Wednesday, 19 June 2013

David Bowie is (part 16): 'I've lived all over the world'

By the end of May 1976 David Bowie was back in the studio in the French chateau where he had recorded 'Pin Ups'. This time, however, he wasn't recording his own album but an album with Iggy Pop, The Idiot. The starting point was the song 'Sister Midnight' a song Bowie had written with Carlos Alomar and performed on his recent tour. Bowie also offered Iggy 'China Girl' and 'Nightclubbing' which Pop eagerly accepted. The rest of the album was written between them. For Bowie, as producer, it was an opportunity to experiment with tape loops, electronic instruments and European music, something he would develop further on his next album.

Bowie and Iggy Pop decided to move to Berlin to get off cocaine. They were, in a sense, in rehab. Bowie gave away many of his possessions, drastically reduced his entourage to two or three people and bought his own bread and milk. In August 1976 Tony Visconti arrived in Berlin. Hansa Studios on the Kurfurstendamm was to be the location of David Bowie's so-called 'Berlin Trilogy'. Studio 1 had been booked for Bowie to work on some music he had originally recorded for the soundtrack to the film 'The Man Who Fell To Earth'. This had been abandoned when the deal fell apart. Instead the studio was used to do some post-production on Iggy Pop's The Idiot. In early September Visconti, Bowie and his by now consistent band of Alomar, Murray and Davis met up once again in the chateau and were joined by piano player Roy Young and guitarist Ricky Gardiner and later by ex-Roxy Music, art-rock experimenter and synthesiser wizard Brian Eno.
The sessions were very experimental. Bowie had come only with a few riffs and ideas which were worked up by the band. After a brief visit by Angie Bowie and her boyfriend Roy Martin which ended in a fight between the two men, Bowie wrote 'Breaking Glass' with the lyrics, "I've been breaking glass in your room again... Don't look at the carpet I drew something awful on it". This referred back to Bowie's interest in Kaballah. 'Always Crashing in the Same Car' was a reference to his Mercedes which he crashed twice. Bowie had an idea for a song based on his experiences in Poland. Whilst he was in Paris for legal meetings with his former manager Michael Lippman, Eno pieced his part together. One day he heard Visconti's son Morgan playing the haunting notes A, B, C on the reception room piano and so Eno incorporated it as the main melody of what became 'Warzawa'. Bowie then added his wordless vocals based on a recording of a Balkan choir.
After the sessions came to end there were overdubs to be done. These were done at Hansa in Berlin, at the newly opened Studio 2 which was right next to the Berlin Wall. There they completed 'Subterraneans' and 'Weeping Wall'. The result was an album that, when it was released in January 1977, elicited little critical response and what response it did get was mostly mired in confusion. Some critics did like it but it would take a long time before it would be considered a great work of art. The album reached number two in Britain and the single, 'Sound And Vision', got to number three despite Bowie doing almost nothing to promote the album and refusing to tour with it. The album is, of course, Low.
All lyrics written by David Bowie; all music composed by David Bowie except where noted.
Side one

  1. 'Speed of Life' – 2:46
  2. 'Breaking Glass' (Bowie, Dennis Davis, George Murray) – 1:52
  3. 'What in the World' – 2:23
  4. 'Sound and Vision' – 3:05
  5. 'Always Crashing in the Same Car' – 3:33
  6. 'Be My Wife' – 2:58
  7. 'A New Career in a New Town' – 2:53

Side two
  1. 'Warszawa' (Bowie, Brian Eno) – 6:23
  2. 'Art Decade' – 3:46
  3. 'Weeping Wall' – 3:28
  4. 'Subterraneans' – 5:39

A second single, 'Be My Wife', failed to reach the Top 40 in Britain.

In March 1977 David Bowie decided to tour not with his own new album, Low, but with Iggy Pop's The Idiot. The first gig was in Aylesbury, the town where Ziggy made his debut. At first no one noticed Bowie but a few songs in someone spotted him playing an electric piano. The audience split in two, half the audience moved to catch a glimpse of Bowie, the rest stayed where they were and watched Iggy Pop. Former New York Doll Johnny Thunders, the Sex Pistols' Glen Matlock and the Damned's Brian James had stayed watching Iggy. Nevertheless many punks didn't mind admitting they had been inspired by Ziggy Stardust. During the tour Pop and Bowie were interviewed on the Dinah Shore programme in America. This illuminating interview is most remarkable for how relatively 'ordinary' the pair seem (Click to watch Interview 1, Interview 2, and a performance of 'Funtime'). The band playing with them included brothers Hunt and Tony Sales, who would later be half of Bowie’s band Tin Machine.

Next time: lust, walls and dolphins.

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