Thursday, 20 June 2013

David Bowie is (part 17): 'Wir sind dann helden, für einen tag'

After the first tour with Iggy Pop, David Bowie declined to join a second because, in his own words, "the drug use was unbelievable, and I knew it was killing me". However on 16 April 1977 he began producing another album for Iggy Pop, Lust For Life. Once again Bowie had some songs written which Pop added lyrics to, most of which he took just as Bowie had written with one notable exception. The song 'Success' Pop described as a "damn crooning thing". He stripped down the melody and made it his own. One song Bowie didn't write but did have a hand in, in a roundabout way, was 'The Passenger'. Bowie heard guitarist Ricky Gardiner playing around with some chords and urged Pop to use it to write another song which, of course, he did. When the album was released in August it reached number 28 in Britain, still Iggy Pop's most successful album here (Click to hear 'Lust For Life', 'The Passenger', 'Tonight', 'Success' and 'Neighbourhood Threat').

As with The Idiot so with Lust For Life, David Bowie used making an album with Iggy Pop as a way of developing ideas for his own next album. The heart of the 'Berlin Trilogy' the next album, "Heroes", was the only one entirely recorded in Berlin, during July and August. Co-producer Tony Visconti described Berlin at that time as both "a dream... and [a place] where everything said, "We shouldn't be making a record here"". The main Hansa studio was right by the Berlin Wall. Visconti says it was "really scary. We recorded 500 feet from barbed wire, and a tall tower where you could see gun turrets, with foreign soldiers looking at us with binoculars." This set the tone for the sessions.

They were joined by Alomar, Davis and Murray plus Brian Eno once more. The only song Bowie had worked out before reaching the studio was 'Sons of the Silent Age', an interesting track as Bowie employs a singing style from a much earlier time in his career, around 1967. 'V-2 Schneider' is a reference to German rockets from the time of the second world war and the founder of Bowie's favourite German electronic band Kraftwerk, namely Florian Schneider. Again Bowie employed the technique of writing the songs at almost the same time as recording them, in the case of the title track quite literally. Bowie had watched Pop improvising lyrics as he recorded them or finalising them at the last minute and he adopted the same technique on the song "Heroes". Visconti says, "He would scribble down a few notes on the top of the piano, then say, "OK, drop me in after 'Dolphins can swim'." And that way he wrote and sang "Heroes" simultaneously. At the end of half an hour we had a complete vocal." Of course the song also namechecks the Berlin Wall itself, the scene of a romantic moment. Bowie claimed to have seen two lovers share a kiss by the Wall. Later Tony Visconti claimed it was him and his girlfreind although she has since denied it. Strangely, the song that would become Bowie's best known and his fans' favourite only reached number 24 in Britain. The album, however, when it was released in October made number 3.

All lyrics written by David Bowie; all music composed by Bowie, except where noted.

Side one

  1. 'Beauty and the Beast' – 3:32
  2. 'Joe the Lion' – 3:05
  3. ''Heroes'' (Bowie, Brian Eno) – 6:07
  4. 'Sons of the Silent Age' – 3:15
  5. 'Blackout' – 3:50

Side two

  1. 'V-2 Schneider' – 3:10
  2. 'Sense of Doubt' – 3:57
  3. 'Moss Garden' (Bowie, Eno) – 5:03
  4. 'Neuköln' (Bowie, Eno) – 4:34
  5. 'The Secret Life of Arabia' (Bowie, Eno, Carlos Alomar) – 3:46

On 9 September 1977 David Bowie began promoting his new album and single with a TV appearance on the new show of his old rival and friend Marc Bolan, called 'Marc'. Bolan's new band was essentially Bowie's old one, namely Tony Newman and Herbie Flowers. When Bolan explained he wanted Bowie to join them for a jam at the end of the show Bowie told him he hadn't brought a guitar. Bolan handed him a vintage Fender Stratocaster and insisted he keep it. Bolan was apparently upset when it became clear that Bowie wanted to play the guitar part himself on the backing track that would accompany him on his performance of "Heroes" (see it here), understandable given it was the first time it had been performed on TV. Bowie showed the song to Newman and Flowers and they picked it up immediately. At the end of the show Bolan announced 'a new song' and they went into the jam (see it here). As Bowie began to sing Bolan attempted to stand on a monitor, missed it and fell off the stage. The camera zooms in on Bowie grinning and the credits roll. The recording of the show was already running very late and the cast of 'Coronation Street' were waiting to begin filming. The unionised crew refused to go into overtime and the show had to go out like that. It wouldn't have been so tragic but for the fact that by the time the show went out Bolan was dead. His girlfriend crashed the purple Mini GT he was in into a tree on the south side of Barnes common around 5am on 15 September. Bowie was devastated by Bolan's death and attended his funeral.

After keeping a low profile during the previous year (the cover of the album 'Low' is a visual pun as in the word 'Low' and a shot of Bowie in profile) Bowie was now doing lots to promote his new material. After his appearance on Marc, Bowie recorded a Christmas special with Bing Crosby. The small talk may have been scripted and appear fake but the politeness and friendliness was apparently genuine. Bowie appeared relaxed, clean-cut and healthy which was a reasonably honest portrait of him at this time. On his up-coming tour he did have one notorious 24-hour coke bender, but that aside Bowie was now living a much cleaner lifestyle. Here is his duet with Bing and here is his specially pre-recorded video of "Heroes" for the 1977 Bing Crosby Christmas Special.
Next time: Gigolos, voyages and a stage

No comments:

Post a Comment