DIAMOND DOGS 9781501336584, 9781501336614, 9781501336607

After his breakthrough with Ziggy Stardust and before his U.S. pop hits "Fame" and "Golden Years" Da

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DIAMOND DOGS
 9781501336584, 9781501336614, 9781501336607

Table of contents :
Title Page
Copyright Page
Contents
Track Listing
Side one
Side two
Acknowledgments
Chapter 1: This Is Not America
Chapter 2: Who Can You Be Now?
Chapter 3: 1984 in 1974
Chapter 4: Mr. Burroughs Goes to Hunger City
Chapter 5: Boys and Things
Chapter 6: Rough Trade
Chapter 7: Futures
Chapter 8: This Ain’t Rock ’n’ Roll
Chapter 9: Repetition I
Chapter 10: Repetition II
Chapter 11: Wild Mutations
Chapter 12: Everybody Wants to Be a Fascist
Chapter 13: After the Human
Chapter 14: It’s No Game
Also available in the series

Citation preview

DIAMOND DOGS Praise for the series: It was only a matter of time before a clever publisher realized that there is an audience for whom Exile on Main Street or Electric Ladyland are as significant and worthy of study as The Catcher in the Rye or Middlemarch. . . . The series . . . is freewheeling and eclectic, ranging from minute rockgeek analysis to idiosyncratic personal celebration — The New York Times Book Review Ideal for the rock geek who thinks liner notes just aren’t enough — Rolling Stone One of the coolest publishing imprints on the planet — Bookslut These are for the insane collectors out there who appreciate fantastic design, well-executed thinking, and things that make your house look cool. Each volume in this series takes a seminal album and breaks it down in startling minutiae. We love these. We are huge nerds — Vice A brilliant series . . . each one a work of real love — NME (UK) Passionate, obsessive, and smart — Nylon Religious tracts for the rock ’n’ roll faithful — Boldtype [A] consistently excellent series — Uncut (UK) We . . . aren’t naive enough to think that we’re your only source for reading about music (but if we had our way . . . watch out). For those of you who really like to know everything there is to know about an album, you’d do well to check out Bloomsbury’s “33 1/3” series of books — Pitchfork For reviews of individual titles in the series, please visit our blog at 333sound.com and our website at http:​//www​.bloo​msbur​y.com​/musi​ cands​ounds​tudie​s Follow us on Twitter: @333books Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/33.3books For a complete list of books in this series, see the back of this book.

Forthcoming in the series: Blue Moves by Matthew Restall Judy at Carnegie Hall by Manuel Betancourt Timeless by Martin Deykers Tin Drum by Agata Pyzik I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen by Ray Padgett The Velvet Rope by Ayanna Dozier Band of Gypsys by Michael E. Veal From Elvis in Memphis by Eric Wolfson Suicide by Andi Coulter Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth by Zach Schonfeld Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 by Colin Fleming Murder Ballads by Santi Elijah Holley Once Upon a Time by Alex Jeffery Tapestry by Loren Glass The Archandroid by Alyssa Favreau Avalon by Simon Morrison Rio by Annie Zaleski Vs. by Clint Brownlee xx by Jane Morgan and many more . . .

Diamond Dogs

Glenn Hendler

BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC Bloomsbury Publishing Inc 1385 Broadway, New York, NY 10018, USA 50 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3DP, UK 29 Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin 2, Ireland BLOOMSBURY, BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC and the Diana logo are trademarks of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc First published in the United States of America 2020 Reprinted 2020, 2023 Copyright © Glenn Hendler, 2020 For legal purposes the Acknowledgments on p. vii constitute an extension of this copyright page. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. Bloomsbury Publishing Inc does not have any control over, or responsibility for, any thirdparty websites referred to or in this book. All internet addresses given in this book were correct at the time of going to press. The author and publisher regret any inconvenience caused if addresses have changed or sites have ceased to exist, but can accept no responsibility for any such changes. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Hendler, Glenn, 1962- author. Title: Diamond dogs / Glenn Hendler. Description: New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020. | Series: 33 1/3; 143 | Includes bibliographical references. | Summary: “Provides a window into a moment when both phantasmatic and real relationships between straightness and queerness, between blackness and whiteness, and between utopia and dystopia, were in flux; Bowie in the mid-1970s both exemplified and had a hand in creating the complex and contradictory opening of possibilities now seen as the hallmark of that decade”–Provided by publisher. Identifiers: LCCN 2019040272 | ISBN 9781501336584 (paperback) | ISBN 9781501336591 (epub) | ISBN 9781501336607 (pdf) Subjects: LCSH: Bowie, David. Diamond dogs. | Bowie, David–Criticism and interpretation. | Glam rock music–History and criticism. | Rock music–1971-1980–History and criticism. Classification: LCC ML420.B754 H43 2020 | DDC 782.42166092–dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019040272 ISBN: PB: 978-1-5013-3658-4 ePDF: 978-1-5013-3660-7 eBook: 978-1-5013-3659-1 1

Series: 33 3

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Contents

Track Listing Acknowledgments 1 This Is Not America 2 Who Can You Be Now? 3 1984 in 1974 4 Mr. Burroughs Goes to Hunger City 5 Boys and Things 6 Rough Trade 7 Futures 8 This Ain’t Rock ’n’ Roll 9 Repetition I 10 Repetition II 11 Wild Mutations 12 Everybody Wants to Be a Fascist 13 After the Human 14 It’s No Game

vi vii 1 11 19 31 41 53 63 77 87 95 101 117 127 137

Track Listing

Side one

1. “Future Legend” (1:00) 2. “Diamond Dogs” (5:50)



3. “Sweet Thing” (3:29) 4. “Candidate” (2:39) 5. “Sweet Thing (reprise)” (2:32) 6. “Rebel Rebel” (4:21)

Side two

1. “Rock ‘n Roll with Me” (3:54) 2. “We Are the Dead” (4:48) 3. “1984” (3:24) 4. “Big Brother” (3:21) 5. “Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family” (1:48)

Acknowledgments

There are many people to acknowledge, not only because it’s taken years to write this book but also because I’ve been thinking about David Bowie for decades. Reaching back to the beginning, I want to thank Aram Berberian for introducing me to David Bowie’s music. In the course of writing this book I communicated with Aram and two other old friends, Athene Reiss Mount and Hyla Flaks Crane, with whom I attended my first Bowie concert in 1976. It was a pleasure reconnecting with each of them, and I hope they see some of their memories here. Next, Alan Linn gets credit— but no blame—for persuading me that Diamond Dogs was the Bowie album I should write about. Well, maybe a little blame. I think back fondly to meeting Alan in 1981, and to standing on the docks at Camp Hazen YMCA singing songs by Bowie, Lou Reed, and others. I also met Stephen Trask at Camp Hazen, where I was his counselor. Bowie’s music spilled loudly from the speakers in my cabin during those summers, and since Stephen went on to cocreate Hedwig and the Angry Inch, I suspect he was listening. More recently, Stephen spent several hours with me on Skype, working

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through Diamond Dogs song by song; it was extraordinarily generous of him, and helped me hear the album in new ways. I owe thanks to other Bowie fans who have helped sustain me in my life, fandom, and intellectual engagement with Bowie over many years. Beth Wagshul Besen helped me get through high school by being a Bowie fanatic with me. More recently, John Graham invited me back to that high school to talk about this book; that was a great experience. Nancy Deren and Gretchen Helfrich attended memorable Bowie concerts with me, decades apart. In between, in the early 1980s, I had a late-night conversation with Todd Haynes about Bowie, sexuality, and identification. He may not remember it, but there are ideas from that chat percolating in this book. It’s also been a pleasure immersing myself in the world of online David Bowie fan groups: Bowie Kooks and the Church of David Bowie and others too numerous to list. I have gotten information and ideas from the conversations there. And though I hope I have given credit in the notes to the extensive community of critics, biographers, and scholars who have written about Bowie and from whom I draw in this book, I have to single out Chris O’Leary, whose blog analyzing every Bowie song has been adapted into two intimidating and invaluable books: Rebel Rebel and Ashes to Ashes. Daphne Brooks’s 2017 conference on Bowie and Prince was deeply inspiring, as were many of the talks I heard there. So was a conversation I had at that conference with Michael Gillespie about “We Are the Dead.” Michael is one of several people I would have liked to talk with more about Bowie; viii

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so are Daniel Alexander Jones and Tracy K. Smith. Geoffrey Marsh, co-curator of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s David Bowie Is exhibition, offered multiple insights in transatlantic phone conversations. Meeting Sam Perkins resulted in more than one good Bowie conversation and connection. Right at the end, I got help with a musicological puzzle from Erich Hertz, Matthew Gelbart, and especially Matt Brubeck. Since I listened to Bowie with Matt four decades ago, it was nice to do so again, even virtually. I appreciate support from multiple colleagues at Fordham, including Chris Dietrich, Scott Poulson-Bryant, and Keri Walsh. I’m grateful to Eric Lott for sharing his work-in-progress on the waka-waka guitar sound. Thanks to all my colleagues in Fordham’s English Department, as well as to Fordham’s Office of Research. Lina Jiang provided invaluable research and bibliographical assistance. And I owe especially deep thanks to Sarah Mesle and Sarah Blackwood, coeditors of Avidly for the Los Angeles Review of Books. They encouraged me to write a piece on Bowie for them right after he died, and that article is an origin of this book. I took so long to write this book that there are generations of 33 1/3 editors to acknowledge. The idea for writing this came up when I was sitting on a plane next to someone who was reading much more interesting stuff than I was. She turned out to be series editor Ally-Jane Grossan; thanks for encouraging the annoying guy on the plane to come up with a book proposal. Thanks to Kevin Dettmar for being my initial contact with the series’ next editorial collective, and to the other three members of that group—Daphne Brooks, Amanda Petrusich, and Gayle Wald—for approving ix

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my proposal. Leah Babb-Rosenfeld has been unreasonably patient with the unreasonable length of time it has taken me to write this. Michelle Chen was refreshingly honest when I sent her a manuscript more than twice as long and less than half as coherent as it should have been, and has been immensely helpful since. Nina Rowe and our son Ezra have been even more patient with this process. It can’t be easy to live in a household where a book about David Bowie is vying for attention and time with a book about late medieval German illuminated World Chronicles, whether you’re a medieval art historian or a ten-year-old kid. None of the excitement and enthusiasm that I hope comes through in this book could have been sustained without the great joy Ezra and Nina have brought me over the past decade and two decades (respectively). Perhaps the most unexpected version of that joy has been Ezra’s appreciation for David Bowie—and his tolerance for his father’s cracked voice singing him to sleep with “Kooks” and other Bowie songs. This book is for him—though he probably shouldn’t read it just yet—and for Nina.

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1 This Is Not America

Very early one Saturday morning in the fall of 1974, I was perched on the edge of a sofa in the pickled-cypress-paneled den of my childhood home in New Haven, Connecticut. An enormous freshwater fish tank bubbled on my left, and my father’s old music collection—33 1/3 records, but also 78s—sat on shelves to my right. It was way past a twelveyear-old’s bedtime, but I had crept downstairs to see one of the weirdest and most wonderful things ever to appear on television. Before then, David Bowie had only existed for me in vivid still photos on album covers and in magazines—and, of course, in his music. Now he was to speak, move, sing, dance, on my television screen, on NBC’s Midnight Special concert series. A year earlier, just days before Bowie went to Trident Studios to start preliminary work on Diamond Dogs, he spent three days being filmed by a crew that NBC had flown over to London. They shot studio footage on October 18, 1973, and then shot the live performances at London’s Marquee Club on October 19 and 20. The resulting ninety-minute

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television extravaganza was introduced by the raspy-voiced American DJ Wolfman Jack. Nothing I saw that night looked like Midnight Special’s usual fare, a big concert by an established rock act. As opening credits, dancers dressed in spiderweb leotards spelled out, in letters formed by their bodies, Bowie’s name, as well as the words “The 1980 Floor Show.” This was David Bowie’s world; NBC was just visiting.1 Changing costumes with dizzying frequency, Bowie played four originals that I knew from his previous albums, along with three tracks from his recent covers collection, Pin Ups. Backing Bowie was a trio of singers he introduced as “the Astronettes,” whose dance movements were loosely synchronized. Interspersed were other acts Bowie had chosen. The Troggs played three tunes; Marianne Faithfull sang two. Also appearing, sporting outfits almost as flamboyant as Bowie’s, was a band called Carmen. They did a number mostly in Spanish, with hard-to-follow time signatures. Breaking up the music and unifying the show— sort of—were short introductions of the musical acts by a woman who billed herself as “Dooshenka.” She also engaged in scripted banter with Bowie between songs, all in an obviously affected Russian accent. I was spellbound, even though much of what I saw went over my head. I did not recognize the singers onstage with Bowie, nor did I know that the black vocalist with striking blonde-dyed hair was Ava Cherry, who was living with See Terry O’Neill, When Ziggy Played the Marquee (London: Iconic Images, 2017) and especially https​://ma​delin​ex.co​m/201​8/09/​01/zi​ggys-​last-​stand​ -bowi​e-the​-1980​-floo​r-sho​w/. 1

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Bowie and introducing him to new developments in African American music. I was unfamiliar with the work of Erté, the art-deco designer whose paintings of human bodies forming an alphabet inspired the show’s opening credits. I knew little or nothing about the Troggs’ English garage rock, though I surely recognized their 1965 hit “Wild Thing.” I did not know Marianne Faithfull at all. One of the songs she sang—“As Tears Go By”—might have been familiar from the later rendition by the Rolling Stones, but all I knew about the other—Noël Coward’s 1930 tune “Twentieth Century Blues”—was that it didn’t sound like rock ’n’ roll. I had no idea what to make of Carmen, nor was I aware that their “progressive flamenco rock” emerged from a Los Angeles flamenco scene that had roots in Latin America. I did not know that Amanda Lear—Dooshenka—was a model and singer as well as the companion of the Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dalí. Though I missed all these cultural references, I was familiar with the televisual genre Bowie was playing with. The 1980 Floor Show was a hilariously demented parody of a variety show. Still popular in the 1970s, variety shows typically featured multiple acts, filmed in a studio in front of a live audience. As if to underscore that Bowie was satirizing this genre, he and Marianne Faithfull ended with “I Got You Babe,” the duet that closed every episode of the fauxhip Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. But Bowie and Faithfull were not Sonny and Cher Bono. She sang Cher’s parts clad in a nun’s habit that had glitter on the headpiece and was completely backless. Not to be outdone, Bowie belted out his lines dressed in stiletto-heeled thigh-high boots, feathered 3

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wristbands, and a red vinyl bodice with black and red sequins and feathers that moved independently of his body, as if he had a winged creature on his chest. Bowie alternated between chuckling affectionately and visibly cringing as a strung-out Faithfull flubbed some notes, but he sang his own parts nearly perfectly. The 1980 Floor Show also unveiled, for the first time, music that would appear on Bowie’s next album. Playing under the dance credit sequence was an instrumental fragment of a new song titled “1984,” which Bowie and his band played in full later in the show. He didn’t explain this tune to his television viewers, but he told his studio audience that it was the theme song for a musical he was writing based on George Orwell’s 1984. He had not yet acquired the rights, Bowie told them; hence the coy name he gave the performance and TV broadcast. Bowie never got those rights; he never wrote that musical. Instead, “1984” (and 1984) would become crucial elements of the fascinating, rich, and strange album Bowie would soon start recording: Diamond Dogs. * * * At the Marquee, Bowie was playing most immediately for the studio audience, made up of members of his international fan club along with parts of his entourage and management team, Warholian figures such as Jayne County, Leee Black Childers, and Cherry Vanilla. They sat patiently through multiple takes of each song, cheering on cue. But, in a larger sense, Bowie was playing for American 4

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television viewers like me. In fact, The 1980 Floor Show was never shown publicly in the UK. It was broadcast twice in the United States, first a few weeks after it was shot and then again in the fall of 1974, when I saw it. It has remained unavailable since.2 Diamond Dogs, too, was an effort to reach US listeners. Bowie was already hugely popular in the UK, Europe, and to some extent Japan in late 1973 and through 1974 thanks to his breakthrough album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, but he had not yet reached a mass American audience. He had started wooing American listeners even before he attained success at home. In 1970 he dumped his longtime manager Ken Pitt in favor of an American lawyer and divorce consultant named Tony Defries, who made Bowie the central cog in a New York City–based financial machine called the MainMan Group of Companies. Defries sent him on a radio station and print media tour across the United States in support of the album The Man Who Sold the World, released in the United States five months before it appeared in the United Kingdom. Two There is even now no way I know of to watch the entirety of The 1980 Floor Show. The only portion that has ever received an official video release was Bowie’s performance of “Space Oddity” on a compilation of Midnight Special excerpts. On YouTube you can watch a video compilation of only the Bowie performances from the show (and while I wish it were better quality, I am eternally grateful to the person who posted it, for among other things allowing me to prove that the final duet was not a product of my imagination). The other performers’ individual performances are also on YouTube. Also available is a bootleg CD set containing hours of rehearsals and outtakes from the filming at the Marquee. 2

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years later, two Ziggy-related tours failed to fill even mediumsized venues in some North American cities. Between those two tours, Bowie released an album of songs inspired by his American travels, Aladdin Sane, which he described as “Ziggy goes to Washington.” Despite these efforts, the US singles charts resisted Bowie’s charms. Only one of Bowie’s songs reached the Top 40 before 1975: a rerelease of 1969’s “Space Oddity” that peaked at #15 in spring 1973. His performance in the US album charts had been a bit better, but not stellar. By contrast, Bowie and his “Ziggy Stardust” persona had conquered the UK, filling large venues and dominating the singles and album charts like no one since the Beatles. At least six of his songs broke into the UK Top 10 in just over a year, and he won an award for being the first British solo artist to have six albums in the UK charts simultaneously. Bowie knew that the path to global success led through America; he just couldn’t figure out how to get more than a toehold there. The 1980 Floor Show didn’t help. Indeed, it is a mystery why he and Defries ever thought the way to reach a US mass audience was to produce a cabaret-like parody of a variety show that would be shown at 1:00 a.m. Unsurprisingly, aside from diehard fans like me, few people saw it. * * * The period around The 1980 Floor Show and Diamond Dogs was for Bowie a time of uncertainty and transition for other reasons. The Marquee shows in October were Bowie’s final performances as the glam icon Ziggy Stardust, whom he 6

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had officially “retired” at the Hammersmith Odeon in July of that year. They were also his final 1970s appearances with Trevor Bolder and Mick Ronson, both of whom had toured with Bowie throughout the Ziggy period as members of the Spiders from Mars band. And, again, The 1980 Floor Show introduced for the first time music from Diamond Dogs, an album that is itself transitional. The album marked a transition from work with a band to more ad hoc collaborations, and from youthoriented glam rock to more mature styles. The period also saw the beginnings of other shifts: from the controlled ascent of the early 1970s to the cocaine-fueled chaos of the mid1970s; from working under the umbrella (or the thumb) of Tony Defries and MainMan productions to financial and artistic independence; from traditional rock and pop to more experimental musical forms. These two years were a time of transition, but of course all David Bowie did in the 1970s was change. The hard rock of 1970’s Man Who Sold the World does not sound much like the mix of softer pop styles on 1971’s Hunky Dory, which differs widely from the crisp rock and confident pop of 1972’s Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Even if the title persona of 1973’s Aladdin Sane is not radically different from Ziggy, Mike Garson’s wildly various piano styles make it sound quite unlike the previous album. Aladdin Sane’s simultaneously nostalgic and futuristic glam sound informs Pin Ups, which came out later in 1973, but it has very different effects when applied to that album’s affectionate covers of songs Bowie had heard in London in the mid-1960s. 7

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Then after 1974’s Diamond Dogs and David Live came Bowie’s most drastic transition in sound yet, to the Philly soul of 1975’s Young Americans. The sound of that album— which finally resulted in his first US hit, “Fame”—prepared no one for the krautrock crunch and cool crooning of Station to Station in 1976. And the albums that close out the decade, conventionally grouped together as the “Berlin trilogy”— 1977’s Low and “Heroes” and 1979’s Lodger—are not just very different from what came before; they don’t sound much like one another. Nor did the writing, production, and instrumental contributions Bowie made to songs and albums by other artists in this period—including Lou Reed, Lulu, Mott the Hoople, and Iggy Pop—result in music that had a single “David Bowie sound.” All were recognizably products of David Bowie without much resembling one another. Even in this decade of constant change, Diamond Dogs stands out in ways that I will draw out in this book. I’ll write about its visceral, emotional extremes (listen to the way Bowie sings “will you see / that I’m scared, and I’m lonely” during “Sweet Thing,” or the intense duet of guitar and saxophone in “Candidate”), and also about its intellectual puzzles. (How does Bowie reconcile narrative elements of Orwell’s 1984 with a setting drawn from Burroughs’s The Wild Boys?) I’ll discuss its wide range of musical styles, from straight-ahead rock to piano ballads, from Moog-based prog rock to the high-hat and waka-waka guitar of disco. I’ll think about how the album juxtaposes “Rebel Rebel,” one of Bowie’s glam classics, with drastically different experiments in sound. Why, for instance, does the album end with a strange repeating sample that can fool you into thinking your 8

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record is skipping (even if you’re listening to it on a CD or in streaming form)? For all its eclectic variety, there can be no doubt that Diamond Dogs is an essential, quintessential David Bowie album. As a Pitchfork critic recently noted, Bowie plays more of the instruments on Diamond Dogs than on any album before or since and did most of the production himself,3 making it the “Bowie-est” of all his albums.4 Many years later Bowie joked that Diamond Dogs was just “my usual basket of apocalyptic visions,”5 but in 1974 he called it “more me than anything I’ve done previously.”6 Not everyone loves Diamond Dogs, but few deny its importance to understanding why David Bowie was a central artist of the 1970s.

Tony Visconti writes: “While I am credited as co-producer of Diamond Dogs, David did extraordinary work in the studio before I got the tapes to mix—the bulk of it in fact—though my sonic fingerprints are all over those mixes.” Bowie, Bolan, and the Brooklyn Boy (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 214. 4 Barry Walters, “David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs.” Pitchfork, January 22, 2016. https​://pi​tchfo​rk.co​m/rev​iews/​album​s/214​77-di​amond​-dogs​/. 5 Sean Egan, ed., Bowie on Bowie: Interviews and Encounters with David Bowie (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2015), 367. 6 Nicholas Pegg, The Complete David Bowie, Expanded and Updated Sixth Edition (London: Titan Books, 2011), 333. Bowie would many times in his career repeat the claim that his most recent album was “more me” or “more personal”; it seems to have been his way of shedding his previous persona, even if he’d claimed at the time that the previous incarnation was not a persona at all. This was likely the first time he made that claim, because this was the first time he’d built up a persona—Ziggy—that needed shedding. 3

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What I hear when I listen to Diamond Dogs is a performer who feels both empowered and limited by the rock star role he has constructed and embodied, and who is looking for ways of escaping rock, whether through the album’s lyrical references to George Orwell and William Burroughs or through its tentative aural engagements with experimental sounds he’s hearing from Germany and elsewhere. I hear a white British celebrity looking at black American culture, 1930s cinema, post-human dystopias, freak shows, and the avant-garde as possible ways out of his national identity and racial embodiment. I hear these efforts to escape not just in the stories told in the lyrics but also in the album’s restless shifts between musical styles and in the obsessiveness with which he constructed the sound of each song. I even see them in the imagery on the album cover. In each of those aspects too, Diamond Dogs is the “Bowie-est” of Bowie albums.

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2 Who Can You Be Now?

Above all, when I listen to Diamond Dogs, I hear an artist experimenting with the connection he is making with his audience. I don’t just mean that Bowie was figuring out how to market his music to Americans, though that matters. I’m referring to a more basic feature that pervades Diamond Dogs and helps tie together its disparate stories, sounds, and influences. Almost every song on Diamond Dogs contains an “I” directly addressing a “you.” The only exception is the first, spoken-word track, “Future Legend.” Even the almost wordless “Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family,” though it lacks the word “you,” gives you direct orders: “Shake it up” and “move it up.” There’s of course nothing unusual about first-person direct address. That’s the basic structure of most love songs, shared with centuries of romantic, lyric poetry. It’s what Bowie does with this convention on Diamond Dogs that gets interesting. Saying “I love you” in a poem or song is never as simple as saying it to your lover. Unless the song or poem is actually written to us, we feel as if we are listening in to

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an individual’s private, intimate expressions of emotion to another individual. The “you” being addressed is explicitly the (fictional or real) individual loved by the speaker of the poem or song, but in a neat rhetorical trick, the words are actually written for the more general “you” that is their real readership or audience.1 Those feelings of privacy and intimacy are at the core of why we are emotionally moved by such song lyrics and poems. We feel that we are getting special insight into the writer or the singer, and that there’s some connection between them and us based on that intimacy. That is one payoff for the rhetorical trick. Popular singers can thereby mass-produce a feeling of intimacy and connectedness; in a sense, that’s what a lot of modern celebrity is. As a listener, you get to imagine that you are the “you” who is loved by the singer. Or, alternatively, you can identify with the “I” in the song, and share with the singer a desire for an imaginary (or specific) “you.” Either way, it’s about feeling an intimate connection with people you don’t know—the singer or writer, the object of desire, and others who are reading or hearing the intimate words—all of whom are in reality abstract and distant from you. That’s how love songs work.2 See Virginia Jackson and Yopie Prins, eds., The Lyric Theory Reader: A Critical Anthology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014). 2 Not all forms of direct address work this way. For example, there are song lyrics that importune or even command you to do something. Sometimes these are political, in which the “I” exhorts the audience to act. Sometimes they are more about immediate physical responses, as in the numerous songs exhorting you to get up on the dance floor or shake your booty. And 1

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W HO C A N YOU B E N OW ?

Bowie was a master at producing such feelings of intimacy, and at doing so in unusual ways. He tended to be extremely conscious of the “I/you” dynamic, and often pushed his listeners to be conscious of it, too. He made producing this feeling a theme in his work, talking about it in interviews and even at concerts. He created personas and wrote lyrics that were explicitly or implicitly about his ability to create the sense that he was speaking to fans individually and personally. And more than just speaking to them—to us— he produced the sense that he was doing something to us, to “you.” What, for instance, does “Five Years” do to you? In the first lines of this first song on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, “we” get the news about the impending end of the world. The main pronoun then quickly shifts to the first-person singular, listing things being perceived in the moment—“I heard . . .” and “I saw . . .”—then expressing a response: “My brain hurt like a warehouse.” The perspective then gets less personal, as the singer observes the effects of this news on others: “a cop,” “a queer.” Then, unexpectedly, “you” appear: “I think I saw you in an ice cream parlour / Drinking milkshakes cold and long / Smiling and waving and looking so fine / Don’t think you knew you were in this song.” Suddenly we’ve moved from narrative (telling a story) to metanarrative, making us sometimes they can merge those kinds of imperatives, as in Public Enemy’s “Lemme hear you say / Fight the Power.” Bowie’s most popular song ever, “Let’s Dance,” is full of such imperatives: “Put on your red shoes and dance the blues.”

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question and be conscious of where we are, of who we are, and of who is (and maybe isn’t) “in this song.” A few words later, the song swerves toward romantic direct address, hinting that “you” could be a lover. Eventually, once again, “you” disappear into the chorus’s “we.” This very brief invocation of an “I/you” structure makes the song—and the end of the world—feel more personal. Paradoxically, the surprising “you” pulls us out of the song’s fictional world only to draw us deeper into it. Instead of making us feel more distant from the story, this lyrical selfconsciousness draws us closer to the “I,” more invested in being the “you.” In other words, Bowie layers a whole bunch of rhetorical tricks atop the more conventional one.3 He used such rhetorical strategies—complex forms of direct address to “you” in his lyrics, or pointing at you, as he often did in concerts4—not just to draw us in but also to change us. In every account of his impact, critics and fans assert that in the years before he became a global star, Bowie created or identified a new audience. Tilda Swinton got at this in her wonderful speech at the opening of the David Bowie Is exhibition by saying that Bowie brought together “the loners and pretty things and dandies and dudes and dukes and See Pam Thurschwell, “I Don’t Think We Know We Are in This Song.” Los Angeles Review of Books, January 20, 2016. https​://la​revie​wofbo​oks.o​rg/ar​ ticle​/i-do​nt-th​ink-w​e-kno​w-we-​are-i​n-thi​s-son​g/. 4 Some of the arguments I am making here are previewed in my article “How to Bring Your Kids Up Bowie.” Avidly, January 12, 2016. http:​//avi​dly.l​are vi​ewofb​ooks.​org/2​016/0​1/12/​how-t​o-bri​ng-yo​ur-ki​ds-up​-bowi​e/. 3

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duckies,” and then “provided the sideways like us with such rare and out-there company.”5 No doubt Bowie changed us through who he was and how he presented himself. He is often seen as a kind of role model who tells us to be ourselves, no matter how “outthere” we might be. There is a lot right about that account. But “the sideways like us” were changed not only by who he was but also by the way he spoke and sang to us. The theorist Louis Althusser coined the term “interpellation” to refer to the way being addressed in powerful ways can change you. Althusser presents a brief parable to illustrate what this word means. Imagine that you hear a police officer calling out “Hey, you there.” If you turn around, you have been interpellated; you have recognized yourself as a person addressed by the pronoun “you.” That recognition and your response to it change who you are. You may or may not have committed a crime. But either way, if you respond to that act of interpellation, you have become a suspect because you have responded to that shout.6 That act of turning around is crucial. Interpellation doesn’t work unless at some level you feel addressed by the police officer, or by David Bowie singing the word “you,” and https​://ww​w.vam​.ac.u​k/blo​g/new​s/til​da-sw​inton​s-din​ner-s​p eech​-open​ ing-d​avid-​bowie.​ 6 Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” Lenin and Philosophy and other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster, 1971 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2001), 121–76. See also Tavia Nyong’o, “Subject,” in Keywords for American Cultural Studies, edited by Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler, Second Edition (New York: New York University Press, 2014), 231–34. 5

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that feeling makes you respond to being hailed. If you assume that the police officer is calling out to someone else, and just keep walking, then the interpellation has failed. If you don’t feel at some level that David Bowie is singing to you when he says the word “you,” then you have not been interpellated, and you’re not a fan. The I/you relation that Bowie constructs repeatedly on Diamond Dogs is rarely a romantic one. Sure, there are two lines, in different songs, where the words “I love you” appear. And we’ll see that fragments of love plots emerge in places where you’d least expect them. (“We Are the Dead” does not sound much like the title of a love song.) But those plots, these lines, are all compromised moments. To identify with either the “I” or the “you” on Diamond Dogs—to be interpellated by it in conventional ways—is often to be deeply uncomfortable. And yet the fourth word he sings on the album is “you”; its last use of the pronoun is the chilling line, “We want you Big Brother.” If the “you” typical of the love song is not the main addressee on Diamond Dogs, who is the “you” mentioned in nearly every song? I will keep circling back to this question in this book, paying close attention to Bowie’s use of those most banal of words, pronouns. Over and over, Diamond Dogs interpellates “you” in unusual ways. This book is about what such unusual interpellations do to you—and to me. * * * I felt interpellated by David Bowie from a very young age. When he sang “you,” I felt that he was addressing me. Diamond Dogs spoke to me in this way from the moment I 16

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received it as a gift at age twelve, sometime between the fall 1973 production of The 1980 Floor Show and when I saw it on TV in the fall of 1974. Diamond Dogs was the first album I ever owned that challenged me to study it, to try to figure it out. Forty-five years later, I’m still trying. At age twelve, my interpretive efforts were pretty basic. I just wanted to figure out what the words were. The album did not come with a lyric sheet. The only words printed on the inside of the album’s gatefold cover were those of “Future Legend,” the album’s opening spoken-word track. The decision to print these words seemed perversely unnecessary, because they were enunciated clearly and thus were easy to understand. So, to remedy Bowie’s omission, as I listened to Diamond Dogs over and over again with headphones on, writing out the words I could decipher. I even typed my version of those lyrics (undoubtedly with many misheard) onto a plain white inner record sleeve, using a manual typewriter I borrowed from my father. I slipped the album into that sleeve, and put both into the opening in one side of the gatefold album cover. I treasured that object—an obsessively handmade supplement to my favorite David Bowie album—for many years. I kept my Bowie albums when I sold off most of my other vinyl in the CD and streaming era, but I lost that sheet of paper. Still, I can’t help thinking of my typewritten sleeve as a kind of precursor to this book, which supplements the album by trying to puzzle it out, to make its mysteries—lyrical, aural, musical—a bit more legible to me. And, I hope, to you.

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3 1984 in 1974

Diamond Dogs is a “concept album” that combines at least three concepts. First, there was the musical adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 Bowie mentioned at the Marquee. Second, he had for some time been mulling over the possibility of a musical drama expanding the Ziggy Stardust story.1 Third, after an interview with American writer William S. Burroughs, he began developing a final “concept”—a postapocalyptic world dominated by mutant gangs—inspired by Burroughs’s fiction. At the same time, Bowie began using the randomizing “cut-up” method developed by Burroughs and Brion Gysin as a way of writing lyrics. All of these concepts—the adaptation of 1984, the fragments of the abortive Ziggy musical, and Burroughs’s cut-up dystopianism—are elements of Diamond Dogs. It is easy—too easy—to divide up the album along these lines. The Burroughs-related songs cluster on the first side of Bowie brought this idea up in an interview with Charles Shaar Murray published in July 1972. Egan, Bowie on Bowie, 19. 1

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the platter. The title track introduces the “Diamond Dogs” gang, its leader Halloween Jack, and the themes of mutation and urban decay. That song’s themes, characters, and setting are consistent with the lyrics and tone of the song suite that consists of “Sweet Thing,” “Candidate,” and “Sweet Thing (reprise).”2 At the last minute, by this account, Bowie and producer Tony Visconti tacked the spoken-word “Future Legend” on to the beginning of the album to help convey the Burroughs-like “Hunger City” setting for these tracks. Those ideas seem to disappear after the “Sweet Thing” suite. The Diamond Dogs are never mentioned explicitly again. The record’s second side is dominated by three songs bearing titles drawn from Orwell’s novel. Plus the album includes two fairly conventional pop songs: the late glam anthem “Rebel Rebel” and the power ballad “Rock ‘n Roll With Me,” both of which could have been part of the shortlived Ziggy musical. Those two songs neatly separate the album’s two more literary concepts, as the former ends side one and the latter opens side two.3 The three songs are listed as separate tracks on the album, but they are a single unit, with no breaks between them. They were always played together live. Though they also flow without a break into “Rebel Rebel,” that song was separated out on every tour. For all these reasons, I will refer to the three together as “The ‘Sweet Thing’ suite.” No pun intended, though once I noticed it I kind of liked it. 3 In 1974 the two sides of a vinyl record were an important aspect of its structure, especially in the case of a “concept album.” Many streaming formats insert silences between tracks even where they did not exist on the original album, seriously damaging the experience of listening to Diamond Dogs. 2

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This account isn’t wrong, but it is way too tidy. The album is both messier and more interconnected than that. Bowie created links between his two very different literary sources based on commonalities he saw between them. Both Orwell and Burroughs, he noticed, set their stories in postapocalyptic landscapes. Both wrote about themes of sex, power, and authoritarianism that had long been of interest to Bowie. As we will see, he even created aural and lyrical connections to those two “concepts” in the two songs that seem to bear no relation to either one. By no means am I saying that the album is completely and evenly unified. Diamond Dogs depicts a chaotic, incoherent world, and that chaos is reflected in every song. My point is just that Bowie didn’t separate out his influences and ideas into different songs. Instead, he mixed them up and made something new out of them. To understand how he did this, we need first to understand what Bowie drew from Orwell’s 1984. * * * Bowie’s “apocalyptic visions,” when placed into even the most rudimentary form of story, naturally became a dystopian narrative. Dystopia was indeed his “usual” territory. He had included at least one arguably dystopian or apocalyptic song on every album he had released up to this point, and had made his name portraying a fictional rock star who proclaimed that the end of the world was coming. So it is not surprising that Bowie turned to 1984 as source material. Though he deeply engaged with Orwell’s ideas about the workings of an authoritarian state—I’ll talk about 21

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that in the concluding chapters of this book—he also drew from 1984 a set of ideas about sexuality and power. After all, the novel is centered on a heterosexual couple and their resistance to the state and the governing party. I would go so far as to say that our sense of the protagonist Winston Smith’s psychological depth is largely an effect of the novel’s romance plot. Put bluntly, if it weren’t for his desire for Julia (who lacks even a last name), he’d be rather boring. Though we don’t think of 1984 as a love story, in fact its readers are privy to the intimate romantic connection between two individuals, like readers and listeners of love poems and love songs. What makes 1984 dystopian is that it is not just the reader who overhears the characters’ romantic conversations. So, too, does the state (“the Party”) which uses its knowledge of their illicit love to control them. Bowie was right: 1984 is about sexuality and power. So let’s spend a bit of time figuring out what the novel says about these things; then we can see what Bowie does with Orwell’s ideas on Diamond Dogs.4 Winston Smith believes that the regime rules through its repression of sexual desire.5 Early in 1984, he thinks to Orwell was the only author with three books on Bowie’s 2013 list of one hundred books that had influenced him. Along with 1984 were Orwell’s Collected Essays and the Spanish Civil War memoir Homage to Catalonia. In 1992, the New York Times reported that Bowie would play Orwell himself in an adaptation of Homage to Catalonia, to be directed by Oliver Stone. This film, like the 1984 musical, never happened. https​://li​bcom.​org/l​ibrar​y/bow​ ie-s-​bow-6​-ways​-davi​d-bow​ie-co​nnect​ed-sp​anish​-civi​l-war​ 5 Winston accepts what French theorist Michel Foucault calls “the repressive hypothesis,” the idea that social forces repress human sexuality and through 4

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himself that the ruling party’s deepest and most oppressive purpose “was to remove all pleasure from the sexual act. Not love so much as eroticism was the enemy, inside marriage as well as outside it.”6 For this reason, sex is the way he resists the regime. He believes that by rebelling against the Party’s repression—instantiated by “the Junior Anti-Sex League” to which Julia nominally belongs—they are fighting the regime. Winston makes this point in grandiose ways. For him, sex and love are revolutionary acts. Just removing their clothing is a “magnificent gesture by which a whole civilization seemed to be annihilated” (104). A few paragraphs later, he thinks that “not merely the love of one person, but the animal instinct, the simple undifferentiated desire: that was the force that would tear the Party to pieces.” And, after Winston and Julia have sex for the first time, we hear his thoughts: “Their embrace had been a battle, the climax a victory. It was a blow struck against the Party. It was a political act” (105). Julia, too, sees their sex as an act of rebellion, but she doubts that her personal acts have political consequences. For her, individual resistance is valuable in itself, and the best one can hope for. Because of this, Winston dismisses her that repression exercise power. Foucault counters that modern forms of power “implant” sexuality and sexual identities in us, making us understand sex as central to our identities rather than something we do. The History of Sexuality. Vol. 1: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978). 6 George Orwell, 1984, 1949 (New York: New American Library, 1977), 57. Subsequent references cited parenthetically in the text.

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as “revolutionary from the waist down,” arguing that their personal rebellion must turn into something more expressly political if it is to make a difference. Both agree that their sexuality is a kind of resistance; they just differ on how politically effectual that resistance can be. The pessimistic conclusion of 1984 confirms the view that sex is a form of resistance by showing the Party crushing both simultaneously. The ultimate sign of the regime’s victory over Winston and Julia’s rebellion—the novel’s unhappy ending— is that they encounter one another without feeling a flicker of desire. The heterosexual couple’s sexual-romantic rebellion doesn’t just fail. It also turns out to have been doomed from the start. Winston and Julia discover the pointlessness of their rebellion when they are alone in their supposedly safe rented room, having a conversation about—of all things—singing. Winston reminds Julia of a thrush that had sung “to us” the first time they’d met in secret. “He wasn’t singing to us,” Julia counters. For her, just as sex is an end in itself, so the bird “was just singing.” For Winston, singing, like sex, prefigures an alternative world not dominated by Big Brother. “The birds sang,” he thinks to himself, “the proles sang, the Party did not sing.” Winston has said earlier that he and Julia cannot be part of any such alternative future. They can only keep hope alive by dissenting in their own way. Referring back to that earlier conversation, he says to Julia “We are the dead.” “‘We are the dead,’ echoed Julia dutifully.” “‘You are the dead,’ said an iron voice behind them.” 24

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The Party has been watching their every move through a camera hidden in the wall behind a hanging engraving. The state, the Party, has always already been present in the character’s intimate lives. * * * “We Are the Dead” is also the title of one of the strangest and most compelling tracks on Diamond Dogs. The song only obliquely references Orwell’s scene in the rented room, but its aural and lyrical force goes toward depicting a romance that, like Winston and Julia’s, has always already been compromised. It is thus key to understanding what Bowie is doing on the album with 1984. It is hard to hear a love song in “We Are the Dead,” but it is there. The song depicts eroticism as a form of resistance. And it is one of only two tracks on the album containing the words “I love you.” Yet the heavy electronic treatment of the vocals and the instrumentation cut so strongly against any romantic lyrical content that the love song sounds more like the soundtrack of a horror movie. That tension makes the song uncomfortable, hard to pin down. The romantic and erotic moments in the lyrics emerge in fragments, such as the reference to “pressing our love through the night / knowing it’s right” sung with pretty harmonies. One moment in the song is even more conventionally romantic than anything in Orwell’s novel, which makes clear that Winston and Julia can never have children. In harmonies that sound almost like a male-female duet (though Bowie probably performs both vocals), he sings of “the sons of our love,” 25

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evoking an anomalously traditional trope for hope that queer theorist Lee Edelman disdainfully labels “reproductive futurity.”7 There is a love story here, a story of love against the odds, of a heterosexual couple fighting for intimate connection. The romantic intimacy of these and other lyrics is hard to hear through the music’s weird, echoing clamor. The relentlessly changing effects applied to every vocal and instrumental line express the threat of the Party, of the state, even when the words are sweet and loving. Nearly every sound in “We Are the Dead” is doubled as if someone were instantaneously imitating or echoing the main vocal line and most of the instruments. This uncanny effect emerges very early in the piece. After a quick sequence of notes that sound like a transition from another song comes a simple, somber sequence of chords in a narrow range—previewing the song’s opening vocal melody. Two keyboards play these chords simultaneously: a piano and an electric keyboard of some sort—probably a Fender Rhodes—played through a device, perhaps a Leslie cabinet.8 That device adds extensive, even excessive tremolo, and also a surprisingly long sustain, which is accentuated twice later in the song when all other music ceases and all we hear is a lengthy, sustained chord on that keyboard. Lee Edelman, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004). 8 The suggestion that the device is a Leslie cabinet came in a comment on Chris O’Leary’s blog by the Scottish musician Momus. https​://bo​wieso​ngs. w​ordpr​ess.c​om/20​10/09​/03/w​e-are​-the-​dead/.​ 7

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This keyboard is accompanied by a snare drum with a similar effect on it—a very brief and quick echo. The horrormovie vibe is underscored by a creepy, bubbly, Keyfexfiltered sound that emerges in the center and moves entirely to the left channel. By the time Bowie’s voice comes in, that sound has decayed, swirling like water going down the drain. The doubling, shadowing effect is perhaps most noticeable when—shortly before a sweetly harmonized line about “hoping someone will care”—a quiet, ghostly pre-echo of the descending piano line to follow appears. It is as if someone out there knows what is about to be played and anticipates the keyboard player’s next move. Different doubling effects are applied to each vocal line. Sometimes it sounds as if there’s an extra David Bowie whispering under the main one. Sometimes you can only really hear the consonants of the words spoken by that extra voice. The multitracked Bowies singing “We’re taking it hard all the time” include a breathy, sighing voice and another sped up to an octave higher than the main vocals. In the next two lines, the lead vocal has a ghostly voice following it in the left speaker, while the next two are harmonized much higher in the right speaker. All these effects remind us that—as in the novel—we are not comfortable, benevolent, and sympathetic listeners invisibly observing and identifying with the intimate feelings of a romantic couple. There is someone less neutral, even malevolent, listening along with us. Every move and feeling that we see the couple sharing is also being monitored by the state. The effects added to the voices and instruments

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accentuate the paranoia that goes along with this situation— both for the romantic couple and for us. * * * “We Are the Dead” is not the only song on Diamond Dogs that explores issues of sex and power. In fact, the whole album asks such questions: Can one resist a totalizing authoritarian system? Are love and sex forms of freedom, lines of flight from authoritarianism, or do they enmesh you more completely within it? These are not just David Bowie’s questions; they are also the questions George Orwell asks in 1984. Viewed in that light, much more of Diamond Dogs is Orwellian than the three songs that unambiguously reference the novel. After all—just to choose the most unlikely example—isn’t “Rebel Rebel” about being “revolutionary from the waist down?” I’m not saying the song’s “hot tramp” is Julia (I hear Orwell spinning in his grave at that idea), but if a central theme of 1984 is the possibility and limitations of rebellion through sexuality, it seems plausible to see a song about both the appeal and the limitations of the glam rebellion’s androgyny as thematically connected. Similarly, some of the lines in “Rock ‘n Roll With Me” that are hardest to interpret make more sense if they’re connected with 1984. “You always were the one that knew” could be addressed to Julia, or a haunting reference to Big Brother—who always knew. And a long early section of Orwell’s novel could be succinctly summarized by the Bowie line “I always wanted new surroundings / A room to rent,” as Winston searches for an escape, finding it in the 28

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room he rents in the prole neighborhood where he and Julia “rock ’n’ roll” together. You probably find some of these interpretations of lyrics more plausible than others. I don’t think it’s possible to be sure that any one of them is an intentional reference to 1984. What I am sure of, though, is that Bowie scattered references, themes, questions from 1984 on Diamond Dogs in a broader way than the three obviously Orwellian song titles would indicate. The album’s sources overlap and intersect; they can’t be neatly separated.

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4 Mr. Burroughs Goes to Hunger City

There are two metaphors often used for David Bowie’s ability to appropriate, absorb, and combine multiple influences, and both seem apt in relation to Diamond Dogs. Sometimes he is compared to a sponge. Once a sponge absorbs multiple liquids, they are no longer separable; they become a new liquid form. Writers also refer to Bowie’s “magpie intellect.” It is in a magpie’s nature to steal, but it combines what it has stolen into its own nest, giving those things new purposes. Bowie’s sponge- and magpie-like approach to disparate materials explains not only how George Orwell influenced Diamond Dogs but also how Bowie incorporated the themes and compositional strategies he learned from reading and meeting William S. Burroughs. These influences are legible not just the lyrics of “We Are the Dead”; they are built into its four-part structure. Two of those vocal sections—we’ll call them verses—contain most of its romantic lyrics. They are organized around what musicologist Matthew E. Ferrandino identifies as “a primarily modal progression that accompanies a clear melodic line in G Aeolian.” On their own, they would

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sound like verses in a relatively conventional pop song. If they alternated with a major key chorus with a strong beat and memorable melody, “We Are the Dead” would just be a weird but romantic pop song with an inappropriate title. Instead, at the end of each verse we get words—“yet now” and “but now”—that signal a contrast. “Now” is sustained each time, bending in pitch to take us into the unstable key of the other sections. These “choruses” are made up of torrents of words and images, which Ferrandino aptly describes as “a quasi-Sprechstimme vocal line”—Sprechstimme is a cross between singing and speaking—“centered around C” sung over “a repeated descending-second sequence in F Phrygian.”1 The effect, the musicologist says with understatement, is “more ambiguous.” I’d call it relentless, creepy, a little frightening. Fragmentary phrases bounce off one another in the chorus-like sections, with so many intense images that it can feel like overkill. Their melody is structured like a treadmill, trudging in place. Each line feels like it returns to its own beginning, each verse seems to go in a circle. “We Are the Dead” goes relentlessly nowhere. For all their density, though, these lyrics are enunciated clearly. Sung simultaneously with them are three drawn out, tightly harmonized assertions that are harder to take in, but which tie the fragments of the song together: “We are the new boys,” Bowie sings, invoking “boys” that, as Matthew E. Ferrandino, “Voice Leading and Text-Music Relations in David Bowie’s Early Songs.” MTO [Music Theory Online] 23:4 (December 2017). http:​//mto​smt.o​rg/is​sues/​mto.1​7.23.​4/mto​.17.2​3.4.f​erran​dino.​html. 1

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we’ll see, come from Burroughs. “We are the dogs,” perhaps Bowie’s own Diamond Dogs. And “we are the dead” again quotes Orwell, though “the dead” also appear in the subtitle of the Burroughs novel that most clearly influences Diamond Dogs—The Wild Boys: A Book of the Dead. All three plural nouns—“boys,” “dogs,” and “dead”—also appear in the rapidfire Sprechstimme lyrics of the chorus sections they are sung over. In short, “We Are the Dead” is not neatly divided between the Orwell-influenced verses and the wilder, weirder choruses. It makes connections between these seemingly divergent sets of words and sounds. To understand how those connections work, we need to understand both the thematic ideas and the composition techniques—known as “cut-up”—that Bowie drew from William S. Burroughs. * * * Bowie met Burroughs just as he began the earliest, very preliminary studio sessions that led to Diamond Dogs. Craig Copetas, who was at that time London correspondent for Rolling Stone magazine, worked for weeks to arrange a mutual interview with the rock star and the writer. The journalist’s efforts came to fruition on November 17, 1973—mere hours after The 1980 Floor Show was first broadcast in the United States. The three men converged at Bowie’s brand-new home in Chelsea, which he shared with his wife, his young son, his clothing designer, two other people in his entourage, and— until the day before the interview—his lover and backing singer Ava Cherry. 33

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The interview shows Bowie’s “sponge” and “magpie” tendencies at work.2 Copetas makes clear up front that neither Bowie nor Burroughs had been familiar with the other’s work before he began arrangements for them to meet. Before the interview Copetas “had bought Bowie all of Burroughs’s novels,” but Bowie confesses to having read just one, 1964’s Nova Express. Burroughs, in turn, had prepared by listening to just two Bowie songs, both from the Ziggy Stardust album, but “had read all of Bowie’s lyrics.” That peculiarly literary preparation for a conversation with a singer, musician, and songwriter leads Burroughs to ask if Bowie’s “inspiration for writing” is itself “literary,” which elicits a terse “I don’t think so.” Despite other such failed conversational gambits, Copetas says “there was immediate liking and respect between the two.” That respect mostly manifests as each man trying to impress the other, which makes the interview both annoying and kind of cute. Bowie is at his most loquacious in response to direct questions Burroughs asks about the singer’s current work. For instance, when asked for an explanation of “this Ziggy Stardust image of yours,” Bowie holds forth at length about his plans for a theatrical version of Ziggy Stardust,3 in the process adding a good deal of plot to the existing story. “In the stage show, one of them resembles Brando, another one is a black New Yorker. I even have one called Queenie The interview, titled “Beat Godfather Meets Glitter Mainman: William Burroughs, Say Hello to David Bowie,” was published in Rolling Stone on February 28, 1974. It has been reprinted multiple times since. 3 Egan, Bowie on Bowie, 19. 2

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the Infinite Fox.” Bowie sounds as if he’s imagining what Ziggy Stardust would be like if it were written by William Burroughs. It “literally blew my head off,” he says, “when I read Nova Express” and realized that it was, like Bowie’s own work, “a science fiction fantasy of today. . . . Maybe we are the Ro[d]gers and Hammerstein of the Seventies, Bill!” Joking aside, it’s clear that his imagination has been sparked by his encounter with Burroughs, and he is trying to figure out how he’s going to incorporate this encounter into his own writing and performance. Bowie also saw important similarities between the two artists’ styles of composition—the role of randomness in their work, in particular. Reading Nova Express—which somehow “reminded [him] of Ziggy Stardust”—inspired him to rethink the format of his play based on the album. “Forty scenes are in it,” he says, “and it would be nice if the characters and actors learned the scenes and we all shuffled them around in a hat the afternoon of the performance and just performed it as the scenes come out. I got this all from you, Bill . . . it would change every night.” “That’s a very good idea,” Burroughs muses, describing Bowie’s idea using a term associated with his own writing: “visual cut-up in a different sequence.” Earlier in the twentieth century, Dada artists had produced art and poems by cutting up and rearranging existing texts and images, but it was Brion Gysin who systematized and named the cut-up technique in the 1950s and Burroughs who popularized Gysin’s idea in the next decade. Starting with his breakthrough Naked Lunch, Burroughs assembled several of his 1960s novels from a single trove of words and sentences 35

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he had compiled. Burroughs’s description of Bowie’s idea as “visual cut-up” is the only direct mention in the interview of the Gysin-Burroughs method. Yet the idea of cut-up stuck with Bowie, and he quickly began using the technique on his Diamond Dogs lyrics.4 There’s a late 1973 photo of David Bowie sitting on a floor at Olympic Studios—it must have been taken within weeks of the Burroughs interview—dressed more stylishly than anyone should be while recording an album, with a tambourine, a bottle, and a glass by his side.5 Arranged atop a thick hardcover book in front of him are thin strips of paper, each bearing one line of writing. Also on the large book is a sheet of paper, on top of which Bowie has placed a straightedge of some sort, evidently intending to cut another strip. The expression on his face—eyes intently downward, mouth slightly open—indicates concentration. It doesn’t look as if Bowie later made claims that he had started using the cut-up method well before Diamond Dogs, that Burroughs’s The Wild Boys was an influence on Ziggy Stardust, and that he was reading aloud from that novel during the recording sessions for Pin Ups during the previous summer. Given that he makes clear in the Rolling Stone interview that he has not yet read The Wild Boys, it seems more likely that he was reading from Nova Express, which he says in the interview he’d read, and that he later remembered it as Wild Boys since that became the more evident thematic influence on Diamond Dogs. More plausibly, Bowie later described using the cut-up method in writing the lyrics for “Heroes,” and even later helped develop a Mac app called “The Verbasizer” that did much the same kind of randomization, but digitally. https​://mo​therb​oard.​vice.​com/e​n_us/​artic​le/xy​gxpn/​the-v​erbas​izer-​was-d​ avid-​bowie​s-199​5-lyr​ic-wr​iting​-mac-​app. 5 Roger Griffin, David Bowie: The Golden Years (London: Omnibus, 2016), 194–95. 4

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there are any words on the paper he is cutting, so it’s possible the photo was staged. But it does reveal that cut-up is just what it sounds like: words, lines, and sentences are cut out from some written or printed source and rearranged until they form new texts. Several months later, in an interview for the BBC documentary film Cracked Actor, Bowie returned to the technique. “This is the way I do cut-ups,” he says: I don’t know if it’s like the way Brion Gysin does his, or Burroughs does his; I don’t know. But this is the way I do it. I’ve used this method on only a couple of actual songs. What I’ve used it for, more than anything else, is, igniting anything that might be in my imagination. He then goes on to demonstrate once more. Visible on-screen are phrases that never appeared in any Bowie song, including “He captured the director / the adverts performance / day at an open mind / The director came of the film.” Diamond Dogs has some opaque lyrics, but they all make more sense than that. Still, pianist Mike Garson recalls seeing “David taking lyrics and, with a scissor, cutting them up randomly and pasting them together” during the Diamond Dogs sessions. This fact gives anyone trying to interpret those lyrics a great deal of license. If you have trouble understanding why a lyric appears in a song—for instance, the lizard in “Rock ‘n Roll With Me”—you can just attribute it to cut-up. If it’s random, it doesn’t have to mean anything. Thinking about cut-up that way, however, is a dead end. There’s no way to argue for or against such an interpretation, let alone prove it right or wrong. More interesting by far is to pay attention 37

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to how cut-up actually worked for Bowie. He never simply sliced up words, rearranged them, and then sang the results. He repeatedly described “using” the randomness produced by the cut-up method, not submitting to it. As he had written in an earlier song, “I never lost control.”6 Instead of using cut-up to displace or erase the intentions of the author, to get beyond himself, Bowie deployed it consciously as a way of stimulating his own imagination, and controlled it by choosing to cut up personal texts, “diaries and things.” He says in the Cracked Actor interview that “I was finding out amazing things about me, and what I’d done, and where I was going.” In other words, the technique provided deeper insight into his mind rather than a way out of himself. The method also accelerated Bowie’s existing tendency toward an abstract approach to lyrics. Earlier in the 1970s, his songs had often been what he called “little vignettes,” written from a perspective he called “singer-songwriter askew.” Burroughs taught him to go further than that, “purposely Discussing the writing of the “Sweet Thing” suite in a 2008 interview, Bowie described the process this way: “You write down a paragraph or two describing several different subjects creating a kind of story ingredientslist, I suppose, and then cut the sentences into four or five-word sections; mix ’em up and reconnect them. You can get some pretty interesting idea combinations like this. You can use them as is or, if you have a craven need to not lose control, bounce off these ideas and write whole new sections.” (David Bowie, “I Went to Buy Some Shoes—and I Came Back with Life On Mars.” Daily Mail Online, June 28, 2008. www.d​ailym​ail.c​o.uk/​tvsho​wbiz/​ artic​le-10​30121​/DAVI​D-BOW​IE-I-​went-​buy-s​hoes-​-I-ca​me-Li​fe-On​-Mars​. html​). 6

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fractur[ing] everything.” And, as early as the Rolling Stone interview, Bowie intuited that cut-up could work on a larger scale than the individual song lyric. Using cut-up on an album level could make lyrical links between songs—and not just lyrical connections. Garson also remembers Bowie taking a newly improvisatory approach to the studio during the production of Diamond Dogs; not only was there cut-up “lyric writing” but also “arranging on the spot.” He thus took a technique that seems designed to undermine coherence and used it to make his album hang together more. * * * Thinking about Bowie’s use of cut-up in this way can help us understand his use of pronouns in “We Are the Dead” as connecting the song to both Orwell and Burroughs. The “I/you” relation in the verses is fairly stable; that is why we can identify elements of a love song in those sections. But the pronouns seem to proliferate randomly in the chorus sections. Both choruses start with “we,” which could refer to the couple in the verses, but it doesn’t feel like these are in the same voice. Rather, the “we” here is a collectivity: “We’re breaking in the new boys,” Bowie sings. Repeated throughout are references to groups: the gang, the dogs, the boys. The “we” is larger than a love song’s heterosexual couple. The “we” oscillates between these larger collectivities and more recognizable forms of direct address, in which there’s an “I” and a “you” threatened by an approaching “them.” That is especially evident in the first chorus, where the turn to direct address comes in that unexpected statement 39

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that “I love you.”7 After that, again, comes the song’s refrain, culminating in the rhyming couplet that ends with “we are the dead.” In the first chorus, that final line is sung only once, followed by the song’s only bridge, a simple drum fill, and then the second verse. At the end of the song, though, Bowie sings the title of the song three times, replicating the scene of discovery in the rented room in 1984. The first time, the rotation of the backing vocals among three “we are the” chants [new boys/dogs/dead] comes around to the title phrase, and they sing it almost angelically, just before Bowie sings it. The second time, he leaves out the word “the,” but leaves a beat for it: “We are . . . dead.” The third time there’s an emphasis on that “the,” with a resigned hoarseness in his voice on the last word, and a final ghostly echo of the final word from the high backing vocals. The paired keyboards from the song’s opening play the same flat melody as an outro, combined with some strange electronic noises in the left speaker, and then the song ends on that final tremololaden note, sustained for several seconds. This ominous, suspended ending is one of the rare moments on the album that feels fully narrative: something is about to happen. Probably something bad.

Those three words are followed by what is almost certainly the first reference to “fuck-me pumps” in popular music, and the most prominent one before the slyly hilarious Amy Winehouse song of that title. 7

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The cut-up technique is not the only “cutting” Bowie and Burroughs discussed in their interview. The American writer tells Bowie, “The weapon of the Wild Boys is a bowie knife, an eighteen-inch bowie knife, did you know that?” Since Bowie at this point has only read Nova Express, and not The Wild Boys: A Book of the Dead, he has to confess that he does not know this. But first he muses, “An eighteen-inch bowie knife . . . you don’t do things by halves, do you.” Bowie goes on to ruminate aloud about why he changed his name from Jones to a reference to the knife. “I wanted a truism about cutting through the lies and all that,” he says. Burroughs pushes to make the broad “truism” more specific, again pointing out that “it cuts both ways, you know, doubleedged on the end.” The published interview ends with Bowie saying, “I didn’t see it cutting both ways till now.” Decades later Bowie would insist that he had chosen the name precisely because a bowie knife was double-edged, forgetting that he had learned this detail years later from Burroughs, who after all knew his weapons.

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Bowie seems to have read The Wild Boys soon after the Rolling Stone interview and before he created Diamond Dogs. You can see the novel’s influence in the visceral, vicious world set up in “Future Legend,” where “corpses lay rotting in the slimy thoroughfare,” in the gangs or “tribes” of “peoploids” fighting in the city. Similarly, the imagery of mutant gangs who will “hunt you to the ground,” on the album’s title track owes a great deal to The Wild Boys. The single word “boys” is so crucial to these cut-up songs that it alone indicates the centrality of The Wild Boys to Diamond Dogs. I’ve already mentioned the repeated lines— “we are the new boys/we are the dogs/we are the dead”—in “We Are the Dead.” These words are chanted over fractured lines in the main body of this chorus-like verse: “For we’re breaking in the new boys,” he sings, “deceive your next of kin / For you’re dancing where the dogs decay/defecating ecstasy.” In this main vocal line, there’s a “we” doing the “breaking in,” and there’s a “you” who’s “dancing.” This set of pronouns is again distinct from the “I,” “you,” and “we” of the song’s semi-romantic verses; more confused, hard to distinguish from one another. “We’re today’s scrambled creatures,” he sings, “locked in tomorrow’s double feature.” * * * These “scrambled” moments, with all their rhetorical, imagistic, and aural excess (how much alliteration is too much?!), are the parts of Diamond Dogs I love the most. They pose intellectual puzzles, to be sure, but they are also loaded with emotion, with densely layered instrumentation, harmony vocals that are in tension with the main vocal line, 42

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and some of Bowie’s most intensely passionate singing. For singing and playing like this—openly influenced by Bowie— Kate Bush has been called, aptly and fondly, “the high priestess of too much.”1 Bowie here is a priest of emotional and musical excess. The “Sweet Thing” suite is similarly scrambled, similarly excessive. I’m far from alone in my deep affection for that eightand-a-half minutes in the middle of the album’s first side. As late as 2008, Bowie named it as one of his twelve favorite songs of his own.2 Spend any time on a Bowie fan site or Facebook group, and you’ll learn that while it is not on any greatest hits collection, many hardcore fans consider the suite their favorite piece of his music. Together the three songs sum up everything that’s great about 1970s Bowie: his distinctive and original vision; his extraordinary vocal range and expressivity; his enigmatic but evocative lyrics; his ability to move among multiple styles and make them his own; his construction of character and point of view through both lyrics and vocal style; his representation of complex, often queer desires and sexualities. It’s a Bowie masterpiece, “the album’s black heart,” as one critic aptly calls it.3 So let’s listen to it carefully for a while. Margaret Talbot, “The Enduring, Incandescent Power of Kate Bush.” The New Yorker, December 19, 2018. https​://ww​w.new​yorke​r.com​/cult​ure/c​ ultur​e-des​k/the​-endu​ring-​incan​desce​nt-po​wer-o​f-kat​e-bus​h. 2 David Bowie, “I Went to Buy Some Shoes—and I Came Back with Life on Mars.” The Daily Mail, 28 June 2008. https​://ww​w.dai​lymai​l.co.​uk/tv​showb​ iz/ar​ticle​-1030​121/D​AVID-​BOWIE​-I-we​nt-bu​y-sho​es--I​-came​-Life​-On-M​ ars.h​tml. 3 Chris O’Leary, Rebel Rebel: All the Songs of David Bowie From ’64 to ’76 (Winchester: Zero Books, 2015), 341. 1

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The strange constructedness of the “Sweet Thing” suite— the way it is pieced together out of disparate, seemingly incompatible parts—became clear when I tried to figure out its first thirty seconds of backward-tracked slow fade-in. It turns out that it was constructed from a few sustained notes on the piano, accompanied by a single, repeated note on a bass guitar. Played forward at regular speed, it is discordant and annoying; played backward and slowed down a bit, it is eerie and ominous, drawing the listener in, slowly, warily.4 The effect serves as prelude and counterpoint to the disarmingly lovely piano chords that ground the melody of “Sweet Thing.” The piano seems to promise a romantic love song. Tony Newman provides a slow, steady, sharp drumbeat, and Herbie Flowers’s bass is steady and unobtrusive. A Mellotron soon comes in, with chords that sometimes match the piano but also follow the vocal melody more closely. Closer to the forefront is Bowie’s own guitar playing four fuzzed guitar notes very quickly after each vocal line. Each time, the final one is drawn out, but rather than being evenly sustained, it decays, bending and turning scratchy, dirty, with a hint of feedback. On the previous song, “Diamond Dogs,” Bowie’s three simultaneous electric guitar lines together produce a sound something like a blues-based, Rolling Stones–inflected classic rock. But the guitar on “Sweet Thing” is not rock ’n’ roll. Bowie spoke in later interviews about his decision As we spoke about Diamond Dogs via FaceTime, musician and songwriter Stephen Trask took the snippet of sound and reversed it in his studio, revealing what was otherwise impossible to hear. 4

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to play nearly all the guitar himself on this album, rather than turning back to Mick Ronson or hiring a new guitarist. “I knew how it had to sound,” he said, “but I was a bit too embarrassed telling musicians who played so much better than I did what to play.” So he did more practicing before recording Diamond Dogs than before any other album. “I knew that the guitar playing had to be more than okay,” he said years later.5 One thing Bowie must have practiced was the very distinctive, growling, almost ugly guitar sound he produces in “Sweet Thing.” In some parts of the song, the guitar provides a low aural grounding for the music much as a bass line might, except it’s not primarily a rhythmic grounding. It’s not, of course, a random sound; he’s playing in the same key as the Mellotron, piano and other instruments. But the guitar notes and chords are roughed up, dirtied. It almost sounds as if he’s scratching the strings rather than strumming or plucking them. Bowie somehow creates the sense that he is making random noise while remaining in complete control of that noise. It may be a stretch to call the guitar style “cut-up,” but it is planned and played in the spirit with which Bowie approached the Burroughs/Gysin technique— the introduction of randomness balanced with an assertion of control. This balance is even more evident in the lyrics of the “Sweet Thing” suite, especially in the way they are sung. It starts with some of the lowest notes Bowie ever sang, including G2s, Pegg, The Complete David Bowie, 332; Griffin, David Bowie, 190.

5

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F#2s, and at least one brief C2.6 This was a basso profondo voice he had rarely if ever used in his previous music. A few lines later, he moves out of his lowest register, but the vocal fry—the creaky, rattling, scraping sound that your voice, too, probably makes at its lowest point—continues into the word “me,” even as that word is much higher in pitch, up a full octave. After a pause, he then fleshes out the question, which becomes “And isn’t it me, putting pain in a stranger?” His voice extends the word pain, making it sound painful. At some points Mike Garson’s piano is the lead instrument; at other points he’s so far back in the mix that you barely know he’s there. Throughout, Garson plays his heart out, sometimes providing the sequence of chords that gives the song a sense of melody, sometimes filling out the sound with bright piano flourishes that cut against the song’s dirge-like tone. The rhythm section—Herbie Flowers on bass and Tony Newman on drums—is steady in the background. And Bowie’s guitars persist; in the vocal section there are two, located in different places on the left-right spectrum. The two of them, together with the Mellotron, produce a nearly continuous low-end sound, almost a drone, further highlighting the romantic piano. * * * Throughout almost all of the “Sweet Thing” section, the vocals are so operatic and compelling that even the most virtuosic instrumentation almost fades into the background. For an interesting compilation of clips demonstrating Bowie’s vocal range, check out https​://ww​w.you​tube.​com/w​atch?​v=bvC​9oOwU​3lk. 6

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At one point the drums pick up their pace a little, and the piano chords go up a bit too, but nothing can compete with Bowie’s emotionality when he belts out the question “Will you see . . . ?” His tone and force—reminiscent of the climax of “Life on Mars?”—demand that you pay attention to the singer’s emotional state, which he then describes: “That I’m scared, and I’m lonely.” The drama and emotional strain in Bowie’s voice here are almost unbearable. The singing is wild. It’s virtuosic, but feels barely in control, pushing toward the limits of Bowie’s prodigious vocal capacities. Yet the instruments pay little heed to the wild swings in the singer’s emotions. The piano chords are pulled up a bit by the voice, and Newman uses more of his drum kit, but mostly the implacable, steady rhythm continues. Then we meet a new character at “the center of things.” Up to this point the lyrics have been sung in a traditional “I/you” structure. But in a muttered, rushed cadence that comes just before the chorus, a third character, “the knowing one,” is introduced and credited with the four lines of the song’s seemingly quite simple, seductive chorus. This chorus is made up of multiple, overdubbed, and sometimes overlapping voices. These may all be Bowie himself; no one else is credited with vocals on the album. They start the chorus’s first word, “boys,” before the lead vocal introducing “the knowing one” has completed its line, and then repeats the word in case you didn’t hear it. Bowie’s lead vocal follows, echoing the word, so it’s really sung four times in the first line. The aural effect is weary, sickly, decadent. Bowie’s lead vocal sounds similarly tired, almost lazy. In the first line he 47

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joins the backing vocals late, skipping “it’s a” so he just sings the song’s title “sweet thing.” In the second he sings along with the group, without echoing, but this time pushes the pitch up higher for “sweet thing,” as if he’s trying to stand out. He’s speaking to the “boys”; he’s not just one of them. In the middle of the chorus there’s a bit of a pause, a drum fill with lightly tapped cymbals, and then the next two lines follow, in a lower key, with a strumming acoustic guitar underneath and three quick organ or synthesizer chords during each pause. Bowie sings the first five words nasally, with a strongly American accent, as if he’s channeling Humphrey Bogart: “If ya wannit, boyz.” His tone almost anticipates the trench coat he will wear singing the song on the “Year of the Diamond Dogs” tour. But he quickly leaves this flirtation with character-building behind, singing the final line full-throated, dramatically, with no gimmicks or accents to undermine the way it crushes the sentiment that is the topic of the chorus, “hope.” Adding to the drama is a backing vocal—pretty clearly Bowie’s own voice—sustaining the word “hope” high over the following words, but bending the note down, as if hope were fading even as it is being offered. All the voices come to harmonic agreement in the end, though: hope is, indeed, a “cheap thing cheap thing.” The lazy, sleazy tone of the chorus stands in stark contrast to the emotional intensity of the verses because it is sung by a different narrator, “the knowing one.” This narrator is a cynical huckster—another possible reason for the momentary American accent. He’s an emotional salesman, selling “hope” for a “cheap” price. This is, again, in contrast 48

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with the open, expressive voice of the verses, the one who begs us to “see” his feelings. * * * It’s a miracle that all these contrasting sounds and emotions add up to a coherent song. One thing that holds it together is that it is basically grammatical. The words’ meanings may be hard to reconcile, but the lyrics of “Sweet Thing” are all grammatical sentences; the parts of speech are all in the right places. With one exception. (That I’m pointing out a grammatical anomaly may fulfill all of your stereotypes about English professors, but there’s a point to this.) What is that last word doing in the third line of the chorus? “If you want it, boys, get it here thing.” The word “thing,” which ends all four lines of the chorus, makes perfect grammatical sense in the other three. There’s the seductive line, addressed to the “boys” twice, that “It’s a sweet thing” (though without any clarity about what “it” is). And there’s the cynical one, also addressed to the “boys,” that “Hope is a cheap thing.” In between, though, we have the offer: “If you want it, boys, get it here thing.” This is the “deal” the “candidate” offers in the first line of the song bearing his name. It’s also the line of the chorus where the “boys” are interpellated, addressed as “you.” The other lines are simply descriptive: things are sweet, and hope is cheap. This line appeals to your active desire (“if you want it”) and asks you to act (“get it here”). So why the extra word in this one line? Listeners (and lyric sites) often want to “correct” that final “thing” to “then,” which would make grammatical sense. But on the album it’s 49

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clearly “thing.” And this is the only line from the chorus of “Sweet Thing” that is repeated—twice—in “Candidate,” and then again in “Sweet Thing (reprise),” each time with the ungrammatical word present. Why the extra “thing,” in three different songs? We could just say it’s cut-up that Bowie didn’t control as well as he did in other lines, and leave it at that. But there is one way to interpret that “thing” in the third line of the chorus in a way that makes more grammatical sense. What if it is—like so many other moments in Bowie songs, like the rest of the line—a moment of direct address? What if, in the chorus, “thing” is an epithet, applied either to the “boys” he is addressing or even to “you”? This perhaps counterintuitive suggestion is consistent with the idea of “the knowing one” as a kind of advertiser or pitchman, like the candidate. “Get it here” is clearly a direct pitch to the “boys” as consumers, like any advertisement. What if “the knowing one” is saying: “If you [you, boys, and you, thing] want it, get it here?” “Thing” seems unlikely as a term of address, unless it’s a name for someone. And there is one relevant place that it was a proper name: “Miss Thing.” In 1960s and early 1970s AngloAmerican gay slang, “Miss Thing” was a term for a queeny, effeminate gay stereotype, used sometimes in mockery but more often affectionately.7 Pioneering US gay cartoonist Joe Johnson had a weekly single panel cartoon in The Advocate, I’m aware that “Miss Thing” is currently used in both African American and queer subcultures with somewhat different meanings, but I’m trying to reconstruct what it would have meant to Bowie when he wrote these lyrics. 7

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starting in the late 1960s and continuing well into the 1970s featuring “Miss Thing,” who is depicted as “an unflappable, stereotypically effeminate, gay ‘queen’ . . . [with a] willowy physique [and] . . . a pompadour hairstyle . . . [who wears] floral prints, bell-bottoms, and flamboyant blouses.” Sounds a bit like Bowie’s style just a couple of years before Diamond Dogs. This possibility becomes plausible if we think about the moments in Bowie’s career when he drew on the languages of underground, often sexually dissident subcultures. Ziggy Stardust uses a couple of words (notably “droogie”) from Nadsat, the semi-fictional, Russian-based dialect spoken by the gang members in the novel and film of A Clockwork Orange. Earlier, in the mid-1960s, a “secret gay language” called Polari had reached a mass audience in the UK—and, most likely, David Bowie’s ears—through two characters named Julian and Sandy, who appeared on a BBC radio comedy broadcast called Round the Horne, from 1965 to 1968. Polari (sometimes spelled Palare) drew on “Italian, English (backwards slang, rhyming slang), circus slang, canal-speak, Yiddish and Gypsy [Roma] languages,” and was a marker of gay identity at a time when there were laws against homosexuality in the UK.8 Whether he picked up Polari words from the radio or from moving in the gay circles of manager Kenneth Pitt and mime teacher Lindsay Kemp, Bowie absorbed it. In the famous 1972 Melody Maker article in which Bowie announced that http://chris-d.net/polari/. See also Paul J. Baker, Polari: The Lost Language of Gay Men (London: Routledge, 2002). 8

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he was gay—“and always have been, even when I was David Jones”—journalist Michael Watts observed that “David uses words like ‘verda’ and ‘super’ quite a lot.” Both were used in Round the Horne, and were key words in Polari and in semiunderground gay British slang in general. And Polari stuck with him. As late as 2016, Bowie’s final album Blackstar included the song “Girl Loves Me,” which is sung partly in Burgess’s Nadsat and partly in Polari. Is it a stretch, then, to imagine Bowie’s use of “thing” here—not to mention in the title of the song!—as a sly evocation of a gay male subculture? Not so much, I think, given his knowledge of such subcultural terminology. And this would not be the only time in the “Sweet Thing” suite where he evokes queer argot; three minutes later, in the “Candidate” section, he code-switches between arch French and queer slang, describing a plaintive seduction by a “très butch little number,” and takes on that “little number’s” voice for several lines. By the end of the song, he’s even inviting you to “cruise.” Several times on Diamond Dogs, Bowie takes on character’s voices to draw “you” in, sometimes seductively, and in ways that are at least indifferent to your gender and perhaps even implicitly queer. Diamond Dogs is not usually seen as an album engaged in the queer and genderbending erotic play characteristic of other Bowie albums and performances (with the obvious exception of “Rebel Rebel”). But he does it here, too.

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In its second verse, “Sweet Thing” flirts with becoming a love song. The verse’s opening lines, light and sweet, are each followed by an equally sweet, sing-songy piano ditty that gets more poignant as it moves down the keyboard. Who are these poignant, romantic lyrics sung to? “Sweet Thing,” it turns out, has a first-person character who’s talking about feelings to someone intimate, asking them—asking you—“Isn’t it me?” “Will you see?” and “Does that make you smile?” That character is in turn emotionally affected by the “you,” who “makes me feel important and free.” But the song doesn’t rest for long in that moment of interpersonal intimacy. Following the same pattern as the first verse—though inexplicably this verse is about ten seconds and one line shorter—the emotional pitch is turned up abruptly. “I’m in your way” he sings, with the same force as “Will you see?” in the first verse, with the same upturn at the end of the sustained last note as in “I’m scared.” Here the speaker in the romantic love song starts to merge with the huckster in the chorus. The two narrators—the con

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man and the intimate voice, the naïve voice who’s “glad that you’re older than me” and the cynical voice who calls hope “cheap”—may be the same character. The intimate character, too, is dangerous. He’s also selling something: “sweet” emotions, which may be his or may be yours. In short, this is not a love song. We might have known that from the start with words like “screams” and “pain,” but the sweetness of the piano, the expressiveness of the singing, keeps tempting us to hear something romantic in the encounter. Is it the persona in the verses, or is it “you,” who is in the next line the cursed “trade” (another word with origins in Polari, referring to various forms of casual sex or the object of sexual desire, as in “rough trade”).1 Maybe, as the chorus seems to imply, all the emotions expressed and shared in the song are part of a con. Perhaps the sweet intimacy—though emotionally convincing—is as much of a scam as everything else in the song. The second iteration of the chorus is melodically nearly identical to the first. It is performed, however, in a much more straightforward way. There are no more accents, no more coming in late. Even the harmonies are tighter the second time around, as if the tension between the personas has eased. But just as the song finally comes together, it comes to an end. A bent guitar note on one of the two electric guitars takes us to a skillful, tasteful, melodic solo on the other guitar. Underneath it—audible but far enough in the mix that you know you’re supposed to be paying attention Paul Baker, Fantabulosa: A Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang (London: Continuum, 2004). 1

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to the guitar—Garson is playing even more virtuosic improvisations on the piano. * * * The guitar solo that ends “Sweet Thing” leads seamlessly to the sax solo that opens “Candidate.” They are among Bowie’s strongest, most expressive performances on both instruments—matched only by his playing when “Candidate” ends and the “Sweet Thing” melody reasserts itself. They flow so smoothly in part because the guitar solo stays within the range of Bowie’s saxophone, and in part because the two songs have similar chord progressions. Even so, the mood and tempo shift significantly. The sax takes the lead as “Candidate” begins, but the guitar doesn’t go away. Bowie plays a duet with himself; the breathiness of his sax playing meshing with the low, swampy sound of his guitar. Both instruments play off the repeated series of three stately, descending piano chords in the background, sometimes in near-unison, sometimes wandering apart. It’s as if they’re arguing, pulling in different directions like the two voices in “Sweet Thing.” The multitracking of instruments is evinced by barely audible splices; Bowie must have liked parts of two different takes and combined them. Underneath it all is a funereal marching rhythm, featuring militaristic snare drum tattoos that are the result of Bowie telling Tony Newman to imagine himself as a drummer in the French Revolution, playing before the guillotine falls. In concert performances of this section, Earl Slick and Dave Sanborn dueled flamboyantly on guitar and sax while 55

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Bowie slowly stripped off his trench coat and then the light blue suit jacket under it. He would then turn to face the audience, displaying the wide-lapelled white silk shirt and suspenders emblematic of the Halloween Jack character. And a character is what emerges with the vocals of “Candidate,” a single voice, speaking to you, suppressing the argument between the sax and the guitar. The expressive extremes of the “Sweet Thing” vocals are gone for now. Bowie sings in a narrow range, low, though never as low as at the beginning of the suite. The style is again Sprechstimme, but this time under the influence of Jacques Brel; it is theatrical, with audibly restrained emotion. The musicians provide a chugging rhythm underneath his vocals, which despite being less expressive, are pushed even more to the front of the mix. The lead guitar, entirely in the right speaker, builds up to what would be screaming solos if they were mixed more forward; as is, they produce more tension underpinning the song. As does the saxophone, burbling breathily underneath the vocals, serving as a mostly very low drone. This new character importunes the listener: “I’ll make you a deal,” he opens, echoing the “get it here” rhetoric in the chorus of “Sweet Thing.” The “deal” is that you and I will become a “we.” The singer preens, he boasts, and takes us—or rather you—into his “amazing” set, before the focus moves, almost cinematically, further into that set: the street, the bar, and then some surprising graffiti: “I smell the blood of les tricoteuses.” This is the suite’s second mention of the sense of smell, which provokes memories of the past. This time it throws us centuries back to the French Revolution. 56

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“Les Tricoteuses”—literally “the knitting women”—were women reputed to watch from the foot of the guillotine, impassively knitting the “liberty hats” worn by revolution­ aries. They appear in works of literature—the most famous is probably Madame DeFarge in Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. The blood associated with them was not their own; it was “the blood of those cursed aristos” that “quite bespattered” them from the guillotine in The Scarlet Pimpernel.2 After this obscure historical and literary reference, the narrator suddenly joins the gang, but you’re not invited; in fact, he and “the poisonous people” have ganged up to tell lies about “you.” This exclusion is reflected in the vocals, as the single voice is joined by a much higher, anxious-sounding one that adds a manic tone to these paranoid, rhythmically chanted, rhyming lines. Soon Bowie’s voice loses its high, ghostly accompaniment for a moment, and he sings, in lower and less urgent tones, that crucial line from the chorus of “Sweet Thing”: “If you want it, boys, get it here thing.” The hucksters in the two songs have fully converged. And this worries you. The vocals now tell you what to say: “So you scream out of line / ‘I want you! I need you! / Anyone out there? / Any time?’” The latter novel refers to “the old hats, or tricotteuses, as they were called, who sat there and knitted, whilst head after head fell beneath the knife, and they themselves got quite bespattered with the blood of those cursed aristos.” Baroness Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel, 1905 (New York: Signet Classics, 2000). It is possible Bowie saw one of the many film adaptations of The Scarlet Pimpernel. I have not watched them all to see which include the tricoteuses being spattered with blood, and which do not. 2

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Bowie attributes emotional and sexual needs to “you”; but he also shouts these lines himself, hectoring the listener of the song, deviating from his sing-songy cadences and from any discernable melody. Your “screams” get a response from an unexpected source, that “très butch little number.” This new character seduces you, as Bowie nasally whines “Hey dirty, I want you / When it’s good it’s really good / And when it’s bad I go to pieces.” Despite the song’s title, this is no political campaign. Rather, it’s a cruising scene, a queer encounter with someone who’s “très butch.” Bowie returns to a slightly less urgent vocal tone to sing, once again, “If you want it, boys, get it here thing.” Whether this is the voice of the conman or of the “butch little number,” there can be no doubt now that the “thing” being addressed is “you.” And what is on offer is the same “it” that can be “good” or make one “go to pieces.” Earlier it might have been an emotion, like “hope.” Now it’s clearly sex. And now we can finally answer one question that’s been hanging over the whole song: Who is the “you” of the “Sweet Thing” suite? It’s not just the singular “you” in the lyrics of a conventional love song. It’s not just the “boys” or the Diamond Dogs (who may well be the same). It’s probably not the indeterminate public of citizens who would normally be addressed by a “Candidate.” This song doesn’t just evoke and make reference to gay male subcultures; it addresses listeners—all its listeners—as if they were part of that subculture. It does so through its vocabulary—by invoking Polari words, by mentioning the “très butch little number,” perhaps through its use of the word “thing.” But it also does 58

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so by interpellating the listener, by implicating “you” in its queer erotic narrative. If ever there was a song that confirmed the old right-wing fantasy that gay people were trying to “recruit” you, this would be it. “We’re breaking in the new boys.” It’s not just any “you”; it’s “you” imagined as a gay “boy.” * * * Even the rest of the song’s dizzying switches between allusive ambiguity and emotional expressiveness does nothing to prepare you for the final thirteen-line stanza of “Candidate.” The instrumentation continues its unrelenting pattern, guitars repeatedly descending; sax low and ominous underneath along with a rolling bass line, cymbals, and even a tambourine keeping a beat that seems to accelerate as the song builds to its climax. Garson’s piano improvisations are especially dazzling in this section, if still low in the mix. The vocals are double- or triple-tracked, and are sung with urgency, intensity, and focus. The lyrics are an unrelenting cascade of desperate, wild words, images, and feelings. We’re so immersed in the “set” that it’s now “the street where you live”; there’s no separation between the set and reality. The affect here is some combination of shame and exhaustion. It’s the most explicitly sexually “profligate” world on the whole album—perhaps in Bowie’s whole body of work—resembling the world of Burroughs’s Wild Boys, with more than a hint of John Rechy mixed in.3 In 2008 Bowie called it “a profligate world that could have been inhabited by characters from Kurt Weill or John Rechy.” “I Went to Buy Some Shoes— and I Came Back with Life On Mars.” 3

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Over it all, Bowie is exhaustedly listing the cruising grounds of Hunger City:4 “on another floor, in the back of a car.” He describes assignations both transcendent (“in a cellar like a church”) and public (“with the door ajar”). As a result of all this, the “you” and the “I” become a “we,” but no sooner has that union been consummated than “you” are fully implicated in the larger sexual scene. Let’s be blunt: men are fucking in these lines. The exchange of fluids is both literal and metaphorical. “You”—like all second-person pronouns in English—can be of any gender, but everyone else in the song is a man, from the “boys” to the “young knights” who are (double entendre alert) “seedy,” and on whom “the sun drips blood.” This is hard, violent sex; this is rough “trade.” The pain is no longer in a stranger, it’s in “you,” who are “press[ed]” on the ground by boys who are themselves “shaking in fright” about what they’re going to do to you from now till sunrise. The sequence of full or nearly full rhymes accentuates the explicitness of the words. Finally, for the final four lines, while most of the music track rolls forward unabated, the descending notes on the guitar that have dominated the right speaker at the end of every previous line of the song stop competing with the vocals, fading to a wheezing rhythm guitar that almost Bowie likely learned about New York City’s cruising grounds from Jayne County, whom he’d met after performances of Andy Warhol’s Pork and who had been in attendance at the 1980 Floor Show. Her Wayne County at the Trucks, recorded with her band the Backstreet Boys, was recorded and produced in 1974 by MainMan. 4

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sounds as if it’s coming from a radio with bad reception. These lines are meant to stand out. And they do. After its multiple impersonal sexual encounters, and after the characters “cruise down one more time,” “Candidate” ends, surprisingly, with its two protagonists—the “I” and the “you”— enacting a romantic rock ’n’ roll scenario of doomed lovers who “buy some drugs and watch a band” and then “jump in a river holding hands.” “Candidate” has up to this point been a William Burroughs novel; suddenly it escapes that world by becoming a Bruce Springsteen song, with hints of that then-young singer’s eager innocence, full rhymes, and unabashed romanticism.5 In these last lines of “Candidate,” the conman has disappeared. Artificiality and fakeness are stripped away in the formation of a “we.” That pronoun points not only to the singer and the listener but also to a larger collective that shares these emotions. It’s much like the conclusion of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” from the Ziggy Stardust album, which Bowie continued to play on the “Year of the Diamond Dogs” tour. In both songs, the bonds formed—individual and collective—are uplifting, even beautiful, even in death. In Bowie was almost as interested in Springsteen during the recording of Diamond Dogs as he was in Burroughs. In the midst of the Diamond Dogs sessions, Bowie had recorded covers of three different songs from Springsteen’s debut: “Growin’ Up,” with Ron Wood on guitar; “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” (completed and mixed a year later in Philadelphia); and “Spirit in the Night,” performed by the Astronettes. According to assistant recording engineer Andy Morris, the latter song was playing “for days and days” during the Diamond Dogs sessions at Olympic Studios. 5

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both, too, the bonds are signaled by the simple act of holding hands. These are two of the most powerful moments in all of David Bowie’s music, and for much the same reason: they turn “I” and “you” into a “we” that is “wonderful” or, in the more measured formulation of Diamond Dogs, that “should be fine.”

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7 Futures

Later on the album, two alternating notes on an electric piano quickly fade in, evocative of a London police siren. For about five seconds, the song “1984” shapes up to be another dark, experimental track like “We Are the Dead” or “Candidate.” But then a drumbeat and what can only be described as a waka-waka guitar catapult us into a completely new musical world. These sounds are joined in the left channel by what sounds like a single keyboard instrument—perhaps a clavinet—but which is actually Mike Garson on harpsichord and Herbie Flowers’s electric bass, in extraordinarily tight unison.1 They play four notes, then another four, then one, and repeat the same pattern. In the right channel we hear a 4/4 disco beat on a hi-hat. The next sound to enter the scene is a sweeping, cinematic string section. By this point the full drum kit is in play; with a quick fill it introduces both Bowie’s voice and Herbie Flowers’s sinuously funky bassline, which is foregrounded here more than in any other song on Diamond Dogs. I owe this insight to Stephen Trask.

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All this happens in the first twenty-five seconds of “1984,” enough time to carry us into a soundscape unlike anything else on the album. It’s slick; it’s funky; it’s even danceable, though it makes your body move very differently from the also danceable “Rebel Rebel.” “1984” didn’t initially have quite that sound. The earliest studio version, never released, was recorded in January 1973. Bowie then took on the song again during sessions at Trident Studios right about the time he was filming The 1980 Floor Show in October. Finally, the album version, with the interpolated song “Dodo” excised, was recorded during some of the main Diamond Dogs sessions, probably in midJanuary 1974. On The 1980 Floor Show, a version of “1984” much like that second studio recording served as a kind of overture during the choreographed credit sequence, and the opening instrumental section returned as the transition back from commercials. It was also performed in full in the middle of the TV broadcast. Here “1984” comes across as a thundering rock song with hints of funk around the edges. It is more plodding than the album version, primarily because it’s not driven by a fast hi-hat and a waka-waka guitar. Instead, Mick Ronson plays a series of chords on the backbeat, lending “1984” a reggae- or ska-like flavor, anticipating The Police. Geoff McCormack’s congas bring a small measure of funk to the tune, as they had on Aladdin Sane’s “Panic in Detroit.” Strong call-and-response vocals from the Astronettes enlivened the sound as well. But none of those features quite make it a disco, funk, or soul tune.

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The 1980 Floor Show performance, like the studio recording made that same month, included “Dodo.” On the TV special, during the bridge to that tune, Bowie steps forward and spreads his arms. Ava Cherry and Jason Guess then walk to either side of Bowie, and in a single dramatic gesture tear his Kansai Yamamota outfit off him, following a Japanese theatrical tradition called Hayagawari or “quickchange technique.” Revealed underneath was a costume Bowie had designed himself, a tight-fitting green zippered outfit with a large pink and black satin keyhole centered on his chest, modeled on similar outfits by Dadaist Sonia Delaunay. Peering through the keyhole is a blue eyeball, staring back at the audience for the rest of the performance.2 This gesture is a replay of a dramatic moment from the Ziggy tour. He adds to it a layer of avant-garde meaning, with the gesture to Dada and surrealism. That Bowie chose the only two African American band members on stage to perform the gesture with him accentuates its sources in R&B, soul, and funk forms of theatricality. For instance, think of James Brown’s famous “cape routine”; the singer would get so overwrought that a stagehand would come out, cover him The Yamamoto piece appeared in the Brooklyn installation of the David Bowie Is exhibition, while the keyhole outfit is in the collection of New York performer Joey Arias, best known in Bowie world for his performance with Bowie and Klaus Nomi on Saturday Night Live. For my description of both costumes, I’ve relied on Madeline Bocaro’s excellent Bowie-centric blog, which includes a post about the 1980 Floor Show costumes: https​://ma​delin​ ex.co​m/201​8/03/​01/bo​wie-1​980-f​l oor-​show-​costu​mes-d​avid-​bowie​-is/. 2

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in a cape, and try to lead him off stage. Depending on the performance—which was often of “Please Please Please”— Brown might fall to his knees in exhaustion, or even allow himself to be led to the wings, but then he would dramatically toss off the cape, with new energy to continue to perform. * * * Bowie was, I think, already trying to bring African American musical and performance styles into his act in more substantive ways than just hiring a couple of black backing vocalists to sing and dance a bit on a TV show. Though the waka-waka guitar that replaces Ronson’s rock guitar chords in the album version of “1984” is played by a white man, Alan Parker, it too announces our entry into an aural world that was closely associated with black America. The wakawaka sound combined with hi-hat cymbals only lasts on its own for a few seconds, but it continues through most of the song. That sound evokes early 1970s funk, which was at that moment interacting with “Latin” dance music and the emerging dance club scene, primarily in New York City, and morphing into disco. The guitar and cymbal combination played in “1984” resembles a particular song that had been instrumental in popularizing an early version of the disco sound: Isaac Hayes’s 1971 hit, “Theme from Shaft.” Hayes’s tune for Gordon Parks’s “blaxploitation” detective film, trimmed for radio airplay, topped the US Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks in late 1971, and reached #4 on the UK singles chart. It also won the 1972 Academy Award for best original song. 66

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Hayes’s song was grounded, as he said, in a combination of waka-waka and hi-hat. “I remembered a guitar line I had in a tune I’d never used, got it off the shelf and had our guitarist play it exactly the same, but with a wah-wah. Then I got our drummer to play 16[th]-note sequences on the hi-hat and we had it.”3 In “Theme from Shaft,” as in dozens if not hundreds of songs influenced by it, that sixteenth-note 4/4 beat on the cymbal is matched by strumming on an electric guitar at a similarly rapid tempo, but with two effects added to produce the waka-waka sound. The first is a wah-wah pedal, which shifts a frequency filter up or down depending on how the player’s foot rocks it, producing the same kind of “spectral glide” heard when you move a mute in and out of the bell of a trumpet or other brass instrument. The bend in the frequency evokes a human voice making open sounds like “wah.” The other effect, in productive tension with the first, is playing the chords—usually the same chord over and over— but with variations on which strings are dampened or muted. This effect combines with the frequency shifts of the pedal to alternate hard, consonant-like sounds with the open, vowellike sounds made by the pedal. Hence: waka-waka. Cultural studies scholar Eric Lott aptly calls the wakawaka effect “alternately choked and flaring” and then extends his description: In essence, the sound is repetitive rather than progressive, circular rather than linear; it foregrounds a harmonic instrument while refusing it harmonic privileges . . . its Mojo 1995. Quoted from https​://en​.wiki​pedia​.org/​wiki/​Theme​_from​_Shaf​t .

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rhythmic inflections (the wah-wah itself) trip up rather than ground our reception of the beat, flaring up suddenly and then retreating back into relative covertness.4 Lott goes on to describe how this distinctive sound quickly developed an equally distinctive meaning to musicians and listeners alike, becoming a “key musical signifier of earlyto late-70s inner-city street-level grittiness and keynote of numberless TV cop show soundscapes.” Even today we recognize this connotation: in 2017 the first season of HBO’s The Deuce, which was set in and around Times Square in 1971 and 1972, had as its theme song Curtis Mayfield’s “(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Going to Go,” which of course has a waka-waka guitar running through it. Of course, “Theme from Shaft,” like “1984,” has more than just a cymbal and a guitar. As critic Alice Echols put it, Hayes’s song was “a perfect mix of the funky and the cool, the earthy and the synthetic, with Hayes’s understated rap floating on top of it all.”5 As in “1984,” instruments gradually join in a fugue-like structure: flutes, a second electric guitar playing slower, heavily flanged chords, a horn line, and then finally synthesized strings. On the almost five-minute album version of Hayes’s tune, it’s nearly two minutes before the cool funk speeds up, with the bassline switching to doubletime, faster melodies on the strings, then the horns, then Eric Lott, “Soulsville: Post-Fordist City Space and the Sound of ‘Urban Crisis.’” Quoted from a lecture, with permission of the author. 5 Alice Echols, Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture (New York: Norton, 2010), 24. 4

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every other instrument catching up. Then, finally, Hayes’s deep voice speaks: “Who’s the black private dick/That’s a sex machine to all the chicks.” The high-pitched backing vocals respond “Shaft,” prompting Hayes first to reply “You’re damn right” and then to shift from speaking to singing, but still in playful dialogue with his singers. “Theme from Shaft” had been very popular, but it had divided critics. Many heard in it not the urban connotations of the guitar sound but the strings and flutes and other orchestral elements, and thought Hayes was watering down the funk. Rolling Stone criticized him for “churning out ‘black Muzak’ that transformed good material into ‘a drowned and bloated boy washed ashore after weeks at sea: pathetic, grossly misshapen, dead.’”6 Like the songs of Thom Bell and Gamble & Huff, who also produced “symphonic soul,” Hayes’s song was “dismissed as too sweet and insufficiently funky.” There were gendered elements to this criticism, too, though they were contradictory. Hayes was characterized as having “fallen victim to the seductions of the white, bourgeois mainstream” even as he promulgated an image of black hypermasculinity, not just in his lyrics but in his “barechested-gold-chains look, which became de rigueur in hiphop circles some twenty-years later.” These visual cues, along with the African robes he wore in concert, were “signifier[s] of blackness” that cut against Hayes’s reputation as catering to a white bourgeois audience.7 Further complicating the Echols, Hot Stuff, 25, quoting Vince Aletti in Rolling Stone, January 7, 1971. Echols, Hot Stuff, 25–26.

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gendered reception of the song was its role in the emerging gay dance club scene that was another origin of disco. “Theme from Shaft” also became hugely popular in early gay discos on Fire Island, where it was the signature song of pioneering DJ Bobby Guttadoro.8 In these divided responses, we can see the beginning of the divisions between soul and funk on the one hand and disco on the other. Even though—as Echols argues persuasively— these musical streams repeatedly flowed into one another— including in “Theme from Shaft” itself—the division within African American music became more emphatic over the coming few years. Why, then, did Bowie choose this particular song, three years after its initial popularity and after it began an ongoing debate about the direction of African American music in the United States, as the core sound of “1984?” Why would he choose a sound that evoked racialized inner-city violence and grittiness in the United States, and transpose it into a song that was initially meant as the title song of his musical about Orwell’s England, and then became a kind of theme song for the album and tour? After all, he opened every concert performance on the “Year of the Diamond Dogs Tour” with “1984,” so it remained concertgoers’ entry point into the world of the show, even as the tour morphed from a highly choreographed Broadway-style extravaganza with elaborate sets to the stripped down “soul revue” that was nicknamed either the “Soul Dogs” or the “Philly Dogs” tour.

Tim Lawrence, Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970-79 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 69. 8

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To answer this question, we need to recognize that when Bowie heard “Theme from Shaft,” he heard both the wakawaka guitar sound and the “symphonic soul” that critics disliked. He used both the guitar/hi-hat sound and the strings in “1984.” The first was meant to evoke the “grittiness” of the urban space not just of the fictional London of 1984 but also of the actual London of 1974, which was entering a period of “urban crisis” just as hyped as that undergone by US cities, though to different degrees and reflective of differently racialized and class histories.9 The second, to someone like Bowie who was growing increasingly attuned to new developments in African American music, represented a vision of the future. Echols speculates that the “fascination with sophisticated symphonic soul” emerging in the work of Hayes, Gamble & Huff, and others, “reflected what longtime R&B record producer Ahmet Ertugun characterized as African Americans’ musical orientation towards the future—‘what’s next.’”10 Bowie was leaving behind his earlier understanding of black American music as a supposedly culturally pure tradition, where a British musician gained credibility through knowledge of blues history and blues techniques. In place of that conventional stance, he was learning a history of soul and funk. For Bowie then, drawing on “Theme from Shaft” was a way of grounding the world of Diamond Dog in both a present-day “urban crisis” and The key text on “urban crisis” rhetoric in the UK is Stuart Hall, Chas Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John Clarke, and Brian Roberts, Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1978). 10 Echols, Hot Stuff, 25. 9

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an emerging vision of the future. That’s precisely what Bowie wanted for Diamond Dogs; not a retread of the already archaic vision of the future Orwell had depicted in his 1949 novel, but a vision of what the relatively near future of 1984 looked like in 1974. After all, soul, funk, and disco were Bowie’s future. His next album was initially going to be the completely soul album, The Gouster; recorded at Sigma Sound in Philadelphia with a crew of stellar African American singers and musicians that included Willie Weeks, Luther Vandross, and Robin Clark. For reasons no one has fully explained, Bowie pulled back from that plan, recorded additional tracks in New York City with John Lennon, including “Fame” and a weak cover of “Across the Universe,” and removed some of The Gouster’s soulful tracks and the unabashedly disco opening “John, I’m Only Dancing (Again).” The result was Young Americans. This was clearly not a mistake; it is a great album, resulting in Bowie’s first US #1 hit and even an appearance on Soul Train. But the recently released full version of The Gouster, with its originally intended track order, “represents an undeniable missing link” between Diamond Dogs and Bowie’s first forays into stardom with Young Americans and Station to Station and their hit singles “Fame” and “Golden Years.”11 The first hints of that sound, the waka-waka guitar and hi-hat on “1984,” also point toward other possible futures, alternatives to the unremittingly dystopian one on Diamond Jeff Slate, “The Making of David Bowie’s Lost Soul Album.” Esquire, September 23, 2016. https​://ww​w.esq​uire.​com/e​ntert​ainme​nt/mu​sic/a​48869​ /the-​makin​g-of-​david​-bowi​es-lo​st-so​ul-al​bum/. 11

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Dogs. The sound hinted at a potentially intriguing analogy between the “urban crisis” of both British and American cities and the Orwellian, Burroughs-inflected city on Diamond Dogs. Bowie would never fully develop that analogy. * * * Despite the similar soundscapes underpinning “Theme from Shaft” and “1984,” they are very different songs. Hayes’s low, cool, ironic commentary on black hypermasculinity sounds nothing like Bowie’s urgent account of authoritarianism, the tone of which sometimes verges into the histrionic. And unlike in Hayes’s song, where vocals emerge well into the track, there’s a lot of Bowie’s voice in this song. After that first twenty seconds, there’s almost continuous singing through the track’s middle three minutes. He sounds like he has a lot to say in this short pop song, and he wants to say it all. Adding to that sense of urgency and density is the fact that for barely any of that time is it Bowie’s single voice singing lyrics. Nobody else is credited on the album with backing vocals, and in “1984” I’m almost certain that it’s all Bowie, and that (despite whatever drugs he may have been consuming in larger than advisable quantities) he was in very fine vocal form. It’s worth paying careful attention to the different Bowie voices, because doing so indicates how even “1984”—the most tight, concise, controlled song on the album—is as multilayered and complexly constructed as any of the more clearly collage-like tracks. There’s the main vocal line, which seems for most of the verses to be multitracked. That 73

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multitracking produces an effect not unlike what we heard in “We Are the Dead,” a spectral voice behind Bowie’s that is only audible in some of the harder consonants. This voice sings the first three lines, which briefly evoke themes from Orwell’s 1984, such as doublethink (“Someday they won’t let you, now you must agree”). Bowie uses every aspect of this song to dramatize the complex interplay between the individual and the authoritarian state. The single voices turn out, again, to be shadowed by other, nearly indistinguishable voices. The warning signs of the state’s power are everywhere. And like Winston Smith, who knows that things weren’t always the way they are in 1984, the “I” that emerges in the song knew “treason” in 1965, knows that there was a past before history was rewritten to fit Big Brother’s preferred story. Despite these efforts at resistance, those low-pitched choral vocals are inescapable. “Who could ask for more” after all? Nobody, because “they won’t let you.” The song ends with those vocals in control: all the singular Bowie voice can do is repeat the words “1984” over and over, while that five note vocal line harmonizes with him and forces him into their song. The waka-waka, the hi-hat, and the strings are again the main instruments in the mix; if the vocals were absent, we could almost be back in the “Theme from Shaft.” But the vocals are dominant, insistent, ineluctable. The conflict between the individual and the state, between Bowie’s ostensibly singular voice and the oppressively repetitive chorale, is coming to a head. The last two times he sings “1984” it’s higher, more desperate sounding, as if he’s putting up a last bit of futile 74

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resistance. And then, at its point of highest intensity, the song ends abruptly, with a literal thud. For the track’s last nineteen seconds, we again hear the two notes on an electric piano that opened the track, now supplemented and undermined by a regular pair of notes played in the right speaker by some unidentifiable electronic instrument, adding ominousness to the urgency of the police siren’s notes. Bad things are coming in the future; bad things are already here. You’ve been warned.

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8 This Ain’t Rock ’n’ Roll

Amid all of the literary and musical references (from Orwell to Burroughs to Springsteen to Hayes), amid the dystopian, futuristic world-making, amid the studio experimentation and play with audience expectations, Bowie still—also— made some rock ’n’ roll music on Diamond Dogs. Two songs in particular—“Rebel Rebel” and the title track—are undeniably in the rock mode. They were also the album’s two singles. Right at the beginning of “Diamond Dogs,” though, Bowie disavows what he’s doing. “This ain’t rock ‘n’ roll!” he shouts, even as he plays hard rock chords on an electric guitar. It’s a contradiction in line with Bowie’s tendency, especially in the early part of the 1970s, to disavow rock ’n’ roll even as he became a rock star. The 2013 BBC documentary on Bowie, Five Years, opens its account of this period with a series of quotations in which he does exactly that. “I’m not a rock star, you see,” he says; “I’m not in rock and roll.”1 Some of the Bowie was entirely inconsistent about using the “and,” the contraction “n,” or the ampersand. I try to follow his usage in all quotations. 1

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other quotations that zip by in the opening section of Five Years are: “I guess I was one of the first to really say I’m using rock ‘n’ roll” (emphasis in original), and “I’m only using rock and roll as a medium.”2 Is there any way to “use” a “medium” in a performance without being at the same time “in” it? Probably not. But Bowie in those years lived with that contradiction, even deliberately exacerbated it. To some extent, Bowie’s statements about rock ’n’ roll were his way of asserting artistic integrity. Even as he enjoyed moving in rock star circles—he had Christmas dinner in 1973 with the Jaggers!—he saw himself as making art about “rock ’n’ roll.” On the Ziggy Stardust album he sang about watching a star’s performance (on “Lady Stardust”), about the process of making himself a star (on “Star”) and about the demise of that star (on “Ziggy Stardust” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”). Bowie always insisted Ziggy was just a character he was playing, one he could create on album and in concert, and dispose of less than two years later.3 Thus rock ’n’ roll was not just a musical style he “used” in the 1970s; it was also a theme. This continues on Diamond Dogs. The phrase appears in the cover image, in the title of a song and, repeatedly, in that song’s chorus. Of course, there’s Notably, as we have seen, “using” is the same verb he chose for his description of his relationship to the cut-up method. 3 It wasn’t as easy as he thought it would be. Much has been written about the difficulty Bowie had separating himself from his characters, and from the Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane persona in particular. Plus, as we’ve seen, Ziggy had an afterlife on Pin Ups and The 1980 Floor Show. 2

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a very long history of songs with “rock ’n’ roll” in their titles and lyrics. What’s different about Bowie is that he made this common theme into a contradiction. * * * So, what did “rock ’n’ roll” mean to David Bowie in 1974? In the 1960s, it had meant for him much same thing it meant for other white British musicians at the time: white men playing music built on the foundation of African American electric blues. One of Bowie’s earliest musical groups, the Manish Boys, was named after a Muddy Waters song. (So, after all, were the Rolling Stones.) Early in Bowie’s career he recorded covers of several black blues and R&B songs, and many songs he wrote in the 1960s were blues- and occasionally jazzbased. Most of the white pop and rock stars Bowie looked to emulate or match—including of course the Beatles and the Stones—had followed similar paths, evincing toward African American singers, musicians, and performers greater or lesser degrees of respect, acknowledgement, and sheer appropriation. At the time he made Diamond Dogs, rock ’n’ roll was for Bowie above all the kind of music the Rolling Stones were making. The album’s two singles, “Rebel Rebel” and the title track, are by far the most Stones-like tunes Bowie ever wrote or performed. In fact, “Diamond Dogs” sounds like a specific Stones song—“It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll”—so much so that in performance Bowie and his vocalists sometimes switched back and forth between his lyrics and the Stones’ lyrics, or sang both at the same time. 79

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Bowie had no compunction about stealing from Jagger. For instance, he’d found out that Guy Peellaert was doing the cover art for It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It), quietly hired Peellaert to paint a cover image for Diamond Dogs, and rushed his album out so that it appeared before the Stones’.4 But in this case Bowie was stealing something he’d helped create. Keith Richards reports that their album’s title track started as a collaboration between Jagger and Bowie, but by the time the Stones recorded it, it was fully a Rolling Stones tune. Perhaps wishing to leave a mark on the song, Bowie came by and recorded backing vocals and handclaps, but they ended up buried in the mix. Bowie had succeeded at the Stones’ game on his own just once, on Aladdin Sane. Reaching past them and over their heads, he took a classic blues riff, making it into white British rock. “The Jean Genie” rests on a venerable riff that had its origin in Muddy Waters’s “Hoochie Coochie Man,” and had already appeared in songs by white blues-based rockers such as the Yardbirds and the Doors. Bowie did with it just what the Stones did at their best; he dug deeply into its groove, adding Mick Ronson’s muscular guitar and some pretty strong harmonica that Bowie played himself. At the same time, “The Jean Genie” is undoubtedly a David Bowie said later: “Mick was silly. I mean, he should never have shown me anything new. I went over to his house and he had all these Guy Peellaert pictures around and said, ‘What do you think of this guy?’ I told him I thought he was incredible. So I immediately phoned him up. Mick’s learned now, as I’ve said. He will never do that again.” Cameron Crowe, “Playboy Interview: David Bowie,” Playboy (September 1976). 4

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Bowie song. The lyrics somehow conflate Iggy Pop with Jean Genet, adding a hint of science fiction. The vocals have the fey quality characteristic of much of Aladdin Sane, making it hard to recall that the most prominent use of the riff had been in Bo Diddley’s assertion of African American manhood and heterosexual prowess, “I’m a Man.” Bowie’s two efforts on Diamond Dogs to match the Rolling Stones differ markedly from one another.5 “Rebel Rebel” hangs its hat on a repeated riff, like “Satisfaction” or “Jumping Jack Flash.” It is hooked on the very principle of repetition. I’ll come back to that riff, because repetition is crucial for understanding both what rock ’n’ roll meant to David Bowie in 1974 and some of the ways he tried to go beyond rock ’n’ roll. “Diamond Dogs” is a more complicated case. It sounds like it should be a classic rock song, but the more you listen to it, the less it sounds like one. The fact that it is made of a bunch of disparate pieces becomes increasingly evident with close listening. It’s a weirdly clunky song that effectively tricks the ear into thinking it is classic, blues-based, Stonesstyle rock. Nowhere is this clearer than in the main guitar riff, which opens the song and then serves periodically to restart it after the song starts to break down. This riff bears no resemblance I recognize that this is a point in this book on which some readers will strongly disagree. There are Bowie fans and others who simply detest “Rebel Rebel,” and those who think “Diamond Dogs” is one of Bowie’s best. I may not persuade anyone to change their minds, but I hope I at least make a decent case for my views. 5

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to the unforgettable, hummable melody of the guitar in “Rebel Rebel.” It sounds a bit more like the chord-based riff that anchored the song “Ziggy Stardust,” but more diffuse, scattered, and decayed. Where “Ziggy’s” opening power chord hits you head on and then pauses to let you recover, “Diamond Dogs” opens strong and then moves coyly away from the tonic with its second chord. A cowbell starts along with the electric guitar, never letting up except when it is drowned out by other instruments—a saxophone, a full drum kit, a bass—that add to the clamor preceding the introduction of Bowie’s voice. The guitar is played—almost certainly by Bowie himself— without the clean, hard-edged conviction that Mick Ronson brought to “Ziggy.” The riff wanders in a more desultory way, going on, like the song itself, a little longer than it needs to. Of course, these differences are not accidental. The guitar in “Diamond Dogs” is not so much less virtuosic than its predecessor (though it is that) as it is less innocent. Yes, both albums hint at apocalypses. But in Ziggy a world full of familiar, everyday people and objects is coming to an end, while on Diamond Dogs the civilization that is collapsing is corrupt and decayed from the start, full of mutants and freaks and crumbling buildings. For all these reasons, the structure of the song is neither tight (like “1984”) nor comfortably loose (like Exile on Main Street). It sprawls. The mix is muddy; the parts don’t fit together, starting with the feint toward “liveness” in its opening audience sounds. The two lead guitars played through much of the song vie for attention with one another and with a thudding rhythm guitar mixed entirely in the left 82

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speaker, creating what Chris O’Leary aptly calls a “paste of sound.”6 Lyrically, “Diamond Dogs” contributes to the album’s dystopian world-making, building on the description of Hunger City from the spoken-word “Future Legend.” It does so in snatches and fragments; it is very likely that many of them were cut-ups. The great, attention-grabbing opening couplet places us, again, in the middle of things—“When they pulled you out of the oxygen tent / You asked for the latest party.” These lines raise questions about what’s going on. But “Diamond Dogs” answers none of these questions. Instead of telling a story, it introduces characters—Halloween Jack and the Diamond Dogs gang—without developing them much. In the later stage show, Bowie’s outfits and stylized performance helped fill out the Halloween Jack persona, but on the album it takes effort to discern how he fits into the world of “Hunger City.” As in “Future Legend,” the lyrics establish a mood. We’re in “the year of the scavenger, the season of the bitch,” a line that both sounds great and underscores the canine theme. The call and response that ends that verse—“There’s gonna be sorrow / try and wake up tomorrow” accentuates the apocalyptic mood, especially since the prophetic first line is heavily treated to sound creepily bubbly. And there’s one line of metacommentary in that verse, that could be Bowie’s dismissive critique of his own song: “Just another future I also like O’Leary’s description of “Diamond Dogs” as “rotten music.” I think that sense of rottenness was one of the song’s intended effects. Rebel Rebel, 338. 6

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song / lonely little kitsch.” It’s a nice rhyme with “bitch,” but it also describes “Diamond Dogs” itself, anticipating his later dismissal of the album as “my usual basket of apocalyptic visions.”7 Musically, too, the song is made up of multiple sections pasted together in an almost arbitrary way. The dissolute opening riff gives way to verses that are accompanied by two or more guitars, wheezing saxophones, and a nearly relentless cowbell that goes into double-time for a while. Backing vocal tracks—for instance, in the early line about “the latest party”—are sometimes a bit out of sync with the lead vocal, as if someone had forgotten to delete a guide vocal track. Sometimes the backing vocals are processed through producer Tony Visconti’s Keyfex or another device; sometimes the lead vocal line is. There’s more call and response in the two choruses, between an “I” who is alternatingly protective, admonitory, and seductive. In short, there are many great things in “Diamond Dogs,” but they’re pasted very loosely together, with overlays of vocals and guitars and effects, transitions between sections that seem randomly ordered, and cut-up lyrics that seem less consciously arranged than in other Bowie songs that use the technique. It’s as if Bowie is testing himself—and his audience—to see how fragmented and dissolute a piece of music could become, but still be heard as the “rock ’n’ roll” he has perversely started the song by disavowing. “Diamond Dogs” definitely pushed that limit. By his standards of the period, it performed pretty poorly, reaching Egan, Bowie on Bowie, 367.

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#21 on the UK singles chart and not approaching the Top 40 in the United States.8 Even so, it is a beloved Bowie song, and has appeared on several greatest hits albums. Just as “Diamond Dogs” risks wearing out its welcome, it ends with a wholly new riff that was not previewed in any of the song’s verses, choruses, or multiple bridges. All the other instruments cut out, and Bowie jams on an electric guitar in a style unlike either the song’s main riff or the dirty, intricate guitar work that has underpinned the rest of the song. It’s fast, and tight; it’s basically a Bo Diddley riff. Then, that too cuts out abruptly. Here too, as in “The Jean Genie,” he’s reaching back before the Stones to African American styles that precede white rock ’n’ roll. It’s brief; it’s a gesture. It leads to a silence, the only moment of silence on the first side of the album. That silence feels longer than it is, because what comes next is that long, slow, backmasked fade-in of the experimental and utterly unique “Sweet Thing” suite, which definitely ain’t rock ’n’ roll.

According to New Musical Express critics Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray, “As a potential hit single, the title track from Diamond Dogs was something of a non-event. Too long, too bleak in vision, too tough to dance to . . . you know the drill.” David Bowie: An Illustrated Record (New York: Avon, 1980), 64. 8

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“Rebel Rebel,” however, is rock ’n’ roll. One thing that makes it clearly part of that genre is the contrast with what precedes it. The song follows without a moment of silence after two minutes of grinding, nearly atonal guitars played over a relentless, pounding rhythm section: the instrumental finale of the “Sweet Thing” suite. Out of the crashing chaos that concludes that passage emerges a completely different guitar sound, played by a different person on a different guitar. The moment those first two notes of the riff emerge from the cacophony that precedes them, we know we’re in a rock ’n’ roll template created by the Rolling Stones. The “Rebel Rebel” riff is reminiscent of the repeated riffs in “Satisfaction” or “Jumping Jack Flash” without quite being derivative of them. This resonance no doubt lies behind the (wholly unfounded) rumor that it was played by Keith Richards. This song’s evocation of the Stones was intentional, too. Bowie wrote “Rebel Rebel” at a moment when his relationship with Mick Jagger had blossomed into a rivalrous friendship; indeed, he said he’d written the riff “to piss Mick off a bit.” But

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despite this motivation, in “Rebel Rebel” the Stones influence comes with none of the air of anxious emulation you feel listening to “Watch that Man,” for instance, from 1973’s Aladdin Sane. Nor does it have even a hint of the parodic bitchiness and kitschiness of Bowie’s cover of the Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together” on that same album.1 It’s its own thing; Bowie owns it—even though he didn’t play it. Bowie is credited with all the guitars on the album except for Alan Parker’s contribution to “1984,” and playing this riff repeatedly was certainly within Bowie’s skill set (it’s the only thing I’ve ever learned to play on the guitar, so it can’t be that hard!). But all indications are that Parker performed it. Parker didn’t just play the riff on “Rebel Rebel” he also cowrote it. Interviewed in 2004, he said that Bowie had the riff about 75% sorted out. He wanted it a bit like a Stones riff, and he played it to me as such, and I then tinkered around with it. I said “Well, what if we did this and that and made it sound more clangy and put some bends in it?” and he said “Yeah, I love that, that’s fine.” Pam Thurschwell has pointed out that Rolling Stone’s dismissal of Bowie’s Stones cover as “campy, butch, brittle and unsatisfying” is unambiguously homophobic, but argues that Bowie’s effort to “queer the song” fails because the song is “pre-queered—his reading seems to slide right off it” (http:// popmusicstudies.org/ck/?p=43). I enjoy the cover more than Thurshwell does—I find it pleasurably hilarious rather than ludicrous—but I basically agree with her interpretation. Especially apt is her insight that Bowie’s cover is weirdly lacking in desire, “except maybe his desire for Mick, or at least Mick’s chart presence.” The challenge for Bowie was how to get that chart presence (and Mick) without being “in rock and roll.” 1

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I used an old Les Paul standard, a black one and it was an old Fender reverb amp with a single Wharfedale speaker in them.2 “Rebel Rebel” is straightforward, with few if any special effects, no major shifts in tone, key, or rhythm, no extended bridge, no overdubbed electric guitar drones. The riff is the backbone of the song. Bowie’s decision simply to repeat it without significant variation is part of what makes the song work. If you know it, you can identify it just by the first two notes. The second is much higher than the first. It’s an even larger interval than the memorable octave leap in Bowie’s earlier “Starman”—itself cribbed directly from “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”; the “Rebel Rebel” riff goes up one note more than that, from a D to a high E. There are subtle variations. The initial D is sometimes played using one string, sometimes on two, while the high E is a cleaner-sounding, open E string. Following these notes are two nearby lower notes on the B string, followed by two E major chords, slightly muted, played in a row. A series of mostly descending, shorter notes complete the riff, bringing us back to the original D, and then it starts again without pause. If a song’s “hook” is the motif or piece of a melody that makes a song feel familiar even the first time you hear it, then that guitar riff is “Rebel Rebel’s” hook. It’s that leap up, the first interval, that snags you, but the riff keeps you on the line by bringing you back down to within human vocal range. David Buckley, sleeve notes, Diamond Dogs 30th anniversary release.

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As if to demonstrate that the guitar line could also serve as a great vocal hook, a few bars in, the backing vocalists follow it three times with “Doo doo doo-doo doo doo doo doo.” The other instruments on “Rebel Rebel” are played similarly straightforwardly. Drumsticks click together over the riff ’s first two iterations, then after the splash of a cymbal, a steady beat runs through the whole song, interrupted only by deftly placed fills and those moments when the music as a whole pauses. Herbie Flowers’s bass is the only instrument that seems to pull against the track’s basic principle of repetition, as it cavorts with jazzy improvisation around the guitar lick. Barely audible in the original album mix, Bowie strums a twelve-string acoustic guitar; its presence is more evident in later remixes. Very occasionally Mike Garson’s piano can be heard in the background, finally confirming its presence with a sustained note as the song comes to its abrupt end. The vocal melody has a narrower range and an even simpler structure than the guitar riff. In the “Sweet Thing” song suite that precedes “Rebel Rebel,” Bowie’s voice demonstrates extraordinary range, from basso profundo rumbles to high, operatic belting. Almost all of “Rebel Rebel” is built on two chords, D and E. Nearly all the variation in those sections of the song comes from Bowie’s shifting accents and tone, and his occasional decisions to stress different words or phrases. That simplicity is also part of what makes the song so memorable. It’s as easy and fun to sing along to as it is to hum or sing the riff. And again, the riff repeats. And repeats. And repeats. It’s relentlessly cyclical, returning to the note it started on with 90

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such regularity that it feels inevitable that it will continue. Chris O’Leary aptly refers to the “the track’s harmonic stasis and its Moebius strip of a guitar riff.”3 Given that stasis—and since the main body of the song is simply verse-chorusverse-chorus, and the two verses are nearly identical to one another, and the chord changes are the same in each, and the guitar riff is played continuously over both—it could be difficult to differentiate the chorus from the verse. What distinguishes it are the cadence and intonation of the first half of each paired set of lines. It’s more like a shout than a melody, and even more repetitive than the verse; four simple syllables, or rather, one two-syllable word repeated twice: “Rebel rebel!” That repeated word also underscores that the entire song is in the form of direct address, an act of interpellation. “Rebel” doesn’t just name the subject of the song; it calls out to the “rebel.” It’s not just about a rebel; it’s for a rebel and addressed to a rebel. The repeated word is followed, the first two times, with versions of “you”—“You’ve torn your dress . . . your face is a mess” and then in the chorus’s last line “I love you so.” And though the “rebel” is often taken to be a girl, the second person is by definition ungendered. Anyone can feel themselves addressed by Bowie, loved by Bowie. It’s not just “your mother” who’s “not sure if you’re a boy or a girl.” Before the vamp at the end partially releases us from this repetitive structure, there are only two things that put that riff O’Leary, Rebel Rebel, 333.

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on pause and deviate from the two-chord pattern. The refrain that precedes each chorus introduces new, lower chords, though we quickly return to the main two-chord structure. And then, at the end of each chorus, almost everything pauses for an instant so we can hear the shout “Hot tramp, I love you so,” an echo of the crowd-pleasing “Wham bam thank you Ma’am” at the climax of “Suffragette City.” This line is accompanied by two guitar chords that underscore it, and it is followed by one extended bent note that leads us back to the first note of the song’s signature riff. The verse and chorus get repeated, and after another round of “Doo doo doo-doo doo doo doo doo,” the chorus repeats, again. Even the extended closing vamp contains a lot of repetition. The riff persists. Several lines from the chorus are repeated, sometimes with slight variations. As the vamp goes on, Bowie hints at activities wilder and more decadent than “going out,” “dancing,” and listening to bands. You consume “a handful of ludes” and then “count up the dudes.” You’re at a pretty wild party. He finally signals the end of the vamp by panting, twice, close to the microphone. Such sounds make the listener feel very close to the singer, to his body, to his mouth. He’d used them to similar effect in the songs “Ziggy Stardust” and perhaps especially notably in “Time,” where for one sexy moment the music stops altogether and all we hear is Bowie breathing.4 See the brilliant discussion of such “choreosonic” acts in Ashon Crawley, Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016). 4

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Though there are different endings in the different single versions, the album mix of “Rebel Rebel” doesn’t fade out. It stops abruptly, with a note whose sustain is extended slightly by a hint of reverb. That note is not the last one of the riff, but the first. It seems to promise that the song could go on indefinitely, that the night, the party, the dancing, the drugs, could go on forever. But it doesn’t, and they don’t.

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If “Rebel Rebel” were pure repetition, it would be avantgarde, not pop. Bowie knew that as popular music listeners we want the repetition to feel as if there’s some change to it. To produce change within repetition, he builds in some differences. For instance, he sings some of the lines slightly differently in the second verse, with a couple of very minor lyrical differences. The instrumental minute that comes immediately before “Rebel Rebel” is much more repetitive. Its repetitions have startlingly different effects. Though it is made up of the basic element of rock ’n’ roll—guitar, bass, and drums—it is the furthest thing on the album from a pop song. Not only does it lack a catchy guitar riff but it is altogether devoid of instrumental or vocal melody as well. Its repetition is rhythmic, but it is not danceable like “Rebel Rebel,” which was played every half hour for months at Rodney’s English Disco in Los Angeles. Indeed, “Sweet Thing (Reprise)” would clear any dance floor. It’s like nothing else on the album, or anything else David Bowie put on a record in the 1970s.

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Even though a “reprise” is by definition a repetition, this repetitive plodding ending makes “Sweet Thing (reprise),” into something of a bait-and-switch. After a stunning instrumental transition from “Candidate,” the song returns to the seductively lovely melody of “Sweet Thing.” Here that melody is sung and played even more gorgeously than in its first iteration, with unalloyed romanticism and virtuosic, emotive vocals. It then transitions to a new seven-note melody that is played twice simultaneously on Mellotron and piano, with Garson providing additional piano flourishes that add to the lushness. The emotional drama of the vocals at first extends into this instrumental section. But then everything changes. The lead instruments play just the first four notes of the melody, three times through. The truncation makes it sound ominous instead of romantic. Then that melody fades in volume as the bass and drums emerge out of the mix to lead us into something completely different: a pounding, repetitive rhythm and blaring, atonal electric guitar, played by Bowie. This thudding music lasts just under a full minute before it, too, collapses, and the familiar riff of “Rebel Rebel” emerges from its ruins. Bowie and Visconti worked to make the music sound continuous; these two songs are spliced together more seamlessly than are some of the other sections of “Diamond Dogs.” That anomalous one minute of music is grounded in a 4/4 beat with the emphasis, provided by a snare drum, on the third beat on each bar. Its rhythm is steady and mechanical, strangely static and propulsive at the same time. It resembles nothing so much as the insistent or ostinato rhythmic pattern 96

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that had recently been named the motorik beat, and that was the trademark sound of Klaus Dinger of the “krautrock” band called Neu!1 In fact, the minute of motorik in “Sweet Thing (reprise)” bears significant resemblance to a track called “Negativland” from Neu!’s eponymous 1972 album. Not only is the beat similar, so also is the bass line. Throughout the ten-minute Neu! track are feedback-laced electric guitar improvisations, also somewhat similar to what Bowie does on Diamond Dogs.2 My point is not to claim that Bowie plagiarized the beat and the sound. Rather, I’m interested in what resorting to this rhythm might have meant in the early 1970s. For Dinger, motorik was defined by its difference from the African American rhythms that defined most rock music. According to krautrock scholar Ulrich Adelt, “Neu! deliberately departed from blues scales and timbres that were common in Anglo American and African American music.” In this Neu! resembled another band influential on Bowie: the Velvet Underground, whose drummer Maureen Tucker often used a proto-motorik style. Lead singer Lou Reed is often quoted Neu!, and Dinger’s playing in particular, were influential on later new wave and post-punk music, including Ultravox, Joy Division, and Gang of Four, and found its way into synth-pop, early hip-hop (Afrikaa Bamaata), and then house music. Neu! is also generally acknowledged to be a major influence on Bowie’s own Berlin trilogy; some of the innovative drum sounds that producer Tony Visconti produced on Low were likely efforts to build on Dinger’s sound. 2 Credit and appreciation are due to commenters on the “Bowie Kooks” Facebook group for pointing out this resemblance, which I would otherwise never have noticed. 1

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as saying “we had a rule in the Velvet Underground: no blues licks.”3 It is hard to tell in such statements whether these bands wanted to distance themselves from black music, or from the clichés attached to white appropriations of black music. Dinger’s own statements of the motivations behind his drumming style were similarly self-contradictory. He could in the same sentence describe it as “more African” and as “more machine-style,” than most rock drumming.4 Even as he called his rhythm “machine-style,” he insisted that it was not mechanical but “human.” For this reason he rejected the term motorik. At first he called the rhythm “lange Gerade” (the long straight line), emphasizing its propensity to go on endlessly without resolution. Ultimately Dinger settled on another name for his signature rhythm, calling it “the Apache beat.”5 This was a reference not to a Native American cultural tradition,6 but https​://ww ​w.gui​t arwo​rld.c​om/ma​gazin​e/lou​-reed​-talk​s-abo​ut-ve​lvet-​ under​groun​d-son​gwrit​ing-a​nd-ge​ar-19​98-gu​itar-​world​-inte​rview.​ 4 Brian Eno years later said that “there were three great beats in the ’70s: Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat, James Brown’s Funk and Klaus Dinger’s NEU-beat.” Eno’s juxtaposition of Dinger’s signature beat with two black rhythms— one Nigerian, one African American—could be read either as associating it with those rhythms or as positing it as a clear alternative to them. 5 Ulrich Adelt, Krautrock: German Music in the Seventies (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2016). 6 The naming of this rhythm bears some relation to the drumbeat, heard in multiple films and television shows, that historian Philip J. Deloria, himself of Dakota Sioux heritage, calls “the sound of Indian.” See Indians in Unexpected Places (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004), 183–223. 3

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to a hugely popular song called “Apache,” written in the late 1950s by Jerry Lordan. “Apache” held the #1 position in the UK single charts for five weeks in 1960; another version of the same song charted in the United States and Canada a year later. Thus, at the end of the album’s lengthiest piece of music, Bowie invokes a sound that is both new (krautrock) and simultaneously “primitive.” At least since the origins of modernism, Western artists had been fascinated by supposedly “primitive” works of art produced by indigenous peoples in the South Pacific, the Americas, and Africa who were also seen as “primitive.” One classic example of this phenomenon is the French painter Paul Gauguin, who spent the final years of his career in Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands painting local subjects and searching for experiences beyond the limits of European culture and civilization. There were also strong “primitivist” impulses in the modernist artistic movements that most interested Bowie, including Expressionism and especially Die Brücke. For all of these artistic movements, as for Bowie, the interest in these artefacts and rhythms had little if anything to do with what these cultural forms meant to their original producers, for whom they were not, of course, “primitive” at all. European primitivists had to deny or remain ignorant of the fact that these forms had histories within other cultures, that they weren’t just static emblems of a people’s neverchanging “primitive” state. Rather, they served for these Western artists as a kind of limit or “outside” to their own cultures, foils for their ideas—often critical—of Western culture. Thinking of these cultural forms as “primitive”—as 99

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outside of culture and civilization—thus had some deeply racist implications. At the same time, they helped some modernists to imagine alternatives to dominant social and political systems; they helped others imagine alternatives to conventional ways of thinking about the mind and identity.7 Bowie, I think, was trying something similar, as he often did when invoking different “outsider” positions, from astronauts to aliens to “Loving the Alien” to the album he called, simply, 1. Outside.

For me this was brought home by a visit to the Sigmund Freud house in London, where you can see the final iteration of the room where he met patients. Freud’s famous couch is surrounded by African sculptures, masks, and wall hangings. Whatever you may think of psychoanalysis now, Freud, too, was a modernist who came up with innovative theories of how the mind works, and did so in part through “primitivist” thinking. 7

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11 Wild Mutations

“Star,” a song from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, is about the changes Bowie (or Ziggy) would undergo in order to become a rock ’n’ roll star. In its chorus, he says he would be willing to “play the part,” a phrase that fits with Bowie’s frequent portrayal of himself—and the rock star in general—as an actor or performer. Scholars and journalists writing about Bowie have emphasized this recurring theme in his lyrics and interviews. For many, Bowie’s emphasis on playing parts signals a break with a 1960s “ideology of authenticity,” the idea that any theatricality was a “fake” or “phony” mask concealing a truly authentic self. With Ziggy and his subsequent personas, Bowie was always clear that he was engaged in a performance, and that these personas weren’t necessarily reflections of who he “really” was. But the next line of the chorus takes that idea one step further. Theatrical “play” metaphors are for Bowie about changing surfaces: makeup, mime, characters that can be taken up or abandoned, but here he says he could go through

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a “wild mutation” to become a star. Mutations occur in your body—in your DNA—not just through changes in costume and other surface manifestations. In “Star,” Bowie is still just “playing” that mutation. On Diamond Dogs the mutations are deeper, reaching to the core of what it means to be human. They begin with the opening sound of the album: a howl. It is not the kind of howl that is conventional in popular music. It is not the howl of Robert Johnson or Howlin’ Wolf, nor is it the howl of a white male British singer who wants to sound like a black bluesman. It’s also not the kind of howl that we hear a few minutes later, in the title song’s bridge, which is recognizable as a human voice imitating a howling dog in a campy, joyful, almost silly way. The howl goes on for a full ten seconds; it risks wearing out its welcome. It relates to the album title just a bit too literally. Depending on your susceptibility to such things, it’s either creepy or cheesy. In the early to mid-1970s, Alice Cooper might have opened a song with that howl. It could have come from a Vincent Price movie or a Hammer horror film decades earlier. That howl opens the album’s first track, just over a minute in length. “Future Legend” is not really a song; after all, there is no singing. It is more of a sound collage. We hear Bowie’s voice speaking a brief, fragmented narration over noises he makes with a Moog synthesizer, a Mellotron tape replay keyboard, and electric guitars, along with other effects (including, perhaps, the howl) credited to producer Tony Visconti. The track is not wholly unmusical, though. Partway through, a guitar plays the chorus melody of “Bewitched, 102

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Bothered, and Bewildered,” from the 1940 musical Pal Joey. (A credit to its composers, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, appeared on the original vinyl record label of Diamond Dogs but has been omitted in most subsequent releases.) “Future Legend” sounds like the soundtrack of a horrormovie trailer. What in a film would be called voice-over narration is presented in Bowie’s formal speaking voice; its tone is a bit portentous to match the content. Adding to the slight creepiness is the electronic effect (possibly the Keyfex, a device Visconti used on the title track as well) through which Bowie’s voice, like his guitar, seems to have been processed, making it sound slightly bubbly. The disconcerting sounds that make up “Future Legend” match its harsh words. With the opening four, “And in the death,” we are immediately unmoored from temporality. The opening “and” locates us in medias res, but “the death” places us at an end. Put together, the phrase opens the album during the end, in the middle of something that should be the end of something. “The death,” in other words, is ongoing. It’s disorienting; we don’t know where we are yet, but even more fundamentally, we don’t know when we are, what tense we’re in. That said, we are clearly in a future, albeit a bleak one. The story of the album, then, is a “legend” told in that future, in a postapocalyptic world. The world of Diamond Dogs is an aftermath of something, as are the postnuclear world of 1984, the blasted landscapes of William Burroughs’s writings, and the settings of any number of science fiction novels. “Future Legend” consists of two long sentences, each followed by a short exclamation. In the first, Bowie names 103

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the album’s setting (“Hunger City”) and landmarks within it (“Temperance Building,” “Poacher’s Hill”). Most of the narration is less specific, designed to produce a mood and a point of view. The mood comes from sensory images such as the corpses rotting on a “slimy thoroughfare,” and the point of view comes through the “red, mutant eyes” that peer at the city. The second sentence is still more visually arresting. It opens with “Fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats.” Animals as well as humans have mutated, hinting at a nuclear disaster and the origin of “the death.” Hunger City is populated by gangs of “peoploids” who compete for control of the upper floors of the “sterile skyscrapers.” This sentence also introduces the album’s dominant image of mutation as a simile, describing these gangs as “like packs of dogs” (and Bowie does emphasize those three words, especially the third). We see them using looted mink and fox clothing as “leg-warmers” and wearing discarded jewelry. The imagery may be postapocalyptic, but it also gestures toward a glam aesthetic, in which old, fancy clothes are worn to look messy and a bit sleazy, like the torn dress that the singer of “Rebel Rebel” says he loves. * * * Even the album cover depicts a mutation; Bowie is painted as half-human, half-dog. That idea for the cover evolved gradually. One day early in 1974 prominent photographer Terry O’Neill took some now-famous photos of an uncannily

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placid Bowie and a huge, leaping Great Dane. But Bowie brought to that photo session the Belgian artist Guy Peellaert. Once he decided to hire Peellaert to do a painting for the cover, Bowie decided that the O’Neill photos would move to the inside of the gatefold, though what ended up there was a photocollage by Leee Black Childers. Bowie’s initial vision for the images with the dog, he told Peellaert, had been inspired by photos of expatriate African American dancer Josephine Baker with her pet cheetah. The animal, named Chiquita, was originally bought for Baker to use in a performance, but she kept it for years, taking it with her everywhere, even to the movies. It is easy to imagine Bowie dreaming of the stares Baker would get as a stylishly dressed black woman walking down the streets of 1920s Paris with a cheetah on a leash. Even as the cover changed in medium, Bowie kept images of Baker in mind, turning his attention to a different photograph, from 1926. Chiquita does not appear in it, but Baker is gesturing as if she were feline herself. Peellaert used one of the O’Neill photos as a reference image for his rendering of Bowie’s body, but Bowie insisted that the final painting reference the Baker photo, too. Peellaert did so by positioning his body like hers: semi-prone, with one leg bent underneath, torso partially facing the viewer. Both look directly at us, with wide eyes accentuated by makeup. Both rest on their arms, which are positioned in front of their breasts. (Bowie covers one of his; Baker partially conceals both of hers.) They both prominently display their hands, with fingers extended; each has bracelets on one wrist. It is

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clear how the 1926 Baker photo served as a template for the Diamond Dogs cover.1 At the same time, there are notable differences between the images. Baker’s eyebrows are dark, while Bowie’s have been shaved off, reflecting the otherworldly look he had cultivated since early in the Ziggy Stardust tour. Bowie wears a hoop in one ear; Baker has two more elaborate, dangling earrings. In the painting Bowie sports much the same mulletlike haircut that appears on the covers of Aladdin Sane and Pin Ups, though it is a darker red than he ever wore in real life. Baker’s hair is cropped short in her own distinctive 1920s style: slicked down, with finger waves. Bowie’s shirtless upper body is as slim as it appears in all his mid-1970s photos. (Freddie Burretti’s design notebook lists Bowie’s waist at 26 ½ inches, and he was at one point skinny enough to wear an outfit with a 24-inch waist.) At the same time, despite Bowie’s usual penchant for androgynous self-presentation, Peellaert’s rendering accentuates the taut muscles and tendons in Bowie’s upper chest and arms as much as it does the figure’s visible ribs. He looks gaunt and hard. In contrast, Baker’s body has softer curves, though her dancer’s strength is also evident. She is in a way more androgynous than Bowie is. Other differences are more significant and at the same time point to deeper connections between the images. I’ve seen a second photo of Baker, clearly from the same session, that is somewhat different. Her posture is slightly different, revealing her breasts; her teeth are bared in an even more clear effort to evoke animality, and the lighting and exposure make her skin look much darker. I lean toward thinking that the first photo was the model for the Diamond Dogs cover, but I don’t know for sure. 1

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Baker’s hands—one under her chin, the other in front of her breasts—extend their fingers and display their long nails in a way that clearly evokes animality. The photo seems to want us to imagine her emitting a cat’s hiss or meow along with that gesture, or perhaps something closer to her own cheetah’s roar.2 Bowie’s hands, in contrast, rest on the wooden platform he’s lying on, crossed at the wrists. Though his fingers curve a bit like Baker’s, they’re in repose, not in active movement. In the 1926 photo, Baker is a human being acting like an animal, playing a part. By contrast, opening the gatefold cover of Diamond Dogs enacts a process of mutation. Bowie’s human body becomes a dog’s body in its lower half, down to its unambiguously canine hind legs. A curve that teases the viewer of the front cover into thinking it is Bowie’s ass turns out to be part of the dog’s torso, which extends to an unnatural length. In the original and the first printing of the album cover, the dog’s male genitals are presented to the viewer directly, resting on a bent lower leg that ends in a paw. That version is now a rare collectible, because it was quickly withdrawn by the record company and replaced by an image with the genitalia airbrushed to blackness. * * * Drawing on this Josephine Baker image for the album cover was consistent with Bowie’s long-standing interest in evoking female icons of the past. Previously, however, his models had Cheetahs, it turns out, are incapable of roaring. They growl; they purr, and they make a distinctive “chirrup.” It is impossible to imagine Josephine Baker chirruping. 2

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all been white. For instance, the cover of Hunky Dory—a softfocus image of his face looking upward, lips slightly parted, one hand brushing back long straight blonde hair that flows down onto his shoulders—was seen as resembling Greta Garbo or Lauren Bacall, though Bowie himself cited Marlene Dietrich as his main influence. And of course for Bowie to play with his gender presentation was nothing new. The UK cover of The Man Who Sold the World featured him reclining on a chaise longue in his Haddon Hall home, wearing a dress, recalling Pre-Raphaelite images and an even older painterly tradition of the reclining female odalisque. Emulating female stars was, by then, baked into Bowie’s own star image. Yet, to model his self-presentation on that of a black woman was different. His interest in Baker was, it seems, short-lived, but he mentioned it often in 1973–74. Baker came up most often in relation to his African American girlfriend Ava Cherry, whom he’d met in the United States. Cherry was a member of the Astronettes—a band he pulled together, wrote songs for, and recorded in the middle of the Diamond Dogs studio sessions. When Bowie urged MainMan to put Cherry on contract, he touted her as “the next Josephine Baker.” She says he made this comparison to her as well.3 All that said, nothing about the painting on the cover of Diamond Dogs is explicitly or implicitly racialized in the way that images of Baker always and inevitably were in their David Buckley, Strange Fascination: David Bowie, The Definitive Story, Revised and Updated (London: Virgin, 2005), 178. Bowie also gave her the moniker “Black Barbarella,” and included that phrase in the lyrics for a song he wrote for her. 3

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day. Inspired by an image in which Baker toyed (in typically brilliant and complex ways4) with the racist, primitivist association of African American women with animals, Bowie commissioned a cover in which his own gaunt, white body merges with that of an animal. He played with some of the same elements that Baker did, but to different ends and with different results. The Bowie-dog figure is an evolution—a mutation— from the images of Bowie’s face and body on recent album covers and in other publicity. Here as on the cover of Aladdin Sane—with its lightning bolt across his face and the gash in his shoulder leaking translucent, alien blood—Bowie’s image is erotic and appealing, in keeping with his emergent star status, and at the same time disturbingly alien, even posthuman. The key difference is in how he depicts his departure from the category of the human. On Diamond Dogs the alien from outer space has been replaced by an animal. * * * Opening the gatefold also reveals the front cover painting’s curiously divided background imagery. On the front square, behind the two dog-like mutants who hover over Bowie, is For useful work on Josephine Baker, see: Daphne Brooks, “The End of the Line: Josephine Baker and the Politics of Black Women’s Corporeal Comedy.” Scholar & Feminist Online 6.1–6.2 (Fall 2007–Spring 2008). http:​//sfo​nline​.barn​ard.e​du/ba​ker/b​rooks​_01.h​tm; Anne Anlin Cheng, Second Skin: Josephine Baker and the Modern Surface (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), and Mae G. Henderson and Charlene B. Regester, The Josephine Baker Critical Reader (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co, 2017). 4

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the world of Hunger City: dead-looking trees, modernist skyscrapers. While the Bowie-dog’s body and its woodplanked support continue onto the back cover or left side of the gatefold, the background there is completely different. Suddenly we’re at the circus, symbolized by two sideshowlike signs. One of them reads “Rock N,” in all capital letters that look as if they are about to peel off the wall. The Bowiedog’s leg and the wooden stage presumably block the word “Roll.” To the right of that, stylized in diagonal italics and partially obscured by the dog’s buttocks, is “The Strangest Living Curiosities.” We are not at just any part of the circus: we are at a freak show. Unlike the Bowie-dog hybrid on the cover, and unlike the mutated “Diamond Dogs” of the album’s narrative, so-called circus freaks were of course fully human. Their humanity is, perhaps surprisingly, emphasized in much of Tod Browning’s 1932 film Freaks, which is mentioned in the opening verse of “Diamond Dogs” and had been a cult film since the early 1960s. That one strangely phrased line—“Tod Browning’s freak you was”—is the only justification for the freakshow setting of part of the album cover. But the film was a more profound influence on Bowie’s vision of the world of Diamond Dogs than that single reference would imply.5 Consistent with the freak-show imagery, Peellaert’s original painting had the word “Alive” where “Bowie” is on the album cover. Most helpful to me in thinking through the meaning of the freak show, including how to understand Browning’s film, has been Rachel Adams’s Sideshow U.S.A.: Freaks and the American Cultural Imagination (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), especially Chapter 3, “Sideshow Cinema.” 5

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Freaks has to be seen to be believed. The film centers on circus performers in an early twentieth-century “freak show,” most of whom are on display for their bodily differences or disabilities, and all of whom are played by people who actually possessed these traits: people of short stature billed as “midgets,” people with microencephaly billed as pinheads; people with nonnormative gender identities. The first half of the film primarily establishes the performers’ backstage world. We do not see them performing on stage; rather, we see their everyday life. Browning takes pains to show that they have everyday lives. They’re shown courting, picnicking, chatting, drinking, eating. Even when we witness extraordinary adaptations, as when the armless and legless “Living Torso” lights himself a cigarette, it is presented as routine for them. More than half the film is thus a surprisingly humanizing portrayal of people with radical bodily differences. Indeed, the villains of the film, the most inhumane characters, are “big people”—those performers who think of themselves not as “freaks” but as possessing special skills or abilities (a trapeze artist, sword swallower, etc.) Their faults and their dismissiveness are clearly vilified, as is the brief encounter with someone who is viscerally disgusted by his encounter with the performers. There’s no doubt, at least early on, that Freaks is on the side of the “freaks.” Bowie, too, opens “Diamond Dogs” by associating bodily differences and “freakishness” with the song’s listener and addressee, rather than with an alien other. He makes this point, once again, by interpellating you as a mutant, a freak: “With your silicone hump and your ten-inch stump . . . Tod Browning’s freak you was.” 111

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The style of Freaks shifts about halfway through, complicating our responses. “Big people” are still the villains, as a woman called Cleopatra seduces and marries “a midget,” Hans, for his money while flaunting her real affection for the strong man, Hercules. But at the wedding, the visual depiction of the “freaks” gets more threatening. The camera is too close; the lens distorts their faces; the acting is loud and exaggerated. As the wedding guests get more and more drunk, they begin to chant: “We accept her, one of us, gooble gobble, one of us.” They are portrayed as a kind of “primitive,” even subhuman tribe, and the wedding dinner has become an initiation ceremony. Cleopatra starts getting frightened, and screams out in protest “No! Freaks, freaks, get out of here! You filth!” The scene ends in chaos. The film’s climax comes when Hercules threatens to kill Venus, a sympathetic “big person” who threatens to reveal his plot to kill Hans. In a scene that Bowie draws on for some of the imagery in “Diamond Dogs,” the “freaks” gather to defend her. “Crawling down the alley on your hands and knee” (singular) goes the lyric right after the reference to “Tod Browning’s freak.” The film shows characters—some missing limbs—crawling toward Hercules from all directions (and one “hides behind trees,” as the Diamond Dogs do). One walks on his hands because he has no legs; others, including the quadriplegic, crawl, or writhe through the mud to participate in a vengeful punishment of the villainous “big people.” The film validates this revenge plot to a surprising degree, and provokes similar feelings in the viewer. Hercules and Cleopatra become even more perfidious, plotting to murder 112

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Hans. The “freaks” and a pair of sympathetic “big people” discover the plot, one of whom, Venus, threatens to turn in the criminals. When Hercules asks her, disbelievingly, “You’d tell on your own folk?” she replies by disidentifying from his definition of “folk.” “My people are decent circus folk . . . not dirty rats what would kill a freak to get his money.” Freaks thus asks a profound question of its audience: How do you identify? Who in this film is like you? The film humanizes its main characters without ever minimizing or concealing how different their bodies are from “normal” bodies. There can be no doubt in the way the wedding scene is shot that the “freaks’” bodily differences can become sites of horror (the genre that was Tod Browning’s specialty).6 But it’s at least as clear that we can’t empathize with the “normal” bodies that are threatened by the “freaks”; they’re immoral, criminal, dishonest, and wrong. In short, the film leaves us with no easy point of identification. And then it takes another twist. It cuts away before the “freaks” take violent revenge on the two plotters, but the final scene shows the effects of that violence on Cleopatra. She has forcibly undergone the wildest mutation of all, being transformed into a legless creature covered in feathers. We see her on display in another freak show as a “human duck,” with hands somehow mutated to look like duck feet. She has become “one of us”—but she hasn’t, because unlike the people we met in the first half of the movie, she’s been fully dehumanized. She seemingly cannot Browning was best known for a version of Dracula starring Bela Lugosi.

6

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speak—she squawks—and the viewers in the film who get a glimpse of her show not a hint of sympathy, only terror and horror.7 Freaks is more than just background for a line or two in “Diamond Dogs.” The film and the song test our empathy and identification in related ways. Both raise the possibility that those who are disabled or differently embodied are not human, or at least fully human. The film, I’ve argued, mostly (but not completely consistently) avoids this implication by making “big people” (those with so-called “normal” bodies) its most sinister characters, and by depicting “little people” and other nonnormative characters with both inner lives and moral strength. It tests its viewers’ ability to identify with its so-called “freaks.” Then, in the final image of the “human duck,” the film shows us the limits of that identification by depicting someone who has had her humanity forcibly taken away precisely because she has been so inhumane. Diamond Dogs, too, is a test of its audience’s ability to identify and to empathize. And the album, like the film, portrays another level of inhumanity: the Diamond Dogs themselves. As in the film, they are horrifying; they are threatening. “You” may be “Tod Browning’s freak,” but the Diamond Dogs will “hunt you to the ground.” Bowie avoids privileging the “normal” and dehumanizing those who are different by addressing “you.” You are the mutant; you are In the original cut of the film—since lost—we also saw Hercules, no longer the strong man but singing soprano. It seems the “freaks” castrated him. The man is punished by losing his masculinity; the woman is punished by losing her very humanity. 7

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positioned not as the human characters in Freaks but as one of the “freaks.” You are crawling down the alley, missing a leg, “not protected.” But you retain your humanity in part because you are under threat by someone less human than you are. Within the song “Diamond Dogs,” Bowie plays with the same elements of sympathy and dehumanization as does Freaks, with similarly uncertain results. * * * At one point in a series of characterizations of the diamond dogs in the title track, he calls them “sable-ized.” This is a word in no dictionary. As far as I can tell, Bowie made it up. But it’s a great word for condensing the kind of wild mutations that the diamond dogs have undergone, and that Bowie is enacting and performing on this album. “Sable” can refer to an animal—a small marten—that has historically been hunted for its fur. It could thus be in the list of clothing mentioned in “Future Legend”; it could become “leg-warmers” along with the mink and fox. But “sable” also means black, and it has a long history of being used to refer to Africans in particular, and to the color of their skin. The poet Robin Coste Lewis in 2015 wrote a powerful poem that describes the dozens and dozens of works of Western art that depict the figure of “the Sable Venus,” a version of the mythological figure that has served for centuries to justify the enslavement and rape of black women.8

Robin Coste Lewis, Voyage of the Sable Venus (New York: Knopf, 2015).

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It seems unlikely that Bowie was aware of that particular history, but he surely knew that the word “sable” had something of a double meaning. By twisting the word to make it into a process, not a state—the diamond dogs are “sable-ized,” not simply sable—he did more than create a halfrhyme with “paralyzed” in the previous line. He also pointed to a key theme on the album: change, transformation, wild mutations. Diamond Dogs mixes up significantly different kinds of transformation: crossing racial lines; radical bodily differences, gender, and sexuality. In the next two chapters, we’ll see that he blends in references to political change, and even to “mutations” that take us beyond the category of the human. In “Star” on the Ziggy Stardust album, mutations were desirable—“so inviting, so enticing.” On Diamond Dogs, the mutations are more ambiguous, even dangerous. But for all that, Bowie warns, they are still seductive.

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12 Everybody Wants to Be a Fascist

As “Future Legend” transitions into the title track, audience sounds arise, as if we are about to hear a live concert recording. The next words are called out loudly, projected as if to be heard over the din of a crowd. But instead of the expected introduction of the performer (“Please welcome . . . David Bowie!”) or, coming from the singer himself, something like “Hello, Detroit!,” we get the disconcertingly enthusiastic shout: “This ain’t rock ‘n’ roll/This is . . . genocide!” Even louder cheers erupt from the crowd. They seem to be welcoming an ongoing apocalypse, a mass murder, the end of a race. And so is Bowie, or the persona he’s occupying on Diamond Dogs. Bowie seems to be testing, or showing off, his abilities to manipulate a crowd. He can get them to cheer wildly, both for the negation of “rock ’n’ roll” and for “genocide,” of all things. But in fact he is not manipulating anything but pieces of tape in a recording studio. What we hear is not even Bowie’s own crowd noises; the cheering sounds were borrowed from a live album by Rod Stewart and his band Faces. The song

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that follows, “Diamond Dogs,” is not recorded live; nor is anything else on the album. It’s all an illusion. Bowie has tricked us—for just a moment—into believing that he was capable of getting a crowd to cheer for anything, even “genocide.” He demonstrates here that he was attuned— perhaps more than any other popular artist—to the dark side of the dynamic between a performer and an audience. Bowie deeply believed that his ability to affect his audience—to change us—was continuous with an authoritarian leader’s ability to manipulate a crowd. This moment on Diamond Dogs makes his point. Once he integrated these sounds into the “Year of the Diamond Dogs” tour, they became more than a trick. Bowie prefaced concerts by playing several minutes of animal sounds—primarily dogs barking—at gradually increasing volume, uncannily merging those sounds with the live crowd sounds at the venue. Later in each show he would play the studio recording of “Future Legend,” which of course ends with the recorded shout at the end, and with the sound of humans (Rod Stewart fans) cheering. The real crowd’s cheering would thus merge with that of the prerecorded crowd. Of course, the real crowd was cheering for the opening chords of “Diamond Dogs.” But they were also in a sense cheering for “genocide,” or at least for Bowie’s prerecorded celebration of it. In short, Bowie did have the power to make a crowd cheer for genocide. He got that power by pretending to have it on the album and then performing that pretense in concert, just as he had become a rock star by pretending to be one on the Ziggy Stardust album and then performing as that character in concerts. 118

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The levels of artifice and performance here are dizzying. They show, I think, the nuances and complexity of the analogies Bowie repeatedly made between the rock performer and the authoritarian leader. In the drug-addled years after Diamond Dogs, these nuances too often got lost, especially when he chose to take on a persona—the Thin White Duke— who embodied that analogy without offering a clear critical stance toward it. Things got worse when the persona—and Bowie in some interviews—became a fascist. For a brief time Bowie was even seen as a hero by the racist right in the UK. Rock Against Racism formed in part in response to Bowie’s irresponsible words and images. Though nothing he did or said approached the viciousness and racism of Eric Clapton, who in 1976 led a concert crowd in a chant of the fascist National Front’s slogan “Keep Britain White,” David Bowie was no anti-fascist hero in the mid-1970s, especially in the British context. At his best moments, though, Bowie took seriously the idea that fascism was on the rise and took on the task of warning Europeans and Americans about it. Late in the “Year of the Diamond Dogs” tour, he told interviewer Robert Hillburn:1 Really, I’m a very one-track person. What I’ve said for years under various guises is that “watch out, the West is going to have a Hitler!” I’ve said it in a thousand different All of the following quotations are from Robert Hillburn’s interview with Bowie in Melody Maker, September 14, 1974. Reprinted in Sean Egan, Bowie on Bowie: Interviews and Encounters with David Bowie (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2017), 40–41. 1

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ways . . . That’s what Ziggy was. That’s what they all are . . . all the little characters I come up with. Bowie felt that his own stardom—the relationship to his audience that he spent so much time and effort to shape— embodied that threat of “a Hitler.” “I could see how easy it was to get a whole rally thing going,” he goes on: “There were times, frankly, when I could have told the audience to do anything, and that’s frightening.” At the same time, the possibility of becoming a fascist leader wasn’t something he could simply avoid or ignore. “I’ve got that responsibility,” he said, “so I’ve got to be very careful about what I do with it.” Bowie’s sense of “responsibility” may have emerged from delusions of grandeur not so different from those that prompted him to declare that he would make an excellent dictator. But on Diamond Dogs Bowie said that he was trying to take that responsibility seriously by countering the connection between the rock star and the political leader. For an example of his stance toward authoritarianism, he might have pointed to any of the songs written explicitly in response to Orwell’s 1984. Instead, he turned to a song that lacks any evident political content. Responding to the interviewer’s observation that Bowie’s fans sometimes treat him as if he were a political leader, “someone to give them answers,” he both agrees and demurs: “That’s just it,” he said. “That’s what I said in ‘Rock and Roll With Me.’ I mean, the verse of that talks about that . . . you’re doing it to me. Stop it.” For Bowie, then, fascism is not at its core a political system. Rather, it is a psychological structure and a social

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relationship, one that can be seen as easily in the connection between rock stars and their fans as it can in political leaders’ connection with their followers. Bowie’s view that fascism was psychological and interpersonal, rather than primarily political, was not unique. In the same year 1984 was published, historian Arthur Schlesinger had written that “there is a Hitler, a Stalin, in every breast,” later saying that he had shared this view with both George Orwell and Hannah Arendt.2 In 1972, French theorists Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari put a similar point more bluntly: “Everybody wants to be a fascist.”3 They argue that the same psychological forces that push us to appear as coherent selves—what Freud would call our ego—are the forces that make us want fascism and want to be fascists. And that is what Bowie wrote about over and over in his career. Though Bowie was certainly not drawing on Deleuze and Guattari’s complex theories,4 this phrase gets Arthur Schlesinger, The Vital Center: The Politics of Freedom (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1949), 250. Almost forty years later, Schlesinger repudiated his 1949 argument as “mystical,” but there’s no doubt it had great impact on left-liberal thinking about fascism. 3 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (New York: Viking Penguin, 1977); Félix Guattari, “Everybody Wants to Be a Fascist,” in Chaosophy: Texts and Interviews, 1972–1977 (South Pasadena, CA: Semiotext€, 2009), 154–75. 4 However, on Bowie’s list of one hundred books that most influenced him was 1959’s The Divided Self by R. D. Laing (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1957), a book central in the UK in the anti-psychiatry movement of the late sixties and early seventies, in which Félix Guattari also played a 2

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at the core of his thinking about authoritarianism. Diamond Dogs, by his own account, was his effort to dramatize this insight, first from the perspective of the fascist leader and then from the perspective of fascism’s followers. * * * “Rock ‘n Roll With Me” is not the first place you’d think to look for serious critical analysis of crowd psychology, mass culture, and fascism. It sounds like—no, it is—a prototypical power ballad that starts out in an intimate mode and then opens up into a large, broad, and encompassing sound that includes the entire audience in the intimate emotions it opened with. Its structure is in that sense quite conventional. That conventionality is precisely why Bowie saw it as being about the threat of fascism. Bowie located this threat in the relationship between rock stars and fans and claimed that “Rock ‘n Roll With Me” was a commentary on that relationship. Like the transition between “Future Legend” and “Diamond Dogs,” it offers a demonstration of rock ’n’ roll’s ability to form a dangerous kind of “we,” and, he says, a plea for us to “stop it.” The song starts out with a set of major chords on the piano—evocative, as many have noted, of Bill Withers’s classic “Lean on Me.” These opening chords seem to signal a piano ballad. After those piano chords are played once through, a fuzzy electric guitar plays chords around the part. Will Brooker suggests that Bowie read Deleuze and Guattari later in his career; see Why Bowie Matters (London: William Collins, 2019), 93.

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melody. That sound certainly indicates that this will be a rock ballad. They’re too rough to have fit into a piano-based pop song like “Changes,” but early 1970s soft rock had already incorporated such sounds. The Carpenters, for instance, had incorporated a fuzz guitar solo into their 1972 song “Goodbye to Love.”5 Bowie’s guitar is a bit rougher-edged than anything the Carpenters ever put on a record, but its presence did not violate any expectations set up by the opening piano chords. Drums and bass chime in as well; still, the piano remains the lead instrument. And as Bowie begins to sing, his voice—starting in a lower, almost crooning register that would become much more common on later albums—is accompanied by his strumming on an acoustic guitar. The song’s first, seven-line verse builds in intensity with the addition of new instruments, most notably the saxophone that comes in after “A room to rent.” Up through those four words Bowie also sings intimately, in a low and quiet register. From there his voice goes up in both pitch and volume with nearly every line. The most significant transition happens in the course of “I would take a foxy kind of stand,” where by the end of the line he’s singing as if he’d just noticed that there’s a crowd there, and that he should project so that they will all be able to hear him. Or perhaps his own “foxy” presence has brought that crowd into being. This reading is confirmed by the next line, “while tens of thousands found me in demand.” He truly belts out this line, especially that last word, calling the crowd’s desire (for him) into being by singing about it. See Karen Tongson, Why Karen Carpenter Matters (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2019), 59–74. 5

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As soon as that word is done, an organ glissando introduces the chorus. There are many multitracked, overdubbed backing vocals on Diamond Dogs, but these are the only ones that draw on gospel harmonies and vocal patterns that were at the time widespread in popular music. Unlike most of Diamond Dogs, “Rock ‘n Roll With Me” had a sound that was of its moment, when the charts included soul and R&B bands like MFSB and The Main Ingredient. It also included white British and American performers that aspired to R&B status like Elton John (“Benny and the Jets”) and Grand Funk Railroad (“Do the Locomotion”). If “Rock ‘n Roll with Me” had been released as a single from Diamond Dogs, its sound would have easily fit into that musical landscape.6 Against unvarying backing vocals singing the chorus,7 Bowie flirts with a call-and-response structure. His lead voice plays with the melody, reaches for higher notes, and changes the cadence, sometimes singing the words before the backing vocals do; sometimes afterward. He’s practicing for the vocal pyrotechnics on Young Americans, where he The song was later released as a single, but in a version taken from David Live. 7 Though there are no credits on Diamond Dogs for backing vocals, and though Bowie did many of his own via multitracking, on this song it seems likely that others sang, and that those backing vocalists included Bowie’s longtime friend Geoff McCormack. “Rock ‘n Roll With Me” is the first song on a Bowie album that is credited as co-written. He gave McCormack cosongwriting credit under the recently adopted pseudonym Warren Peace. Such co-writing became much more common in the next year, as Young Americans included collaborations with John Lennon, Carlos Alomar, and Luther Vandross. 6

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would have backing vocalists—Ava Cherry, Robin Clark, and above all Luther Vandross—who could produce the dynamic structures he strives for here. After the chorus, a brief guitar solo signals the shift from intimate piano ballad to stadium rocker. Though the second verse returns to the melody and key of the first verse, the electric guitar continues just behind the vocals, giving the verse a consistently higher intensity. And while it starts with a reference to a mellow image—“gentle hearts”—its path to the higher-intensity conclusion is shorter, because the verse has only four lines. “I’ve found the door which lets me out,” Bowie exclaims, hitting a higher note than before on that last word, his voice straining—maybe even losing the note—as the organ glissando recurs and the chorus returns. This must be the “stop it” moment, though it’s pretty oblique. The rest of the song—nearly two of its precisely four minutes—consists of repetitions of the chorus. After the first, which ends with an operatic lengthening of the word “roll,” there is a somewhat lengthier guitar solo. In the chorus’s next iteration Bowie’s singing pulls still further from the backing vocals. As a result, those vocals start to sound more incantatory than gospel-like. On the album, they don’t swing at all; they follow the melody methodically. I think they’re the reason some think the song is kind of plodding, dull, and indistinct. They are not without emotion, but in contrast to the high drama of the singing, they seem flat. This effect is accentuated further in the third iteration of the chorus, when Bowie starts repeating lines over the backing vocals’ chanting of the same lines. Thus he sings, “When you rock and roll— you rock and roll with me,” and “No one else I’d rather—I’d 125

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rather be” and most notably “I’m in tears-I’m in tears,” with melisma on that final word that extends it to three syllables. Bowie sustains the last note, the last word, “me,” with an intensity accentuated by a bit of vibrato he puts on the end. Though the note is not sustained nearly as long as it sometimes was in concert, it’s still an emotional moment, not unlike those in “Sweet Thing (reprise).” He also echoes the earlier song by bending his voice up to a squeak at the end of the sustained note. As a final gesture, he audibly inhales, showing us the work involved in such a vocal feat. As if in deference, all the instruments fall away except for a sustained, fuzzy, very low chord. That note—which I think is a sustained guitar note, though it could be played on an organ or synthesizer—provides a drone-like underpinning for the song’s final dramatic gesture: an almost stately sequence of three guitar chords. As at the beginning of the song, there is a bit of fuzz and distortion; this time there is more reverb. It’s a counterpart and antithesis to the Bo Diddley solo guitar playing at the end of “Diamond Dogs.” This sequence is played four times, nearly identically, with the sustain turned up high so the last of the three chords continues as the sequence starts again. The drone fades just as the final chord does. It’s a perfect moment for a big concert, even as it’s performed on the album. To Bowie, that meant it was the kind of moment that flirted with fascism.

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Rarely do critics accuse artists of over-reading their own songs—it’s usually the other way around—but I don’t quite buy Bowie’s claim that “Rock ‘n Roll With Me” is about fascism or his efforts to ward off the rock-god worship that he says is comparable to—or can even lead to—fascism. I do see, however, that “Rock ‘n Roll With Me,” with its structural shift from the intimate to the grand, exemplifies the process by which the rock star can move an audience emotionally. This is precisely the dynamic that Bowie was extraordinarily self-conscious about, and worried over. So it makes sense that he would come to see the song as being about the analogy between fascism and rock fandom, especially when interviewed in the middle of a tour. Performing night after night, watching fans’ adulatory responses, brought these questions to the front of his mind, especially since each night he manipulated the responses of his audience with animal sounds and prerecorded cheering. “Big Brother” and “Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family”—the two tracks at the end of Diamond Dogs— are explicitly about authoritarianism and fascism. These

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two songs, like some on side one, flow into one another uninterrupted. They clearly reference the end of Orwell’s 1984, in which the main characters are both left as virtually empty shells, loyal to the authoritarian “Big Brother” whom they’d previously tried to resist. But the songs also create the sense of a larger and more apocalyptic ending. Or rather, of various endings: the end of freedom, the end of resistance, the end of the human. They create this sense both aurally— through musical and sound effects—and lyrically, through their apocalyptic themes as well as through (one last time) their distinct use of pronouns and direct address to the listener. While Diamond Dogs lacks anything like narrative continuity, it does have two other elements of a story: setting and characters. From its opening track on, we get a fairly rich sense, through visual imagery, smells, and, of course, fictional settings, of the kind of social space Bowie wants us to imagine. The album thus engages in some of the “world building” or “world making” that is characteristic of science fiction stories. We also get glimpses, at least, of recognizable human characters, less the characters from 1984 than the kinds of people David Bowie was (and still is) known for singing about and to: the glam “hot tramp,” Halloween Jack and his gang of marginal, mutated Diamond Dogs, “Tod Browning’s freak,” the “tens of thousands” in the crowd. As Diamond Dogs comes to a close, all such human characters rapidly fade into oblivion. They still exist, barely, in “1984.” Though that song was an overture in the 1980 Floor Show and was consistently the opening number on the “Year of the Diamond Dogs” tour, on the album it is the 128

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beginning of the end, not just of the music but also of the album’ character-building and world building. Referred to in “1984” as either “you” or “we,” the human characters are brainwashed, “craniums” emptied, poisoned by “shooting up on anything.” The first-person character makes a final effort at escape, looking for a “ride,” looking for an act of “treason” against the state. But such desires are invoked only to be crushed. The song’s refrain “Who could ask for more?” is a rhetorical question. There is nobody left to do the asking. By the time “Big Brother” begins, these human characters are nearly extinct. Parts of the song come from the perspective of a first-person singular speaker whose only desires are inhuman, post-human:1 “Give me steel give me steel; give me pulses unreal.” The speaker’s only action is to express subservience to Big Brother. “Hear me,” the voice says, “I’m yours.” At other moments, the song references a first-person plural that in other Bowie songs might have pointed to a more utopian collectivity, but here is undoubtedly a dystopian extinction of individuation. With the brief exception of the song’s anomalously acoustic bridge, there is no dialogue between the first person(s) and the second person; rather, we passionately beg “you” in the refrain to “show us,” and in the chorus to “shame us,” “claim us,” and “fool us.” See Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013); Mel Y. Chen, Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012); N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), and Cary Wolfe, What is Posthumanism? (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010). 1

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Yes, the titular “Big Brother” appears in the song. But, as in Orwell’s 1984, he is not a character. In the novel he is an image on a screen, a mass-mediated fantasy, but never a human individual who might have personal characteristics such as a proper name. When O’Brien has Winston in his control, Winston asks, “Does Big Brother exist?” The Party leader replies, “Of course he exists. The Party exists. Big Brother is the embodiment of the party.” This embodiment of state-sanctioned uniformity is the only “existence” that matters to the Party. In the song too, Big Brother is a personified abstraction, a figure for authority and total power. He exists to be wanted, to be worshipped, to be feared, but he is not a human being. Just as in 1984, where Big Brother’s history is constantly being rewritten so that no one can remember a time before his dominance, in “Big Brother” he seems to exist beyond and outside of time, godlike. Every effort Winston makes to pin down Big Brother’s identity serves so negate his own. “Does he exist in the same way I exist?” Winston asks. That O’Brien’s response is about Winston, not about Big Brother, closes the case: “You do not exist,” he says flatly. Big Brother is also immortal: “How could he die?” O’Brien asks rhetorically. “Some brave Apollo,” as Bowie puts it, aptly invoking the god not only of music and poetry but also of plague and prophecy. * * * From the opening notes of “Big Brother,” the sound of Diamond Dogs shifts in ways that point toward a post-human 130

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world. The song opens big and grand, with a vocal chorus and a brass fanfare. The choral vocals, here and throughout the song, sound almost as if they’re carried over from “1984.” Both they and the brass, however, are synthesized. What we’re hearing is a duet of the Mellotron and the still fairly new Moog synthesizer. This shift brings yet another genre of popular music onto the album. The classical feel of the fanfare and the combination of Moog and Mellotron indicate that in 1974 Bowie was listening not just to rock and soul and funk and emergent disco but also to progressive rock, or “prog.” The attack on the Moog strongly evokes contemporaneous Emerson, Lake, and Palmer (ELP), while the more stately sounding Mellotron is reminiscent of the instrument’s use on the title track of King Crimson’s debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King, and also a whole set of songs from early 1970s Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. The synthesized trumpet solo is also reminiscent of ELP, above all when it becomes a dialogue with the choral voices. Juxtaposing Diamond Dogs with progressive rock risks disdain from enthusiasts of both sides of the comparison. Bowie fans rarely if ever want to see him as a prog-rocker; he’s more likely to be seen as a precursor to punk and New Wave. On the other side, mentioning Diamond Dogs in online prog forums inevitably sparks an argument. Some point to the record’s self-presentation as a “concept album” as evidence for its inclusion. Its spoken-word opening would not be out of place on a prog album. Bowie may have thought of the tour’s elaborate sets in relation to Broadway musicals, but such sets were prevalent in contemporaneous 131

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progressive rock shows. And it’s worth knowing that after Brian Eno stood in the doorway of the recording studio watching Bowie mix Diamond Dogs, and before he and Bowie reconnected on Low, he provided his “Enossification” treatment to the production of Genesis’s The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, a double concept album that was accompanied by that band’s last Peter Gabriel-led, costumeheavy tour.2 I’m less interested in putting Diamond Dogs or its individual songs firmly into categories than in pointing out that Bowie was “using” prog rock on the album, much as he said he was “using” rock ’n’ roll and cut-up. Prog often invoked outer space and broader themes of utopia and dystopia, including ideas about mind control and bleak postapocalyptic futures. Several progressive rock bands were influenced by krautrock—more through Tangerine Dream and Can than through Neu!, but the connections were close. Even the acoustic bridge in “Big Brother” brings to mind similar moments from usually densely textured prog rock David Wiegel’s The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock (New York: Norton, 2017) has done much to bring this genre back into the history of popular music. Kevin Holm-Hudson’s Genesis and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (London: Routledge, 2016) compares Gabriel’s and Bowie’s performance styles. Given that on the Lamb Lies Down tour Gabriel performed (in brownface) as a Puerto Rican youth in New York City, and given the complex engagement with race on Diamond Dogs and that became much more prominent in Bowie’s music after that, a comparison between the two albums would provide more insight into the shifting and often confused understandings of race some white male British rock performers developed in the 1970s. 2

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bands. For instance, ELP’s acoustic guitar-based “Lucky Man,” from 1970, includes one of the first-ever solos on Moog synthesizer. Of course, “Big Brother” includes more than a Mellotron and a Moog. Skittering cymbals join the more officioussounding instruments, moving busily around the channels as if something was being constructed in the background. Then, as the trumpet moves to higher notes that make it sound more obviously electronic, the song proper is introduced with a thumping bass line and two handclaps that introduce Bowie’s voice, in a register almost as low as that which opened “Sweet Thing.” As in several other tracks on Diamond Dogs, nearly every sound on “Big Brother” is doubled. Through most of the song, the vocals are double-tracked, sometimes very tightly so it’s almost impossible to tell, sometimes loosely. There are two saxophones, one in each channel. One is tenor and one is baritone, both played at the low end of their range. There are both regular acoustic and twelve-string acoustic guitars prominent in the track as well, cutting against the electronic sounds that dominate. The effect of all the doubling and multitracking is a solid wall of choral voices combined with a similarly choral or orchestral drone, all of course backing up the lead vocals. As such, “Big Brother” seems to be as slickly produced as “1984.” But it’s too easy to hear how that wall has been built. Different instruments—a whole lot of handclaps, an electric guitar, those saxes, a couple of drum fills—are pushed forward out of the wall of sound at almost arbitrary moments. Some rough edits are audible. 133

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The verses and chorus are carried by the singing, which is where all of the melody and most of the rhythm reside. The music virtually stops for the multitracked refrain, more of a chant than a melody: “We want you Big Brother,” the last two words of which are repeated when the line is first uttered. * * * The song is so self-serious that some have heard humor in it, but I don’t hear any lightening of the mood at all.3 The multitracked vocals, with a crazed high-pitched Bowie voice trailing the regular vocals an octave higher, combined with the multilayered synthesizers that sound uncannily artificial (it’s almost a trumpet; almost a choral sound); all combine to push this song past the human. Even the other scary songs on the album, notably “We Are the Dead” and the “Sweet Thing” suite included humans and animals, creatures with blood and bodily fluids. “Big Brother” seems disgusted by all that, above it. But the bridge in “Big Brother” is different. The synthesized instruments fade away, first to reveal the low, Keyfex-treated saxophone notes, and then leaving only acoustic guitars. One strummed guitar in each speaker frames two voices in the center, singing in a peculiarly unstable style an octave Both Nicholas Pegg and Chris O’Leary hear an echo of the Bonzo Dog Band song “Mr. Apollo” and its Charles Atlas references (Pegg, The Complete David Bowie, 40; O’Leary, Rebel Rebel, 325). Once you hear that song, “Big Brother’s” choruses sound more amusing, even tongue-in-cheek. But in the context of the album, that’s not where my mind goes. 3

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apart from one another. And what they sing stands out from everything else on the album, with their dated references to “what’s going down” and their accusation that “you’re awful square.” With rare exceptions (Did anyone still refer to “a real cool cat” in 1974?), the rest of the album’s lyrics include few idioms that risk sounding very specific to the 1970s or any other decade. The cut-up method, the setting in the future, all create lyrics that seem out of time. But here, even the mention of an overdose seems historically specific. The album’s multiple musical genres, though, are quite specific to the 1970s. The rapid shifts in genre and style may be designed to keep the record from getting pinned down, but all its elements are particular to that decade: Stones-like blues-based rock; the glam throwback; R&B, soul, and disco; krautrock, and even the Moog/Mellotron prog sound of “Big Brother” itself. Despite its fragility and its lyrical specificity, the acoustic bridge only underscores the multitracked chant’s invincibility. Is the bridge a flash of “the treason that I knew in ’65,” mentioned in “1984”? It certainly seems like the last gasp of human resistance, a little flash of idealism before two spongy little notes on the Moog play over the last two words, and the militaristic, marching chorus starts up and repeats itself, unforgiving, irresistible. Yes, you (Big Brother) “knew what’s going down,” because “you always were the one that knew.”

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The shifty game of pronouns that Bowie plays all over Diamond Dogs falls apart, and falls away, with “Big Brother.” Bowie renounces his usual ways of bringing a listener or a concertgoer intimately, erotically close to him. With the possible exception of Big Brother himself, there are no love objects or objects of erotic desire in the song; and there are certainly no implicit addresses to the listener or audience. The song is sung to “Big Brother”; he is the only “you” addressed.1 “Big Brother” is designed to frustrate your desire for connection. The only way to take the song as being addressed to you—of interpreting the “you” as you—is to identify with Big Brother. There’s something weird about the idea that you would not just submit to but also identify with the repressive state.2 But in the end, that is what the song is about. Or, There are two instances where Big Brother is a “he,” but there is no “you” in the song that is not Big Brother. 2 See Glenn Hendler, “Feeling Like a State: Writing the 1863 New York City Draft Riots,” in Unsettled States: Nineteenth-Century American Literary Studies, edited by Dana Luciano and Ivy Wilson (New York University Press, 2014). 1

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better, that is what the song does. It puts you in a double bind. One option is that you can identify with the “we” of the song. In that case the song is more than a “hymn to submission”;3 it is a hymn you are recruited into joining. You are in love with your own oppression. The only other option is that you identify as the “you” of the song. In that case you are even more fully identified with Big Brother, because you are Big Brother. In other words, “Big Brother” dramatizes what Bowie says is going on in “Rock ‘n Roll With Me.” Instead of singing from the perspective of the authoritarian leader, he sings from the perspective of the crowd interpellated by that leader. The “I” is almost completely absent in “Big Brother.” Except for that brief acoustic interlude, it is “we” speaking. But this “we” is not the queer collectivity of “Rebel Rebel.” Nor is it the “we” of a romantic couple or even the more complicated erotic world of the “Sweet Thing” suite. It’s the “we” of an anonymous collective, of the kind of crowd that follows a fascist leader. The repeated refrain that comes at the end of the choruses—“We want you Big Brother”—is the apotheosis of this perspective. And it’s different from the end of 1984, the last line of which is “He [Winston] loved Big Brother.” “Love” is the state that O’Brien’s brainwashing was aiming toward; it is a kind of accomplishment. “Want” implies an active desire, something not yet fulfilled. But that makes it no less insidious. Again, everybody wants to be a fascist. After that apotheosis, there’s nowhere for Diamond Dogs to go. And yet it does keep going. The album’s last track O’Leary, Rebel Rebel, 324.

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starts up without a break from the last iteration of “We want you Big Brother.” Though that track’s inexplicably weird title—“Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family”—seems to take us far from the world of 1984, it is a misdirection. “Chant” is in fact as solidly within that world as any of them. It is unmistakably Bowie’s version of Orwell’s “Two Minutes Hate.” After all, the song is almost precisely two minutes long. Like the final track of Diamond Dogs, the Two Minutes Hate is a “rhythmical chant.” Where Bowie’s “Chant” opens with “Bro-ther,” with the two syllables separated, Orwell’s crowd chants “‘B-B! . . . B-B! . . . B-B!’ over and over again, very slowly, with a long pause between the first ‘B’ and the second.” And Orwell’s further descriptions of the Two Minutes Hate sound startlingly like the end of Diamond Dogs. “Partly it was a sort of hymn to the wisdom and majesty of Big Brother,” he writes, as if describing the song of that title, “but still more it was an act of self-hypnosis, a deliberate drowning of consciousness by means of rhythmic noise” (18). “Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family” is indeed hypnotic, “rhythmic noise.” Each vocal line seems to underscore a simple, chant-like beat. The first two have the same rhythm. The next two lines each fit more syllables into what seems to be the same space: “Shake it up shake it up” and “move it up move it up.” And then we return to the opening line of the chant, “Bro-ther,” and it starts over again. That’s all there is, lyrically. Even in this brief set of words, the ground shifts. “Shake it up” and “move it up” are imperatives that one can’t imagine directing at “Big Brother.” They’re different from anything 139

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else on the album. There’s no “I” or “you” at all anymore; the collective is speaking to itself, exhorting itself to a more active and complete unity. This shift, too, parallels the way the chant unifies the crowd in 1984. Against his will, Winston is drawn in. “He couldn’t help sharing in the general delirium,” Orwell writes. “Of course he chanted with the rest” (18). Orwell’s description of the sound of the Two Minutes Hate also resonates with some of Bowie’s ideas. He calls it “a heavy, murmurous sound . . . in the background of which one seemed to hear the stamp of naked feet and the throbbing of tom-toms” (17). Even though the Two Minutes Hate is clearly modern and technologically mediated—after all, it is a crowd gathered in front of a giant telescreen—Orwell resorts to a primitivist language to describe it. The sound—it’s unclear whether the crowd is making it or if it is coming from the screen—is “somehow curiously savage.” The “stamp of naked feet” is a generically primitivist phrase. Even though the word “tom-tom” is Sinhalese, the “throbbing sound” is just as vaguely Asian or African, to Orwell, as “the Apache beat” is a generic invocation of “the sound of Indian” for Klaus Dinger and others. * * * Bowie does not follow Orwell in every way, however. The chant in 1984 is simple, and regular. Bowie’s “chant” seems relentless and repetitive, but if you try to tap your foot to it, it starts to feel irregular, out of kilter, as if there are extra or missing beats thrown in just to frustrate you. In fact it is extraordinarily rhythmically intricate. 140

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You might think that a “chant” would be the simplest of rhythmic forms. Who hasn’t been in a political march and desperately wished for something more interesting to shout than the standard that starts with “Hey hey, ho ho, [something bad] has got to go?” But “Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family” is not musically simple. It is very hard to pin down its time signature. There is a very brief introduction, during which the synthesized choral sound from the previous song is sustained over a Herbie Flowers bass line and, more prominently, chords from the fuzzed guitar (presumably played by Bowie) that will be “Chant’s” lead instrument. Each chord is not just fuzzed; its attack is treated, making its sound strangely soft. What the instruments play together is in a curious time signature. It seems to be eleven—a bar of five beats, then one of six; then that pair repeated. The song proper begins when the drums enter, playing in 4/4. The guitar and bass, however, refuse to fall into that 4/4 pattern. Those two instruments together are the core of the song, but that core is strangely unstable. Every account of the song I have read describes the time signature differently; critics sometimes even change their views after having published about it. My own view—arrived at with a lot of help4—is that Bowie is experimenting with phasing, a technique he probably got from listening to the works of

Deep and sincere thanks to Erich Hertz, Matthew Gelbart, and especially Matthew Brubeck for working this out with me, over Facebook and email, in the final days of writing this book. 4

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composer Steve Reich.5 While the drums remain in 4/4, the guitar and bass are operating on a completely different, 33beat pattern. They don’t just repeat the initial 11-beat pattern three times; instead the 6-beat and 5-beat bars go 6-5-5-6-56. Then, as if to confuse matters more, the brief vocals of the chant come in on the first 6-beat bar, but after that on each of the 5-beat bars. This ain’t rock ’n’ roll. Or rather, the drums are, but the guitar and bass are not. To complicate matters further, Bowie adds percussive elements that seem designed to frustrate our efforts to figure out the phased time signatures. A tambourine starts keeping a beat, but why does it stop and shake early in the tune? What is the pattern of those beats on a wood block, and how do they relate to the other instruments? It is at first a relief when a guiro comes in, being scraped with what seems like metronomic regularity. Is this a Latin beat? Perhaps Bowie is drawing on his recent encounter with the progressive flamenco band Carmen? But the guiro can’t ground us in a single time signature either—because there isn’t a single time signature.

Writers about Bowie have generally seen Reich’s influence as emerging on the semi-instrumental tunes on side two of Low, in 1977. Bowie knew Reich’s 1973 piece “Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ,” and—as Chris O’Leary explains—he started experimenting with Reich’s “phasing” techniques, especially on the Low track “Weeping Wall.” Ashes to Ashes: The Songs of David Bowie: 1976–2016 (London: Repeater Books, 2018), 61. The idea that Bowie might have incorporated Reich’s ideas into his music as early as 1974 is, I think, new. Thanks to Matt Brubeck for this suggestion. 5

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To add to the sense of disorientation, effects are gradually layered onto almost all the instruments. Visconti’s Keyfex is again the most prominent, though he likely used other devices as well. By the end, it sounds as if we’re listening to “Chant” through a window fan. Immune from distortion, though, are the struck wood block, which maintains clarity if not regularity throughout, and the bass, which is funky enough it can fool you into thinking “Chant” could be a dance tune. But it is hard to dance to a rhythm that is as complexly phased as this track. Then, twenty-five seconds before “Chant’s” two minutes end, the music abruptly stops, to be replaced by a single, persistently repeating syllable—“bro” (with a short “o,” not like the frat-boy greeting). “This was a mistake,” Bowie later explained. He’d intended to use Tony Visconti’s Eventide Digital Delay Generator—a cutting-edge device then—to sample the word “brother” and have it repeat in the fade-out. But the digital technology was so primitive—storage was so tiny—that the sample could only hold a single syllable. Combined with a quick, clipped strike on a snare drum behind it, that syllable is almost literally drummed into our heads for nearly a quarter of the song. For about ten seconds it does nothing but repeat, about twenty times, identically. This is the moment you got up from your chair to make sure your record was not skipping. If you were listening on a turntable—and in 1974 nearly everyone was—it was also a good time to make sure that Bowie hadn’t played a technical trick on you, ending the album with a circular groove that would make that sound continue indefinitely until you manually lifted the needle off the record. 143

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He did not play that trick; the sound slowly fades. As it does, you notice that the distortion effects have disappeared and that the sound is surprisingly clear, though as it fades the reverb gets gradually turned up. And then it is over. * * * I’ve written both lightheartedly and analytically about the ending of Diamond Dogs, but I have to confess that I find it quite frightening. In particular, “Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family” is unsettling, destabilizing, and disorienting. It does something to you. It has an unnerving effect not unlike the chant in Freaks—“We accept you, one of us. Gooble gobble, one of us”—simultaneously drawing you in and making you feel unwelcome. You don’t have to know anything about time signatures to feel that even though it has a groove, there’s something askew about it, something that makes it feel wrong to want to tap your foot or move your body to it. Similarly, I’ve never stopped being startled by the way the song and the album end. Precisely because the music of “Chant” is off-kilter, because it’s hard to know where you are in the rotation of different beats and repeated chants, the song’s abrupt transformation into an electronic glitch comes unexpectedly every time. The repetition also always lasts longer than I expect; I think the fade will start sooner than it does, and that it won’t last so long. I forget that it’s going to get that one last effect, the bit of reverb, at the end. I feel trapped by it, tricked by it, without knowing quite why, just

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as I feel that the album works to trap its listener into cheering for genocide, into wanting Big Brother. It’s not just these two minutes at the end that continue to startle and move me, forty years after I first heard it. Diamond Dogs as a whole is one of very few older albums that I play regularly not because of its familiarity but because it still holds surprises for me. That continues to be true even as I bring this book to a close. The album seems richer and more mysterious even after reading, listening to, and watching many of the books, music, art, and films that influence it. I certainly don’t listen to it often because it’s an uplifting album. I can think of few if any that are darker or that convey a less optimistic view of the future. But even as the album revels in dystopia, it points to other possible futures. Those futures are present less in the lyrics or plot of the album than in its sounds. Bowie will take the moves he makes on Diamond Dogs toward soul and funk, and turn them into the beautiful music on The Gouster and Young Americans. He will take his experiments with sound collage, with phasing, with krautrock, and with cut-up, and turn them into spectacular new music on the Berlin albums. And he will take the dark, dystopian themes and the obsession with death and the end of the human, revisit them repeatedly on albums like 1. Outside, and bring them fully to fruition in the brilliant, beautiful, devastating album he created as he was dying, Blackstar. Though Diamond Dogs feels like an endpoint, it turns out that many things began there. I think I’ll go play Diamond Dogs again now. I wonder what I’ll hear this time.

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Also available in the series

1. Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis by Warren Zanes 2. Love’s Forever Changes by Andrew Hultkrans 3. Neil Young’s Harvest by Sam Inglis 4. The Kinks’ The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society by Andy Miller 5. The Smiths’ Meat Is Murder by Joe Pernice 6. Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn by John Cavanagh 7. ABBA’s ABBA Gold: Greatest Hits by Elisabeth Vincentelli 8. The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Electric Ladyland by John Perry 9. Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures by Chris Ott 10. Prince’s Sign “☮” the Times by Michaelangelo Matos

11. The Velvet Underground’s The Velvet Underground & Nico by Joe Harvard 12. The Beatles’ Let It Be by Steve Matteo 13. James Brown’s Live at the Apollo by Douglas Wolk 14. Jethro Tull’s Aqualung by Allan Moore 15. Radiohead’s OK Computer by Dai Griffiths 16. The Replacements’ Let It Be by Colin Meloy 17. Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin IV by Erik Davis 18. The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. by Bill Janovitz 19. The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds by Jim Fusilli 20. Ramones’ Ramones by Nicholas Rombes 21. Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces by Franklin Bruno 22. R.E.M.’s Murmur by J. Niimi

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23. Jeff Buckley’s Grace by Daphne Brooks 24. DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing….. by Eliot Wilder 25. MC5’s Kick Out the Jams by Don McLeese 26. David Bowie’s Low by Hugo Wilcken 27. Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. by Geoffrey Himes 28. The Band’s Music from Big Pink by John Niven 29. Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane over the Sea by Kim Cooper 30. Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique by Dan Le Roy 31. Pixies’ Doolittle by Ben Sisario 32. Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On by Miles Marshall Lewis 33. The Stone Roses’ The Stone Roses by Alex Green 34. Nirvana’s In Utero by Gillian G. Gaar 35. Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited by Mark Polizzotti 36. My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless by Mike McGonigal 37. The Who’s The Who Sell Out by John Dougan 38. Guided by Voices’ Bee Thousand by Marc Woodworth 39. Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation by Matthew Stearns

40. Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark by Sean Nelson 41. Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion I and II by Eric Weisbard 42. Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life by Zeth Lundy 43. The Byrds’ The Notorious Byrd Brothers by Ric Menck 44. Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica by Kevin Courrier 45. Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime by Michael T. Fournier 46. Steely Dan’s Aja by Don Breithaupt 47. A Tribe Called Quest’s People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm by Shawn Taylor 48. PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me by Kate Schatz 49. U2’s Achtung Baby by Stephen Catanzarite 50. Belle & Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister by Scott Plagenhoef 51. Nick Drake’s Pink Moon by Amanda Petrusich 52. Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love by Carl Wilson 53. Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones by David Smay 54. Throbbing Gristle’s 20 Jazz Funk Greats by Drew Daniel

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55. Patti Smith’s Horses by Philip Shaw 56. Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality by John Darnielle 57. Slayer’s Reign in Blood by D.X. Ferris 58. Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights by Hayden Childs 59. The Afghan Whigs’ Gentlemen by Bob Gendron 60. The Pogues’ Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash by Jeffery T. Roesgen 61. The Flying Burrito Brothers’ The Gilded Palace of Sin by Bob Proehl 62. Wire’s Pink Flag by Wilson Neate 63. Elliott Smith’s XO by Mathew Lemay 64. Nas’ Illmatic by Matthew Gasteier 65. Big Star’s Radio City by Bruce Eaton 66. Madness’ One Step Beyond… by Terry Edwards 67. Brian Eno’s Another Green World by Geeta Dayal 68. The Flaming Lips’ Zaireeka by Mark Richardson 69. The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs by LD Beghtol 70. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s Facing Future by Dan Kois 71. Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold

72. 73. 74. 75. 76. 77. 78. 79. 80. 81. 82. 83. 84. 85. 86. 87.

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Us Back by Christopher R. Weingarten Pavement’s Wowee Zowee by Bryan Charles AC/DC’s Highway to Hell by Joe Bonomo Van Dyke Parks’s Song Cycle by Richard Henderson Slint’s Spiderland by Scott Tennent Radiohead’s Kid A by Marvin Lin Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk by Rob Trucks Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine by Daphne Carr Ween’s Chocolate and Cheese by Hank Shteamer Johnny Cash’s American Recordings by Tony Tost The Rolling Stones’ Some Girls by Cyrus Patell Dinosaur Jr.’s You’re Living All Over Me by Nick Attfield Television’s Marquee Moon by Bryan Waterman Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace by Aaron Cohen Portishead’s Dummy by RJ Wheaton Talking Heads’ Fear of Music by Jonathan Lethem Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson by Darran Anderson

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88. They Might Be Giants’ Flood by S. Alexander Reed and Elizabeth Sandifer 89. Andrew W.K.’s I Get Wet by Phillip Crandall 90. Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II by Marc Weidenbaum 91. Gang of Four’s Entertainment by Kevin J.H. Dettmar 92. Richard Hell and the Voidoids’ Blank Generation by Pete Astor 93. J Dilla’s Donuts by Jordan Ferguson 94. The Beach Boys’ Smile by Luis Sanchez 95. Oasis’ Definitely Maybe by Alex Niven 96. Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville by Gina Arnold 97. Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kirk Walker Graves 98. Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album by Charles Fairchild 99. Sigur Rós’s () by Ethan Hayden 100. Michael Jackson’s Dangerous by Susan Fast 101. Can’s Tago Mago by Alan Warner 102. Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe by Tara Murtha 103. Hole’s Live Through This by Anwen Crawford

104. Devo’s Freedom of Choice by Evie Nagy 105. Dead Kennedys’ Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables by Michael Stewart Foley 106. Koji Kondo’s Super Mario Bros. by Andrew Schartmann 107. Beat Happening’s Beat Happening by Bryan C. Parker 108. Metallica’s Metallica by David Masciotra 109. Phish’s A Live One by Walter Holland 110. Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew by George Grella Jr. 111. Blondie’s Parallel Lines by Kembrew McLeod 112. Grateful Dead’s Workingman’s Dead by Buzz Poole 113. New Kids On The Block’s Hangin’ Tough by Rebecca Wallwork 114. The Geto Boys’ The Geto Boys by Rolf Potts 115. Sleater-Kinney’s Dig Me Out by Jovana Babovic 116. LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver by Ryan Leas 117. Donny Hathaway’s Donny Hathaway Live by Emily J. Lordi 118. The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy by Paula Mejia 119. The Modern Lovers’ The Modern Lovers by Sean L. Maloney

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120. Angelo Badalamenti’s Soundtrack from Twin Peaks by Clare Nina Norelli 121. Young Marble Giants’ Colossal Youth by Michael Blair and Joe Bucciero 122. The Pharcyde’s Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde by Andrew Barker 123. Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs by Eric Eidelstein 124. Bob Mould’s Workbook by Walter Biggins and Daniel Couch 125. Camp Lo’s Uptown Saturday Night by Patrick Rivers and Will Fulton 126. The Raincoats’ The Raincoats by Jenn Pelly 127. Björk’s Homogenic by Emily Mackay 128. Merle Haggard’s Okie from Muskogee by Rachel Lee Rubin 129. Fugazi’s In on the Kill Taker by Joe Gross 130. Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy by Ronen Givony

131. Lou Reed’s Transformer by Ezra Furman 132. Siouxsie and the Banshees’ Peepshow by Samantha Bennett 133. Drive-By Truckers’ Southern Rock Opera by Rien Fertel 134. dc Talk’s Jesus Freak by Will Stockton and D. Gilson 135. Tori Amos’s Boys for Pele by Amy Gentry 136. Odetta’s One Grain of Sand by Matthew Frye Jacobson 137. Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible by David Evans 138. The Shangri-Las’ Golden Hits of the Shangri-Las by Ada Wolin 139. Tom Petty’s Southern Accents by Michael Washburn 140. Massive Attack’s Blue Lines by Ian Bourland 141. Wendy Carlos’s Switched-On Bach by Roshanak Kheshti 142. The Wild Tchoupitoulas’ The Wild Tchoupitoulas by Bryan Wagner

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