Monday, January 11, 2016

"I can't come to work on Friday. I have a studio session with David Bowie."

"I can't come to work on Friday. I have a studio session with David Bowie." That was the best excuse I've ever had for not going to work. It was an acceptable excuse when you were working on 48th St. in those days.

I had been in New York 6 months and the first project Glenn Branca asked me to work on with him was music for an art installation by Tony Oursler for Expo 2000 in Hanover, Germany. Tony was going erect giant orbs onto which we would project David Bowie's face while he read Tony's cut-up poetry. Glenn provided basic tracks that he sequenced and I was to play guitar over them.

We went down to Wharton Tiers' old studio on the East Side to record. I did 2 takes of an improvisation. (Tony made a video of the second, unused take and turned it into a piece called "Tritone.")

Then David Bowie arrived. He made sure to have one short conversation with each person who was there. He talked about underground comix and outsider art. He made fun of Glenn's ripped jeans.  Most of all, he was telling jokes the whole time, like he was doing a stand-up comedy routine. I think that was his way of controlling the room.

I was there when he did his takes. Tony had to put his head in an apparatus to hold it still while he filmed the reading. It couldn't have been entirely pleasant, but he did it with grace and good cheer like the legend that he was.

In the end, the budget for Expo 2000 was cut. There wasn't enough left to put on the visuals. Tony decided that he'd save the Bowie stuff for an occasion when the whole thing could be put on properly and recut the vocal track himself. The piece - "Empty Blue" - with Tony's vocal was played at the festival and a CD was included with the catalog. It still turned out a great piece.

Though to my knowledge, the Bowie version never saw the light of day.

Goodbye, David.