07 October 2016

Art Decade (Redux))

Yes, so that last bit was re-post of something written five years ago, originally hammered out for the "the 1970s blog" team-effort thing. At the time, I didn't originally set out to write about David Bowie, per se. Rather, I'd been thinking about the American popcult fascination with many things German, particularly Weimar-era Berlin -- a common fetishizing of its decadence, of its status of a place teetering on the edge of an historical abyss that it would soon topple into. And then, reading something about Bowie's time in Berlin and the events that led him there, I decided to use the Bowie angle as a thread on which the loosely hang a number of other themes and thoughts.

And I was prompted to go ahead and re-post the piece this back while I was reading Paul Morley recent volume, The Age of Bowie. When it comes to Bowie's Thin White Duke year and what followed, Morley takes no discernible interest in Bowie's drug habit and near crack-up, focusing instead other aspect of the the artist's work and career. But he does mention, more or less in passing, something else that seldom comes in most accounts -- something far more pragmatic and less romantic that might help cut through the fog of mystique that long ago coalesced around Bowie's "Berlin trilogy" of albums.

That being the artist's business deal with manager Tony Defries and Mainman, Ltd.. In 1975, Bowie apparently realized that the arrangement was stacked too heavily in Defries's favor and fires him. But he still has some years left to go before his contracts with Defries and RCA expire. So he spends the next several years doing what wants, working with whom he wants, recording where he wants -- releasing darker, more esoteric and "experimental" albums that RCA is increasingly vexed to wring any singles out of; and when they do manage to do so, the tunes don't chart as highly or as frequently as earlier work (thus perhaps insuring that Defries's royalties from newer work dwindles).

So, with those three albums -- as well as a second live album, two "best of" collections, plus a children's record by way of an adaptation of Peter and the Wolf on which Bowie provides the narration -- he finally fulfilled his contractual obligations for RCA when he handed over 1980's Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).

But his contract with Defries didn't run out until 1982. Something that Bowie had clearly been anticipating and planning around, when you consider the way he steered his career in a more commercial direction with the album he released the following year.

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