Sunday, January 31, 2016

X-Files "Founder's Mutation" on The Solar Satellite

An in-depth look at the second X-Files episode and the canny way it draws on imagery from the iconic past of The X-Files to point to its future:
Obviously what James Wong is doing here is remaking William as the new Grail Quest, the new Samantha. The archetypal Lost Child, the Harpocrates to her Persephone. 
More importantly, this may all tie into what is happening with this new turn in the Mythology. Chris Carter is on record as saying ALL X-Files episodes are Mythology episodes, since all the paranormal phenomena depicted in the show is the result of humanity's alien genetic heritage. 
Now what 'Founder's Mutation' is suggesting - rather strongly- that characters like Eugene Tooms and Leonard Betts may in fact be the result of direct DNA manipulation from these clandestine laboratories.  
We know that many of the "monsters of the week" were in fact engineered beings, whether you're talking about the Eves or the Flukeman or the sleepless soldiers or the various creations of the Post-Modern Prometheus.
Fly over to the Satellite now for "They're All Mythology Episodes"

Friday, January 29, 2016

CultureWatch: GenX, History's Latchkey Kids

So, a developing theme out there in the culture is this Baby Boomers vs. Millennials war. You've probably seen it floating around. It's the kind of thing journalists love to write about and more importantly, try to referee. Pretending they can arbitrate this new generation gap makes journalists feel important. Not much else does these days.

This apparent struggle has emerged as an issue in the workplace, with Boomer management expressing their frustration with Millennial work habits. Millennials in turn have shot back arguing that it was a lot easier to find and keep a job when the Boomers were coming up (in other words, before Globalism began systematically dismantling the middle class) and that life was easier and cheaper back then.  

Indeed, in the fictitious media construct known as the post-Recession recovery, the Baby Boomers were said to have "won" the great struggle in the job market, continuing to hold a larger proportion of plum gigs than their children. I'm not sure how this excuses some of the work habits- or the overall lack of preparation- managers complain about, but hey, it's not my fight.

Some in the media have tried to smooth over the conflict, assuring the two opposing generations that they're more alike than they think, with their idealism and all the rest of it. One study even highlights the two cohorts with the title, Two Special Generations: The Millennials and the Boomers.

As in "Hey everyone, don't fight. You're all in this together. You're all, you're all…special!"

And who gets left out of this equation- again? The not-so-special generation. History's latchkey kids, those born between 1965 and 1984, Generation X.

You know, the ones who had to fend for themselves while their parents were off finding themselves. The generation who were raised on TV dinners while their parents were off at TM class. The latchkey kids left at home while their parents went to key parties. 

The generation that grew up knowing all too well how much better it was for their parents and older siblings.

But it was also the generation that- for ever-so-brief a time- were at the cutting edge of technology and culture. If Generation X had a theme it was chafing at the arbitrary restrictions it saw in not only culture and business but the business of culture and the culture of business. So many of the innovations made in the workplace- that Millennials have come to expect- were put into place by Xers, who in turn were following maverick Boomers.

It was Generation X that embraced the Internet and became its first great wave of both users and entrepreneurs ( I mean, blogging?). So much is said now about video games and the power of the industry but it was Generation X that embraced the medium and became its pioneering engineers and programmers. Having seen the Oculus Rift webinar I can safely say that I didn't see anything shockingly unlike what I'd seen in gaming 20 years ago. Maybe more bells and whistles but the same basic chassis.

It was Generation X that got fed up with the music industry monopoly and built its own scenes- punk, metal, hip hop, jam bands, rave- often dealing with a lot of legal and criminal hassles to do so. The window would be open only a frightfully short time, but long enough to break down a lot of old ways of doing business.

Of course, no one realized that the music business itself was going to be written off as an expendable asset for the mass marketing of cellphones and other consumer electronics- a loss leader, if you will. Least of all, the Xers who thought they could carve out niches for themselves as independent musicians.*

But at the same time there's also a whole range of viable alternatives to corporate pabulum for listeners, and that came in large part out of the independent spirit of the 80s and 90s.

Generation X would make its mark on cinema with the Independent boom in the 1990s, and it would do so not by embracing high art but by reframing the junk culture that babysat it in its latchkey days; X auteurs would use pulp and teen trash as their medium, and in irony of ironies, be embraced by the same kinds of critics who wouldn't give the source material these filmmakers grew up on the time of day.

Which leads me to comics and superheroes. Everything we're seeing now, all the big hit movies and TV shows, owe all their success to the material that Generation X embraced and/or created in the 80s and 90s. There hasn't been anything truly original done of any real thematic significance since that incredibly fertile period. 

All the storytelling conventions we're seeing now were established then. Not during the so-called Silver or Bronze Age and not in the past 20 years either.

And that was also a period when you saw a lot of self-publishing, a lot of self-starting on the retail end. But it would be- and to a shocking extent it remains- Generation X who embraced and supported and militated for that work. Many of them would go on to work in the film and TV industry and fight to get this kind of work on the screen.

I could go on, I mean there's a lot more besides, but you get the picture.

So why do the media care so little about Generation X? Why does all of this seem to be forgotten all of a sudden? Most of what we see are pity stories, despite the fact that many of these writers are themselves Xers. 

Well, maybe it's because of that independent streak, that rebellious nature that formed the Xer stereotype. While you can't generalize about 60+ million people, Generation Xers do tend to be more skeptical of government and authority than Boomers and most certainly more so than the Millennials. 

That tendency towards autonomy is not something that people in power much care for; look no further than the small business tax codes. Hell, look at everything everywhere these days. Autonomy and independent thinking don't seem to be on the menu, do they?

Millennials can't be stereotyped either, but we are seeing many of them embrace all kinds of trends and technologies that are inhibiting personal freedom, individuality, independent thinking and maybe worst of all, complexity. Maybe some of these Millennials-- a vanguard, if you will-- would argue that these are necessary sacrifices, that it's all leading to a more fair and just society. 

To which I'd argue to them, are you sure about that? I mean are you certain?

It's a hell of a thing to be wrong about. Have there ever been any examples were people are lured into giving something- or perhaps, everything- up in exchange for some promised better thing that in fact never actually arrives or comes true?

Or in fact what arrives is actually the opposite of what was expected or promised? Seems to me history may have a few examples of this. Quite a few, if I'm not mistaken.**

Something to ponder.

I'll end this by advising everyone to not count Generation X out yet. You're talking a cohort that grew up with diminished expectations already and has already dealt with two major economic downturns in the adult lives of its senior members. And a cohort whose vanguard made their mark by rewriting the plans laid out for them to their own liking, or at least tried. It may still have a few tricks left up its collective sleeve.

UPDATE: This is interesting.

In this light, it strikes me following in the wake of David Bowie's death how Boomers made him a star but in fact it was Xers who made him a superstar. Bowie would shift his alliance from the Boomers he came up to the Xers who adopted him as their own- a move personified in the tour he did with Nine Inch Nails in 1995 and would later concretize with BowieNet, his dotcom boom-era online service.

**  In fact, Generation X was out in front with the whole campus identity politics movement 25 years or so ago only to find themselves on the wrong end of a major backlash. Already we're seeing history repeat, only there won't be a booming job market to escape into when the reaction sets in. It seriously frightens me to consider what could happen in this dangerously polarized country in the event of a major economic downdraft.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The X-Files: Chris Carter Strikes a Nerve...(UPDATED)

So after 14 years off the air, 11 months of waiting after the revival was announced and most excruciatingly, 20 minutes of contentless, post-game fluff and a mind-rotting avalanche of commercials, the new episode of The X-Files aired. 

The ratings were huge and most of the fans seem ecstatic. But at the same time there is quite clearly an organized campaign among critics and keyboard commandos against this reboot, against the first episode "My Struggle" in particular. And as I explained in my previous post it has less to do with what's being shown than what's being said.

Let me explain.

Some time ago I interviewed the author Jonathan Lethem about our mutual love of Jack Kirby and his chapter of Kirby's 70s work in Lethem's collection of memoirs entitled The Disappointment Artist. Kirby's 70s work is hugely influential now, in fact it can be argued that his ideas are essentially single-handedly keeping the entire movie business solvent, whether directly (through the Avengers Universe) or filtered (through the Star Wars Universe). 

But back then they were not well-received by fandom at all, and were seen as irrelevant and off-the-wall and generally uncool.

What was Kirby writing about back then? Oh, ancient astronauts, UFOs, conspiracies, hidden technologies, genetic engineering, interdimensional travel, and so on and so forth.

Sound familiar?

I asked Lethem why Kirby seemed to buck the tide so stubbornly, given his old-school commercial artist instincts.  And Lethem responded that after so long in the business, after making millions for others and having so little to show for it in return, Kirby lost the will to compromise, to meet the editors and audience halfway. He had a vision and was going to pursue it, regardless of the consequences.

After making billions for others and watching others grow rich stealing his ideas, Chris Carter seems to be in a similar place with The X-Files. 

Carter started out wanting to "tell scary stories".  He didn't know how yet, all he knew is that he loved old shows like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, The Invaders and most especially, Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

After reading a news story about poll that a surprisingly large proportion of Americans claimed to have experienced alien abduction, Carter researched the topic and found it was a perfect hook for "scary stories". Having seen how many UFO-themed series ran out of gas early on (Jack Webb's Project UFO especially), he expanded the scope of the stories to tell more conventional scary stories, about monsters and ghosts and all the rest.

But as the series progressed Carter discovered a whole new trove of source material for "scary stories", the then-burgeoning conspiracy underground. 

Compared to the real life horrors that governments and corporations were capable of, liver-eating mutants and flukemen were pretty light fare. Which is why so many fans prefer the monsters and comedy episodes- they're actually not scary at all.

They're goofy, fun, escapist entertainment.

"Deep Throat", where pilots who fly secret aircraft are subjected to chemical brain damage to keep their missions secret, is scary. "Conduit", where a bureaucratic mistake brings a squad of goons to smash up your house and arrest you and your small child, is scary. "Blood", in which a combination of aerosolized drugs and subliminal messages drive people to wanton acts of murder, is scary. As is its companion piece, "Wetwired", where those messages are broadcast through cable TV channels.

Or how about "731", where the homeless and insane are experimented upon and then slaughtered by death squads and buried in mass graves? Or "Zero Sum", where schoolchildren are subjected to weaponized smallpox through killer bee attacks? 

Mind control, human experimentation, planned cullings, and secret warfare are scary. Vampires and werewolves simply are not; they're fun and silly.  

So Carter again sets out to scare his audience. And he does so by doing what he's always done- reach into the Jack-in-the-Box of America's Nightmare Cabinet and force the fringe into the mainstream.

That he seems to be taking so much flak shows that he is indeed striking some very sensitive nerves, which is why mainstream voices-of-record The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly were not content to attack "My Struggle" once, they actually did so twice.
Roswell, 9/11, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Kimmel, Faraday Cages, the military-industrial complex, kids without ears, the military-industrial complex, JFK, Henrietta Lacks, Saddam Hussein, “Mission Accomplished,” the Patriot Act, Edward Snowden, communism, terrorism, fascism, the Venus Syndrome, “They’ve reopened the X-Files.” 
There, I just spoiled “My Struggle,” the rebooted premiere of The X-Files and one of the single strangest episodes of anything ever. “My Struggle” is a chain-gun barrage of catchphrase paranoia and midlife-crisis crypto-Randian anti-philosophy. -Entertainment Weekly (first review)

What I know for sure is that despite my affection for Joel McHale, I couldn’t get past that 9/11 false flag stuff to really enjoy his character. In general, this episode forced me to re-think my interest in conspiracy theories and my openness to be entertained by them — something The X-Files taught me...
Back then it was the ’90s (my 20s), when I was drunk on the irony and irreverence of the era. Having lived through more than a few national and personal tragedies since then, I find it harder to be amused by the appropriation of catastrophe and the troubling ways we make sense of life’s horror. --Entertainment Weekly (second review)
The show was at its best when its heroes investigated something very creepy — a ship on the Norwegian Sea whose crew mysteriously ages, for instance — and came up with more questions than answers. The real pleasure of “The X-Files” wasn’t having your worst fears about the government confirmed; it was realizing that our world might still contain phenomena that are unexplained, and perhaps unexplainable. --New York Times (first review)
This time he’s propagating a theory, not about aliens, but about the cruelest of creatures: man. He reckons that the “alien abductions” he’s spent his life investigating were actually undertaken by men posing as aliens and testing alien DNA on humans. This evil plan will culminate in the “takeover of America.” I spit out my drink laughing at that line, which was bad because I was watching this episode on my computer. It sounded like something Sarah Palin would say. Along for this trite trip through Mulder’s troubled mind is a right-wing talk show host, because that is a believable alliance these days. --New York Times (second review)
Lest you think that's some editorial quirk, look at the bad review in Time, which not only completely misinterprets the mandate of the original series (fun?) but cites the authoritarian propaganda orgasmatron The Dark Knight as the example Carter should be following:
2016 may be the worst possible time to attempt a reboot of a series whose point of view was that conspiracy theories are, above all else, fun. As evidenced in political polling, the current national mood is something less joyful and more fearful, and a show in which a can-do attitude can barrel through any mystery feels out-of-step with the times. 
That doesn’t stop The X-Files from trying. The show, after all, has to live down an ending that resolved little and a stand-alone movie, in 2008, that underperformed at the box office (it was overshadowed by a film that spoke far more strongly to the national mood at that time—Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.)- Time review
So apparently it's not OK to write about this stuff anymore, not even as fiction. It was OK during the Bush era, it was OK to be suspicious of the Powers-That-Be then. Michael Moore made millions doing so. But not with the Anointed One in the Oval Office.
UPDATE: The bad reviews almost certainly caught Chris Carter and Fox by surprise. Why?

Because the new X-Files pilot was wildly received not only at NY Comic-Con but at MIPCOM, a television trade fair. Read this:

Cynical industry journalists turned into gawking fanboys at the MIPCOM television trade fair on Tuesday night when Fox screened — in its world premiere — the first episode of the hotly anticipated return of The X-Files. 
The audience packed into Cannes' Grand Auditorium broke out in spontaneous applause multiple times — including when Duchovny and Anderson first appeared — and the crowd whooped and cheered as the closing credits rolled. But perhaps the biggest applause came earlier, when the opening credits — with The X-Files' trademark intro music — hit the screen.
So ask yourself: what happened between October and January?
This is exactly why we see such dangerous polarization in this country, why news outlets like Time are dying, why people are drawn to fringe opinions in the first place. People see the hypocrisy and double-standards and don't like them.

Now here's the thing: I didn't learn about most of the issues Carter raises on Alex Jones or Glenn Beck, I first heard about them on WBAI and WFMU, two hard left/liberal radio stations, back in the 1980s and 1990s, and in underground publications like Covert Action Quarterly. How long ago that seems today.

Being liberal or progressive once meant "questioning authority." No longer.

So let's be clear what the Voice of the Establishment is saying here. It's not OK to make fiction about this stuff-- fiction, mind you-- because it's too scary.

When The New York Times decides to send that message twice, one can only conclude that Carter struck a nerve.

The irony here is that the conspiracy material won't have much effect on the Alex Jones/David Icke crowd either way; they'll just figure it's more predictive programming or disinfo or whatever. There's no pleasing them either.

But again, you get the feeling Chris Carter simply doesn't give a shit. He's going to do what he wants to do and let everyone else deal with it.

The people who write for geek sites and non-mainstream media don't like "scary" either. Nor do the floating, freelance trolls who you see on comment sites and message boards. Here's a typical sampling of geek opinion, (a demographic who never liked the serious side of The X-Files anyway) and their fixation on the McHale character's radical libertarianism :
Fox Mulder was always noble. We identified with his plight because what he was doing was born out of love, so it’s both confusing and unfortunate that the show portrays Glenn Beck types the same way. 
Call me crazy, but I like my conspiracies served up classy, not lumped in with “the guvernmint is gonna take yer gunz!-  The Workprint
Hilarious. And this from Geekwire
 A few moments into Mulder and O’Malley engaging in a bro-babble about enslaving humanity via agricultural manipulation, the Fifth Extinction, weather control and the building of prison camps for no unknown purpose, blaming every significant world power but the Kardashians, a person can’t be blamed for wondering whether we really needed more of this show.
There was going to be no pleasing these people anyway. They've had their knives out for Carter for a very, very long time, both for trivial, "nerd-rage" reasons (mostly because that Carter has never prostrated himself before them like other creators) and among a certain subset, more troubling reasons that have to do with certain issues Carter's taken on in his writing.

But even the X-Files fansite Eat the Corn
(which has signed onto some extremely questionable enterprises, like the recent X-Files comics) has trouble separating fiction from reality in an otherwise positive review when he doesn't like the politics:

While this is good news, the turn Mulder takes embracing O’Malley’s theories and Carter’s comments above could be cause for concern. Your mileage may vary, naturally, however I would not want to see The X-Files become an apology of libertarian, conservative, anti-liberal propaganda even if these theories are framed in a fictional narrative. 
That O'Malley's politics are essentially no different from Max Fenig's, or the Lone Gunmen's, Susanne Modeski's or Michael Kritschgau's (particularly) seems besides the point in this climate. Why? I can think of any number of fictional characters whose politics I disagreed with and that didn't change my experience with the work itself.

Something is seriously askew.

But it doesn't matter because Carter simply doesn't care what any of these people think anymore. And there's a good reason why.

Way back in the day, co-executive producer Glen Morgan noticed a funny thing about a certain breed of online X-Files fans. They'd go online and say the writers should do a more conventional monster like a werewolf. So they'd do one and the fans would then complain that they shouldn't do such cliched stories. 

The fans would then say they should do more emotional stories and when they would (Morgan cited 'The Field Where I Died' and 'Never Again') they'd complain they should stick to the sci-fi.


When the first feature film came was announced, fans clamored for answers about the Mytharc and after it came out fans complained they should have done a standalone story. They did a standalone story for the second feature and the fans all bitched it should have been about the alien conspiracy.

Get the picture?

The other issue is that the series left off with a prophecy about the alien invasion impending in 2012, leaving Carter and the other producers with a huge amount of retconning to do. In the tiny, shrinking time allowed for TV dramas (the commercials were brutal-- I did an immediate rewatch and found I enjoyed it tenfold) Carter had to reintroduce the characters and the Mythology and explain why the invasion never came without saying, "Gee guys, the alien invasion never came because a third movie was never greenlit."

Never mind not wanting to be associated with the avalanche of alien invasion crapfests we've seen in the past decade or so.

Despite some carping from a certain constituency of fans, the general consensus was (and is increasingly now) that after two seasons of narrative drift, The X-Files regained its mojo in the eighth season. David Duchovny- who for years never tired of telling everyone how badly he wanted off the show- was so energized by playing with Robert Patrick he was reportedly tempted for a time to stay on.

Then there was the strange interlude of The Lone Gunmen pilot, which has since been tagged as "predictive programming" by people who never actually watched it, but in fact plays exactly like how the dialogue reads.

As these things happen, the show followed on a fulfillment of this prophecy, at the worst possible time.  There was a lot of confusion behind the scenes with contracts unsigned and a planned major character having to be written off due to a difficult pregnancy (Lucy Lawless's Shannon McMahon), a seeming forced rewrite of a major new character and a lot of uncertainty in general.

The final season of The X-Files is a lot better than its reputation would have you believe, but the Mythology does suffer from sheer exhaustion (literal, physical exhaustion on Carter's part) and casting issues (the eighth season was meant to see Mulder and Scully off to the movies but Gillian Anderson stayed on, which the writers openly admitted to struggling with).

Serious competition from Alias and The Sopranos sunk the aging show and a protracted lawsuit over royalties sank the planned movie series. A second movie was made on the cheap and on the fly and sadly went over a lot of people's heads, despite being one of the most sophisticated exercises in mythic allegory I've ever seen.

Carter's fortunes (and to a certain extent that of his current co-exec, Glen Morgan) waned while everyone else went on to fame and fortune with series like Homeland, Breaking Bad, and The Man in the High Castle.  

Not well known for his willingness to compromise, Carter has not been a player in the new Hollywood. So seeing The X-Files revival as possibly his last chance to have his say before a mass audience, he seems to have pulled out all the stops, unleashing on all the issues that have been on his mind since 9/11.

Carter didn't come from the usual UCLA film school circuit, he was a journalism major. And when he has something to say and a short time to say it his characters are known to speechify, a common and legitimate criticism of his writing.  

'Redux I' is, in this writer's opinion, Carter's speechifying tendency at its most extreme. And to be honest, the reviews had me expecting the same thing. And this episode does owe a lot the Season Five opener in style and tone. But it's a lot more effective because what Carter has to say here is a lot more focused and the dialogue a lot cleaner than 'Redux'.

The role served in Redux by Michael Kritschgau here is played by Joel McHale (called Tad O'Malley for those keeping score), who reviewers are comparing to Alex Jones or Glenn Beck. But I say he seems more a Hollywood take on Richard Dolan, the author of UFOs and the National Security State, vols 1 + 2. McHale's exegesis and Cassandra-like prophesying more closely matches that of Dolan than that of Jones or Beck, who we just get a window dressing of, really.

McHale drops in to wake Mulder up and get the action moving along. He introduces Mulder to a multiple abductee, drives a wedge between Mulder and Scully and seems to convince Mulder that his belief in an alien conspiracy was in fact a manipulated stageshow, put on by an offstage set of players who were above even the old Syndicate.

I won't spoil too much for people who haven't seen the episode yet. Fox leaked so much footage I felt like I'd seen it all before it aired, but trust me, I didn't and you haven't either.

Joel McHale does a better job than David Duchovny at delivering the information since he sounds more engaged in his part. Duchovny seems a bit stuck between Mulder-mode and Hank Moody-mode and when he's talking about the New World Order it sounds more like Hank lamenting over his latest relationship fuckup. But that's his creative decision and in general his performance works. He's playing a defeated man who's obsessions are punchlines, whose lifelong love walked out on him and who's reduced to surfing the web for hoaxed UFO videos.

But if Carter's weakness is his tendency to speechify, his great strength is to shut up and punch you in the face repeatedly. And he does so at crucial points in "Struggle." And when you least expect it, expect it.

The problem is I don't know how I'm going to be able to watch simple standalones now. James Wong's episode tonight looks interesting and is seemingly tied into the overarching theme established in "Struggle". I love me a good Darin Morgan yukster but is it appropriate in a six-episode run? I know Chris Carter wanted to "put the band back together" and bring as many of the original players back as possible, but it may give me a case of narrative whiplash.

Now, the retconning of the Mytharc. I'll have to search my archives but I remember reading this post on USENET or something way back in the day that argued that what we saw last night (or something similar) was actually Carter's idea all along. I thought it was a mad rant at the time, but entertaining enough to stick in my memory. Now I wonder.

There's also an unofficial X-Files episode guide published after Fight the Future that goes into the whole Colonist/Rebel issue and argues that that is actually at the core of the lot of the mysteries in the series.

We'll have to see. Most fans have no idea how much external factors figured, and indeed, actively interfered with the telling of the arc, preferring to pin it all on Carter's mercurial nature.

The Mytharc arose as a reaction to Gillian Anderson's pregnancy and the Colonization arc was ended in Season Six for reasons that apparently had nothing to do with what Carter and Co. planned, but in fact in response to a mysterious external factor or influence that has never been adequately explained.

Its replacement (starting with "Biogenesis") didn't even survive its initial three-episode arc and, tellingly,  would only re-emerge in the ninth season. The lead-up to the movie had to deal with the "skeptic Mulder" storyline that no one in the writers' room wanted to deal with. The supersoldier arc strained against the national mood post-9/11.

I've always seen the Mytharc more as poetry than prose anyway, a kind of floating improvisation on fixed themes. But it makes a lot more sense if you watch them all together, something not a lot of fans have probably done. There are all kinds of layers and unspoken undercurrents that most fans have no interest in, certainly fewer critics.

But this retconning most definitely ties into my own suspicions raised by the 'Biogenesis'/'Provenance' storyline, that the aliens of the Godships were not the alien Colonists and that the two were in fact in opposition. That William was linked to the Godship aliens, which explains the baffled reaction of the supersoldiers in 'Existence' and the incineration of the supersoldier cultists in 'Providence'.

I don't know where it's going but unlike his critics I'm humble enough to admit that Chris Carter is smarter than I am. So I'll keep watching and see what happens next. In the meantime, 'Founder's Mutation' in two hours....

UPDATE: I'm going to have to give "Founder's Mutation" another viewing before I comment on it. It very much felt on the first go like Mulder and Scully wandering into an episode of Fringe. The change in tone from apocalyptic to near-whimsy was a bit jarring, it must be said. I did appreciate the thematic tie-ins as well as the William visions (which were beautifully conceived and shot) though, and hope that particular storyline is going to be resolved in this series.

UPDATE: HATE FAIL: The massive hate campaign against the X-Files premiere failed in the most spectacular fashion.
The return of “The X-Files” got off to an even better start than previously thought. The show adjusted to a 6.1 in adults 18-49 in Sunday’s final ratings, up from 5.1 for the partial number in the preliminary results.
Note how even TV by the Numbers buries the lede here by headlining only the smallest number. It got a 6.1 rating but a 19 share and a whopping 16.9 million viewers, even after the 22 minute overrun from the game. And that's just live TV. The numbers stayed big for the second night, nearing almost 10 million viewers on the overnights, a number that will probably be adjusted up as well.

NOTE: One major criticism I do have about the relaunch is the digital video. I totally understand the need for it but it simply doesn't have the depth and richness of film. One of the reasons I was so hypnotized by the criminally-underrated second film was Carter, Roe and Bartley's full exploitation of film as a canvas, particularly making use of all that beautiful Canadian tundra. Could video capture that poetry?

Friday, January 22, 2016

What Year is This? It's SecretSun16

What an interesting year this has been already.

Last year during the New Horizon mission to Pluto (and points beyond), I speculated that the real purpose of this mission was not Pluto at all but was in fact about searching the murky reaches of space beyond the former planet, specifically looking for Planet X. 

The existence of a large body with an eccentric solar orbit has long been the basis for debate, speculation and controversy. Of course, raising the issue has been a surefire way to open yourself to ridicule or worse, despite the very solid science that had been done since at least the early 1980s.

I was mindful in the wording of my suspicions about the mission, but it appears to have gotten this blog a lot of the kind of attention that I wasn't used to. I realized when I was contacted for an interview by a mainstream news outlet that I struck a nerve somewhere (I opted to pass the buck to Richard Hoagland, who's been dealing with the media since I was in diapers and handled the situation perfectly).

But now it's been revealed that NASA's been sitting on a major revelation about Planet X for some time:
Hints that ‘Planet Nine’ may exist on edge of our solar system 
Two astronomers say they have found evidence that a planet around 10 times the mass of Earth is lurking in the outer reaches of the solar system, on an orbit that comes no closer than 200 times the distance between the sun and Earth. Dubbed Planet Nine, it hasn’t been seen directly. Instead, Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena have inferred its existence from the strange orbits of other, smaller bodies. 
Brown and others have continued to explore the Kuiper belt and have discovered many small bodies. One called 2012 VP113, which was discovered in 2014, raised the possibility of a large, distant planet, after astronomers realised its orbit was strangely aligned with a group of other objects.  
As I've said repeatedly, if astronomers aren't sure what's out there in our own solar system, we may want to take their speculations about solar systems trillions of miles away with a grain of salt or two.

Longtime readers are well familiar with the work done here on comics great Jack Kirby and his astonishing prophecies and his obsession with aliens and ancient astronauts.

Now it seems that Kirby's star is rising after years of relative obscurity. 
There was a major exhibition of his work and now there's a stage play based on his life.
The art world has traditionally looked down on commercial artists and illustrators. The case of Kirby was especially problematic because he worked in a genre most critics consider juvenile, and worked at it with a deeply unfashionable lack of pretention. Sure, his work sells for tens of thousands of dollars per page, but mostly to fans, not serious people. 
Nevertheless, Kirby’s stock has been rising in academia as scholars recognize the contributions he has made to popular culture, and he has been the subject of several serious aesthetic critiques, group shows and retrospective exhibits. 
Last fall, Charles Hatfield, a Kirby scholar and professor at California State University Northridge, mounted a gallery show called The Comic Book Apocalypse: The Graphic Work of Jack Kirby, that made a strong claim for his groundbreaking aesthetics in the context of 20th century American Art. The show was thoughtfully reviewed in the current issue of Art in America. 
There is also a Kirby Museum project mounted by curators including Rand Hoppe, Tom Kraft and Mike Cecchini, which is seeking a physical home on New York’s Lower East Side (Kirby’s birthplace) for its collection of hundreds of Kirby original works.
Even more fascinating is that Dr. John Brandenberg has done some hard science detailing the thesis that Mars was destroyed during a nuclear war, just a Kirby depicted in "The Face on Mars" in 1959.

This Sunday sees the return of The X-Files, another topic well-familiar to longtime readers. You might have seen some of the negative reviews in the mainstream media about the relaunch, which surely has nothing at all to do with this :
Fox's X-Files revival has controversial new theories 
Now we don’t want to reveal too much about the episode, or how the conspiracy relates to the show’s existing labyrinthine mythology. What we will report – and stop reading if you don’t want to know anything about the first hour – is that O’Malley eventually sways Mulder and Scully to adopt a new conspiracy that lays a framework for the six-episode revival. 
The theory involves global warming, war in the Middle East, NSA spying, chem-trails (here called “aerial contaminants”), police militarization, supposed FEMA prison camps, and the eventual military “takeover of America” by a UN-like group of “multinational elites.” The conspiracy theory plays a bit like Oliver Stone during his JFK fever pitch — only if his source material was Infowars instead of UFO lore.
The fact that many of the reviews make disparaging reviews about tinfoil hats and the rest of it (did any of these idiots ever watch the original series?) is surely coincidental.

UPDATE: In case the was any doubt was what is really going with the bad reviews, The New York Times puts it all to rest. Note they cite one of the lamest, most forgotten standalones as the show "at its best." This is exactly what I was concerned about in March.
The show was at its best when its heroes investigated something very creepy — a ship on the Norwegian Sea whose crew mysteriously ages, for instance — and came up with more questions than answers. The real pleasure of “The X-Files” wasn’t having your worst fears about the government confirmed; it was realizing that our world might still contain phenomena that are unexplained, and perhaps unexplainable. 

We get flashes of this old spirit in the second and third episodes of the reboot. I hope the rest of the six-episode series continues in this vein, because watching TV heroes embrace conspiracy theories isn’t much fun when presidential candidates foster gun-confiscation paranoia and a 9/11 truther is campaigning for Donald Trump in Iowa.

Just to round out the buffet, we now find that Elizabeth Fraser, the Siren herself, is returning after 20 years of almost complete silence with a highly significant project-- semiotically-speaking, that is.
Since disbanding her influential dream pop band, Cocteau Twins, Elizabeth Fraser has remained fairly quiet in the music world. Though she’s worked with artists including Massive Attack and released a pair of singles, her last full-length statement remains Cocteau Twins’ 1996 final album Milk and Kisses. Now Fraser has teamed with her husband Damon Reece for her most extensive project since then, as Loaded reports. 
The pair have composed an operatic score for the upcoming series Nightmare Worlds of H.G. Wells — a four-part mini-series set to debut on Sky Arts January 28. The consists of four adaptations of stories by H.G. Wells and includes performances by Michael Gambon, Ray Winstone and Rupert Graves. Watch the trailer below to hear some of Fraser and Reece’s score.

Of course, the year began with the loss of David Bowie, a foundational influence for The Secret Sun.* 

But I ended 2015 exploring personal evidence of the persistence of life after death
(a fact of which I have no doubts of anyway), so I was prepared for that eventuality. Bowie not only left us a lifetime of work to explore, his spirit is now free to roam to points unknown.

I plan to return to Blackstar in the future once I've had more time to digest it, but I can't help but notice strange, almost etheric connections, not the least of which is the literally secret sun of the 'Blackstar' video, as well as the (literal) ancient astronaut and the Bacchic mystery cult and all the rest of it. I don't think I'm done with the Starman and I don't think he's done with me.

Oh, and then Killing Joke drop their new single and video. They were supposed to be touring the US this month but, you know. Killing Joke.

*I should also state again that our UFO sighting this past year came after hours of listening to Bowie and was followed by an almost impossible VALIS sync.

I should also add that just as I wrote the above sentence I received a confirmation email from Amazon that my CD version of Blackstar shipped....

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Bowie, Blackstar and the Stories Still Untold, Part Three

Secret, Secret

David Bowie would use the fact of his onrushing mortality to achieve what many are hailing as his masterwork, both artistically and (in some quarters) magically. But was this anything new for the Starman? 

Or had he in fact been an old hand at this sort of thing? Did he perform a work of magic so subtle and sophisticated that most observers did not in fact realize that was what they were seeing? 

Part Three of a look at what many see as the most fruitful creative period for the Man Who Fell to Earth and the untold story of the Muse who inspired his most indelible musical- and magical- work.

Read Part One (Examining Blackstar and Lazarus) and Part Two (the story of Bowie's hidden muse)

While the party line has it that David Bowie and Romy Haag split in early 1977, Haag claims that their relationship broke off "at the end of the 70s," adding that,"(w)hen Angie found out we were together, she called a lawyer and they were harassing me. And there was all this bad publicity, and David had a fight with his record company." 

The first claim seems to be referring to the ongoing divorce trial. Bowie had earlier produced a photograph in court of Angela and a female lover in flagrante delicto, arguing she was an unfit parent for their son and Angela was probably looking to retaliate. Presenting evidence that Bowie was conducting a secret affair with a transsexual celebrity would suit her purposes. 

We'll see shortly that Bowie may have kept the exact extent or nature of his relationship with Haag from Angela, despite the latter's later claims.

In keeping with the timeline, the "bad publicity" may well have been local gossip or it may instead have been in response to Bowie's appearance in the Anglo-German film, Just a Gigolo, which created a firestorm of vitriol in the press in late '78 and early '79, much of it leveled at Bowie personally.

Bowie was indeed having protracted conflicts with RCA as well and had made up his mind to leave the label as Lodger was being completed in early 1979, according to guitarist Adrian Belew. Bowie would claim that his own "personal events" prevented him from spending time needed on the album, which resulted in its infamous muddy mix. More on those later.

Whatever the exact details it's certain that Bowie left Berlin for New York in the spring of 1979. But there's excellent evidence that his mind was still very much on his Berlin lover.

We also have photographic evidence of Bowie and Haag together some nine months after the allegedly ill-fated birthday party with its probable nonexistent papparazzo (other tellings instead blame the split on Haag reporting their relationship to local papers), a date we can determine by the kind of shag/mullet haircut Bowie adopted for the "Heroes" video taping (and the subsequent Bing Crosby show taping), his hair having been done up in a quiff through most of 1977. 

He's also wearing the military/punk/leather-type clothing he favored at the time (see the Heroes LP cover and video), and most importantly, we see where he got the idea for the naval officer's cap that he'd wear on stage just a few months later on the Heroes world tour (Haag herself was unsure whether the photos were taken in 1977 or 1978, but was sure the cap was hers). 

So already we see that the official story put out by Bowie and his organization was not true.

There's also the very central issue of Heroes

Goaded on by Bowie's misdirections (remember, this is a magician we're dealing with) and reinforced by a PR machine and a pliant music media, many fans are led to believe that the lyrics to Bowie's songs are just high-minded gibberish, nonsense thrown together through arcane techniques. 

But if- as a thought experiment- you look at Heroes as a document of a passionate yet doomed liaison between two androgynous savants with shared fascinations for the romance of early 20th Century Europe, a romance taking place in a city awash in drugs, political intrigue and paranoia, the album makes every bit of sense in the world.

The leadoff song is simultaneously defiant to the world-- "You can't say no to the Beauty and the Beast"-- and apologetic to a lover: "Nothing is wrong but darling, something's in the way." if you like, you can read this as an apology to Haag for the public blowup, blaming it all the outside forces that demanded it, as well as the turmoil surrounding them ("I wanted no distractions") in general.

Conversely, "Joe the Lion" is an improvised lyric which seems to reference the extreme states Bowie and Iggy were putting themselves through at the time (so much for "cleaning himself up"). 

Which brings up another issue- David was famously wrecked in Los Angeles yet seemed to regain his vitality in drug-drenched Berlin, despite the endless boozing and excess. What else could it have been- what fresh impetus- that turned his (and in turn, Iggy's) life around? Again, so little of the official story makes any real sense.*

The title track is itself a document of an embattled, doomed romance ("nothing will keep us together" and "nothing will drive them away"). It's been noted that Bowie got inspiration for the line about the lovers kissing by the wall from Tony Visconti's own secret romance (which is probably true), but if you read the lyrics in the context of Bowie singing about the impossible future of his relationship with Haag, then the rest makes absolute sense. None of the other explanations we've seen over the years actually do. 

People write- and more importantly, sing- songs like that about their own situations, not about others'.

Romy Haag in 1977

"Sons of the Silent Age" details the shared, eclectic obsessions that brought Bowie and Haag together, the decadence of Weimar Germany, the romance of silent Hollywood, and soul music. The verses catalog the activities the "sons" share with the soaring choruses promising, "Baby, I'll never let you down/I can't stand another sound/Let's find another way." 

Another way to do what? Another way to continue their relationship away from the prying eyes of the media? Haag herself would later say that ,"we wouldn’t go out together that much because of the paparazzi." 

Those damned photos again.

Similarly "Blackout" foresees the aggravation Bowie and Haag would soon suffer from Angela Bowie, whose arrival in Berlin was signaled by "Someone's back in town/The chips are down," and asks to "Get me off the streets/Give me some protection." 

I hate to sound like a broken record but again, read this like it's about a man trying to keep a relationship out of the public eye. And out of sight of his wife, as well. And as the way these things go, probably out of the sight of those closest to him too.   

And even though Angela claims to have known about Bowie and Haag all along, it's hard to imagine her not raising the issue during the divorce trial. This goes a long way in verifying Haag's claims of harassment from Angela's lawyer:  Angela heard rumors but had no evidence she could use in court, and was working to obtain it.

After a number of instrumentals (most far warmer and more romantic than their Low cousins; sexier, if you will) the final song, "The Secret Life of Arabia" is the kind of edgy Eurodisco Chez Romy Haag was famous for. 

Bowie sings "I was running at the speed of life/From morning's thoughts and fantasies/Then I saw your eyes at the cross fades"

This might sound to most like Bowie being opaque. Or it might be an account of Bowie locking eyes with Romy Hague while on tour ("running at the speed of life") at the Berlin Deutschlandhalle while singing "Station to Station", which he would claim was in fact inspired by the Stations of the Cross. 

The instrumental "Speed of Life" was also the B-side to "Be My Wife", a song that was written during the heady early days of Bowie and Haag's affair.

All of a sudden the Secret Life of Arabia isn't so secret, is it? Tell me again how this affair ended in January?

Heroes would be released at the end of the 1977 and find a better reception than Low. Though now considered to be a veritable companion piece to its predecessor, Heroes was then regarded as a lustier, meatier, more passionate experience. The recording sessions went remarkably quickly and were filled with moments of serendipitous magic. Could we assume that Bowie was indeed literally in-spired here and that the now-clandestine nature of his relationship with Haag only fed the fire?

 As Haag would later recount, the two would see little of each other as Bowie would spend much of 1978 out of Berlin, touring Heroes with his all-star band (which now featured Zappa alumnus and future King Crimson frontman Adrian Belew). Significantly, Bowie would perform Weill's "Alabama Song", Haag's famous opening number, in his own sets. 

Subsequently, sessions for his next album Lodger would take place out of Berlin as well, in Switzerland and New York, instead. The themes of the album seemed to reflect Bowie's experience traveling the world but he and Eno's mission statement was to continue doing the kind of studio adventurism that had been explored at Hansa. 

However, according to all involved the magical experience of Low and Heroes simply failed to materialize. Critics saw it as a mere shadow of Heroes, an afterthought. Strangely (and inexplicably), Bowie would also remake the song he recorded with Iggy "Sister Midnight" under the title 'Red Money'. It's first verse would read, "Oh, can you feel it in the way, That a man is not a man?" before taking the refrain, "Project canceled."

Significantly, there would be one song that seemed like an ironic inside joke between the two lovers, 'Boys Keep Swinging', maybe even some kind of entreaty during a difficult period ("boys always work it out").

Oh, that's crazytalk! There's no evidence at all for that, I hear you say!

Well, you might find this connection tenuous indeed until you see the video, which is Bowie- for absolutely no apparent reason at all- acting out the drag performances he watched every night at Chez Romy Haag.

As Haag later said about "Boys Keep Swinging,"(and no one has ever argued with), "The setting is a complete, one-to-one copy of the stage in my club. He’s performing one of my favourite numbers. There’s this one part of the video where he smears his makeup and he rips off his wig... my signature move!" Haag also believes the glamorous middle figure in the video is based on herself, which is probably the case.

Why then would Bowie still be processing an influence he'd dispensed with over two years before? This is "Bowie the Chameleon", who went through interests and influences like most other people change socks.

It's almost inconceivable that he'd be still pulling a move of a lover he-- allegedly-- had a bitter split with an eternity before in Bowietime. This is what really what hangs me up over the official party line. It's like Bowie touring Station to Station with The Spiders from Mars.

It's just...anti-Bowie.

Unless, of course, Haag was telling the truth and their relationship had in fact only ended around this point in time (after the recording of Lodger). Of her volition, if what she says is true. (Remember the woman walking out of frame in "Where Are We Now?" Ah...)

The breakup that Haag claimed took place around this time may have been the unspecified "personal events" Bowie referred to in 2001, seeing as how the biographies I've read don't record anything like that at this time. Which, of course, they wouldn't.

Well, that's just one song and one video, you might be saying. Hardly convincing. 

Well, what if I told you that one of Bowie's most legendary yet enigmatic performances may in fact been a magical ritual meant to exorcise the "ghost" of Haag from his life, a magical ritual that was performed in front of millions of unsuspecting Americans?

What if I told you that this performance climaxed with a rite taken from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the magical society headed by Bowie's admitted hero, Arthur Edward Waite?

On December 15th, 1979 Bowie did a three-song set on Saturday Night Live, hosted by Martin Sheen (whose Apocalypse Now was in theatres at the time). Bowie used the core of his backup band from the 1976 tour, the stunning rhythm section of drummer Dennis Davis, bassist George Murray and guitarist Stacey Heydon, longtime musical director Carlos Alomar, as well as Blondie keyboardist Jimmy Destri. 

For backup singers, he seemed to reach right back into Romy's bag of tricks, hiring gender-bending German sensation Klaus Nomi and NY underground star Joey Arias, both of whom wore Thierry Mugler dresses and full drag makeup.

The choice of songs seemed curious indeed (especially so since two of the oldies were not hits), the nine-year old "Man Who Sold the World", the three year-old "TVC15" and a truncated version of "Boys Keep Swinging." 

Bowie wore interesting costumes; a knockoff of an old Dadaist costume for "Man" (the 'Silent Age' again), a "Chinese Stewardess" skirt and jacket and high heels (drag, in other words) for "TVC," and a weird semi-naked puppet body on "Boys".

The visuals here are random only if you still believe Bowie and Haag were a thing of the distant past at this point. If you don't, they make the most perfect linear sense.

You have the German Dadaist influence for the first song, the cross-dressing in the second, the nudity (and stagecraft) of the third and the two Chez Romy refugees appearing throughout. A narrative, in other words.

Really, you ask? How so?

Well, the songs aren't random or arbitrary either. Bowie appeared in drag on the cover of The Man Who Sold the World, not coincidentally, and we've already seen the explicit Romy connection to 'Boys Keep Swinging'.

So what of 'TVC15', which was not only three years old it wasn't much of a hit in the US or anywhere else. What's its significance?

Well, nothing other than the fact that 'TVC15' was released as a single the same week Bowie met Romy Haag in Berlin.

Oh, that significance.

Note also Stacey Heydon hadn't played with Bowie in the intervening three years since, yet was hired for this one-off appearance.

Is a pattern beginning to emerge here?

By paying such exacting attention to detail here, Bowie seems to be constructing much, much more than a promotional appearance. As best he could Bowie is recreating the event at which he met Haag, but adding in crucial details meant to magnify the effect of the ritual (Debby Harry and Blondie trading on some of the same cultural signifiers as Haag, hence Destri) he is performing. He is also quite clearly taking a page from shamanism or high ritual magic and using cross-dressing as a way of taking on the power of the female. Or in this case, taking back that power.

Where ever do I get that idea from? Well, at the end of 'TVC15' he takes on (and holds) the 'Enterer' pose of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. 

What is its significance?

It's a part of the Golden Dawn's banishing ritual. Note that Arias and Nomi stiffly turn and face different directions during the song as one would during this ritual. Note also the dog, which has universal connotations to Sirius, venerated by occult orders, but is also linked to the Star trump which has androgynous connotations.

Bowie is clearly constructing a very eclectic kind of magic here, but by drawing on the Banishing Ritual at the end of the song he might reasonably most identify with meeting his former lover, the intended result is fairly obvious. 

There's also this, from the book Loving the Alien. Bowie's occult obsessions were often chalked up merely to his cocaine dementia in LA, but like so many bowiemyths that appears not to be true:
"Bowie's bizarre behaviour continued even after he moved to Europe: witness his strange use of 'signals'. Throughout 1977 and '78 his letters were filled with numbers to which he gave mysterious meanings. The minute Bowie left Berlin in 1979, the numbers abruptly stopped."
In summation: Given the evidence here, I feel very strongly that Bowie and Haag did indeed continue their relationship-- secretly-- long after his 30th birthday party and that her influence had a powerful hold over him, so much that he resorted to what can only be called a rite of sympathetic magic to take back the power he felt she had taken from him.  

Now, you don't have to believe such a thing would work, but you do have to believe Bowie believed it would.

It's interesting to note that he'd play the Fool (as one biographer noted, wearing more lipstick and makeup than ever) in his next great working, a highly symbolic start to a new journey (the man knew his occult symbolism). 

A new journey from what, we should ask? 

His Pierrot take on the Fool archetype seemed to have nothing to do with Scary Monster's title or title track, which-- oh my, look at this-- seems to bid farewell to an exotic woman ("She opened strange doors that we'd never close again") and also name-drops Iggy (who Bowie called Jimmy, which was his real name) in a curious context, reminding us that Bowie produced- and played guitar on- Iggy's records in Berlin ("Jimmy's guitar sound, jealousies scream"). 

Jealousy. Interesting.

And it should be noted just prior to 'Ashes to Ashes' b/w 'Move On' (the latter a song unambiguously about rebounding from a relationship by moving to a new location)--where he first appears as the Fool, the Beginner--that Bowie released a version of Romy's signature tune, "The Alabama Song" in 1980. (Which is included on Monsters as an extra on the CD reissue).

The "Alabama Song" also covered by The Doors. 

Now, tell me again how they split up in January 1977, how this had been just another of David's myriad conquests? That his lyrics were just randomized bulldada?

And did he really get Romy Haag out of his system? Just as I had a hard time squaring Leee's unambiguous claim that Bowie moved to Berlin to be with Romy with the scanty evidence of the relationship in the many Bowie bios (or the ones I'd read so far), none of any of this really changed my way of thinking about the situation.

Now, Haag was as much a footnote to me as anyone else.
 Interesting aside, but no more interesting than Amanda Lear, say. The story seemed fairly consistent, why doubt it? 

I didn't much, until I was recently listening to a Bowie concert from 2002, in Berlin of course. There he performed the song off the album hours called 'Survive', after which he launched into a short anecdote about his time in Berlin which in turn served to introduce, what else, 'The Alabama Song', or that is, Romy's song.

Which, by the way, he just told us he'd sing at breakfast every morning.


That's one of those moments when the light goes on.

If 'Where Are We Now' got me to suspecting that Bowie was still carrying a torch for his Berlin muse, it was actually the lyrics to 'Survive' that first put me on the scent.

Please; don't take my word for it, go read them for yourself. 

These are not Bowie's cut-up abstractions, these are some of the bluntest, rawest lyrics I've ever read of his. This is a stunningly direct, painful address to a former lover, expressing regret for ending the relationship while at the same time cherishing the memories of their shared experiences.

What makes me think this might be about Romy and not Hermione or Ava or some other lost love? Because 'Survive' has Bowie referring to clubs and fashion ("noisy rooms" and "passion pants"), the currency of Chez Romy Haag, and again in a later verse, using apparently coded language referring to drag clubs ("People boys, all snowy white, Razzle dazzle clubs every night").

And take a look at the music video for 'Survive', which has Bowie looking absolutely miserable (again), this time in a kitchen, the ultimate symbol of domesticity. As the song progresses he's literally being pulled away from his environment (or wishing to be), by lyrics like "Give me wings, give me space, give me money for a change of face" (or anonymity), and most poignantly "Wished I had sent a Valentine, I loved you."

Bear in mind, I didn't write these lyrics, David Bowie did.
He wrote them on what was commonly regarded as his "confessional" album (which as we saw, also included some remarkable symbology). Nor did I direct the video. I'm just pointing out the rather blatant symbolism at work.

As time goes on, Bowie's time in Berlin seems to be the definitive era of his career, even more so than the glitter era that first brought him fame. Of course, it's been that way for a long time now, since it was in Berlin that Bowie created a new kind of rock music (and arguably a new kind of ambient music as well), that's had far-reaching influence past the three short years he spent there.

It was a time of intense creativity (Bowie not only recorded his own albums, he composed and produced The Idiot and Lust for Life for Iggy Pop, widely considered that artist's creative peak). Berlin could also be seen as a laboratory for Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), the album that would become the defining landmark of his career (for better or worse).

Given the timeline of events, it's hard to argue against Leee Black Childers' claim that it was indeed Romy Haag that lured Bowie to Berlin, even if some might quibble with Angela's claim that his life there was entirely centered around Haag. There's no arguing Bowie spent a lot of time in her company for the first several months of that period and I would agree with Haag that it went beyond that.

Always judge a person by their actions, not their words. 

And Bowie's extraordinary actions right up to the very end of 1979- and indeed, beyond- tell us nothing but that Romy Haag had some kind of grip on him, a grip that apparently only magic could break.

How very, very Bowie.

UPDATE: Read this and this about Duncan Jones's (aka Zowie Bowie) "dream project."

* Read here how quickly Bowie lapses into sidebars and asides when asked a rather direct question of his move to Berlin, clearly not comfortable with his original explanation. Why? Because he repeats the party line about his precarious drug and emotional state, so of course he moves to the European city with both the Continent's worst drug problem and the stress and anxiety of being on the literal front lines during the hotting up of the Cold War!  

Berlin and Germany in general were also wracked by political terror in 1970s, notably the Munich massacre in 1972, the "German Autumn" in 1977 and violence committed by groups like the Red Army Faction and various far-right gangs throughout the decade (which Bowie himself would blame for leaving Berlin in 1979, so he was well aware of the turmoil). He was already safe and sound in Switzerland yet the notoriously-paranoid Bowie chooses Berlin? Come on.

Bowie then directly contradicts himself by claiming to want to ease his "foreboding" by moving to moving to the "spiritual home" of the "angst-ridden" Expressionists. There's also the fact that his behavior was often even more manic and extreme in Berlin than it had been in Los Angeles, only less witchy, more Teutonic. He would claim another set of reasons altogether for the Berlin move in this 1979 interview and claim he spent most of his time there alone, which is demonstrably untrue whether you believe he was secretly liaising with Haag or not.  

No offense, but I believe Leee Black Childers' explanation of the move.

The same link also tells us that Low was Bowie's most emotionally honest album. Which brings "Be My Wife" back to mind...