David Bowie On David Bowie: “I’m Still Enamoured Of This Song And Would Give You Two ‘Modern Loves’ For It Any Time.”
We’ve spoken about that recent electro-tinged Bowie covers album Life Beyond Mars. Well, the man himself one-upped the comp with a free CD that appeared with the Sunday Daily Mail. Bowie selected his favorite Bowie. As he put it in the accompanying liner notes:
For this CD compilation I’ve selected 12 of my songs that I don’t seem to tire of. Few of them are well known, but many of them are still sung at my concerts. Usually by me. I’ll start off with the hit.
“Sweet Thing/ Candidate/ Sweet Thing”
I’d failed to obtain the theatrical rights from George Orwell’s widow for the book 1984 and having written three or more songs for it already, I did a fast about-face and recobbled the idea into Diamond Dogs: teen punks on rusty skates living on the roofs of the dystopian Hunger City; a post-apocalyptic landscape.
A centrepiece for this would-be stage production was to be “Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing,” which I wrote using William Burroughs’s cut-up method.
You write down a paragraph or two describing several different subjects creating a kind of story ingredients-list, 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.
I was looking to create a profligate world that could have been inhabited by characters from Kurt Weill or John Rechy – that sort of atmosphere. A bridge between Enid Blyton’s Beckenham and The Velvet Underground’s New York. Without Noddy, though.
I thought it evocative to wander between the melodramatic Sweet Thing croon into the dirty sound of Candidate and back again. For no clear reason (what’s new?) I stopped singing this song around the mid-Seventies.
Though I’ve never had the patience or discipline to get down to finishing a musical theatre idea other than the rock shows I’m known for, I know what I’d try to produce if I did.
I’ve never been keen on traditional musicals. I find it awfully hard to suspend my disbelief when dialogue is suddenly song. I suppose one of the few people who can make this work is Stephen Sondheim with works such as Assassins.
I much prefer through-sung pieces where there is little if any dialogue at all. Sweeney Todd is a good example, of course. Peter Grimes and The Turn Of The Screw, both operas by Benjamin Britten, and The Rise And Fall Of The City Of Mahagonny by Weill. How fantastic to be able to create something like that…
So it’s late morning and I’m thinking: “New song and a fresh approach. I know, I’m going to do a Ronnie Spector. Oh yes I am. Ersatz, just for one day.”
And I did and here it is. Bless. I’m still enamoured of this song and would give you two “Modern Loves” for it any time. It’s also one that I find fulfilling to sing onstage. It has some nice interesting sections to it that can trip you up, always a good kind of obstacle to contend with live.
Ironically, the lyric is something about taking a short view of life, not looking too far ahead and not predicting the oncoming hard knocks. The lyric might have been a note to a younger brother or my own adolescent self…
…Images of the failed Napoleonic force stumbling back through Smolensk. Finding the unburied corpses of their comrades left from their original advance on Moscow. Or possibly a snowman with a carrot for a nose; a crumpled Crystal Palace Football Club admission ticket at his feet. A Weltschmerz [world weariness] indeed. Send in your own images, children, and we’ll show the best of them next week.
There are tons of interesting tidbits in there, and eight other songs, but I excerpted anyway. You can read the rest/see his other choices here. If you didn’t get a copy of the actual disc, it should be easy enough to make your own facsimile.
[Photo by Jimmy King via Bowie's MySpace]