The Bowie Concert Tape Files: The Elephant Man – December 12 1980

Delving into the hundreds and hundreds of hours of unreleased concert recordings from my history of collecting bootlegs has been an adventure of rediscovery over these past few weeks.  There have been some absolutely astounding concerts that I had not heard in years and not just Bowie either.  I have hundreds more hours in concert recordings from Radiohead, The Beatles, Echo & The Bunnymen, Crowded House, Suede, The Rolling Stones, The Cure, Morrissey, Pink Floyd, The Sisters of Mercy, Pulp, The Kinks and so much more.  Top be honest, I’ve even considered uploading everything onto a website however, with the record labels constantly shutting down websites for copyright infringements, it would seem a waste to spend hundreds of hours uploading all these wonderful recordings, only to have some scrupulous lawyer force me to take the site down because some old musician with an already bloated bank account doesn’t like the idea of his or her concert history being shared for other die hard fans to enjoy.

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Now, I’ve long held the belief that an artist should not worry too much about tape trading among fans.  I mean, we have already, in many cases spent thousands of our hard earned dollars on official merchandise, concert tickets, t-shirts and all the other bits and bobs that come with being a devoted fan and we will always want more if we are the dedicated type.  So where’s the harm in a little extra curricular activity that involves guilty pleasures? Yes, it’s like an obsession though, rather than being a heroin junkie, would you not rather see us addicted to collecting concert tapes?  On the plus side to it all, nobody makes money out of bootlegs anymore because 90% of us download everything for free.

Back onto today’s topic.

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The Elephant Man first opened in London’s West End during the winter months of 1979 before taking up residency at New York’s Booth Theater in 1980.  On September 23 1980, Bowie took on the role as John Merrick for a short period that ran up to and including January 3 1981.  Prior to this, Bowie had taken his first foray into the role of Merrick in Denver from July 29 to August 3 1980.  His role received instant critical acclaim from the press as described by Variety magazine on August 6th.

“The acting debut on the American stage of rock singer David Bowie was greeted by a standing ovation in Denver when the singer, noted for his flamboyant musical style, took on the role of physically misshapen John Merrick, the human monster with a liking for culture. Drawing on an early mime background and the resourceful staging of his rock shows, Bowie displays the ability to project a complex character.

Playing a man too ugly to draw a freak audience, and too human to survive within a distorted body, Bowie shows a mastery of movement and of vocal projection. Bowie takes the stage with authority to create a stirring performance. Vocally, he is both quick and sensitive. In scene after scene he builds poignantly, crying for the chance to become civilised, though he knows he will always be a freak; pleading for a home; though he knows his presence disturbs; and questioning the rules of society; though his well being depends on their acceptance. Judging from his sensitive projection of this part, Bowie has the chance to achieve legit stardom … “

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This performance was a defining moment in Bowie’s career and propelled him into the 1980’s with a new found respect from the acting world.  The recording I have of this show, a complete recording may I say, stems from the performance on December 12 1980.  It’s an audience recording yet a crisp and concise one none the less.  More than anything, the listening of this performance allows one an almost voyeuristic look into Bowie’s short lived career as a stage actor.  My only personal regret is not being old enough to have had the astute pleasure to see Bowie perform the role of Merrick on stage in real life.

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