David Bowie’s Mask

Many feel “Changes” mapped out the strategic plan for David Bowie‘s career, as he adopted and discarded new personae every few albums.* However, the mime sketch “The Mask,” with helpful narration, included in the 1969 promotional video Love You Till Tuesday (beginning at 11:05) may sketch Bowie’s career even better than “Changes,” showing a man whose personal identity was lost behind a mask he became unable to take off. Did we ever really know David Jones, or just the series of David Bowie masks he wore?

A few of the songs featured in the rest of the half hour video are British folk rock-lite performed by Feathers, made up of Bowie, John Hutchinson and Bowie’s then girlfriend Hermione Farthingale, but the rest of the video features Bowie alone. Most of these songs are from Bowie’s self-titled 1967 Deram debut (the rest have been released on various compilations of his early, pre-stardom singles; all but one of these songs is now included in the Deluxe Edition reissue of the Deram album).

There was one late addition to the video, an early version of “Space Oddity” (available as a bonus track on the Deluxe Edition of the Space Oddity album). The song and video are “interesting,” in the non-committal sense of that word. It would take Gus Dudgeon’s later production to turn the song into Bowie’s breakthrough single. At the time, many thought it simply a novelty song tied to the moon landing, but its outer space setting (and tale of alienation) opened new worlds for Bowie to exploit and launched his career.

In his new book The Age of Bowie, Paul Morley offers the intriguing observation that if Bowie had never recorded again after his debut — and the sales certainly didn’t warrant a follow up, hence his then manager Kenneth Pitt producing this promotional video in an attempt to rekindle interest — it might well have later been rediscovered as a great “lost album” that relied as much on British music hall traditions as rock, aligning it with contemporary Kinks or solo Scott Walker (but not nearly as distinctive as either). But Bowie did continue to record and eventually found his audience, or audiences, since each new personae seemed to gain him new listeners (and lose a few of the old ones), leaving the debut to become largely forgotten.  Which may explain why I had never seen this video (well, that and the fact that it was not officially released to the public until 1984).

* I have argued there is a “Continuity Beneath Bowie’s Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes


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