Tag: David Bowie

David Bowie: The Man Who Fell to Earth – Station to Station at 40

David Bowie Station to Station at 40

David Bowie Station to Station at 40

On the 40th anniversary of Station to Station, Jokerside prepares to stare into the abyss of Bowie’s difficult and ever-rewarding 1976 album with a dart-like glance at the Thin White Duke persona that spun from the cracked actor’s first major film role in The Man Who Fell to Earth

THIS WEEKEND MARKS THE 40TH ANNIVERSARY OF STATION TO STATION’S RELEASE, JUST UNDER TWO WEEKS SINCE DAVID BOWIE LEFT THE PLANET.  Left, that is, after an incredible career. The extent of Bowie’s output post-death, the legacy of a meticulously detailed artist, will take many years if not eternity to unravel. Bowie’s swansong album Blackstar appears to pose riddle and mystery unseen since his peak of persona swapping in the 1970s. Come the 1980s his interest in persona had abated although he retained the power to innovate and reinvent. Surely a good reason for that shift from a period that had produced in rapid succession Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dog’s Halloween Jack and others through the early 1970s fell at the feet of his last major character. The all-pervasive horror of the persona that dominated 1976. The Thin White Duke, who would become synonymous with what Bowie later called “the darkest days of my life”

Station to Station emerged barely a year after the Year of the Diamond Dog, a furious tour of his dystopian bridge between glam and disco soul between June 1974 and… Well, by the end of 1974 it had morphed into the Philly Dogs tour and then side-stepped into soul alongside his new LP Young Americans. That lurch to the unexpected and commercial laid out the immediate and ongoing importance of America Bowie’s his life. The Young Americans sessions were completed in two stints, one a drug fuelled and productive run that producer Tony Visconti was happy to pick up and return to the UK to mix. Bowie though would return to the studio in early 1975 for two last minute additions that not only broke Bowie and Visconti’s relationship for two albums but also diluted Young American’s soul and made it his most overtly Beatles album – or specifically Lennon, with one of Bowie’s better if melodramatic covers as he took on the cosmically simplistic Across the Universe before the simplistically catchy album closer Fame found him in duet with the former Beatle.

Escape to LA

“I lifted you up once”

He wouldn’t return to the studio to any meaningful degree for nine months – a length of time that was extraordinary during Bowie’s most prolific period. But things were afoot. In the mid-1970s three years of relentless touring and the sacking of his long-term manager Tony DeFries left a smacked out Bowie staring the need for relocation in the face while holed up in a hotel in Los Angeles. New York had closed in on him, although its dying throes had not only pushed him and Lennon onto tape but thrown up a meeting with director Nicolas Roeg who was narrowing the cast for his film of Walter Tevis’ short novel The Man Who Fell to Earth. Well, it was a meeting that somehow materialised after Bowie arrived eight hours late then, assuming Roeg wouldn’t have waited, busied himself with other things until he returned home in the early hours to find the director sat at his kitchen table.

Cracked

“My life is not secret… But it is private”

“I’ve always been aware of how dubious a position it is to stay in [Los Angeles] for any length of time” said Bowie in the BBC’s Cracked Actor documentary, a year before his first major film role opened the city up to him. Sporadic visits from his ever valuable assistant Coco Schwab and ever more estranged wife Angie found them both concerned for his health, although this dark portion of his life remains smattered with only sparing facts. Angie later recalled the frantic phone call from her husband, shouting that he had been kidnapped by wizards and witches and recalls him requesting an exorcism. None of that is proven, but it’s clear that during his slide into drug addled paranoia Bowie had drifted towards the dark arts in the heat of LA. ‘Paranoid delusion’ is a phrase that pops up again and again but there was certainly a great deal of peculiar behaviour in a pattern that no one could break. Except it seems, The Man who Fell to Earth. The “Spaced out space man”.

The Man who Fell to Earth (1976)

“Leave my mind alone”

Spells, incantations and late nights spent drawing pentangles by candlelight, while moving between buildings that cast different slants on ancient philosophies from Egyptian mythology to Kabbalah – philosophies that Bowie later described as “misleading in life”. It takes something to get out of that. Fortunately, once Roeg and Bowie finally got to meet, their rapport was instant. Continue reading “David Bowie: The Man Who Fell to Earth – Station to Station at 40”

“Oh no, don’t say it’s true” David Bowie 1947 – 2016

Berlin Triptych Isherwood Bowie Pop

Bowie on Jokerside

A message about the action man. An unusual note for an exceptionally sad day.

THERE’D ALWAYS BE THAT DAY WHEN DAVID BOWIE BECAME PAST TENSE.  AND IT’S TODAY. Terrible words to wake up to, but thank the Starman that radio was set one minute out last night so I didn’t miss the name… And let that terrible realisation dawn during that endless pause of less than a second until the sentence was completed and the news confirmed. It’s obliterating. In the wave of reviews, articles, analysis and dissections there were all those ideas hanging since his final album launched just three days ago. Each day, more to read, disagree with, think about. What if Eno and Bowie teamed up again? Reworked Outside? What about Rodgers, Moroder and Visconti. Every time, Visconti.

Just last night, I was reading Tony Visconti on those songs from the sessions that didn’t make the cut. The promise of new material, maybe very soon? But it was such a brief and tight album, a small selection of brilliant tracks chosen for a reason. But those videos. That musical finally Off-Broadway for the South London kid who always wanted to write musicals. The being a stage reworking of his major film role. For the superstar who always wanted to be an actor, from mime to Brecht and beyond…

Lazarus. No, was never going to think about what that all meant.

Few people I will never meet will ever have the effect on me Bowie has.

There’s no doubt that I would be very different had it not been for David Bowie. This blog, if it existed at all, would be very different. The theatricality, the power for change, the hidden compromise, the surprise, the lyrics, the musicianship (though said he wasn’t a musician), the art (and was most definitely the artist he said he was), the production, the power, the quality, the volume, the intellectualism, the ridiculous, the soul, the glam, the rock, the ‘insert your genre here’. The risk. That’s him. And that was the inspiration. There’s a Thin White Duke hiding in the logo up there, a hint of Pierrot clown. Among other stuff, but it’s there.

Somehow, I managed to see him live three times. On the road during the Reality Tour, after I caught his magnificent Glastonbury return in 2000. Still, the greatest gig I’ve ever been to. (He’d take off that long coat you know, but he’s “too vain”). And then for the third and final time at his last UK gig at the Isle of Wight Festival in 2004. And he played Station to Station.

I don’t believe it. He played Station to Station.

I always had a secret lightning bolt across my forehead, just didn’t know it for a while. Until finally Bowie hit me full on the bolt when I was at art school in the late ’90s. Previously I’d ambled from ‘50s to ‘60s, Buddy Holly to the Beatles. And then slowly splintered with that decade into prog, metal, psychadelic. Into the 1970s and more of the same, then glam then… Suddenly it all stopped. That mini-evolution found one focus, the ultra-evolutionary, the chameleon able to change himself to suit his surroundings or oftentimes, changing them to match him. That would roll on to last Friday.

Back in the 90s I endlessly listened to the old ‘69 to ‘74 collection on a 24 hour bus trip to Barcelona. On cassette tape, of course. I’ve still got that. Hours was the first album of his that I bought on release, in the last year of the 20th century. I could have even downloaded it, the first full album to do that, had I known what downloading is. Six years ago I felt a bit strange from listening to the Station to Station LP too much and had to have a long lie down. I trailed around Berlin following his and Iggy’s mid-70s footsteps five years ago. Five Years. That became this triptych… A journey through Berlin with Isherwood, Pop and Bowie. I always look to layer and draw out links. Just another thing Bowie helped with.

Berlin Triptych Isherwood Bowie Pop

I was hailing his late ‘90s and early 21st century work when The Next Day caught us all by surprise in 2013. I had fun breaking his persona’s down in what’s probably my most read feature. But I also had to rant about him not swamping the Q Awards that year. Last week I was praising Labyrinth, ready for its 30th anniversary this summer.

And last night I was writing my review of . Working on the cartoon that I just couldn’t get to work. I was pleased to get some form of Jareth into last week’s Labyrinth retrospective, but now more than ever I can see that was just Jareth and not Bowie. I could never never really get that to work. It never quite felt right.

Now I know why it didn’t work last night.

That review of★ will now transform into something different for a new era of Bowie on Jokerside.

David Bowie is… In the past tense. But David Bowie is.

Matt

“Closer than you think” – Celebrating Labyrinth

Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal Mystic Ambrosiaus Sir Didymus

Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal Mystic Ambrosiaus Sir Didymus

Twelfth Night brought The Dark Crystal while Epiphany brings Jim Henson’s final directorial masterpiece, Labyrinth.

the second of Jokerside’s double-headed look at Jim Henson’s finest and most ambitious hours on the big screen. Modern fairy tales, all vision and little compromise, that bestrode children fantasy cinema in the 1980s… An astonishing three decades ago… 

IT SURFACED FROM COLLABORATION. DURING A SCREENING OF THE DARK CRYSTAL VISIONARY PUPPETEER JIM HENSON AND FANTASY ILLUSTRATOR BRIAN FROUD CHUCKED A FEW IDEAS AROUND. A few years later the resulting film left the New Age philosophy of The Dark Crystal to draw on the works of Baum, Mendak, Bronte and Grimm. Oh and chuck in the odd tune. Now commonly seen as a cult film of a particular era, Labyrinth remains a startlingly innovative take on familiar themes that developed but also departed from Froud and Henson’s previous big screen collaboration. Unfortunately, it also saw the departure of critical and popular opinion at the time.

“That’s not fair”
“You say that so often…”

Labyrinth (1986)

A helluva team

Four years after The Dark Crystal, came the film that it’s probably fair to say is more famous. And a step forward and step back, depending on the Escher-styled staircase you’re on. For one, the budget was almost double that of The Dark Crystal. Once again, it was based on the incredible conceptual art of Brian Froud. But this time it didn’t run from humour, but embraced it. Apparently, humour was a prerequisite for David Bowie’s involvement. It combined humans and puppetry in incredibly realised, highly detailed environments that couldn’t help but highlight the scale. It moved from the early oddity of the previous film’s languages and avant-garde score to sculpt a witty musical.

Many usual subjects were involved in this higher level Henson production, but as a powerhouse collaboration the personnel were almost unbeatable. Brian Froud, Henson and Oz et al were back of course. But in addition to Henson taking a sole grip on the reins, George Lucas exec produced and Monty Python’s Terry Jones scripted from Dennis Lee’s story. Lucas not only had a pass or two on the script but also helped Henson edit, leading Henson to the fantastic quote on their relationship: “I loosen up his tightness, and he tightens my looseness.”

Add into that Trevor Jones return, blending a wonderful score with classic tracks from David Bowie himself. Yes, the centre of the piece was the chameleon of pop as Jareth the Goblin King, at that time riding out the popular highs and mild artistic fall of his mid-1980s period.

With that calibre behind it, Labyrinth just couldn’t fail. And artistically, it doesn’t.

The solemnity of The Dark Crystal was gone, but the fairy tale and frights remained. Jareth’s arrival proved that near the beginning. And away from the New Age philosophy of that earlier film, Labyrinth wandered into what might be the most difficult territory of all. The mind of a teenage girl. Much has been made of the film’s coming of age aspirations, but they’re well realised in a highly textured plot.

First Lines

“I’ve figured it out. I couldn’t do it before. I think I’m getting smarter.”

After the glorious animated opening, Sarah’s entrance firmly establishes a real world. Caught up in her fantasy role playing, with her trusted dog Merlin, we meet her the ‘wicked stepmom’ who is entirely reasonable. We see little of that real world as Sarah quickly returns to her room – a space that would prove pivotal. And so much falls on the corridor that connects her room to her parents; that bridges Sarah’s reality from the dark room where she wishes her brother away, before walking seamlessly into the Goblin Kingdom.

And once she’s there… Sarah is likeable, generous self-assured, self-improving – a far cry from the petulant child we see in reality. She gives away her jewellery, tries to help those around her.

These little subtleties though, can get lost in the onslaught. Some of the references are heavier or more oblique than the palette The Dark Crystal drew from. And as it’s designed to be a scrapbook kitchen sink of a film it’s no surprise that it can disconnect from its audience. Where and when is difficult to pinpoint as so much of it is stupendous in scope, scale and imagination. Take that opening promise, with the crying baby Toby (an excellent performance from Brian Froud’s son) which blurs live and puppet in tension, humour and horror. Continue reading ““Closer than you think” – Celebrating Labyrinth”

Doctor Who: The Late 1970s, The Fourth Doctor and Stitches in Time

Doctor Who and the late 1970s

Doctor Who and the late 1970s

 

40 years on from his first full appearance, there may not be a better time to look at the Fourth Doctor, still the very real and lasting giant of the series.  As Last Christmas showed, there’s a lot to be said for a snappy, irritable, aloof and alien Doctor in this universe. It’s not just the Glam side of the 1970s that will play a key role in the future of Doctor Who?

THE START OF THIS WEEK MARKED ONE OF THE GREAT ANNIVERSARIES IN ALL WHODOM: 40 YEARS SINCE THE FOURTH DOCTOR’S FIRST FULL EPISODE. He’d already appeared at the tail-end of Planet of the Spiders in June 1974. But lying prone on the floor, there was precious little indication of what was to come, even in that first rather simplistic serial Robot. In hindsight, after a staggering seven seasons, encompassing 41 stories and 172 episodes Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor remains the most prolific of the Time Lords. The Tenth and Eleventh incarnations would come close with 36 and 39 stories respectively, thanks to 2005’s format change. But still, despite the strong and sterling headway the last two made in America, it’s often the famous grinning, long-scarved figure of the Fourth that pops up in popular culture.

Repetition

Losing his hat where Pertwee would pick up his cape…

Jokerside’s Whovember series took a long look at the Fourth Doctor’s debut season, reasoning that it’s the single finest series of Doctor Who. And when it came to his debut appearance, it was clear that “Tom Baker… did something different”:

“Immediately, Baker’s Doctor isn’t as attached to UNIT as Pertwee’s had been, even during his last season. He can’t wait to escape but as he says, “I hate goodbyes”. Watching it, I can’t help but think what any other Doctor would have done. Had it been the Sixth, he may well have buckled down a lot sooner. Still, the Fourth had his own slightly too silly costume selection to make. Overlong and reaching, fortunately once chosen, it’s the speed and comfort that’s the punch line. Years of familiarity have enhanced the joke. And then the more telling phrase for this Doctor: “There’s no such word as can’t”.

“Hanging between that and “No point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes” the Fourth Doctor comes straight out of a peculiar Gallifreyan can. One that’s bigger on the inside obviously. They are words to live by, and live he does. Lounging around Bessie in a way Pertwee would have tutted at, losing his hat where Pertwee would pick up his cape – but still carrying off the role of the scientist when he needs to.”

Doctor Who: A Fresh Scarf – “Harry Sullivan is an imbecile” (Whovember #4)

Though resolutely still in the UNIT set-up, albeit one softened by the Third Doctor’s recent mobility, and written by Third Doctor stalwart Terrance Dicks, the Fourth Doctor’s initial appearance is an instant tide-turner. Almost immediately – far more than his predecessor, a noted comic actor – Baker is happy to lets loose with laugh out loud moments. True, he’s nominally not ‘acting’ a new persona as much Pertwee had, but he’s instantly engaging.

To summarise the Whovember breakdown, Tom Baker’s arrival got everything right. Though cast by outgoing producer Barry Letts the new Doctor couldn’t have hoped for a better incoming producer and script editor. While he may be losing an increasingly sparse UNIT family, Baker was incredibly lucky in the companion stakes. Sarah Jane Smith really came into her own when paired with this incarnation of the Time Lord, possibly his perfect foil. But she wasn’t alone, with a season of (lovable) public school idiot Harry Sullivan rounding off one of the all-time classic TARDIS crews. That’s fortunate, as the first full season story arc in the history of Who saw them propelled across five adventures over 20 weeks with very little TARDIS in sight. Continue reading “Doctor Who: The Late 1970s, The Fourth Doctor and Stitches in Time”

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