Music for Films: The Man Who Fell to Earth

MUSIC FOR FILMS 1 (MAY, 2022) – STOCKWELL, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH – TRANSCRIPT – PDF

TUBE ANNOUNCER:

This station is Stockwell.

LOCATION 1. STOCKWELL TUBE STATION, BOTTOM OF ESCALATORS

SOUND OF TUBE TRAIN ARRIVING AT STATION

TIM:

So I was trying to do an introduction to ‘Music for Films’, the Underground film podcast — I’m Tim — where we look at the connection between “the underground” in the sense of London’s public transport, but also underground culture, underground films. Film historian Doctor Shruti Narayanswamy, do you want to tell our listeners what just happened?

SHRUTI:

I believe Toby Jones just walked past us. Very auspicious.

TIM:

Auspicious, but also that’s the end of the show folks. Bye. Point made.

GRAMS: STAB OF MUSIC FROM ENO’s ‘MUSIC FOR FILMS‘, FADES

TIM:

See these eyes of green?

SHRUTI:

I could stare for a thousand years.

TIM:

Colder than the moon. It’s been so long… since we made our first ‘Music for Films’ about Stockwell — David Bowie’s childhood home — and ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth‘, the 1976 Nicholas Roeg film, that we’ve had to rerecord it. Or at least rerecord bits of it. And that’s why we’re back at Stockwell Tube. But if you’re listening to ‘Music for Films’ for the first time, welcome.

SHRUTI:

Hello.

TIM:

We do things a little bit differently. You might be used to podcasts where there are bits of 8-bit nostalgic music, which all sound quite jaunty.

GRAMS: 8-BIT VERISON OF ‘HEROES’, SOUNDBED

TIM:

What other things do podcasts have, usually, other than background music?

SHRUTI:

‘Hello Fresh’ sponsorships?

TIM:

Ads for mattresses. We haven’t got a Patreon. There’s no ads.

SHRUTI:

We’re not selling you gummy vitamins.

TIM:

It’s all ambient street sounds and industrial noises, all the time.

TIM:

We’re now walking up the steps rather than using the escalator at Stockwell Tube station. Would you like some Stockwell Tube station facts, Shruti Narayanswamy?

SHRUTI:

I would, yes.

TIM:

Well, Stockwell is interesting for many reasons. Perhaps the most important one is… it is “the tube”. It’s the original Tube. So the first subaqueous tunnel that was dug in London was the Rotherhithe tunnel, dug by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It was dug by hand and tiled by hand, but it went over time and over budget. So James Henry Greathead, inventor of the patented Barlow-Greathead tunneling shield —

SHRUTI:

Oh.

TIM:

— then dug a tunnel between the Tower of London and the other side of the Thames.

GRAMS: 8-BIT VERISON OF ‘HEROES’, SOUNDBED FADES

LOCATION 2. STOCKWELL TUBE STATION, STREET-LEVEL ENTRANCE

TIM:

Should we just pause here in the sort of atrium of Stockwell train station —

SHRUTI:

Yes.

TIM:

— and do this little intro? So the idea is we’re trying to take you on a kind of real-time journey from Stockwell Tube station to 40 Stansfield Road, where David Bowie lived. We’ll dawdle a bit outside and talk about some of the other interesting architectural and features you can see outside Stockwell Tube station. Then we’ll walk down Stockwell Road, it will take about ten minutes. It won’t all be clattering —

SHRUTI:

No.

TIM:

— and street sounds there’ll be some music as well, early on, but the idea is that you’re kind of walking with us. So we’ll do that for about ten or fifteen minutes then the real show will start. So if you’re listening to this on our sound map on the beekeepers.com and you’ve clicked Stockwell then you’re on this journey with us. Please stick around. You may have found our podcast ‘Music for Films’ wherever you get podcasts. You may have discovered it through an elaborate system of prisms strewn higher and yon throughout the countryside, or by carrier pigeon. I don’t fucking know how people have got here —

SHRUTI:

Alright, okay.

TIM:

They got here somehow or other. So here we are. Stockwell Tube Station was the southernmost terminus of the City and South London Railway, which was the first proper “Tube” underground railway system —

SHRUTI:

— Which tells you how much smaller the city was, if this was the southernmost terminus —

TIM:

— Stockwell was the southernmost terminal, it wasn’t for very long. So Greathead had built this sort of experimental Thames tunnel and it ran as a very, very short little train journey in this kind of bone-rattler little train, and in fact if you go to the Tower of London there’s this sort of weird TARDIS — I’ll just let this announcement go —

TFL ANNOUNCER:

Station floor may be wet and slippery. Please take extra care making your way around the station.

TIM:

We will exercise special care because the station is a little bit slippery, because it is raining outside, but it is London and you know what I always say about London —

GRAMS: ‘LONDON IN THE RAIN’ BLOSSOM DEARIE, SOUNDBED

SHRUTI:

You love London in the rain?

TIM:

With my boots on, in the rain. Blossom Dearie, dear to me. Sorry. I’ve digressed again, already, and we haven’t even actually got out the station yet. Yes, if you go to the Tower of London and you look for — I think at the moment it’s a Subway takeaway outlet — there’s this kind of weird TARDIS-like tower with no discernible function. That used to be the entrance to the Thames Subway, and it ran as this little kind of train journey that took a minute or two. You got in this rickety little bone-rattler train carriage, travelled for a couple of minutes. It didn’t really work. One of the reasons it didn’t really work was because they had a first and second class system, which meant you went down this windy staircase underground and paid a bit extra to basically just sit in this sort of padded coffin, waiting for the working class to get in the train carriage behind you. Not a very efficient system, a bit like EasyJet now —

SHRUTI:

— Not very Premium, is it? —

TIM:

— Where people are people paying for extra to basically just jump the queue and then sit in the plane waiting for all the Morlocks and knuckle-draggers to get on the plane. So actually you don’t gain any time. When it came time to build a proper underground railway for London, the first train line ran from King William Street, which is near to Monument now. The station’s gone. It’s now been kind of incorporated into all the tunnels for Crossrail, which hasn’t opened yet. Famously, it had this sudden right-angle, right turn when you got across to the other side of the Thames after London Bridge, where it just suddenly swerved. That was the northernmost terminus of the CSLR. The southernmost terminus, not for very long, was this station, Stockwell. This was, originally, the end of the line and “the Tube” described the process by which the tunnel was excavated, using the patented Barlow-Greathead shield. Whereas Brunel, when he built the Rotherhithe tunnel, it was all dug by hand and they tiled it up by not even a foot a day. It went massively over budget and over time. What Greathead managed to do with the first of his tunnels — the second ever subaqueous tunnel to be constructed, The Thames subway — was it came in on budget, on time. So even though the tunnel wasn’t a success — they then opened it as a walkway

SHRUTI:

— Oh, well that makes sense —

TIM:

— but that didn’t last very long because then Tower Bridge opened. So rather than paying to walk under the Thames, you could walk over the Thames for free. Now it’s just got — I think it’s Cable and Wireless own it — it’s just got cables in it. It was an experiment, but it was an experiment that worked because they were able to dig very fast and also they were able to dig under the road, which meant they didn’t undermine buildings, which had been a big problem with earlier underground systems like the LPD. There was a pneumatic dispatch railway which the Post Office experimented with, but the route for it wasn’t very efficient. Including because the Duke of Bedford, who I believe owned all the property near the British Museum, didn’t want this postal, pneumatic — it had no passengers, it had no driver, it was basically just roller skates that were fired down a tube with all the mail on it — one of the roller skates, one of the kind of carriages that held the post for the LPD, is in the Post Office Museum. [Correction: it’s actually in the Museum of London.]

SHRUTI:

— Yes, which I look forward to visiting —

TIM:

During the pandemic there was a video you could watch of the carriages’ ride through the bit of tunnel that they’ve got left. Now, of course, that LPD tunnel is connected to the story of the —

SHRUTI:

Holborn gas explosion

TIM:

— and that’s another story for another day. But I will just set that up —

GRAMS: ‘NO STRINGS (I’M FANCY FREE)’ FRED ASTAIRE, FADES

TIM:

There could be a link there, boys and girls. So this was the end terminus of the CSLR. Originally, the station that was here was designed by a T P Figgis. It was opened in 1819 by the Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward the VIIth. The old station — we’re now standing in this kind of tiled, fairly generic, perfectly nice but fairly standard Tube station — but the original one was quite like the station that’s still at Kennington, it had a beautiful domed roof to it.

SHRUTI:

Oh lovely.

TIM:

Now, Greathead, there’s a statue of him at Cornhill, in the City of London, and the statue is over a ventilation shaft. So if anyone goes to look at Greathead’s statue in Cornhill, and you look carefully at the plinth, it’s got a grill because it’s actually the top of ventilation shaft. Very often in London you find that a ventilation shaft, because you need to get fresh air into the Tube system, is cleverly disguised. So Greathead’s memorial, I think rather wonderfully, has a practical engineering function.

SHRUTI:

Practical and aesthetic.

TIM:

Practical and aesthetic. So that’s the “Tube” part of Stockwell, and it’s called the tube because it was literally built as a tube. They drilled out quite a few yards every single day. One of the things that Greathead’s shield could do was grout the inside, the lining of the tube, as it went along —

SHRUTI:

— Extraordinary —

TIM:

— and then they bolted in these iron sections, which formed a circle, which formed a tube when they all joined together. The gauge, the diameter of the tunnel, was smaller than the diameter when the whole system was all integrated, and there was a tremendous amount of rebuilding. Work was done in the 1920s when the whole Tube was reintegrated, and all these tunnels were dug out again, but of course it was quite easy using that “tube” system to basically just make the hole a bit bigger, just dig it out a bit more and make the iron sections slightly wider. Very, very ingenious and a very efficient system, but that’s where the word the “Tube” comes from. It comes from James Henry Greathead. It comes from CSLR, and originally Stockwell, where we are now. It wasn’t the end terminus for very long, because they extended the line to Clapham Common and Clapham North. So if you listen ahead in these podcasts, there’s one about ‘The Company of Wolves‘ where Roz and I go to Clapham Common, and Roz observes that the platform there is like a Chameleoid tongue and you feel you’re sort of blown about because trains are going both North and South. That used to be what the platforms downstairs at Stockwell were like, but they’ve since put walls in. But there are two stations that are like the old CSLR, where there’s a kind of platform island, Clapham North and Clapham Common.

SHRUTI:

I shall notice this the next time I’m there.

TIM:

There’s lots of false work and interesting tunnels going out of ceilings and out of walls and stuff, because it’s a constant work in progress. But you can see the kind of fingerprint or the imprint, the fossilized remains of the CSLR are bound up inside the modern Underground system. We’re here to talk about David Bowie and ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ but actually, as a starting point for these explorations of London and the Underground –-

SHRUTI:

— Stockwell is a good place to start.

TIM:

Ok, should we step outside?

SHRUTI:

Yes.

GRAMS: ‘LONDON IN THE RAIN’ BLOSSOM DEARIE, FADES

LOCATION 3. STOCKWELL TUBE STATION, PAVEMENT OUTSIDE ENTRANCE

SOUND OF POLICE CAR SIREN GOING PAST

TIM:

You know you’re in South London because there’s immediately a cop car rushing around a corner.

GRAMS: ‘THE BUDDHA OF SUBURBIA’ DAVID BOWIE

TIM:

So we’re standing outside Stockwell station. There’s been quite a lot of us screaming along in South London, you were listening to Bowie’s music for the BBC TV series based on Hanif Kureishi’s novel

SHRUTI:

— ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’ —

TIM:

— Very dear to us. We both like that don’t we?

SHRUTI:

Very much so.

TIM:

And the music’s very good as well, and there’s another South London connection. So, Shruti, I’m sorry — I’m kind of doing a lot of facts and talking a lot, and it’s going to be a discussion in a minute — but here’s my suggested order of business. I think we should contemplate Stockwell station and this Monday lunchtime in South London for a moment. Then I think we should walk for ten minutes up Stockwell Road and hang a right and visit David Bowie’s childhood home on Stansfield Road.

SHRUTI:

Let’s do it.

TIM:

Does that sound like a good idea? So we welcome our listeners joining us on this journey. If you’re not in London and you’re not actually listening along on your earphones as we’re doing this walk — if you’re at home somewhere else — listening on the Internet, welcome. Very nice to have you with us. After we’ve gone for this little walk – the idea of which is to give you a flavour of South London and what this place is like, and to talk about the history, and to talk about ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’, and Bowie’s life up till that point in 1976 — then after that there’ll be a whole show. We recorded a two hour show in 2016, so there’ll be some of that. There’s some new stuff we’ve recorded. So you’re going to hear me and Roz Kaveney in Bunhill Gardens a couple of days ago. We talked about Bowie and William Blake and John Bunyan and Daniel Defoe, and poetry and the pandemic and Science Fiction and London. That was very good. You can hear that. Then you can hear from five or six years ago, Roz and the wonderful and talented Gabrielle Balfe who we had in the studio back then, talking about Bowie’s legacy, both musically but also in film as an actor. Then we’ve got an interview we did immediately after Bowie’s death with Andy Oppenheimer and Jane Maloney, who were both very active in the public mourning of Bowie’s very sad passing because we recorded the original show –-

SHRUTI:

— Right after —

TIM:

— a couple of days after he died, yeah. And then, to round things off, as an extra special treat for this now first ‘Music for Films’ — it’s actually, I think, the twenty fifth one we’ve made, but because this is now a kind of reboot or reimagining, five years six years later — a special treat for our listeners, an interview with Geoffrey Ryman

SHRUTI:

— Woohoo —

TIM:

— the Science Fiction author, and he talks about Bowie and ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ and London. So there’s all that to look forward to. I’ve set this up as a lighthearted exploration of London and pop music and films, but in the midst of life we are in debt. So since we’re at Stockwell Tube, we now have to walk over here, because London and the Tube are also places of danger. And very sadly, it was at this station that Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead by plainclothes police officers in 2005, and people in Stockwell have built this beautiful memorial to Mr de Menezes, who was a Brazilian plumber, minding his own business, mistaken for a terrorist and killed.

SHRUTI:

I never knew.

TIM:

There’s a lot of stuff in this show about memorials and graves and death, and I don’t want to dwell on the morbid and the depressing but —

SHRUTI:

— We’ve had to do a lot more reckoning with death than we would have liked to do in the last couple of years, so it was inevitable as we emerge from the pandemic —

TIM:

— Ohh, sorry, something I forgot to do. Ok, so we’re now outside Stockwell Tube station and we’re walking — if you’re facing south walking to the left — though actually we’re now walking east across Binfield Road, in South London. We’re talking about danger and the risk of being outside and around people, and also –-

SOUND OF BUILDING WORK IN THE BACKGROUND

TIM:

— it’s a modern city in the 21st century, so they’re constantly building it. And also, one of the things that has happened during the pandemic is a lot of building work. A lot of shops are shut in England, and in Scotland where we live, but people have used the time to rebuild. So there’s a hope at least, that London will come back after Brexit, after the pandemic.

LOCATION 4. STOCKWELL STATION DEEP SHELTER ENTRANCE

TIM:

Amazing to think that Bowie had no sense that any of this was coming. He’s only been dead for six years, but so much has changed. So talking about risk and danger, we’re now standing by one of eight deep shelters that were built during World War Two for Londoners. So this is a very large, round concrete structure, which has been very beautifully decorated —

SHRUTI:

— And immediately there’s a film imprint, even on this, there’s James Bond —

TIM:

— Bond’s there and so are soldiers and poppy fields and war. So this was built for Londoners during the Blitz to shelter from the bombs. It had a capacity for four thousand people to be down here, and subsequently they’ve kept the structure. It’s kept as a War Memorial. You can book to visit it, or at least you could before the pandemic, and it’s been decorated by local school children. It’s very beautiful and I think quite moving but also it’s not overly sombre or maudlin.

SHRUTI:

No, it’s not.

TIM:

Now, of course the deep shelter at Clapham South was where Windrush guys, all the people from Jamaica and all the people from Trinidad, getting on the Windrush and coming here to work on the buses and work on the Tube. They were all put up after the War, in the Fifties, in another one of these eight structures, the one in Clapham South. There’s not much architecturally to speak of in Stockwell. It’s perfectly pleasant. I mean, there is some very nice — that estate over there is very nice. I can’t remember — I think — is that the Lansdowne estate? I can’t remember which one that is. There are some very nice housing estates, very nice Art Deco structures. If people are interested in architecture and happen to be in Stockwell, the only really interesting thing to see is sort of that way — we’re now facing towards Stockwell Tube and I’m pointing north, effectively — about three minutes north of here is Stockwell Garage. It was built in 1952. At the time it was the largest unsupported dome structure in Europe. It was built by, the architect was a guy called Bilbo. I believe if you watch the Transport for London Film ‘All That Mighty Heart‘ there is footage of the Stockwell Garage.

CLIP: ‘ALL THAT MIGHTY HEART’ (1962)

NARRATOR:

‘The river glideth at his own sweet will,
And all that mighty heart is lying still.’

SOUND IN CLIP OF BIG BEN RINGING THE HOUR

SOUND OF BICYCLE BELL

MAN ON BICYCLE:

Morning all.

MAN:

Morning Ted.

TIM:

Around the time it was built in 1952, which obviously coincides with the Festival of Britain, this kind of sense of optimism after the War that Britain had won the War which devastated so much of London, including this part of it. Because what you can see is there’s some old Art Deco and Victorian buildings, but a lot of it was bombed flat and had to be rebuilt. And that’s why you needed the bomb shelter. There we are. Stockwell bus garage. So we’re now looking at, there’s a placard here about local history near the War memorial, so you can come and read this if you want. I won’t read the whole thing, but it’s got a picture of the Swan Tavern which used to be a local landmark in the Eighteenth Century. Stockwell is named after, there was a manor house and it was a manor house estate.

SHRUTI:

Ok.

TIM:

And the “stoc” was a tree. A well-known local tree. So we’ve got the Swan Tavern. We’ve got Stockwell garage. And of course we’ve got Vincent Van Gogh who lodged in Hackford Road.

SHRUTI:

I did not know that, that is extraordinary.

TIM:

It’s not only Bowie, it’s also Van Gogh.

SHRUTI:

Wow.

TIM:

We can’t not pay respect to the great, the good Claudia Jones, organiser of Notting Hill Carnival. Originally from Trinidad, she came here from America but as part of the great influx of people from the Caribbean in the 1950s. She founded the first black British newspaper, ‘The West Indian Gazette’, which was published in Brixton. Respect is due.

SHRUTI:

Blimey.

TIM:

We’re competing with this building noise, so we’re going to walk away in a minute, but of course, another thing to mention is John Tradescant’s Botanical Gardens that were here in the Seventeenth century. Tradescant was the royal gardener. ‘New species of lilac, mint, daffodil, strawberry, and poppy are among the many hundreds of plants he and his son introduced to Britain.’

SHRUTI:

Wow.

TIM:

‘Their home of curiosities opened in 1630s, England’s first public museum.’ So, curiouser and curiouser.

LOCATION 5. STOCKWELL ROAD

TIM:

One of the things about London as an acoustic space, it’s phenomenally loud. I mean, I really notice this. We live in quite a sleepy little market town in Scotland -–

SHRUTI:

— I think that is part of it, really. I feel myself very surprised by just how loud everything is.

TIM:

So we’re here to talk about David Bowie’s childhood in Stockwell and Brixton. We lived here till he was about six.

SHRUTI:

Are we headed in the direction of his home?

TIM:

We are. We’re now walking along Stockwell Road towards Brixton. So we’re here to talk about little Bowie, young David Bowie, but we’re also here to talk about the 1976 film ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’. Directed by Nicholas Roeg. Starring David Bowie as Thomas Newton, a Martian who’s come to Earth, originally to find water because his planet is dying of thirst. Very poignant, now, when we think about how bad the climate crisis has got since the Seventies. And, since we recorded this show, not only has Bowie died, but Nicholas Roeg’s died. There’s a lot of death in this first show, sorry folks. Bowie’s died. Nicholas Roeg has died. Buck Henry, who’s in it, has died. Rip Torn. He’s fantastic in that film.

CLIP: ‘THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH’ (1975)

DAVID BOWIE:

Ask me.

RIP TORN:

What?

DAVID BOWIE:

The question you’ve been wanting to ask ever since we met.

RIP TORN:

Are you Lithuanian?

DAVID BOWIE:

I come from England.

RIP TORN:

Oh that’s not so terrible.

TIM:

Rip Torn’s passed away as well. The main cast member of ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ who’s still with us is Mary Lou, is Candy Clark.

SHRUTI:

Yes.

TIM:

Who you last saw in? You have seen her actually.

SHRUTI:

Ohh.

TIM:

She’s Robert Forster’s wife in ‘Twin Peaks, the Return‘.

SHRUTI:

Ohh yes, of course.

TIM:

She’s the sheriff’s wife. A very brief role, but very good. So the physical memories of making the film are also passing away into document, into recorded history. A couple of months after we made the first version of this show, a soundtrack album was released of the music from ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’. I think we should listen to some of it because apart from anything else, while we walk up this road —

SHRUTI:

— It’s really good.

TIM:

— It’s really good, and I’m not sure our listeners really want to just listen to traffic noise and me yammering on for ten minutes. First of all, let’s talk about what didn’t happen. You would have thought that David Bowie, one of the biggest rock stars in the world in 1975, ’76, would do the music for the movie that he’s a star in.

SHRUTI:

Yes.

TIM:

He did record tracks in LA and there’s this idea that there’s a ‘lost’ Bowie album of the of the Bowie soundtrack for ‘The Man who Fell to Earth’. The truth is a bit more complicated than that. He did record some tracks, and Nicolas Roeg — he didn’t, as far as one can make out, violently reject them, he didn’t dislike them profoundly. He just didn’t feel they were really quite right. That material seems to have been recycled. It’s been recycled on ‘Low’ and the Berlin trilogy of albums. So let’s have a listen, first of all, here is ‘Some Are‘.

GRAMS: ‘SOME ARE’ DAVID BOWIE

SHRUTI:

It’s quite haunting, isn’t it?

TIM:

Very much so. So two other tracks — I’ll just make a little medley of the two of them as we walk along.

GRAMS: ‘SUBTERREANEANS’ AND ‘CRYSTAL JAPAN’ DAVID BOWIE

TIM:

Subterraneans‘ and ‘Crystal Japan‘. We’re now crossing Sidney Road by Waltham house on the east side of Stockville Road. I’m walking past –

SHRUTI:

— What a beautiful building —

TIM:

— an old Truman’s pub. [‘Lost’ Jazz pub ‘The Plough’/’The Plug’.] Something that’s survived the Blitz. I like those two tracks.

SHRUTI:

They’re very ‘Twin Peaks’-y. You mentioned ‘Twin Peaks’.

TIM:

We’re crossing the road now. ‘Crystal Japan’ has got that kind of football whistle Theremin, UFO landing sound as well, which is a reminder of how strongly influenced Bowie was by a lot of the Science Fiction novels he read when he was a teenager, and which of course is there in ‘Diamond Dogs’. That intro he does to that track ‘Diamond Dogs’ it’s like a kind of pulp Science Fiction novel.

SHRUTI:

Absolutely.

TIM:

And it’s possible we may hear a bit of that in the proper show that follows this little history walk. So Roeg wasn’t too keen on those tracks, so instead he went in an even more avant-garde and left field direction with it, which I think is particularly effective. So now there’s a medley of music by the Japanese Jazz Rock composer Stomu Yamash’ta. His music appears throughout ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’. The two tracks were going to hear are ‘Poker Dice’ and ‘Memories of Hiroshima’. The first one is the first time we see Newton. He’s in a small town in America somewhere. There’s a convenience store and you can imagine the Airstream trailers in the background and what have you. And the second track, ‘Hiroshima Memories’, is when Mary Lou played by Candy Clark, first sees Newton in his Martian form, and is very shocked by it.

GRAMS: ‘POKER DICE’ AND ‘HIROSHIMA MEMORIES’ STOMU YAMASH’TA

TIM:

Haunting and effective.

SHRUTI:

Very much so.

TIM:

It really adds to a kind of ambience, the sense of claustrophobia, of Newton feeling alienated from America and yet — as Bowie says in that ‘Cracked Actor‘ BBC Omnibus documentary that Alan Yentob made, he’s very, very, very thin as he is in ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ — and also, it must be said very, very augmented by chemicals at that point in his career, that was 1975 — and they’re in this Rolls Royce, or a stretch limo –

CLIP: ‘CRACKED ACTOR’ BBC OMNIBUS (1975)

ALAN YENTOB:

Since you’ve been in America, you seem to have picked up on a lot of the idioms and themes of American music and American culture. How’s that happened?

DAVID BOWIE:

There’s a fly floating around in my milk, and he’s a foreign body in it, you see, and he’s getting a lot of milk. That’s kind of how I feel. A foreign body here and I just I couldn’t help but soak it up, you know? I hated it when I first came here. I couldn’t see any of it. Built a wax museum, fancy havin’ a bleedin’ wax museum in the middle of the desert? Think it would melt, wouldn’t you?

ALAN YENTOB:

What made all of this important to you, with your background? Why were you intrigued by all of this?

DAVID BOWIE:

Um. It was — I mean — it filled a vast expanse of my imagination. I was always pretty imaginative. And then the imagination can dry up in, wherever you’re living in England, often. I mean, if there’s nothing to keep it going. I just supplied a need in me, America became this myth land for me. I think every kid goes through it, eventually.

TIM:

He’s soaking it all in. The other composer that Nicholas Roeg got to work on ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ was John Phillips from the Mamas and Papas, who wrote ‘California Dreamin” —

SHRUTI:

— Bit of a surprise direction.

TIM:

So John Phillips’s contribution is a game of two halves, I think we can say. Again, chemicals were involved. He wrote this, which appears on the Universal Music album which released in late 2016. You can get a double CD of it or a double vinyl album. He recorded this, which was not used, for the film.

GRAMS: ‘THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH’ JOHN PHILLIPS

TIM:

That was John Phillips’s unused theme for ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ where it sort of —

SHRUTI:

— Did we land in a ‘Bond’ film, accidently?

TIM:

It’s very Bond-y, isn’t it? ‘The Man With the Genital Bump’. ‘Octotellies’. That’s an oblique reference to the bit when Newton’s watching lots of televisions. Very strange. But then he also did another very beautiful track, ‘Space Capsule’.

GRAMS ‘SPACE CAPSULE’ JOHN PHILLIPS

TIM:

Now, isn’t that an amazing track, Shruti?

SHRUTI:

Yes it is.

TIM:

It’s sort of Wendy Carlos in space.

LOCATION 6. STANSFIELD ROAD

TIM:

We’re now at Stansfield Road, so we’re turning right.

SHRUTI:

A bit quieter.

TIM:

Yes. We’re now approaching 40 Stansfield Road where Bowie lived as a child. Now there is a public memorial, we’re going go there in a minute, and we’re not encouraging the general public to come and pester the — I’m sure very lovely — people that own this house. It’s a normal residential street and it’s a normal house. So actually, don’t — maybe walk down the street but walk quite fast —

SHRUTI:

— Don’t be a creep —

TIM:

Don’t bother them or knock on the door or anything, please. There is somewhere to go, for the public, which is the Bowie memorial in Brixton, but we’re really just kind of walking down here to get a sense of the very sort of normal, pretty —

SHRUTI:

It is a very pretty place with lots of lovely houses.

TIM:

It’s not too middle class and up itself, it’s also not too chavvy, there isn’t rubbish everywhere. It’s perfectly pleasant. It’s a normal place. It’s just a way to remember that —

SHRUTI:

— There isn’t going to be a blue plaque, I’m guessing? Is it too early for that? —

TIM:

— No. It’s just to remember that, as we can hear these school kids now back at school after the pandemic, playing and cavorting about.

TIM:

Well, young David Bowie ran down these streets in his flannel shorts, with his Clarkes shoes on. And here we are at 40 Stansfield Road.

SHRUTI:

I know that Bowie was very influential in your life for quite a few years. You grew up in a house with someone who is in a Bowie cover band.

TIM:

Yes, my step dad Nick is a big Bowie fan.

SHRUTI:

Now that it’s been a few years since he’s passed on, and now that you’re back here, what are your feelings?

TIM:

What I feel about it is, life goes on. You can hear life going on in the background. People are doing up their houses. Kids are going back to school. I’m not sure that the London of the 1940s and 1950s, when little Bowie ran out of that gate excited about borrowing his mates’ ‘Dan Dare’ comic, the Bowie whose blood was quickened by the sound of ‘Mars the Bringer of War‘ as the title music for ‘Quatermass’ on the television, I don’t know what the little Bowie now, growing up in London, could do to become the Bowie in ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’. I don’t know if there’s enough slack space, if there’s enough bandwidth in London now. It’s very expensive.

SHRUTI:

Yes, it is.

TIM:

Because of the psychological impacts of the pandemic and Brexit, I don’t know that people are really thinking about America as this huge vista, this sort of dreamscape that they can escape into. They’re certainly not thinking about Europe that way.

SHRUTI:

No.

TIM:

We’ve been in a war for five or six years, which has now become a real war with Russia, but in Ukraine. British soldiers aren’t fighting in Ukraine as they were fighting in World War One, on that memorial we just saw. It’s not a cyber war. It’s not a fake war. It’s a hybrid war. It has aspects of real violence, but also implied violence, implied aggression. The nihilism and the sense of despair, you know — “we’ve only got five years, that’s all we’ve got” — that’s in a lot of Bowie’s records from this period, the early to mid-Seventies, which led into the Punk period. Because, of course, one of the things that’s so interesting about Bowie is he kind of predicted that “no future” attitude of the Punks.

TIM:

But I can’t see how a little kid growing up now, when they get to be sixteen or seventeen, what’s going to be their Glam Rock, what’s going to be their Punk?

SHRUTI:

Even though you can literally hear how things are coming back, coming alive again, there’s still a sense, culturally speaking, that everything feels a bit subdued and not in a great way.

TIM:

It’s very strange period of time. Well we were here almost six years ago with Roz, right after Bowie had died, so should we just listen to a bit of our conversation then?

SHRUTI:

Sure.

CLIP FROM ‘MUSIC FOR FILMS – STOCKWELL’ (2016)

TIM:

I’d no idea that for the first show, we’d be walking down this beautiful little street looking at these lovely houses.

ROZ:

And they all got, like, we’re outside one which — they put gray stucco with a crazy paving pattern on it.

TIM:

Gosh, look at that. That’s like something out of ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets‘, isn’t it?

ROZ:

— And lace curtains.

TIM:

The point of coming down Stansfield Road —

ROZ:

— Is just to remember the nice, not very posh, not very chavvy, gentle little street where he lived. It’s the sort of street where Ealing comedies happen.

TIM:

And of course, we’ve got many of the great Ealing comedies on the map.

ROZ:

We have indeed.

TIM:

The Ladykillers‘.

ROZ:

‘The Lady Killers’. Possibly the greatest of them all.

TIM:

‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’.

ROZ:

The other, probably, major contender for greatest of them all.

TIM:

But in what sense is this the world of 1947? This kind of post-Blitz, post-bombing bombsite London — the kind of London full of little kids in grey flannel shorts, larking about in gangs, hopping on and off buses — that you see in ‘Hue and Cry‘?

ROZ:

Reading ‘Rupert’ annuals.

GRAMS: ‘UNCLE ARTHUR’ DAVID BOWIE.

GRAMS: ‘FIVE YEARS’ FRANK SIDEBOTTOM.

LOCATION 7′ BOWIE MEMORIAL, BRIXTON.

TIM:

Frank Sidebottom, ‘Five Years’. And before that you heard some comic capers, me and Roz, six years ago. And we ended our walk six years ago here by the David Bowie Memorial in Brixton, at the end of Stockwell Road.

SHRUTI:

And here we are again.

TIM:

The things that people wrote on this painting of David Bowie are now behind protective glass in a proper steel frame. This is now a permanent memorial. It was temporary six years ago, but it’s a permanent thing, and people have written their thoughts about David.

SHRUTI:

I think my favourite is just below ‘Rebel, Rebel’. It says “glittah glittah” with the “ah”.

TIM:

So this is a proper memorial to Bowie and if you’re visiting South London, and you want to go to Bowie’s special places, sacred sites, we would encourage you to come here and not to go to 40 Stansfield Road.

SHRUTI:

Yes.

TIM:

The pilgrimage really is an acoustic one, which you’ve just been with us on, but if you wish to physically go to somewhere that’s connected with Bowie, come here, opposite Brixton station. Brixton station is not on the ‘Scala map’ with ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’. The film at Brixton on the map is ‘Attack the Block’, because Adam and Joe — Joe Cornish directed ‘Attack the Block’ — made ‘The Adam and Joe Show’, I’m now pointing, Shruti, there —

SHRUTI:

— Bloody hell. —

TIM:

— In the room over The Body Shop.

SHRUTI:

Well it’s certainly provided hours of entertainment and joy.

TIM:

Certainly for me. And also the wonderful career of Jodie Whittaker, and John Boyega, and so many people in that wonderful film. Fantastic score by Basement Jaxx, love it. So that was our walk through South London to the places known to a young David Bowie. What follows now is an entire edition of ‘Music for Films’. So we do very much hope you stick around, but if you choose to part ways with us at this point, thank you for joining us.

SHRUTI:

Thank you for walking with us.

TUBE ANNOUNCER:

National Rail services. This station has step-free access. Please remember to take all your personal belongings with you when you leave the train. All change please.

TIM:

Our podcast is ‘More Music for Films’ and you can find it on the beekeepers.com or your podcasting application of choice.

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