Wednesday, 12 June 2013

David Bowie is (part 13): 'Tens of thousands found me in demand'

Between October 1973 and February 1974 David Bowie began to record a new album with his old producer and friend Tony Visconti. Bowie had originally intended his next album to be a rock adaptation of George Orwell's 1984. He had even got as far as writing three songs for the project, '1984', 'Big Brother' and 'We Are The Dead'. When he approached Orwell's widow, Sonia, she refused permission on the grounds that she thought it sounded 'bizarre'.

Undeterred, Bowie came up with his own concept of a dystopian post-apocalyptic future world, known as Hunger City, complete with roller-skating gangs, violence and drugs. Bowie played a new character, Halloween Jack, a 'real cool cat'. At the time of its release Bowie described Diamond Dogs as "a very political album. My protest... more me than anything I've done previously". Diamond Dogs' raw guitar style and visions of urban chaos, scavenging children and nihilistic lovers ("We'll buy some drugs and watch old bands / And jump in the river holding hands") have been credited with anticipating the punk revolution that would take place in the following years. Bowie himself has described the Diamond Dogs, introduced in the title song, as
"all little Johnny Rottens and Sid Viciouses really. And, in my mind, there was no means of transport, so they were all rolling around on these roller-skates with huge wheels on them, and they squeaked because they hadn't been oiled properly. So there were these gangs of squeaking, roller-skating, vicious hoods, with Bowie knives and furs on, and they were all skinny because they hadn't eaten enough, and they all had funny-coloured hair. In a way it was a precursor to the punk thing."

Diamond Dogs was released at the end of April and it went to number one in Britain and to number five in the US.

Diamond Dogs
All songs written by David Bowie, except where noted.

Side one

  1. 'Future Legend' – 1:05
  2. 'Diamond Dogs' – 5:56
  3. 'Sweet Thing' – 3:39
  4. 'Candidate' – 2:40
  5. 'Sweet Thing (Reprise)' – 2:31
  6. 'Rebel Rebel' – 4:30

Side two

  1. 'Rock 'n' Roll with Me' (lyrics: Bowie; music: Bowie, Warren Peace) – 4:00
  2. 'We Are the Dead' – 4:58
  3. '1984' – 3:27
  4. 'Big Brother' – 3:21
  5. 'Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family' – 2:00

On 1 April 1974 David Bowie arrived in New York. He intended to move there and to sort out his problems with manager Tony Defries. Almost immediately he contacted Michael Kamen, a British rocker with a coke habit and a band that included guitarist Earl Slick. Kamen was employed as his Musical Director. He also auditioned a young session musician called Carlos Alomar but Alomar wasn't prepared to take the big drop in wages MainMan was offering. In June Bowie began the Diamond Dogs tour. His fans were shocked to see the 'Ziggy' hair and outfits gone in favour of floppy blonde hair, double-breasted suits and braces.

The first leg of the (US) Diamond Dogs Tour had elaborate staging that Bowie had been toying with since 1971. The $400,000 set included a backdrop of thirty-foot skyscrapers representing 'Hunger City', his dystopian metropolitan setting, plus a motorised bridge, a remote-controlled mirrored module and a cherry-picker in which Bowie would descend singing 'Space Oddity' into a radio mic disguised as a telephone. Bowie was obssessively attempting to assimilate the then-current cutting-edge R&B/soul into his repetoire and despite the outrage and negative criticism of his peers, he achieved it with some considerable success, as can be heard on the album David Live which was recorded on 14 & 15 July 1974.

When the first leg of the tour was finished Bowie went to Sigma Sound in Philadelphia to record a session for his next album. This time he managed to get Carlos Alomar to join him. The result of this first session, which was a conscious effort to make a soul-orientated album, was another new direction. Around this time Bowie realised that he was not an equal partner in his management company MainMan, as he had naively assumed, but an employee! Shortly after the tour resumed, Bowie was introduced to a young BBC director called Alan Yentob who wanted to make a documentary about him in America. The result, Cracked Actor, depicted Bowie thin, paranoid and frequently 'out of his gourd', as Bowie would later put it, on cocaine. It is a fascinating document of a man who was lucky to survive this period in his life.

In October 1974 Bowie decided to ditch his expensive set in its entirety and play the shows with an even more blatant soul sound. In November he filmed for the Dick Cavett Show in New York. Again it demonstrates the effect of excessive amounts of cocaine, although his addiction was to get even worse.

Next time: Lennon, more cocaine and The Tree Of Life

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