Playing Favorites: Bowie & Anthony Powell

This second “Plying Favorites” is just that – play, possibly of entertainment to no one but myself, a variation of Six Degrees of Separation.

Anthony Powell is the author of a novel in twelve volumes, A Dance to the Music of Time, which I believe is primarily about how our minds make narratives of our lives, but is more generally spoken of as being about British society from 1920s to  early 1970s. It’s far better known in the UK than the US.

I had to laugh when I reached page 215 of Hilary Spurling’s biography Anthony Powell when she describes Powell’s last attempt to write for Warner Brother’s Teddington Film Studios:

The last treatment he worked on –‘ like the final labour imposed by an enchanter into whose power one has fallen through imprudent search for hidden treasure — was a biopic about the nineteenth-century philanthropist Dr. Thomas Barnardo, who founded a chain of homes for destitute and abandoned children. 

David Bowie’s father, Haywood Stenton Jones,* worked as a publicist for St. Barnardo’s for 35 years, after failing to succeed as an entrepreneur  in theatrical production. Remote and meaningless, but amusing, nonetheless.

There is another “six degrees” path, this time through Mustique. A number of  members of the Tennant family are mentioned in Spurling’s biography. Anthony and Lady Violet Powell were friends of the 2nd Baron Glenconner, father to Colin Tennant, the 3rd Baron, who bought the island of Mustique in the Caribbean, which became a retreat for stars and royalty and the site of heavy partying in the 1980s. This is where Bowie once had his Balinese styled house, Mandalay.

I had wondered if Spurling would link Anthony Powell to Stephen Tennant, but she does not. He certainly knew of Stephen**, and Spurling suggests it was through their friendship with Christopher Tennant, 2nd Baron Glenconner and his wife that V.S. Naipaul came to Christopher’s uncle Stephen’s Wiltshire estate.

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*Intriguing family history on Time Detectives’ blog, but lacks citations. The first paternal ancestor of Bowie’s to learn to read and write,  his great-grandfather, was born in 1851, the son of a farm worker.

**Powell is cited in Philip Hoare’s Serious Pleasures as saying Edith Sitwell referred to Stephen Tennant and Siegfired Sasson as “The Old Earl and Little Lord Fauntleroy” (132).

 

 

 

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Playing Favorites: Bowie-Yentob-Pullman

Other than being two of my favorites, David Bowie and novelist Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials, The Book of Dust) have nothing much in common beyond having been born in post-war England within a few months of each other (1/47; 10/46). That, and having interesting minds and reading widely.

Now I find that BBC One, which I cannot watch in the US, has aired a new documentary by Alan Yentob, Angels and Daemons featuring Philip Pullman. While he seems to have had a busy career in the UK these past 43 years, most of the Bowie community will, I expect, agree that Yentob’s supreme accomplishment is Cracked Actor, during which he accompanies Bowie at his most vulnerable during the Aladdin Sane tour. When he watched Cracked Actor, Nicolas Roeg knew that he had found his star for The Man Who Fell to Earth, in spite of Bowie’s meager film experience totaling a few minutes of screen time. The Bowie that Yentob captured seemed himself an alien visitor. 

Perhaps the best scene, one of the strangest in a strange filmscape, is Bowie singing along with Areatha Franklin’s “Natural Woman,” remarking on a fly in his milk, and questioning the wisdom of placing a wax museum in the desert. Start at around 5:17 in this clip. If the limo and chauffeur look familiar, it is because Roeg used them in his film, too.

In 1997, on the occasion of Bowie’s 50th birthday, Yentob interviewed him again. He’s a good interviewer, asking interesting questions and not interrupting his subject. I hope that Angels and Daemons will find a way into the US market.

Pullman and Bowie share one other thing: a respect for children and young people struggling against the totalitarian drive for power of mind and soul crushing adults. In recent weeks, with the emergence of high school activists against automatic rifles, Bowie has been quoted a lot (“And these children that you spit on/As they try to change their worlds/Are immune to your consultations/They’re quite aware of what they’re going through).

Pullman’s child heroes are certainly “quite aware of what they’re going through.”

With Bowie, his support for children and young people isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But I have seen more than a few, some public figures, many not, say that the sheer existence of Bowie made it possible to get through their teens. As Bowie entered his 50s and onwards, he became a patron to young visual and musical artists. For his first return to the stage, and one of his last public performances following his heart attack in 2004, he was the youngest person on stage by roughly 30 years when he appeared with Arcade Fire. See “Wake Up,” always a pleasure to return to.

fedora cropped

 

 

Philip Hoare’s RisingTideFallingStar: David Bowie, Cosmos-politan, 2

cometbowie
Woodcut of Great Comet of 1577 over Prague

David Bowie died during the evening of January 10, 2016 in New York City, but much of the world was sleeping, and so woke to the news on the 11th, the news traveling like a cross-continental comet. 

He was cremated, according to the death certificate filed with his will, on January 12 in New Jersey; the will directed that if it were not possible to cremate his body in Bali “in accordance with the Buddhist rituals,“* his executor should scatter his ashes off the island’s coast.

Smoke rising; ashes falling.

Philip Hoare notes in RisingTideFallingStar that Guglielmo Marconi believed that his transAtlantic radio transmitters “might also pick up the cries of sailors long since drowned in the Atlantic” (39). Thomas Jerome Newton, the alien in The Man Who Fell to Earth, recorded an LP, The Visitor, in hopes of radio play that would allow his wife, if she were alive, to receive a message from him on their home planet. He wouldn’t be making the journey home.

My feeds have been nearly all Bowie for the past three days and will continue into tomorrow. 

I wonder if all these transmissions, bouncing between towers, betwist satellites, are being received by the starman, as Hoare calls him.

Hello, Spaceboy.

Everyone Says Hi.


Part of a continuing series of posts in response to Philip Hoare’s RisingTideFallingStar, which will be available in the US in April 2018.

 

*I imagine that international air rules would require embalming, making the rites awkard at best; George Harrison was cremated in the US before being scattered in the Ganges.

Philip Hoare’s RisingTideFallingStar: Frock Coats and the End of Empire


Bowie on Outside in 1995 interview with Larry Katz: 

Outside is set at the end of the millennium. What are your thoughts about what’s in store?” Bowie: “‘I’m very positive about it. …What Brian and I are trying to do is develop a series of albums that trace the last five years of  the ‘90s. This is the first in this series or cycle of albums.’ [As it turned out, Outside was Bowie and Eno’s last recording together.]”

In the second half of Philip Hoare’s RisingTideFallingStar, Hoare visits the Royal Museums Greenwich for a personal viewing of Admiral Nelson’s undress coat worn when he was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar.

What, I wondered on first reading, is Admiral Nelson doing in a book featuring so many poets that returns again and again to Bowie?

It’s the frock coats, the frock coats with “pleated skirts [that] swung as Nelson walked. . .and gold-lace cuffs” (327). It’s also the stockings, and the emphasis in portraits on the Admiral’s “balanced” “stance,” more like a “dancer than a fighter” (323). Much of ruling is looking the part. It’s as theatrical and improbable as Bowie.

As the curators explain the fascinating construction of these amphibious woolen maritime frock coats, Hoare muses on how it would feel to be so protected, much as he earlier considered what it would be like to assume the body of a dolphin washed ashore in Provincetown: “I imagine her as a human in a dolphin wetsuit. I think of her bones, lighter than mine since they did not have to bear the full weight of gravity” (61), and the claims of the poet Oppian (AD 180) that killing dolphins is immoral because they were humans who returned to the sea, and “the righteous spirit of men in them preserves human thought and human deeds” (60). If, Hoare imagines, he could slip on Nelson’s coat, and “feel the skirts sway and bounce like a kilt,” he could “be a hero, just for a minute or two” (328). 

In fact, Nelson was not a handsome sailor but a small admiral who had lost an arm in battle and was blinded in one eye, above which was a scar, “as if he’d been ripped by lighting, a zig-zag rip” (324). His scar reminds me of the one on Pierrot in Ashes to Ashes, and during the production of David Bowie Is, the curators took Hoare to see the costume up close, which is described both in this book and a passage from a profile of Hoare in The Guardian:

 “There lay a cross between a plywood cradle and a semi-circular, space-age coffin. Like the casket of a mummy. In there was the Pierrot costume for the “Ashes to Ashes” video. It was made of buckram and silver fabric and sequins, but it was stiff and looked like the chrysalis of an insect which had vacated it.  It was in the shape of David Bowie, as if he’d been teleported out of this world and left this reliquary we were worshipping. I reached out but I couldn’t touch it. It would have been too much. It would have broken the spell.” 

As Hoare leaves the Nelson vaults, he notices a sequin had fallen from the coat, “a bit of stardust,” and dutifully returns it to the curator.

But what do these coats have to do with Bowie? RisingTideFallingStar covers the past five hundred years. It is, on one level, about the rise of Empire, the allure of the New World, the migrations of peoples, exploration, cruelty and destruction, and making it new.

It begins with Shakespeare’s The Tempest and a shipwreck halfway to the New World on Prospero’s island, likely Bermuda. Bowie spent a lot of time there is the late 1990s after selling his place on Mustique. He was poised then between Old and New Worlds, becoming, finally a New World New Yorker. He, like Hoare, was a child of a near-dead Empire, and when I look at Bowie’s wardrobe for Outside and Earthling, the End of Empire (millennium, century, and decade) comes to mind.

There is, of course, the slashed Union Jack coat for Earthling designed by Alexander McQueen, and some of Earthling’s titles allude to WWII, e.g. “Battle for Britain (The Letter)” and “Seven Years in Tibet,” but the coat itself is the most eloquent statement. 

I’ve long been fascinated by the frock coat Bowie wore on the Outside tour. Why cobwebs? But when Hoare mentions Nelson’s coat that the admiral “wore at the Battle of the Nile… now sadly injured by moths” (317), my thinking changed. It’s described as “a dark, wool frock coat veiled with torn embroidered tulle, and a pair of high-waist, full dark trousers dribbled and smudged with paint.”

Torn embroidered tulle and lacy ruffled cuffs, deliberately distressed or delicate: this is the end of the Empire.

Sailor’s Journals Indexed, Part 5: Visual Artists and Their Works

Bowie spent a lot of time visiting galleries in 1998 to 2003, especially in NYC and London. Sailor’s Journals include numerous snapshots of the paintings and artists.

After his death, the estate put many of the works he had bought throughout his years of collecting for auction at Sotheby’s. I think there were several reasons for this. They were doing no good in the vaults. For the younger artists, having a piece that once belonged to David Bowie auctioned at Sotheby’s would be of tremendous benefit to their careers, even more so than having it donated to a museum. They now have a sales history at Sotheby’s and an identity as an artist Bowie collected.

But for the two masterpieces, it’s different. In the journals, Bowie simply answers a fan question that it is true he has a Tintoretto and a Rubens, but doesn’t name them. I don’t know if the Rubens was auctioned. If it is very small, it might have been kept in case of a sudden need for portable wealth, who knows?

This list includes fashion designers and architects.
A.J., 3/29/99
Armitage, Kenneth, 3/10/03
Body Parts, 10/29/98
Boshier, Derek, 5/17/99, 5/9/00
Bowie’s art works: 8/24/98; 9/10/98; Mini Cooper 9/14/98
Branca, Glen, 1/24/99, 5/1/18/01

Brown, Cecily, 2/8/00
Burne-Jones, 3/10/03

Chapman Brothers, 10/22/98
Chalmers, Catherine, 5/9/00
Charles, Michael Ray, 5/17/99, 12/16/99, 10/1/00
Chertavian, Kate [Bowie’s curator/mentor in collecting], 9/5/98 
Cornell, Stephen, 9/14/98, 9/17/98, 9/21/98
Currin,  10/29/98
Dada, 10/29/98; 2/20, 26/99
Dali, 3/10/03

David, Jacques-Louis, 9/16/98
Death of Marat, 9/16/98
De Meuron, Pierre,  9/22/98
Diarchy, 3/10.03
Dix, Otto,  10/29/98
Duffy, Brian, 5/9/00
Eames, Charles,  9/14/98
Eames, Ray, 9/14/98
Eddy, 10/4/00
Emin, Tracy, 3/10/03
Epstein, Jacob, 2/24/99
Fragonard, Honore, 1/27/99

Free Wheelin’ Bob Dylan album cover, 5/17/99
Freud, Lucien, 3/10/03

Garnett, Sandy, 7/30/00
Gleason, Matt, 11/20/98

Goldsworthy, Rupert, 11/20/98
Hamilton, Page, 5/9/00, 5/16/00
Hockney, Peter,3/10/03

Hawkinson, Tim, 10/29/98
Herzog, Jacques, 9/22/98
Hirst, Damien 8/23/98; 9/10/98, 9/14/98, 9/17/98
Hockney, 5/17/99, 8/15/99, 5/9/00, 3/10/03
Hume, Gary, 3/10/03
Horne, Rebecca, 10/29/98
Hunt, Holman 9/6/98

Indoor Flag, 9/16/98
Johns, Jasper,  9/16/98
Jones, Allan, 5/17/99, 5/9/00
Kersel, Martin, 10/29/98
Lanyon, Peter, 5/22/00
Light of the World  9/6/98

Hunt_Light_of_the_World
A poster of Holman Hunt’s Light of the World was hung, as it was in so many homes at the time, in Bowie’s grandmother’s house.

Loebs, Damian  12/6/00
Longos, 1/18/01
Man Ray, 1/29/99
McQueen, Alexander, 9/5/98, 9/16/98  

Moore, Thurston,  10/22/98
Moss, Kate, 8/31/98
Men in Cities, 1/18/01
Mugler,  Thierry, 1/23/99
Nauman, Bruce,  10/29/98
Nitsch, Rudolf, 8/23/98
Ockenfeld, Frank, 3/29/99

Odd Nerdum, 1/30/00
Ofili, Chris, 10/29/98, 5/17/99
Oursler, Tony, 11/20/98, 1/24/99, 5/16/00
Picabia,  8/24/9;
Picasso,  8/24/98; 9/10/98
Pollock, Jackson,1/9/01
POP, 9/10/98

Rubens, Peter Paul, 3/10/03
Rock Drill, 2/24/99
Rock, Mick, 1/17/01
Rodin, Auguste,  2/24/99
Saville, Jenny, 9/24/00
Schiele, Egon, 9/6/98

Schnabel, Julien, 11/15/1998
Schwarzkogler, Rudolf,  8/23/98

Sensation (Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection show), 9/21/99, 9/29/99
Smith, Paul,  8/31/98
Stuff,  9/10/98
Thurlow,  10/29/98
Tintortteo, Jacopo,* 3/10/03

Turks, Gavin,  9/10/98,  9/14/98, 9/16/98, 10/22/98
Underwood, George, 11/5/02
Union Jacket 1,  9/16/98
Warhol, Andy, 8/25/98
Yoneda, Tomoka, 2/2/00
Young Americans II (Saatchi’s), 9/17/98, 10/29/98

*About the Tintoretto: From Artnet:

“The Angel foretelling Saint Catherine of Alexandria of her martyrdom (late 1570s) was acquired for £191,000 by a European collector during Sotheby’s sale of the late musician’s collection last Thursday. Immediately after making his purchase, the collector announced his plans to place the work on a long-term loan to the Rubenshouse Museum in Antwerp, Belgium, in the hope that there, the piece will be admired by many.

“Through this act of generosity the collector sought to pay dual homage to the remarkable influence that Tintoretto and Venetian painting had on Belgian artist Peter Paul Rubens, and to the legendary musician who formerly owned the work. The gesture is intended to honor Bowie’s life-long love of and generosity towards museums and cultural institutions.”

Corrections are most sincerely welcomed. This project got a little out of hand, shall we say. I am deeply grateful to Noel Barretto for his help in improving Part 1.

Sailor’s Journal Indexed, Part 3: Writers and Publications

More like a half a droplet in the seas than the tip of the proverbial iceberg, here we have the few authors and works mentioned in the brief Sailor’s Journals. There aren’t quite as many authors and books in Sailor’s Journals as you might expect. On the erstwhile bowienet there was a section entirely devoted to books.

Continue reading “Sailor’s Journal Indexed, Part 3: Writers and Publications”