16 October 2012

Battle Cries & Champagne: A Society of Super-Freaks (Bowie)

 Passionate bright young thing
David Bowie sat in an overstuffed armchair in his suite aboard the ship Ellinis, returning to London from his first triumphal tour of the States. His delicate brows knit in a look of perplexed recognition as he read Evelyn Waugh's "Vile Bodies"--a 40 year-old, futuristic novel about a society of "bright young things" whirling through lavish parties in outlandish costumes, dancing, gossiping and sipping champagne. Suddenly David lowered the book to his lap, picked up the spiral notebook and pen sitting on the small mahogany table at his side, and began to write the words to the title song of his new LP, Aladdin Sane...


"The book dealt with London in the period just before a massive, imaginary war," David would later confide, touching one finger, with its green-painted nail, lightly to his chin. "People were frivolous, decadent and silly. And suddenly they were plunged into this horrendous holocaust. They were totally out of place, still thinking about champagne and parties and dressing up. Somehow it seemed to me that they were like people today." But who was the frivolous, romantic young man Aladdin Sane? At first David merely cupped his hands in a fragile cage and said "I don't really think he's me." Several days later, Bowie realised who - or rather what - the song, and in fact the entire album, were about. "It's my interpretation of what America means to me. It's like a summation of my first American tour."


A few days before he was scheduled to sail for London, David sat before a crowd of reporters in a futuristic looking RCA studio and admitted: "I feel the American is the loneliest person in the world. I get an awful feeling of insecurity and...a need for warmth in people here. It's very, very sad. So many people in America are unaware that they are living."

It is little wonder then, that when David sat in his stateroom aboard the ship Ellinis and began to read in Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies about 20 year olds caught up in a "mad and illogical whirl of extravagant parties and other pointlessly important social affairs," he saw an image that summed up everything he had seen in North America...and everything he had written into his songs. It was the image of Aladdin Sane, the "passionate bright young thing" who would learn to really live only when the cataclysm of war forced him into it. And paradoxically, it was the image that would give an album life.

'Bowie Foresees the States In Flames-The Personal Story Behind "Aladdin Sane"', Circus (July 1973)


Clyde said...


Scale Worm said...

Such a great album.