Sunday, 21 February 2016

Bowie Top Six #6: Blackstar, 2016

See the Blackstar video, ten minutes long

Hear hypertextualised lyrics to the Starman's farewell song*


00:00






02:15 The Ecstatic Twitchers

Your eyes

03.30 Solar Eclipse

(Instrumental interlude)

04:00 The Book Of Blackstar
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried 
'I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar!'



I can’t answer why (I’m a blackstar)

- I’m a blackstar; I’m not a popstar; I’m a blackstar -


05:50:  Bowie thumbs his nose at the camera and to all his critics, over all the decades of his long and successful career!

(I’m a Blackstar, I’m a Blackstar)

Something happened on the day he died
06:40

I can’t answer why (I’m not a gangstar)
We were born upside-down (I’m a Star's star)
I’m a blackstar, I’m not a gangstar

07:40 Three Crucified Scare Crows

In the villa of Ormen stands a solitary candle
Ah-ah, ah-ah
At the centre of it all, your eyes
On the day of execution, only women kneel and smile
Ah-ah, ah-ah
At the centre of it all, your eyes, your eyes
Ah-ah-ah
10:00

*This may be an-ongoing project, but it's been seven weeks today since David died, so that's enough Bowie for now!




Saturday, 20 February 2016

Bowie Top Six #5: Word On A Wing, 1976


'Religion is for people who fear hell, 

spirituality is for people who have been there.'


Yoo-hoo

The day David Bowie's death was announced via Facebook was awful, from waking up to the news, but made more tolerable by people posting their favourite Bowie songs; the ones that meant the most to them. Mine is Word On A Wing and I love this version of it, from VH1 Storytellers, which David introduces by relating how one of his most profoundly spiritual lyrics came from his darkest place, in the depths of his mid-70s addiction. "Unwittingly," he says, "this song was a signal of distress. I'm sure that it was a call for help."


"Word On A Wing I can't talk about," Bowie told the NME, provocatively, in 1980. "There were days of such psychological terror when making the Roeg film that I nearly started to approach my reborn, born again thing.
It was the first time I'd really seriously thought about Christ and God in any depth and Word On A Wing was a protection. It did come as a complete revolt against elements that I found in the film. The passion in the song was genuine. It was also around that time that I started thinking about wearing this (fingers small silver cross hanging on his chest) again, which is now almost a left-over from that period.
I wear it, I'm not sure why I wear it now even. But at the time I really needed this. Hmmm (laughs), we're getting into heavy waters… but yes, the song was something I needed to produce from within myself to safeguard myself against some of the situations that I felt were happening on the film set."

Bowie thought he needed protection, perhaps from a coven of Satanic black witches who were trying to steal his semen in order to breed a devil child (you know, like in Rosemary’s Baby?) but certainly from a demonic entity in the swimming pool of his rented Los Angeles pad. According to his biographer, Mark Spitz, Bowie asked Cherry Vanilla - a loyal friend during his most paranoid phase - if she knew anyone who could help and so made contact with a white witch who taught classes in magic at the New York School of Occult Arts and Sciences. Walli Elmlark liked to wear 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." With her long black hair, complete with dyed green streak highlights, she certainly looked the part of a wise, witchy woman.

Either she was summonsed to Bowie's Los Angeles residence, where Walli exorcised the swimming pool, and/or she talked him through it on the phone. It's not entirely clear because the relevant passage in Angie Bowie's scurrilous memoir, Backstage Passes: Life on the Wild Side with David Bowie, is beyond the scope of Google! However, Angie was there (and how extraordinary was it that she was on British TV when her ex-husband died!) and she can confirm: '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.' Mark Spitz says: 'Elmlark wrote a series of spells and incantations out for Bowie and remained on call for Bowie as he continued to wrestle with the forces of darkness.' She also gave him a long reading list.

As Ian MacDonald explains in his indispensable essay, David Bowie: White Lines, Black Magic, our hero customarily stayed up all night, wired, reading all sorts of esoteric literature, but he became obsessed with Dion Fortune's, Psychic Self-Defence. This is hilarious in the internet age, when we can all see the Explanatory Note that prefaces the book: 'There are some practical steps that you can take to restore the balance in your life. Please consider the following: ...2. Keep away from all drugs... 4. Keep to a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep and fresh air, and take physical exercise.' Legendarily,  the Thin White Duke largely subsisted on a diet of milk, red peppers and cocaineLots of cocaine.

Dion Fortune is also the author of The Mystical Qabalah (1935), which remains a standard text in the study of Hermetic Kabbalah, the Western esotericism that was developed by The Golden Dawn, which Bowie mentioned in song as far back as Hunky Dory. The lyric to Quicksand also name checks Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), once dubbed, 'the wickedest man in the world' and Nazis, or 'Himmler's sacred realm of dream reality,' which Simon Critchley contends, 'displays an acute awareness of Himmler’s understanding of National Socialism as political artifice, as an artistic and especially architectural construction, as well as a cinematic spectacle.' And that was long before Bowie started telling anyone who'd listen that Hiltler was the first pop star, as he did throughout 75/76, from  Bruno Stein in the February 1975 issue of Creem to Cameron Crowe in the September 1976 edition of Playboy: 'I believe very strongly in fascism. The only way we can speed up the sort of liberalism that’s hanging foul in the air at the moment is to speed up the progress of a right-wing, totally dictatorial tyranny and get it over as fast as possible.'

Much has been made of Bowie's association with Crowley, but as as Peter–R. Koenig suggests in his essay, The Laughing Gnostic — David Bowie and the Occult, while 'Bowie's keywords, 'Aleister Crowley' and 'the Golden Dawn' show us where to dig deeper to understand his symbolism', he was hardly a devotee of Thelema. As a randy young man, Bowie may well have been interested in taboo-busting 'sex magick' and he did have sex with under age girls, but he didn't take Crowley too seriously, dismissing him as a 'charlatan' in later interviews while asserting his preference for the works of Edward Waite (who is best known as the co-creator of the Rider-Waite & Waite-Smith Tarot decks).

As Koenig says, 'in the early 1970s, there were as many occult bookstores around as health food shops' and, in reading around, if not through practice, Bowie evidently did pick up an understanding of the workings of the Tree of Life glyph, as the lyrics to the song, Station to Station, profess with their allusion to 'one magical movement from Kether and Malkuth.' This is the journey of manifestation, the lightning flash that travels down from the Supernals, touching each of the ten sephiroth to become grounded in the garden of our mundane consensus reality. Other lyrical allusions to the Tree in that song are often missed: 'Here am I, flashing no colour,'  is surely a reference to the colours attributed to each sephiroth; the only one to have no colour is Kether, the Crown, which is surrounded by infinite brilliance of Ain Soph Aour. (The staging of Station To Station made great use of brilliant white light.) The phrase that follows, 'Tall in this room overlooking the ocean,' sounds a lot like a Tarot card, The Tower, which is usually depicted as having been struck by lightning that forces sudden and unexpected ch-ch-ch-changes. (Bowie painted his own tarot cards.) When, in that song, Bowie declaims, 'the European canon is here,' he refers not to an arsenal, but the Western esoteric tradition of Hermetic Kabbalah, which developed in Europe after the Renaissance.



Initially, Bowie described Station To Station as, 'quite German; a very Germanic romantic statement that gives me another character to work with or become.' The character in question being The Thin White Duke, an aristocratic wastrel who turned out not to be a nasty piece of work, not so much Germanic as fascistic. In terms of its production, however, and lush textures, the record is romantic. Vocally, Bowie continued to develop the dramatic baritone he'd been cultivating since Diamond Dogs, which was to influence the likes of Ian Curtis, who never learned to sing, but basically copied Bowie. Remember for a moment Bowie singing, 'in the age of grand illusion...' Then hear, again in your head, Love Will Tear Us Apart (or check THIS out!) It's not just dodgy Nazi allusions that Joy Div. cribbed from Herr Duke!

Emaciated and aloof, the alienated persona that emerged on the set of The Man Who Fell To Earth - where  Bowie impersonated an alien chiefly by pretending to be himself - was, as the Actor - Bowie referred to himself as 'the Actor' during this period, when he actually was an actor, but before he became The Dame - later admitted, "an isolationist, very much on his own, with no commitment to any society at all." The mirrors all around him weren't just the ones he snorted white lines from: as above, so below, but which way is up? Stylistically, he was not so much the man who fell to Earth as an Übermensch who emanated via a blinding flash of lightning. The photograph on the album cover was taken on the set of the film and The Duke went out to promote Station To Station wearing Thomas Jerome Newton's black waistcoat and white shirt that were put together for him by The Man Who Fell To Earth's costume designer, Ola Hudson, who had a son, then eight years old, who grew up to be the guitarist in Guns & Roses!

Given the level of madness that surrounded the project, it's amazing that Station To Station got made - Bowie later stated that he couldn’t remember recording the album at all, although "I know it was in L.A. because I've read it was" - never mind that it's a masterpiece. Bowie claimed the record was made by "an entirely different person," yet it is an archetypal Bowie record and for many fans, it's our fave Dave rave. His ability to produce some of his best work while out of his mind differentiates David Bowie from any other pop star who ever snorted a line of coke, probably. He is perhaps the sole exception to the rule that, when cocaine erodes the sensitivities, boring and irrelevant art ensues. In most cases, pop stars come up with their best ideas before they achieve material success. Then, once the cash comes flooding in, providing the wherewithal to cultivate a cocaine habit, they soon lose touch with what made them special in the first place and swiftly become irrelevant. But Mr Bowie went the other way. Even when coked off his chump and working on auto  pilot, David Bowie was brilliant. When he got sober and went mainstream... ah!

By the time they got around to making Station To Station, the rhythm section led by Carlos Alomar (guitar), with George Murray on bass and Dennis Davis on drums, that gelled over Young Americans and was to comprise the core of Bowie's band for the next decade had become so adept that they could move their funk in any direction, even while their leader was driving blind. Not that your man was the only one getting sniffed up in the studio. Earl Slick joined the festivities to build the bombast of the title track: "The feedback at the beginning was me and David going through two sets of Marshall stacks in the live room at Cherokee Studios. It was two in the morning, and we were just feeding back like two crazy guys." Sounds intense doesn't it? Still, as Ben Graham said in his review of its 35th anniversary re-release in September 2010, 'Station To Station is far from the work of an artist in decline. Rather, it extends the Philly funk of Young Americans into weirder, colder territory, and marks the beginning of the period of radical musical reinvention and rigorous introspection that would continue through the Berlin period.'

At bowiesongs, they reckon that another factor in the album's successful completion was Word On A Wing, 'a talisman encased in a song' that closes side one of the vinyl LP.  Frank Cottrell Boyce - whose favourite Bowie song it is - describes Word On A Wing as 'this breathless, passionate, theologically very straightforward hymn: 'Lord I kneel and over you my word on a wing, I’m trying hard to fit into your scheme of things.'' How straightforward it is may be a matter of opinion - bowiesongs insists that, 'as prayers go it’s rather opaque and quietly defiant, more of an opening negotiation tactic than a submission to a higher power:' 'Just because I believe, don't mean I don't think as well, but I don't have to question everything in heaven or hell,' croons the Duke. So, however conventionally devout, Word On A Wing is definitely a payer, concerned with the redemptive power of faith.

What is a hymn if not a love song? For me, this song continues to evoke a certain person who has been absent from my life for more than twenty years, but I still think of just about every day, so forcibly did she intrude upon my scheme of things. Of course, Bowie would have no problem with my interpretation, or anyone's. Above all, the Actor understood that art is only given meaning, finally, by those whom it affects. This is but one of the paradoxes presented by Word On A Wing, the shaft of brilliant light in the darkness of what is undeniably a heavy record, from David Bowie's darkest daze.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Bowie Top Six #4: Ashes To Ashes, 1981

'The end comes when the infinites arrive.'


When I nominate Ashes To Ashes as number four in my Bowie top six, I really mean Fa,Fa,Fa,Fa,Fashion, too, of course. Conceptually, Ashes To Ahes is a great song, you know, frightfully fun-2-funky and we are all well aware that Major Tom is on junk,  but Fashion brings the funk (as well as the Goon Squad). Both are singles drawn from Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)David Bowie's last album as a 'cult,' albeit a ginormous, trans-Atlantic cult. As Jon Savage concluded in The Face, November 1980, 'the mystique is still deadly strong.'


It was the moment when Bowie harvested the seeds he'd sewn as Ziggy Stardust a decade earlier, when he recruited extras for the video from the regulars at The Blitz Club, ran by a pair of Bowie fanaticsRusty Egan & Steve Strange. Their Bowie Nights at Billy's Club have been called, 'the birth of the London club scene' and now they were at the heart of a new scene, headquartered at a Blitz-themed wine bar on the fringes of Covent Garden. Bowie's visit, to select extras for his Ashes To Ashes video, was enshrined in pop mythology as a key scene in Worried About The Boy a TV drama from 2010 about Boy George before he was famous and worked in the coat room at The Blitz.

In his autobiography, Blitzed! Steve Strange shares his memories of that evening: 'Word soon spread like wildfire that David Bowie was there. He was probably the reason most people at the club had got into pop music in the first place. Travel back to the childhood bedroom of most Blitz Kids and you'll find a David Bowie poster on the wall. He had changed his look and his sound so many times, there were more than enough images to go round. The alien from Low and The Man Who Fell To Earth. Aladdin Sane. Diamond Dogs. Ziggy Stardust.
"Hello Steve, David Bowie here... would you like to be in my new video? You'll have to get your own clobber together. I've already got my outfit sorted, it's a bit Joseph Grimaldi!"
He was the one person that everyone there would cite as an influence, even more important than punk. Everyone wanted to go upstairs and see him. We had to have extra security to keep people back. He said it was a great scene and asked me if I would like to appear in the video for his next single.'

Rusty Egan, who had another job as a drummer, was absent, so he didn't get to be in the video, which was shot the very next day - meeting at 6am outside the Kensington Hilton after a night on the tiles! - and featured Steve, plus three fashion students who frequented the club: 'This was the most important moment of my life,' recalled Steve Strange.  'I rushed around and found Judith Franklin, Darla Jane Gilroy and another girl for the video. As soon as the club closed, I rushed home and sorted out my outfit.  We had quickly agreed that we should all dress as gothic, ecclesiastical priests, in black an white topped off with heads and crucifixes. The  Vatican always was a great source of inspiration.  I had a long gown on and a kind of meted beekeeper' hat designed by Stephen Jones and was all ready to be jetted off to a glamorous location.  Barbados ? Spain ? Paris ? The coach arrived and we were told where we were going. Southend.'

The ensuing three minute film, which now looks cheap and rather nasty, was at the time the most expensive music video ever made, although The Blitz Kids who appeared in it were happy to get fifty quid each for a full day's filming. Co-directed by David Mallet, who had shot several other videos for Bowie over which he had complete control, Bowie story-boarded Ashes To Ashes himself, actually drew it frame for frame. Mallet edited it exactly as Bowie wanted it and allowed him to say publicly (pretentiously) that it is his first direction. "I've always wanted to direct and this is a great chance to start - to get some money from a record company and then go away and sort of play with it," the dilettante rock god later told the NME.

According to this abandoned blog,  Ashes To Ashes is the second best pop video ever, but this bloke sometimes also thinks, 'this is the best song ever made,' which it certainly is not. Likesay, it's not even the best track on Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). In fact, the title track is better, featuring as it does David's last credible Anthony Newley inflection, which is far from saying it was the last time Bowie channelled Newley, but as Mark Saunders makes clear in his compilation of Bowie's impersonations, the next time Bowie gave us his Tony Newley, darling, it was in the context of Absolute Beginners - 'Ebsoloot Beginnahs!' as we hardened old Bowie boys derisively sang. That was the precise moment that Bowie got away from us and completed his ultimate transformation, into The Dame.

Absolute Beginners was one of the most over-egged cinematic productions of the decade. It was directed by Julian Temple, who had collaborated with Bowie the previous year on a 20 minute 'experimental' video single, Jazzin' With Blue Jean. Blue Jean was the single from Tonight, the album that came after Let's Dance and, by common consent, the single worst Bowie album in his discography.

Absolute Beginners was a musical adaptation of Colin McInnes cult novel, the cornerstone of his London trilogy (as The Long Firm is to Jake Arnott's). Though it may not have been quite as bad as contemporaneous opinion suggested, the pantomime analogy is not inappropriate. Saunders' compilation also refers to the recording, made in 1985, while working with Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley on the title song for the soundtrack, that surely represents the nadir of Bowie's career; his #1 Worst Song, The Laughing Gnome not withstanding. I mean, of course, his desecration, in cahoots with Mick Jagger, of Dancing In The Street. They did it almost live in two takes, apparently, and shot the awful video the very next day. Repent in leisure. (Still, I read that Martha Reeves loved them for it. She made more money in the two years after that came out than over the previous 20.)

Then came Live Aid, where at least David didn't go down on one knee onstage and recite the Lord's prayer. That came later, at the Freddie Mercury tribute in 1992, when our hero wore a pistacchio suit. Bowie is accredited with having the ingenious idea of editing footage of starving Ethopian children to a mournful song by The Cars with inappropriate lyrics about getting a lift home. If not personally responsible, he undeniably truncated his Live Aid set to make time for the tear-jerking video. Still, nothing is worse than the Dame's lame rendering of Dancing in the Street, accompanied by the campest video ever. 'That's the way I shall remember him,' said a Facebook friend, to my scornful rejoinder, 'not much of a Bowie fan, then?' Gorgeous George Galloway - who now co-presents an RT show, Sputnik - also indicated that performance as the way he will remember Bowie, but that's coming from a geezer who pretended to be Rula Lenska's pussy.

As it goes, I met Clive Langer once or twice, when I did some work in his house. When Bowie's name came up, I scrupulously avoided the subject of street dance and reminisced about Earls Court in '78, which was awesome, compared with the Serious Moonlight tour that visited Milton Keynes in '82, which was just... 'showbiz?' suggested Clive. Indeed. Le mot juste. Once he tasted mainstream success with Let's Dance, the mystique was gone. Still, back on the shoot for the seminal Ashes to Ashes video, down on the beach at Pett Level in Essex, Steve Strange was wondering, what it was all about?

'The basic plot for the day involved David Bowie in a pierrot outfit, much like the one I had been wearing at Blitz, walking along the beach followed by me and the girls and then a bulldozer.  Don't ask me what it was meant to mean, though I'm sure David and the director, David Mallett, were striving for something in particular...' Bowie apparently once said that the bulldozer symbolised 'oncoming violence', but it may just have been co-opted into the production at the last minute. Owned by the local river board and used to repair the sea defences, they probably chucked the driver a tenner to follow them along the sea wall.

'The difficulty was getting us all to move along at the correct speed,' Steve remembered. 'If I was too fast, I caught David up; if I was too slow, the bulldozer kept catching the robe I was wearing. There's a famous moment in it where it looks as if I am  bending forward to bow. What I was actually doing was moving the hem of my robe to avoid getting pulled over by the bulldozer, but they decided to keep it in. It was a real learning experience about the length of time as video takes, but throughout the day I could not stop thinking that I was actually working with the man I had worshiped as a teenager. I had queued outside a record shop in Pontypool to buy his new album when I was 13 and now he wanted to work with me.'

Michael Dignum from L.A. shared on Facebook his memory of being on set with Bowie more than twenty years later, shooting the video for Miracle Goodnight, released as the third single from Black Tie White Noise in October, 1993: 'One part of my job is to keep the talent close while we make small changes to lighting and camera positions. While we had a change that was gonna take 10-15 mins to complete, I decided to strike up a conversation to kill the time. Let face it, I was talking to my childhood hero. I asked Mr Bowie what was the biggest moment in his career? His reply was EPIC and it went like this:

David said, "Well let me tell you about it. I had quite the attitude. As a young pop star, its easy to get caught up in the hype. It changes you. So I was on the set of the music video Ashes to Ashes, do you know the one?
Me: "Yes I do. (Thinking, 'boy, if only he knew!')
Bowie: "So, we're on the beach, shooting this scene with a giant bulldozer. The camera was on a very long lens. (Camera is along way away, but the artist fills the frame). In this video, I am dressed from head to toe in a clown suit. Why not? I hear, 'Playback!' and the music starts, so off I go. I start singing and walking, but as soon as I do, this old geezer with an old dog walks right between me and the camera.
Me: I laugh (seeing this video in my head and thinking what that must of been like on the set).
Bowie: "Well, knowing this is gonna take a while, I walked past the old guy and sat next to camera in my full costume waiting for him to pass. As he is walking by camera the director said, 'Excuse me, Mr, do you know who this is?'
The old guy looks at me from bottom to top and looks back to the director and said. "Of course I do! It's some cunt in a clown suit."
Bowie said, "That was a huge moment for me. It put me back in my place and made me realise, yes I am just a cunt in a clown suit.
I think about that old guy all the time."

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Bowie Top Six #3: Heroes, 1977

'Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming'

 

The David Bowie Archive 2012 Image/V&A Images

By 1976, David Bowie, superstar, was suicidal. His nose was always dripping, as if he had a perpetual cold. His cocaine addiction was veering out of control, like a vehicle with no brakes. 28, he had not quite made it through his Saturn return without dying like Hendrix, Morrison or Brian Jones but now, "I really did think that my thoughts about not making 30 would come true," he recalled. "Drugs had taken my life away from me. I felt as though I would probably die and it was going to be all over."


Bowie's Personal Assistant, Corinne 'Coco' Schwab, who was emerging as his key care taker and factotum, sorted him out. "My whole lifestyle at that time made me quite bonkers and I had a complete breakdown," Bowie confessed. "Coco was the one person who told me what a fool I was becoming and she made me snap out of it. She became the most important person in my life in the mid Seventies."

Together with Iggy Pop, who had been nursing his own drug problems in an LA mental hospital, Schwab moved Bowie to Berlin, helping him kick his cocaine addiction by seeking A New Career In A New Town. She found a seven-room apartment for them over an car parts shop at Hauptstraße 157 in the low-rent Schöneberg district. Reportedly, she would bring Bowie orange juice every morning and light his first cigarette of the day. The reminiscence of Ivan Kral, a Bowie acolyte who got to hang out there for an evening, gives an insight into what life at their shared  apartment was like as the druggy couple, Osterberg and Jones, were supposedly getting themselves clean and sober, even though, for Bowie, Berlin "turned out to be the heroin capital of Europe."

The seamy, smacky side of Berlin is starkly depicted in Christaiane F – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo, a 1981 German film based on the non-fiction book of the same name, written following tape recordings of a teenage junky girl. Bowie is all over that film - in an early scene, Heroes plays on the soundtrack as a pack of teenage pick pockets run uproariously through a metropolitan shopping arcade - while, for fans, its highlight is a concert in which Bowie delivers an awesome Station To Station: "it's not the side effects of the cocaine; I'm thinking that it must be love." (See also: Mark Reeder’s B-Movie: Lust and Sound in West Berlin 1979-1989.) If one doesn't immediately connect Bowie with the soundtrack of another film about late 70s smack heads, Trainspotting, it's because he is in the wings, as the producer of Lust For Life, the title track of the second Iggy solo album made with Bowie in Berlin, which kick starts the film, its thundering drums mirrored by the running feet of Ewan McGregor, the lyrics still audible underneath his infamous "Choose life" monologue.

"It took me a long time to reach the bottom and it went through various stages," Bowie said of his recovery. "I went from drugs into an alcohol stage. For a while, one feels, 'Ah, I've kicked drugs,' but what I discovered was I had another addiction instead... One day, I realised that I really needed to stop losing myself in my work and in my addictions. What happens is you just wake up one morning and feel absolutely dead. You can't even drag your soul back into your body. You feel you have negated everything that is wonderful about life. When you have fallen that far, it feels like a miracle when you regain your love of life. That's when you can begin really looking for a relationship. When you can appreciate the whole concept of giving to someone, not just taking."

While Bowie may not have been quite ready to really look for as fulfilling a relationship as the one he later found with Iman, his brotherly love for Iggy flourished in the divided city of Berlin, helping them both to pull through. "He resurrected me." Mr. Pop told the New York Times. "He was more of a benefactor than a friend in a way most people think of friendship. He went a bit out of his way to bestow some good karma on me." First of all they brought through The Idiot, while travelling in France and Germany, working together on songs, Bowie often coming up with a riff and perhaps a title, Iggy finishing it with melodies and lyrics.

Stylistically and in terms of its monochrome cover art, The Idiot prefaces, Heroes. Probably its most influential track, Nightclubbing, inspired by after show excursions across Europe to such clubs as der Dschungel (‘Jungle’), an elegant ballroom in the posh part of Berlin, was recorded with a cheap synthesizer and an early drum machine. Bowie said, "I can’t put out a record like that," to which Pop replied, "But I can!" And Professor Bowie was pleased, for he realized this was a playground for him. "I always tried to encourage his worst impulses in those directions," says Ig. "I was a fan." And so began the most creatively fertile phase of Bowie's sprawling career when, collaborating with Brian Eno, he made what can now be seen as its great central triptych:  Low, Heroes & Lodger.

The story of how Heroes came into being is minutely documented at Bowiesongs, with a list of You Tube links to definitive performances (here's another 200 live performances!) and at soundonsound/classictracks. Tony Visconti tells the whole tale in his own words, with fascinating audio snippets, in episode two of the BBC Four programme, Music Moguls: Melody Makers.

Multi-layered, the rhythm of Heroes draws in the listener, while the vocalist builds from a crooning whisper almost to screaming point. The tune arose from a jam that initially sounded - according to Fripp - like yet another re-write of Waiting For The Man, involving the core trio of Carlos Alomar on guitar, George Murray on bass and Dennis Davis on drums, augmented by Bowie on piano, in which Carlos came up with the underlying riff. Then, the production team built the track, overdubbing over the course of a week, before Eno got out his EMS Synth. and set its oscillator 1 prog at a very low frequency rate to produce a shuddering, chattering effect that slowly builds up towards the end of the track. Then came Fripp.

In the terrific documentary, David Bowie: Five Years, Robert Fripp talks entertainingly about his guitar work on Heroes. Fripp and Eno were old allies, having collaborated on No Pussyfooting, and had developed a technique in which Frip played his guitar through Eno's EMS, so he could mess about with it. Plus, Fripp worked out exactly where to stand with his guitar, relative to the speaker, to make each note feed back. 'He really worked this out to a fine science,' according to Visconti. In order to achieve a dreamy, floaty effect, Fripp's treated guitar was then triple-tracked.

Bowie's lyrics, as usual, came last. While much has been made of his exploration of cut up techniques pioneered by Burroughs and Brion Gysin, Bowie was equally impressed by John Lennon's down-to-earth advice on songwriting: "say what you mean and put a back beat to it." (Lennon, BTW, characterised what Bowie did as, 'rock'n'roll with lipstick on.' Which is precisely the image he presented - in the form of a photo of Little Richard rocking a bright red suit - to Nile Rodgers when he felt the time had come to make a proper hit record.) Bowie was adept at saying what he saw and allowing his audience, each to supply their own individual meaning.

As legend has it, Bowie asked Tony to give him some space to finish the lyric and Romeo Visconti took the chance to schmooze Antonia Maas, a backing singer with whom he had been vibing. The two took a walk around the block and sat down for a snog on a bench by The Wall, where Bowie spotted them through the windows of Hansa Studios. 'What I do is I write mainly about very personal and rather lonely feelings, and I explore them in a different way each time,' the artist once explained. 'You know, what I do is not terribly intellectual. I’m a pop singer for Christ’s sake. As a person, I’m fairly uncomplicated.'

The lyric might be about the everyday heroism of those in recovery, not giving in, one day at a time; while insistent, there's a melancholy to the music that seems more tired than it is triumphant. It has become a universal anthem since Live Aid in 1985 ("I'd like to dedicate this song to my son, to all of our children and to all children of the world"); since the semi-acoustic version at The Bridge School fundraiser in 1996; ("We'd like to dedicate this song, as we did last night, to The Bridge School"); since the post-9/11 Concert for NYC on 20.10.01 ("I'd particularly like to say, 'hello,' to the folks from my local ladder... it's an absolute privilege to play for you tonight."). But when it came out, in September 1977, Heroes was just for us. It was strictly for the cognoscenti, posing valiantly in pegged pants at punk rock ravaged discos up and down the country. I joined that congregation, wearing the baggiest cricket whites I could borrow, the following Summer at Earl's Court for the London leg of the Stage tour. Look, I've still got the valuable badge!


What can I tell you? Of course, it was fantastic, although we were far from the stage, well back in the cheap seats and lucky to get 'em. The performance began with several bods behind banks of keyboards, one of whom turned out to be David Bowie, playing Warszawa, the doomy instrumental that opens side two of Low. It was so low key that it took us a minute to spot him! This gig may have been any one of three that Summer, but each had roughly the same set list, as documented by the first disc of Stage, the pristine recording of Bowie's 1978 tour, or on this much-loved bootleg of the July 1 show. Heroes comes next, second in the set, but I don't recall it as an especially big deal, beyond the delirium of actually being in the living presence of our hero. Video may contradict me, but in my memory, Bowie barely emerged from behind his keys for the first hour of the show, given over to tracks from Low & Heroes. The first words he addressed to the crowd directly were, "We are now going to take a twenty minute break."

(The second half of the show was greatest hits, with Bowie sporting the unfeasible pleated 'Bowie pegs,' the strides that launched a thousand looks, post-punk, as boys kept swinging. In memory, Bowie remained fairly static throughout, dropping dramatically to his haunches during the final encore, Rebel Rebel. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen or done!)

What Heroes meant to the veterans of the Punk Wars, who had defiantly posed down the King's Road even when the Teds were out in force and, in the provinces, braved ridicule and endured indifference for dressing in charity shop chic, was a barely articulated commitment to the cause of being cool. 'Clean living under difficult circumstances,' as Pete Meaden defined Mod for a previous g-g-g-generation. We couldn't all be heroes back then, not even just for one day, because not so many of us were aware that the option even existed to be the hero of your own life story, as opposed to the victim of its circumstances.

Heroes provided the template for the electronica that was to come next for teenage DJ, Rusty Egan, who ran a club night with his mate, the late Steve Strange, at The Blitz, a theme wine bar on the fringe of Covent Garden, that spawned the 'New Romantics,' aka the 'Cult with No Name'. The pair had started out running, 'Bowie Nights' at Billy's and went on to do a night called, 'Club For Heroes'. "Bowie’s Berlin Years, I believe, were the foundation of The Blitz Club playlist," Rusty Egan said, 20.09.10. "Via Bowie I found Kraftwerk, and that lead to Neu!, Can, Cluster and Krautrock as it was called, Bryan Ferry then led to the work of Brian Eno, and his Ambient series …all this music lead to the basis of my collection. If you join the dots Bowie, Eno, Iggy, Kraftwerk, Mick Ronson, Lou Reed... In 1979 I travelled to Dusseldorf and Berlin, collecting as much music as I could between Billy's and The Blitz, dropping, Helden - Bowie in German; Kraftwerk in German; Iggy Pop; Wolfgang Riechmann; Neu! Eno, Moroder, Romy Verbaarsschott - anything connected to David Bowie was always interesting and I played it in late 1979."

Some 35 years after his Berlin period, Bowie revisited those days in the song, Where Are We Now, with its intriguing video, the lead single from an unannounced album, with artwork that explicitly references Heroes, which slipped out unceremoniously on Bowie's 67th birthday, 08.01.13. The Berlin that Bowie and Iggy got to know is being squeezed by corporate money, like anywhere, but the old town is still there if you drink hard enough. Two years and two days after The Next Day was born, David Bowie died. Invited to a 21st birthday party on the following weekend, I presented the young man with my old but immaculate vinyl copy of Heroes.