When David Bowie & Brian Eno Made a Twin Peaks-Inspired Album, Outside (1995)

By any mea­sure, David Bowie was a super­star. He first rose to fame in the nine­teen-sev­en­ties, a process gal­va­nized by his cre­ation and assump­tion of the rock­er-from-Mars per­sona Zig­gy Star­dust. In the fol­low­ing decade came Let’s Dance, on the back of which he sold out sta­di­ums and dom­i­nat­ed the still-new MTV. Yet through it all, and indeed up until his death in 2016, he kept at least one foot out­side the main­stream. It was in the nineties, after his aes­thet­i­cal­ly cleans­ing stint with gui­tar-rock out­fit Tin Machine, that Bowie made use of his star­dom to explore his full spec­trum of inter­ests, which ranged from the basic to the bizarre, the mun­dane to the macabre.

This sug­gests a good deal in com­mon between Bowie and anoth­er high-pro­file David of his gen­er­a­tion: David Lynch, long one of the most famous film direc­tors alive. “There are many obvi­ous, sur­face con­nec­tions and inter­sec­tions between Lynch and Bowie,” write film crit­ics Cristi­na Álvarez López and Adri­an Mar­tin. “Both have dab­bled in film and music, as well as paint­ing, the­atre and per­for­mance art. Both are actors — Bowie slight­ly more con­ven­tion­al­ly so than Lynch.” Lynch would no doubt agree with Bowie’s insis­tence that “my inter­pre­ta­tion of my work is real­ly imma­te­r­i­al,” that “it’s the inter­pre­ta­tion of the lis­ten­er, or the view­er, which is all-impor­tant.”

These words appear in López and Mar­t­in’s analy­sis of Twin Peaks, the tele­vi­sion series Lynch cre­at­ed in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Mark Frost, and Out­side, the album Bowie cre­at­ed in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Bri­an Eno. When it pre­miered on ABC in the spring of 1990, Twin Peaks became a minor sen­sa­tion by con­jur­ing a famil­iar yet deeply strange atmos­phere such as no one had nev­er seen on tele­vi­sion before. It also pio­neered what López and Adri­an Mar­tin call “the Dead Girl/Woman genre, which traces out a labyrinthine mys­tery from the dis­cov­ery of a young female corpse.” What brings Spe­cial Agent Dale Coop­er to Twin Peaks, Wash­ing­ton, we recall, is the mur­der of home­com­ing queen Lau­ra Palmer.

What brings Nathan Adler, a detec­tive in the Art Crimes unit, to Oxford Town, New Jer­sey is the mur­der of the four­teen-year-old Baby Grace Blue. Thus begins the Twin Peaks-inspired sto­ry­line of Out­side, Bowie’s own 1995 entry into the genre of the Dead Girl/Woman. Like Lynch and Frost’s show, Bowie’s album has a cast of eccentrics: Adler and Baby Grace, but also the likes of crim­i­nal “out­sider” Leon Blank; Alge­ria Touchshriek, deal­er in “art-drugs and DNA prints”; and a sin­is­ter fig­ure known as both the Artist and the Mino­taur. All are played by Bowie him­self, who makes use of var­i­ous accents (a tech­nique prac­ticed with his appear­ance in the 1992 Twin Peaks movie Fire Walk with Me) and voice-pro­cess­ing tech­niques.

At the time this 75-minute “non-lin­ear Goth­ic Dra­ma Hyper-Cycle,” as Bowie labeled it, gave his lis­ten­ers a lot to take in, to say noth­ing of the major media out­lets attempt­ing to pub­li­cize it. “This new project is all about sex, vio­lence, and death,” says the CBC’s Lau­rie Brown in a typ­i­cal piece of tele­vi­sion cov­er­age. But it also deals with the merg­ing of those human eter­nals with art and pop­u­lar cul­ture, a process that fas­ci­nat­ed Bowie more and more as the nineties pro­gressed — as did “the re-emer­gence of Neo-Pagan­ism, rit­u­al body art, and the frag­men­ta­tion of soci­ety,” as he puts it in Out­sides offi­cial mak­ing-of video.

Bowie and Eno intend­ed Out­side (offi­cial­ly 1. Out­side) as the first in a series that would ulti­mate­ly con­sti­tute “a diary in music and in tex­ture of what it felt like to be around at the end of the Mil­len­ni­um.” In one press con­fer­ence, Bowie hint­ed that “the nar­ra­tive might fall by the way­side,” much as Lynch and Frost orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed to leave Lau­ra Palmer’s death unsolved. That the sec­ond vol­ume nev­er appeared only under­scores the tan­ta­liz­ing incom­plete­ness of Out­side, which López and Mar­tin high­light as anoth­er sim­i­lar­i­ty to Twin Peaks: “Both works are ser­i­al and mul­ti­ple, exist­ing in var­i­ous offi­cial and unof­fi­cial forms, in spin-offs, out­takes” — not least the nev­er-prop­er­ly-released “Leon suites” Bowie and Eno record­ed before the album itself — “and in numer­ous fan com­men­taries.”

A kind of cir­cle closed in 1997 when Out­side’s “I’m Deranged” sound­tracked the open­ing cred­its of Lynch’s Lost High­way. But the work con­tin­ued to hold out pos­si­bil­i­ties until the end of Bowie’s life: “We both liked that album a lot and felt that it had fall­en through the cracks,” Eno said. “We talked about revis­it­ing it, tak­ing it some­where new.” Despite his Lynchi­an resis­tance to inter­pre­ta­tion, Bowie did acknowl­edge even in 1995 the the­mat­ic impor­tance of mor­tal­i­ty itself. Out­side’s first sin­gle was called “The Heart’s Filthy Les­son,” and “the filthy les­son in ques­tion is the fact that life is finite.” For him, “know­ing that I’ve got a finite time in life on Earth actu­al­ly clar­i­fies things and makes me feel quite buoy­ant.” Bowie knew — or learned — that life is too short not to fol­low your fas­ci­na­tions to their lim­its.

Relat­ed con­tent:

David Bowie’s Music Video “Jump They Say” Pays Trib­ute to Marker’s La Jetée, Godard’s Alphav­ille, Welles’ The Tri­al & Kubrick’s 2001

Watch an Epic, 4‑Hour Video Essay on the Mak­ing & Mythol­o­gy of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks

The Sto­ry of Zig­gy Star­dust: How David Bowie Cre­at­ed the Char­ac­ter that Made Him Famous

Watch the Twin Peaks Visu­al Sound­track Released Only in Japan: A New Way to Expe­ri­ence David Lynch’s Clas­sic Show

David Bowie & Bri­an Eno’s Col­lab­o­ra­tion on “Warsza­wa” Reimag­ined in a Com­ic Ani­ma­tion

When Bil­ly Idol Went Cyber­punk: See His Trib­ute to Neu­ro­mancer, His Record­ing Ses­sion with Tim­o­thy Leary, and His Lim­it­ed-Edi­tion Flop­py Disk (1993)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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Comments (4)
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  • Ben Z says:

    Great arti­cle! 1. Out­side is an album with which I became sort of obsessed a few years back as I con­sumed and processed all of Bowie’s music/art after his death in 2016, a process which still ongo­ing. The album is extreme­ly dark, and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. The crit­ics panned it on release, one review­er call­ing it “a tall heap of shite”. I played it on repeat for sev­er­al months as I toiled alone in a hot, dark garage at night, rebuild­ing vin­tage Hon­da motor­cy­cle engines as insects buzzed around dim flu­o­res­cent bulbs. It per­fect­ly suit­ed that time in my life. A major influ­ence on Bowie (addi­tion­al to Lynch) was Scott Walk­er and his song “The Elec­tri­cian”. That’s a must-hear as well.

  • Earthen says:

    That’s a stal­wart nod to Bowie’s deep thought the­ater pen­ning. Con­cep­tu­al gen­res always seem to loose steam in Avant Guard grand reach, leav­ing a sole men­tion­able piece as land­mark. Good spread of info, music to explore by fanzig­gs.

  • Adrian Martin says:

    Thanks for the shout-out & link to our arti­cle on Bowie & Lynch, Col­in! One note: in Span­ish, it is the sec­ond name which is equiv­a­lent to the Eng­lish sur­name. So it’s Álvarez (or Álvarez López), not López! Same with Gabriel Gar­cía Mar­quez, Adol­fo Bioy Casares, etc. etc. …

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