◼ BOWIE IS BACK IN BAFFLER MODE. A new single released today derives its name from an English Restoration drama on the theme of incest. In John Ford’s play ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore, the protagonist Giovanni brings about his own destruction. Though the play stands as classic of Eng Lit, ever since the 17th century it has been ignored or condemned as too racy.
The new Bowie single puts your teeth on edge with an abrasive percussion landscape echoing Michael Nyman, over which David Bowie affects an enfeebled voice to deliver mildly explicit lyrics in Restoration vein. Typically of Bowie, however, he offers his own distracting interpretation by saying: “If Vorticists wrote rock music it might have sounded like this.” Hmmm.
The experimental art movement of vorticism grew out of futurist abstraction and the machine age in 1914, being pioneered by such English painters as Wyndham Lewis, Edward Wadsworth and William Roberts. The founders signed a manifesto proposing that they “set up a violent structure of adolescent clearness” and they produced a literary magazine titled Blast, which mocked the art establishment and the Bloomsbury set. The unfortunate coincidence of the First World War and its shocking realities killed vorticism in its tracks.
In light of which we are forced to ask: Would Wyndham Lewis or David Bomberg seriously have produced music like Bowie’s? About incest?
’Tis a Pity She Was a Whore is the B-side of the more invigorating single due out 17 Nov on Parlophone and titled Sue (or In a Season of Crime) – listen ♫ online at DB’s website – which pushes Bowie’s eerie impersonation of the godlike Scott Walker into a Valhalla of jazz. Mm-mm, crunchy!
❏ Update: The video above is released 13 Nov for Bowie’s single Sue (or In a Season of Crime) from the album Nothing Has Changed. The video was shot in New York and London and directed by Tom Hingston and Jimmy King. The track was recorded with the Maria Schneider Orchestra and produced by Bowie and Tony Visconti. Extra special Bowie features for the next two weeks in the NME whose verdict on Sue was: “It’s Nick Cave meets Scott Walker meets Herbie Hancock – and it’s quite brilliant.”
➢ Tangle with 21st-century vorticists who insist Bowie rates Blast among his favourite books because, perhaps coincidentally, Blast had been returned to public consciousness in 1974 by Richard Cork who, while art critic of the Evening Standard, curated a monumental retrospective exhibition at London’s Hayward Gallery titled Vorticism and its Allies. The totemic star exhibit was the giant monolith, Epstein’s Rock Drill of 1915, destroyed by the sculptor and specially recreated for this show by Ken Cook and Ann Christopher. The plaster-cast male torso was dwarfed by mounting it on a life-sized stone-cutter’s drill, readymade by Holman Brothers of Cornwall, as originally conceived by Epstein in a powerful celebration of the machine age and of masculinity. Today the piece resides in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery