Editor’s Note: “The Night the Starman Fell” is a tribute series compiled and edited by Music Editor, Elise Hillinger. The following is a tribute submitted by Karl Fink.
CASE FILE – 1.0utside
We all know by now that David Bowie has died. One could say he had predicted his own future cult status with his final work Blackstar, or perhaps he crafted that future, knowing the inevitable outcome of all life. I would argue that Bowie has been peering into and influencing the future long before his most recent and final work. To say that many of his albums and lyrics of the past were prescient would not be far-fetched.
The internet had crawled up from the stinking slime bath that was its beginning, when the likes of BBS’s and Netscape were a lo-fi look into a future yet realized. Some out there, especially the progenitors of the internet and those who were the cyberpunks of that period were seeing a certain technological radicalization to come. They too, it seemed, were set on inciting that future. At the same time we saw the popularization of old dead pagan religions and a new occult fascination that was on the rise as many sought a more meaningful alternative to the pop decadence of 70’s and 80’s. Technology and it’s common usage was the accurately recognized new frontier; One where Cowboy Case could wrestle with artificial intelligences on a crystalline megapixel beach. David Bowie was well aware of this inevitability; he eventually staked his own fortune on it.
“Exhilarating & Terrifying”
– David Bowie & Jeremy Paxman on BBC Newsnight
Not unlike Elon Musk betting on the future advancement of us all, David Bowie saw where we were, and he wrote about it, he put it to music. What lies ahead for humanity is just as uncertain if not more so from this point on. This is the very essence of this article. Welcome to The Outside…
Bowie speaks of anxiety, the turn of time and the new religions of blood, chrome and a new art form. The long title of the album 1.0utside “the Ritual Art-Murder of Baby Grace Blue: A non-linear Gothic Drama Hyper-Cycle” and also “The Diaries of Nathan Adler” focus on a future where the newest art medium is human life; and the murder and mutilation of it in an uncaring tech driven world. Seen Black Mirror? Yeah, like that.
LEON TAKES US OUTSIDE
The opening scenes of The Outside start much like a film, the stream of consciousness download of “Leon Takes Us Outside” begins with a dark and echoing city night. A voice emerges, dates, from the future or past, which all seem to hold meaning, as if we should know them, as if they hold some historical significance. The story quickly dives into a world altogether strange, and yet not completely unfamiliar, in which murder can be viewed as art, technology is the body, and waking life is hard to differentiate from a dream. These are all recurrent themes in the cyberpunk genre and they are heavily drawn from for the lyrical and dialogue driven “Drama” that unfolds. The concept of Art/Crime, artistic crime or criminal art is featured throughout the story.
We might look to artist Damien Hirst for the kind of Art/Crime Bowie eludes to. We might even see the spectacle of Youtube as a form of art butchery. Is it art, crime or trash?
The Black Sheep With The Golden Horns (Divided)
– Damien Hirst
“It’s happening now”
The main focus of the story is Nathan Adler, one of several characters all voiced and played by Bowie on the album. Nathan is a grizzled agent in a newly formed government entity that investigates suspected Art Crime. He is tasked to investigate the murder, motives, drama and circumstances surrounding murders, to then determine if the murder is art, or indeed trash.
In the first words of the title track; “Now, not tomorrow, yesterday. It’s happening now, not tomorrow” he captures the sentiment that indeed we were already living in “a” future, that in fact it has occurred.
0.1 – EXERPT
“My name is Nathan Adler, or Detective Professor Adler in my circuit. I’m attached to the division of Art-Crime Inc., the recently instigated corporation funded by an endowment from the Arts Protectorate of London”
– Excerpt from 1.0utside liner notes
DETECTIVE PROFESSOR – NATHAN ADLER
THE HEARTS FILTHY LESSON
“The filthy lesson of the heart is when you really understand that you die”
– David Bowie
0.2 – EXCERPT
“A dark spirited pluralist began the dissection of 14-year-old “Baby Grace Blue”. The arms of the victim were pin-cushioned with 16 hypodermic needles, pumping in four major preservatives, colouring agents, memory information transport fluids and some kind of green stuff”
– Excerpt from 1.0utside liner notes
A SMALL PLOT OF LAND
“Brains talk, but the will to live is dead and prayer can’t, travel so far these days”
0.3 – EXCERPT
“The stomach area was carefully flapped open and the intestines removed, disentangled and re-knitted as it were, into a small net or web and hung between the pillars of the murder-location, the grand damp doorway of Oxford Town Museum of Modern Parts, New Jersey. The Limbs of Baby were then severed from the torso. Each limb was implanted with a small, highly sophisticated, binary code translator which in turn was connected to small speakers attached to far ends of each limb. The self-contained mini amplifiers were then activated, amplifying the decoded memory info-transport substances, revealing themselves as little clue haiku’s, small verses detailing memories of other brutal acts, well documented by the ROMbloids.”
– Excerpt from 1.0utside liner notes
THE VICTIM – BABY GRACE BLUE
SEGUE – BABY GRACE (A HORRID CASSETTE)
“They’ve put me on these.. Ramona put me on these interest drugs”
-Baby Grace Blue
I remember well the tiny coffee shop punk rock shows in the small California coastal town where I grew up, where a mutual friend and body modifier would pierce his cheeks with needles, line his arms with pink and green hypodermics, destroy his chest with broken light bulbs that he had just chewed; we were all in awe but unafraid. In retrospect and through doing research for this article, I’m astounded at the connections and allusions that Bowie seemed to pluck from the vibrating air of that time. Bowie states in an interview (linked below), “If we spill blood and appease the gods, maybe we’ll get into the next millennium ok” I can’t help but wonder if in my own experience, I had been witness to this sacrifice to what would become our future. If indeed it had any meaning at all. Was it a symptom or sign of the things to come? Were other people doing this? Self mutilation was not only a release, but a proof of life, a visceral experience which necessarily created an endorphin rush, a most natural high. This wasn’t the cry of a bunch weepy kids bemoaning nothing, it felt like power, a release. Combined with our intense adoption of technology, which was still made available at a slow enough rate to be integrated and fully understood, we combined body and machine in a way that may never be fully reversed.
HALLO SPACE BOY
“This chaos is killing me”
This brings us to the character Chris Burden, committing art through his own version of self mutilation. By the light of neon and city smog, and with hard driving and kinetic devotion the album takes on the energy of a furnace run amok.
A SUSPECT – CHRIS BURDEN
0.4 – EXCERPT
“Spurred on by Chris Burden’s having himself shot by his collaborator in a gallery, tied up in a bag, thrown on a highway and then crucified upon the top of a Volkswagen, stories circulated thru’ the nasty-neon of N.Y. night that a young Korean artist was the self-declared patient of wee-hours surgery in cut and run operations at not-so-secret locations in the city. If you found out about it, you could go and watch this guy having bits and pieces removed under anaesthetic.”
– Exerpt from 1.0utside liner notes
As the album progresses we experience the majesty of Mike Garson’s keys set to the slow build of The Motel. It rings like a cry in the dark, alone but surrounded by teaming millions. The lyric “We’re living in a safety zone” feels like the confession of some corporate wage slaves living in plastic squalor, coffin hotel rooms that look like the inside of a city bus with molded plastic and the smell of street grim, like the outside of a mini mart with those awful fluorescent lights.
One can almost imagine massive buildings rising in the cavernous mega cities of our near future, and the pitiful lives within it. This in my opinion is the cyberpunk future we sometimes imagine, a Neon Dystopia if you will.
“There is no hell like an old hell”
Perhaps the voice of a paranoid bystander, or the confident boast of a true psychopath, we focus next on Leon Blank. Whether he actually has something to hide or he merely feels the pressure of the nearing investigation, one could be lead to believe this is a character torn between seeking fame and denying his nature. Perhaps if the gruesome display is deemed worthy, he would come forward to adoring fans.
I HAVE NOT BEEN TO OXFORD TOWN
“All’s well, 20th century dies”
One can see parallels between one Leon Blank and recent spree killers. People seeking fame and attention, convinced of their greatness, but weak and ineffectual in reality. It almost seems like this is the logical outcome of the fact that every voice can be heard online, but not every voice is worth being heard. Perhaps this is the cold truth that awaits us now. Though we can all hear you, we are not listening, and what’s worse, nobody cares. The upsetting reality of this can spell disaster and lead to heinous acts in misguided attempts at self aggrandizement.
A SUSPECT – LEON BLANK
Taken outside the context of Leon Blank, No Control rings with the voice of a suppressed and brow beaten people. In this duality, it’s as if we are seeing the future of surveillance and the stamping out of personal freedom juxtaposed with the wonder of so much knowledge and interconnectedness that we experience today. Can the tension of these two forces continue to tighten? Is the byproduct the wasted creativity of generations? It’s as though our human essence is the very fuel that feeds our symbiotic relationship to technology. Technology is after all dead without us. The surveillance state only exists because we nourish it. Whether seeking an alibi in the plodding of I Have Not Been To Oxford Town, or sinking into the deep paranoia of No Control, we find a unifying vein of the unintended art of technology and the intentional technology of art in our time.
“Stay away from the future, don’t tell God your plans, it’s all deranged, no control”
We next hear the lonely lamentation of the art drug and DNA print salesman Algeria Touchshriek. We can imagine him sitting in his shop, looking down on the majesty of an urban deluge of life and needle white lights reaching up from below. Can loneliness drive a man to murder? Is this a suspect?
A SUSPECT – ALGERIA TOUCHSHRIEK
SEGUE – ALGERIA TOUCHSHRIEK
“We could have great conversations, lookin’ through windows for demons, watchin’ the young advance all electric”
In single pointed obsession The Voyeur Of Utter Destruction (As Beauty) paints the image of one who finds beauty in found things, the witnessing of existence is in a way, the witnessing of the destruction of everything. The degradation of all things is a constant which we can observe to varying degrees. In keeping with this observation, it is theorized that the universe itself is not only tearing itself apart, but that someday it could become so equally divided that no one thing would influence another. I believe this song speaks to the beauty of that very destruction, in all of it’s manifestations, viewing the retina destroying sun, the mortal struggle of offspring, the procession of the heavens, it can be viewed as art, and it is all happening in total disregard of our observations. It is a smack in the face of the webs we weave, our feeble attempt at order could in fact be an explosion, a cold flash, as chrome.
THE VOYEUR OF UTTER DESTRUCTION (AS BEAUTY)
“ The need, to have seen it all, the voyeur of utter destruction, as beauty”
A SUSPECT – RAMONA A. STONE
Described as a futurist in the liner notes, Ramona A. Stone is presented lyrically as someone with an agenda. One wonders if the term futurist is simply a way to describe someone who embraces technology in such a way that she had in a sense, lost her humanity. The term “good timing drone” indicates some sort of new model, perhaps part machine. As a suspect the lyrics indeed point to a need to be recognized, “I am with name”.
RAMONA A. STONE (I AM WITH NAME)
“She should say: twitch & stream, It’ll end in chrome, Night of the female good time drone”
The character could also represent the early struggle of those working in digital media to be recognized. It wasn’t long ago that DJ’s were, and possibly are, still derided for not spinning on real vinyl but instead using CD’s and now fully software driven decks for mixing. In fact there seemed to be a troglodytic thread running through the music and art scenes where anything expressed, art, music or otherwise, which was created with machine assistance, was considered trash and instantly dismissed. Improvements however have allowed many to demonstrate individual finesse and control within their respective art to be finally recognized. The other side of that blade is the glut of no talent, pitch corrected pop detritus that clogs the airwaves. Good timing drone indeed. Maybe I should apply for Art Crime Inc. and do something about it.
This brings us to Wishful Beginnings. In what is perhaps the voice of the killer, there is a gross detachment as the subject narrates what must be the torturous last moments of Baby Grace. The killer repeats, “The pain must feel like snow” as the tic- tic sound of binary speakers click to life as if induced by mainline interest drugs.
As Nathan investigates a hunch, he is lead to the Kreutzburg, Berlin. The seat of the Caucasian Suicide Temple led by one Ramona A. Stone. It seems that Inspector Adler is unable to determine if he is remembering something from his past, or if this is in fact the present. His scrutiny of the suspects intensifies with We Prick You, a relentless exercise of black IC and (insert hat color) hacker . One gets the sense of oppression, as if anything sacred had long since been forgotten, secrets are a myth, and needling the subject is a matter of course.
WE PRICK YOU
“All the little rose-kissed foxy girls
Shoes, shoes, little white shoes
Where have all the flowers gone?
All the little fragile champion boys
Toys, toys, little black toys
Dripping on the end of a gun”
I think of surveillance cameras on every street corner, back doors in software, and tapped communications. Was Bowie telling us what to expect in this brave new world? Could it be a world where the only secrets kept are those held by the power holders at Slavery Incorporated? Where have all the flowers gone?
SEGUE – NATHAN ADLER PT 1
One thing is for sure, in the present/future tense of the album, a level of global interconnected jet setting is established and mainstream. Travel in this supposed cyberpunk future seems cheap and readily available to many. One could see this as an allusion to the internet, why go when you are already virtually there? This speaks to the disconnect that some feel. And it explains the drive to go back to some time in our history where lives were simpler. Each generation I think has a sense of the good old days, and how the ”now” is a series of confusing movements across some threshold nobody can detect until it’s already past. It makes one feel…deranged.
“Funny how secrets travel
I’d start to believe
if I were to bleed”
Immersed in the real, and the surreal, or some derivation of the two, we witness an awesome sight in Thru These Architects Eyes. Again through the eyes of the Voyeur, possibly Leon Blank, the beauty and excitement of a living city comes into view and our attention is called to the many aspects of this sprawling metropolis. I imagine scenes from Blade Runner, a near future of living buildings, alive with pathways of light, the flow of unfiltered information, and the tiny lives that inhabit it.
THRU THESE ARCHITECTS EYES
“Cold winter bleeds
on the girders of Babel
This stone boy watching the crawling land
Rings of flesh and the towers of iron
The steaming caves and the rocks and the sand”
SEGUE: NATHAN ADLER PT 2
In the final song Strangers When We Meet there is a sense of sad separation, a long unfinished goodbye. This song originally appeared in The Buddha of Suburbia but has always been a welcome end to 1.0utside. It speaks of the pain of separation, and the sadness of not having had a connection through time. Perhaps this is a goodbye to the -us- of the past. This song seems a fitting end to a sprawling album.
STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET
Interestingly, at least two more albums were in the works, or at least planned as part of a trilogy of OUTSIDE albums. A recent article with collaborator Brian Eno quotes him as having mentioned that some of his last conversations with David Bowie before his death, were of the desire to get back to work on the Outside trilogy. The information available about this (1.0utside) – Cyberpunk as Fuck – album is exhaustive. Since Bowie died I am pleased to find so much more available, finally unlocked and released in a way that only the matrix can. It seems there was a small group of devoted followers of this album, myself included, that really saw the depth and breadth of what this project is and could have been.
As a musician myself, I have been greatly influenced by this and subsequent albums; Earthling, Heathen and Hours. There is a thread running through all of them and one can hear the influence of each album on the next. They should be taken in together in my opinion and I feel that one can gain a better understanding of not only David Bowie, but of the world he saw at that time. His prescience did not go unnoticed and we are the fortunate benefactors of his works. As a student of speculative future, which all of us who bother to read this website can probably claim to some degree to be, I feel 1.0utside is The Cyberpunk Album. It is about the near future of then just as much as it is now. I think we have yet to discover the depth of the greatness and horror that was put forth here in his words and music, only the future will tell. While I am greatly saddened by the passing of David Bowie, I feel that we who have lived during his life are so fortunate to have been witness to his art and because of that the ember of his creations will continue to burn into that weird and unknowable future that he seemed to hail from. Until we meet again it would seem, there is enough heat and light left from the remaining works of that dead star, to keep us a little warm in the cold and dark future we seem so determined to get to.
I’ve included more links below for further listening and reading. As I said there is so much to discover about this album. Feel free to comment with any additional or interesting links below.
David Bowie – Leon (Leon Takes Us Outside – Suite)
David Bowie – Something Really Fishy (The 1 Outside Outtakes)
AKA (The Enemy Is Fragile)
The National Interview –
Thank you Zig Dust and contributors at The Outside Page for keeping it alive, you are Heroes.
Pushing Ahead of the Dame – Insight from Brian Eno
Eno on Bowie’s Last Days –
These three albums came out in order, after 1.0utside. If you don’t know them yet, please have a listen. You might find a David Bowie you hadn’t known existed. As I said, these albums really give some insight into the evolution that followed.