring the audience into his state of mind, so Michael Hall quickly gets into the song. The intro is shorter, the bridge is the dramatic peak (complete with backing singers), and the song soon packs off so as to cut to a scene with Elly and her husband.

In the studio, the Donny McCaslin group began by replicating lines from Bowie’s studio demo, with McCaslin playing what were originally Bowie saxophone parts in the verse. But Bowie wanted the song to linger more, to open up, build. “I remember that we played a really nice first take—everyone played very musically, but politely,” Mark Guiliana said. “David said something like, ‘Great, but now let’s really do it.’ He was always pushing us. The version on the record is the next take, where we are all taking a few more chances.”

Compare the Lazarus version’s quick-sweep keyboard intro to the long, brooding opening of the Blackstar take: a chordal bass run by Lefebvre, improvised early in the “Lazarus” session. “The intro didn’t exist on his demo, but after the first take we kept playing, and Tim started playing this beautiful line with the pick, which David liked and thought it would make for a nice intro,” Guiliana said. “He was very much in the moment crafting the music.

For the opening Lefebvre plays a run of eighth notes on his E string, moving up the neck, playing such high notes at first (at the 19th fret) that many have thought it’s a guitar line. It began as an embellishment during the first take’s outro. “I’m a big fan of this band Fink, and their guitar parts are like that, where they move roots around,” he said. “So I did it at the beginning, too, and it became the thing. Anybody that’s heard my playing had heard me do that five billion times…I just improvised the high stuff.”

There was a raw element needed—a clanging, distorted guitar to abrade the verses and outro. Though Ben Monder was on hand for guitar overdubs later in the Blackstar sessions, Bowie played these lines. As Nicholas Pegg discovered, Bowie used the Fender Stratocaster that Marc Bolan had given him in 1977, weeks before Bolan’s death. The power chords—three sliding stops down the neck—at first stand alone, tearing through the opening verse; the scars that can’t be seen but heard well enough. Later they close ranks with McCaslin’s saxophone.

Stage (2)

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Bowie’s “Lazarus” builds as it closes, with McCaslin’s roaring saxophone (at times colored with overdubs McCaslin recorded months later) urged on by Guiliana’s drums and Lefebvre’s rolling bassline. But compared to some of his wilder moments on Blackstar, McCaslin seems controlled, precise, slightly held in check.

Then a show in London, in November 2016. McCaslin starts by announcing “Lazarus” with its three-chord banner, plays the verse melody somberly, then in a higher register. By the bridge, he slowly lifts into the song, begins boring and twisting through it while Guiliana detonates around him. Five minutes in, he’s pushing out, whirling in the air, with higher and higher phrases, holding and choking off notes: the song offers endless territories for him to move into.

In February 2017, in New York, he played with Gail Ann Dorsey. She captures the song with her first line—it’s as if Bowie had turned out to have written it for her: the way she sings “I was living like a king” with cold dignity. McCaslin follows, counter-weaves. She finishes singing and sits down on the stage, letting McCaslin take her place in the relay. There’s no warmup—he tears into his solo, running up and down scales, boiling and rolling while Dorsey nods along in time, her eyes closed. It’s a seance where the spirit doesn’t need to talk, where the living happily do the work.

Screen

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I just thought of it as the Biblical tale of Lazarus rising from the bed. In hindsight, he obviously saw it as the tale of a person in his last nights,” said Johan Renck, who directed the “Lazarus” video.

Shot in November 2015, it’s Bowie’s last public image, and it’s easy to view the video as Lefebvre once described it: “the references to his own mortality, the symbolism in the ‘Lazarus’ video, it’s all spelled out. And he went out in a ball of flames.”

“Lazarus” was meant to be distributed—it was as if Bowie was selecting heirs, passing on estates, shifting properties around. So it was Michael C. Hall’s song, too—the song through which Hall introduced Newton on stage. Hall was the one who first played “Lazarus” to an audience beyond the confines of the NY Theater Workshop, singing it on the Late Show in December 2015. It was McCaslin’s song, though it took him time to fully find his way in. It was Dorsey’s song—when she sang it that night at the Cutting Room, it was as if it had been waiting for her all along, and now she’d finally gotten there. There will be more inheritors to come.

But the video is Bowie’s copyright tag—he makes “Lazarus” impossible for the song ever to fully escape his orbit. A jovial not so fast, loves. He plays two roles (beggarman and resurrectee), both seen in Renck’s earlier “Blackstar” video, and the symbolism is clear, isn’t it? “Jones”: the dying mortal, reaching out to heaven, his wasted body being tugged away from his hospital bed. “Bowie”: the impish trickster daemon, still at work, still plotting, wearing his Station to Station jumpsuit, scoffing at how dully serious death is. Jones sings the mournful verses, while Bowie gets the bridge lines, which derails the song’s doom-and-gloom sensibility with some score settling:

Then I used up all my money!
I was looking for your ass!

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So British, the wit, like a guilt thing, making sure it’s not coming across as too serious or pretentious—and yet that enhances the humanity of it,” Renck said. The video even ends with “Bowie” going back into the closet.

But “Button Eyes,” as Bowie and Renck called the terminal character, was as much of a viciously ironic performance. This is “Dying Bowie” for the tabloids to use, with his Late David Lynch hair and wild gesticulations; a man seemingly older than the planet. It’s how a young person may regard someone old—how do they keep at it, the olds, with so much weight and tear on them? It’s his burlesque of Jacques Brel’s “Old Folks,” a song he’d raided as a young man, for “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” (“you live so far away, when you’ve lived too long”) and “Sons of the Silent Age” (“the old don’t die, they just put down their heads and go to sleep one day”).

It’s a mockery of death, a pantomime, a refusal to take it seriously, for why should we? “Old age, calm, expanded, broad with the haughty breath of the universe,” as Walt Whitman wrote (did he ever meet Emma Lazarus? did they pass on the street?) “Old age, flowing free with the delicious near-by freedom of death.”

And meantime the grinning trickster Bowie is a slave to work: frantically writing, settling the accounts, trying to keep the balls in the air. New titles, names, chord changes. Another play—maybe 1984 at last! 2. Outside: Infection! Should write Brian. More albums. A small residency with McCaslin somewhere in New York—it’ll start at a comfortable hour, we’ll be in bed by 11. More, always more.

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When he was 26, Bowie had sung a curse on time. Time as an addled bureaucrat, pacing in the wings like a stage manager. A bad playwright. A wanker, a puppet dancer. Time took the insults in stride. He was back now, watching Bowie work at the candle’s end with the rest of us. Time’s sympathetic but really, we should be on by now.

Stage (3)

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At first, the cast and crew of Lazarus didn’t know whether Bowie would make the opening night, on 7 December 2015. His health was still a secret kept among Walsh, director Ivo van Hove, and a few others. But he was there. At the end of the performance, Bowie “went around to everyone in the the theater…he wanted to celebrate the stage managers and the doormen—he thanked everyone,” Walsh said. When Bowie left through the front door, out onto East 4th St., Walsh “knew that was going to be the last time I would see him.”

Michael Cunningham said he was there as well. He’d spied a notice at the NY Theater Workshop for Lazarus. “Realizing that David had gone ahead with another writer was a little like running into a lover from the deep past, on the arm of his new lover, and finding that you ceased to miss him so long ago that you felt nothing but happiness for him,” Cunningham wrote.

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A month or two earlier, Bowie’s at an early run-through performance of Lazarus. The bandleader Henry Hey asks for his thoughts. “Is everything OK? Would you like anything else?”

“Yes,” Bowie says. “I think I’d like a sing.”

A keyboard intro, a call to attention on the snare. David Bowie sings before an audience for the last time in his life. The performance is the memory of a dozen or so actors, a dozen or so musicians; some lighting techs, a stage manager or two.

He closes his accounts with “Lazarus.” A New Yorker at death. Pop poet of the downtrodden. Beggar in heaven, twice-dead man, outlaw. Exiled alien, living on Twinkies and gin. Old Button Eyes.

Look up here, Bowie begins, finding his foothold in the song, the musicians there to back him up. I’m in heaven…

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The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.

Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road.”

Recorded: 3 January 2015 (backing tracks), Magic Shop, NYC; 23-24 April, 7 May 2015 (vocals, overdubs), Human Worldwide, NYC. First release: 18 December 2015, digital single (UK #45, US #40). Lazarus version: first performed 18 November 2015; cast recording made on 11 January 2016. First release: 21 October 2016, Lazarus.

Photos/illus: Gustav Dore, Resurrection of Lazarus; MC Hall on stage at the New York Theater Workshop, 2015 (Sara Krulwich, NYT); Tevis, first edition of Man Who Fell to Earth; Woodcut illustration of Luke 16:19-31 by Jacob Locher, used by Silvan Otmar of Augsburg (d. 1540); Resurrection of Lazarus, unknown painter, Athens, 12th-13th C; portrait of Emma Lazarus, unknown painter; Cillian Murphy and Eileen Walsh, 1996 (Corcadorca Theatre Company); transcription of Tim Lefebvre’s bassline during the saxophone solo on “Lazarus” by Brian Woten; stills and GIFs from the “Lazarus” video (Renck); Bowie at rehearsals (Jan Versweyveld); the cast & creators take a bow, 7 December 2015.

Sources: Cunningham, GQ, January 2017; Walsh, quotes primarily from a conversation filmed at the Dublin Bowie Festival, 10 January 2017, and an interview with the Daily Telegraph (24 October 2016); McCaslin, New Yorker Radio Hour; Guiliana, Modern Drummer; Lefebvre: No Treble, Pedals and Effects; Renck: The Guardian. Also essential resources: Paul Trynka’s piece in Mojo (“Final Curtain,” December 2016) and the latest edition of Nicholas Pegg’s Complete David Bowie.

Some lines of this piece originally appeared in a review that I wrote for Slate on 8 December 2015. Thanks to Alex Reed for the Cure suggestion and to Rahawa Haile and Nikola Tamindzic, Lazarus companions.


Poll, Day 4: Readers’ Favorite Bowiesongs, 25-1

December 18, 2015

First, an announcement.

I’m happy to say that I’ve signed with Repeater Books for Ashes to Ashes, the sequel to Rebel Rebel. Repeater was co-founded by Tariq Goddard, who signed me at Zero for the first book, and I’m very happy to be working with him and the Repeater team. (You can follow Repeater on FB or Twitter.)

The new book will be larger than Rebel Rebel, which is quite a large book. It will start with “Sister Midnight” and will end with whatever songs Bowie’s put out by summer 2017. I hope you enjoy it. And thanks so much to everyone who bought the first book, or is considering buying it.

OK, the last bunch of songs. The big megillahs. The top of the heap. Here goes, with the first book’s namesake, as it turns out:

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25. Rebel Rebel (105 points, 93 votes, 3 #1 votes, 3 specified the U.S. single because they have good taste).

It’s a fabulous riff. Just fabulous. When I stumbled onto it, it was ‘Oh, thank you!’

Bowie.

David Bowie hopped onto the stage…Right in front of my face, this beautiful, hypnotic, strange man was singing to me…I instinctively knew that what I was experiencing was something religious.

Cherie Currie.

Heaven loves ya, no. 24!

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24. Boys Keep Swinging (108 points, 104 votes, 1 #1 vote).

I played an over-the-top bass part, in the spirit of The Man Who Sold the World.

Tony Visconti.

Bowie played it for me, and said, ‘This is written for you, in the spirit of you.’ I think he saw me as a naive person who just enjoyed life.

Adrian Belew.

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23. Drive-In Saturday (109 points, 101 votes, 2 #1 votes, 1 vote specified the 1999 VH1 Storytellers performance).

This takes place probably in the year 2033.

Bowie, debuting “Drive-In Saturday” on stage, 1972.

…the creaking Palais saxophones combining with post-Eno electronic whooshes, the references to Jung, Jagger and (yet to be realised!) Sylvian, Bowie’s sometimes reflective, other times barking vocals – the song is a warning about allowing the past to dominate our future so heavily if we cannot actively use it to get ourselves forward, or indeed back.

Marcello Carlin.

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22. Starman (113 points, 101 votes, 3 #1 votes).

After ‘Starman,’ everything changed.

Woody Woodmansey.

In 1972 I’d get girls on the bus saying to me, ‘Eh la, you got a lippy on?’ or ‘Are you a boy or a girl?’ Until [Bowie] turned up, it was a nightmare. All my mates at school would say, ‘Did you see that bloke on Top of the Pops? He’s a right faggot, him!’ And I remember thinking ‘you pillocks.’…With people like me, it helped forge an identity and a perspective on things, helped us to walk in a different way, metaphorically…

Ian McCulloch, in David Buckley’s Strange Fascination.

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21. Lady Grinning Soul (115 points, 111 votes, 1 #1 vote.)

How can life become her point of view?

We reach the heights of the top 20, starting with an encounter on the stair:

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20. The Man Who Sold the World (120 points, 116 votes, 1 #1 vote, 1 vote specifying the 1990s remake).

This is a David Boowie song.

Kurt Cobain.

I guess I wrote it because there was a part of myself that I was looking for.

Bowie, 1997.

Top of the pops TIE for 19-18, though if “Shane75″‘s ballot had come through (see comments yesterday), he’d have given the vote to push “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” one step ahead of..

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Stay (123 points, 111 votes, 3 #1 votes).

It started with a groove, and when I came up with the guitar bit at the front I could tell it would be a monster song. The funny thing about it is, I came up with that lick because we were messing around with an older song called ‘John, I’m Only Dancing.’

Earl Slick.

hold on a sec, while time takes a cigarette:

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Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide (123 points, 107 votes, 4 #1 votes, 1 specifying live 1973 versions)

It looked good when he did that whole sort of Messiah thing.

Angela Bowie.

A declaration of the end of the effect of being young.

Bowie.

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17. It’s No Game (Pts. 1 and/or 2) (127 points, 119 votes, 2 #1 votes, 9 specified “Pt. 2,” 20 specified “Pt. 1”)

I wanted to break down a particular type of sexist attitude about women. I thought the [idea of] the “Japanese girl” typifies it, where everyone pictures them as a geisha girl, very sweet, demure and non-thinking, when in fact that’s the absolute opposite of what women are like. They think an awful lot!, with quite as much strength as any man. I wanted to caricature that attitude by having a very forceful Japanese voice on it. So I had [Hirota] come out with a very samurai kind of thing.

Bowie, 1980.

Well, this one had better have been on the list, seeing as how it named the blog. If I’d voted, this would’ve been my #1.

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16. Queen Bitch (130 points, 122 votes, 2 #1 votes, 1 specifying the “Bowie at the Beeb” performance).

There’s blood and glitter in this song: it’s as good as anything Bowie ever made.

Rebel Rebel.

and to start the top 15, a leap from the 11th floor of some cheap NYC hotel up to the exosphere:

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15. Aladdin Sane ( 138 points, 122 votes, 4 #1 votes).

The ‘Aladdin Sane’ solo actually shocked me when I heard it again and I realized… that it was pretty good.

Mike Garson, ca. 2005. (above: transcription of 2:20-2:29 of “Aladdin Sane”).

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!

“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.

Momus.

THE LAST TIE: 14-13, TWO TALES OF ISOLATION

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Space Oddity (140 points, 136 votes, 1 #1 vote, 2 votes specified the 1979 remake, 2 the Italian version)

It’s not a David Bowie song, it’s “Ernie the Milkman.”

Tony Visconti, recalling his reaction to it in 1969.

This is the great control of Major Tom, so great, that in fact, I don’t know anything.

rough translation of Seu Jorge’s Portuguese lyric in The Life Aquatic.

“And there’s nothing I can do”—this is repeated. Initially, this is just an observation and Ground Control, at this point, is still in control. The repetition comes at a stage when Ground Control is just as helpless as Major Tom.

Nelson Thornes Framework English 2 textbook.

and buckle up, because he’s:

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Always Crashing In the Same Car (140 points, 128 votes, 3 #1 votes).

So that initial period in Berlin produced Low, which is ‘isn’t it great to be on your own, let’s just pull down the blinds and fuck ’em all.’ The first side of Low was all about me: “Always Crashing In The Same Car” and all that self-pitying crap,

Bowie, 1977.

Roaring out of Berlin and into Philly…

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12. Young Americans (141 points, 133 votes, 2 #1 votes).

I peered and peered, trying to catch the ultimate vibe…Johnny Ray. Johnny Ray on cocaine singing about 1984… Don’t be fooled: Bowie is as cold as ever, and if you get off on his particular brand of lunar antibody you may well be disappointed in his latest incarnation, because he’s doubling back on himself.

Lester Bangs, 1974.

We come now to a fine example of how the “#1 vote bonus” worked out. The following song would’ve been nowhere near the Top 10 but for the fact that 12 people chose it as their number one. Borne aloft on pure love, this was.

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11. Teenage Wildlife (149 points, 101 votes, 12 #1 votes).

The lead singer, banging around in a lurex mini-dress, was drawing entirely from a vocabulary invented by Bowie. And people stood and took it.

Jon Savage, 1980.

Ironically, the lyric is something about taking a short view of life, not looking too far ahead and not predicting the oncoming hard knocks. The lyric might have been a note to a younger brother or my own adolescent self.

Bowie, 2008.

and here we go, at the height of heights. Your Top 10 (don’t blame me!)

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10. Bewlay Brothers (150 points, 118 votes, 8 #1 votes, 1 specified the alternate mix).

I was never quite sure what real position Terry [Burns] had in my life, whether Terry was a real person or whether I was actually referring to another part of me.

Bowie, 2000.

This wasn’t just a song about brotherhood so I didn’t want to misrepresent it by using my true name. Having said that, I wouldn’t know how to interpret the lyric of this song other than suggesting that there are layers of ghosts within it. It’s a palimpsest, then.

Bowie, 2008.

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9. Five Years (155 points, 147 votes, 2 #1 votes).

The cycle of the Earth (indeed, of the universe, if the truth had been known) was nearing its end and the human race had at last ceased to take itself seriously.

Michael Moorcock, 1972.

Maybe the bleak future Bowie likes to scare his fans with is a metaphor for his own present.

Robert Christgau.

but cheer up! if we’ve only got five years left, at least they’ll be:

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8. Golden Years (169 points, 149 votes, 5 #1 votes).

David goes to the piano and plays, ‘they say the neon lights are bright, on Broadway…come de dum ma baby.’ That’s the kind of vibe he wanted…I play the opening guitar riff and he says, ‘Yeah yeah yeah, like that, do that, do that.'”

Carlos Alomar.

When we came to recording the backing vocals [for “Golden Years”], David lost his voice halfway through. That meant I had to sing the series of impossibly high notes before the chorus, which were difficult enough for David but were absolute murder for me.

Geoff MacCormack.

One last burst of glam majesty:

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7. Moonage Daydream (173 points, 153 votes, 5 #1 votes, 1 specified the 1973 concert film version).

BAMMMMM-BLAMMMMMMMMM!!!
I’m an ALLIGATOR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
BAMMMMMMMMMM-BLAMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!
I’m a MAMMAPAPA coming FOR YOU!!!

Every night you knew that “Moonage Daydream” was going to be the one that really lifted them. Then we’d go and follow on from there to the end.

Trevor Bolder.

Now, the big gap. During the vote tabulation, the remaining songs quickly segregated themselves from the rest of the rabble. But the next song always kept to itself, never threatening the top 5, yet never in danger of being overtaken by any other song. A perfectly isolated entity, and so fitting for the song…

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6. Sound and Vision (244 points, 184 votes, 15 #1 votes).

“Low” was a reaction to having gone through that peculiar… that dull greenie-grey limelight of America and its repercussions; pulling myself out of it and getting to Europe and saying, For God’s sake re-evaluate why you wanted to get into this in the first place? Did you really do it just to clown around in LA? Retire. What you need is to look at yourself a bit more accurately.

Bowie, 1977.

Bowie adopts a distanced, contemplative attitude. He studies his own depression. Typically, rock music is presented by the frontman — virile, confident, strident, desirable — as Bowie himself was in 1973. In 1977, we find him frail, reticent and seemingly doubting his very self. Not nightclubbing. He is the anti-rockstar, alone in his room, thinking:

Blue, blue, electric blue.
That’s the color of my room, where I will live.

Lloyd Cole.

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5. Life on Mars? (312 points, 228 votes, 21 #1 votes, 2 specifying 2000s-era live versions).

“Life on Mars?” remains the decadent aesthete’s first and last question—his whole world’s proof there’s none here.

Greil Marcus.

This song was so easy. Being young was easy. A really beautiful day in the park, sitting on the steps of the bandstand. ‘Sailors bap-bap-bap-bap-baaa-bap.’ An anomic (not a ‘gnomic’) heroine. Middle-class ecstasy. I took a walk to Beckenham High Street to catch a bus to Lewisham to buy shoes and shirts but couldn’t get the riff out of my head. Jumped off two stops into the ride and more or less loped back to the house up on Southend Road.

Workspace was a big empty room with a chaise lounge; a bargain-price art nouveau screen (‘William Morris,’ so I told anyone who asked); a huge overflowing freestanding ashtray and a grand piano. Little else. I started working it out on the piano and had the whole lyric and melody finished by late afternoon. Nice.

Bowie, 2008.

Next, did being a suite help inflate its vote total? Probably, but one can’t imagine it without all of its constituent parts..

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4. Sweet Thing-Candidate-Sweet Thing (Reprise) (323 points, 215 votes, 27 #1 votes, 1 specifying the live 1974 version).

Sounding like a B-movie Scott Walker, Anthony Newley and Mae West, Bowie tour-guides the brothel district of his Armageddon city…Mike Garson’s florid piano qualifies it as one of the few legitimate successors to Charles Mingus’ The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady.

Scott Miller.

Pass by in the night, and strain imagination to picture the weltering mass of human weariness, of bestiality, of unmerited dolour, of hopeless hope, of crushed surrender, tumbled together within those forbidding walls.

George Gissing, The Nether World.

and now….Each of these final songs at some point in the tabulations were leading the pack. Only in the last 50 to 75 votes did a winner clearly emerge. But it was a long, hard battle.

Presenting, your bronze medalist:

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3. Ashes to Ashes (358 points, 238 votes, 30 #1 votes).

It was me eradicating the feelings within myself that I was uncomfortable with…You have to accommodate your pasts within your persona. You have to understand why you went through them. That’s the major thing. You cannot just ignore them or put them out of your mind or pretend they didn’t happen or just say “Oh I was different then.”

Bowie, 1990.

So Major Tom thought he was starring in an Arthur C. Clarke story and found himself in a Philip K. Dick one by mistake, and the result is oddly magnificent.

Tom Ewing.

Bowie may still release more songs. But “Ashes to Ashes” is his last song. It’s the final chapter that came midway through the book. Bowie sings himself offstage with a children’s rhyme; eternally falling, eternally young.

and your runner up…

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2. Station to Station (364 points, 236 votes, 32 #1 votes, 1 for the Stage version).

Uprooted from his native context in the cultural artifice of Europe, isolated in a largely unironic and cultureless alien land, Bowie was forced back on himself, a self he didn’t much like.

Ian MacDonald.

Hermes teaches that the seven spheres of the stars enclose the soul of man like a prison…But man is a brother to those strong daemons who rule the spheres; he is a power like them, though he has forgotten this…For if the sun is at the center and not the earth, then there are no crystal spheres to hold us in; we have only and always fooled ourselves, we men, kept ourselves within the spheres which our own flawed and insufficient senses perceived, but which were never there at all.

John Crowley, The Solitudes.

This is from back in the Seventies. Well, my Seventies, they weren’t necessarily your Seventies.

David Bowie, introducing “Station to Station,” Atlantic City, 2004.

So you know what’s left. Too obvious? Too popular? Too epic to be denied? Well this is David Bowie’s finest song, if just for one day…

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1.“Heroes” (385 points, 237 votes, 37 #1 votes (the most in the poll), 5 specifying “Helden,” one noting it was for the LP cut, not the single)

For whatever reason, for whatever confluence of circumstances, Tony, Brian and I created a powerful, anguished, sometimes euphoric language of sounds. In some ways, sadly, they really captured, unlike anything else in that time, a sense of yearning for a future that we all knew would never come to pass.

Bowie, 1999.

And that’s it.

Honor roll: Songs that got #1 votes but not enough points to make the Top 100.

Right (29 points); Letter to Hermione (28 points); Untitled No. 1 (28 points); What In the World (24 points); 5:15 The Angels Have Gone (22 points); Time Will Crawl (22 points); Memory of a Free Festival (21 points); Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (20 points); Art Decade (18 points); A Small Plot of Land (18 points); We Prick You (17 points); It’s Gonna Be Me (15 points); Repetition (14 points); See Emily Play (11 points); Glass Spider (8 points); Ian Fish, U.K. Heir (8 points); Tonight (7 points). And When the Boys Come Marching Home, which got only 2 votes, but one was a #1 (6 points).

Thanks to everyone for participating. Album poll results at some point before Xmas.

Top 100 Songs Spotify link.

Complete list of votes.


The Next Day

August 10, 2015

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The Next Day.
The Next Day (video).

Object one: Album cover art (CD: 5″ x 5.5″; LP: 12.5″ x 12.4″). Designer: Jonathan Barnbrook (photo: Masayoshi Sukita). Designed September-December 2012; issued 8 March 2013.

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I thought that some fan made a joke cover,” Tony Visconti recalled his reaction upon first seeing Jonathan Barnbrook’s The Next Day image. He wasn’t alone.

Commissioned by Bowie in September 2012, Barnbrook proposed that the Next Day cover image should be the defaced cover of an earlier Bowie album. “I thought it would be quite a shocking thing to do and also play with this idea of image,” he told the journalist Rob Meyers. He experimented on nearly every Bowie LP cover, with Aladdin Sane a promising candidate. But “subverting [Aladdin] didn’t work because it’s subversive already…if you subvert Aladdin Sane, you’re adding to it, not destroying it.”

In Sukita’s “Heroes” cover photograph, by contrast, “there’s a distance.” The photo is highly stylized (Bowie replicating a hand gesture from a favorite Egon Schiele painting) and completely contained: it’s Bowie as a god in a universe of one.

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Barnbrook first scrawled over the “Heroes” photograph and titles: it looked like a bitter ex-fan had wielded a magic marker (it was the scabrous recycled look of some Fall and Pavement album covers). It didn’t quite work. Then he struck upon having a white square obscure much of the photo. “It had to be something that was in direct contrast to the image underneath but that wasn’t too contrived (we know all design is contrived, that is the essence of the word ‘design’),” Barnbrook wrote in a blog entry in January 2013. “It would have been clearer to many people if we had scribbled all over the cover but that didn’t have the detachment of intent necessary to express the melancholy of the songs on the album.”

Although the album hadn’t been titled when Barnbrook started his work (the code name for the design project was “Table”), The Next Day and the defaced “Heroes” image worked in tandem. “We can be heroes—just for one day,” Bowie had sung. Now his beautiful alien 1977 visage is covered by what looks like a Post-it note. Because it’s the next day, the day after being heroes, back to her being mean and him drinking all the time.

It’s also Bowie’s first album cover not to show his “current” image.* At some point, out of boredom or necessity, the likes of Dylan and Paul McCartney and Neil Young have issued albums whose covers were a painting or a photograph of something other than the aging artist. Not Bowie: his albums are a sequence of magazine covers, his “current” look as important as his current sound. (And recall that “Heroes” had extra impact because it was the first commissioned Bowie cover photo since Young Americans.) The Next Day offers messy shorthand. Bowie isn’t quite “back”: no interviews, no tours, no new cover picture. And rather than claiming he’s offering any new sound, he’s openly scribbling and pasting over his old work.

* Exceptions include Tin Machine II and the original Buddha of Suburbia.

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Object two: Music video (2:58). Dir: Floria Sigismondi. Starring: David Bowie, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard, Megan Neal Bodul, Catherine Jolleys, Brigitte Hagerman, Folake Olowofoyeku, Joshua Blake Shiver. Cinematography: Jeff Cronenweth. Executive producer: Colleen Haynes (Black Dog Films.) Producers: Jennifer Chavaria, Oualid Mouaness. Released 8 May 2013.

A corrupt priest goes to his favorite bar, populated some possibly depraved Catholic icons, and dances with a woman working there. The music is courtesy of a prophet who’s apparently been out in the desert for a while. The woman develops stigmata, blood sprays everywhere, the prophet’s attacked by false priests and harlots until the deus ex machina ending, complete with heaven-sent white light and the prophet being raptured away.

The reaction was to be expected. The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue attacked Bowie, though more for aesthetic incoherence than blasphemy (“it’s a sure bet [Bowie] can’t stop thinking about the Cadillac of all religions, namely Roman Catholicism. There is hope for him yet,” he concluded). A former Archbishop of Canterbury said Bowie didn’t have the guts to make a video that played with Islamic imagery. YouTube briefly deleted the video (though apparently in error, not in response to complaints), which made fans excited for a moment that Bowie was “dangerous” again. A few tabloids got to run some two-page spreads with blood and half-dressed women, which they always like doing.

It does all seem a bit tired: épater le bourgeois catholique is a very Eighties thing, and Madonna had gotten there first. What saves Floria Sigismondi’s video is its cracked sense of humor, its taste for the grotesque and Sigismondi’s eye for a shot: the way Gary Oldman’s priest, with his ducktail haircut, looks like an aged greaser; the way Marion Cotillard seems to be willing herself out of the frame though abstracted bliss.

“‘The Next Day’ is a song about a tyrant, let me leave it at that,” Visconti said in an interview, while in another he described the tyrant as a medieval Englishman [or “Catholic cardinal”] who “was very insignificant. I didn’t even know who Bowie was talking about. But if you read the lyrics, it’s quite a horrific story.”

A weary sense of obligation led me to spend a couple days trying to track down which “English tyrant” Bowie had read about, but searches for tyrants who were stuffed in hollow trees, or who cavorted with whores, or who were chased through alleys, turned up nothing in particular. Anyway Bowie’s character is far more a general idea of some grasping second-tier Shakespearean villain, a rabble-rousing priest who winds up being killed by his rabble. The video plays with this: all of its medieval Catholic imagery (Joan of Arc is at the bar, as is the eyeless St. Lucy, though the flagellant barback is more a Dan Brown nod than anything else).

It’s all a bit of theater, but the main joke is about Bowie. The sequence of Next Day videos is a storyline. “Where Are We Now” is the returned ‘Bowie’ as a mummified museum exhibit, supervised by the “real” Bowie who keeps off stage. “The Stars Are Out Tonight” is Bowie playing himself as a senior citizen. And “The Next Day” is his big, vulgar Cinescope resurrection, with Bowie howling, jumping around, cursing, performing ‘live’ again. “The normalisation,” as the blogger How Upsetting described it. “Bowie performs. He hams it up. The curtain is pulled back. The deity figure is snuffed out at the end.”

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Object three: Musical composition/recording (3:27). Composer: D. Bowie. Performers: D. Bowie, vocals, guitar; David Torn: guitar; Gerry Leonard: guitar; Gail Ann Dorsey: bass; Zachary Alford: drums; Antoine Silverman, Maxim Moston, Hiroko Taguchi, Anja Wood: violins, viola, cello (string arrangement: Bowie, Tony Visconti). Producers: D. Bowie, T. Visconti. Spiritual influences: Mick Ronson, Macbeth. Recorded: (backing tracks) 3 May-ca. 15 May 2011, The Magic Shop, NYC; (overdubs) spring-fall 2012, Magic Shop; Human Worldwide, NYC. Released 8 March 2013.

The doctors tell me I shouldn’t be here now. But I don’t go to the doctors for chemotherapy or anything anymore. I just put one foot in front of the other, and the next day is the next day, and you do your best. I’ve still got so much to do.

Mick Ronson, 1993.

You can talk about the drums: Zachary Alford harping on the beat, brooking no distractions, sparing little time for fills, pacing everyone with his hi-hat. Or the guitars: the crunchy off-beat figure that comments throughout the track, and the trebly guitar that comments on its comments, and the spectral guitar that plays a rising E Dorian line to ladder up to the refrains, or all the other dubs happy to make the occasional clatter. Or the other touches, like the barely-audible rising string lines in the refrains.

You can talk about the song, happy to stay in its bright E major (some verses seem to pull off into G major, only to be dragged up or down, depending where they are, back to E), with its chassis a set of fat seventh chords (G7-C7-E7, and so on).

All well and good. But “The Next Day” is Bowie’s vocal and little else. Sequenced as the opening track, it’s Bowie offering a demonstration, in a few minutes, that he’s alive and unwell and full of piss and vinegar. His phrasings are delicious consonant runs (“ignoring the pain of their partic-u-lar dis-ease-es“), hooked on simple dumb rhymes (“yeah” with “yeah,” ending with “yeah”). His words blur into runs of aggressive sound, as if Bowie’s been penned up for a decade and needs to get this stuff out. Can you believe this? Echoing “Breaking Glass,” he kills off a verse by saying: Listen! Or how a stray line catches the ear—listen to the whores, he tells her—but before you process it, here comes another refrain battering at you.

And what a refrain. Bowie, seemingly doubled by a pantheon of himself, hollers down a world that wants him dead (it wants everyone dead, if you think about it). Who knows whether a line from one of Mick Ronson’s last interviews was in his mind as he wrote it, but “The Next Day” winds up being a curse at death from the ranks of the living. Whatever credos Bowie has offered, whatever dreams he’s encouraged, his work boils down to a line he’d sung at age 22, in “Cygnet Committee“: We want to live.

Even if you’re left half-dead, some near-corpse stuffed into a tree by fanatics, you’re not dead yet. So give ’em the finger, if you can. HERE I AM: NOT QUITE DYING. The anti-epitaph. The bitter pleasure derived from living despite God or the fates’ best intentions. The joy of the numbing business of life, all the small routines, all the breaths and footsteps, the eye-blinks and stomach rumbles. The small beauty of just keeping on, however pointless it all may seem. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, a doomed Scot once said. And the NEXT DAY and the NEXT and ANOTHER DAY, offers the man from Bromley, roaring out those last words. One foot in front of the other. Live, live, goddamn you: live.