Never Let Me Down

April 9, 2012

Never Let Me Down.
Never Let Me Down (video).
Never Let Me Down (Top of the Pops (US), 1987).
Never Let Me Down (dub/”a capella” mix).
Never Let Me Down (live, 1987).

Written and recorded in little over a day during the mixing sessions for Never Let Me Down, the last-minute title song* was spontaneous where much of the album was labored and was lyrically and emotionally blunt by Bowie’s standards, which may have helped “Never” be the last Bowie single to chart higher in America than in the UK. (It’s also Bowie’s last US Top 40 single.)

Bowie said in contemporary interviews that his vocal was meant as a tribute to John Lennon, and the track’s harmonica solo and the whistling in its coda also both work as Lennon shorthand. But of which Lennon? Lennon’s son, Julian, had a uptempo hit in 1985, “Too Late For Goodbyes,” which shares with “Never” a vocal line that darts up to falsetto, a mild, bouncing rhythm sparked with bass flourishes, and a harmonica solo in place of a verse.

While displaced as Lennon’s heir presumptive once Lennon and Yoko Ono had had a son of their own, Julian Lennon suddenly emerged in late 1984 with a debut record on Atlantic. Its timing was perfect (its singles seemed like follow-ups to the last, posthumous John Lennon hit, “Nobody Told Me”) and it had a pedigree: recorded at Muscle Shoals Studios, produced by Phil Ramone, with a cast of top session players including Michael Brecker and Toots Thielemans (who played harmonica on “Goodbyes”). Its videos were directed by Sam Peckinpah in his dotage. The full press worked: Valotte went platinum and produced two Top 10 hits. But Julian’s fame was only of a moment. His next three records sold weakly. By 1990 his career, barely begun, seemed that of a fading songwriter twice his age.

Much of the hullabaloo around “Valotte” at the time was that it seemed like a generic public conception of a “John Lennon song,” that Julian sounded like Mind Games-era Lennon and that in the video he looked like a softened, newly-hatched version of his father. As Ben Greenman wrote recently, Julian ably served as a “psychic replacement” for his father, just when the public had begun to accept John was gone.

So if Bowie was slightly referencing Julian, some of it was a mercenary’s sense of knowing where the action was: Julian was getting hits in ’85-’86, and Bowie had intended “Never” to be the lead-off single. But it’s also nice to imagine that the old faker Bowie appreciated the odd mimicry that Julian had pulled off, and that he was taken by the idea that the post-Sixties generation had demanded their own toy edition of John Lennon—a Lennon who was fresh, young and single again, but also neutered: no weird political stunts, no screaming about his mother, no feminist broadsides, no public embarrassments. (A letter to Rolling Stone at the time came from a Boomer mother who lovingly recounted what her teenage daughter had told her: “Mom, you had John Lennon and now we have Julian.” (“Good luck kid, I thought,” Greil Marcus spat in response. “What kind of life can you make out of these pathetic little Family Favorites tunes about nothing? It made me sick to read that letter, not because Julian Lennon is corrupt, fake or dishonest, but because he probably worthy, sincere and true…when Julian sings badly, emptily, which is all he does, you hear success.“)

On the surface, “Never Let Me Down” is transparent enough: a tribute to John Lennon musically, a tribute to Coco Schwab** lyrically. But if the Lennon being homaged is an echo of the “real” Lennon, can the lyric be read so directly either? The singer traffics in a shared nostalgia (with the subject of his song, as well as his audience) as a means to sell his pleas, and the song seems sentimental because it’s in part playing with our memories of sentimental songs. So while the last verse finds the singer pledging that it’s his turn to return the favors, there’s a sadness more than a reassurance in his voice (it doesn’t help that Bowie sings “never let me down” as a run of ascending stepwise notes until he falls on “down,” and so not quite selling the commitment). While it would be foolish to dismiss the apparent heartfelt sentiments that inspired the song, “Never” is also guarded and contradictory: that is, classic Bowie.

“Never Let Me Down” began as a discarded drum track from the album’s earlier Montreux sessions. Bowie was mulling writing a new song during its mixing at the Power Station (given some of the material he was mixing, that’s not surprising), so while Bob Clearmountain mixed “Zeroes,” Bowie and David Richards found another open studio and soon built up a track, with Bowie doing much of the synth work, and quickly writing and cutting a vocal. The three-verse lyric moves from distant recollection (in the first verse the singer refers to “her” and “she” helping him out) to close by making of direct pledge of his own (the last verse has him singing to “you”). It’s sung and phrased well: in the pre-chorus a bobbing run of notes buoy “dance a little dance,” which also is the start of a long fall down an octave, though Bowie’s attempts at a Lennon (pater or fils) falsetto sound strained at times.

In the evening Bowie and Richards brought in Crusher Bennett for percussion and Carlos Alomar for guitar dubs, including some of his trademark percussive fills in the choruses. And fitting for Bowie’s “thanks for the memories” song, “Never Let Me Down” became the last Bowie/Alomar co-composition. When Alomar arrived, Bowie asked him to spice up what he later called a “funereal” chord progression, with Alomar ransacking a discarded piece of his own, “I’m Tired.” It’s hard to determine who wrote what, though if I were to guess, the F major ninths, sevenths and sixths in the intro and pre-chorus (which culminate in a pounded-home G seventh chord) feels like a guitarist’s doing, while the B-flat in the chorus that pulls the song out of C major towards a vague but inconclusive F major seems a typical Bowie move.

Alomar’s work with Bowie didn’t end here: he was a major part of the Glass Spider tour, perhaps too major, as Bowie’s unhappiness with that tour led him to cut ties with nearly everyone involved with it. Alomar turned up next (after once again being snubbed for a Nile Rodgers-produced Bowie record) in 1995, where he played a minor role on Outside and its subsequent tour, apparently to his frustration. Thankfully, like Tony Visconti, he and Bowie seemed to have made up by the end of the century, with Alomar’s contributions to both Heathen and Reality adding to those albums’ feel of recapitulation and finality.

But in the future, Alomar would always be a sideman, a second-tier player; he would no longer be a translator or a voice for Bowie to sing in. “Never Let Me Down” inadvertently became a document of Bowie and Alomar parting company, and so the knowledge of this can’t help but add to the sense that Bowie’s eternal pledges of the last verse won’t come true. The song’s a bittersweet thank-you, a dismissal in a kiss.

Recorded ca. September-November 1986, mainly at the Power Station, NYC. On the album that it titled and also released in July 1987 as a single (EA 239 c/w “’87 and Cry,” UK #34, #27 US). The video, with its dance marathon setting, was directed by Jean-Baptiste Modino and was by far the best of the lot from Never Let Me Down. Performed live during the Glass Spider tour.

*A Bowie tradition by this point (see “The Man Who Sold the World”).

** Schwab was of course Bowie’s longtime assistant, who had helped take care of his son, had paid the bills, had arranged transportation and housing and had generally served as the representative of sanity in an often insane life.

Top: Ted Barron, “Jesus Saves, New York, 1986.”


April 4, 2012

Zeroes (live, 1987).

Bowie’s Sixties pop tribute “Zeroes” is the ambition, creative anxiety and bungled execution of Never Let Me Down in microcosm. Bowie considered “Zeroes” one of the album’s major songs, sequenced it to close the first side and labored over it, crowding the track with everything from Peter Frampton’s electric sitar to a 10-person vocal chorus whose members likely included his son Duncan and his assistant Coco.* It’s telling that Bowie kept “Zeroes” at its full length (just shy of six minutes) on the LP release, where he’d trimmed a majority of the other cuts.

Bowie described his intention for “Zeroes” as “stripping away all the meanness of rock and coming back to the spirit with which one entered the thing. It’s the ultimate happy-go-lucky rock tune, based in the nonsensical period of psychedelia. So it’s a naivete song about rock, using a lot of cliches.” It’s always a mug’s game to accept a composer’s description of his/her work as gospel, and this quote is such a misreading that it seems like a deliberate feint, much as how Bowie regularly knocked “The Bewlay Brothers” for being gibberish. Because there’s little that’s “happy-go-lucky” in the song, which opens with demonic, distorted screams in lieu of actual audience noises, and whose first verse and chorus is a sharp self-assessment of Bowie’s battered aesthetic condition and where he stood in regard to “The Sixties.”

The latter, by 1986-1987, had been cast into a hollow, brightly-colored tomb, a ceremonial contrast to the political and cultural mood of the era. “The Sixties” was an opposition party happily exiled to the past. And while a number of underground bands were exploring the legacy of “nonsensical psychedelia” and appropriating pieces of it for their own ends, the official “Sixties” narrative was used to shame the allegedly frivolous and/or derivative pop music of the Eighties. There was a sense, pushed by the “classic rock” radio stations and the major rock magazines (blessedly not Spin, the oasis of the era), of Sixties music as being a perfected strain of rock & roll, the High Canon, to which no music afterward could be compared. All that was left for younger musicians was to pay homage, and for Sixties survivors to occasionally reunite and demonstrate “real” music to kids.

In “Zeroes” Bowie tries to position himself, shiftily as usual, as someone who had been both part of the era and yet always outside of it, and one who was trying to escape the decade’s long shadow while simultaneously exploiting it. The first verse is the lay of the battlefield: all the bright young heroes are dead, their memories a curse on the survivors, who are stuck between an unknowable bleak future and a “toothless past” that still has a wounding power. And the chorus begins as a self-flagellation, an aging musician acknowledging that while his muse and his youth have deserted him, his audience hasn’t, and they still have lists of demands: another tour, yet another record (“don’t you know we’re back on trial again today?” he sings later, drawing out the sharp vowels of “trial”).

The chorus builds to a refrain, the singer gamely making a go of it, singing cliches: it’s all for you, tonight I’m yours, this music was meant for you, everybody is a star. That the band on stage is called the Zeroes is one of Bowie’s better jokes: the rock band reduced to a cipher that holds no value. The Spiders from Mars were a holy conceit, a “fake” band that had more life than the bluejeans- and drum-solos groups of the early Seventies. The Zeroes are faceless, nameless; they are no ones, place-fillers for memories.

“Zeroes” finds Bowie pushing back against the official media narrative of the Sixties. He’s trying to recapture the frivolity and gimcrackery of the era, the lost Sixties of “Laughing Gnome” and “Green Tambourine,” as opposed to the solemnized hippie New Testament with its songs of revolution and freedom. So when Bowie references Prince in the lyric, it’s in the context of Prince as a fellow Sixties pastichist, another musician raiding the era for a few shiny trinkets. (Bowie wrote “Zeroes” while Prince was at the peak of this, with Around the World in a Day and Parade). And Bowie tries to turn the Beatles back into pop merchants, plastering the track with shards of their songs (helped by Erdal Kizilcay, whose “knowledge of rock music begins and stops with the Beatles,” Bowie said),** with Dylan also getting a few nods (Bowie tweaks lines from both “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Ballad of a Thin Man”).

Much of “Zeroes” is able mimicry, with Bowie using Frampton’s Coral electric sitar as a curtain-raiser between verses and choruses (the sitar, which had Danelectro pickups, had an impeccable Sixties pedigree, as it was formerly owned by Jimi Hendrix. Frampton got it from the owner of Electric Lady Studios), or having Crusher Bennett play what sounds like a tabla during the droning “psychedelic” outro. And Bowie churns up his own classics as well, adding them to the broth. He was an old hand at this by now: what was Scary Monsters but a rummaging in the cupboard, twisting old discarded folk and soul songs into brutal new shapes? So the song’s opening, with its vampirish screams and applause, calls back to the start of “Diamond Dogs,” while “Zeroes” seems a diminution of both the Spiders and of “Heroes,” a song that offered, in Bowie’s words, the sound of a bright future which would never come to pass. Now the future had come, “Zeroes” suggests, and it’s a broken mirror.

It soon becomes overwhelming: the denseness of the mix, its claustrophobic clutter of sounds, makes Bowie seem like he’s suffocating in a compost of old songs.

At the center of this was one of Bowie’s knottiest compositions in over a decade, a return to the tortuous structures and harmonic ambiguities of his early Seventies works. Each section of “Zeroes”—verse, chorus, coda—is in a different key. The keys themselves (A major, F major, D-flat major) are isolated from each other, sharing few common chords, while Bowie’s transitions between them sound abrupt, even disturbing. (A dense and possibly faulty musical theory section follows, so feel free to skip to the next section.)

“Zeroes” begins (intro and verse) in A major, with a fairly standard progression, A-B-D, repeated three times in the verse. Then as the verse closes, Bowie sets the stage for a key change in the chorus. A common move, when a change is approaching, is to use a pivot chord: a chord that fits both the current key and the upcoming new one. This helps your ears subconsciously process the change, so that it sounds “right” (much as how, when watching a film, the mind will accept a cut from a man settling his bill at a bar to a shot of him entering his apartment. The cut works on a subconscious level—we fill in the narrative gaps).

So at the end of the verse, instead of the expected D chord, there’s an E-flat diminished seventh chord (right after “how it feels”). There’s a building tension, as the chord, which is a weird, dissonant one, needs to be resolved—i.e., it needs to “go” somewhere. But instead of what you’d expect—a move into a key in which E-flat fits—the song instead shifts to F (whose only flatted tone is a B-flat). It’s an odd move, and it sounds “wrong.” And while we’re solidly in F for the chorus, immediately afterward comes another harsh transition: a four-bar solo break that veers out of F major (the chords are E-flat again, now followed by G-flat). Again, you expect this to lead somewhere, but no, instead it’s a hard landing back to A major for the second verse. The sequence repeats.

Only at the end of the second chorus, with a run of D-flat chords in the last three bars (on the last, long-held “you”) is there finally a “logical” transition, as the song’s closing section (a long coda) is in D-flat. So D-flat is already establishing itself in the expiring moments of the chorus, so that when the coda officially begins with a G-flat chord (the subdominant of the new tonic chord, Db), the move finally makes “sense,” the progression soon resolving to Db (on “to dooo”).

However, as often with Bowie, there’s a method to the apparent madness. The Eb chords at the end of the verses, and the Eb and Gbs in the solo? They all fit into the song’s ultimate key, D-flat (II and IV chords, respectively). So all along, “Zeroes” has been hinting at its ultimate destination, twice nearly leading you there, each time yanking you back. So when the sitar-heavy coda appears, it feels like a happy return home at last, and works with the lyric’s final collapse into submission and acceptance.

So “Zeroes” is ambitious enough, but you can’t escape the sense that it’s a flawed reduction of a song that sounded far grander in Bowie’s head. It seems compromised, overworked, and it’s an exhausting listen (despite being (or perhaps because it was) mixed by Bob Clearmountain), a victim of Bowie’s conflicting impulses—to make a dead-on parody of Sixties pop, to pit his old songs against each other, to undermine the idea of a holy Sixties crowding out the present, to feel diminished when placing yourself against the past.

And Bowie also faced the limitations of his collaborators. He no longer had Tony Visconti or Eno to play against and to use as interpreters; Carlos Alomar was no longer at peak fighting strength (and was hamstrung in the sessions anyhow); and he’d long disposed of the rhythm section of George Murray and Dennis Davis, who’d put in the pocket anything that Bowie had thrown at them. Instead Bowie mainly had Kizilcay, Frampton and David Richards: an admirable set of secondary translators.

It’s tempting to consider the closing minute of “Zeroes”—Bowie sinking into a trance of “doesn’t matter“s—as an exhausted surrender, Bowie unable to reconcile his narratives and admitting it’s all been just wasted effort. But making “Zeroes” had pushed Bowie, had made him struggle again, and while the track is a lesser version of what the Bowie of 1974 would have done, it still has a sense of moody life and grand intention. As with “Glass Spider,” it’s a testament that Bowie was finally willing to fail again.

Recorded ca. September-November 1986, Mountain Studios, Montreux and Power Station, NYC. Played on the Glass Spider tour.

* I agree w/Nicholas Pegg that the “Joe” and “Coco” credited on the LP sleeve as part of the “Coquettes” chorus are likely to be Mr. Jones and Ms. Schwab.

** These include: the “Eight Days a Week”-inspired opening (Bowie copped to this in a Musician interview); in the first chorus, “the world is spinning round” (“Fool on the Hill”); in the second chorus, “yes they were” (very Lennonish, esp. Lennon’s phrasing of the climactic “Yes It Is” in that song’s bridge); also in the 2nd chorus, the last “singing for you” (same as the penultimate notes of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)”); the swaying aaahs in the coda (cf. how Lennon sings “KNOW-ING” or “SHIN-ING” in “Tomorrow Never Knows”); and of course the sitar, which suggests every Harrison-penned song of the mid-Sixties, esp. “Within You Without You.”

Bowie also said the chord changes at the end of “Zeroes” “are real derivative” of Beatles songs, but I couldn’t find any direct parallels. That said, “When I’m Sixty Four” is also in D-flat major and has a similar progression in its verses as the coda of “Zeroes.”

Top to bottom: George Harrison at 44 (John Livzey), 1987; at 33 (unknown photog.), 1976; at 24 (Terry O’Neill), Paris, December 1967; at 15, with McCartney and Lennon, Liverpool, 30 December 1958.

Glass Spider

March 30, 2012

Glass Spider.
Glass Spider (live, 1987).

It’s an all-time low: a spoken/sung SF-themed track with “spooky” music and which has some of the silliest lines that Bowie ever wrote. I’m talking about “Future Legend,” of course.

“Glass Spider” is not the singular high embarrassment of the Bowie canon, as some have claimed. Along with Labyrinth, it’s the return of a part of Bowie that he had kept in a box for over a decade: the Bowie of “Laughing Gnome,” “The Supermen” and Diamond Dogs, the weird, whimsical, dorky, gloriously juvenile Bowie. The embarrassing Bowie. The Bowie who Lester Bangs once called “that chickenhearted straw man of suck rock you love to hate so much.”

By the Eighties, Bowie had reinvented himself as an aspirational figure, unknowable and cool, existing in a state of otherworldly fame. Then in “Glass Spider,” he suddenly became a clown again, and he got jeered for it. As Steve Pond of Rolling Stone wrote in his Never Let Me Down review, “Glass Spider” [is] Bowie’s most embarrassing moment in years…it’s probably not any dumber than the 1984-inspired excesses of Diamond Dogs, but coming thirteen years later from an artist who’s supposed to be sophisticated and intelligent, it sounds a hell of a lot dumber.”

Elvis Costello once said that his record company (and some of his fans) had hounded him for years to make another This Year’s Model,  but when he finally gave it to them in ’86—the bile and wordplay-soaked Blood and Chocolate—they didn’t know what to do with it. There’s something of the same in the general reaction to “Glass Spider.” Isn’t this what everyone wanted? Back to space-age fables and apocalypse? Back to costumes and dark theater? Back to scary monsters? Why was it all so embarrassing now? Why could Bowie dress up like a space pirate in 1974 and be the height of cool, but when he gloomily intoned his parable about spiders in 1987, it was a laughable, pathetic indulgence?

Maybe because Bowie was forty years old in 1987, and this monster-movie doom mongering now seemed beneath him. Bowie, as he aged, was apparently meant to drift into pseudo-Continental adult sophistication, à la Bryan Ferry (who had always done it better than him), not to revive his old pantomime shenanigans. Bowie was making his audience regret their tastes. There was an article I read some time ago in which a woman was driving with her teenage daughter and “Space Oddity” came on the radio. It once had been her favorite song. But as she watched her daughter listen and roll her eyes, the woman realized “what a dumb song it was.” And it is: “Space Oddity” is hokey bubblegum folk-pop. But it’s sublime hokey bubblegum folk-pop, with a world inside it. It didn’t matter: all at once, the woman had grown up and out of it.

There’s a Smiths B-side, “Rubber Ring,” that gets to the heart of this. Morrissey breaks the fourth wall throughout the song, with the record giving a long harangue to its teenage listeners, telling them of their upcoming betrayal. “The most impassioned song to a lonely soul/is so easily outgrown.” These songs mean everything to you now, but soon you’ll grow up and leave them behind, and crack jokes about your mopey Smiths-listening phase. All Moz asks is that from time to time, “when you’re dancing and laughing, and finally living/hear my voice in your head and think of me kindly.” Because you get to move on, you get to grow up to be a clever swine. But I’m staying here at the barricades.

“Glass Spider,” while in no way as self-conscious (or as good) a song, comes from the same position, an artist saying: this is what I do, this is what I’ve always done, ridiculous as it may seem to you now. So it’s fitting that “Spider” is in part a (tortured) metaphor about growing up, of being abandoned by your parents and learning to live on your own. “You always think your mother’s there, but of course she never really is,” Bowie said in ’87.

Bowie’s inspiration was a TV documentary he saw about black widow spiders. He was especially taken by the image of their webs festooned with remnants of their prey, and he played with the idea of an enormous, multi-tiered, corpse-strewn spider web as a housing project (yet another link back to Diamond Dogs) as well as a mythic castle “with a kind of altar at the top.” And like his inspirational black widows, he kept piling things on—the spider became a universal mother figure, one who abandons her children to the cold world, where they have to fend for themselves. The third verse, with the spiders keeping to ground, looking for shelter, fearing nature, is Bowie’s Fall of Man (in a horror comic).

At the same time, Bowie had more practical needs for the song. He wanted it to be the big opening number for his tour (so the spoken prologue was designed in part as mood-setting and to give the band time to get out on stage) and to have a striking image he could build the stage set around. And of course he was playing with his past, too, obviously referencing the Spiders from Mars.*

So “Glass Spider” was a garish, muddled mix of influences and intentions. It begins as a spoken-word parable (56 bars, the first 1:40 of the song) in which Bowie’s echoed voice is set against washes of Mellotron and Moog, with Crusher Bennett’s stick percussion giving occasional punctuation. The spoken section is ridiculous (Bowie’s narrative soon loses its authority because he’s constantly equivocating, as if he can’t be bothered to remember the details: “with almost apparent care,” “one could almost call it an altar,” “its blue eyes [were] almost like a human’s!“) but also has a real creepiness with its wailing synthesizers, some of which call back to “Heroes.”

The latter half of the song, announced by a synth bassline that foreshadows the refrain, works well enough as a horror-movie soundtrack theme, with some of Bowie’s eeriest lines on the album (“life is over you,” “come along before the animals awake“) and there’s a sense of menace in its building momentum, with the “Mummy come back” refrain repeatedly knifing its way into the verses. “Spider” also uses some of Bowie’s favorite compositional tricks, such as backing his way into establishing the key: while the spoken section seems to be in E minor, when the song proper begins, it quickly hammers down into A minor, its verses a I-VI-VII progression similar to “Time Will Crawl” (Am-F-G, with the latter chords keeping A as the root note). There’s also a chromatically descending bassline (used in “Life on Mars?” among a host of other songs) that anchors the climactic “mummy come back” chorus, which climaxes in an a capella bar.

And just as much of it’s a mess, from Bowie’s quasi-operatic bursts in the first verse (“can you HEAAR this wasted CRYYYY”) to the whinnying Frampton guitar solos to Bowie’s irritating tone in the “jah jah jah” refrains. Still, “Glass Spider” alone makes the case for Never Let Me Down—with its air of frenzied desperation, its sense of Bowie being willing to try anything, even if it made him look like an ass—being superior to the pure product Tonight and, arguably, some of his later albums. “Glass Spider,” a bewildering, appalling lapse of taste, is the sound of a man reclaiming himself.

Recorded ca. September-November 1986, Mountain Studios, Montreux and Power Station, NYC. On Never Let Me Down and, of course, it was performed in the tour that it named.

Jake Brown’s fine article on“Rubber Ring” from 2003 sums up well the song’s many qualities.

* Referencing the Spiders was a canny move, as the mid-Eighties were the height of Ziggy Stardust‘s reign as critical consensus pick for Best Bowie Album (Rolling Stone‘s Top 100 albums list in 1987 had Ziggy in its top 10, with no other Bowie records making the cut except for ChangesOneBowie at the tail end). Low and Station to Station have since usurped it (similar to how Revolver has knocked off Sgt. Pepper.)

Top: Gerhard Richter, Gudrun, 1987.

Time Will Crawl

March 27, 2012

Time Will Crawl.
Time Will Crawl (video).
Time Will Crawl (extended dance mix).
Time Will Crawl (Top of the Pops, 1987).
Time Will Crawl (live, 1987.)
Time Will Crawl (“MM remix,” 2008).

It was a beautiful day and we were outside on a small piece of lawn facing the Alps and the lake. Our engineer, who had been listening to the radio, shot out of the studio and shouted: ‘There’s a whole lot of shit going on in Russia.” The Swiss news had picked up a Norwegian radio station that was screaming—to anyone who would listen—that huge billowing clouds were moving over from the Motherland and they weren’t rain clouds.

David Bowie, 2008.

On 26 April 1986, while Bowie was recording at Mountain Studios in Switzerland, a reactor exploded in the Chernobyl nuclear power station (in the then-Soviet Union), sending a cloud of death into the air. He heard the news in fragments over the radio. The memory of standing outside in the sunlight, knowing that a cloud of radiation was sailing his way from the East, unsurprisingly proved a potent image for Bowie—shades of the last Australians in Nevil Shute’s On the Beach—and inspired him to write “Time Will Crawl,” one of the few strong tracks on Never Let Me Down.

The central theme was powerlessness, passivity and deference in the face of a death owed to the hubris of others. Bowie’s first lines are a run of consecutive humilities, a man bowing to church and government (in the refrain, man is compared to just another poor animal), while the last recall when Big Science came to town: soon enough “we only smelled the gas/when we lay down to sleep.” The second verse, placed out of sequence, is the after-effects: rotting fish, anti-radiation pills, bloated corpses, nature itself weaponized.1

Bowie had once written rapturous apocalypse songs—“Five Years” sang out the death of the world like one last pub chant. “Five Years” was operatic in its structure and intent, grandly building to annihilation, and Bowie had wept at the mike while he sang it (in one take). But apocalypse was an old, tired game now, and there was no use in getting torn up about it. Chernobyl had offered a preview of how it could play out: the end caused by arrogance and sloppiness, the unhappy result of a bureaucratic bungle for which no one would take responsibility.

So “Time Will Crawl” sounds drained, its singer hardly bothered to care, let alone rousing to anger: he just documents horrors in his near-monotone. Bowie’s phrases in the verse mainly keep to a three-note range (a typical phrase is “drowning man,” which nudges up a semitone, then falls by a second) while his lyric dispenses with rhyme in favor of a slow, nagging momentum, as though the singer is being prodded to offer something else in his deposition. Bowie uses a short three-note phrase (“I felt a”) to hook into a longer one (“warm warm breeze”) and then, a beat later, brackets that with another short hook (“that melted”), and so on, which means the verses have no natural end point and could ramble on indefinitely (“There is a rudeness about it musically. It doesn’t do very much. It just sort of plows through,” Bowie said of “Crawl” at the time). And the intro, verse and chorus have the same minimal chord structure—a progression that moves from tonic chord (B minor) to either the VI or VII chord (G or A), then falls back to B minor.2

Bowie said he was inspired by Neil Young in writing “Crawl,” and the verses seem crafted for Young’s voice (see Young’s contemporary “Weight of the World”). Another obvious influence is Dylan’s “Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” also a stream of post-apocalyptic imagery, though the comparison of “Hard Rain” and “Crawl” highlights the deterioration in Bowie’s writing by the mid-Eighties.3 Take the stumbling, prosaic Major Tom section of the second verse: “he took a top gun pilot, and he/ he made him fly through a hole/’till he grew real old.” Even the refrain (inspired by “this week dragged past me so slowly/the days fell on their knees” from “Stay”) is clunky and thudding, the harsh “AWL” sound left hanging in the air whenever the title phrase is sung. But this fits with the sense of bitterness and exhaustion in the song. The end of the world is no longer worthy of grand anthems.

In 2008, Bowie released a remixed/re-recorded version of “Time Will Crawl,” which he said was meant to correct the sins of its production and so reclaim one of his best songs of the period. The problem was that “Crawl” was the least of the offenders on Never Let Me Down, with its production fairly minimal by the album’s gaudy standards. There’s actually space in the mix for once, with Erdal Kizilcay and Carlos Alomar’s guitars giving the track a lustrous, deep tone, and each verse has a slightly different arrangement: Phillipe Caisse’s piano line from the intro reappears in the first verse; massed “oohs” show up halfway through the second; the higher-mixed acoustic guitar in the last. The backing vocals are also used well, with Bowie’s voice double-tracked at points throughout the verse, while the start of the refrain, sung a fifth above Bowie’s vocal in the verse, provides the only moment of drama in the track.

There’s a sense of everyone contributing to the whole for once, rather than talking over each other. So Sid McGinniss’ guitar is confined mainly to the second refrain, where it roars up in the vocal pauses, while the trumpet (Erdal Kizilcay, and/or possibly Laurie Frink and Earl Gardner) is dispersed-sounding, its solo a muted, echoing lament.

Bowie’s new “MM” mix also aimed for more drama and sweep, keeping the drums in reserve until the refrain, cranking up the guitars and Bowie’s vocal (and so overpowering the new string arrangement done for the remake); it looped the trumpet into a Geiger counter while the new “live” drum track, by Sterling Campbell, came off sounding weaker than the original’s programmed drums. It’s understandable why Bowie remade the song, but he didn’t improve it.

Recorded ca. September-November 1986, Mountain Studios, Montreux, and Power Station, NYC. Released as a single in June 1987 (#33 UK), with a video in which Frampton and Alomar mug while Bowie and his dancers train for the Hunger Games. Performed only during the Glass Spider tour. Bowie’s revised “Time Will Crawl,” which appeared on the Iselect compilation in 2008, is of this writing the last “new” piece of music that Bowie has released. (It makes you wonder if Bowie could pull a Frank Zappa and start re-recording parts of his old albums.)

1: Bowie was possibly recording “When the Wind Blows” as the Chernobyl disaster was occurring, which would be ironic. “Time Will Crawl” seems like a sequel to it.

2: The choice of B minor was apt, as it’s notoriously the key of darkness (“schwarze tonart,” Beethoven once described it in a sketchbook), despair, suffering and melancholy (from Bach’s “St. John’s Passion” to Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”).

3:Not that Dylan was doing any better in ’86-’87 (see Knocked Out Loaded, Dylan and the Dead).

Top: Igor Moukhin, “Вильнюс [Vilinus], 1987.”

’87 and Cry

March 22, 2012

’87 and Cry (vinyl edit).
’87 and Cry.
’87 and Cry (live, 1987).

In March 1974, David Bowie left the UK for a tour and never returned. While he came back to London throughout the next 15 years, his home and his work were always elsewhere: Los Angeles, Berlin, New York, Switzerland. His music reflected the move, affecting new regionalisms: the American funk-necromancy of Station to Station, the “European” Berlin albums. By the Eighties, Bowie’s albums were stateless products of global capitalism. Take “Let’s Dance”: a record made in New York by a British singer, a Texan guitarist and (generally) NY-based black and Latino musicians, and whose video featured Australian aboriginals.

So it’s odd to find Bowie writing about Britain again, if vaguely, in “’87 and Cry.” It’s the beginning of a renewed interest in his home country that Bowie would develop further on his first songs with Reeves Gabrels and in his soundtrack to The Buddha of Suburbia. Much had changed in his absence. The Britain of 1974, despite the strange costumed figures appearing on Top of the Pops, wasn’t radically different from that of Bowie’s childhood in the late Fifties. The Britain of 1987, eight years into Thatcher’s reign, seemed to be another world: a cruder, flashier, more atomized place.

Of course, some of this was the jaundiced perspective of a 40-year-old exile griping about how things had gone sour back home, though Bowie thankfully avoided the reactionary tone of the Rolling Stones’ “Hang Fire” (“in the sweet old country where I come from/nobody ever works, nothing ever gets done”). And his second verse deflates his argument with a run of exhausted nostalgia: those were the days, boys, when men wore blue ties and women “dressed down for the enemy,” an oblique reference to the War. The lyric’s diffuse sense of anger and disgust, its provisional UK setting, may have come from personal irritations as well. Bowie’s half-brother Terry had killed himself in 1985 and Bowie was lambasted by the tabloids for not attending the funeral, while in 1986 the Sunday Times was serializing portions of Alias David Bowie, the first biography to fully excavate Bowie’s life in Bromley and Beckenham, loaded with interviews with relatives and friends who Bowie had long left behind.* The past was coming back, making claims on him.

Bowie, talking about the song during press interviews, downplayed its British qualities. While “Cry” began “as a kind of indictment of Thatcher’s England,” he said, “it took on all these surreal qualities of a pushy person eating the energies of others to get to where they wanted and leaving the others behind [hence “it couldn’t be done without dogs”]. It was a Thatcherite statement made through the eyes of a potential socialist, because I always remained a potential socialist––not an active one.

“Cry” was one of the hotter tracks on Never Let Me Down, with its running guitar interplay like a harder revision of Robert Palmer’s “Looking for Clues,” while the percussionist Crusher Bennett was finally put to good use, spicing the track up with cowbell, chains and shakers. Bowie contributed the brutal guitar solo centerpiece, an 11-bar whining between G and C. Things only go astray on the bridge, which manages the trifecta of being lyrically inane, gruesomely sung and harmonically jarring: the B-flat major seventh chord Bowie uses here (on “nothing looked good on you“) makes strategic sense, as it’s establishing F major as the song’s new key, but it makes for a grating transition to the G major-centered guitar solo.

Recorded ca. September-November 1986, Mountain Studios, Montreux and Power Station, NYC. On Never Let Me Down and also as the B-side of “Never Let Me Down.” I find yet again that LP edit, which trimmed 30 seconds of guitar wailing, is a more enjoyable cut. A regular during the Glass Spider tour.

* Nicholas Pegg was the first to suggest this theory. The authors of Alias, Peter and Leni Gillman, allegedly claimed that Bowie originally agreed to cooperate with them on the bio until he withdrew his support midway through the project.

Top: Noddy Guevara, “JEZ Flies! De Grey St. [Hull, UK], 1987.”

Bang Bang

March 20, 2012

Bang Bang (Iggy Pop, 1981).
Bang Bang (Pop, live, 1981).
Bang Bang (Bowie).
Bang Bang (Bowie, live, 1987).

Iggy Pop and Ivan Kral wrote “Bang Bang” in 1980 as a potential single for Pop’s album Party. After the initial sessions for Party had petered out due to Pop’s self-sabotage and uninspired performances, his exasperated label Arista brought in Tommy Boyce (who had co-written “Last Train to Clarksville”) to make something useable out of the material. Boyce allegedly spent much of the time scoring drugs with Pop (the pair once even locked Kral in a closet when he tried to hinder them), but he liked “Bang Bang” and turned it into a passable New Wave single by reducing it to a collection of hooks: the repeated title phrase, coming down like two hammer blows; the ominous descending organ/bass line; the strings; the strategically-placed tambourine.

The result sounded as if Pop had joined some Satanic incarnation of the Cars. Released as a single in the summer of 1981, “Bang Bang” had potential to be a left-field New Wave hit in the vein of “Turning Japanese” but it lacked the sharpness and punch to hit on the radio and it flopped (it did make the lower reaches of Billboard’s club chart). There was even a video made for it, though the result was so creepy (see first link above) that I wonder if even the starved-for-content MTV of 1981 aired it.*

Kral (a Patti Smith Group veteran, who played organ on the track) had originally written the lyric, which he later described as being “a song about the emancipation of women.” Pop rewrote it to address his usual themes—underage heartbreaker girls; TV as corrupter and comforter (“I keep a good friend on videotape“); insatiable greed and pride as core American virtues. “Bang bang! I got mine!…Bang bang! that’s all it means, man…/here, have a glass of wine.”

Five years later, Bowie cut a version of “Bang Bang” and made it the album closer for Never Let Me Down. It was an odd choice to end the record, if an understandable one: given the pileup of disasters on Side 2, “Bang Bang” at least had hooks and some energy. Still, this made for the third record in a row in which Bowie had padded things out with a Pop cover, and journalists were calling Bowie on it. Bowie’s response was basically ‘Eric Clapton regularly covers Robert Johnson, so I cover Iggy Pop.’ “I always try to do my bit, do something of his,” he said. And he was assuming that he would work with Pop again soon—Bowie talked vaguely about another collaboration in 1988 or 1989, after both of their tours were over.

“Bang Bang” should’ve been a hit single in the first place, Bowie said, so all he was doing was giving a lost gem more exposure. But his interpretation coated the song in glitz and forced arena-rock posturing, starting with how Bowie replaced Pop’s sullen intro, in which Pop sounds like he’s being dragged into the song against his will, with peppy holiday-camp instructor banter: “Wow! This ain’t the right thing to do! So…let’s…so let’s…so let’s GO!” For much of the song Bowie sings higher than Pop’s baritone, with some odd emphases and phrasings—the pipped “weee’ll have a hot time,” the sorta-country twang on “you all oughtta be in pic-shuhs,” whatever the hell he’s going for on “I wander lonely to the sea.”

Bowie didn’t alter much of the song’s structure, retaining its cycling descending three-chord sequence (Em-D-C) in G major for both verse and chorus, only tweaking the lyric here and there, and dutifully repeating nearly every Pop aside. But every alteration he made to the arrangement lessens the song in some way: replacing the organ during the guitar solos with a chorus, who sound like they’re singing the backing vocals of the Eagles’ “Already Gone”; having Erdal Kizilcay overwork the pizzicato string line that’s kept spare and intriguing in Pop’s version; throwing in a rising “sitar” riff in the verse (I think it’s Frampton on electric sitar); using synth horn fills for punctuation; and as usual for Never Let Me Down, dragging the song out a minute longer than it should’ve run. While “Bang Bang” is more an overworked disappointment than disaster, it’s a shame that it marks the Pop/Bowie partnership’s tombstone.

Recorded ca. September-November 1986, Mountain Studios, Montreux and the Power Station, NYC. On Never Let Me Down and a regular part of the Glass Spider tour, featuring a routine in which Bowie pulled a “random” girl (one of the dancing troupe) from the crowd, danced with her, then groped her.

* I don’t know what’s more disturbing about the video—Pop having what looks like a 10-year-old girl in his harem of sister-wives or his earring. Or his puffy shirt. Or that he seems to be missing a front tooth. The whole thing looks like a cult initiation ceremony shown on public access cable, and I’m just glad that (to my knowledge) nothing was killed during its making.

Top: Ed Aust, “Elementary School, Zhengzhou, 1986.”

Beat of Your Drum

March 15, 2012

Beat of Your Drum (LP edit).
Beat of Your Drum.
Beat of Your Drum (live, 1987).

“Beat of Your Drum” uses the template of many Never Let Me Down songs: an ominous verse and a giddy chorus that seem to exist in different dimensions, with an awkward bridge/pre-chorus as adhesive to bind them together. But it just works better here, as the two incongruous elements in this case—sepulchral verses about desire, youth and ambition and a big dumb sex chorus that nicks a riff from Bruce Springsteen—complement each other, with the sordid mumblings of the verse exploding into the garish lust of the refrain.

The verses find Bowie in a nightclub, cast as an aging fashion photographer ogling a new model/conquest (Bowie’s sole description of the song was that “it’s a Lolita Number! Reflection on young girls…Christ, she’s only 14 years old, but jail’s worth it!“). Sounding inspired (perhaps he was familiar with the material), Bowie manages some of his best lines on the record, like “prison can’t hold all this greedy intention,” and for once he keeps a coherent theme going, with multiple references to film—negatives and colors fading—until he ends the second bridge with “bright light destroys me,” a play on ruining a developing photo as well as the idea of the singer as a vampire.*

Subtlety was never in the cards here: the track starts with a Morse Code synth pattern that’s drowned out two bars later by “clanging chimes of doom” synth percussion (likely all Erdal Kizilcay’s doing—he was primarily using a Yamaha DX7 with a Casio MIDI Controller for the sessions, though supplementing it with an Emax sampler). Then Bowie appears, keeping to his lower death-croon register, offering an odd, fragmented melody composed of short, three- or four-note phrases. He’s doing Scott Walker again but also seemingly parodying Peter Murphy at the same time, wrapping his influence and his influenced into a single gargoyle vocal. (Bowie liked the combination so much he soon used it again for Tin Machine’s “You Belong in Rock ‘n’ Roll.”)

Suddenly the Goth trappings fall away, as the chorus (midwifed by an all-over-the-place bridge which ends with Bowie barely holding on a high A (“TAAAME”)) is as bright and relentless as a Def Leppard refrain. The lyric’s beyond dumb, the refrain’s barely melodic (it’s just Bowie keeping mainly to one note until his closing run of fifth-dropping interjections: “I beat it! Can’t beat it! I feel it!“) and you realize soon enough that the chorus is going nowhere, just happy to stand there and applaud itself. But everyone’s so bloody eager to please: the horn/guitar riff stolen from “Glory Days,” the handclaps, the fairground saxophone, the keyboard with its nagging barrage of 8th notes. And after the second go-round of the chorus leads directly to a cheeseball Peter Frampton guitar solo, the only viable option is surrender. If only the whole album had been as tasteless as this.

Recorded ca. September-November 1986, Mountain Studios, Montreux and Power Station, NYC. On Never Let Me Down. Again, the LP edit is tighter, as it cuts a superfluous third chorus to get to Frampton’s guitar solo faster (starting at 3:13 on vinyl, 3:32 on CD) then trims another two choruses before the sax solo.

* Always thought the line from the Mekons’ “Club Mekon” (“Late one night the club was heaving/I saw a vampire move across the floor/old and white, with a silver cane/lusting for youth in the mirror”) was possibly a dig at Bowie, though Jagger or Rod Stewart seems a more accurate target.

Top: Kristine Ambrosia, 1987 (via Continuo, originally from the Leonardo Music Journal.)

Shining Star (Makin’ My Love)

March 13, 2012

Shining Star (Makin’ My Love).
Shining Star (Makin’ My Love) (rehearsal, 1987 (fragment)).

“Shining Star (Makin’ My Love)” is a Frankenstein’s Monster of a song: even its title is a grotesque hybrid.* Its parts include: Bowie’s simpering, vaguely-rapped verses which at times sound as though he’s doing an Old Hollywood “Asian” accent (recall that Bowie used a borderline-racist accent on “China Girl” during the Serious Moonlight and Glass Spider tours); a Prince-inspired emoted pre-chorus; a “soul” chorus that’s meant to be a tribute to Smokey Robinson but which sounds more like Johnny Hates Jazz; and a mid-track eight-bar “Method” rap by Mickey Rourke.

Bowie’s lyric also seems cobbled together from a few bad ideas. It starts with a list of sub-Jim Carroll doper casualties, builds steam with a run of inane similes (life is a broken arrow, memory is a swinging door—I’m surprised we didn’t learn love is like a rose with thorns, too). Then in the chorus, Bowie tries to reboot the song and make it a generic soul ballad. All of this is delivered via one of Bowie’s most excruciating vocals on record, with the showboating high Gs on “happy ev’ry day of your LIIIIFE” apparently meant to distract you from noticing how poorly sung the rest of it is. The melody is so contorted, the lyric so ill-suited to it, that Bowie pronounces “Chernobyl” as “CheRR-no-BEEL” to make it scan.**

Then there’s the Rourke rap. Rourke and Bowie had met in London and briefly were a regular duo in the clubs; it was as though Rourke was auditioning for Bowie’s new “wild man” companion after Iggy Pop had sent in his notice. To be fair, as ludicrous as it is (“blew heads outta shape in the name of Trotsky, Sinn Fein, Hitler, cash down” (are these time-traveling mercenaries?)), the rap’s far from the worst offender in the track—Rourke sells his junk better than Bowie. Rourke’s not aping Run-DMC as much as Joe Strummer  or Paul Simonon (as apparently was Bowie: the way he sings “vermin…cowardice…lice” seems like a parody of “Straight to Hell”) in one of the Clash’s gonzo attempts at rap, like “Red Angel Dragnet.”

Bowie later tried to explain the song’s disjunction by saying it represented “how people are trying to get together in the face of so many disasters and catastrophes, socially around them, never knowing if they’re going to survive it themselves. The one thing they have got to cling on to is each other.” But if each scenario—grubby “street” life, cloud-headed romantic dreams—rings false, slapping the two together just doubles down on the mistake.

There’s a few minor things of musical interest—while the song’s harmonically minimalist, with just four chords, all of them are extended: a C major 7th and a C major 9th alternate as the tonic chord until a B-flat major 9th/D in the pre-chorus upends their dominance, using a D Minor 7th as a pivot chord. There’s also an out-of-nowhere bar of 5/4 in one of the last choruses, which just serves to throw an ugly song further out of whack. Just dreadful stuff, the sheer dregs of Bowie’s recorded life.

* As the song’s partially titled after an Earth, Wind & Fire hit and nearly plagiarizes its chorus in the outro, I suppose Bowie considered “Shining Star” to be an EWF tribute as much as a Smokey Robinson one, and some of his singing in the choruses does seem like an attempt to ape Philip Bailey.

** That said, it may be closer to the Russian pronunciation (still sounds comical when Bowie sings it, though.)

Recorded ca. September-November 1986, at Mountain Studios, Montreux and Power Station, NYC. On Never Let Me Down. Rehearsed for the Glass Spider tour but somehow didn’t make the cut.

Top: “Falk v010,” “My Computer Class, 1987, Kleinmachnow, East Germany.” Featuring “a kick ass KC85/II sporting 8 KiloByte RAM, a NO SMALL CAPS rubber round keyboard, a whopping “HD ready” 320×256 pixel screen, a “save me 10 times and you have one functioning copy” cassette recorder and an operating system called CAOS (Cassette Aided Operating System) with lovely BASIC.” My high school in Connecticut, in 1987, didn’t have anything better, though I think we had PASCAL by ’88.

New York’s In Love

March 7, 2012

New York’s In Love.
New York’s In Love (live, 1987)

“New York’s In Love” is in contention for being Bowie’s most crapulent original composition. The lyric, built on a central metaphor that Bowie blends to mush—New York’s like a sexy yuppie lady! She’s clean but she’s dirty! Watch her strut her stuff!—is atrocious, with even the few decent scene-setting opening lines (“the clouds are stuck like candy floss“) grating when you know that in a 1987 interview, Bowie took Mark E. Smith to task for writing “fourth-form poetry.”* As for the yo-yoing vocal melody, Bowie could barely handle it in the studio—he’s audibly straining on “Go Go Boys” and “fam-i-ly” in the second verse—and the live version linked above documents some even more ragged singing.

In its weak defense, “New York” was likely one of the Never Let Me Down songs most intended as a big production number for the tour—hence its chorus, which is paced leisurely enough (nearly a bar between each vocal phrase) to allow time for dancers to move to their next positions, and whose melody, nearly the same phrase repeated nine times, asks little. (The chorus also has a modestly interesting progression, with a C major 9th chord challenging the song’s E major tonality.) Carmine Rojas’ tight, driving bassline is the only thing seemingly holding the track together at times, while the meat-handed guitar solos are Bowie’s own: it’s the “raw” sound Bowie had in mind when he assembled Tin Machine, though he hedged his bets by hiring a guitarist with chops.

Inspirational lyric: “New York’s in love/goo goo goo GOO goo goo.” Unintentional hard truth lyric: “No one knows they’ve had their day.”

Recorded ca. September-November 1986, Mountain Studios, Montreux and the Power Station, NYC. On Never Let Me Down (it’s extended for a murderous 30 more seconds on the CD) and performed during the Glass Spider tour.

* Bowie said the intention was to show “that real vain aspect of big cities. They’re so pompous and big and in love with themselves.” No comment. In this same lively interview, with Musician in August 1987, after dissing the Fall, Bowie also ridiculed the Jesus and Mary Chain, calling them “awful” and “sophomoric—like the Velvets without Lou.”

Top: Ted Barron, “Game 7 of the World Series, Vazac’s Bar, New York, 1986.”

Too Dizzy

March 5, 2012

Too Dizzy.

Notorious for being a track so bad that it was publicly recalled (Bowie deleted it from all subsequent reissues of Never Let Me Down), “Too Dizzy” was a weak try-out exercise for Bowie’s brief songwriting partnership with Erdal Kizilcay.* Bowie seemed (rightfully) embarrassed by the song from the start, saying that it would’ve been better suited for Huey Lewis. Well, no: Lewis had much better material than this.

Still, when heard in the woeful context of Side 2 of Never Let Me Down, “Too Dizzy” doesn’t stand out for being particularly awful. It sounds more like a bungled salvage job, as though at some point in the recording, the idea of taking “Dizzy” seriously went out the window and everyone decided on camp as the best way out of the mess. Bowie tries to keep a straight face in the verses, with his laughable thug patter (“who’s this guy I’m gonna blow away?“), but by the time he’s squawking “you can’t have no LOV-AH” like a constipated Barry Gibb, the song’s descended into farce.

Its production is a series of messy distractions, apparently in the hopes of keeping the listener from focusing on how ill-conceived the song itself is (even its key changes seem forced and awkward: there’s a move from F-sharp in the verses to A major for the 8-bar pre-chorus, then a sudden collapse back to F# for the chorus itself). Bowie and David Richards larded “Too Dizzy” with a set of backing singers whose presence becomes hateful after a minute, while the guitar and saxophone solos are so uninspired that they seem to have been originally done to test microphone levels.

Recorded ca. September-November 1986 (possibly started during the “When the Wind Blows” sessions earlier in the year) at Mountain Studios, Montreux, and Power Station, NYC. Released only on the initial run of Never Let Me Down.

* Did Bowie include “Dizzy” to give Kizilcay a songwriting credit on Never Let Me Down, as a tip of the hat for services rendered? He’d essentially done that before for Iggy Pop and Geoff MacCormack. If so, it’s lame that Bowie subsequently binned the song.

Top: Paul W. Locke, “Boston Harbor,” 1987.