Dirty Song

October 5, 2011

Dirty Song.

Written with his friend Ludwig “Lud” Prestel, Brecht’s poem, known variously as “Baal’s Song,” “Dirty Song” or just the opening line “If a Woman’s Hips Are Ample,” dates to July 1918 and was included in the first version of Baal. It’s in Scene 7, in which Baal has been reduced, like a fading rock star, to performing as a burlesque of his former self at a seedy club called the Night Cloud. He haggles over his “contractual brandy” rations, sings dirty ballads (while dressed in tails and a child’s sailor hat) to a drunken audience. He finally flees into the latrine with his guitar, crawls out through the window and runs off into the woods.

“Dirty Song,” described by John Willett as Baal’s “last disgusting gesture,” is the shortest Bowie song since “Don’t Sit Down;” with its “stage Cockney” vocal and woodwind/horn arrangement, it could’ve been an outtake from Bowie’s debut album. Three quick, nasty verses and it’s over with a plop.

Baal was taped on 8-12 August 1981, BBC Television Centre (unfortunately there’s no accessible footage of “Dirty Song” and the other two remaining songs); shown on BBC1, 2 February 1982. Studio version recorded in September 1981 at Hansa on the Wall, Berlin; EP released 13 February 1982.

Top: Augusto Braidotti, “Heidelbergerstrasse,” 1981.