On the way to work this morning I listened to David Bowie’s great, unreleased studio album, Toys. It’s the record he made before Heathen, and it’s mostly comprised of Bowie revisiting some of his earliest songs, some of them almost forgotten. It’s a fantastic album and I particularly love his new, rocky version of ‘I Dig Everything’.
I’m fascinated by people’s desire to revisit their past creations. It clearly worked for Bowie, but I wonder if this is in part because he was rescuing obscure bits of his back catalogue and not trying to revisit his classics. Kate Bush did a similar thing last year (or was it the year before?) with Director’s Cut, and while I love what she did with some of the songs, others, I felt, were less successful. I adore her original version of ‘This Woman’s Work’, for example, and didn’t feel the new version had the same impact.
It’s not just musicians who feel this need to go back and tinker. I recently watched the newish DVD of Day of the Daleks, and was intrigued after watching the original episodes to take a look at the ‘new, improved’ version with all the extra special effects. While it was undoubtedly impressive, I think on reflection I still prefer the original, in all it’s wobbly glory.
I do understand this impulse, though. These days I find I can hardly look at my earlier books and stories without fighting the urge to toss them across the room in frustration. Sometimes I find myself wanting to go back and rework them and improve them. I never have, though, despite scrawling notes and amendments in the margins of finished copies. I always end up deciding my time would be better spent working on new things, looking forward instead of over my shoulder.
What do you think? Should authors ever consider going back and revisiting their earlier works with a red pen?