Quad-City Times - May 12th, 2004

Ziggy Stardust Grows Up:
A Q&A with David Bowie

By Sean Moeller (GO! Writer)

David Bowie, since his earliest days, has been musically, categorically and personally unspecific. He's run the game, affecting more characters and shades of himself than anyone could have thought were contained within. He's pushed boundaries, people and perceptions, refusing to become stale and redundant.

When he speaks, he does so with a thick smoker's voice and a non-intimidating sense of serenity, as if he's spent the entire day in a hammock, without a worry. GO! recently caught up with him while at a tour stop in Austin, Texas.

Q: How has the tour been going?

A: Fantastic. We're about eight and a half months in so know pretty much what kind of animal it is. It's impossible to describe. I'm just thoroughly enjoying it. We set out with about 50 songs. We learned about nine or 10 since we got on the road. So now we're up to 60 songs and we change them every now and again to keep the thing fluid and it's just been great. The audiences have just been fabulous. I couldn't have asked for anything more. It's been a great year.

Q: Your latest album is titled "Reality" - what have you found to be the greatest or most powerful realities in your life?

A: The number one always is, I think, the birth of a child. I mean, especially the reinforcement, the second time around for me, with my daughter (Alexandria, born in 2000 to Bowie and wife Iman). It's made me make some rather big changes in what I do and where I want to be and all that. It definitely makes me want to have a tighter kind of... a much more domestic situation for my private life. It's very important for me that she gets as much affection and love immediately from the ground up. I don't know how it's going to affect my writing in the future.

Definitely, working on "Reality," I was very circumspect about what I was going to be writing about, but I might not have her impede me in quite that way in the future. (Laughs) But it's hard. It's very hard to think in advance. I don't think one can do that.

Q: You've been quite the promoter of The Polyphonic Spree (a 29-member band from Texas that performs in church choir robes, fronted by former Tripping Daisy leader Tim DeLaughter that opened the first half of the tour). Have you ever considered them a different version of Ziggy Stardust?

A: No. I don't know. I guess I just kind of bought into the whole idea that it's "Godspell"-meets-Jim Jones. Kool-Aid with love. I think Tim's a great writer. I love his writing. For inflections have a lot to do with the Beach Boys and a certain period of American writing in the late 60s. And it does have a certain... I don't know, there's a kinship with what was, I guess at the time, the experiment with the modern musical, which was things like "Godspell" and "Hair." Sometimes the Spree reminds me of that period of writing. It's really musically challenging in that way because you can't come in with your own set of ideas.

You've got to be pretty open-minded to the stuff that they're doing. Fortunately for them, they're having a whale of a time. They're winning audiences over every night. They really are. And now we've got them working on doing "Slip Away" with us as an encore opener. That's been going down great.

Q: How's your memory? Do you know all of their names?

A: What, all 1,834 of them? No, that's an impossible question. I just stay with Tim and I point to other people and say, "Tim, who's is that person?"

If there's any sense of menace, then I think it's something posing as a menace to me. I don't think I want to be menacing. I don't feel that. But if it's implied in the music, then it's probably something that I feel menaced by and so it gets reproduced in the music. I definitely think that I write from this very singular point of view when I'm composing things. I really go into myself when I'm writing. It's not a public thing at all. So I think a lot of my own angst really gets brought up and personified in the songs that I do. I'm not sure I could write any other way. It's just the way I do write.

Q: When you were in your Ziggy years (the early '70s) and some people were feeling threatened by you, did you ever, yourself, feel threatening?

A: Never at any single time. Displaced was more like it, out-of-sync, not in touch. More like that actually. There was a time when what I was doing was so peculiarly what I was doing and didn't seem to resemble anything anybody else was doing. I didn't understand what I was doing, but it just seemed out of touch with what everyone else was doing. Different circumstances make me feel out of touch now. I live in New York, but I feel very much a European. So I feel very out of pace with New York. And that's not a bad thing. It gives me a possibly interesting perspective on where I live. But it's not like, "Hey, this is my real home." It's not like that too much. Again, I'm not really sure I've felt that way in London either.

Q: I've read that you encourage people to mash up and remix your songs (much like Danger Mouse recently did, and made news for, combining Jay-Z and The Beatles). Are you really in favor of that phenomenon?

A: I've never had a problem with it. I've been lucky I guess. It's always ended up fairly successfully, sounding good. The only place where I would draw the line is if were used in a social or political area that I just could not get behind. I wouldn't want it to be corrupting in any way. I think I'd always like a say over the context issues.

Q: Do you feel it's a creative process?

A: The end result would decide if it's creative or not. I've heard quite a lot of stuff that wasn't up to par and I think a lot of it can be real hit and miss. But someone who really understands how music is put together - it doesn't even have to be a musician really, just someone who has a really feel for what makes music music or what makes an interesting sensibility out of a piece of music - will be able to get it and do something quite invigorating with it. It's like good art and bad art. Someone like Raushenburg started his career off by appropriation in that way, taking other people's photographs and incorporating them into his own work. And the context that he put them in created a whole new piece of work around someone else's work.

Of course, he got stopped from doing that eventually and he ended up taking all of his own pictures because he was being sued left right and center. The irony, of course, is that someone like Andy Warhol could never have done half of the work that he did these days. People like Marilyn (Monroe) would have sued him now. Ironically, nobody sued him at the time. I think they were a lot more na´ve in those days. No, Warhol couldn't have produced Marilyn these days ... or any one of his things that changed American art forever. It's really strange. You couldn't do it now. You just couldn't do it now. So art wouldn't have changed if it had to change in the 2000s. I think the same thing will happen in music.

Q: What can't you do without on a daily basis?

A: Only French roast coffee. I carry French roast coffee around with me. It's the last thing I've got left. And I just can't be without books. And that's pretty much it. As long as I've got a bunch of T-shirts, I'm fine. I'm an easy traveler.

Q: What have you been reading?

A: I'm reading a bunch of stuff by a British authoress called Margaret Drabble. I think she's probably totally unknown over here. I'm reading some poems by Sylvia Plath and plowing through - you'll love this one - the New York Public Library desk reference fourth edition.

Q: What kinds of things are you getting from that?

A: Dumb things. I just found out what day I went to see Elvis Presley in 1972. They have the calendars from which you can look up any year and found out what any date was. So I now know that I flew over to see Presley on Friday, June the 9th, 1972. I knew it was in June sometime and I kind of knew that he was on around the 9th or 10th at Madison Square Garden and I didn't know which day I'd gone.

I had a gig on the Thursday night at the Polytechnic in Middlesbrough so I dashed down to London that night after the gig, got on the plane early in the morning, just made the concert - I got in late to the concert and he was already doing "Proud Mary." Then that night I had a quick sleep and got up early, early the next morning and got on a flight back to London and played a gig the next night. So I literally saw him between gigs. I absolutely had to see him before anything happened to him. He was pretty good at that time. He was still in pretty great shape and it wasn't that long after the black leather show that was on television.

Q: Did you do that very often - flying over the ocean to see shows between gigs?

A: That was the only time. A lot of the others came over to England. I got to see my number one idol, Little Richard - he'd already been over in the '60s. I think he was pretty much the main man for me. I think it was his sax lineup. I just loved the saxophones in that band. I just felt that that was the group I was going to join when I grew up because I was like 9 when he happened in Britain. I just wanted to be a part of that sax lineup.

If you go:
Who: David Bowie, with The Stereophonics
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 22
Where: The Mark of the Quad-Cities, Moline
How much: $53 and $43
Information: (309) 764-2000.