Topic: Music

Sounds: “Fleeting Smile” by Roger Eno

Many are familiar with the composer and artist Brian Eno. But did you know that Brian has a younger brother, Roger Eno, who is also an accomplished composer, musician, and sound installation artist? Here is a beautiful piece, “Fleeting Smile,” by Roger Eno, from the Brian Eno compilation album of various composers’ work, Music For Films III (1988). It evokes for me a mashup of Erik Satie and Nino Rota, and is wistfully beautiful, like a fleeting smile.

Peter Greenaway, “Four American Composers: John Cage” (1983)

Peter Greenaway. John Cage. Indeterminacy. What more could you want? Not the greatest video quality here in YouTube video form, but still. Not easy (impossible) to find this film series of films on an American format DVD, so this will have to do. Enjoy.

From Lead Belly to Pussy Riot: branding lessons and inspiration from over a century of band names

This project began with modest ambitions: a casual examination of some band names that have inspired us over the years and their origins or creation myths. As we dove into this treasure trove of nomenclature, however, the scope escalated into an deep investigation of over a hundred years’ worth of band name etymologies. The first dozen or so entries are not band names per se, but stage names, nicknames, and pseudonyms of seminal artists that have shaped the course of music and the manner in which bands and musicians are branded.

Our goal here is not to be exhaustive and include every famous band you’ve ever heard of, but rather to be definitive without being overly obvious, and keep the emphasis on interesting and intriguing band names, or bands with name origin stories that illuminate different aspects of the naming process. See the bottom of the article for a postscript identifying some of the trends in band naming over the years, along with a list of links to sources we consulted during this project.

So let us introduce to you, the acts you’ve never known for all these years…

1900s — Blind Lemon Jefferson: The stage name for bluesman Lemon Henry Jefferson.

1900 — Jelly Roll Morton: Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe, known professionally as Jelly Roll Morton, was an American ragtime and early jazz pianist, bandleader and composer. His composition “Jelly Roll Blues” was the first published jazz composition, in 1915. At the age of fourteen, Morton began working as a piano player in a brothel (or, as it was referred to then, a “sporting house”). While working there, he was living with his religious, church-going great-grandmother; he had her convinced that he worked as a night watchman in a barrel factory. In that atmosphere, he often sang smutty lyrics; and took the nickname “Jelly Roll,” which was slang for female genitalia.

1903 — Lead Belly: Born Huddie William Ledbetter, there are several conflicting stories about how Ledbetter acquired the nickname “Lead Belly,” though it was probably while in prison. Some claim his fellow inmates called him “Lead Belly” as a play on his family name and his physical toughness. Others say he earned the name after being wounded in the stomach with buckshot. Another theory is that the name refers to his ability to drink moonshine. Or it may be simply a corruption of his last name pronounced with a southern accent. Whatever its origin, he adopted the nickname as a pseudonym while performing.

1918 — Fats Waller: Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller was an American jazz pianist, organist, composer, and singer. Andy Razaf described his partner as “the soul of melody…a man who made the piano sing…both big in body and in mind…known for his generosity…a bubbling bundle of joy.”

1920s — Son House: Eddie James “Son” House, Jr. was a blues singer and guitarist.

1920s — Roosevelt Sykes: An American blues musician, also known as “The Honeydripper.”

1920s — Tampa Red: Born Hudson Woodbridge, he moved to Chicago and adopted the stage name from his childhood home and light colored skin.

1924 — Bix Beiderbecke: Leon Bismark “Bix” Beiderbecke was an American jazz cornetist, jazz pianist, and composer. His father was nicknamed “Bix,” as, for a time, was his older brother, Charles Burnette “Burnie” Beiderbecke. Burnie Beiderbecke claimed that the boy was named Leon Bix and subsequent biographers have reproduced birth certificates to that effect. However, more recent research—which takes into account church and school records in addition to the will of a relative—has suggested that he was originally named Leon Bismark. Regardless, his parents called him Bix, which seems to have been his preference.

1928 — Count Basie: The stage name for William James “Count” Basie.

1928 — Mississippi John Hurt: The great blues singer and guitarist was born John Smith Hurt in Teoc, Missisippi, and raised in Avalon, Mississippi. He learned to play guitar at age nine.

1928 — T-Bone Walker: Aaron Thibeaux “T-Bone” Walker was a critically acclaimed American blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter. Walker made his recording debut with Columbia Records billed as Oak Cliff T-Bone, releasing the single “Wichita Falls Blues” / “Trinity River Blues.” Oak Cliff was the community he lived in at the time and T-Bone a corruption of his middle name.

1929 — Memphis Minnie: Lizzie Douglas, known as Memphis Minnie, was a blues guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter. In 1929 she and Kansas Joe McCoy, her second husband, began to perform together. They were discovered by a talent scout of Columbia Records in front of a barber shop where they were playing for dimes. When she and McCoy went to record in New York, they were given the names Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie by a Columbia A&R man.

1930s — Lightnin’ Hopkins: The stage name country blues singer Sam John Hopkins.

1931 — Skip James: Nehemiah Curtis “Skip” James was an American Delta blues singer, guitarist, pianist and songwriter.

1935 — Dizzy Gillespie: John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie was a jazz trumpeter, bandleader, composer and occasional singer. Dizzy was christened John Gillespie, earning his nickname later in life when he was known for his sense of humor and practical jokes.

1937 — Sonny Boy Williamson I & Sonny Boy Williamson II: The recordings made by John Lee Williamson between 1937 and his death in 1948, and those made later by “Rice” Miller, were all originally issued under the name Sonny Boy Williamson. It is believed that Miller adopted the name to suggest to audiences, and his first record label, that he was the “original” Sonny Boy. In order to differentiate between the two musicians, many later scholars and biographers now refer to Williamson (1914-1948) as “Sonny Boy Williamson I,” and Miller (c.1912-1965) as “Sonny Boy Williamson II”

1939 — The Squadronaires: A British Royal Air Force band which began and performed in during World War II.

1940s — Howlin’ Wolf: Chester Arthur Burnett was a great Chicago blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player, from Mississippi. He explained the origin of the name Howlin’ Wolf: “I got that from my grandfather,” who would often tell him stories about the wolves in that part of the country and warn him that if he misbehaved, the “howling wolves” would get him. Paul Oliver wrote that Burnett once claimed to have been given his nickname by his idol Jimmie Rodgers.

Muddy Waters Sings Big Bill Broonzy by Muddy Waters (1960, Chess)

Muddy Waters Sings Big Bill Broonzy by Muddy Waters (1960, Chess)

1940s — Muddy Waters: The stage name of Chicago bluesman McKinley Morganfield. Waters’ grandmother, Della Grant, raised him after his mother died shortly following his birth. Della gave the boy the nickname “Muddy” at an early age because he loved to play in the muddy water of nearby Deer Creek. Waters later changed it to “Muddy Water” and finally “Muddy Waters.”


Video dream interlude: Carola & Lasse – Mä lähden stadiin (1967)

Carola Standertskjöld-Liemola (1941-1997) ja Lars “Lasse” Mårtenson tv-ohjelmassa “Jatkoaika” vuonna 1967.

This may lead to a full-on Finnish fetish. Carola Christina Standertskjöld-Liemola (23 March 1941 – 12 November 1997), professionally known as Carola, was a Finnish jazz and pop singer. Lars Anders Fredrik “Lasse” Mårtenson (born 24 September 1934) is a Finnish singer, composer, actor and

theater conductor. Together, it’s pure magic. Or something.

As near as we — and by “we” I mean me and Google Translate — can figure out, “Mä lähden stadiin” means, “I’m going into Helsinki.” Count me in.

The Ballad of the Fallen: in memory of jazz great Charlie Haden

Charlie Haden

The world has lost a great, deep musical and humanitarian soul. Jazz bassist Charlie Haden (August 6, 1937 – July 11, 2014) created an amazing body of work over six decades of work with the likes of Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett, Carla Bley, Hank Jones, Pat Metheny, and many, many others. Take a listen to Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, with Charlie Haden on bass and Hank Jones on piano, from their amazing 1995 Grammy-nominated album Steal Away:

The Atlantic has a nice appreciation of Haden by David A. Graham, complete with video song selections from throughout his career. Graham writes,

No one wants to be remembered most for what they did at 22, but history will forever recall Charlie Haden for his role in Ornette Coleman’s great quartet of the late 1950s…. Coleman remains surprisingly controversial today, but he and Haden and Don Cherry and Billy Higgins had incontrovertibly changed the direction of music.

Haden—who died Friday at 76, from complications of the polio he contracted as a child—was perhaps the least likely revolutionary in the bunch. Born in Shenandoah, Iowa (a town that shares a name with a famous folk song), Haden grew up playing country music in a family band. Despite making his name in a genre that often rewards flashiness, he was a resolutely unpretentious player, notable for the notes he didn’t play and for always being in the right place. Haden and his most frequent and fruitful collaborators during a long career were musicians steeped in American traditions, who synthesized a range of musical genres and spat them back out in varyingly eccentric and original ways. While Haden may have seemed like an unlikely revolutionary, his firm grounding in the roots seems to have been what enabled him to be such an effective radical.

Here are some words to live by from Haden himself, from one of five interviews he did from from 1983 to 2008 with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, talking about the value of improvisation and being in the moment:

“I think it’s very important to live in the present. One of the great things that improvising teaches you is the magic of the moment that you’re in, because when you improvise you’re in right now. You’re not in yesterday or tomorrow — you’re right in the moment. Being in that moment really gives you a perspective of life that you never get at any other time as far as learning about your ego. You have to see your unimportance before you can see your importance and your significance to the world.

“The artist is very lucky, because in an art form that’s spontaneous like [jazz], that’s when you really see your true self. And that’s why, when I put down my instrument, that’s when the challenge starts, because to learn how to be that kind of human being at that level that you are when you’re playing — that’s the key, that’s the hard part.”

The New York Times obituary concludes,

At the heart of Mr. Haden’s artistic pursuits, even those that drew inspiration from sources far afield, was a conviction in a uniquely American expression. “The beauty of it is that this music is from the earth of the country,” he said. “The old hillbilly music, along with gospel and spirituals and blues and jazz.”

Since the world has lost a deep soul of music, it seems appropriate to conclude with a track called “Silence,” with the also late, great Chet Baker on trumpet, recorded in Rome, Italy, November 11 & 12, 1987, just six months before Baker’s death. Haden and Baker are joined by Billy Higgins on drums, and Enrico Pieranunzi on piano.

Dylan’s Gospel


This weekend on NPR’s All Things Considered there was an incredible and moving segment devoted to music producer Lou Adler’s gospel rendering of a collection of ten Bob Dylan songs from the 1960s, including The Times They Are A Changin’I Shall Be Released and Lay Lady Lay. The album, “Dylan’s Gospel,” by The Brothers and Sisters, was recorded in 1969 and features an all-star line-up of gospel singers recruited by Adler from Baptist churches throughout South Central Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the album fell quickly into obscurity due to record company

blunders, scuffles and snafus. Renowned singer Merry Clayton was one of the featured artists on the album, and is interviewed along with Adler in this insightful and inspiring piece. Definitely worth a listen, or two.

In addition you can sample the recently reissued album at Light In The Attic Records.

Vic Chesnutt performing his song, “Woodrow Wilson”

Picking up on the Woodrow Wilson theme from Martin’s recent post about Arthur Samuel Mole’s living photographs, here is a performance of what must be the funniest and most unusual song “about” the 28th President of the United States, by the late, great Vic Chesnutt. The song begins about 2:42 into the video. This performance was from September 15, 2008, in Castellón, Spain.

A beautiful recorded version of this spare song appeared on Chesnutt’s 2007 album, The Salesman and Bernadette, and features Emmylou Harris on background vocals. Incidentally, Woody Guthrie’s full given name is Woodrow Wilson Guthrie. So that’s another interesting Woodrow Wilson reference to contemplate.

Woodrow Wilson
By Vic Chesnutt

She said her father looked like Woodrow Wilson
She said her father looked like Woodrow Wilson
Presiding from behind prescription lenses
She said her father looked like Woodrow Wilson

She said her mother act like a first lady
She said her mother act like a first lady
She’d been having those problems lately
She said she’s going to the clinic on Wednesday

She said her brother wished he was a negro
She said her brother wished he was a negro
Went to school in African-american studies
Once he had a picture taken with Adam Clayton Powell

She said her father looked like Woodrow Wilson
She said her father looked like Woodrow Wilson
I saw him once and thought he looked just a little bit like Truman
I know for a fact he has an Eisenhower ashtray

See a “living photograph” portrait of Woodrow Wilson: Crowdsourced imagery: Arthur Samuel Mole’s living photographs

Blackbird (rehearsal outtake), by Paul McCartney

A great video of Paul McCartney rehearsing Blackbird in the studio, c. 1968 Beatles White Album sessions. Love the close-up of the wingtips toe tapping.

By John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free

Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night

Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

The Face of Love performed by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Eddie Vedder

A supremely beautiful  Qawwali song by the late great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, with Eddie Vedder, here performed live by Vedder and Nusrat’s nephew Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. Recorded at live at charity concert, Not in Our Name: Dead Man Walking – The Concert, in 1998, one year after the death of legendary master, Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

The Face of Love
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan(with Eddie Vedder)

Jeena kaisa pyar bina [What is life without love?]
Is duniya mein aaye ho to [Now that you have come into this world]
Ek duje se pyar karo [Love each other, one another]
Jeena kaisa pyar bina [What is life without love?]
Is duniya mein aaye ho to [Now that you have come into this world]
Ek duje se pyar karo [Love each other, one another]

Look in the eyes
The face of love
Look in her eyes
Oh, there is peace
No nothing dies
Within pure light
Only one hour
Of this pure love
To last a life
Of thirty years
Only one hour
So come and go

Here is the original studio album version of The Face of Love, by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, with Eddie Vedder:

Remembering DJ Cheb I Sabbah, 1947-2013

DJ Cheb I SabbahWe lost a great spirit and world music master DJ Cheb I Sabbah, who died on November 6 in San Francisco after a two-year battle with stomach cancer. His given name was Haim Serge El Baz, but the name he is remembered by, Cheb I Sabbah, means “young man of the morning,” and he was exactly that: young at heart and in spirit, who took the music of the ancient world and made it fresh with heavy dance beats for a modern global audience. I used to listen to Cheb’s show on the radio in San Francisco for many years, own several of his brilliant albums, and was fortunate to have seen him perform live in Berkeley about twenty years ago. He was an amazing man and musician, and he will be missed.

This video of a live Cheb I Sabbah performance from 2008 gives you a taste of his spirit, and more about Cheb I Sabbah and his music can be found at the links below:

Learn more about the life and music of DJ Cheb I Sabbah:

Lou Reed – Perfect Day (Live At Montreux 2000)

Here’s to the late great Lou Reed (March 2, 1942 – October 27, 2013), a true American original. Who could ever replace him? Who will give us the next “perfect day”?

Chips, chips: Via Con Me, by Paolo Conte

No matter how dark of a mood might ever overtake you, I defy you to not be happy when you hear this song. It’s wonderful…. Chips, chips!

The accompanying video scenes, though unrelated, fit the mood quite nicely. They were taken from the films, “Top Hat” (1935), “Shall We Dance” (1937) and “Swing Time” (1936), starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Via Con Me
by Paolo Conte

Via Con Me Away with me

Via, via, vieni via di qui,
niente più ti lega a questi luoghi,
neanche questi fiori azzurri…
via, via, neanche questo tempo grigio
pieno di musiche e di uomini che ti son piaciuti,

It’s wonderful, it’s wonderful, it’s wonderful
good luck my babe, it’s wonderful,
it’s wonderful, it’s wonderful, I dream of you…

chips, chips,
Da ti du di du
Ci bum ci bum bum
Da ti du di du
Ci bum ci bum bum
Da ti du di du

Via, via, vieni via con me
entra in questo anore buio, non perderti per niente al mondo
via, via, non perderti per niente al mondo
Lo spettacolo d’ arte varia di uno innamorato di te,

It’s wonderful, it’s wonderful, it’s wonderful
good luck my babe, it’s wonderful,
it’s wonderful, it’s wonderful, I dream of you…

chips, chips, chips
Da ti du di du
Ci bum ci bum bum
Da ti du di du
Ci bum ci bum bum
Da ti du di du

Via, via, vieni via con me,
entra in questo amore buio pieno di uomini
via, via, entra e fatti un bagno caldo
c’è un accappatoio azzurro, fuori piove un mondo freddo,

It’s wonderful, it’s wonderful, it’s wonderful
good luck my babe, it’s wonderful,
it’s wonderful, it’s wonderful, I dream of you…

chips, chips,
Da ti du di du
Ci bum ci bum bum
Da ti du di du
Ci bum ci bum bum
Da ti du di du

Away, away, get away with me
Nothing more binds you to these places
Not even these blue flowers
Let’s get away, let’s get away, not even this grey time
Full of musics and people that you liked

It’s wonderful, it’s wonderful, it’s wonderful
good luck my babe, it’s wonderful,
it’s wonderful, it’s wonderful, I dream of you…

chips, chips,
Da ti du di du
Ci bum ci bum bum
Da ti du di du
Ci bum ci bum bum
Da ti du di du

Away Away, let’s get away
Enter this dark love, don’t get lost for anything in the world
away, away, don’t get lost for anything in the world
The art spectacle differs depending on someone who is in love with you

It’s wonderful, it’s wonderful, it’s wonderful
good luck my babe, it’s wonderful,
it’s wonderful, it’s wonderful, I dream of you…

chips, chips, chips
Da ti du di du
Ci bum ci bum bum
Da ti du di du
Ci bum ci bum bum
Da ti du di du

Away, away, let’s get away.
Enter this dark love full of people
Away, away, enter and take a warm bath
There s a blue bath gown (nearby), it rains a cold world outside

It’s wonderful, it’s wonderful, it’s wonderful
good luck my babe, it’s wonderful,
it’s wonderful, it’s wonderful, I dream of you…

chips, chips,
Da ti du di du
Ci bum ci bum bum
Da ti du di du
Ci bum ci bum bum
Da ti du di du

Not even this grey time full of musics and people that you liked…enter and take a warm bath…it rains a cold world outside. All hail Paolo Conte!

A “lyrical flowchart” of Hey Jude by The Beatles

Smart branding from Lucid Software, a company that makes the Lucidchart charting software. (Just don’t tell The Beatles.)

Two songs of Suspicion, from Elvis Presley & R.E.M.

Thanks to our great local college station, KALX Berkeley, for playing the Evis song this morning. It’s a strange song that sounds to me like it belongs on the soundtrack of a Spaghetti Western directed by David Lynch. The R.E.M take on the concept of a man suspicious about the behavior or feelings of a woman is less comically strange and more overtly dark. The lyrics for both are below. »»»

Björk’s Declare Independence and Gondry’s L’écume des jours / Mood Indigo

I was fortunate to have seen Björk perform her Biophilia show last week in Richmond, California, thanks to a pair of birthday tickets from my lovely wife. It was a fantastic show, and the final encore was the song above, Declare Independence, from Björk’s 2007 album Volta. The video is directed by the French director Michel Gondry, but as good as it is, the song was even better live, a true punk liberation anthem and perfect show ending.

Gondry’s latest film is an adaptation of one of my favorite all-time novels, L’écume des jours (Froth on the Daydream AKA Foam of the Daze) by Boris Vian. The film, released in April in France, has been re-titled Mood Indigo for international release (no U.S. release date yet), and stars Audrey Tautou, Romain Duris, Omar Sy, Gad Elmaleh, Philippe Torreton, Aïssa Maïga and Charlotte le Bon.

Go read this book NOW! And to whet your appetite for the film, here is the trailer:

The Fall – Bury! Pts 2 + 4

The Fall – Bury! Pts 2 + 4

I’m on, I’m on
All that road is battle, battle plan
I’m from Bury, as in Bourrée
A French composition
On a fluted instrument
I can, I can

I can make strong lands
Rendering, writing off
Of the milk of my elbow
Read folders left-handed CD

And you will suffer all the seasons
On the sides of municipal buildings
And used to stop drafts
In glass fronted art homes

And one day a Spanish king
With a council of bad knaves
Tried to come to Bury

A new way of recording
A chain round the neck
Ding, off he trots
You can’t say anything nowadays
I said if
I’m from Bury

Don’t mess around, pal
I’m wolverine
I’m from Bury
‘A French prince,’ I said

This song means something
Every song means something
Swap again
Hit it!

And two kids to go with it

I’m not from Bury
I’m not from Bury, man
I’m not from Bury
I’m not from Bury, man

Is the artistic Mark in fact
Got rid of vermin
Like the grey squirrels
By rooting out
Ben Marshall’s articles
Or user recordings
On his vile manufacturing community

I’m from Bury

Lambchop – I Believe In You

Lambchop performs “I Believe In You” live on the streets of Bastille Saint Antoine. “I Believe In You” was written by Roger Frederick Cook & Samuel Harper Hogin

I don’t believe in superstars
Organic food or foreign cars
I don’t believe the price of gold
The certainty of growing old

That right is right and left is wrong
And north and south can’t get along
And east is east and west is west
And being first is always best

But I believe in love
I believe in babies
I believe in mom and dad
And I believe in you

I don’t believe that heaven waits
For those that only congregate
I like to think of God as love
He’s down below, He’s up above

He’s watching people everywhere
He knows who does and doesn’t care
And I’m an ordinary man
Who sometimes wonders who I am

But I believe in love
I believe in music
I believe in magic
And I believe in you

Well, I know with all my certainty
What’s going on with you and me
Is a good thing and it’s true
And I believe in you

Well, I don’t believe virginity
Is as common as it used to be
In working days and sleeping nights
That black is black and white is white

That Superman and Robin Hood
Are still alive in Hollywood
And gasoline’s in short supply
The rising cost of getting by

I believe in love
I believe in old folks
I believe in children
And I believe in you

Yo La Tengo – I’ll Be Around (Live on KEXP)

Sharon Van Etten – One Day (Live on KEXP)

Bowie and Burroughs: systematic derangement

David Bowie performing the song, “Blackout,” live in Dallas, 1978.

In 1974, Bowie read Nova Express by William S. Burroughs, met with Burroughs (Beat Godfather Meets Glitter Mainman, Rolling Stone, February 28, 1974), and was influenced by Burrough’s “cut up” writing technique. Here are Bowie’s cut up lyrics for Blackout, which appears on the 1977 album Heroes:

David Bowie - cut up lyrics, Blackout

Cut up lyrics for ‘Blackout’ from ‘Heroes’, 1977 © The David Bowie Archive 2012, Image © V&A Images

David Bowie

Oh you, you walk on past
Your lips cut a smile on your face
Your scalding face
To the cage, to the cage
She was a beauty in a cage

Too, too high a price
To drink rotting wine from your hands
Your fearful hands
Get me to a doctor’s I’ve been told
Someone’s back in town the chips are down
I just cut and blackout
I’m under Japanese influence
And my honour’s at stake

The weather’s grim, ice on the cages
Me, I’m Robin Hood and I puff on my cigarette
Panthers are steaming, stalking, screaming

If you don’t stay tonight
I will take that plane tonight
I’ve nothing to lose, nothing to gain
I’ll kiss you in the rain
Kiss you in the rain
Kiss you in the rain
In the rain
Get me to the doctor

Get me off the streets (get some protection)
Get me on my feet (get some direction)
Hot air gets me into a blackout
Oh, get me off the streets
Get some protection
Oh get me on my feet (wo wo)

While the streets block off
Getting some skin exposure to the blackout (get some protection)
Get me on my feet (get some direction, wo-ooh!)
Oh get me on my feet
Get me off the streets (get some protection)
Get a second
Get wo wo
Get a second ? breath on advice ?
And a second blow

David Bowie and William Burroughs, 1974

David Bowie and William Burroughs, 1974; Photograph by Terry O’Neill; Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive 2012

In an excerpt from Beat Godfather Meets Glitter Mainman, Bowie and Burroughs discuss the importance of dreams in their work:

Burroughs: Do you get any of your ideas from dreams?

Bowie: Frequently.

Burroughs: I get seventy per cent of mine from dreams.

Bowie: There’s a thing that, just as you go to sleep, if you keep your elbows elevated you will never go below the dream stage. And I’ve used that quite a lot and it keeps me dreaming much longer than if I just relaxed.

Burroughs: I dream a great deal, and then because I am a light sleeper, I will wake up and jot down just a few words and they will always bring the whole idea back to me.

Bowie: I keep a tape recorder by the bed and then if anything comes I just say it into the tape recorder. As for my inspiration, I haven’t changed my views much since I was about 12 really, I’ve just got a 12-year-old mentality. When I was in school I had a brother who was into Kerouac and he gave me On The Road to read when I was 12 years old. That’s still a big influence.

The cut up method of writing that Burroughs and Brion Gysin invented in 1959 can perhaps be thought of as conjuring the dream state of any piece of text. Burroughs described the process in The Cut Up Method (1963), and included at the end of his essay a cut up version of what he had just written, which perfectly demonstrates the process and its poetic value:


The cut variation images shift sense advantage in processing to sound sight to sound. Bowie: “I will sit right down, waiting for the gift of sound and vision.” No advantage from knowing. “And I will sing, waiting for the gift of sound and vision.” We can now product accident to his color of vowels. “Blue, blue, electric blue / That’s the colour of my room / Where I will live.” Systematic derangement: seeing and places. “Blue, blue.” Cut back.

If you find yourself in London soon, check out the exhibition David Bowie is at the Victoria and Albert Museum (modestly, “The world’s greatest museum of art and design”), 23 March – 11 August 2013:

The V&A has been given unprecedented access to the David Bowie Archive to curate the first international retrospective of the extraordinary career of David Bowie – one of the most pioneering and influential performers of modern times. David Bowie is will explore the creative processes of Bowie as a musical innovator and cultural icon, tracing his shifting style and sustained reinvention across five decades.

The V&A’s Theatre and Performance curators, Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh have selected more than 300 objects that will be brought together for the very first time. They include handwritten lyrics, original costumes, fashion, photography, film, music videos, set designs, Bowie’s own instruments and album artwork.