Cracked Actor Meditating Upon a Skull

David Bowie snarling and holding a skull with a rose between its teeth

 
 

Photo by Michael Tweed

 
 

David Bowie sings in concert during his Serious Moonlight Tour in 1983. The skull is a reference to the “Alas, poor Yorick” scene of Hamlet. Photo by Neal Preston

 
 

Cracked Actor is a song written by David Bowie, originally released on the album Aladdin Sane in April 1973.

One of the album’s hard rockers, the song is about an aging Hollywood star in an encounter with a prostitute, the chorus including various allusions to sex and drugs:

“Crack, baby, crack, show me you’re real
Smack, baby, smack, is that all that you feel
Suck, baby, suck, give me your head
Before you start professing that you’re knocking me dead…”

Rolling Stone suggested that Bowie’s goal was “to strip the subject of his validity, as he has done with the rocker, as a step towards a re-definition of these roles and his own inhabiting of them”. However NME writers Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray considered that the song “reveals little else except that Bowie’s capabilities with a mouth-harp are decidedly limited”.

Cracked Actor became a centerpiece of Bowie’s 1974 North American tour when he would perform the song wearing sunglasses and holding a skull (à la Hamlet), which he would then proceed to French kiss.

 
 

 
 

The track also gave its name to Alan Yentob‘s documentary of the tour. In 1983 Bowie revived the song and the sunglasses-and-skull routine for his Serious Moonlight Tour. The documentary depicts Bowie on tour in Los Angeles, using a mixture of documentary sequences filmed in limousines and hotels, and concert footage. Most of the concert footage was taken from a show at the Los Angeles Universal Amphitheatre on 2 September 1974. There were also excerpts from D.A. Pennebaker‘s concert film Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which had been shot at London’s Hammersmith Odeon on 3 July 1973, as well as a few other performances from the tour. Cracked Actor is notable for being a source for footage of Bowie’s ambitious Diamond Dogs Tour. The title of the documentary was originally to be The Collector, after a comment that Bowie had made to interviewer Russell Harty the previous year, whereby he described himself as “a collector of accents”.

 
 

The documentary can be seen in The Genealogy of Style’s Facebook page

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