The theme word on Music Passion for November is “World”. So I thought I would tell the tale of how David Bowie was thanked by a young fan during the 2004 reality tour for doing a “Nirvana cover”.
The Man Who Sold The World was written and released in the U.S. in November 1970 and in the UK in April 1971. In common with a number of tracks on the album, the song’s themes have been compared to the horror-fantasy works of H. P. Lovecraft. The lyrics are also cited as reflecting Bowie’s concerns with splintered or multiple personalities, and are believed to have been partially inspired by the poem “Antigonish” by William Hughes Mearns:
Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away…
David actually did a mini tour of America wearing the “Man’s Dress” designed by Michael Fish in medieval fashion. The story that he was threatened by a cowboy in Texas with a shotgun inspiring the original American cover is probably apocryphal as it was released before he actually arrived on American soil. The song and L.P. of the same name went nowhere until David produced Lulu’s version in 1974 (which reached number 3 on the British charts). Lulu would recall Bowie inviting her to a concert he gave after which he met her in his hotel room saying: “I want to make an MF of a record with you [because] you’re a great singer.”
Lulu – “I didn’t think it would happen but [Bowie] followed up two days later. He was übercool at the time and I just wanted to be led by him. I loved everything he did. I didn’t think ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ was the greatest song for my voice, but it was such a strong song in itself. I had no idea what it was about. In the studio Bowie kept telling me to smoke more cigarettes, to give my voice a certain quality.” Bowie produced the Lulu recording of “The Man Who Sold the World” with Mick Ronson during the Pin Ups sessions and also contributed guitar, saxophone and backing vocals. The remainder of the band included Ronson on guitar, Trevor Bolder on bass, Mike Garson on piano, and Aynsley Dunbar on drums.
In 1979, David invited Klaus Nomi to join him on Saturday night live. The other backup singer was Joey Arias,a sales person at trendy, New York fashion spot, Fiorucci where the Day-Glo colored clothing was made of plastic and vinyl. Fiorucci was not just a store, but a whole new scene. They sold clothing by new cutting edge designers, and their own Fiorucci brand. Andy Warhol designed the window displays and frequented the store.On SNL Bowie performed 3 numbers, all utilizing either theater or video trickery. Opening with The Man Who Sold the World, David is carried out in a costume that was a cross between a Matryoshka nesting Doll and a Pierrot. The vocals border on operatic at the end, meshing perfectly with the keyboards by Blondie’s Jimmy Destri. A live feed to a television set in the mouth of a mechanical poodle was featured during TVC 15, and Boys Keep Swinging was a live superimposition of David’s head on a puppets dancing body. This last number has never been rebroadcast due to an intentional “wardrobe malfunction” of the puppets trousers at the end. A portion of this show is included in the film The Nomi Song.
In his journals, Kurt Cobain of the American grunge band Nirvana ranked the album The Man Who Sold the World at number 45 in his top 50 favourite albums. He brought the title track back to the public eye in November 1993,on MTV’s UnPlugged, passing it on to a new generation. Augmented by Pat Smear and cellist Lori Goldston, the band sought to veer from the typical approach to the show, opting to stay away from playing its most recognizable songs. Instead, Nirvana performed several covers,including our theme for today’s post.
And so, now that we’ve spoken of “was and when”, we end as we began. After the young fan thanked David, he incorporated the observation subsequently with this introduction…
“I’m going to do my Nirvana cover for you now!”