WATCH: Backwards Hat – “The Man Who Sold The World [David Bowie]”
by Alex Mazzaferro
Brooklyn’s Backwards Hat has just released a new video for their cover of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World,” and we’re thrilled to premiere it here. Recorded live at Max Trax Studios in Red Hook, the performance features the band’s sole permanent member Alex Syner (co-founder of Super Fine Audio, formerly of Celestial Shore and aeroplane, 1929), backed by Jason Burger (Feist, Big Thief, Andrew Bird, Young the Giant), Renata Zeiguer (Cantina, Landlady), and Ken Woodward (Spirit Family Reunion, Twain). As the video opens, Zeiguer offers up the bent notes of the song’s iconic, off-kilter melody on violin and then reinforces Syner’s subdued vocal with eerie keys. The choruses, meanwhile, find Woodward’s upright bass, Syner’s reedy guitar, and Zeiguer’s pizzicato strings deftly executing the track’s airy ascent in lockstep with Burger’s drums before luxuriating in the resounding sadness of its title line.
Edited by Michael Marabella of Rubber Bands Media, the video overlays the band’s performance with trippy, oversaturated visuals drawn from a 1990s broadcast of a World Cup match. The iridescent figures of players and sidelines crisscross the screen before evaporating into the uncanny, saccharine faces of actors selling long distance service and compact cars. A spinning soccer ball covered in dollar signs morphs into a globe, the “world” that Bowie’s titular man is said to have sold. The video is evocative not only of the surrealism of global corporate capitalism but also of death: fading in and out, the distorted, evanescent footage echoes lines like “I thought you died alone / A long long time ago”—a lyric that cannot help but conjure the recently departed Bowie, as well as the singer of the song’s most famous cover, Kurt Cobain. Art is often said to make possible a kind of immortality, but Backwards Hat’s performance suggests that the eternal life enjoyed by a work of art depends upon its continual reworking and reimagining by new generations of artists.
The video is the first in a series Syner has planned, in which musicians from different backgrounds, bands, and cities collaborate to reinterpret a track that has been influential for them. Syner will also release an EP of original music under the Backwards Hat moniker later this summer. Watch the video below.