The album’s concept
While promoting Black Tie White Noise in early 1993, David Bowie spoke of a desire to create another persona, following in the footsteps of Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, the Diamond Dogs, and the Thin White Duke.
It has been gnawing at me, the idea of one more time developing a character. I do love the theatrical side of the thing – not only do I enjoy it, I also think I’m quite good at it. But for the time being I’m quite happy being me.
Rolling Stone, 21 January 1993
A major creative breakthrough occurred during the second week of the Mountain Studios sessions, and saw the emergence of the core concept for 1.Outside.
One of the days that we worked – it was the 12th of March, 1994, I’ll never forget – we had a blindingly orgiastic session where it just didn’t stop. Almost the entire genesis for this album is contained in those three and a half hours, but it’s nearly all dialogue and narrative description and wandering off into characters. I play out a character for maybe five minutes at a time; I mean, I developed an entire interior life for him whilst I was on mike, with this very sad place of music.
Raygun, October 1995
The concept for 1.Outside, as with so many of Bowie’s works, remained open-ended and deliberately opaque. Bowie’s concept albums were often little more than a handful of thematic songs bound to a related title and costume. 1.Outside, however, became his most detailed and complex piece of storytelling to date, which sought to capture the discomfort he felt as the 20th century gave way to the new millennium.
So with Outside, placing the eerie environment of Diamond Dogs city now in the Nineties gives it an entirely different spin. It was important for this town, this locale, to have a populace, a number of characters. I tried to diversify these really eccentric types as much as possible.
Ikon, October 1995
The story had seven primary characters: Leon Blank, Nathan Adler, Baby Grace Blue, The Minotaur, Ramona A Stone, Algeria Touchshriek, and Paddy. The plot, while left intentionally opaque, primarily concerns the killing and dismemberment of 14-year-old Baby Grace, the latest in a series of art-murders in Oxford Town, New Jersey.
Detective Nathan Adler and his assistant Paddy, who work for Art-Crime Inc, are on the trail of a mysterious artist/murderer known as The Minotaur. There are three primary suspects: Leon Blank, a former convict and outsider; Ramona A Stone, Blank’s former lover, who may also have been in a relationship with Adler; and Algeria Touchshriek, a septuagenarian man who portrays himself – perhaps falsely – as lonely and frail.
Bowie often left his lyrics intentionally vague, preferring to allow listeners to bring their own interpretations. The unresolved nature of the Oxford Town killings appears to be a continuation of this, with Bowie seemingly delighting in leaving the murder mystery unsolved. Further elucidation or confusion, depending on the observer’s own detective skills, could be gained from Bowie’s extensive sleeve notes, “The Diary of Nathan Adler or The Art-Ritual Murder Of Baby Grace Blue – A non-linear Gothic Drama Hyper-cycle”.
There’s an emotional engine created by the juxtaposition of the musical texture and the lyrics. But that’s probably what art does best: it manifests that which is impossible to articulate.
Time Out, August 23-30 1995
In the early 1990s Bowie’s interest in contemporary art came to the fore. Always a keen collector of art, in 1994 he joined the editorial board of Modern Painters magazine, and the following year designed two wallpaper patterns for British company Laura Ashley.
The first one was called ‘British Conflicts’, featuring a charcoal and watercolour portrait of Lucian Freud inside a Damien Hirst-style box. The second was called ‘The Crouch’, which is a charcoal drawing of a Minotaur. They’re both superimposed over some generic Laura Ashley patterns. The kitsch stuff is Laura’s. ‘Conflicts’ was simply about the war of attrition between figurative and conceptual art in this country, between the modernists and the traditionalists, using Freud and Hirst as totems of the opposing camps. I think their combined entanglement helps diminish the importance of the argument. The Minotaur is just a representation of godlessness and paganism – a bull with a little brain – and is based on the exhibition I held at the Berkeley Square Gallery. Both prints represent an end of the century, a fin de siècle feeling, a comment on our harried attempt to make amends to the gods…
It was a good working relationship, apart from the castration, that is. They erased the Minotaur’s genitals, which is the fourth time something like this had happened to me. I wasn’t allowed to show my genitals on the inner sleeve of Aladdin Sane, nor on the cover of Diamond Dogs, nor on the cover of one of the Tin Machine LPs. I’ve been de-balled four times! It says a lot about Western attitudes towards male genitalia. I mean, breasts don’t seem to be hacked off in the same cavalier fashion.
My art has little to do with trends, and nothing at all to do with style; in fact, it’s almost the opposite. I’ve always been a bit of a Duchampist – in fact, when I was young I thought Duchamp was God – and I always reflected that in my music, so I think you can see that in my art too. There is painting, sculpture, installation – you name it, we’ve got it. I’m enormously proud of it, from the figurative pieces through to the more abstract conceptual stuff. I’ve always painted and recorded in parallel, since the very early 70s. I’ve made a point of it, and I’ve found that the problems I’ve encountered in my music can easily be solved by things which occur in my painting, and vice versa. It’s very therapeutic in that way. I suppose that’s why my music has always been so visual.
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones
The minotaur was a recurring theme in Bowie’s own artworks, and appeared often in the solo show he exhibited in London’s Cork Street in April 1995. As well as appearing in the artwork of 1.Outside, the Minotaur became a central image in the video for ‘The Hearts Filthy Lesson’.
Bowie and artist Damien Hirst had reportedly planned to create a minotaur of their own, using a bull’s head stitched onto the donated body of a dead man. Although it never came to pass, they intended to site their minotaur in a labyrinth on a Greek island.
The cover of 1.Outside was a self-portrait Bowie painted with acrylic on canvas. The piece has been variously known as ‘The Dhead – Outside’ and ‘Head Of DB’, and was one of a series of five self-portraits painted in 1995.
This is really interesting, and very nicely written. I have a very minor quibble. That “Ikon” quote is slightly wrong. “It was important for this town, this locale, to have a populous…” says Bowie.
The correct noun is “populace” – “populous” is a homophonic adjective that isn’t appropriate here.