The Duke Who Fell to Earth

Station to Station (1976)

 

Station to Station is the tenth studio album by English musician David Bowie. Commonly regarded as one of his most significant works, Station to Station was the vehicle for his last great “character”, the Thin White Duke. The album was recorded after he completed shooting Nicolas Roeg‘s The Man Who Fell to Earth, and the cover artwork featured a still from the movie.

It was on the set of his first major film, The Man Who Fell to Earth, that Bowie began writing a pseudo-autobiography called The Return of the Thin White Duke. He was also composing music on the understanding that he was to provide the picture’s soundtrack, though this would not come to fruition. (At Bowie’s recommendation, John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas would write and produce all the original music for the film instead.) Director Nicolas Roeg warned the star that the part of Thomas Jerome Newton would likely remain with him for some time after production completed. With Roeg’s agreement, Bowie developed his own look for the film, and this carried through to his public image and onto two album covers over the next twelve months, as did Newton’s air of fragility and aloofness.

The Thin White Duke became the mouthpiece for Station to Station and, as often as not during the next six months, for Bowie himself. Impeccably dressed in white shirt, black trousers and waistcoat, the Duke was a hollow man who sang songs of romance with an agonised intensity, yet felt nothing—”ice masquerading as fire”. The persona has been described as “a mad aristocrat”, “an amoral zombie”, and “an emotionless Aryan superman”. For Bowie himself, the Duke was “a nasty character indeed”.

 

Low (1976)

 

Low is the eleventh studio album by British musician David Bowie, co-produced by Bowie and Tony Visconti. Widely regarded as one of Bowie’s most influential releases, Low was the first of the “Berlin Trilogy”, a series of collaborations with Brian Eno (though the album was mainly recorded in France and only mixed in West Berlin). The experimental, avant-garde style would be further explored on Heroes and Lodger. The album’s working title was New Music Night and Day.

The genesis of Low lies in both the foundations laid by Bowie’s previous album Station to Station, and music he intended for the soundtrack to The Man Who Fell to Earth. When Bowie presented his material for the film to Nicolas Roeg, the director decided that it would not be suitable. Roeg preferred a more folksy sound, although John Phillips described Bowie’s contributions as “haunting and beautiful”. Elements from these pieces were incorporated into Low instead. The album’s cover, like Station to Station, is a still from the movie: the photographic image, under the album’s title, formed a deliberate pun on the phrase “low profile”.

Although the music was influenced by German bands such as Kraftwerk and Neu!, Low has been acclaimed for its originality and is considered ahead of its time, not least for its cavernous treated drum sound created by producer Visconti using an Eventide Harmonizer.

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Impossible to Guess

“It was always impossible to guess Chanel’s age. She was dark and sunburned, with high cheekbones, an upturned nose with nostrils, as she said, ‘like tunnels,’ brilliant black eyes like buttons, and a gash for a mouth. Her hands were delicate, of a skin with a white sheen on it, and so strong that they could shoe a horse. She wore no red on her fingernails but reddened the tips of her toes, on the theory that feet were a dreary business and required every aid.”

Cecil Beaton
The Glass of Fashion
1954

 
 

Fashion designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel with photographer Cecil Beaton, circa 1930’s. Photo by John Phillips

 
 

Drawings, sketches and photo portraits of Mademoiselle Chanel by Cecil Beaton

When I Paint My Masterpiece

Bob Dylan visiting the The Phillips Collection, standing in front of El Greco’s The Repentant St. Peter (1600 – 1605 or later). Photo: Barry Feinstein, 1974

 
 

Oh, the streets of Rome are filled with rubble
Ancient footprints are everywhere
You can almost think that you’re seein’ double
On a cold, dark night on the Spanish Stairs
Got to hurry on back to my hotel room
Where I’ve got me a date with Botticelli’s niece
She promised that she’d be right there with me
When I paint my masterpiece

Oh, the hours I’ve spent inside the Coliseum
Dodging lions and wastin’ time
Oh, those mighty kings of the jungle, I could hardly stand to see ’em
Yes, it sure has been a long, hard climb
Train wheels runnin’ through the back of my memory
When I ran on the hilltop following a pack of wild geese
Someday, everything is gonna be smooth like a rhapsody
When I paint my masterpiece

Sailin’ round the world in a dirty gondola
Oh, to be back in the land of Coca-Cola!

I left Rome and landed in Brussels
On a plane ride so bumpy that I almost cried
Clergymen in uniform and young girls pullin’ muscles
Everyone was there to greet me when I stepped inside
Newspapermen eating candy
Had to be held down by big police
Someday, everything is gonna be diff’rent
When I paint my masterpiece

Bob Dylan