Back in 2021, Sky Ferreira delivered a cover of David Bowie’s ‘All The Madmen’ to mark what would have been the musician’s 74th birthday. She shared the demo recording via her Instagram with the caption “HBD DAVID BOWIE, I love you ”, below which she clarified: “I just found this, btw.” The long-lost rendition sees Ferreira in full lo-fi mode, bringing her roughshod charm to the 1970 track.
Originally released on The Man Who Sold The World, ‘All The Madmen’ was apparently written for Bowie’s elder half-brother Terry Burns, who was an important role model for the young musician- then known as David Jones. Burns was ten years older than Bowie and introduced him to everything from modal jazz and Buddhism to William S. Burroughs and the Saxophone. ‘All the Madmen’ focuses on Terry’s struggle with mental illness, something that seems to have run through Bowie’s family and which haunted the star from an early age, perhaps even motivating his creative pursuits.
Speaking to Rolling Stone in 1976, Bowie said: “Who knows? Maybe I’m insane too, it runs in my family, but I always had a repulsive sort of need to be something more than human. I felt very very puny as a human. I thought. ‘Fuck that. I want to be a Superman.’ I guess I realized very early that man isn’t a very clever mechanism. I wanted to make myself better.”
As Bowie rose to fame, his brother’s condition worsened. By the time he reached his third album, The Man Who Sold The World, Burns was spending the majority of his waking hours at a psychiatric hospital called Cane Hill. Still, he managed to visit Bowie on weekends at Haddon Hall, meetings that helped to inspire tracks like ‘All the Madmen and ‘The Width Of A Circle’, ‘Five Years’, ‘The Bewley Brothers’ and ‘Jump They Say’.
Bowie was in no way ashamed of Burns, speaking about his brother’s struggles openly on numerous occasions. In 1972, he told Phonograph Record, “‘All The Madmen’ was written for my brother, and it’s about my brother. He’s the man inside, and he doesn’t want to leave. He’s perfectly happy there – perfectly happy: Doesn’t have to work, just lies there on the lawn all day, looking at the sky. He’s very happy. He comes out occasionally. and we have him at home for a bit. But he gets in the way. He says ‘Well, I think I’ll go back to…’ and he goes back, and we don’t see him for a few months.”
In her take on ‘All The Madmen’, Sky Ferreira expertly recreates the carnivalesque churn of Bowie’s original, using her breathy, close-miked vocals to imbue the track with a grungy charm. Make sure you check out the brilliant cover if you haven’t already. You won’t’ regret it.