‘He wants to change it to one of him in a dress! Are you f–king kidding me!’
The outraged executive of American Mercury Records must have thought: This ain’t Rock and Roll. This is suicide!
The new cover of The Man Who Sold the World showed long blond-haired David lounging on a chaise in a ‘dress’ looking more like Lauren Bacall than a rock god.
Loving the album’s gritty hard-rock feel, the record company wanted something butch and thought the original cover was ideal: a cartoon cowboy with a shotgun outside a ramshackle gothic mansion. The building was Crane Hill Mental Asylum in South East London where David’s half-brother Terry was incarcerated for schizophrenia.
… And I’d rather stay here
With all the madmen,
‘cos I’m quite content they ‘re all as sane as me…
If you ever wondered about the empty word bubble coming out of the cowboy’s mouth, it originally said: ‘Roll up your sleeves and show us your arms’.
Mercury Records thought it smacked (pardon the pun) of drug taking and so bottled out leaving it blank.
David originally intended to call the album ‘Metropolist’ in homage to Fritz Lang’s 1921 silent Sci-Fi epic ‘Metropolis’. The title is found on the original master tape box.
Personally I loved the dress; which wasn’t a dress, by the way. David was not wearing drag: a Shakespearean acronym for Dressed Representing A Girl. In Shakespeare’s time only men were actors, so boys played girls.
If you look closely, the gown is made for a man: tight round the hips and loose fastenings across the chest. It has no darts inset to accommodate a woman’s bust. The ‘dress’ was a modern take on something the fashionable medieval knight might be found wearing to lounge around the castle between wars.
This was the hippie period. People were experimenting with all sorts of exotic clothes. The costume was designed by Michael Fish, an eminent Saville Row tailor famous for dressing up his film and TV star clients in flamboyant suits and ruffled shirts. It is claimed he invented the era-defining ‘kipper’ tie.
It is no secret David modelled himself on Mick Jagger. In 1969 Jagger wore a Mr. Fish ‘dress’ during the famous Stones free concert in Hyde Park. In reality it looked more like the costume of the Greek National Guard. The following year Jagger wore another Mr Fish dress in the psychological gangster movie ‘Performance’ – directed by Nicholas Roeg who made ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’.
This is how Angie tells the story of acquiring David’s famous dresses. (He actually bought two.)
‘They were hanging on a rail in Mr. Fish’s shop going really cheap because no one wanted them. Initially David wasn’t too sure until he tried one on and Mr Fish told him how lovely he looked.’
Although there are pictures of David performing in the dress and lounging around his castle (a rented labyrinthine ground floor apartment in Haddon Hall, a crumbling Victorian mansion -sadly no longer with us) there is no evidence he wore them out and about in the streets. Well maybe just one…
But in real terms that would have been asking for just trouble. In those days leafy suburban Beckenham was better known as the place Enid Blyton lived – the author of ‘Noddy’ and the spiffing ‘Famous Five’.
Slightly later photographs from around Hunky Dory show long haired David in a bibbity-bobbity hat and voluminous Oxford Bags pushing his young son’s pram, with short haired Angie by his side in bomber jacket and trousers. Bet they raised a few eyebrows! Not at least among their fellow hippies who were not half as cool as they like to think they were; for all their flamboyant bravado.
It just goes to show the couple were subverting gender roles, not to mention messing with people’s heads, for a couple of years before Ziggy came along and David launched himself to stardom in that fateful 1972 interview in Melody Maker with the announcement: ‘I’m gay, and always have been, even when I was David Jones.’