Tag Archives: lyrics

➤ Riddle of the train Bowie could not have taken in Where Are We Now?

Divided Berlin: the wall shown in black places the U-Bahn station (blue) at Potsdamer Platz inside the Soviet sector, along with the S-Bahn station (green)

Divided Berlin: the wall shown in black places the U-Bahn station (blue) at Potsdamer Platz inside the Soviet sector, along with the S-Bahn station (green)

❚ THE NEW MUSIC VIDEO for Where Are We Now? raises challenges during David Bowie’s nostalgic Berlin city tour that his fans expect to decipher. Lesser mysteries were quickly cracked this week:
1 – The woman’s face on the cuddly toy is the video director’s wife Jacqueline Humphries.
2 – The T-shirt slogan “m/s Song of Norway” refers to both a retired and renamed cruise ship (Royal Caribbean has used Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life in its commercials), and an operetta that was made into a film starring Bowie’s onetime girlfriend Hermione Farthingale who inspired a song.
3 – The closing shots of the Siegessäule (Victory Column) resonate also as the title of Berlin’s gay community magazine.
4 – The lyric’s curious non-idiomatic phrase “walking the dead” coincidentally references the title of an American drama about a transgendered person.

But the real Poirot Puzzler raised by the opening line of the song is this: *How* did Bowie “get the train from Potsdamer Platz” (incidentally, or deliberately, misspelt on screen) to reach his Berlin haunts in the 70s? Today any of us can easily take the U2 towards Nürnberger Strasse, the lyric’s next destination, where once, he sings, he would sit in the cool Dschungel nightclub frequented by assorted popstars (his favourite seat was on a balcony overlooking the bar). We can also take the S1 line south from PP to the trendy Schöneberg district where Bowie used to share rooms with Iggy Pop.

But not when Bowie lived in Berlin, during the years now identified with his Berlin Trilogy of albums, 1976-79. Why not? Because of the 12-ft high Wall, fortified with minefields, anti-tank defences and ruthlessly guarded, the symbol of communism which had divided the city since 1961. As we see from the map (above) both the stations for the S-Bahn surface train line and the U-Bahn underground line lay on the East side of the wall within the Soviet sector.

In the late 70s the site of Potsdamer Platz was a wide-open wasteland on the East of the Wall, a No Man’s Land chillingly known as the Kill Zone, where guards could gun down the continuing stream of desperate East Berliners courageous enough to make a dash for the West.

Potsdamer Platz in 1961: the postwar wasteland is divided by the Wall and was to become known as the Kill Zone

Potsdamer Platz in 1961: the postwar wasteland is divided by the first low-rise Wall and was to become known as the Kill Zone

Bowie’s workplace, the Hansa Studios where he recorded Low and Heroes, actually overlooked the Wall from the American sector, in Köthener Strasse a few yards south of Potsdamer Platz. Catching sight of two lovers near the Wall inspired the theme for the number, Heroes, in 1977, one of his most creative song-writing periods.

But Bowie could not have taken his train from either of those stations because they had been closed and barricaded when the Wall was built. Western trains continued to cross East Berlin along lines which emerged in the West but they passed through without stopping at many such stations which became known as Geisterbahnhöfe (ghost stations). Concrete collars at tunnel entrances scraped the sides of the trains to deter escapees from clinging to them. Half a lifetime later, on March 3, 1992, the S1 stop in Potsdamer Platz was the last ghost station to reopen after the reunification of Germany.

➢ Elsewhere at Shapersofthe80s:
Shock and awe verdicts on
Bowie’s born-again masterpiece

Perhaps Bowie departed from some other station? What about the 19th-century regional railway terminus called Potsdamer Bahnhof, you say? It fed ritziness into the heart of the metropolis and Potsdamer Platz became one of Berlin’s busiest traffic intersections where famously Europe’s first traffic lights were installed in 1924. The whole area was, however, laid waste during World War Two and the last trains you could have taken from this station ran in 1945.

Ah, yes but what about the innovative M-Bahn, the Magnetic Levitation line which powered south from the Philharmonie, skirting the Wall by Potsdamer Platz as it headed down to the river? Sorry, this didn’t open until 1989.

So how on earth did David Bowie take his train from Potsdamer Platz?

Is our hero indulging some romantic fantasy on behalf of an East Berliner during the 70s, making a wistful trip to the freewheeling delights of Schöneberg and the KaDeWe department store that became an attainable dream only after the fall of the Wall – as he sings, by crossing the Bösebrücke on November 9, 1989?

And why the first word of the song? Why *had* he to get this train at all? He was well-known for cycling everywhere in Berlin, such was the personal freedom he enjoyed there. And why from Potsdamer Platz?

Potsdamer Platz in 1910: looking south towards the Potsdamer Bahnhof

Potsdamer Platz in 1910: looking south towards the Potsdamer Bahnhof

JAN 16 INSIGHT FROM THE NME

❏ Bowie producer Tony Visconti says of Where Are We Now?: “To me, it’s not about the three-years he spent in Berlin in the 70s. It feels like just one day he had an epiphany walking in the street.” So there we have it. A walk in the street. Puts our post above out with the trash. Still, it painted a picture of an era that is probably unimaginable for anybody who hadn’t visited the divided city between 1961 and 1989.

When Bonn became the capital of West Germany in 1949, the war-ravaged city of Berlin grew ever more desolate, despite the handful of nightclubs where hedonism was very much defined as the antidote to the privations of daily life. The Western sectors felt like a minor provincial city with a population of 2 million, mostly consisting of the elderly, because everybody else had left to make new lives elsewhere. Just turning 30, Bowie and Iggy were among the city’s youngest inhabitants and their work as musicians was one of the few productive industries in an enfeebled economy.

Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Berlin

Nightclubbing 1977: Bowie and Iggy enjoy the Berlin nightlife

The Soviet sector, which we Westerners were privileged to visit, unlike its citizens wishing to make the opposite journey, felt tragic: rundown beyond the point of dilapidation, with high-rise Tower blocks in the brutalist Soviet style built to ease the pressure on a crowded population and signal the “modernity” of the East. As with visits to the Soviet Union, tourists were usually conscious of being followed or at least monitored by East German security personnel, and woe betide any local who behaved in an inappropriately friendly manner toward visitors! With the Stasi (state security service) relying on family members to inform on each other, the East became a society of subterfuge, with a black economy built less on cash than barter and influence at all levels of daily life.

➢ Take The Guardian’s complete tour of Bowie’s Berlin

➢ Jan 13 update: The Observer recounts his “unrepeatable time of Sturm und Drang in the shadow of the Wall”

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2013 ➤ Bowie officially not “devastated” as fab retrospective show goes ahead at the V&A

David Bowie, lyrics, pop music, retrospective, memorabilia, exhibition, William Burroughs,Victoria & Albert Museum

Photography showing at the V&A: David Bowie and William Burroughs, 1974. Photograph by Terry O’Neill. Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive 2012

❚ WHAT A COUP! FIRST CAME THE OFFICIAL DENIAL. A press release from Bowie Towers last week denied the godlike one’s involvement in an upcoming retrospective exhibition in London at the Victoria & Albert Museum. “I am not a co-curator and did not participate in any decisions relating to the exhibition,” he said, adding however: “The David Bowie Archive gave unprecedented access to the V&A and museum’s curators have made all curatorial and design choices. 

A close friend of mine tells me that I am neither ‘devastated’, ‘heartbroken’ nor ‘uncontrollably furious’ by this news item.

”

➢ Listen online to World At One discussing
next year’s Bowie exhibition

Then came today’s official announcement. When the V&A confirmed that its show will “explore the creative processes of Bowie as a musical innovator and cultural icon”, the BBC’s lunchtime current affairs bulletin, World at One, interviewed a key curator without a single mention that this show doesn’t open until next spring.

Ziggy Stardust, David Bowie,stage costume, Kansai Yamamoto

Ziggy stage costume by the Japanese fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto who described Bowie in 1972 as “neither man nor woman”. This outfit goes on show next year. (Photograph by Polkadot.tv)

After three years of negotiation, Geoffrey Marsh, the curator of performance, and Victoria Broackes, curator of theatre, were rightly exultant to have pulled out the Bowie plum. “He has had so much influence in other areas — film, theatre, fashion, design. In fact, he impacts on all departments of the V&A,” Marsh said, heading off recent criticism that pop-star memorabilia was rather a lightweight subject to justify its own claim to be “the world’s greatest museum of art and design”.

Most of the 300 objects going on show were collected by Bowie over his lifetime: handwritten lyrics, costumes, posters, instruments, stuff he regarded as important records of his career. Marsh says: “It is an extraordinary collection and there are very few performers who have hung on to their collections. In all areas of Bowie’s creativity, he is still having an impact today.”

Potential exhibits shown off at today’s press launch included a model of the set for the Diamond Dogs tour, the spangly catsuit designed by Freddi Burretti for Bowie’s 1972 performance of Starman on Top Of The Pops, Natasha Korniloff’s Pierrot costume from the 1980 video for Ashes to Ashes, and Alexander McQueen’s Union Jack coat created for the cover of Earthling in 1997.

➢ Showtime at the V&A — from The Guardian’s coverage, Sep 5:

No one from the V&A has sat down face to face with Bowie and, given he does not fly, it would be a surprise to everyone if he even made it along.

David Bowie, portrait, retrospective,  exhibition, Victoria & Albert Museum

Self portrait in pose also adopted for the album cover of “Heroes” 1978. © The David Bowie Archive 2012. Image © V&A Images

“I’m sorry to say I’ve never met him,” said co-curator Victoria Broackes. “Of course I’d love to and I really hope he likes it but in a way, because the V&A always takes editorial control of what it produces, it is better that we haven’t met him.”

Geoffrey Marsh said there were piles of books on Bowie – “I’m sure there will be many more university doctorates” – but this is the first significant exhibition and he promised it would be “groundbreaking” and hopefully achieve the almost impossible task of appealing to both diehard fans and an audience too young to really know how much of an influence Bowie was and still is.

That present tense is important and the V&A has called its show David Bowie is. “It underpins a key tenet of the exhibition,” said Broackes. “David Bowie’s impact today.”

It will examine what has influenced him – German expressionism, music hall, Theatre of Cruelty, French chanson, surrealism, Brechtian theatre, avant-garde mime, musicals and Japanese kabuki to name a few – and the countless artists he in turn has influenced… / Continued at Guardian Online

RAPACIOUS V&A PRICING EXPLOITS AN EAGER PUBLIC

➢ Enigmatically titled David Bowie is, the exhibition runs March 23–July 28, 2013, at the V&A, London SW7 2RL. Book online, in person at the museum, or by phone +44 (0)20 7907 7073 where you will spend a lifetime on hold. Top ticket price is an outrageous £15. By booking online you avoid being blackmailed into making an additional donation to the museum, though the V&A has the cheek to add a “handling charge” to all purchases! (Update: Ticketing has subsequently been farmed out to a theatre agency which has upped the price to £15.80 to include its own “booking fee”!)

How dare they, with Gucci sponsoring the exhibition? Gucci could readily pick up the whole bill for the show, and the V&A’s exploitative tactics let the institution down badly. Brace yourselves for a catalogue priced in similar “We saw you coming” mode (a catalogue for the last major show, British Design, cost £40). This is an ugly and accelerating trend among the capital’s cultural institutions.

Is Bowie alive or dead?

➢ Definitely alive — but busy on the school run, says The Times’s chief rock critic, Sep 5:

Ever since 2006, when he last performed live, rumours have circulated that David Bowie is at death’s door. What has he been doing? Taking his 12-year-old daughter to and from school in New York, according to his publicist. Having been too busy as an epoch-defining rock star to be a hands-on father to his son Zowie (now the film-maker Duncan Jones), Bowie is now helping out with his daughter’s homework. He is living through a period of normalcy that his early fame denied him. The state of his heath is unknown… / Continued at Times Online

David Bowie, Starman, 1972, Top of the Pops,V&A , exhbition, tipping point, BBC

The moment the earth tilted July 6, 1972: During Starman on Top of the Pops, David Bowie drapes his arm around the shoulder of Mick Ronson and a new generation of pop is triggered. The spangly 26-inch waist catsuit by Freddi Burretti will be on show at the V&A retrospective in 2013. Videograb © BBC

1970 ➤ Where to draw a line between glitter and glam:
naff blokes in Bacofoil versus starmen with pretensions
— analysis by Shapersofthe80s

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➤ Jarvis takes his lyrics to Eliot’s publisher Faber

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❚ FABER AND FABER EXCITEDLY ANNOUNCE they are to publish Jarvis Cocker’s Mother, Brother, Lover: Selected Lyrics, in October 2011. Only days earlier the prestigious publisher of T S Eliot, the leading poet of modernism, unveiled their monumental digital milestone The Waste Land for iPad, itself probably the mightiest poem of the 20th-century. Now they have signed Pulp’s singer and songwriter, as a spry chronicler of Britain’s common people fast achieving the status of a national treasure. In the video [above] Jarvis talks to Faber publishing director Lee Brackstone about writing lyrics, his inspiration, habits and thoughts on putting together his first published collection.

It was shot on the day he’d signed the contract, three weeks before today’s announcement and right after the reunited Pulp’s triumphal UK comeback at the Isle of Wight festival after a nine-year absence. Jarvis is visibly thrilled to bits and he gives a hugely entertaining interview. “I fell into the thing of writing lyrics when I was 15 because nobody else would. It was like homework, it was as appealing as that. The first lyric I ever wrote started, Shakespeare rock, Shakespeare roll.”

He tackles the risk of writing cosmic bilge, his breakthrough precipitated by an accident when his gaze shifted to the everyday, and the influence of Scott Walker who married realism to cinematic orchestration: “I liked his song The Amorous Humphrey Plugg [deft and witty lyrics by Walker from his 1968 album Scott 2] which is about slipping on a newly waxed floor… a humdrum everyday thing with a massive orchestral backing. I’d been looking for the epic in the everyday. I don’t think everyday life is mundane. I’m curious about what keeps people functioning.”

➢ Pulp’s reunion concerts continue through the summer, with their headline gig at the Wireless Festival in Hyde Park this Sunday, returning to the UK for Reading and Leeds festivals in August

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