Winnipeg Free Press - 1st April 2004

Rocker David Bowie brings his worldwide A Reality Tour to Canada

By Bartley Kives

At age 57, David Bowie belongs to the same generation as some of the lazier classic rock musicians who just never faded away.

Yet unlike The Rolling Stones or AC/DC, who keep making the same album over and over again, the man variously known as Ziggy Stardust and The Thin White Duke has never grown complacent.

In the 1960s, Bowie started as a folksinger. He was the prototypical glam-rocker during the '70s and flirted with corporate rock in the '80s.

And in the 1990s, he became even more artistically restless, trying his hand at electronic music and industrial rock at a time when he ought to have been playing it safe and lobbying for a knighthood.

Even people who didn't dig albums like Earthling applauded his passion for constant change. But the experiments came at a cost: Bowie's commercial success waned over the past 15 years.

Lately, he's returned to earth with his most recent albums, 2001's Heathen and last year's Reality. Both sport more conventional rock and pop sounds.

But Bowie isn't looking to reclaim his place in the spotlight, despite his worldwide A Reality Tour that makes six Canadian stops over the next week.

The Canadian leg was to begin Thursday night in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre. He's scheduled to perform in Ottawa on Friday, Quebec City on Sunday, Winnipeg (April 7), Edmonton (April 9) and Kelowna, B.C. (April 11).

By all accounts, pop music's original chameleon stopped catering to an audience around the release of Low in 1977, if not way earlier.

"The need for affection can often get in the way of an artist's work," said Bowie in a recent phone interview from London. "I don't think you need to be loved by everyone in the world to be a good artist."

The British capital is his birthplace, but no longer his home. He's been living in New York City for the past 10 years with his wife, the actress/model Iman, and their three-year-old daughter, Alexandria.

During this time, he resumed his working relationship with longtime collaborator Tony Visconti, who produced both Heathen and Reality, Bowie's most consistent one-two punch since the early '80s.

"For me, it's important to write without thinking about what an audience would want or what their reaction was to (my) last piece of work," said Bowie. "It really has to be about my own selfish needs as an artist.

"What would I go out and buy right now? What would make me excited?" In Bowie's case, just about anything.

Unlike some members of his cohort, he's never walled himself off from new sounds and ideas. In the early '90s, he was the most high-profile musician to champion alternative-rock pioneers The Pixies, whose Cactus is covered on Heathen.

More recently, Bowie has sung the praises of the California outfit Grandaddy and Brooklyn art-pop experimentalists TV On The Radio.

"Music really is the thing that drives me. I can't imagine not listening to something new," Bowie says. "I don't listen obsessively. It's always about something just catching my ear."

This zeal explains Bowie's lifelong compulsion to experiment, as well as his aversion to repeating himself. He chafes at the suggestion Reality marks the first time he's recycled himself.

"You know what? I'd love to make the same album over and over again," says Bowie. "Imagine having 25 versions of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, each one very slightly different from the last one."

But, "I think you have to be a certain kind of fan to buy that kind of work. It's just not something I could do," says Bowie.

"The thing that drives me is the possibilities open to one as an artist. My subject matter is quite similar from album to album, but I approach it stylistically in a different way."

"I don't want to just do all the songs that are famous. I couldn't tour like that," says Bowie. "I did that once and it was really heartbreaking - it wasn't fulfilling in any way."

For David Bowie, relying on himself, not the adulation of an audience, is a lesson he learned early in his career.

"You learn this when you find out not everyone is not going to like you. When you realize that, you go, 'Oh, hell - in that case, I'll just do what I want to do.'"