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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A Form of Aversion Therapy

David Bowie and William S. Burroughs. Photo by Terry O’Neill, 1974

 

The Ludovico technique is a fictional aversion therapy from the Anthony Burgess’ novel A Clockwork Orange administered by a “Dr. Brodsky” at the Ludovico medical facility, with the approval of the UK Minister of the Interior. It involved forcing a patient to watch, through the use of specula to hold the eyes open, violent images for long periods, while under the effect of a nausea-, paralysis-, and fear-inducing drug. The aim of the therapy was to condition the patient to experience severe nausea when experiencing or even thinking about violence, thus creating an aversion to violent behavior.

The therapy renders the protagonist of the novel, Alex, incapable of violence even in self-defense, and unable to touch a naked woman or think about having sexual intercourse. In the original novel, Alex is accidentally conditioned against all classical music due to the background score of the films. In the 1971 film, he is conditioned only against Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. “Ludovico” is the Italian equivalent of the German name “Ludwig”; it is possible the name was selected for this reason.

 

A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)

 

The Man Who Fell to Earth (Nicolas Roeg, 1976)

 

Welcome to the Jungle (Nigel Dick, 1987)

 

Geffen Records was having a hard time selling the video to MTV. David Geffen made a deal with the network, and the video was aired only one time around 5:00AM on a Sunday morning. As soon as the video was aired, the networks received numerous calls from people wanting to see the video again.

In spite of the early morning airtime, the song’s music video caught viewers’ attention and quickly became MTV’s most requested video. The video in question begins with a shot of Axl Rose disembarking a bus in Los Angeles and a drug dealer (portrayed by Izzy Stradlin) is seen trying to sell his merchandise while Rose rejects it. As Rose stops to watch a television through a store window, clips of the band playing live can be seen and Slash can also be seen briefly, sitting against the store’s wall and drinking from a clear glass bottle in a brown paper bag. By the end of the video Rose has transformed into a city punk, wearing the appropriate clothing, after going through a process similar to the Ludovico technique.

During an interview with Rolling Stone magazine about the music video, Guns N’ Roses‘ manager at the time, Alan Niven, said that he “came up with the idea of stealing from three movies: Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger, 1969), The Man Who Fell to Earth (Nicolas Roeg, 1976) and A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971).”

To watch Guns N’Roses music video, please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/The-Genealogy-of-Style-597542157001228/?ref=hl

Icarus Descending

Dust jacket illustrated by George Underwood

 
 

The Man Who Fell to Earth is a 1963 science fiction novel by American author Walter Tevis, about an extraterrestrial who lands on Earth seeking a way to ferry his people to Earth from his home planet, which is suffering from a severe drought. The novel served as the basis for the 1976 film by Nicolas Roeg, The Man Who Fell to Earth, as well as a 1987 television adaptation.

 
 

Illustration by George Underwood

 
 

The original novel opened with the section Icarus Descending 1972, the revised version opens with Icarus Descending 1985. The second section of book is Rumplestiltskin, 1975, in the revised version this is 1988. The final section of the book is Icarus Drowning, 1976, and 1990 in the revised edition novel.

 
 

William Carlos Williams’ poem and the painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus appear side-by-side 22 minutes into the 1976 film, The Man Who Fell to Earth, starring David Bowie.

 
 

The painting seen early on in the film is Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, which (as we stated in a previous post) was long thought to be by Pieter Brueghel. In Greek mythology, Icarus succeeded in flying, with wings made by his father Daedalus, using feathers secured with wax. Ignoring his father’s warnings, Icarus chose to fly too close to the sun, melting the wax, and fell into the sea and drowned. His legs can be seen in the water just below the ship.

The film depicts the arrival of an alien, Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie), who has travelled to the Earth on a rescue mission to aid his dying planet (a prescient theme tapping into our ever growing concerns about global warming). His superior technology, and the unique patents it offers, allows him to play and control the markets and create a vast conglomerate. Amassing the financial benefits of the consumer products he has introduced, he sets out to create a space programme that will enable him to return to his world and bring his family back to Earth.