The release of David Bowie’s haunting new single – which I am catching up on now I’m back from the Caribbean – brought back a number of poignant memories.
The video returned me briefly to Potzdamer Platz, Nurnburgerstrasse, Haupstrasse, and the KaDeWe in Berlin, where Bowie recorded three albums in the 1970s.
It also brought back memories of the night in June 1973 when I interviewed him after the last of four sold-out performances as Ziggy Stardust on stage at Birmingham Town Hall.
Bouncing around in a blue boiler suit, with crooked teeth which had not yet benefitted from cosmetic correction, he chain-smoked his way through a packet of Gitanes as he told me of his plans to record the Pin Ups album, but kept quiet about his plans to retire – which he announced on stage at the Hammersmith Odeon a few days later.
Full of clues, references and allusions – most of which probably mean nothing – The Where are We Now video raised a question. Why, in the only shots of Bowie in which he is seen full-length, rather than with his face projected on a rag doll. is he wearing a T-shirt with the name of a cruise ship on the front?
Some less enlightened fans have suggested the T-shirt is connected with a 1944 operetta adapted from the music of Edvard Grieg; they have ignored the fact that the writing says: “m/s Song of Norway” and it must, therefore, be a reference to the ship built in 1970.
Launched in 1970, it was the first of three almost-identical 724-passenger cruise ships (above) built for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines; sailing from Miami it carried 10,000 passengers in its first five months of operation. It was so successful that in 1978 it returned to the shipyard in Finland where it was built in order to be lengthened with the insertion of a new mid-section and the addition of another 150 cabins.
Years later, in the 1990s, the vessel sailed the Mediterranean in Airtours colours, as the Sundream. And if you’re wondering in (almost) the words of Bowie’s song “where is it now,” it was sold last year to a Chinese casino operator.
But why would Bowie want to remember the ship? He was famously reluctant to fly, and travelled to and from Berlin by train. He crossed the Atlantic in the liner Queen Elizabeth 2, and on board the SS France – which in 1979 was renamed SS Norway. Did he ever sail on Song of Norway? Or has he perhaps confused the two ships?
If anyone knows, please update me.