Sunday, January 21, 2001

Darkness And Disgrace

Anne and I ventured North of London for the first time tonight. A taxi ride took us to a restaurant in Upper Street, Islington, for a bite to eat at Santa Fe, an American Southwestern restaurant. Though another restaurant in Upper Street had been recommended, we were not impressed with the menu and we managed to finagle a table at Santa Fe moments before their Saturday evening rush might begin. As we were guided to our seats, the hostess explained that we would have to be gone before 8:00 because the table was booked. Since we had plans for an event at another location in Islington, it was with pleasure that we agreed to vacate the premises post-haste. We were then seated at what has to be the ONLY non-smoking table in all the restaurants in all of London! How American!

After a hearty, but hardly memorable, meal we managed a taxi to shuttle us to The Rosemary Branch, a free house and theatre on the other side of the borough, which, according to its brochure ". . . first appears on Hole's 1594 plan of Finsbury Fields as an alehouse used by archers near the Shoreditch boundary. . . ."

The Rosemary Branch Theatre is currently showing "Darkness and Disgrace, a Musical Cabaret from the Songs of David Bowie," starring Des DeMoor, as the chansonnier, and Russell Churney, as pianist.

(BTW, this is my review that will appear in some form at BowieNet, next week.)

The small theatre was sparsely set for this two-man show which started with DeMoor sitting on a chair reciting "Future Legend," the eerie opening to Bowie's Diamond Dogs album. "Future Legend" is a post-beat pledge of post-apocolyptic allegiance to all that is decorative and shimmering, rife with canine sensuality and sexual tension, spoken over a proto-punk rendition of Richard Rodgers' "Bewitched." Who knew that two men with a piano and a couple of guitars could elicit Bowie's spirit with such simplicity. What followed made me want to giggle (which I later learned the actors would have enjoyed) as DeMoor launched into a cabaret version of the song "Diamond Dogs"! I've never heard the line "with your silicone hump and your ten-inch stump" delivered with such style!

The audience warmed-up when DeMoor spoke about how the show came into being and his own introduction to the music of David Bowie. It never ceases to amaze me when I hear other men of my generation tell their story of stumbling on David Bowie's show of bisexual transgender glamour and chic, because they tell MY story. Does every 40ish white guy Bowie fan have the SAME story?

DeMoor and Churney proceed to run through an amalgamation of Bowie non-hits from as far back as 1966's "The London Boys" and as recent as 1995's "I Have Not Been To Oxford Town."

Most poignant, is that at various intervals, the players speak to and about Bowie's fascination and personal experiences with the marginalization of the mentally ill and soceity's phobia surrounding mental illness. Churney quoted (free of sarcasm or gratuitous accent) an excerpt from Bowie's 1975 Playboy interview with Cameron Crowe where the rock god discusses his familiarity with mental illness. The medley of "All The Madmen" and "Buddha of Surburbia" became a housewide celebration of mental illness when DeMoor got the audience to clap along and sing 'Zane, Zane, Zane. Ouvre le Chien.' The duo's melding of these two songs is brilliant, and any die-hard Bowie fan would be familiar with the connection. Their stunningly creepy version of "Scream Like A Baby," which might be the best song ever written about medication and marginalization, gave me chills! The song "I Have Not Been To Oxford Town" was performed with the silouhette of prison bars surrounding the singer and again succeeded at eliciting sympathy about institutionalization.

"Please Mr. Gravedigger," released in 1967, was treated to a bit of role-playing, that lightened the creepy, murderous storyline of the song.

I do not mean to imply that "Darkness and Disgrace" is a flag waving demonstration to unveil the horrors of institutionalizaiton! Hardly! There was a dark side mixed in with all this fun!

A snippet from George Orwell's "1984," which was clearly the inspiring text for Bowie's "We Are The Dead," was read by both performers before offering the song. Again, the juxtaposition of a line like "I love you in your fuck-me-pumps and your nimble dress that trails" on a stark cabaret piano made my appreciation of Bowie's lyrical versatility run deeper!

Though the show is filled with songs that real Bowie fans would appreciate, not every audience member would be familiar with all of the cuts. So, as a treat, the show's encore is "Life On Mars" which even a Bowie neophyte knows enough to hum-along.

Other songs included in the two-act, 90-minute show include (chronologically, but not in order of performance) "Saviour Machine," "Width Of A Circle," "The Bewlay Brothers," "Lady Stardust," "Time" (a song that seems written for cabaret performance), "Sons Of The Silent Age" (performed quite differently than Peter Frampton), and "It's No Game."

I cannot say enough about this show. Every Bowie fan of any stripe in the London area, and those Bowie fans with the wherewithall to get themselves to London by 29 January, should take in this show.

After the show, we had the good luck to enjoy a drink with the performers who are charming, accessible, and enthusiastic. DeMoor and Churney happily shared their thoughts about Bowie's music, the story of building the show, and their creative interests. The honour of meeting the cast was ours because we had the good fortune of meeting the charming Blammo and Susan from BowieNet -- true stars in their own right -- who happily spent the last part of the evening talking music and politics and Bowie!

Dick Mac (alive!)
The Only Survivor Of The National Peoples Gang