Heathen album coverWritten by: David Bowie
Recorded: August-September 2001; October 2001 – January 2002
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti

Released: 10 June 2002

Personnel

David Bowie: vocals, guitar, keyboards, synthesizer
David Torn: guitar
Tony Visconti: bass guitar, recorder, vocals
Jordan Rudess: Hammond organ
Matt Chamberlain: drums, loops

‘Wood Jackson’ was a b-side on some versions of David Bowie’s ‘Slow Burn’ and ‘Everyone Says ‘Hi” singles.

Recorded during the sessions for Heathen, it was until a late stage considered for inclusion on the album.

The protagonist of ‘Wood Jackson’ “made twenty tapes in a day to give away”, who endures mockery and beatings but emerges triumphant. Perhaps a forerunner of ‘Valentine’s Day’, it ends in the death of Jackson’s friends, although it remains unclear whether they were murdered (“Hearts upon his sleeve and his blade”) or undone by his art (“Jackson stole twenty souls in a day… the words that killed Wood Jackson’s friends were written on the wall”).

It is believed that ‘Wood Jackson’ may have been written about Daniel Johnston, the West Virginian singer-songwriter and visual artist whose lo-fi, often childlike recordings found a cult following. Johnston’s fans included Bowie, who invited him to perform at the Meltdown Festival in London in June 2002, and in May 2007 at the High Line Festival at New York’s Highline Ballroom.

Daniel Johnston is like a one-man Brian Wilson/Beach Boys. He comes out of Austin, Texas, also another lad who had a lot of problems with thinking. He was in different institutions and hospitals all his life and would make funny little cassettes of all his songs, on an out-of-tune piano or guitar: beautiful, poignant, sad little pieces. And he’d take them into the local comic shop and swap the cassettes for comics.
David Bowie
Mojo, July 2002

The song’s title may have had literary roots. Wood Jackson was a 1930s sci-fi author whose works included the Bowie-esque The Bat-Men of Mars. A character called Wood Jackson also appeared in M Scott Michel’s 1945 novel The X-Ray Murders.

The release

A Japanese edition of Heathen, released in 2002, contained ‘Wood Jackson’ as a bonus song.

‘Slow Burn’ was released as a European single on 3 June 2002, with two compact disc formats. The first was accompanied with ‘Wood Jackson’ and ‘Shadow Man’, while the second was a maxi single with the additional tracks ‘When The Boys Come Marching Home’ and ‘You’ve Got A Habit Of Leaving’.

‘Everyone Says ‘Hi” was issued as a single in September 2002 in an array of formats. The six additional tracks included ‘Wood Jackson’.

In December 2002 Heathen became Bowie’s first album to be released as an SACD. This contained a 5.1 surround sound mix by Tony Visconti, with slightly extended versions of four songs. This edition also contained 5.1 versions of ‘When The Boys Come Marching Home’, ‘Wood Jackson’, ‘Conversation Piece’, and ‘Safe’.