Bowie in Brecht's Baal (Video)

Baal (1919) was the first play by Bertolt Brecht, written before he became a Marxist, at the height of his hedonistic sturm und drang (storm and stress). Sturm und drang was rooted in early German romanticism, and emphasized individual subjectivity and emotion; which in turn influenced 20th century German expressionism. While Baal was thoroughly anti-bourgeois, Brecht was not a Marxist. In his second major play, Drums in the Night, Brecht has a soldier ignore the German Revolution in favor of taking to bed with his girlfriend. Baal, however, hits several Romantic anti-bourgeois notes; not the least in its name, coming from an ancient Semitic word for lord, believed to refer to a storm and fertility god. Among some Christians and Muslims Baal was thought to be a demon. In the 1600s occultists considered him to be one of the seven princes of Hell. In Brecht’s play, however, Baal is a drunk poet. Were that all, and were it produced after WW2 (by which time such stories became the silly cliches of wannabe beatniks), the play would not be particularly interesting. But Baal is not an idealized boheme. He is, more or less, a monster (not totally unlike Mackie Messer, although not  as socially situated or likable). One almost wonders, at certain points, if Brecht is making fun of Baal; ridiculing his own pretensions and an extreme version of his own debauchery. In 1982 David Bowie appeared in a BBC production of Baal (as the titular character). The songs (written by Brecht) were retranslated and given new musical scores.


Adam Turl is an artist and writer currently living in St. Louis, Missouri where he is an MFA candidate at the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts. He is an editor at Red Wedge Magazine where he writes the “Evicted Art Blog.” He also is a founding member of the November Artist Network. His most recent exhibitions are "13 Baristas" at the Brett Wesley Gallery in Las Vegas, Nevada and "Kick the Cat" at Project 1612 in Peoria, Illinois.

"Evicted Art Blog" is Red Wedge editor Adam Turl's investigation of potential strategies for contemporary anti-capitalist studio art.