Let’s start this 2021 with an international icon, the Thin White Duke, David Bowie, one of the most influential figures of the culture, not only musical, of the twentieth century.
Early January gives Bowie not only the birthplace (January 8, 1947) but, unfortunately, also marks the date of his death, January 10, 2016.
His biography, like him, is immense, therefore, to pay homage to him on the anniversary of his death, we decided to tell you about the curiosities that bind today’s protagonist to Italy; as we did with Freddie Mercury some time ago … do you remember?
With today’s article we wish you to discover many new and interesting things … and it is the same wish that we address to our readers for this year that has just begun.
David Bowie and the fear of playing in Italy
The legend narrates that it was Lou Reed who instilled in Bowie the squeeze of coming to our country, apparently because of the mess that only we Italians can make.
I personally am also a bit proud of it, because in reality it is our being chaotic and passionate that makes us love as an audience by the musicians!
In any case, the fear passed on March 25, 1987, when Bowie went on stage at the Piper Club in Rome in an unforgettable show. On that occasion Bowie announced his first Italian tour.
Here are the dates:
- June 9 in Florence, Municipal Stadium;
- 10 June in Milan, Meazza Stadium;
- June 15 and 16 in Rome, Stadio Flaminio;
- 18 July in Turin, Municipal Stadium
The tour was a resounding success even if on the second date in Rome there were problems with the launch of tear gas that induced Bowie to cut the set short. From this 1987 tour, however, David Bowie never failed to include Italy.
He returned in 1990 for the Sound + Vision, in 1991 for the It’s MyLife Tour, then again in 1996 for the Outside Tour. The following year, in 1997 Bowie visited us again for the Earthling Tour, while in 1999 he held a single HOURS promotional concert at the Teatro Smeraldo in Milan.
Finally, on July 15, 2002, Bowie held a concert in Lucca for the HEATHEN tour and on October 23, 2003 at the Fila forum in Assago, the last Italian date ever.
But if we are sure of when Bowie’s last date was in Italy, in reality the first is not so certain, because the Thin White Duke apparently sang in our beautiful country at the end of the 60s. To find out more, read the next paragraph!
The Festival of Montesummano Terme
David Bowie and the then manager Kenneth Pitt (as the latter tells in the book The Pitt Report) arrived in Italy, precisely in Monsummano, well before 1987. It was in fact July 31, 1969.
Bowie had sent a telegram to Angela Barnett (who later became his wife) a few nights earlier with the words “Town Monsummano Terme 30th Small Town Two Hotels Love Bowie”.
In short, the interpretation was: “little place, come here”. In fact, Angela joined him and the two spent a few days together at the spa. But the real reason why Bowie was there was the International Disco Festival, a kind of Sanremo (which he then participated in in 1997).
Each of the competitors in the race received by default a local sponsor who provided room and board. David Bowie was the turn of the Calzaturificio Fiorella (a small shoe factory). And already here this anecdote is incredible.
But it doesn’t end there. Each artist’s performance involved two things. Number one: a song sung with musical accompaniment provided by the organization. Number two: a piece from your own repertoire sung on your own recorded base.
Bowie brought When I Live My Dream to the stage, a two-year old track, although Space Oddity had only recently been released. In the final on Saturday 3 August 1969, Maria Del Carmen, stage name Cristina, won. In second place, David Bowie.
I would say that after the Fiorella shoe factory and this, we have really heard everything! But the music gods then settled things: despite Cristina’s victory, the park of the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Twentieth Century of Villa Renatico Martini, in the center of Monsummano, today bears the name of the runner-up, David Bowie.
David Bowie and the Italian song
A few lines ago we named Space Oddity. A tricolor anecdote is also linked to this song. Mogol worked on the adapted text of this piece in Italian, sung by Bowie.
The song is called Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola. Bowie was convinced that the piece had been translated rather than adapted as he sang it, but then he learned that it is not about Major Tom and his space adventure, but about two abandoned lovers.
Regarding Mogol, we mention a curiosity linked to Lucio Battisti, with whom Mogol collaborated fruitfully. On several occasions Bowie declared Lucio Battisti as one of the two best songwriters in the world. The other one mentioned is Lou Reed.
Bowie adapted a Battisti song for a cover by fellow musician and friend Mick Ronson. The adaptation is titled Music is lethal and was released on Ronson’s 1974 debut album, Slaughter on 10th Avenue. Rumors tell of an unofficial version sung by Bowie himself.
Another curiosity. A few years later, in 1986, Bowie starred in the film “Absolute Beginners” which chronicles life in London in the early 1960s and in which Bowie is also an actor. One of the tracks of the film’s soundtrack, made by him, is a cover of the most famous song by Domenico Modugno, as well as one of the best known in the world: Nel blu, dipinto di blu (Volare).
Let’s not forget that David Bowie was also one of the most covered artists in Italy. Bluvertigo on the Zero album recorded a version of Always crashing in the same car. The Jean Genie was revived by Enrico Ruggeri in his Punk prima di te in 2004. I Profeti recorded their version of Starman just after the release of the original album on the international market in 1972.
David Bowie and the Benetton ad
We close the story of the “Italian” David Bowie by talking about the reference of the latter to Benetton. It is the artist himself who clarifies this anecdote, very important and significant in his autobiography.
The interviewer here asks Bowie: Why do you mention Benetton in Black Tie White Noise?
Here’s Bowie’s answer: Because I found it suspicious that Spike Lee was doing something for them. You know, it seemed to me that reading racial relations through Benetton ads was almost an insult. But, on the other hand, we are assuming that every statement made must be altruistic. I mean, what really matters more: altruism or opportunism? I wonder … I mean, since it humanized and dignified black athletes, is Nike doing a better job of promoting race relations than the government? (…) opened a door and presented them as human beings in flesh and blood who can think they have their own opinions, and this has a lot of following and is something very seductive and, yes, of course it sells loads and loads by Nike. But did it also do something in the area of race relations?
Below is part of the lyrics of the song in which the reference to Benetton is found.
Getting my facts from a Benetton ad
I’m lookin’ through African eyes
Lit by the glare of an LA fire
I’ve got a face, not just my race, Bang Bang I’ve got you babe
And here are a couple of photos that we managed to recover from the “What if” advertising campaign!
We really hope to have paid a nice tribute to David Bowie, on the occasion of the anniversary of his death, with these all-Italian curiosities.
But today, January 10, we are not the only ones doing it. In the last few days Mike Garson, David Bowie’s historic pianist, organized a virtual tribute dedicated to the musician – entitled “A Bowie Celebration: Just For One Day!” – which will air today. The band consisted of musicians who have played with Bowie throughout his career, from his debut to his latest album, Blackstar.
We will never forget David, hope you enjoyed the show!