Sydney Morning Herald - February 17, 2004

Reality bites for rock's rebel

By Bernard Zuel

David Bowie once sang about loving the alien - and you can see it in action on the poster for his latest world tour. This time, the alien is Clear Channel, the sponsor of Bowie's Reality tour.

It is a monolithic conglomerate that dominates the American radio market with 1225 stations across the US - not to mention 800,000 billboards, nearly 40 television stations and control of three quarters of the country's live music venues.

Clear Channel also has an interest in a dozen Australian radio stations, including Sydney's WS and MIX FM.

It's the same organisation that is almost universally derided by artists and criticised by legislators for its sheer power, narrow, centralised programming and conservative attitudes.

Last year, Clear Channel banned the Dixie Chicks after the band's singer criticised US President George Bush.

The company has organised pro-war "citizen" rallies and circulated an extensive list of songs to avoid playing after the September 11 attacks, including Alanis Morissette's Ironic.

It's also a radio conglomerate that doesn't play David Bowie, according to David Bowie.

When it was suggested that if he arrived today with the look and social attitudes he displayed in the 1970s he almost certainly wouldn't get on air on a Clear Channel station, an otherwise jovial Bowie snorted.

"They don't play me anyway. They might be promoting my tour but they don't play me on the radio," the tanned and frequently smiling Bowie said.

So why have them sponsoring your tour?

"They're not sponsoring it; they're running it," he laughed, before alluding to the huge costs of mounting a tour of this scale, one that will play to 5 million people.

"That's the way tours are operating these days," he said.

"They're doing a very successful tour for me but as far as radio goes, they're of no help whatsoever.

"But I've come to expect that."

The Clear Channel diversion was the only time Bowie, who will stage two concerts in Sydney this weekend, wasn't in self-described "buoyant" mood yesterday.

When not doing mock hand-puppets, attributing his relatively youthful visage to good dentistry ("It's the teeth. Ever since I had them done I've looked younger") or telling self-deprecating jokes about the reason there may be young people attending his shows ("I don't think people realise how many children I've fathered"), he was quoting John Cleese and suggesting that while he may act again in the future, "Russell [Crowe] can rest quietly".

In passing, Bowie said he would like to work again as a producer, as he did so successfully with fellow rocker Iggy Pop in the 1970s.

He mentioned underground acts Mercury Rev and Grandaddy as the two bands he was keenest on.

No one had to mention that you won't hear those bands on Clear Channel stations either.