As he walks calmly across the stage to a stage of cheering applause, dressed to amaze as ever, David Bowie’s soft yet stern voice envelops the cinema in surround sound: “All people, no matter who they are, all wish they had enjoyed the life more. It is what you do in life that is important. Not how much time you have, nor what you wish you had done.
Spoken like an oracle, Bowie’s dreams, doubts, fears and ideas carry the narrative of Moonage daydream, a new documentary film as kaleidoscopic and wonderfully chaotic as Starman himself. It is a rock documentary that is broad in terms of ambition and content. As director Brett Morgen (The child remains in the photo, Cobain: editing by Heck, Giovanna) tells Rolling Stone UK: “I wanted to create the David Bowie experience, which is sublime, enigmatic and mysterious, intellectually engaging and emotionally engaging.”
Morgen certainly had all the material to undertake such a journey. This is the first Bowie film to be approved and licensed by the Bowie estate, so Morgen was provided archival footage of a lifetime (many never seen before) as well as personal collections of poems, paintings and interviews from the artist born in Brixton.
But don’t expect a biopic, warns Morgen. “This wasn’t a David Bowie movie. He spoke of “Bowie” as a piece of mythology. “The American director decided at the beginning that he would not mention dates, facts or names in the film, to allow himself more artistic freedom with the filming. As such, the film is a colorful collage of sounds and visions that sounds like Bowie’s unconscious might have; a long music video that moves the viewer through the inner thoughts of one of the greatest artists of the late 1920sth century.
“It took me over two years, six days a week, working 12 to 14 hours a day, to project only through the visual media that I was introduced to,” says Morgen, explaining in detail how the film was edited in all this time has been the greatest pleasure of his life. “I mean, look how good it is to look at. And it doesn’t even come close to how beautiful his soul was. “
To enter the world of Moonage daydream it’s unlearning and relearning who David Bowie was, or maybe what was. Also known as David Jones, Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom, Aladdin Sade, the Thin White Duke (or even the titular The man who fell to earth, or The prestigeNikola Tesla’s, in the movies), David Bowie was all of these characters and none of them; a person constantly looking to reinvent himself, always pushing his own creative and personal limits.
“It took me over two years, six days a week, working 12 to 14 hours a day, to view only the visual media I was presented with.”
– Brett Morgen, Moonage daydream director
One person who knew this more than anyone was Bowie’s longest-serving session musician, who played piano for over 40 years with him, on 19 albums: Mike Garson. Speaking from his Los Angeles home over a keyboard just days before performing at the Hollywood Bowl, Garson recounts how Moonage daydream it seemed like “a walk in the memory” and how his chance encounter with Bowie in 1972 would change his life.
At the time, Bowie was already a big star in the UK, having released genre-defying albums like Hunky Dory, The man who sold the world and of course The rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust and the spiders from Mars. Bowie and his backing band from the time, Spiders from Mars – which included Mick Ronson on guitar (“this unknown hero” and “spider brains”, according to Garson) were in New York for a US tour, but they had a problem: they had no one at the piano. Rick Wakeman, who was the album’s keyboardist, had turned down Bowie’s offer to officially join the Spiders and instead went with the prog-rock band Yes.
Bowie was always on the lookout for new esoteric artists, so in 1972 a mutual acquaintance introduced him to Garson, a pianist trained in jazz and classical music who had never heard of Bowie.
“I auditioned for a song called ‘Changes’,” Garson says casually. “It was an eight second audition and the first thing I ever played on David’s music. And then it was the last song we ever did live with Alicia Keys for an AIDS grant in New York in 2006. And that was the last time he played live. “Start and finish over four. decades of creative fusion with a song like “Changes” was something full of mystery and meaning. But “that was Bowie,” says Garson.
“Many artists – and certainly David – perhaps don’t know where they are headed. From that chaos some form of creativity is born “
– Paul Massey, Moonage daydream audio mixer
“I felt from day one that this was an artist to deal with, and that he was not your typical rock singer, that he was a multifaceted Renaissance man. I knew … A lot of fans, I think they hear a song like ‘Ziggy’, or ‘Life on Mars’ or ‘A Space Odyssey’, and that’s enough for them. But they don’t know this guy never stopped. When we did the Out album in 1995, he literally said to me ‘I need to make this album for my soul, because I feel like I’m sold out in the 80s.’ And he was painting and charcoaling the band while we improvised ”.
“Multiform” is right, like Moonage daydream – unlike a typical biopic or rock documentary – it doesn’t focus on Bowie as a songwriter. Instead, the film explores how he was both a philomathologist and a multifaceted, someone who not only liked music, but all kinds of art forms, and always interested in learning more. As director Morgen said: “David viewed every moment of life as an opportunity for some sort of growth. For a kind of exchange “.
There are practically no moments of silence in the two hours and 15 minutes of the film, most of which led by a voiceover of archival interviews with Bowie. We discover how his thought process was imbued with philosophical reflections and Zen Buddhist influences. When he was working on the Bass album in 1976 with Brian Eno and Tony Visconti as part of the Berlin Trilogy, we hear his vision of the album: “The city person thinks of a thousand different things at the same time, and this is the kind of music that Brian and I are trying to do “.
We also hear Bowie the spiritualist, introducing himself in the early seventies as “Born in Brixton in 1947. I am a Capricorn, Sagittarius ascendant, Leo descendant”. And Bowie the relentless artist, who told an audience in Japan in the 1980s: “Don’t waste a day, don’t waste a moment. We have to create our lives every day. I’m still trying to figure out what I like. “
“He was always present, and he lived life with his eyes wide open”
– Brett Morgen, Moonage daydream director
The long cacophony of sounds throughout the film is no doubt enhanced by the mixing of the sound, as often multiple channels are superimposed at the same time. The effect is that of a distorted chaos, but a chaos that draws us into the “Bowie experience” that Morgen aimed at.
“Sometimes I think that many artists – and certainly David – maybe they don’t know where they are headed. We didn’t even know where we were headed. And I think that some form of creativity comes from that chaos, ”says Paul Massey, the sound mixer Moonage daydream. Massey won an Oscar for Best Sound Mixing Bohemian Rhapsody and was nominated seven more times. ON Moonage daydream, lent his talent to create a surround sound system in 12.0, 5.0, Dolby Atmos and 7.1 / 5.1 that “would take the audience to a theme park”. “What I wanted to do was actually improve it for the theatrical environment, but not stray too far from what I thought it should be for the fans,” she says.
Whether it was in music, fashion or even LGBTQ + issues, Bowie left a simple yet powerful legacy of making people feel more confident about themselves. Morgen, for example, recalled how he grew up with a speech disorder that made him endure many difficult years at school, but then, Bowie found, “who’s there to tell you it’s okay.” “Until we had the Internet, David was the standard bearer. He helped us celebrate the individual. There was no one else you could get that kind of guidance from.
More than six years after Bowie left us, his memory survives, as do the stories of those who live to tell the stories. Pianist Mike Garson shared one of the most disturbing experiences he has ever had with Bowie. They were on a tour bus in the ’90s when Bowie told him that in the’ 70s he had met a psychic, who told him he would die at 69 or 70. Garson remembered how Bowie firmly believed in it, and so did he. In January 2016, Bowie died aged 69 after a long battle with liver cancer. Coincidentally, or rather mystically, his 26th and latest studio album, Black Star, was released two days before his death. The album is regarded by many fans as a planned final farewell: one of the singles, Lazarusin particular it starts with the lyrics: “Look here, I’m in heaven / I have scars that are not seen.”
“Death is a funny word, because there is no spiritual death, there is only the death of the body. She has spoken to me again many times in the last six years “
– Mike Garson, collaborator of David Bowie
Asked if he thought Bowie ever feared death, Garson said, “I think everyone is afraid of death when it’s around the corner, and you’re suffering and dying, but I think from afar he just thought: OK, If I’m going to be 70, I’d better do 15 more albums, I’d better do some movies, some sculptures, produce this and that. And he left an amazing job. If you think about it Black Star, it’s like writing your requiem. Death is a funny word, because there is no spiritual death, there is only the death of the body. She has still spoken to me many times over the past six years. It was great”.
Watching Moonage daydream it is to remain with the desire to connect with the Bowie that may be hidden within all of us: the artist, the thinker or the perpetual student. By learning more about Bowie, perhaps we could learn more about ourselves. As Morgen says of the elusive Star Man, whom he met in 2007: “He was always there and lived life with his eyes wide open.”
Moonage daydream will debut in the UK on September 16.