Shade Rupe’s post mortem on the “David Bowie Is” exhibit in Chicago:
A cause célèbre for art, film and design institutions everywhere, with breaking attendance records, the Victoria & Albert—curated “Davie Bowie Is” exhibition is a marvel of closeness that zillions of fans through the decades never believed they’d be able to experience. In 1983 when D.A. Pennebaker’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was finally released we could squint through the reddish grain while our alien lord pranced and rocked the stage through multiple costume changes, mime, sucking off Mick Ronson’s… guitar, and admonishing his wife Angie’s makeup suggestions with “What do you know about makeup? You’re just a girl.” But this is different.
Debuting in Paris this month at the Philharmonie de Paris/ Cité de la Musique before then continuing to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image and the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands later in the year, the collection of costumes, outfits, memorabilia, and detritus, is vast as this is only a sampling of what the curators chose after Bowie opened his closets. Bowie’s self-application of color and cream is apparent with even a tissue that once blotted his lipstick is carefully displayed.
For Brits the ‘big moment’ was the “Starman” reveal on Top of the Pops, a moment given further clarity with a crew member shot backup film. While many English teenagers first got gobsmacked by that moment, even younger Americans were similarly blown away after over a decade of Bowie’s starring bursts when he premiered his devastatingly electric art moments during his December 15, 1979, Saturday Night Live performances with Joey Arias and Klaus Nomi on backup for scorching renditions of “The Man Who Sold the World” (in a Hugo Ball—inspired hourglass-shaped tuxedo), “TVC15” (in a school marm’s green dress with Arias and Nomi fending off a pink poodle with a TV in its mouth), and “Boys Keep Swinging,” with a Silly Putty—bodied Bowie unfurling a plastic penis, twice (though only shown on the first broadcast). Both programs make up significant parts of the exhibit.
Scary Monsters unleashed the final throes of Bowie’s magnificent more-than-a-decade of blowing Earth’s minds before settling down with that album that can’t be named (and thankfully is left out of the exhibition entirely). The next decade is skipped until we encounter Floria Sigismondi’s music videos (she’s created four for the Master in total) for “Little Wonder” and “Dead Man Walking.”
Other highlights of the exhibit, beyond getting to get ::this close:: to the Starman’s magic clothing include a gift of a test pressing of the first Velvet Underground album, bequeathed to Bowie’s manager Kenneth Pitt by Andy Warhol then to Bowie who exclaimed “By the time ‘European Son’ was done I was so excited I couldn’t move,” the keys to the underground bunker Bowie shared with Iggy Pop in Berlin which resulted in this writer’s own desert island disc The Idiot, and the Thin White Duke’s trusty cocaine spoon giving the man who fell to earth’s Diamond Dogs tour that extra bit of futuristic oomph.
This morning Dangerous Minds pal Chris Holmes (he’s been all over the media recently with his “Anti-Paparazzi” clothing line) sent over the Soundcloud files of a couple of the “Ziggy Stardust” remixes produced, but ultimately not used, for Disney’s Fantasia videogame.
Although the remixes are simply wonderful as heard here, when Chris demoed the songs for me in his studio, he showed me his innovative idea for the game, which would have allowed the player to “parallel remix” (or “conduct”) the song on the fly, as with Ableton Live, or a similar program.
The idea for the remixes was to create fourteen separate remixes simultaneously in Ableton, and then have all of those tracks available in groups (drums, lead lines, strings, vocals, guitars) available to the user in the game to make their own remix each time they play the game. I think the concept of parallel remixing has a lot of potential in the VR, webspace, and future Oculus like worlds where users actions determine the how the music develops. It’s been sitting on my hard drive for almost two years now. The remixes turned out great, but I think the most important thing is turning people on to the concept of parallel remixing.
You could strip it down to the original version at any point or to a totally acoustic version, or go totally orchestral. These mixes have elements of each. It was very difficult because the timing had to remain in time with the original Bowie song which speeds up and slows down around 15 bpm over the course of the song. It would be far easier to do it with a consistent bpm.
This is the second version of our Fantasia “parallel remix” of “Ziggy Stardust.” This one is more electro dubstep, playing the game you can morph between any of the mixes and make your own using the game controller.
The stage director Jack Hofsiss called David Bowie up one day to ask him if he wanted to take over the lead as Joseph Merrick in a production of The Elephant Man. The actor who was playing Merrick, Philip Anglim, was quitting the role and Hofsiss needed a replacement immediately. Bowie had 24-hours to make-up his mind.
Bowie had spent the past year on a world tour and recording a new album Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) when Hofsiss called. While many would have wilted at the thought of the arduous work involved in starring in a stage play, Bowie jumped at the offer. He joined the cast in San Francisco and began rehearsing his role.
Any suggestion that Bowie’s casting was just a novelty star billing to squeeze a few more dollars out of the play were soon quashed when the cast saw the sincerity and effort Bowie put into getting his performance right. Ken Ruta who played Doctor Treves was “unequivocal about his leading man”:
“[David] was incredible. Right on the money.”
Joseph (or as he is called in the play John) Merrick was born in England in 1862 and developed a strange and still “unknown” medical condition that caused him to suffer severe deformity in his features and bone structure, leaving him disfigured. Unable to find work, Merrick was exhibited in a freak show as “The Elephant Man.” He was eventually rescued by Frederick Treves, who became his close friend and patron.
Bowie first heard of Merrick when he was a teenager after reading about “The Elephant Man” in a book on circus freaks and human oddities (which also included a chapter on A. W. Underwood, the “Paw Paw Blowtorch.”) He later said he always had an interest in freaks and those on the edges of society and claimed their lives and experiences informed his writing.
It was certainly a stroke of genius to cast Bowie as Merrick as he brought an otherworldliness to the role and revealed a sensitivity rarely seen in his music or stage persona of Ziggy Stardust or the Thin White Duke.
As part of his research for playing the role, Bowie visited the London Hospital to examine Merrick’s bones and the cardboard church he had built which formed the centrepiece to the play—a outward symbol of Merrick’s search for peace and harmony.
Bowie performed the role without make-up and each evening forced his body into painful and twisted positions to become Merrick. His co-star Ruta said there was “a basic honesty” to his performance, but his best gift was his ability to listen to other’s dialog when acting. As Paul Trynka wrote in his biography of Bowie Starman:
His fellow actors found Bowie’s physical transformation into Merrick equally impressive. ‘He seemed to have captured that—better than all the other ones who wanted to be glamorous. He wasn’t doing glamour, he was doing Merrick,’ says Jeanette Landis. When Ken Ruta later watched John Hurt play Merrick, swamped under prosthesis, in the movie The Elephant Man, he found the experience far less involving.
As the play toured, the productions were mobbed by Bowie fans who wanted to see their pop idol or steal some personal belonging or item of clothing—even used cigarette butts were taken. Bowie took to carrying a few belongings in a cardboard suitcase and rather than living with the cast in an upmarket hotel, he stayed in rundown rented apartments where no one but a select few could find him.
However, the incessant attention from fans could be terrifying as it was utterly relentless. In Chicago a group of young female punks stalked the show attending every performance. On the final night, the group of six girls suddenly made a move for the stage. “It was instantaneous,” Ken Ruta told Bowie’s biographer:
“They were all tackled from the sides by I don’t know how many plain-clothes men. And they were carrying something in their purses, metallic—they were there to do something dirty. It was cuckoo that night.”
The production ran at the Booth Theater in New York from September 1980 to January 1981, where it received rapturous reviews with Bowie being singled out for special praise. The show was a sellout, with the opening night attended by John Lennon, Yoko Ono, David Hockney and Andy Warhol. During Bowie’s brief Broadway run, Lennon was assassinated by Mark Chapman.
In October 1980, Tim Rice interviewed David Bowie in new York for the BBC TV show Friday Night, Saturday Morning. Bowie talked about The Elephant Man, working in theater and his album Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).
During the mid-1970s David Bowie entered his “Thin White Duke” phase, and this period has uniquely added to the Bowie mystique as well as become an object of special fascination to Bowie fans. (Among other things it produced my own favorite Bowie album, Station to Station.) It’s especially fascinating to us, I think, because Bowie seems to have lost track of himself a little bit in a way that was never true in any other period, in his phantastical ruminations about Nazis, Manson, cocaine, and his own bodily essences. Just a couple of weeks ago, DM featured a comic book about this period called “The Side Effects of the Cocaine,” the title of which comes from a line in Bowie’s song “Station to Station.”
When he arrived in 1975, Bowie was staying at the Los Feliz house of Glenn Hughes, bassist for Deep Purple, who lived just down the road from “the LaBianca house,” as Hughes recalls, being the site of one of the Manson murders in 1969, specifically the killing of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca two days after the murder of Sharon Tate and several other people in Benedict Canyon. As 1975 progressed and faded into 1976, Bowie would suffer from powerful forebodings right out of another connection to Roman Polanski, Rosemary’s Baby.
Bowie in his “Thin White Duke” phase, here during a 1976 concert in Toronto
The artistic and sensitive Bowie clearly perceived a malign influence from the Manson connection to Hughes’ home. He was using huge amounts of cocaine. According to Marc Spitz’s 2010 Bowie: A Biography, Bowie was “obsessed with using occult magic to attain success and protect himself from demonic forces.”
(A brief note on Spitz. Spitz is not a careful writer, and his book is riddled with annoying typos and mistaken facts. However, on the general subject of whether he is a reliable source, he does appear to have gotten his interviewees on the record. Peter Bebergal, author of the recent Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll, appears to regard him as a reliable source.)
According to Hughes, “David had a fear of heights and wouldn’t go into an elevator. ... He never used to go above the third floor. Ever. If I got him into an elevator, it was frightening. He was paranoid and so I became paranoid. We partied in private.” Bowie himself has stated the effect that the cocaine was having on his paranoia: “Cocaine severs any link you have with another human being. … Around late 1975 everything was starting to break up.”
Quoting Spitz again: “Bowie would sit in the house with a pile of high-quality cocaine atop the glass coffee table.” Bowie became obsessed with the book Psychic Self-Defense by Dion Fortune (Bebergal confirms this bit), which describes itself as a “safeguard for protecting yourself against paranormal malevolence.” Among other things, “Bowie began drawing protective pentagrams on every surface.”
As Hughes says, “He felt inclined to go on very bizarre tangents about Aleister Crowley or the Nazis or numerals a lot. … He was completely wired. Maniacally wired. I could not keep up with him. He was on the edge all the time of paranoia, and also going on about things I had no friggin’ idea of what he was talking about. He’d go into a rap on it and I wouldn’t know what he was talking about.” As Bowie himself remembered, “My other fascination was with the Nazis and their search for the Holy Grail. ... I paid with the worst manic depression of my life. … My psyche went through the roof, it just fractured into pieces. I was hallucinating twenty- four hours a day. ... I felt like I’d fallen into the bowels of the earth.”
At his wit’s end, Bowie reached out to Cherry Vanilla, a former employee of Bowie’s management company MainMan, who witnessed much of this paranoid, debauched phase. Cherry Vanilla verified the connection between Bowie and a “white witch”—racial connotations aside, and those are by no means absent from this story either, but the term is intended to distinguish witches whose effects are “good” and “evil”—who would purify his living premises. “He had this whole thing about these black girls who were trying to get him to impregnate them to make a devil baby,” says Vanilla. “He asked me to get him a white witch to take this curse off of him. He was serious, you know. And I actually knew somebody in New York who claimed she was a white witch. She was the only white witch I ever met. So I put him in touch with her. I don’t know what ever happened to her. And I don’t know if she removed the curse. I guess she did.”
This comic by Vaughn Bodē from July 1973 is one of the few surviving visual depictions of the self-professed “white witch” Walli Elmlark.
That “white witch” was one Walli Elmlark, who had taught some classes in magic at the New York School of Occult Arts and Sciences on Fourteenth Street in New York. She wrote a gossip column in the rock magazine Circus and had known Jimi Hendrix and was also friendly with Marc Bolan. A couple years earlier, Elmlark had recorded a spoken-word album with King Crimson’s Robert Fripp named The Cosmic Children; it has never been released. According to Sid Smith’s book In The Court Of King Crimson,
In June 1972, Fripp finished recording an album with a Wiccan journalist, called Walli Elmlark. The album was called The Cosmic Children. Side one consists of Fripp and Elmlark in conversation where she outlines her experiences and commitment to Wicca. On side two, she talks to DJ Jeff Dexter about cosmic children—spirits from other places who take physical forms such as Hendrix, Bolan, Bowie and Mike Gibbons, drummer with Badfinger. Talking to NME’s Simon Stable, Fripp stated: “The function of the album is to reach out to the children like the drummer from Badfinger, I want to say; ‘You’re not nutty, you’re not a freak because you can’t relate to what’s around you.’”
Elmlark had also published (per Spitz) “a cosmic paperback full of collages, poetry, personal confessions and observations,” which bore the title Rock Raps of the 70’s. It was co-written with occultist Timothy Green Beckley. According to that book, Elmlark was fond of wearing a “floor length clingy high necked long sleeved black jersey, and a floor length chiffon over dress that floats around me like a mysterious mist of motion.”
Summoned to Bowie’s residence, she quickly and apparently successfully exorcised the pool. This next bit is confirmed in Backstage Passes: Life on the Wild Side with David Bowie the memoir by Angie Bowie, David’s wife during this period who was also living there at the time: “At a certain point in the ritual, the pool began to bubble. It bubbled vigorously—perhaps ‘thrashed’ is a better term—in a manner inconsistent with any explanation involving filters and the like.” As Spitz wrote: “Elmlark wrote a series of spells and incantations out for Bowie, in case the demons return for a dip, and remained on call for Bowie as he continued to wrestle with the forces of darkness.”
Of all the people in this narrative, the one who knew Elmlark the best was Beckley, by far. Beckley was the director of the New York School of Occult Arts and Sciences where Elmlark taught and also co-wrote the Rock Raps book with her. In the Conspiracy Journal, issue #549, Beckley describes her as follows:
Wallie was known widely as the White Witch Of New York. Because of her contacts in the music industry, she had established quite an eclectic clientele for whom she would offer spiritual guidance, and occasional good luck or love spells, but always of a positive nature. She didn’t dabble in black magick or even gris gris (a New Orleans form of “gray magick” that incorporates poppets and the use of talismans kept in a personal mojo bag). Walli was lively, imaginative, energetic, well spoken, and quite attractive in her flowing white garments complete with fashionable silver moon adornments. Oh did I forget to mention long black hair, complete with dyed green streak highlights? Indeed, Walli made a very bold fashion and occult statement wherever she went.
There is surprisingly little about Walli on the Internet, for someone who “made a very bold fashion statement,” introduced Robert Fripp to the occult, and exorcised David Bowie’s house, you would think her name would be a staple in rock and roll lore—but it doesn’t appear to be the case. I couldn’t find a picture of her, aside from the Bodē cartoon above, and the main thing she is known for on the Internet is her authorship of the Rock Raps book. I was unable to find Walli’s obituary.
Spitz says that “Elmlark departed from this plane of existence in 1991.” Based on a few ramblings I saw on a message board I don’t take too seriously, it’s possible that she overdosed on barbiturates. Beckley, overly addicted to euphemism, says, “Several years went by and Walli met an untimely passing as she could not remove the demons in her own life, even though she had a dramatic impact on almost everyone she came in contact with,” before recounting a lot of incidents from the 1970s like the Fripp album and so on. His final words on Walli are, “Somehow I can’t exclude the fact that Walli looks down from time to time and perhaps sings along with David Bowie as he performs all over the world in concert.”
I don’t know about you, but after all that, I could stand to hear “Station to Station”:
I have heard—on very good account—that David Bowie is meant to be a total eBay addict and that having a conversation with him might often see his attention divided between what you’re saying and him furiously bidding on something. Apparently eBay is a great way for the thin white duke to discover all of the various ways people made money off him during his long career, that he was never previously aware of. If I were him, I’d do the exact same thing!
Well, an unusual Bowie item is currently on offer on eBay with four days to go, and although the price has dropped 25%—or $5000—it’s still got a starting bid of twenty grand. Perhaps Bowie himself is the only one who could afford this, but what a weird little memento it is: an original vintage photograph taken precisely at the moment when undercover cops in Rochester, NY slapped the cuffs on when Bowie and Iggy Pop were arrested for someone else smoking pot in Bowie’s hotel room in 1976.
The story is told in greater detail in this post I put together previously of the local news reporting of the Bowie bust.
For offer, a very rare photograph. Fresh from a prominent estate in Upstate NY. Never offered on the market until now. Vintage, Old, Original, Antique, NOT a Reproduction - Guaranteed !! This photos came from a man who was present when Bowie and Pop were arrested in Rochester, NY, March 25, 1976. Most people have seen the famous mug shot. But this is a “behind the scenes” photo taken with undercover officers. Officer on left putting the cuffs on Bowie. Kodak paper. In excellent condition. Please see photo for details. If you collect 20th century American Rock history, Americana crime photography, pop culture, etc. this is a treasure you will not see again! Add this to your image or paper / ephemera collection.
Worth mentioning is that the Rocester mugshot was not taken when Bowie was processed at the station that night, but rather when he showed up for his court date, hence the change of clothes.
Remember that animated GIF by UK-based illustrator Helen Green showing all the style incarnations of David Bowie throughout his career? It made the rounds on the Internet a few weeks ago. Dangerous Minds blogged about it here.
Well, someone—someone with clearly too much time on their hands—swapped out Bowie’s face for Steve Buscemi’s and… voilà! You now have this ridiculous animated GIF of Steve Buscemi that shall reside on the Internet. Forever.
I’m not saying this is great or anything. I’m merely saying… here it is.
Nearly five years ago, in August 2010, Sean T. Collins (writer) and Isaac Moylan (artist) posted “The Side Effects of the Cocaine” on a Tumblr dedicated for the purpose. It had as a subtitle, “David Bowie 01 April 1975-02 February 1976,” which puts us squarely in the Thin White Duke era, of course, covering Station to Station (the title of the comic comes the title track of that album), Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bowie’s appearance on Soul Train, Bowie’s Playboy interview, conducted by Cameron Crowe, who also wrote “Ground Control to Davy Jones,” a profile on Bowie for Rolling Stone that appeared in February 1976. As Peter Bebergal wrote in his excellent book Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll, “When a nineteen-year-old Cameron Crowe visited David Bowie for a Rolling Stone magazine interview in 1975, he found a coked-out Bowie lighting black candles to protect himself from unseen supernatural forces outside his window” of his home in Hollywood.
In that Playboy interview Bowie made some comments about the appeal of fascism that would get him into trouble:
Television is the most successful fascist, needless to say. Rock stars are fascists, too. Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars. ... Look at some of his films and see how he moved. I think he was quite as good as Jagger. It’s astounding. And, boy, when he hit that stage, he worked an audience. Good God! He was no politician. He was a media artist himself. He used politics and theatrics and created this thing that governed and controlled the show for those 12 years. The world will never see his like. He staged a country.
It’s one of Bowie’s best and most interesting periods—Station to Station is my favorite Bowie album—and in “The Side Effects of the Cocaine” Collins and Moylan take a peek at the romantic/fucked-up mythos of that period. What is the significance of the dates April 1, 1975-February 2, 1976? Well, April 1, 1975 was the date that Bowie severed ties with MainMan, Tony Defries’ management company, and it’s that scene that kicks us off in the comic. On February 2, 1976 was the start of his Isolar tour, in Vancouver, British Columbia, which ends the comic. You can read an account of that show by Jeani Read under the title “Sinatra Having a Bad Dream,” which presumably ran in the Vancouver Sun the next day (but I don’t know this):
Bowie performances are-have been-legendary for being massively orchestrated orgies of visual and musical sensationalism. Which makes the current offering the biggest no-show of his career. And possibly the best. The thing was absolutely brilliant, maybe for its sheer audacity than anything else, but brilliant nonetheless.
Dressed in black 40’s style vest and pants, white French-cuff shirt, edge of blue Gitanes cigarette pack sneaking out of his vest pocket. Posturing-a naked kind of elegance now, brittle and brave-in front of a bare essential band of guitars, keyboards, drums and bass, on a bare black stage in the bare glare of white-only stage and spots. Looking about as comfortable as Frank might fill-in as lead singer for Led Zeppelin, and even within that assuming total control over the proceedings.Bowie has always said that on stage he feels like an actor playing the part of the rock star.
Collins and Moylan take a slice-of-life approach with Bowie’s life, with the proviso that his life wasn’t anything like a normal person’s at this time. Towards the end some of the panels feature Bowie making utterances from his Playboy interview.
UK-based illustrator Helen Green, a recent Birmingham Institute of Art & Design grad, has created a marvelous series of portraits showing pretty much all the incarnations of David Bowie through his career, including the very, very early David Jones & the King Bees years, and assembled them into this animated gif.
The individual portraits—and rather a lot of other very nice artwork—can be seen on Green’s tumblr.
Personally, I liked Bowie’s natural, crooked teeth vs. the porcelain, Chicklet-esque veneers he has now. They gave him character, IMO. Once he got his teeth fixed, he started showing up on shows like Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee. I blamed the veneers then and I still hold them responsible!
So far the denture sculpture is not for sale, but you never know…
I have to admit that the first time I saw The Man Who Fell to Earth, back in the bad old days of pan-and-scan VHS, I was bewildered and bored. I don’t think I even made it to the part where Bowie takes off his human drag to reveal his true alien form. Now, it’s one of the very few movies I watch at least once a year, because it just gets weirder and more mysterious with every viewing. If you were at my place on these special occasions, you’d hear me asking questions like “Who is that guy who shows up twice without any explanation?” and “Hey, what happened to those genitals?”
Philip K. Dick loved the movie, too. He and his friend Kevin Jeter went to see it in the theater, just as in chapter nine of Dick’s novel VALIS, Dick’s alter ego, Horselover Fat, goes with his friend Kevin to see a movie called VALIS. The plot of the movie-within-the-book comes from Radio Free Albemuth, an abandoned early version of the novel VALIS, but the style of the movie comes from The Man Who Fell to Earth. Interviewer John Boonstra picked up on the connection in a 1981 interview:
The film VALIS inside the novel reminded me in its style of the film The Man Who Fell to Earth.
You got it. You got it. That’s where the idea came. It’s like Madame Bovary going to see Lucia—I remember that scene so well, how it crystallized all the nebulous things that were floating around in Madame Bovary’s mind. Now, that impressed me enormously.
I saw The Man Who Fell to Earth and thought it was one of the finest films—not just science-fiction films, but one of the finest films I had ever seen. I thought it was incredibly original, incredibly provocative, rich in ideas, beautiful in texture, glorious in its overall conception. It was enigmatic. In no way is the film VALIS the plot and theme of The Man Who Fell to Earth, but the idea occurred to me that a science-fiction film, if well done, could be as rich a source of knowledge and information as anything we normally derive our knowledge and information from. The film tremendously impressed me; I just loved it. My use of the film VALIS is my homage to The Man Who Fell to Earth. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life to see that.
According to biographer Lawrence Sutin, Dick so loved the movie that after he saw it he began scrutinizing Bowie’s catalog for clues from VALIS, which, before it was the book or the movie-within-the-book, was one of Dick’s names for the extraterrestrial or supernatural entity he communicated with. VALIS (an acronym for Vast Active Living Intelligence System) was the aspect of the Great Whatsit that took the form of a satellite and sent information in beams of pink light. (If you don’t know about Dick’s epiphanic episodes, check out R. Crumb’s comic “The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick,” or, if you’re really interested, try Dick’s Exegesis.) Sutin writes:
Phil loved [The Man Who Fell to Earth], and for a short time he and [Kevin] Jeter listened closely to Bowie albums, hoping to discern a sly pop sign from God/Valis/Zebra. No luck. But a failed experiment can be a useful plot device, and in Valis [Horselover] Fat and Kevin go to see a movie called Valis, which portrays the struggle between the Albemuth characters Nicholas Brady (who is zapped by the pink light force) and evil President Ferris Fremont. Fat gets in touch with rock star Eric Lampton and his wife, Linda, who both star in the film. Fat is convinced that they know about Valis—the Vast Active Living Intelligence System—and can rescue him from spiritual isolation.
In a 1982 interview with Boonstra—Dick’s last—the author says that he wanted Blade Runner (based on his Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) to live up to The Man Who Fell to Earth:
The thing I had in mind all of the time, from the beginning of it, was The Man Who Fell to Earth. This was the paradigm. That’s why I was so disappointed when I read the first Blade Runner screenplay, because it was the absolute antithesis of what was done in The Man Who Fell to Earth. In other words, it was a destruction of the novel. But now, it’s magic time. You read the screenplay and then you go to the novel, and it’s like they’re two halves to one meta-artwork, one meta-artifact. It’s just exciting.
RCA records paid $25,000 to fly the “cream” of America’s rock press over to see the label’s up-and-coming star David Bowie perform at the Friars Club, Market Square, Aylesbury, England, in July 1972. The record company hoped the scribes from Rolling Stone, CREEM, New York Times, Andy Warhol’s Interview, and the New Yorker, would be sufficiently impressed to spread the word about Bowie back home. It certainly worked as Bowie, along with his Ziggy line-up of Mick Ronson (guitar), Trevor Bolder (bass) and Woody Woodmansey (drums), delivered a blistering set, which been a source of mythical tales and innumerable bootlegs ever since.
Also in the crowd that fateful night were Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor of Queen, who were just starting off on their career. Taylor later recalled the gig for MOJO magazine in 1999:
...Freddie and I saw the first Ziggy gig at Friar’s Aylesbury. We drove down in my Mini. We loved it. I’d seen him there about three weeks before in the long hair and the dress. Suddenly you saw this spiky head coming on stage. You thought, wha-a-at??? They looked like spacemen.
The band’s appearance was not just a shock to the audience as Bowie later explained:
Woody Woodmansey was saying, “I’m not bloody wearing that!” [Laughs] There were certainly comments, a lot of nerves. Not about the music - I think the guys knew that we rocked. But they were worried about the look. That’s what I remember: how uncomfortable they felt in their stage clothes. But when they realized what it did for the birds… The girls were going crazy for them, because they looked like nobody else. So within a couple of days it was, “I’m going to wear the red ones tonight.”
Bowie’s performance at the Friar’s Club was voted the greatest gig to be held at the venue.
While Glenn O’Brienn described the concert in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine:
The Aylesbury town hall is the size of an average pre-war high school gym…There were perhaps a thousand peers in the hall when we entered. At first I thought it was remarkable that RCA had spent at least $25,000 to bring a select group of writers to a concert at which there were no seats for them, save the floor… David Bowie did not come on unannounced. He was in fact preceded on stage by a handsome Negro and his attendants who attempted to work the audience to a fever pitch by tossing them balloons, pinwheels, and hundreds of Bowie posters. The audience needed little prodding, though, and anxiously awaited David Bowie and The Spiders From Mars, while the giant amplifiers sounded a recording of old Ludwig Von’s Song of Joy from the Ninth Symphony. David appeared on stage with his band to what could fairly be called a thunderous ovation. And he deserved every handclap… His hair was a vibrant orange… And the band played on… And David proved himself to be a unique performer.
Bolder and Bowie on stage at Aylesbury, being filmed by Mick Rock.
The Aylesbury gigs was a key moment in Bowie’s career and photographer Mick Rock filmed it all on 16mm. This footage was apparently thought lost until 1995 when it “discovered” and transfered onto video by MainMan. It has not been made officially available although it currently circulates amongst collectors.
While the footage available on YouTube is raw, the camerawork sometimes iffy, and the sound, well, about what you’d expect from a concert, but as an historic document of early footage of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust it is a delight.
Track listing: “Hang On to Yourself,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Queen Bitch,” “Song for Bob Dylan,” “Starman,” “Five Years,” “Waiting for the the Man.”
The color footage is believed to be from the July 15th gig at the Friar’s Club while the b&w footage is from the June 21st gig. Audio taken from July 15th performance.
Seemingly just as Lou Reed left this earth, I noticed this box set on Amazon called Lou Reed Tribute from Chrome Dreams, a UK company that has put out some cool DVDs (this one, Frank Zappa, Keith Richards, etc.) and some stuff that puzzles me (Springsteen, Prince, Britney Spears?).
I wasn’t sure about it but it had three DVDs in a nicely designed box and it was so inexpensive that I had to get it. I had just learned about another product of theirs that looked great, a double DVD documentary about Zappa and Beefheart called When Don Met Frank: Beefheart Vs. Zappa, only to read in the reviews that it was a total ripoff and that it was two old documentaries repackaged in one set without any mention of this anywhere on the product. I was prepared for the worst.
Surprisingly, these were actually pretty good! First up is The Velvet Underground Under Review—yes, the awful title sounds like a science project, but inside is a concise and interesting documentary featuring interviews with at least one person I’d never seen interviewed before (Norman Dolph, who did their first demo acetate that’s been floating around the last few years and is, in fact, on eBay now for $65,000). I really liked the Billy Name segments as he was actually there on the inside in those early days, which they go into pretty deeply, including the pre-Velvets Pickwick Records budget-goofy rock ‘n’ roll recordings Lou was doing, which I love (and which were not all goofy as there was some true garage greatness in there as well). Also great are the Moe Tucker and Doug Yule interviews.
It had a good approach and really, I can watch stuff like this all day.
The second DVD is The Sacred Triangle: Bowie Iggy & Lou 1971-1973. I really enjoyed this one, though as I started to realize, Chrome Dreams is a bit of a “quickie” company and similar people were overlapped in this and the other DVDs making me realize that these were probably not originally intended to be watched back to back. This also has some amazing interviews, and again really delves into the early days of Bowie’s more whimsical period in the sixties when he was already obsessed and ripping off (and covering) The Velvet Underground, having been given one of the first and only pre first album demo acetates in 1965 or ‘66.
It goes into great detail about Bowie’s “cool beginnings” when the cast of Andy Warhol’s play Pork were in London and looking for bands to see and decided to go see an unknown David Bowie because he was wearing a dress on his then-current album cover. These people (Tony Zanetta, Cherry Vanilla, Wayne County and Leee Black Childers) all became Mainman Ltd., the bizarre company that ran most of Bowie’s affairs and mutated him into Ziggy Stardust in no time. Seeing Leee Black Childers (R.I.P.) interviewed, with him in his rockabilly best and with a big Band-aid® on his forehead said it all as far as who he was and how much he gave a fuck, one of the first true punk rockers, ever.
Similarly but multiplied by a hundred is Wayne, now Jayne County (“now” meaning for the last 35 years or so!) who is amazing in a huge red chair with a wild matching red outfit, makeup and her trademark fishnet stockings over her arms like long gloves, talking matter of factly about what really went down. Everyone knows Jayne County as a glam and then punk rock innovator, but we forget (or some don’t know) that Jayne was a real Warhol Superstar along with Candy Darling, Holly Woodlawn and Jackie Curtis. And Jayne starred in Warhol’s Pork (as Vulva, a characterization of Viva). The interviews with Angie Bowie, as always, are insane and classic. This DVD was really great and informative about my favorite small moment in rock n roll. The only annoyance is that they didn’t know who Cherry Vanilla is, and they talk about her a lot as she starred in Pork but kept showing a photo of someone else every time they referred to her!
The last DVD, Punk Revolution NYC: The Velvet Underground, The New York Dolls and the CBGB Set 1966-1974 is also really great, surprisingly. Believe me, with a title like this, where I come from this should be a real groaner, but it wasn’t. Not to discredit some of the interviewees, but I think that a lot of bigger names wouldn’t talk to Chrome Dreams, or couldn’t, so they had to dig deeper and get some people that did not become famous, but certainly are people I know that most definitely deserve to be interviewed and put a new spin on a now pretty tired subject. So it actually worked in their favor.
A good “for instance” is Elda Stiletto (Gentile), someone I knew and someone who is the perfect bridge to the exact time frame of this documentary. Elda was married to Warhol Superstar Eric Emerson. Emerson started pretty much the first glitter band in NYC, The Magic Tramps, only to be steamrolled by the New York Dolls and all that came in their path. Eric Emerson was also the upside down figure on The Velvet Underground and Nico LP’s back cover, who sued hoping to get some quick dough, but was foiled when he just caused the LP to be delayed, first with a big sticker covering him, then with his image being airbrushed out of the photo entirely. (Why none of this was mentioned is beyond me.) Elda Stiletto then went on to form The Stilettos with Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, a sort of “glitter doo wop” group that morphed into Blondie after all the other girls were gotten rid of. Two of the other gals in The Stilettos were Tish and Snooky who would go on to sing in The Sic Fucks and founded Manic Panic, a small punk store (that is now a large corporation—I was their first employee!) on St. Marks Place (just a few doors down from where The Dom was, where The Velvets played, later to become The Electric Circus where The Stooges and many others played).
Also interviewed are Suicide’s Alan Vega, Richard Lloyd from Television, Leee Black Childers and Jayne County, this time in the most insane outfit ever! She’s on a big black couch, reclining on her back, facing the camera completely covered in a ton of black fabric so she looks like a demented floating disembodied head! Ha ha!! To top it all off she’s wearing a black witchy wig and crazy electric blue makeup that is just insane looking. She never fails to blow my mind! They also talked to Richard Hell, Ivan Julian from The Voidoids, photographer Roberta Bayley, Danny Fields and more. There was oddly, no mention of The Ramones!
Ultimately all three DVDs come off like extremely dry BBC docs and there is a lot of overlap, but it doesn’t totally take away from the experience. The punk DVD just suddenly says “End of Part One” and stops, which is annoying because it actually was good. Where is part two? Sprinkled throughout these documentaries are critics like Robert Christgau and Simon Reynolds, biographer Victor Bockris and other experts.
Below, here’s the lead doc, The Velvet Underground Under Review. The quality is “eh” so you might want to get the DVDs. The Lou Reed Tribute DVD box set sells for less than $20 on Amazon. Used it’s under $10.
In 1987 David Bowie recorded the album Never Let Me Down. What I didn’t know and perhaps you might and are still trying to forget is that a track on the record called “Shining Star (Makin’ My Love),” includes a rap by actor Mickey Rourke mid-way through the song.
Sometimes the world doesn’t make sense, and this is one of those times. The story goes that after meeting Bowie in London while filming A Prayer for the Dying, Rourke approached the Thin White Duke about making an artistic contribution to Never Let Me Down. Bowie agreed and now we can all cross “hearing Mickey Rourke rap on a David Bowie album” off of our collective bucket lists.
In about a week residents of Chicagoland will be able to wallow in all things Bowie, as the much-acclaimed “David Bowie Is” exhibition makes its way there after its highly successful run in London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, which curated it in the first place. It will be showing at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, which will be the only U.S. museum to host the show. (The MCA is so excited about the show that there’s an actual countdown ticker on that page.)
Also so excited, as the Eater blog informs us, that they have created a special David Bowie-themed food and cocktails menu at the accompanying Puck’s Cafe, which means that you can expect a bunch of delicious creations thinly connected to various songs, albums, and movies from Bowie’s long and storied career. The “China Girl” cocktail description has the word “jasmin” in it, for instance.
In the mid-1970s, Bowie famously lived on a milk, red pepper, and cocaine diet—it’s noticeable that none of the items below feature any of those ingredients! It’s all just a huge missed opportunity. The special menu will be available on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays only. I live in Cleveland, so I might make my way up to Chicago one of these days to check it out.
Here are the menu pages (clicking will get you a larger image):
And a text rendering of same:
Ziggy Stardust Schmaltz $13
Assortment of cheeses: drunken goat cheese, crispy parmesan reggiano,delice de bourginone, truffled cream cheese, pickled beech mushrooms, candied cashews and grilled french baguette
Thin White Duke $8
Wolfgang Puck flatbread, fontina and mozzarella cheese, confit garlic, roasted tomatoes, cracked black pepper, arugula salad