Stanley Lieber (stanleylieber) wrote,
Stanley Lieber

Heathen, 2003

"Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity."

With these words, David Bowie launched the final album of his musical career.

For free, on the Internet.

    "I welcome all you web travellers to the first community driven Internet site that focuses on music, film, literature, painting and more, where you can interact with all the members of our adventurous new project, knowing that this is an on-growing builder, added to constantly, and that you will definitely be entertained (sometimes unwittingly)."

The music press was skeptical, but interested. Previous experiments by artists such as Prince had produced mixed results.


Heathen was produced by Tony Visconti, who last collaborated with Bowie on his 1980 album, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). He had also lent his talents to most of Bowie's classic 1970's albums, including the celebrated Berlin trilogy of Low, 'Heroes' and Lodger, on which Mr. Bowie and Brian Eno greeted the punk upheaval with their own merger of the experimental and the visceral.

It had been an interesting, if troubled business. But the two men had hardly spoken to each other in twenty years. Bowie's 2002 phone call took Visconti completely by surprise. Why this attempt to mend fences, now, of all times? And what was the story behind this new material? Did Bowie even care about music anymore?

According to Columbia Records Chairman Don Ienner, "David Bowie is simply one of the most distinctive, influential and exciting artists of our time, and Heathen is a remarkable addition to his incredible body of work." Not a bad endorsement, coming from the record company Bowie had only just spurned.

Something didn't ring true. But Visconti tentatively agreed to work on the new songs.

Bowie was ecstatic (or at least, as ecstatic as he tended to become).

    "I've made over 25 studio albums, and I think probably I've made two real stinkers in my time, and some not-bad albums, and some really good albums. I'm proud of what I've done. In fact it's been a good ride."

With his enthusiasm now fully engaged, Bowie insisted upon a bevy of unusual collaborators.

Predictably, within a few weeks Bowie's interest had started to wane. In the end, almost none of the collaborative material was used. When challenged by Visconti he quoted himself from a 1975 interview:

    "I get so much fan mail it has to be handled by a computer."

Then, things got weird.

On the set of The Man Who Fell To Earth Bowie had asked the makeup crew to create several life masks from his face. These had been stored in his vaults, awaiting a proper venue for exhibition. Or perhaps they were being hidden from his enemies, treasured as items of acute occult power.

In 1976, David Bowie considered his future. He decided to produce a small number of replica life masks, cast in white plaster, and distribute them among his closest allies in the music business. (He would later attribute this decision to "cocaine psychosis").

By 1980, David Bowie had begun to fret about his future. Using the 1976 replica of the 1975 life mask, the Bowie from 1980 merged with the Bowie from 2003, absorbing and destroying his older, weaker counterpart. This was the culmination of forces that had been put into motion centuries before. The pact had been completed. The plan had worked. David Bowie had escaped the 1980s.

"I'm aware it's good work."

    "I tried to make a checklist of what exactly the album is about and abandonment was in there, isolation," he said. "And I thought, well, nothing's changed much. At 33 -- I'm sorry, at 55 -- I don't really think it's going to change very much. As you get older, the questions come down to about two or three. How long? And what do I do with the time I've got left? When it's taken that nakedly, these are my subjects. And it's like, well, how many times can you do this? And I tell myself, actually, over and over again. The problem would be if I was too self-confident and actually came up with resolutions for these questions. But I think they're such huge unanswerable questions that it's just me posing them, again and again."

Not everyone was convinced. The multiple realities, time travel and self-possession conceit seemed like weighty business for a pop star. But really, whichever Bowie was now dominant, just what was going on in his head?




full album .zip file


01. Sunday
02. New Killer Star
03. Afraid
04. Looking For Water
05. You've Got A Habit Of Leaving
06. I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spaceship
07. 5:15 The Angels Have Gone
08. I Would Be Your Slave
09. The Mysteries
10. Heathen (The Rays)
11. Bring Me The Disco King

Who knows?

The infamous 1980 interview recently re-published at may provide a clue:

    "The absolute transformation of everything that we ever thought about music will take place within 10 years, and nothing is going to be able to stop it."

    "I see absolutely no point in pretending that it's not going to happen. I'm fully confident that copyright, for instance, will no longer exist in 10 years, and authorship and intellectual property is in for such a bashing."

The article continued:

    In the 10-odd years that Bowie has been a star, he has recorded some of the most important music of the post-Beatles era, and although he is still largely known for the raft of ground-breaking albums he released in the Seventies, his work since then has been equally fascinating, and almost as prescient. If you were to compile Bowie's alternative greatest hits, and limited your selection to songs recorded in the last year, you'd have a collection of some of his finest work.


After 2003, Bowie abandoned music, supposedly for good, and turned once again to painting and the fine arts. Media that, so far, had proven relatively resistant to illegal file sharing schemes.

Paradoxically, singles, branded with the Heathen trade dress but conspicuously lacking any of the album's eleven actual tracks, continued to be released well into the 2010s. Fans assumed the material was culled from Bowie's vaults of material recorded prior to 2003.

One such release featured a passage of electric piano performed by the musician's (at the time of release) two-year-old daughter, Lexi. This sent fans into yet another frenzy of speculation. Was he, or was he not, recording again?

The Pullman Group's 1997 issue of Bowie Bonds, asset-backed securities of current and future revenues of 25 albums (287 songs) that David Bowie recorded before 1990, continued to flourish. The success of Apple's iTunes and other legal online music retailers led to a renewed interest in Bowie's back catalog and Pullman Bonds in general.

David Bowie continued to make money from his early music, years after both copyright and paper currency had dissolved into the mists of time.

His ultimate fate remained in question.

Tags: 1975, 1976, 1980, 2003, album, david_bowie, fiction, history, music

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