David Bowie rare acoustic performance of ‘Dead Man Walking’

(Credit: John Hutchinson)


When it comes to David Bowie, there’s often so much razzmatazz in the mix that the adornments of his performative brilliance are often soaked up in the blinding mire. For example, he’s the perfect example of a musician who’s nicknamed “such an underrated singer” so many times that you can’t be sure what his current note base is. The same can be said of his lyrical ability too, making him artistically obscure from a sort of alien he would no doubt have adored.

Part of the reason for this cluster of hidden treasures is not only because the showy surface turned out to be so dazzling that there was no real need to dig underneath, but also because of the sheer number of ‘influences in the mix. From the moving piano styles of Nina Simone to the wild avant-garde manners of Klaus Nomi, Bowie’s wild art vaudeville show made it difficult to assess the individual elements and, as such, it was simply celebrated. in general.

In some ways, the song “Dead Man Walking” is a paradigm of that. For starters, it has a title that could come straight from Robert Johnson’s songbook and delta blues rock’n’roll past, which seems like a paradox in itself for a man who was all about the future. , especially on the 1997 album Earthling that spawned the trail. However, Bowie has always delved into the history of music to see what might happen next. As it turns out, “Dead Man Walking” also had a much more literal connection to the past.

The guitar riff used in the song actually dates back to the mid-1960s, when Jimmy Page taught Bowie how to play it. Naturally, when Page teaches you a guitar riff, you take careful note of it no matter how drunk or not you were at the time. “Jimmy said, ‘I have this riff and I can’t do nothing with it. Do you want it ?’ Bowie recalled. The ‘Starman’ originally used a version of the riff from ‘The Supermen’ featured on the 1970 release. The man who sold the world.

However, it remained at the forefront of his mind thereafter and when Earthling arrived almost 30 years after hearing the riff originally, he teamed up with guitarist Reeves Gabrels (former Tin Machine member, current member of Cure) to reuse it once more. “Sounds pretty Page-y, like a mutated Johnny Burnette Trio thing,” Gabrels would later opine.

In the ultra-rare acoustic performance below, that bluesy sound overwhelmed by Page-y may be detectable, but what is most notable is yet another Bowie paradox: when everything is stripped down, even more depth seems to come to the fore. foreground. Bowie’s vocals soar, his textured strumming work gives the song great intonation alongside a more thunderous mainline from Gabrels, and the lyrics weave their way through the old blues past into the world of intertextual remarks. At first it shocks you because it’s rare to hear Bowie undress, then it shocks you because you wonder why he hasn’t done it more often, but eventually you are reminded “It’s Bowie, it will always be shocking in any way! ‘

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