So, y’all know that Diamond Dogs was originally going to be a stage musical of Nineteen Eighty-Four, right? Except that George Orwell’s widow wouldn’t authorize it, so David Bowie wound up incorporating some of the ideas he’d already developed into a broader dystopian vision—sort of Orwell by way of William Burroughs, with a massive dose of glam thrown in for good measure.
Growing up in the mid-1980s, and working my way backwards through the Bowie catalog after Let’s Dance, Diamond Dogs was probably my favorite Bowie album overall. I might like individual cuts on other albums better than I like some of the tracks here, but this was the album that held up the strongest as an album. It all started with the spoken-word intro, “Future Legend,” a soundscape that laid out Bowie’s post-apocalyptic scenario with such cinematic sweep that you could easily imagine it as the pre-credits sequence to a glam-but-gritty science fiction film…which I guess would make “Diamond Dogs” the eponymous theme song.
Given the strong post-apocalyptic strain in the science fiction I was digging right around that time, from the movie version of Harlan Ellison’s A Boy and His Dog to Tim Powers’s Dinner at Deviant’s Palace—and, oh geez, I never thought I’d bring this up again, but the dystopian future of Styx’s Kilroy Was Here album, which actually did have a short film associated with it—it’s probably not too surprising that I spent a lot of time thinking about Diamond Dogs as a string of disconnected movie sections.
“Disconnected” because, let’s face it, at 13, I didn’t really have the worldbuilding chops to string together the “Diamond Dogs” opening, the “Sweet Thing-Candidate-Sweet Thing” epic, and the Orwell-influenced songs on the second side of my old RCA cassette tape. (Yes, that’s skipping over “Rebel Rebel” and “When You Rock and Roll With Me,” which always felt a bit more generic than the other songs.) Sure, if “Diamond Dogs” was the theme song, “Chant of the Ever-Circling Skeletal Family” was the awesomeest closing credts music ever—the problem is how to get from A to B. Bowie had some idea of how to do that, but back in those pre-Internet days, we didn’t have ready access to all the information that flowed around our pop culture; you either spent a lot of time looking for the fan material, or you made it up as you went along.
Which is why, though I moved on to other interests eventually, I still have a few fragments of scenes from a chase sequence set to “1984” that come up almost every time I hear the song, and “Diamond Dogs” always reminds me of Escape from New York, and… well, the closest I ever got to a handle on the “Sweet Thing” section was a few years later, when I saw Bowie dancing on a typewriter in Absolute Beginners and figured, okay, it’s a fantasy suite. (What, you’ve never seen Bowie dancing on the giant typewriter? Oh, we have to fix that.)
So, yeah, imagine a 1950s MGM musical version of Escape from New York, and that’s pretty much where my teenage mind took Diamond Dogs. How about you: What Bowie albums (or any albums, I guess) did you re-imagine as science fiction movies?
Ron Hogan is the founding curator of Beatrice.com, one of the first websites to focus on books and authors. Lately, he’s been reviewing science fiction and fantasy for Shelf Awareness. (Chuck Hogan is no relation.)