Cosmic Dancer and the real story of the Morrissey versus Bowie debacle

“We’re the Brits, we’re the Brits, we’re the Brits in America.”

Happy 4th of July to you pardners out there, wherever you are in the world.

He may have been a resident of Los Angeles, London, Dublin and Rome in the recent past, but as a sullen, sodden teenager Steven Patrick Morrissey grew up in grittier climes. As if you didn’t know, Morrissey put the M in Manchester, the cold and grey so-called “capital of the North” of England. In the rainy, murky depths of the former industrial powerhouse, the adolescent Moz clung limpet-like to inanimate objects and found a quantum of solace in androgynous musical heroes like David Bowie, T. Rex and the New York Dolls as a way to get through the horrible grind of his humdrum day-to-day life. 

His first concert was T. Rex on 16 June, 1972, the same day The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars was released. Morrissey had won a copy of the breakthrough Bowie album in a Sounds music paper contest, and when he bought the spin-off Starman single, he “fell in love with the potency of the pop moment… the pop moment in my life was the only thing that ever spoke to me.” Such was the impact on the impressionable lad that by the end of the summer the obsessive master Steven had switched allegiances when David himself came to town on his attendant Ziggy Stardust tour, which he recalled in 2009:

“Bowie at that time was despised, which made him absolutely loveable to me. It was an amazing vision but it was not popular by any means. In retrospect, people consider artists such as Bowie and the early Roxy Music to be much more popular than they actually were at the time. He was so important to me because his vocal melodies were so strong and his appearance was so confrontational. Manchester then was full of bootboys and skinheads and macho-macho thugs, but I saw Bowie’s appearance as the ultimate bravery. To me, it took guts to be David Bowie, not to be a shit-kicking skinhead in a pack.”

Hours before attending the 3 September show, Morrissey, still sporting his St. Mary’s school uniform, waited outside the Hardrock Concert Theatre in Stretford with a note in hand to pass along to his newfound hero, recounting the meeting in his 2013 memoir Autobiography:

“He emerges from a black Mercedes every inch the eight dimension, teetering on high heels, with all the wisdom of our ancestors. Smiling keenly, he accepts the note of a dull schoolboy whose overblown soul is more ablaze than the school blazer he wears, and thus I touch the hand of this inexplicably liberating reformer; he, a Wildean visionary about to re-mould England, and I, a spectacle of suffering in a blue school uniform”

The shy 13-year-old who was thrilled to be able to touch Bowie’s hand that afternoon couldn’t have possibly imagined that two decades later he’d be not only headlining a concert at hangar-like Forum in Los Angeles, but that Dame David himself would saunter onstage for the encore and join him on a cover of T.Rex’s glitter-rock bouncer Cosmic Dancer in front of a fervorous Californian crowd.

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“He is stately against my last-gasp exhaustion,” Moz wrote in Autobiography. “The 12-year-old within me – unable to leave for school unless I’d soothed my sickness with at least one spin of Starman – bathes in the moment in disbelief. But there it is.”

Just a few days ago, an officially sanctioned video recording of the Morrissey and David duet was uploaded to YouTube by the nephew of the erstwhile Smiths singer, photographer and occasional film director Sam Esty Rayner, who was at pains to point out that “I do not hold the rights to this footage and it’s [sic] accompanied audio. I have uploaded this video at the request of Morrissey.”

Certain T.Rex he knows

Morrissey in more recent years has distinguished himself with a very grand curmudgeonliness, but is he going soft in his old age? I know he turned 61 in May but, together with some of his dodgier opinions on society, Moz has this curiously bipolar relationship with memorialising the person he cited as a “one-man revolution” that I can only put down to advancing years and/or desperately trolling for a reaction.

In 1995, Morrissey agreed to open up for his hero on the European leg of Bowie’s Outside tour, but after getting a poor reception from crowds and critics, quit early on, citing an “illness” that didn’t stop him from touring Japan on his own a couple weeks later. He would go on to claim he was under pressure from The Dame to submit to a segueway segment that would have seen the two artists sing each other’s songs between their respective sets in order to “win over” the Morrissey faithful. While it’s certainly true that that was Bowie’s initial plan, however calculating that sounds, that’s expressly not the reason Moz left the tour.

Never one to forget a rejection, in 2006, Bowie declined an offer from his veteran producer Tony Visconti to bury the hatchet and team up with the Manchester One for a version of the Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling for his Visconti-produced album Ringleader Of The Tormentors. “I loved this idea, but David wouldn’t budge,” Morrissey said in 2014. “I know I’ve criticised David in the past, but it’s all been snot-nosed junior high ribbing on my part. I think he knows that.”

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Bowie went on to reject Morrissey’s proposal to use a photo of the two of them for EMI’s reissue of The Last Of The Famous International Playboys in 2013, so perhaps he didn’t quite understand “junior high ribbing.”

“Do you see similarities between yourself and Bowie?”

“What, the living Bowie or the present dead one? The living Bowie, there are some, yes. Yes, I do see similarities.”

Morrissey, NME interview, February 1989.

Incidentally, it was widely reported that the said piccie was the hamming it up backstage at Maine Road shot above left, which yours truly had unearthed in 2000 at the photo library of the Manchester Evening News when I was putting together the BowieStyle book with Mark Paytress.

That story is not 100% accurate though, as the offending photo was a private pic by Moz’s friend Linder Sterling, taken in New York in 1992 when Morrissey came to listen to Bowie’s hot-off-the-press gospel-infused cover of I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday, Mozzer’s original having been produced by Ziggy’s Spiders From Mars axeman Mick Ronson just a few months prior. As Momus once pointed out, Bowie highlighting Morrissey’s adulation was as big a mistake as castigating Madonna’s upstart copycatism.

It does also beg the question why Mozzer thought Bowie was ‘dead’ by 1989 why would he not only attend a Sound + Vision concert the following year but go out of this way to use his backstage pass to hobnob with our Dave and invite him to duet on his next tour? Seems the bipolarity was there from the outset. Still, Morrissey did go on record to reveal that the Thin White Duke offered him some sage career advice at a time when the post-Smiths critical tide was beginning to turn against him: “You have to jump back and attack.”

Ultimately, DB’s place as shared cover star was taken by none other than Rick Astley, a much more matey northerner by far.

7 Aug 1990 vs 8 Feb 1989

In the bitter aftermath, Morrissey likened “David Showie” to a vampire, “always looking for new blood to suck.” Indeed, Elton John has accused Bowie of the same, and the lone insect warrior Adam Ant world make similar comments to this writer when I interviewed him in 2011.

Famously, during the notorious celebrity holocaust of 2016, Morrissey was filmed at the Manchester Arena at his only concert of the year not-so-subtly snubbing Bowie from the stage to the grave.

Prior to ending the homecoming show with a run through of Oboe Concerto (a recent track off his World Peace Is None of Your Business album memorable mainly for its key line “All the best ones are dead”), the contrary one paused to reflect on the “year of the reaper,” name-checking several public figures who had passed that year, because he wanted “to remember” Victoria Wood, Caroline Aherne, Muhammad Ali, and Prince, with the singer claiming they left the world “too soon, too soon, too soon.”

However, when it became evident the malignant Mozfather was refusing to pay tribute a fallen artist who, just a few miles away back in the day, just happened to be one of his biggest idols in the ’70s, a few fans responded with jeers.

In an audience filmed video seemingly removed from cyberspace, as one dude shouted, “Bowie?” another notices the slight and jumps in with a “You cunt!” directed at the curmudgeon. Oh, he is a one.

Cut to 2019, and on his latest round of portly performances Moz was selling autographed vinyl for $300 a pop. These were not confined to Morrissey or Smiths albums, but the bulk were albums by artists who have apparently had formative influence on him, like Patti Smith, Lou Reed, The Stooges, and, you guessed it, David Bowie.

Morrissey may have covered the sci-fi anthem Drive-In Saturday back in the Noughties but this wasn’t selling off other peoples autographs that he’d collected over the years, but copies of Transformer, Raw Power, Aladdin Sane and so on, that he’d signed with his own name.

“MORRISSEY LOVES DAVID” apparently. Well, he does if there’s money to be made and more eyebrows to be raised. Oh, and there’s nowt as queer as folk, obviously.

I digress. The new video upload is a curious one. It was known that film director Tim Broad had filmed the aforementioned Kill Uncle show at the LA Forum on 2 June 1991, though the footage was never released and on Broad’s early death sat in his archive for over a decade until 2002’s The Importance Of Being Morrissey used a clip of the Bowie encore, surprisingly, a Channel 4 documentary which just happen to be helmed by one Sam Etsy Rayner.

The Thin White one declined to be interviewed for the programme, which led to a series of public tongue lashings from the devil Steven, occasionally interspersed by the odd less caustic comment, such as declaring in 2007 that Bowie was “an artist to whom most relevant British artists are indebted, and one who singlehandedly changed British culture – musically and otherwise.”

Moreover, the YouTube clip marks the first time the full duet of Cosmic dancer has been seen, plus some bonus footage of Sparks’ Ron and Russell Mael waiting to meet Bowie backstage after the gig. You don’t get to see the actual backslapping, but perhaps it didn’t go too well. That would certainly explain the comments one of the brothers made to this writer after watching Bowie at the 1996 Brit Awards several years later.

morrisseycentral.com has a paragraph from Morrissey about the LA clip:

We hadn’t rehearsed the song. David called me at my hotel and we tried to duet down the phone, which became very funny because David couldn’t remember the words, but on the night it was me who forgot and David remembered. You can see a slight disapproval from him when I repeat and repeat the wrong lines … his look says ‘you shouldn’t be singing that bit again’. This clip is my fourth favourite memory of David. It’s nice that Ron and Russell are in there too, but Russell looks irked … I expect he was missing the concluding sequel of that night’s Columbo.” — Morrissey 30 June 2020

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Incidentally, this new statement goes some way to explaining something Morrissey told me in 1994 (above) when I asked him why he’d released a solo recording of Cosmic Dancer taken from a concert in The Netherlands as a B-side (to 1991’s rockabilly romp Pregnant For The Last Time) over the take with Bowie a month later. Was the duet ever going to see the light of day?

“No. It was crap. I was singing out of tune.”

Despite Mozzer’s self-criticism he sounds like he fits the song way better than his one-time duettist. Bowie’s using his lower, deeper vocal register and it just doesn’t suit the song at all. Coupled with the fact that they’re also slightly out of sync their voices don’t really blend well so, yeah, you can see why it wasn’t released back in the day. Oy vey.

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Coincidentally, released only yesterday Ouvrez Le Chien (Live Dallas 95) is a timely new streaming album from a soundboard recording of a show on the early American leg of the Outside tour that omits the segueway section Bowie performed with easier to acquiesce noise merchants Nine Inch Nails. It’s appended with a pair of bonus tracks originally found on the Pet Shop Boys Hallo Spaceboy team-up 45, recorded in Birmingham, England after Morrissey had done a runner. Though it does beg the question why not just release the Brum show?

The convoluted explanation of the album’s title doesn’t seem to be written by someone who understands basic French either. English doesn’t differentiate between singular and plural in the second person but most languages do and therefore if you ask one person to open a dog you say “ouvre le chien”, and if you ask more than one person (or you use the polite form) you say “ouvrez le chien”. The Z is not a semi random addition as they seem keen to imply.

Steve Pafford (But you can call me Steven with a ‘V’)

BONUS BEATS: Bowie on Morrissey, two times blue

https://youtu.be/b0xlPp_I5Gc?t=124

 

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