The New York Post - 12th September 2003


By Dan Aquilante

AFTER nearly four decades sliding on music's cutting edge, David Bowie, 56, isn't ready for his golden years.

Over the last three years, he's written some of the best songs since he was a young man, re-establishing himself critically while touring relentlessly.

A few weeks ago, Bowie actually played The Chance in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., a club with room for just 300 fans. What gives?

"All I want is a responsive audience," Bowie told The Post. "I get a buzz out of performing, whether it's for 300 or some exceptionally huge crowd, because of my band. We are a solid unit; we know we're one of the best bands out there. It might sound immodest, but we're really comfortable onstage because we know what we're doing."

But everything isn't about work for Bowie, who recently snapped up an undeveloped 64-acre mountain in the Woodstock area of the Catskills, near where he recorded his last CD, "Heathen." He says one day he'll build there.

"I love mountains," he said. "I'm a Capricorn. I was born to be gallivanting on a peak somewhere. I can't get high enough," he laughed, then asked, "Does that sound too much like a '70s expression?"

No one's likely to mistake the one-time glam-rocker for a hippie. "I was never a Woodstocky kind of person, at all, ever," he said. "But when I got up there, I flipped at how beautiful it is. There's a barrenness and sturdiness in the rugged terrain that draws me."

But Bowie isn't growing whiskers and wearing flannel. He and his family - wife, model Iman, and daughter, Alexandria, 3 - live in Manhattan, where he drew inspiration for his new album, "Reality," set for release Tuesday.

Post: New York City seems woven into the fabric of "Reality."

Bowie: New York certainly is the genesis of the album. I live downtown, so just walking around you suck up the vibration of Manhattan. You hear and feel the resonance of the city.

Post: So this is a tribute to New York?

Bowie: Everything on the album has a New York tone, but I wouldn't go as far as saying it is exclusively about New York. It's as much about New York as "Heroes" was about Berlin. "Heroes" wasn't about Berlin - it was informed by day-to-day living there.

Post: You have a strong sense of place.

Bowie: I'm terribly influenced by geography and where I am. My albums are pretty good snapshots of where I was and what I was going through when I was there. You can feel the Catskill Mountains in "Heathen." You can feel the spirituality.

Post: And in "Reality"?

Bowie: You feel the streets. It is as aggressive as New York.

Post: What do you mean by the title, "Reality"?

Bowie: In my eyes, the word "reality" has been appropriated. The definition has gotten lost.

Post: How has reality changed?

Bowie: I've got to be careful about this. I don't want to paint myself into a corner. Over the last 20 years, many of our ideas of the absolute, the ideas we all have held sacred, have been taken apart. We no longer have an ultimate sense of truth. We're living in a kind of chaos.

Post: Not to argue with you, but that seems slightly superficial.

Bowie: It's flippant in a post-modern way. I know if you're a person struggling to find a job and get food and shelter for your family, you're going to have a very accurate idea of what reality is. I understand the ambivalence in providing that kind of answer.

Post: Then why say it?

Bowie: Because my job is playing with ideas rather than reality. So it behooves me to question what reality is. I think that's the nature of most artists.

Post: When you were young, you were torn between music and painting. Do you still paint?

Bowie: I've been so taken with the music side of my life over the last couple of years that I've done nothing I'm particularly excited about. But I've always found painting or sculpting has helped the progress of my music, especially in the early '90s.

Post: What's changed since then?

Bowie: I've gotten much more confident about my writing. My need to work things out in another art form has diminished.

Post: Where do your strengths lie as a writer?

Bowie: When I get really selfish and write for my own pleasure, not for the audience, is when I arrive at something with muscle. I also get good when I get back to the themes that have gnawed at me since I was a teenager.

Post: Such as?

Bowie: Trying to find a spiritual connection, a sense of isolation and a vague kind of futurism.

Post: What do you mean by futurism?

Bowie: I said vague futurism because there are others who write futuristic content far more eloquently than I, but there is a sense of future writing in my work that's strong.

Post: Is the future better?

Bowie: Better than the future I'm living in right now? I'm optimistic about it because of my 3-year-old daughter. She's really changed my life. You can't afford to be selfish when you're a father, even on the superficial level of writing. I have to be able to put out work that I can stand by if my daughter asks me, "If you were so negative about the world, why did you bring me into it?" By force of circumstance, I have to examine my situation differently than I would have even four years ago. Am I making any sense?