Without any companion it grew there uttering joyous leaves
of dark green,
And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself
Walt Whitman - "Calamus", (Leaves of Grass, 1855)
THE MAN WHO DREW THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD
There is little concrete evidence David Bowie's The Man who Sold the World LP was first entitled 'Metrobolist'. Its existence depends on original tape box labels depicted for the first time in 2015's David Bowie: Five Years (1969-1973) book publication: and anecdotes by a handful of surviving individuals remembering what life was like a half-century ago. One of them is Mike Weller. Suffice to say change of title from 'Metrobolist' to 'The Man Who Sold the World' in the USA, with horribly migrainous "david bowie" lower case bubble lettering and dollar sign substituted for "S" seriously compromised the LP. Integral combination of song, music and visual poetics were rejected by Mercury. Substitute lettering may have been scripted in by US record company employee encouraged to believe they were being clever. To borrow Jonathan Barnbrook's (Bowie's 21c product designer) term—'Metrobolist' had been effectively un-designed (by the good folks running Mercury at the time).
Speculation has also been aired in subsequent years about lettering mouthed by the cowboy figure. This was removed by Mercury leaving an empty dialogue balloon. Sketches for proposed gatefold cover with DB's "man-dress" photos featured as inner montage; a painted full-colour cover design, produced initially to pitch the concept of 'Metrobolist' (and then act as guide for sleeve printers to add mechanical tone and color to finished black & white line artwork); including hand-drawn "Metrobolist" grapheme; are believed lost or destroyed. A shame, but after such a long time it is possible for Michael Weller to be both objective and subjective about the sleeve's fate.
Mike is able to remember listening to those unnamed tapes for the first time. It is fascinating to listen to that old album now in the phantasmogenetic glow of the V&A's globe-trotting David Bowie is show and its newly virtual interactive app life: as the British actor/entertainer/painter/rock god/singer/songwriter/musician/performer/producer/writer/mime artist/publicist/dramatist/composer/arts interviewer/fine art collector/sex symbol/ISP/human photocopier/face/style icon/archivist/popstar/movie star/black "★" poet continued to compose up until his death.
The clocks at the asylum are broken—this time for real. Past and future. Hear echo of gunslinger from old western movie associations and silver screen fanzines. Tom Mix, Bill "Hopalong Cassidy" Boyd, George "Gabby" Hayes, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Lash LaRue, Randolph Scott, Duncan "the Cisco Kid" Renaldo, Jock Mahoney, Dick "Dickie" Jones, Clayton "the Lone Ranger" Moore, James "Marshal Dillon" Arness, Clint "Cheyenne" Walker, Elvis "Pacer" Presley, Richard "Jim Bowie" Widmark—all riding a horse backwards through Metrobolist from the '20ies to the '60ies—only interrupted by cartoonish John "the Duke" Wayne drawn 1970. The man with no name, he who sold the world, drifting into future decades: 1980's thru 2000's and 20'teens; 20'twenties, 2030's, 2040's, 2050's, 2060's—outside predicted time—encoded as nineteenth century futurist stereographic Walt Whitman vispo. The cowboy is not saying the words reported—"Roll up your sleeves and show us your arms". The figuration is not speaking on behalf of all the madmen or some pre-glam arts lab clique; or post culture show Bowie fan club; or anti-firearms collective hive-mind—nor conversely, a crazed gun lobby. There is no collective pronoun us in the gunslinger's utterance.
Mick Weller's cowboy-poet mutters ROLL UP YOUR SLEEVES TAKE A LOOK AT YOUR ARMS. It's a sounding from Metrobolist. Weller's character isn't yelling loudly. Funky hand-drawn comic book lettering caps translated into word processed font-bytes just looks like this here. (ROLL UP YOUR SLEEVES TAKE A LOOK AT YOUR ARMS reads like hollering even in smallest font available—eight point). And there is no comma between SLEEVES and TAKE. The poet's words float in a dialogue balloon suspended in the ether with stetson particles. Oh joyous green leaves by jingo—
The Man Who Sold the World "wild west" or "cartoon" sleeve is still referred to on internet DB fan pages; including a speculative discussion of its printing history. The Dutch forum Illustrated db Discography also includes a comparative photograph of the abandoned psychiatric hospital before it became Cane Hill Park.
Chris O'Leary's forensically insightful first-volume Rebel Rebel (based on his Pushing Ahead of the Dame blog) is recommended reading/viewing. Interest in TMWSTW now approaching its 50th birthday, may renew interest in David Jones's Beckenham Arts Lab years, and the spirit of UK regional arts labs in the '70s. John Robinson edits David Bowie's Ultimate Record Collection for Uncut's archive collection series. Part 1 (1964-76) contains the most detailed research on November 1970's album to date. And in good old-school printed format.
As postscript to this page Mike Weller has designed November 2020's 50th anniversary Metrobolist album. Re-release of TMWSTW is further discussed by entering a "Metrobolist" search query @Illustrated db Discography.
"I actually thought the cartoon cover was really cool" - David Bowie (Mark Goodier's Golden Years: The David Bowie Story Part 1 - BBC radio documentary, 2000)
[...] Weller would later make the extraordinary claim that it was his 'idea to design a cover that depicted Cane Hill [...] - Clinton Heylin, (All the Madmen, Constable, 2012)
[...] And try and forget about how absolutely awful the original American (MWSTW] "cartoon" cover was. Because it is probably one of the most disgraceful, poorly conceived, album covers ever - glammy, (internet shopping site review, February 13, 2013)
demand a better future -
Michael J. Weller's Metrobolist: Five Chapters bookwork dedicated to the memory of the St★rman (1947-2016) becoming Metrobolist7
Copyright M J Weller 2005-2020 This site was last updated 10-09-2020