And in the death, as the last unsold copies of David Bowie’s latest Reality go sliding down the charts and into shrink wrap warehouses in Hunger City, Bowie Ltd. called a meeting just before New Year’s Day with the rankled shareholders of Bowie Bonds. The group gathered in Manhattan on the 13th floor of the Allied Chemical Building. Just across Times Square, TRL was being shot, with the likes of Hillary Duff tickling the limited imagination of pimply teenagers. Twenty years ago, Duff would have been lucky to get a speaking part in a Mattel commercial. Now she’s a platinum recording artist. All this irony is not lost on David Bowie, the Man Who Sold The World himself, in million-dollar bonds of future royalties. He’s none too pleased having to meet with that world every six months, if only to justify taking sick days off on a new tour or turning in an album that won’t make the journey to MTV across the street.
After Bowie Ltd. treasurer Don Gladbee begins the meeting with a prayer for a breakout single, chairman Lawrence Dudley breaks the silence.
Lawrence Dudley: Gentlemen, I don’t have to tell any of you that the Reality Project has turned out a few briquettes short of setting the world on fire. A tie-in with a reality program of some sort would’ve worked if only someone (turns to Bowie) would’ve agreed to live with Mr. T, Urkel and Robert Conrad for JUST A WEEK! But no. The best we can hope for now is a top five hit in Sweden and maybe getting a snippet of “She’ll Drive the Big Car” played on “Entertainment Tonight.” These I feel are very minor gains. David, we all appreciate that you set out to make the new album more Bowie-esque. But perhaps the board failed to mention which Bowie we meant. Not that Scary Monster shit, to be sure. I’m talking that splendid “Dancing in the Street” thing you did with Sir Mick. You guys could’ve been the next Hope and Crosby if you’d been handled right.
Don Gladbee: I would like to point out the Monday Morning Quarterback article I brought to the last meeting. “Here Come the Tubbies?” As predicted, corpulent stars like Rueben Stoddard, your friend (sic) Lester Vandross, God rest his soul, Pavarotti and Big Boi have all weighed in with monster albums. Remember I said, six months from now everybody will be looking for a sickly soul man. That shoulda been us. We coulda had David rerecording all the Johnny Mathis hits. Now that damned Rod Stewart squeaks by us with doing a best of Tony Bennett. It just hurts.
Bowie: Mr. Gladbee, Mr. Dudley, members of the clergy, it has always been our contention that Bowie Bonds would rake in money from catalog sales. Albums like Heathen and Reality come and go but all an artist has to do is tap into the mind of a completist, and you have a fan who’ll buy an artist’s entire catalog three or four times. As long as you keep making the CD spines more attractive each time out, they’ll make room on their shelves for them. Do you remember the first RCA CDs of my music? Terrible sound, rotten packaging and yet people who didn’t even own CD players bought them. Then came the Ryko reissues, with better packaging, bonus cuts and we even listed the playing times. All sold. Then, in 1997, our greatest year, we reissued the lot again on Virgin, this time adding the 24-bit sampling sound but jettisoning the bonus cuts. And everyone bought those too. So you see what I’m getting at, gentlemen. With my jump to Columbia and the Iso imprint label, it’s time to reissue the catalog on Super Audio CDs, giving the fans Sensaround sound and even less music than ever before. The “Bowie Minus One” series, we’re calling it.
Dudley: Are you suggesting arbitrarily taking one cut off every album?
Bowie: A brainstorm of an idea, really. You take a painting like The Last Supper. Pieces flake and chip away each year. But it’s still a masterpiece. Well, here we have a masterwork with built-in obsolescence. Something organic, that can change, be re-evaluated and restored years later with the advent of holographic sound.
Gladbee: It’s genius! And we can add a bonus track called “Bowie Speaks” in which you explain why the track is missing and how much better the album sounds in Sensurround.
Bowie: Now you’ve got it. Take this album, Space Oddity, I think you call it here. Just lop off “Cygnet Committee” and no one will even miss it. It was ten minutes of utter rubbish. And now you can have Ziggy Stardust with just my songs and none of that Supertramp nonsense.
Gladbee: What about an album like Never Let Me Down? Maybe you can do a Bowie Minus Ten series for that.
Bowie: (pained) Yes. Quite.
Dudley: Well. I think I speak for most of the stockholders when I say that this new reissue campaign will fail miserably, given the contempt the music business is already held in these days. And the notion that people will pay more money for less music! I think we need some bigger ideas in how to jump-start interest in Bowie music. I mean, this Reality album, even Peter and the Wolf sold more copies! How about licensing songs, David? The Genie garage door opener people, and The Sewing Genie people, they’re all really hot on that song.
Bowie: Dudley, I’ve told you, I’m not about to license songs that don’t mean anything to me to products that don’t mean anything to me either. That’s significance twice removed.
Dudley: I’m hoping you’ll change your mind. Which is why I invited a guest to sit on our advisory board.
(KISS’ Gene Simmons enters the room.)
Bowie: Gene Simmons of KISS?! You must be joking. He’s not fit to hold my codpiece, if I was still wearing one.
Dudley: David, please! Gene has got a lot of good ideas. Just hear him out.
Gene Simmons of KISS: David, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from 30-plus years of rock ’n’ roll, it’s that giving the fans what they want gives me what I want. Now what the fans and I want is to see you back in lipstick and bracelets, touring with the Hottest Band in the Land, whadduya say?
Bowie: I’m aghast.
Simmons: David, you want to jump-start interest in your music? Start with fat 45-year-old men who miss wearing glitter since the Rocky Horror circuit dried up. These are the fans that you need to embrace. Not the people who wonder what Reeves Gabrel is doing these days. And the way you get them excited is — you rerelease all your albums bundled with BOWIE HALLOWEEN COSTUMES. Here are some prototypes. Look at this one — Aladdin Sane. Everybody wants a lightning bolt across his head. If only Ace had listened to me and patented that very look. From there, you ditched lightning to become “Halloween Jack.” Half man, half pooch. Then you lost interest in Orwell, got into Hues Corporation and became Disco Führer for a while. You had all these crazy looks and you kept them for — what? A photo session or two? I’ve spent thirty years milking this one ugly lizard face and you’ve got a whole goldmine of faces you could be cashing in on. You’re like the Lon Chaney of Rock. But you let go of the dream. With this idea, everybody benefits from your ADD! Everyone gets to live the Bowie dream!
Bowie: Gene, I must admit, it sure makes it easier buying Station to Station a third time, knowing that you’re getting a nice new suit with it. And darts to throw in lovers’ eyes!
Dudley: And these Tin Machine getups will sell great with the Mormons!
Simmons: Now, David, I want you to promise you’ll at least think about a KISS/Bowie tour, and about the Gene Jenie Grill. It will come in two models. The Gene Genie model with my face and the Jean Genie one with yours. All I need is permission to license your song and your likeness for a store standup doll and we have ourselves a deal.
Gladbee: I can see it now! Aladdin Sane, wearing an apron holding a lightening emblazoned spatula, saying, “Forget chimney stacks, the Jean Genie’s a gas. Grill, that is.”
Bowie: I want to say no, but that spatula looks too good!
Simmons: Listen to me, David. If you copyright that one utensil alone, you’ll make more money than all your years with the Spiders. Have I shown you the waffle iron that burns the KISS logo into every flapjack? I can go to my grave happy, knowing I made one of these.
Dudley: Meeting adjourned. (Turns to Gladbee) I smell a Christmas bonus in 2005!
David Bowie performs Friday, Jan. 9, at the Palace of Auburn Hills (3 Championship Drive, Auburn Hills). Call 248-377-0100 for more information.Serene Dominic writes about music (often satirically) for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]