WAITING FOR THE MAN
By Michael Watts
IT WAS raining the night Jim met Phil. They were total strangers to each other, but Phil had asked Jim for a cigarette, and well... one thing led to another. They've become very good friends. Phil still recalls how Jim's hands had trembled, though. They'd gone along to see David Bowie in Dunstable. Great fans of Bowie they were, and Jim had almost to pinch himself when he first heard such a grand person was actually coming to that place. He hated it. Privately his mother confided that he found it difficult to make friends at work. That Wednesday night he was there, though, clutching his copy of the new David Bowie album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, which he hoped David would autograph after the show. He was wearing his red scarf, flung nonchalantly over his shoulder, and his red platform boots. His hair was long down the back but cropped fairly short on top so that it stuck up when he brushed his fingers through it. He hated that it was dark brown. He'd promised himself that when he eventually split to London he'd have it done bright blond. He was just turned 19. Phil was one of the first to arrive at the Civic Hall. He'd stood in the queue for an hour and a half to get a ticket, so when he was inside he rushed quickly to the front and stood beneath the stage. He waited patiently while the Flamin' Groovies went through their set. He was to say later, in fact, that they were quite super, but after all, he'd really gone to see Dave, hadn't he? He was so excited Phil can't remember exactly what Bowie came out wearing, but towards the end of the performance it was certain that the outfit was white satin shirt and trousers, the legs tucked into glistening, thick-soled white boots. He looked like Vogue's idea of what the well-dressed astronaut should be wearing. Dare it be said? A delicious space oddity. A lesser hunk of glamour might have been upstage by guitarist Mick Ronson with his maroon sequined jacket, red lipstick and hair dyed peroxide as a fifties starlet, but though oohs and aaahs were directed his way, teenage hearts went fluttering out to David; for can anything dim the splendour of this ravishing creature whom all Britain is learning to love? The newspapers were to report subsequently that this performance was one of the major turning points in David Bowie's incredible success story. The man from United Artists Records, who knows what he likes, was quite sure of that. He said afterwards that DB was definitely the biggest thing around. To those who had seen his act before this year the format was not new. That's to say he started the set rockin' like a bitch before cooling down somewhat with 'Changes', a song of mixed tempos, and then the darkling, apocalyptic message of 'Five Years', which owes something lyrically to Lou Reed ('I think I saw you in an ice-cream parlour drinking milk shakes cold and long.') And then the acoustic passages with Mick Ronson ('Space Oddity' and 'Andy Warhol') culminating in a solo version of 'Amsterdam', a febrile account of rough trade, as delightfully coarse as navy blue serge. 'Now some golden oldies for you.' He announced the number as written by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown. All his fans, of course, needed no telling. 'I Feel Free', ripping out of the stereo PA system, choreographed by the flickering strobe lighting, it's not what you do, it's the way you do it. My, how they clapped and whistled. The band returned for an encore. It was 'I'm Waiting For The Man'. But something rather strange was happening up there on stage. During the instrumental break Bowie began chasing Ronson around the stage, hustling him, trying to press his body close. The attendants at the exits looked twice to see if they could believe their eyes. The teenage chickies stared in bewilderment. The men knew but the little girls didn't understand. Jeees - us! It had happened. It should be recorded that the first act of fellatio on a musical instrument in the British Isles took place at Dunstable Civic Hall. How do you top that? You don't. You get off stage. After the show was over, scores of people were still milling around. Over the loudspeaker system Hunky Dory was playing. The autograph hunters were crowding round the dressing-room door, but he wasn't seen to emerge. Moist-eyed boys still hung around. After a while, Jim and Paul left the place together.
IT WAS raining the night Jim met Phil. They were total strangers to each other, but Phil had asked Jim for a cigarette, and well... one thing led to another. They've become very good friends. Phil still recalls how Jim's hands had trembled, though.
They'd gone along to see David Bowie in Dunstable. Great fans of Bowie they were, and Jim had almost to pinch himself when he first heard such a grand person was actually coming to that place. He hated it. Privately his mother confided that he found it difficult to make friends at work.
That Wednesday night he was there, though, clutching his copy of the new David Bowie album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, which he hoped David would autograph after the show. He was wearing his red scarf, flung nonchalantly over his shoulder, and his red platform boots.
His hair was long down the back but cropped fairly short on top so that it stuck up when he brushed his fingers through it. He hated that it was dark brown. He'd promised himself that when he eventually split to London he'd have it done bright blond. He was just turned 19.
Phil was one of the first to arrive at the Civic Hall. He'd stood in the queue for an hour and a half to get a ticket, so when he was inside he rushed quickly to the front and stood beneath the stage. He waited patiently while the Flamin' Groovies went through their set. He was to say later, in fact, that they were quite super, but after all, he'd really gone to see Dave, hadn't he?
He was so excited Phil can't remember exactly what Bowie came out wearing, but towards the end of the performance it was certain that the outfit was white satin shirt and trousers, the legs tucked into glistening, thick-soled white boots. He looked like Vogue's idea of what the well-dressed astronaut should be wearing. Dare it be said? A delicious space oddity.
A lesser hunk of glamour might have been upstage by guitarist Mick Ronson with his maroon sequined jacket, red lipstick and hair dyed peroxide as a fifties starlet, but though oohs and aaahs were directed his way, teenage hearts went fluttering out to David; for can anything dim the splendour of this ravishing creature whom all Britain is learning to love?
The newspapers were to report subsequently that this performance was one of the major turning points in David Bowie's incredible success story. The man from United Artists Records, who knows what he likes, was quite sure of that. He said afterwards that DB was definitely the biggest thing around.
To those who had seen his act before this year the format was not new. That's to say he started the set rockin' like a bitch before cooling down somewhat with 'Changes', a song of mixed tempos, and then the darkling, apocalyptic message of 'Five Years', which owes something lyrically to Lou Reed ('I think I saw you in an ice-cream parlour drinking milk shakes cold and long.') And then the acoustic passages with Mick Ronson ('Space Oddity' and 'Andy Warhol') culminating in a solo version of 'Amsterdam', a febrile account of rough trade, as delightfully coarse as navy blue serge.
'Now some golden oldies for you.' He announced the number as written by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown. All his fans, of course, needed no telling. 'I Feel Free', ripping out of the stereo PA system, choreographed by the flickering strobe lighting, it's not what you do, it's the way you do it. My, how they clapped and whistled.
The band returned for an encore. It was 'I'm Waiting For The Man'. But something rather strange was happening up there on stage. During the instrumental break Bowie began chasing Ronson around the stage, hustling him, trying to press his body close. The attendants at the exits looked twice to see if they could believe their eyes. The teenage chickies stared in bewilderment. The men knew but the little girls didn't understand. Jeees - us! It had happened.
It should be recorded that the first act of fellatio on a musical instrument in the British Isles took place at Dunstable Civic Hall. How do you top that? You don't. You get off stage.
After the show was over, scores of people were still milling around. Over the loudspeaker system Hunky Dory was playing. The autograph hunters were crowding round the dressing-room door, but he wasn't seen to emerge. Moist-eyed boys still hung around. After a while, Jim and Paul left the place together.
DAVID BOWIE? PANTOMIME ROCK?
By John Mendelssohn
LOS ANGELES - in his floral-patterned velvet midi-gown and cosmetically enhanced eyes, in his fine chest-length blonde hair and mod nutty engineer's cap that he bought in the ladies' hat section of the City of Paris department store in San Francisco, he is ravishing, almost disconcertingly reminiscent of Lauren Bacall, although he would prefer to be regarded as the latter-day Garbo.
In the studios of San Francisco's KSAN-FM, he assures an incredulous DJ that his last album was, very simply, a collection of reminiscences about his experiences as a shaven-headed transvestite.
In Hollywood, at a party staged in his honour, he blows the minds of arriving hot-panted honeys with Edy Williams hair, welcoming them lispily in his gorgeous gown before excusing himself so he can watch Ultra Violet give interviews from a milk bath at a party held a few blocks away in her honour.
Although he is the creator of one of the year's most interesting albums, The Man Who Sold The World, he remains mostly unfamiliar.
But perhaps not for long. The 24-year-old songwriter/singer/theatrician/magnificent outrage from London will undertake his first performing tour of this country (due to visa difficulties he was not allowed to play in public during his February visit) in April.
"I refuse to be thought of as mediocre," Bowie asserts blithely. "If I am mediocre, I'll get out of the business. There's enough fog around. That's why the idea of performance-as-spectacle is so important to me."
He plans to appear on stage decked out rather like Cleopatra, in the appropriate heavy make-up and in costumes that will hopefully recall those designed in the thirties by Erté.
He says he will also interpret his own works through mime, a form in which he's been involved at several points in his career, most notably when he wrote for, acted in, and helped produce the Lindsay Kemp Mime Company of London: "I'd like to bring mime into a traditional Western setting, to focus the attention of the audience with a very stylized, a very Japanese style of movement."
Bowie assures us that he has already put that idea into practice with gratifying results: "About three years ago, at the Festival Hall in London, I did a solo performance of a twenty-minute play with song that I wrote called Yet-San and the Eagle,[sic Jetsun and the Eagle] which is about a boy trying to find his way in Tibet, within himself, under the pressured of the Communist Chinese oppression. I might bring it over to some of the bigger places I work in America. It was very successful - everybody seemed to understand and enjoy it."
He is not overly concerned with American audiences' lesser experience with and consequent less receptivity to theatrically-enhanced musical performances: "Should anyone think that these things are merely distractions or gimmicks intended to obscure the music's shortcomings, he mustn't come to my concerts. He must come on my terms or not at all.
"My performances have got to be theatrical experiences for me as well as for the audience. I don't want to climb out of my fantasies in order to go up on stage - I want to take them on stage with me."
Bowie contends that rock in particular and pop in general should not be taken as seriously as is currently the fashion: "What the music says may be serious, but as a medium it should not be questioned, analysed, or taken so seriously. I think it should be tarted up, made into a prostitute, a parody of itself. It should be the clown, the Pierrot medium. The music is the mask the message wears - music is the Pierrot and I, the performer, am the message.
"Tell your readers that they can make up their minds about me when I begin getting adverse publicity: when I'm found in bed with Raquel Welch's husband."
DAVID BOWIE, whose new single "Prettiest Star" is out tomorrow (Friday), has formed a three-piece backing group for "live dates."
Called the Hype, the group consists of Bowie's producer, Tony Visconti, on bass, John Cambridge (of Juniors Eyes), on drums, and Mick Ronson on guitar.
David and the group appear for the first time at Hull University tomorrow (March 6), then London's Regent Street Polytechnic (7) and Royal Festival Hall (12).
HYPE AND DAVID BOWIE'S FUTURE
By Raymond Telford
HYPE HAS been kindly defined by a wise friend as being ninety per cent hyperbole and ten per cent hypocrisy. With that clearly in mind who would ever think of giving the title to their own group?
David Bowie would and has, partly as a protest against the pretentiousness and insincerity in some quarters of the music business.
Explained David last week over the almost overwhelming din of a lunchtime ale house:
"I deliberately chose the name in favour of something that sounded perhaps heavy because now no one can say they're being conned. Especially nowadays there's a lot of narrow mindedness among groups or at least behind the organisers who claim to be presenting free music for free people but I don't see how they can because they're so hypocritical in everything else. I suppose you could say I chose Hype deliberately with tongue in cheek."
David's last record was the ultra dramatic "Space Oddity" which was a good reflection of the extent to which his imagination will stretch. In some ways the conception of the song was so simple (dealing with the disastrous shortcomings of an astronaut) that you wonder why it hadn't been done before. It is more than probable five or six years ago "Space Oddity" would have been given an icy reception and even banned as being sick. The disc was in fact banned in the States.
"I was pleased that the record was a success but getting a hit wasn't so very important and I honestly can't see why it was so popular."
The last statement could only be put down to modesty and David is a very modest character. He has refused to allow himself the easy way out of becoming bitter towards the business. "Space Oddity" at last brought him deserved recognition after several attempts at getting a hit but now that charts hold little attention for him.
What then does the future hold for his new release with Hype "Pretty Star?"
"I think a lot of people are expecting another 'Space Oddity'" said David, "and 'Pretty Star' is nothing it. I'm sure this is why the BBC aren't plugging it. Everyone wanted another song with the same feel as 'Space Oddity' but as I'd done it I didn't see the point of doing it again.
"The song served its purpose but I hope I'm not going to be expected to write and record a whole lot of stuff that is so obvious as 'Space Oddity'."
I remarked that it had taken some time for "Space Oddity" to start making an impression on the charts - a statement which had David nodding vigorously.
"Yes," he agreed, "it took about three or four months to catch on and the release had been held back about three months before that. The only reason I can think of is that the record company were waiting to cash in on the American moon landing. It was banned in the States because they thought it was in bad taste and even might upset some people."
This is something which David stoically makes no apologies for.
"All my songs are very personal and I combine this with an exaggeration so the meaning is clearly brought home to the listener. A lot of my compositions are very much fantasy tales. I like Marc Bolan's songs very much because I think he obviously feels the same way."
The conversation then swung once more to the intriguing Hype.
"I'm very happy with the band," says David. "I have Tony Visconti who has played bass on nearly all my records, John Cambridge, who used to be with Juniors Eyes and Mick Ronson on guitar and I play 12 string guitar.
"Although we're all happy with the set up, I can't see it becoming a really permanent thing. I want to retain Hype and myself as two separate working units whereby we can retain out own identities.
"The gigs we've done so far have gone better than I expected. We played the Roundhouse recently and it was great. The Roundhouse audiences seem to be something apart from the usual blasé London audiences.
"We've had these costumes made by various girl friends which make us look like Dr. Strange or the Incredible Hulk. I was a bit apprehensive about wearing them at the Roundhouse gig because I didn't know how the audience would react. If they think it's a huge put on the whole thing will backfire but they seemed to accept it which was nice.
"The best audiences I know of are up north where they really appreciate you. In London the audiences are very aware that they are living in the place where it's all supposed to be happening so inevitably they have this cool attitude they'll try and sell you anything from a pair of trousers to your own car."
By Gavin Petrie
DAVID BOWIE, in ten-league boots and groovy gear, presented his new backing group line up Hype, at London's Regent Street Polytechnic on Saturday. He needs an expert on sound balance who should effectively solve the teething problems of the new line up.
David had much more confidence and stage presence with this backing group, and as his songs are suitable for grooving to as well as just listening to, the brightest hope could well change categories.
This show was a disaster. The volume on Mick Ronson's lead guitar was so high that not only did he block out David's singing but also completely overpowered John Cambridge's drums. The volume also cleared the seats in a direct line with his speaker.
That magic that makes for greatness is there but suppressed, sometimes even hidden. If my ears ever recover I expect to see David plus Hype in a few months time... shining through.
DAVID BOWIE: YOUNG AMERICANS
By Janis Schacht
The title song of David Bowie's Young Americans is one of his handful of classics, a bizarre mixture of social comment, run-on lyric style, English pop and American soul. The band plays great and Tony Visconti's production is flawless - just a touch of old-fashioned slap-back echo to give the tracks some added mystery. The rest of the album works best when Bowie combines his knowledge of English pop, rather than opting entirely for one or the other. Thus, "Win", one of his best pop ballads, makes great use of an R&B chorus; it works much better than the straight James Brown impersonation "Right". He does a plaintive version of John Lennon's "Across the Universe", while "Fame" and "Fascination", besides being complementary titles, continue his merger of styles on a positive note.
As for Bowie's growth as an artist, the highlight of the album comes when he stops the band and asks, "Isn't there one damn song that can make me break down and cry?" With any other pop singer in the world, you'd know that he or she wanted to be taken seriously. With Bowie, you just believe that he half does and half just says what he thinks he's supposed to. Which isn't bad, but only the way it is.
By Jon Landau
It's just another passing phase for the Bowie kid, but you've got to admit his contribution to the soul age is an admirable one. Now the incredible Average White Band have a pale-haired Britisher hot on their trails, out to prove that Londoners can be as soulful as the Scots. As good as the vocals on "Young Americans" are, the rest of the album sounds as if it's running at a slightly distorted speed. Leave one of your older Bowie LPs on the steam heat, then put it on the turntable and you'll see what I mean. It's not a pleasant distortion at all. It is most annoying on "Win", a song that could have been as impressive as "Sweet Thing" from Diamond Dogs.
The majority of this album was recorded at Sigma Sound in Philadelphia, home of the East Coast Soul Sound. The strangest thing is that the most successful and the most soulful track on the album, "Fame", was recorded at Electric Lady Studios in Manhattan. Written by Bowie and a new collaborator named John Lennon plus Carlos Alomar, it sounds very much like the Average White Band's "Pick Up The Pieces". Once you've heard it, it sticks with you and while you listen to it, it's really quite difficult to stay still.
But back to those distorted vocals. The second worst track on the album is "Across The Universe", that classic tune from the Beatles' Let It Be album. Usually I love the way Bowie interprets other people's material, but this is just hideous. Even Lennon standing at his side playing guitar was not enough to intimidate him into a better performance.
On the whole this is a very successful experiment for David Bowie. It is certainly much better than many of his other experiments. If fact, if he does decide to stay with this for more than one album I imagine he will become quite excellent at it. (Of course the progressive world will suffer the loss of a major creative force if he does fall into the top 40 soul music format).
THE BOWIE SCENE
By Mick Rock
"I should like to replace all parts of my body with plastic equivalents. Then I couldn't grow old. I could just sit inside and watch it all function perfectly." The strange young man with the flame-red mane and the thin blue lines where most people have eyebrows seems to relish the thought. His eyes gleam excitedly. "I'd be a robot then, wouldn't I?" Not quite. But you get his point.
He pauses; a set of neatly manicured and varnished fingernails - "All my own work," he chuckles - reach up to administer a delicate flick to his nose. Already, though still flesh and bone, David Bowie gives a distinctly futuristic, otherworldly feel.
It might seem strange that someone as young as he is, and enjoying so much success, should be so concerned about age and decay. "I'm always worried about it," he grins ambiguously. "Think of the pain involved."
He would love to be put on ice before he got really old. Kept alive until a new age, "Walt Disney's done it. He got them to freeze him until they've found a cure for the illness which was killing him. Anyway, think of the fun waking up in 200 years time. There'd be so many new things to look at and find out about." He winces; changes tack radically. "Of course, more likely there'll be nothing to look at at all. It'd be nice though to know how exactly it did all turn out."
Nobody has created such a stir as Mr. B, Old Aladdin Sane himself, since the turn of the decade. He's the most provocative figure in modern music. Listen to his records. Watch him perform. Read what the press have to say about him. Where does that leave you? Confused probably. And intrigued. Actor, poet, clown, and, of course, songwriter, as with that great enigma of the sixties, Bob Dylan, he recedes from your grasp, even as he reveals himself. Now you see him, now you don't. Roll up, roll up, I give you the new Wizard of Rock. What he has over the all the other rock superstars is a real mystique. Sheer class. He is able to generate powerful images, to promote a sense of myth, like no other modern star.
It's mostly due to the fact that he has always been at least equally as interested in theatre and films as he has in music. And also because he's always refused to allow himself to be bound by the images he generates. This is at least part of the reason why he recently decided to retire from live performances after his last date on his U.K. tour.
He needs to involve himself with many different things. Record production, films, theatre; he's always said that he never regarded himself primarily as a rock star. That it was only a mantle he assumed for convenience sake to get himself to a position where people would take notice of what he did. Now he's in that position, now that the public as a whole recognise his abilities, he can expand and explore further a whole range of activities.
Not that he intends to stop recording. Almost immediately after the tour he left for France to record his new album "Pinups." But he's not a musical technician; he's a performer, a writer, an instigator. "I always knew from an early age that my role in life was to lead; not follow."
He never had any intention of flogging himself round the world year in, year out, like the conventional rock musician. He's an original, and knows it. His guitarist and fellow-arranger musically, Mick Ronson, platinum blonde and skinny, points out: "Dave's always making up chords and sequences of his own. That's why his songs sound so different." Nothing daunts Bowie from trying his hand at the new. His chequered career is an excellent indication of that.
"Something's got to happen. It's all very sterile at the moment. I mean, few young people go to the theatre. Rock's replaced it. It has the energy which modern theatre has been striving to find, but can't. It is the new theatre, really. But, let's face it, most rock artists don't know what they're up to; they don't know how to use it. They've lost their way."
Certainly, Bowie is one of the few performers who seem capable of giving rock a new, fruitful direction, away from the arid, self-indulgent instrumental meanderings and macho posturing of the so-called 'progressive' faction. His live performances exhibited a subtlety and control which rock them beyond the range of the average rock audience. This explains why his admirers cover such a broad cross section of age groups and attitudes, and, for all his 'fag' image, nowhere is he loved more than in traditionally 'earthy' working class cities like Glasgow, Liverpool, Leeds.
It's probably true to say that he's one of the few people to really touch the pulse of this insane age we live in. When you buy a Bowie album you are not just coughing up for the songs and the sound, you're taking an aura, a life-style back into your homes. And in a society as deluged by image and sound as ours is, the distinctiveness and individuality of Bowie's work is as refreshing as a raindrop in the Sahara. Right.
That's why he has had so many imitators. All across the country on his last tour, boys, and girls, men and women were turning up in their Bowie make-up and garb. The zig-zag from Aladdin Sane sleeve, and the gold studded spot in the centre of the forehead which Bowie used throughout the tour were to be seen flashing from all parts of the auditorium.
In Guildford, there was even a security guard, called Brian Burchett, an antique dealer by regular trade, who sported a Ziggy hairdo and heavy eye make-up, which belied the obvious power and muscularity of his physical frame. "He's a very beautiful person," said Brian after meeting David backstage. "He's so friendly and considerate." What, some may ask, is it all coming to? When even the men, the 'real' men with broad masculine physiques are camping it up. "It's all coming out into the open," grins David, "and I love it."
No one's too sure what Bowie will do after he's recorded his new album, and Bowie isn't saying too much about it, although he does expect to involve himself in a film in the near future. He's being wooed at the moment by the likes of John Schlesinger, director of 'Midnight Cowboy'. His ambition is huge. You can feel it in all he does.
Yet he has the discipline to ensure that he takes each step one at a time, even if some of them are frighteningly gigantic ones. Whatever he does, everyone's eyes will be on him, watching for any signs of weakness. Bowie knows it and enjoys it. It's all part of the game. "I'm a tightrope walker. Always have been. That's the only way I know how to live."
BOWIE FINISHED WITH LIVE GIGS
WIPE AWAY THE MAKE-UP, cut away the red-dyed tresses, throw away the white tights and put the ear-ring back in the trinket box. What further use could you possibly have for them now that David Bowie has give up "live" performances?
The shock announcement came at the end of his marathon British tour in early July. That, he said, was the end. No more would he take to the stage and excite male and female alike with his excellent shows.
An American tour set for this autumn has been scrubbed. Apart from tentative film plans nothing definite is known of Bowie's plans for the future.
He beamed down to Paris in mid-July and made for the Chateau d'Hérouville studios to cut his next album which is due in early September.
An RCA spokesman told Music Scene: "We were as astounded as everybody else by the announcement. He will certainly continue recording, he loves it and he is very quick."
A single is almost certain to be taken from the next album as a follow-up to "Life On Mars" which comes from the "Hunky Dory" LP which itself was released early last year.
So it looks as though the wonder boy who was recently voted No. 1 male singer by Music Scene readers has burst your pretty balloon and the party is well and truly over my friends.
DAVID BOWIE devotees, and there must be thousands more after his spectacular appearance on the Russell Harty TV show, might like to know that in addition to this RCA albums, "The World Of David Bowie" is still available on Decca at only 99p. It's not Bowie today, but the songs were still interesting even then.
HOW I NEARLY LOST MY EYE
DAVID BOWIE has something rather odd about his face. You've probably noticed it.
No matter whether it's night or day, bright or dull, one of his pupils remains the same size! And it often looks a reddish colour. Many of his fans think it's always been like that - but Music Star has found out the real truth about this peculiar Space Oddity!
For the first time, David tells all!
"When I was fourteen I fell in love with a girl. I can't even remember her name now - but at the time I was crazy about her!
"Only trouble was, my best mate had a bit of a soft spot for her, too.
"I was the winner. Quicker off the mark, I suppose! I moved in before he'd even made up his mind how to approach her...
"Anyway - next day I was at school boasting to my mate about what a Casanova I was and he became terribly annoyed.
"In fact he threw a punch at me! It caught me in the eye, and I stumbled against a wall and on to my knees. At first he thought I was kidding - it wasn't a very hard punch. But it had obviously caught me at rather an odd angle.
"At first they thought I'd lose my eye - I was scared stiff. But in the end it turned out that only one of the muscles that control the pupil was damaged. That's why my eye never changes size.
"For quite a while I was very embarrassed about it. Although I could see very well out of the eye, it made me self-conscious.
"But as I've grown older I've got to like it. It makes me feel different - distinctive!
"As far as the guy who hit me's concerned, he's still one of my best friends. He's a charming, honest person and not at all violent.
"He played in a group with me, too - the Bo Street Runners, we were called. Then he made a couple of singles as a soul singer before becoming a professional artist."
David's friend still feels bad about the affair sometimes.
"I'm sure David doesn't think about it nowadays - but every time I see him again after a long break, I'm reminded of what I did to him, all those years ago!" he told us.
The Bowie Five-Star Constellation
RCA Records and Tapes
Unbelievable but a fact - David Bowie takes five places in the Top Fifty album charts for ten whole weeks - a music achievement unique in our time.
And now, the man who made Space Oddity, The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars and Aladdin Sane is putting a new album into orbit. It's called PIN-UPS and will be released in mid-October. Make sure of your copy by ordering now at your local record shop.
RCA Records and Tapes
BOWIE GIG OFF
DAVID BOWIE'S appearance on June 30 at High Wycombe has been cancelled. A spokesman for GEM explained the cancellation was "because we were saturated with gigs around that weekend."
Bowie's representative, Dai Davies, later told NME this week that Bowie "wishes to apologise to the 1,000 people who were turned away from the Croydon Greyhound on Sunday because of over crowding. He intends to play another gig in the area as soon as possible."
LIVE! DAVID BOWIE
ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL: David Bowie will soon become the greatest entertainer Britain has ever known. His performance on Saturday at the "Save The Whale" Friends of the Earth concert was a triumph for the showmanship as well as music. His talent seems unlimited and he looks certain to become the most important person in pop music on both sides of the Atlantic. He is a real star, incorporating the things that made people like Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and The Beatles so very special. The atmosphere that surrounded him at the Festival Hall could be felt so positively that even before he appeared on stage it was obvious that somebody unique was about to take the platform. With his Spiders From Mars band, featuring another man, Mick Ronson, destined for superstardom, he performed a selection of numbers from his "Hunky Dory" and "Ziggy Stardust" albums and added to the delight of the 3,000 strong audience, "Space Oddity" and the wistful "Amsterdam." After a dozen numbers, Bowie was joined by Lou Reed, once of the legendary Velvet Underground, for three numbers, and I had the feeling that as much as David wanted to pay tribute to Reed, the inclusion of the American into the act was quite unnecessary. The people were there to Save the Whale and to see Bowie, who compere Kenny Everett described as the "next biggest thing to God", - a mere mortal next to our hero from Mars - seemed to destroy the illusion that Bowie had spent the entire evening creating. Marmalade opened the show and suffered amplification trouble from the word go. It was a shame for lead guitarist Hughie Nicholson, who was making his farewell performance with the band. The other act on the bill, the JSD Band were very funny, but I was left with the feeling that they should have devoted more time to playing music than telling humorous anecdotes.
The Year: 1984. The Singer: Bowie
(New LP's reviewed by the Disc Panel)
BOWIE "Diamond Dogs" (RCA APLI 0576, £2.38).
This should be out on May 25 provided Bowie and RCA can iron out the differences over a small matter on the cover in the meantime.
Bowie's spoken introduction Future Legend sets the scene - a devastated city with "fleas as big as rats," "rats as big as cats" and "peoploids." Then comes the title track and it seems as if we're in for a natural follow-up to "Aladdin Sane" with touches of Watch That Man and not a little Stones influence.
But thereafter the mood changes and it rapidly becomes clear that the only other Bowie album with which this has much in common is the greatly under-rated "Man Who Sold The World." It's eerie, bleak, but compelling listening and undeniably brilliant. It contains some of the best music Bowie's ever written and he's never been any slouch as a tunesmith. The lyrics too house some great lines.
After Diamond Dogs comes a loosely-knit suite of three songs Sweet Thing, The Candidate and Sweet Thing (Reprise). It embarks in neo-Brel style before veering off in a more whimsical direction and returning with Bowie working right at the top of his range. All very strange and disquieting. Rebel Rebel closes off the side.
The second half is far more immediate, opening with an insidious toe-tapper Rock 'n' Roll With Me, perhaps the most obvious choice for a single. If that one lulls you into a false sense of security, the next We Are The Dead snaps you right out of it with cold calm report from beyond The Styx.
Then comes the one that for me is the guvenor of the whole album - 1984. It's the ultimate in song construction with a shuffling verse complemented by a beautiful chorus - tasteful, classy, seemingly effortless. Big Brother is the production number of the album and, in a way, the twin of its predecessor. Then the work closes with Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family, which returns to the mood created right at the beginning.
Bowie's contributed more to the instrumentation on the album than past ones and done himself proud. Tony Visconti shares the kudos for production. Despite the excellent contributions of the supporting players on "Diamond Dogs" it remains very much Bowie's LP and without doubt the finest he's made so far.
BOWIE - FILM PRODUCER
DAVID BOWIE is to produce a major film "Octobriana," starring actress Amanda Lear. Bowie first talked about the project in an exclusive interview with Disc last autumn when he had just acquired a book on Octobriana, heroine of the Russian underground press.
Although Bowie is financing the project, his commitments with his "Diamond Dogs" show in America will preclude him from taking any active part in the making of the film.
News From The U.S.
TWO framed fibreboard reproductions of the cover of David Bowie's album "Diamond Dogs" were snatched - make that dog-napped - from bolted mountings outside Tower Records shop on our Sunset Strip. It happened sometime over the weekend and under "mysterious circumstances," or so claims the shop's manager. "Diamond Dogs," painted by Los Angeles artist Ray Smith on two 6x10 foot panels, were exact copies of the album cover.
DIAMOND DOG-NAPPERS STRIKE AGAIN
News From The U.S.
DOUBLE disappearing act! In July we reported that the gigantic reproductions of David Bowie's "Diamond Dogs" album cover - two 6x10 foot panels - had been snatched from a bolted frame outside a record shop on our Sunset Strip. Well... a few days later the painting was "found" in Burbank, Ca., and returned to the record shop and again secured to the wall with extra bolts. You guessed it! The painting was ripped off sometime the next day and after waiting a month for it to turn up again, the shop ordered artist Ray Smith to do another cover and they have hung it just inside the record shop door - where it can be seen from the street but where they hope it will be safe and secure for the duration of the albums popularity.
Flying Saucers, Hitler, and David Bowie
World problems solved in U.S. hotel room by Bruno Stein
"HAVE YOU got any metal in your body" asked the flying saucer man.
"Yeah, I've got one pin," said David Bowie.
Well, it turned out David was in luck then. If he went to a little town in Missouri at a certain time, he would be able to see in a seemingly empty field a fully-equipped flying saucer repair shop at work.
It was one of those fascinating things you learn at a Bowie soiree. This evening the gathering was rather intimate. There was Corinne, David's charming personal secretary, who ducked out early due to exhaustion (although another participant gossiped that she had someone interesting waiting for her in her hotel room).
There was a tired newspaper reporter trying to get a question in edgewise now and then. There was Ava Cherry, the effervescent, razor-thin, husky-voiced black singer and dancer with white bleached hair who was part of David's backup vocal group on his "soul" tour. There were three more young black ladies, members of Ava's "gang" when she was growing up, whom she invited over now that she was back in her hometown for a night.
There was a nice young roadie who had just resigned from David's crew for some mysterious reason, which David wanted to find out about. The roadie had brought along two local friends, a guy and girl, and the guy was the flying saucer man, who had actually seen UFOs, both in flight and on the ground.
And, of course, there was Mr. Bowie himself, somewhat tired from the energetic performance he had given to a packed audience less than an hour before. He looked relaxed in a loose-fitting, uncolourful overall outfit, and although his eyes seemed weary and his voice was a bit hoarse, as the conversation twisted and turned among the subjects of music, extraterrestrials and political conspiracies, he gradually grew animated and energetic, jumping up to make a point, stalking around the hotel suite while listening to someone else, dancing while seated on a chair and singing along as he played tapes of his forthcoming soul album.
"I used to work for two guys who put out a UFO magazine in England," he told the flying saucer man. "About six years ago. And I made sightings six, seven times a night for about a year when I was in the observatory.
"We had regular cruises that came over. We knew the 6.15 was coming in and would meet up with another one. And they would be stationary for about half an hour, and then after verifying what they'd been doing that day, they'd shoot off.
"But I mean, it's what you do with the information. We never used to tell anybody. It was beautifully dissipated when it got to the media. Media control is still based in the main on cultural manipulation. It's just so easy to do. When you set up one set of objectives toward the public and you've given them a certain definition for each code word, you hit them with the various code words and they're not going to believe anything if you don't want them to.
"That's how the Mayans were ruling South America thousands of years ago. That's what the media is. That's how it works. The Mayan calendar: they could get the crowds to go out and crucify somebody merely by giving them a certain definition, two or third words, primed in terms such that they could tell what day the people would react and how they would react... I sound like a subversive."
The reporter protested that he knew the media all too well and they weren't organised enough to carry off any kind of conspiracy or manipulation.
"It's seemingly disorganised," replied David. "It's not disorganised, because I've been in the media as well. I used to be a visualiser for an advertising agency, and I know exactly what - I mean the advertising agencies that sell us, they are killers, man. Those guys, they can sell anybody anything. And not just products. If you think agencies are just out to sell products, you're naive. They're powerful for other reasons. A lot of those agencies are responsible for a lot of things they shouldn't be responsible for. They're dealing with lives, those ad agencies."
Somehow to make a point about how humans are all manipulated, David bought up Hitler's Germany and said that Hitler, too, was controlled. He wasn't really the man in charge. The reporter asked how as that possible when Hitler's personal military mismanagement probably cost the Germans the war.
"Oh he was a terrible military strategist," said David, "the world's worst, but his overall objective was very good, and he was a marvellous morale booster. I mean, he was a perfect figurehead. And I'm sure that he was just part of it, that he was used... He was a nut and everybody knew he was a nut. They're not gonna let him run the country."
But what about losing the war, asked the reporter. Was that part of the plan too?
"No, that's not what I said," said David, exasperated. "I said I don't believe that he was the dictatorial, omnipotent leader that he's been taken for."
At this point, the flying saucer man broke in to try and help put things in perspective. "I think that you have to look at it as the same thing as your band," he said to David. "You'll sing, out of a zillion notes, you'll sing X amount. But you are the figurehead of the band. You're the main man. Hitler was the main man of his entourage."
David seemed somewhat taken aback at being put in the category as Hitler. "Yes... well, I'm the leader, the apparent organiser and what-not, but the product which takes place is a contributed product, and responsibility lies with the whole lot, and the direction is on many shoulders."
"The responsibility lies in you," maintained the flying saucer man, sounding like a Nuremberg prosecutor.
"No it doesn't," David protested. "Once you get out there and start working actively, the responsibility's on everybody's shoulders."
"Yes, but with the public -" began the saucer man.
"Exactly!" interrupted David. "That's what I'm saying, man. It works like Hitler but the actual effect was produced by a number of people, all working their own strategies of where it was going to go."
At this point the tension suddenly broke. David and everyone in the room broke into laughter at the seriousness with which a rock and roll star and some acquaintances of one evening were presuming to figure out the way the world ran. Everyone lightened up, and David put on tapes of the new album on an elaborate studio tape deck that RCA had delivered to his suite. Ava Cherry sang her parts, and David sang his, along with the tape, which was full of exciting soul type music, taking David a step farther in the direction he started on the "David Live" album.
After listening to four numbers, Ava and her girlfriends persuaded David to leave with them. Ava knew a millionaire who lived not far away in a modernistic mansion full of strange delights. David gulped down another cup of coffee, with cream and sugar, put on a striking green coat - it looked like mohair - and followed them out of the suite.
It was 2.30 a.m., and the sluggish night crew of the small but elegant hotel barely looked up as the red-haired rock star and four giggling black girls made their way through the lobby to the waiting limousine.
BOWIE SUED OVER FLAT
POP STAR David Bowie is being sued over a flat his former landlord claims was painted in a "garish and unsightly fashion".
Mr. Ralph Hoy says he was unable to re-let the flat in Beckenham, Kent, for nine months and "then only at less than its true market value."
The All New Adventures Of David Bowie
I clambered over unopened packing cases, up three flights of uncarpeted stairs, feeling a bit like I was on my way to see the dentist. Only instead I was to meet David Bowie, face-to-face touch-close and at his very private and very new New York home.
As I reached the bottom of the final staircase, Bowie stood at the top - apricot-haired, his lean face serious and clutching a handyman power drill. Zoom... zoom! One second an unsmiling David was playing cowboy with the drill as a gun and me as the target... the next he was smiling, giving me a kiss on the cheek and apologising for the mess. "Sit down," he said, giving me a gentle nudge towards a cosy bed of giant cushions in the middle of the floor. "Don't mind if I wander around a bit and carry on working, do ya?" I didn't - it was fascinating to watch such a genius-mind concentrating so hard on a job like picture hanging. And while he worked I sat cross-legged in front of the crackling log fire, glad of a chance to slide off new shoes that were as painful as they were pretty. And glad too, of a little time to gaze around.
At the far end of the room a bright patch of light shone from the attic windows in the high ceiling down to the wooden floor. Rays of New York light which managed to peep through David's jungle of creeping, crawling potted plants hanging like a greenhouse of greenery suspended from the sky. And I thought back to a conversation I had heard just minutes before when someone was on the phone arranging an appointment for the "plant doctor" to visit. Now I knew why the greenery looked so healthy...
So did David, come to that. Eyes clear (even though he had been up for two days and nights working), skinny but fit, alert and so interested in knowing all about the things he had been missing during the year he had been away from England. "Only don't talk about the films you've been to see," he smiled. "Or we'll never get to talk about anything else." So I asked what David had been up to since he left England - apart from the amazing Diamond Dogs tour which wowed American for seven months.
"Well, I've written some films," he smiled, obviously pleased to back on his favourite subject so quickly. "I've written nine films," he added just as a matter-of-fact after-thought. "Nine?" I asked. He looked surprised. "Yes," then with a mischievous laugh, "if nothing else happens, at least I'll have all these portfolios of art work to show." He picked up a big black zip-around case, the kind models carry their photographs in, and handed it to me.
Inside was a picture story so fascinating that David had drilled another dozen holes before I surfaced. They were David's visual ideas of what his films would look like on screen - more than that, he had gone back to the very early days of filming when each camera shot was planned and drawn as art work before the actors and crew were even hired. So that was exactly how David had gone about his first film. He had scripted it and then drawn his impression of each and every camera shot.
Now he was busy deciding the answer to an important problem - who he would like to play which part. But he did make one definite decision - he had no plans to be in the film himself. "I don't think I want to be a film star," he smiled, a dazzling film-star smile. "I really want to concentrate on directing." He also wants to shoot his film in England. "I'd really love that, to come home and do the film there. But I musn't talk about it, I get really homesick if I do, ya know." He laughed, but his eyes said that it really did upset him to think too much about England and the fans he had left behind. So instead we talked about New York, which out a big grin on his scrubbed, sculptured face.
When David does venture outside his front door - which isn't often when he has a project to finish - he heads for the junk shops where he can rummage around for hours without being spotted. He covers the give-away hair the a large, gangster-style fedora and goes bargain hunting. And on the day I called, a bright sunshine day in March, he had come back loaded with finds.
"Look at this comb I found in the ten cents box," he beamed, holding up a beautifully vulgar black and white plastic tail comb. "It's a genuine 1950s and it was only ten cents. I could have bought huge boxes of stuff for just a few dollars. It was just amazing." He sat down at last and stretched a lean arm towards some magazines. "And these are actual 1930s magazines. Just look at this..." he pointed to some black and white photos of a streamlined thirties lounge. "It's exactly the room we have downstairs, the same windows, everything." In my mind I cleared away the furniture from the picture and cleared away the collection of Zowie toys I'd been careful not to step on when I arrived and realised that David was right. The rooms were forty years apart, but identical. "It isn't easy finding good things like these magazines in all that junk," said David. "I guess I'm, just a good shopper," he laughed.
Just then the clomp of someone coming up the stairs caused a few silent seconds as well waited to see who it was. Pat Gibbons, one of David's management team, greeted everyone with a smile on his face and an advanced copy of David's new album under his arm. Everyone gathered round to see. David looked pleased, he liked it. And so did everyone else. "The only thing is why does it open like this - this is bad," he showed Pat the wavy edges of the cover where the sides gaped open instead of fitting snugly together to give the album some protection. Pat assured him that it was only because this copy had been rushed through for David to see and it would not be like that for the actual album. David nodded and was happy. He looked back at me and asked if I'd heard the tracks for Young Americans... this was some weeks before the album was released and until that moment only David and the people closest to him had heard his final choice of tracks. So I knew how special that offer was. As I said I really would love to hear it, he jumped up, found the one-and-only-copy and turned the volume full on. Then, as I sat and listened, he started wandering again, giving me the occasional glance to see if my expression reflected any thoughts on what I was hearing. I was beaming...
When the album was finished David strolled back and sat down. I told him I had never heard an album with so many potential singles on it. He looked really pleased... not like a superstar used to compliments and expecting praise for his work, but like the sensitive artist David is, doing everything possible to create something special, something he hopes people will enjoy.
As David stretched out, relaxing for the first time since I had arrived, his secretary Corinne, came to remind him that he had a fitting with his tailor. He was having something beautifully Bowie-made for his appearance at the once-a-year Grammy awards the next weekend when he to be one of the award presenters. He had just fifteen minutes to change before his driver arrived. So I packed up my things, handed over a pile of English magazines I thought he might like to read and squeezed my feet into the offending shoes.
"When can you come back?" - How about Wednesday afternoon? Three o'clock all right? Downstairs the doorbell rang and a minute later someone buzzed through to say David's car was waiting. So off he scooted, up more stairs to his bedroom to shower and get ready. "See ya Wednesday," he smiled. "Ooh and thanks for the Easter egg, couldn't wait till then to open it.
As I made my way downstairs, I passed what remained of the giant chocolate egg which had travelled with me from England. I had heard that David liked chocolate - and by the little that was left of the egg I could see that he did.
At five-to-three on Wednesday a cab dropped me on the corner of David's street. I walked the rest of the way. Taking the responsibility of being one of only half-a-dozen people in New York who knew his address a bit far, I made sire I wasn't being followed.
I found David still putting up pictures. One whole wall was complete - photographs, sketches, sheets of stamps under plastic.
Just then tickets arrived for a Rod Stewart concert that night and David asked Corinne to remind him to ring John Lennon to see if he would like to go along too. Then it was back to the serious business of picture hanging, stopping only to light a cigarette, autograph some photographs for me to take back to England or to show me some more "finds" - like the old Christmas snow scene inside a glass dome and the dozens of plastic circles moulded to look like bronze plaques. "I can do so many things with those," David said, enthusiasm bubbling in his voice. "And then I've found this shop that sells plastics, every shape and colour you could possibly think of. I just couldn't buy anything when I was there, there was just too much. I had to come home and think about it all first." And even though "home" at that time was mostly packed away in wooden chests, David already had a picture in his mind of how things would eventually look.
But before he could make his plans come true for the rest of the house, David had to put the finishing touches to his studio.
...As I left he gave me a kiss on my cheek, a quick hug and then that familiar sound... zoom... zoom. Which is where I'd come in...
GAY GUERILLAS & PRIVATE MOVIES
In an NME exclusive interview David Bowie talks to
Charles Shaar Murray
ALRIGHT, so you're a rock singer out of Beckenham, Kent called David Bowie and you're hotter than a stolen atom bomb packed with pictures of Howard Hughes playing strip poker with Jacqueline Onassis.
You've got singles and albums in every conceivable chart and everybody from "Tit-Bits" to the "Times" has suddenly decided that it wants to know all about you'n yours, because of the songs you write, the way you look, your face, your race and all kinds of stuff like that.
And all over the chic bits of the planet, there are people doing their best to look like you and act like you and just generally be you. And naturally, you get pretty concerned.
So, when a journalist tells you about the lookalikes who he sees at your concerts, this is what you tell him.
"Firstly, I find it exciting. Then I find it sad, because I know the reason why I became Ziggy and what went into Ziggy. And I always want to rush up to them and explain, 'Before you do this, you must know this and this and this and this.
But Bowie created a new persona, whereas all these young dudes are content to mimic.
"The same way that I do myself, and did, especially when I was younger. I was the world's worst mimic - I mean, Anthony Newley. I was Anthony Newley for a year. He stopped his world and got off, which is terrible, because he was once one of the most talented men that England ever produced.
"Remember the 'Gurney Slade' series? That was tremendous. A friend of mine has a collection of them, and there's a lot of Monty Python in there - left-handed screws and right-handed screws."
One of the more disturbing things about Bowie's work is that the same Nietschean concepts that formed a basis of Nazism crop up in songs like "The Supermen." How does he feel about being rock's prettiest neo-Nazi?
Well, he laughs out loud at the thought.
"That's a humming bloody image, isn't it? I don't know that I'd be really at home with that. I know what you mean though. I set 'The Supermen' as a period piece, but I think it was a forward rather than backward thing. What did you think of 'Stranger In A Strange Land'?"
"Stranger In A Strange Land", the journalist instantly recalled, was Robert Heinlein's legendary science-fiction novel and one of good ol' Charlie Manson's favourite pieces of bedtime reading. "I think it's the worst-written great book I've ever read," he offered hopefully.
Bowie considered this for a moment.
"Yes. Okay," he replied at length. "What do you see as its faults, then?"
Oh well. Deep breath. "I don't think he writes good dialogue. I don't find his characters at all real. I mean, you're pretty improbable but you're believable.
Bowie shook with laughter, and then buried his face in his hands. "I'm feeling worse and worse the longer this interview goes on. I found very much the same thing. I find that a lot of it I enjoy very much.
"I liked the idea behind it all, but I thought the conversation was very bad. Do you think it would translate well into film?"
Definitely. Was Bowie considering buying it?
"I've got it. I've written some music for it, anyway."
Could there ever be, I wondered, a Ziggy movie?
"A lot of people I've talked to that have been to the shows have got a very, very definite idea of what Ziggy is and what he represents. They know how he works for them. I would not want to shatter anybody's private movie.
"I would not care to do that, because, not having heard their versions, I agree with them as well as I agree with my own version. I see what they mean, and I would hate to destroy and of that because it's all real. It's all valid."
ONE OF THE many things that sets David Bowie apart from most of tepid ramblers currently passing themselves off as songwriters is his ear for dialogue.
"Suffragette City" owes its paranoid edgy feel to the constant, repeated vocal backing riff "Hey Man", demand the voices, and that call-and-response technique perfectly evokes the mood of someone who's endlessly trying to get something together, but "those freaks on the phone/won't leave me along".
"Yes, yes. That's exactly what it was like. That's what is was supposed to be. In fact, I was going to stage it with a phone box on stage."
I mention Arthur Brown's use of a 'phone during Kingdom Come sets.
"Oh, Arthur's fabulous. He lives quite near me in Beckenham, but we've only been together once in the last six months, which is ridiculous, because we're just about a hundred yards from each other in the street.
"Actually Keith Tippett and Julie are just up the road as well. We've never, ever had the chance to actually get together. It's always been that one of us is doing something - I've tried. I adore Centipede - I think they're the most exciting experiment. They really excited me, they're really good, especially because of the kind of music we're getting into now."
One vile rumour concerning Bowie's recent teenage hit single was that the title refers to the noted novelist Jean Genet, author of "Our Lady Of The Flowers" and "The Thief's Journal."
"It was very, very sub-conscious, but I think it's probably there, yes. Lindsay Kemp did the most fantastic production of 'Our Lady Of The Flowers' a couple of years ago, and it's always been in the back of my mind. As a production it was superb, absolutely fabulous. He did it at the Travis Theatre in Edinburgh."
On "Jean Genie", Bowie "wanted to get the same sound the Stones had on their very first album on the harmonica. I didn't get that near to it, but it had a feel that I wanted - that '60s thing.
"I've got someone to play second guitar in the band now. I was with a duo many moons ago. A guy called Hutch from Scarborough used to work with me, and I've brought him back. He's going to do some backup vocals."
OFF ON another tangent, I asked David if it was necessary to believe in one's own fantasies, or whether one could maintain a fantasy while remaining detached from it.
"Yes, I think you have to believe in them, and I think you have to really know whether you want to live in a fantasy, or in a presumably real world."
How can David manage to not only live his own fantasies, but to enable others to live them also?
"Because I ride with it. I don't plan it; it just becomes something that I derive much satisfaction out of letting ride, and seeing what happens. A lot of other people have them.
"I think my fantasy, especially in England, is pretty well what a lot of our audience has as well. It's just that role business - about "What is my role?"
"Do you think reality has much of a future?"
It's a cheap and nasty trick to throw people's lyrics back at them, but I decided to question the lines from "The Bewlay Brothers" that ran: "We were gone/Kings of oblivion/we were so turned on/in the Mindwarp Pavilion". It sounded like a kick at those who lie around all day long in a drug-induced stupor.
"I've been through that one as well, yeah. I was quite heavily into it at one time but I found that I wasn't producing material. And that - to me - is very, very important.
"I like to think that I'm bringing something out of myself, and I have to be able to bring it to other people. It's probably quite important to get very stoned a lot of times."
Particularly what was David aiming for in his writing?
"I'm probably after, firstly, reaction. If I don't get reaction, then a piece has failed, as far as I'm concerned. If a thing is booed into the ground, then that is a reaction, and I just want it to have a reaction."
Trouble is, too many people react by regarding David as a new kind of poofter joke. Some of Russell Harty's questions when Bowie recently recorded a segment in the London Weekend Chat Show were in fact concerned with poking fun at David's clothing and manner.
"Yes, that's because he's...
Bowie caught himself in mid-sentence, and slowly a broad grin expanded outwards across his face. He sank his head in his hands, and muttered "Shit", and then began to laugh. "Everybody has fantasies, and I'm sure Russell Harty probably has as many fantasies as I do."
"I think that whole "Let's come out on the streets' bit is very new, to England anyway, and I think everybody is struggling with it very badly. I don't know, we'll see. I think it's all very funny at the moment."
Of course, most of the glitter brigade are very hetero, and the real gay ones are covering it up.
"Yes, that's very sad, and I understand their predicament. It's a great puzzle to me, because I don't know whether I am against or for Gay Lib.
"I understand that they want to have people to be with, so that they're not on their own. I mean, I understand that feeling so well, 'Oh no love, you're not alone', absolutely.
"I mean, my feeling is that I need people a lot. I know that feeling so well. But on the other hand, to put that many people all together at once is perfect, perfect meat for the papers to pick upon and ridicule.
"When you're all together like that, you can be stamped immediately. To be a guerilla, to be on your own, is far more rewarding in the end, if you have the determination to carry it though."
WHEREAS IN the '60s, the way to be outrageous was to be sloppy, inarticulate lout (c.f. Jagger, M.). today's rebel will be gay or pseudo-gay.
"Probably for gay people that's marvellous, because with a bit of luck it'll become part of society. Now, every second person has long hair, and still retains the spotty appearance. With a bit of luck, there'll be as many eccentrics as non-eccentrics.
"As soon as McLuhan made it so readily available to the public that science fiction was now part of everyday life, it began to be written about as much as any other subject."
As a closer, a asked David for a quick 'n nifty 35-second State-Of-The-Union message.
"Oh, Charles," said the man, "you are dreadful". But he leaned into the microphone, and have vent to the following: "Prepare for your war, because it's going to be your war. this is to the people, because it's going to be civil, and not worldwide."
KEN RUSSELL starts shooting "Bowie", his mammoth life-and-times movie about David. Bowie plays himself throughout the three and half hour film. Screenplay is by author William Burroughs.
"The script is meaningless," says Bowie in a Sunday Times interview conducted at the Berlin Wall, "but the clothes are nice"...
THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST
AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS
By Richard Cromelin
Upon the release of David Bowie's most thematically ambitious, musically coherent album to date, the record in which he unites the major strengths of his previous work and comfortably reconciles himself to some apparently inevitable problems, we should all say a brief prayer that his fortunes are not made to rise and fall with the fate of the "drag-rock" syndrome - that thing that's manifesting itself in the self-conscious quest for decadence which is all the rage at the moment in trendy Hollywood, in the more contrived area of Alice Cooper's presentation, and, way down in the pits, in such grotesqueries as Queen, St. Nicholas' trio of feathered, sequined Barbie dolls. And which is bound to get worse.
For although Lady Stardust himself has probably had more to do with androgyny's current fashionableness in rock than any other individual, he has never made his sexuality anything more than a completely natural and integral part of his public self, refusing to lower it to the level of gimmick but never excluding it from his image and craft. To do either would involve an artistically fatal degree of compromise.
Which is not to say that he hasn't had a great time with it. Flamboyance and outrageousness are inseparable from that campy image of is, both in the Bacall and Garbo stages and in his new butch, street-crawler appearance that has him looking like something out of the darker pages of City of Night. It's all tied up with the one aspect of David Bowie that sets him apart from both the exploiters of transvestism and writers/performers of comparable talent - his theatricality.
The news here is that he's managed to get that sensibility down on vinyl, not with an attempt at pseudo-visualism (which, as Mr. Cooper has shown, just doesn't cut it), but through employment of broadly mannered styles and deliveries, a boggling variety of vocal nuances that provide the program with the necessary depth, a verbal acumen that is now more economic and no longer clouded by storms of psychotic, frenzied music, and, finally, a thorough command of the elements of rock & roll. It emerges as a series of concise vignettes designed strictly for the ear. Side two is the soul of the album, a kind of psychological equivalent of Lola vs. Powerman that delves deep into a matter close to David's heart: What's it all about to be a rock & roll star? It begins with a slow, fluid "Lady Stardust", a song in which currents of frustration and triumph merge in an overriding desolation. For though "He was alright, the band was altogether" (sic), still "People stared at the makeup on his face/Laughed at his long black hair, his animal grace". The pervading bittersweet melancholy that wells out of the contradictions and that Bowie beautifully captures with one of the album's more direct vocals conjures the picture of a painted harlequin under the spotlight of a deserted theater in the darkest hour of the night.
"Star" springs along handsomely as he confidently tells us that "I could make it all worthwhile as a rock & roll star". Here Bowie outlines the dazzling side of the coin: "So inviting - so enticing to play the part." His singing is a delight, full of mocking intonations and backed way down in the mix with excessive, marvellously designed "Ooooohh la la la"'s and such that are both a joy to listen to and part of the parodic undercurrent that runs through the entire album.
"Hang on to Yourself" is both a kind warning and an irresistible erotic rocker (especially the hand-clapping chorus), and apparently Bowie has decided that since he just can't avoid cramming too many syllables into is lines, he'll simply master the rapid-fire, tongue-twisting phrasing that his failing requires. "Ziggy Stardust" has a faint ring of The Man Who Sold the World to it - stately, measured, fuzzily electric. A tale of intra-group jealousies, it features some of Bowie's more adventuresome imagery, some of which is really the nazz: "So we bitched about his fans and should we crush his sweet hands?"
David Bowie's supreme moment as a rock & roller is "Suffragette City", a relentless, spirited Velvet Underground - styled rushing of chomping guitars. When that second layer of guitar roars in on the second verse you're bound to be a goner, and that priceless little break at the end - a sudden cut to silence from a mighty crescendo, Bowie's voice oozing out as a brittle, charged "Oooohh Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am!" followed hard by two raspy guitar bursts that suck you back in to the surging meat of the chorus - will surely make your turn do somersaults. And as for our Star, well, now "There's only room for one and here she comes, here she comes."
But the price of playing the part must be paid, and we're precipitously tumbled into the quietly terrifying despair of "Rock & Roll Suicide". The broken singer drones: "Time takes a cigarette, puts it in your mouth/Then you pull on your finger, then another finger, then your cigarette." But there is a way out of the bleakness, and it's realized with Bowie's Lennon-like scream: "You're not alone, gimme your hands/You're wonderful, gimme your hands". It rolls on to a tumultuous, impassioned climax, and though the mood isn't exactly sunny, a desperate, possessed optimism asserts itself as genuine, and a new point from which to climb is firmly established.
Side one is certainly less challenging, but no less enjoyable from a musical standpoint. Bowie's favorite themes - Mortality ("Five Years", "Soul Love"), the necessity of reconciling oneself to Pain (those two and "It Ain't Easy"), the New Order vs. the Old in sci-fi garments ("Starman") - are presented with a consistency, a confidence, and a strength in both style and technique that were never fully realized in the lashing The Man Who Sold the World or the uneven and too often stringy Hunky Dory Bowie initiates "Moonage Daydream" on side one with a riveting bellow of "I'm an alligator" that's delightful in itself but which also has a lot to do with what Rise and Fall... is all about. Because in it there's the perfect touch of self-mockery, a lusty but forlorn bravado that is the first hint of the central duality and of the rather spine-tingling questions that rise from it: Just how big and tough is your rock & roll star? How much of his is bluff and how much inside is very frightened and helpless? And is this what comes of our happily dubbing someone as "bigger than life"?
David Bowie has pulled off his complex task with consummate style, with some great rock & roll (the Spiders are Mick Ronson on guitar and piano, Mick Woodmansey on drums and Trevor Bolder on bass; they're good), with all the wit and passion required to give it sufficient dimension and with a deep sense of humanity that regularly emerges from behind the Star facade. The important thing is that despite the formidable nature of the undertaking, he hasn't sacrificed a bit of entertainment value for the sake of message.
I'd give it at least a 99.
Bowie! The Man Who Fell To Earth
DAVID BOWIE, "the man who grabbed music by the scruff of the neck and dragged it into a new era" has become David Bowie, the actor. "I've always been an actor," he announced, talking about his part in the film, The Man Who Fell To Earth. "I feel a lot of sympathy with Newton, the character I play."
Newton is, in fact, the leading role in the film. He's a character described as someone "who is intensely creative, like no-one else on earth." A fitting part then, for David Bowie, who takes on the role of this mysterious and complex personality. The story begins when Newton appears in the office of a New York attorney (we're not told why) and persuades him to abandon his entire practice in order to represent a single client - Newton himself.
Despite Newton's frail appearance, the lawyer predicts that his apparent scientific knowledge will revolutionise the nation's system of communication and lead to the largest corporation in the USA being formed.
His prediction proves correct and as Newton's business grows so does his personal fortune.
Meanwhile, he falls in love with Mary Lou (Candy Clarke) a simple, sensuous woman. Yet although she is a deeply understanding and caring person, she too instinctively avoids asking any questions about his origin.
Success follows success and Newton is ready to begin another, more ambitious project. One in which he will gamble his entire world-wide enterprises and launch his own space programme.
But even to Mary Lou, to whom Newton talks of a wife and family far away, he remains elusive, admitting no more than that he loves them both. But while the wealth that Newton amasses brings him love and admiration, it also brings him increasing opposition. Soon a theory evolves that this strange tycoon is an alien, perhaps even an emissary from another world. And as Newton's Space programme increases so does the growing persistence of those people who oppose his operation into space.
Finally, before the blast-off Mary Lou fights desperately to keep him for herself, for she alone realises that he is deserting her to go back to his wife.
She needn't have worried. Minutes before blast off, Newton is kidnapped and his lawyer murdered. His opponents have wreaked their vengeance. Newton is their prisoner and to prove their theory they carry out experiments on him which indicate a strange physical flaw that is not human. Newton realises that he can learn to live with this, for he alone can reach above and beyond those who diminish him. And so we too are left with the dilemma - was he "The Man Who Fell To Earth...?"
ZOWIE! IT'S BOWIE!
Little or nothing is known about the amazing Mr David Bowie, though he rates as one of the top names in the music world! We at POPSWOP didn't think this was right, so, we quickly got on the blower to the man himself, and gave him the third degree!
Unlike a lot of his fellows in the pop-biz, David didn't change his surname, purely for effect. His current surname came to him, some years back, when he was trying to get known in the pop world, with a line-up called, David Jones (that being his real name) and the Lower Third. "We were doing all right, I suppose, when another group - The Monkees - became a big hit, and of course, one the members was David Jones, so I thought it was time I had a change of name!"
One of David's great love's is art. "When I first left school I joined an advertising agency, as a commercial artist. I quite enjoyed the actual job, but I really found the whole business too cut-throat, so I quit to get some music together."
David's music is very original, he has a style of his own. We wondered if he'd always played this sort of music, or if he had arrived at his own style through various influences. "Well, I guess I've always played the sort of things I do know, though they used to be simpler. But, there was a time when I led a group called David Bowie and The Buzz, when we played progressive blue, very loudly!"
Did David ever get tired of the music machine, of the never ending run of tours, we asked him? "It's very exhausting and one often gets depressed. In fact, at one time in my career I did leave music altogether! I formed a mime troupe called Feathers. Then joined a troupe called the Lindsay Kemp Mime Company and was with them for eighteen months. At one of my London concerts, I used the troupe to do the theatrical interpretations of my songs!"
Did he get depressed very easily? "Oh God yes, though I try not to let it get me too down. You get so run down when your on the road, too little sleep, irregular meals, that it's really surprising that eventually you get very low."
If touring got him down so much, we asked him, now that he was a big name, why didn't he cut his tours down a bit? "Don't get me wrong, I don't dislike touring, quite the reverse, it's just very wearing, that's all. I really enjoy going on stage and performing. It was really the performances that got me known. My album's got a lot of critical acclaim, but, like, Hunky Dory, didn't sell as well as lot of people thought. So, my fame is really pretty recent!"
How did David go about getting together The Spiders From Mars, his backing group? "Well, I got the original members together when I asked guitarist Mick Ronson to join me, he'd been playing in bands for years, and he also played on Hunky Dory. Mick was at one time in a band called Ronno, and two other former members joined me as well, that's drummer Mick Woodmansey, who really knows his instrument, he's been playing drums since he was five, and bass player Trevor Bolder.
Now that he has the music biz all sewn up, had he any other projects he like to work on? "Well I hope to be in music forever! But I would like to do a few other things as well. I did start an arts lab at one time, I'd like to do that again and acting I'd like to do a lot more of that, but first and foremost for me is my music!" That's fine by us David!
A STAR CALLED DAVID BOWIE
It may be that David's given up performing live on stage, but he certainly isn't idle, by any means. Apart from writing more fantastic material for his forthcoming albums, he has also been busy recording other artists. One of the most prominent being Lulu. Her latest single is a D.B. composition entitled 'The Man Who Sold The World' coupled with the backing track 'Watch The Man'.
"I met her on my last concert tour and we started talking about the possibility of working together, although nothing concrete was arranged. However, I was keen to get something fixed up, because I really have always thought that Lulu has incredible potential as a rock singer. I didn't think this potential had been fully realised and the nearest record she'd got to performing as a rock star was way back when she recorded 'Shout'.
"At my party after the concert where I announced I wasn't doing any more live performances. I met up with Lulu again and talked about recording her. We decided on 'The Man Who Sold The World' as being most suitable. And we're really delighted with the end product - I think she sounds a knockout."
How about David himself? After all, we're always hearing talk of him appearing in films. Has he made any definite moves in the direction?
"I plan to start working on films in the early part of next year. I'm really looking forward to doing some acting. I'd taken my stage performances as far as I could go, but now I want to represent a different image to that of before. And I think I can do this through films."
We wondered whether David might be afraid at all, that by not making appearances and generally hiding from the public's view, was he making people forget him?
"I'm a great believer in not letting yourself get too much exposure. I think I've done enough work where I've been continually in the public eye and now I need time to do some re-thinking. I don't feel that's a bad thing, do you?
"To constantly dream up new ideas, I have to have rest periods. It's a matter of re-charging batteries in a manner of speaking."
Lately, David's been commuting backwards and forwards between France to do some recording work. But still he refuses to fly.
"I'd rather take a longer time to get somewhere than go by plane. I still enjoy travelling, even though a lot of people in this business think it's one of the hang-ups. I think it's nice being able to see different people and find out about different ways of life. It heightens one's sense of awareness, I think."
Once upon a time David gave up his career even though he'd been incredibly successful with pop audiences. Does he invisage things getting on top of him again and once more becoming a recluse?
"I think I've worked out a good balance now and feel in control of my life and the influences upon me. But all in all, I don't think it's possible to answer your question, because how does someone know how they're going to feel from one day to the next? No one knows what the future holds..."
One thing is for certain, if David continues to keep up the incredibly high standard of work he's shown he is capable of, coupled with his ability for being an innovator of ideas, the road he takes must continue to lead him to bigger successes that he's experienced before. With a star like David Bowie, there are no limits to what he can do... Just sit back and watch.
Popping The Question: David Bowie
The place is Stoke. Everyone is eagerly waiting. Suddenly we're plunged into darkness and all you can make out is four figures bouncing onto the stage, all glittering in the deep darkness. Then they're straight into their first song and when the lights finally come on the first thing that catches your eye is David Bowie. His drummer, bass guitarist, although wearing stunning outfits, seem to fall into the background as the one and only David Bowie takes over. After all, it is his show. David looks different - to say the least. His blue lurex jacket is unzipped and his denim trousers are tucked into his blue boxing boots. Obviously Stoke will never be the same again! Then of course there's David's bright red cropped hair - how could I forget that!
Talking to David is just as interesting as watching him on stage. He has some good things to say and some good points to make. Here's how the conversation went:
MIRABELLE: Why do you wear such way-out costumes?
DAVID: Why not? I enjoy wearing them and so does the group. When I got out onto a stage I try to make the performance as good and interesting as possible, and I don't just mean by singing my songs and moving off. I think if you're really going to entertain an audience then you have to look the part, too. I feel very comfortable in the clothes I wear and they're part of me, and part of my act.
MIRABELLE: Where do you buy all the outfits?
DAVID: A friend of mine is a designer and he makes most of them. I've been wearing things like this for quite some time, it's not all that new to me. The outfits I wear do get more and more outrageous, but that's the whole fun of the thing. The more outrageous they get, the more outrageous I get in my act. You see, I have to actually enjoy my act just as much as the audience, if I don't, one day I'll know something's wrong. Now whenever I get up on stage I really have a good time.
MIRABELLE: What was you group's first impression when you suggested they too, should wear freaky clothes?
DAVID: I'm quite amazed how quickly they've go into the habit of wearing outrageous clothes. They're a great blues-type band, and I didn't think they'd take too well to dressing up the way I do, but luckily they're into it now.
MIRABELLE: Were you very upset when, after your hit of a couple of years ago, 'Space Oddity', you seemed to fade from the scene and were looked on as a one hit wonder?
DAVID: I don't think I ever looked on myself as a one hit wonder. I wasn't just sitting around doing nothing after that hit. I was writing songs and getting a new act together. It wasn't a time of rest for me, as a lot of people think.
MIRABELLE: Your stage act is quite sexy. Would you agree with this and if so, why do you go out to shock?
DAVID: It is sexy, I can't deny that, and if I shock people, then it's too bad, but really I don't mind too much if I shock anyone. If they don't like what I'm doing then they don't have to come along to see me perform.
MIRABELLE: Is your wife into your music scene?
DAVID: Yeah, she likes what I'm doing.
MIRABELLE: Do you enjoy working for other groups?
DAVID: You mean Mott The Hoople, do you? Well, it's good working with them because in the studio they've got a feel for what's right. I was pleased with their version of my song, 'All The Young Dudes'. It gave them their first big hit, too, which was very nice for all of us.
MIRABELLE: Reports suggest that every concert you do these days finished up with 'sold out' notices across the doors. This must give you a great feeling of satisfaction. Describe the feeling you get when you know that hundreds and sometimes even thousands of people have come to see and hear you?
DAVID: It's impossible to describe that feeling, but you can be sure that it's good - real good.
MIRABELLE: Who do you think you appeal to? Any special age group?
DAVID: Not really. I want people to enjoy my sounds, and it doesn't matter what age group they are. If they're young or old, I don't mind if they like me. Nowadays the people who come along to see me in concert are about twenty, but there again, sometimes they're younger. I get all ages along to my shows.
MIRABELLE: Do you get on very well with your backing group?
DAVID: Well, we have to because we're together so much. If we didn't get on well, then we'd split. We couldn't carry on working together with a bad atmosphere because I feel that would come over in our stage act. We like what we're doing now, and we'll be together till we're tired of it.
MIRABELLE: You're very talented - writing songs, producing them and performing them. One of these things must give you more pleasure than the others. Which one is it?
DAVID: Well, they all give me pleasure. Like when I've written a song that I'm pleased with it's a tremendous feeling. When I've given a performance I'm pleased with it's fantastic, and when I've produced a sound that I think is good, it's marvellous."
BOWIE UP THE AMAZON
English Tour In May - Mike Garson Spills The Beans
BOWIE and entourage were ensconced in old-world Philadelphia elegance at the Barclay Hotel. I arrive at the hotel, the entrance littered with the usual array of Bowie fans - in fact one girl I recognised from a similarly endowed New York hotel, in short Bowie precipitates the sort of fanaticism only afforded to a true star.
I had previously arranged to meet Mike Garson - pianist extraordinary - in order to accompany him to the sound check for the night's show at Philies' answer to Madison Square Garden, the Spectrum.
This show was the second in Philadelphia - the first having been November 18 and was added due to the immediate sell-out of the first show. (The show of the 25th wasn't a sell-out but Bowie felt more comfortable with the audience due to their now mutual familiarity, and it was therefore felt to be, overall, more successful).
Anyway, on to the sound check with Garson and some of the other musicians. As the Spectrum is a vast arena accustomed to holding audiences of 20,000 for sporting events and the like, the necessity for an accurate sound check and rehearsal was imperative even though Bowie himself did not attend. These preliminaries were supervised by Mr. Garson and the line-up of musicians in "The Mike Garson Band" - who were all in attendance apart from one of the women singers, Ava Cherry, (a close Bowie cohort) is as follows: One sax player, one rhythm guitarist, one lead guitarist, bass guitarist, two women singers, three men singers, one drummer, one percussionist.
The full line-up comes to thirteen players - and the only hold overs from the Diamond Dogs tour are Mike Garson, Jeff (a longtime close Bowie associate, one of the male singers), Earl Slick, the lead guitarist, and Pablo, the percussionist. (It's interesting that all the singers aside from Jeff, are black, trained in a very funky rhythm and blues vein - as are all the musicians aside from Slick (the guitarist) the sax player, and Garson.
After the sound check, at the dinner provided for the band backstage, I had a chance to have a few words with Mike Garson: as The Garson Band open the show and Mike is doing all the musical arrangements for Bowie as well as playing on stage in addition to piano - string ensemble (an electronic piano adapted to sound like strings) moog, electric piano, organ and clavinet, it's obvious that his importance to the Bowie production has never been greater.
I asked him why it was that he's been with Bowie longer than any other musician. He said he felt it was "because of the 'stability'. In the music world, this quality is a bit rare. Also, I'm efficient, I do my job, I can take the responsibility. In addition I have changeability - this is important because Bowie doesn't stop! I can go with it, and play it. I'm adaptable."
This ability to change, I felt was a reference to mikes musical expertise - there's no limit to the styles of playing he can use to develop and create a new style of song. Mike also felt that his "stability" was important in handling the rigors of being on the road and leading with thirteen other musicians.
"Most people don't fall short on the bandstand, I keep the peace." If at times, he feels estranged from the others - music is their common ground, and he says, "I'm never lonely on the road because I'm always thinking about arrangements, practising and talking to Bowie about any musical ideas we should think of developing."
Well, it was literally five minutes before the show Mike had to rush as Bowie was just running in with Ava Cherry.
After Memphis, Nashville and Atlanta (December 1) this tour will be completed. Bowie will be leaving for a month tour of the Amazon villages taking a boat to Cuerracas via car with singer and friend, Jeff. A singing tour of Brazil will begin on January 10 and will last for three weeks. Plans have been made for a tour of Europe beginning in April, and a tour of England in May. The format for these upcoming tours, including the English tour, will be very similar to the current tour - the same soul/rhythm and blues orientation and line-up of musicians.
The new album has just been finished. It was recorded at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, and Bowie was delighted at working there ("no hassled", he said). The title of the new album is "FASCINATION" and the names of the songs on it are: John, I'm Only Dancing, Young American, Fascination, Right, Win, It's Gonna Be Me, Can You Hear Me. The singing, on Win, in particular, has a real soul flavour, a bit reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield. The words to Fascination perhaps a little patronising - Fascination Sho' Nuff is a part of me!
As a postscript, it could be noted that offstage Bowie was wearing a brown one piece jumpsuit, very bright orange hair, with blond in the front of the hairline.
GOODBYE TO ZIGGY AND ALL THAT
By Allan Jones
The only reason I've decided to do these interviews, is to prove my belief in the album, both "Low" and "Heroes" have been met with confused reactions. That was to be expected, of course. But I didn't promote "Low" at all, and some people thought my heart wasn't in it.
This time I wanted to put everything into pushing my new album. I believe in the last two albums, you see, more than anything I have done before. I mean I look back on a lot of my earlier work and, although there's much that I appreciate about it, there is not a great deal that I actually like. I don't think they are very likeable albums at all.
There is a lot more heart and emotion in "Low" and, especially the new album. And, if I can convince people of that, I'm prepared to be stuck in this room on the end of a conveyor belt of questions that I'll do my best to answer.
This is an opinion. David Bowie's two most recent albums, recorded in Berlin in collaboration with Brian Eno, are among the most adventurous and challenging records yet thrust upon the rock audience. Inevitably controversial, these albums have combined the theories and techniques of modern electronic music with lyrics that have found Bowie dispensing with traditional forms of narrative in pursuit of a new musical vocabulary adequate to the pervasive mood of despair and pessimism that has divined in contemporary society.
Towards the end of my stay in America, he reflects, I realised that what I had to do was to experiment. To discover new forms of writing. To evolve, in fact, a new musical language. That's what I set out to do. That's why I returned to Europe.
David Bowie, as you reach this sentence is explaining the circumstances and sequence of events that provoked his retreat from his exile in America and his eventual decision to return to Europe.
The conditions were thus, he begins, his hands busily searching for pack of Gitanes. I was at a point were I wanted to leave America. I had been, as I like to put it, "staying" there for more than two years. I'm very wary of saying that I "lived" there. "Living" in America is a real commitment, and I wasn't prepared to make.
So, as I say, I'd been "staying" there for some time, and I wanted to move out of the area of narrative and character. I wanted, generally to re-evaluate what I was doing.
I realised that I exhausted that particular environment and the effect of that environment upon my writing. I was afraid that if I continued to work in that environment I would begin repeating myself. I felt that that was the way I was heading.
There was no enjoyment in the working process - I'd exclude from that "Station To Station". That was fairly exciting because is was like a plea to come back to Europe. It was one of those self chat thing one has with oneself from time to time.
He suddenly throws down his pack of cigarette as if annoyed with himself.
Christ, no... what am I talking about? A lot of that and "Young Americans" was damn depressing. It was a terribly traumatic time . I was absolutely infuriated that I was still in rock 'n' roll.
And not only in it, but had been sucked right into the centre of it. I had to move out. I never intended to be so involved in rock and roll... and there I was in Los Angeles, right in the middle of it.
Whether it's fortunate or not I don't know, but I'm absolutely and totally vulnerable by environment, and environment and circumstances affect my writing tremendously. To the point of absurdity sometimes.
I look back on some things in total horror... And anyway I began to realise that the environment of Los Angeles, of America, was by this time detrimental to my writing and my work. It was no longer an inspiration to be caught in that environment.
I realised that that was why I was feeling so claustrophobic and cut off. I was adopting such an hypocritical stance. There was this incredible fight between materialism and aestheticism. My commitment has certainly never been in rock 'n' roll. I've made no secret of that. I was just a hack painter who wanted to find a new medium to work in, frankly.
And rock 'n' roll looked like a very good vehicle. But one was always fluctuating between the temptation of becoming a rock star and the sentimental ties with wanting to be an artist - and there I was living right in the middle of this crazy and filthy rock circus. It really was no more than a circus.
And I should not have been in it. I should not have become such a major part of it. It was frustrating for me. Now I'm fit and happy and well again. I'm enjoying the process of work for the first time in years. It's more than work. That's why I say that I'm not interested in posterity.
I'm now concerned with my work being appreciated on a more personal level. Once I had all those big dreams. Oh I had all those big dreams, man. I had them until I learned about simply enjoying the process of working and the process of living.
I'm happy now. Content. I feel more than a product on an assembly line and no more a means of support for 10,000 persons who seem to revolve around every fart that I made.
David Bowie crushes out a Gitane and immediately another in between the lips.
My role as an artist in rock, he says, is rather different to most. I encapsulate things very quickly, in a very short space of time. Over two or three months usually. And generally my policy have been that as soon as a system or process works, it's out of date. I move on to another area. Another piece of time.
I have to answer these questions in naive analogies, I find, because I've always fought against considering my role, my position in this thing, this rock 'n' roll game.
I've never wanted to consider myself apart of it. It tends to hinder me. That's when I start pulling on my hate of solitude. That's when I usually clear off to Japan or somewhere. I never intended to become a part of it. Yet, at the same time, yes, I've challenged it and enjoyed - occasionally - the controversy.
But you wouldn't believe how much of it was entirely unwitting. I think I did play outside the boundaries of what is considered the general area of rock 'n' roll.
Some of it, just pure petulance, some of it was arrogance, some of it was unwitting, but, inevitably, I kept moving ahead.
Ziggy, particularly, was created out of a certain arrogance. But, remember, at that time I was young and I was full of life, and that seemed like a very positive artistic statement. I thought that was a beautiful piece of art, I really did. I thought that was a grand kitsch painting. The whole guy.
Then that fucker would not leave me alone for years. That was when it all started to sour. And it soured so quickly you wouldn't believe it. And it took me and awful time to level out. My whole personality was affected. Again I brought that upon myself.
I can't say I'm sorry when I look back, because it provoked such an extraordinary set if circumstances in my life. I thought I might as well take Ziggy to interviews as well. Why leave him on stage? Looking back it was completely absurd.
It became very dangerous. I really did have doubts about my sanity. I can't deny that the experience affected me in a very exaggerated and marked manner. I think I put myself very dangerously near the line. Not in physical sense but definitively in mental sense. I played mental games with myself to such an extend that I'm very relieved and happy to be back in Europe and feeling very well ... But, then, you see I was always the lucky one.
"David Live", says David Bowie, was the final death of Ziggy. God that album.
I've never played it. The tension it must contain must be like vampire's teeth coming down on you. And that photo. On the cover . My God, it looks as if I've just stepped out of that grave.
That's actually how I felt. That record should have been called 'David Bowie is alive and well and living only in theory.'
Berlin, Bowie observes, reflecting upon the environments in which he has produced his last two albums, is a city made up of bars for sad disillusioned people to get drunk in. One never knows how long it is going to remain there. One fancies that it is going very fast.
That's one of the reason, sure, why I was attracted to the city. It's a feeling that I really tried to capture in the paintings, while I was there, of the Turks that live in the city. There's a track on the album called "Neuköln", and that's the area of Berlin where the Turks are shackled in bad conditions.
They're very much an isolated community. It's very sad. Very very sad. And that kind of reality obviously contributed to the mood on both "Low" and "Heroes".
I mean, having encountered an experience like that it's hard to sing "Let's all think of peace and love... "No,... David, why did you said that? That is a stupid remark. Because that's exactly where you should arrive after seeing something like that. You arrive at a sense of compassion. The title track of "Heroes" is about facing that kind of reality and standing up to it.
The only heroic act one can fucking well pull out of the bag in a situation like that is to get on with life from the very simple pleasure of remaining alive, despite every attempt being made to kill you.
It will be remembered that Bowie's performances in London last year were prefaced by his controversial pronouncements on Britain and the possibility of fascist rule here. His comments were interpreted by some as advocacy of extreme right wing politics; others saw in his remark a prophetic nature, a warning rather than a gesture of support to fascist policies.
I can't clarify those statements, Bowie says wearily when the subject arises. All I can say is that I have made my two or three glib, theatrical observations on English society and the only thing I can now counter with is to state that I am NOT a fascist. I'm apolitical.
The more I travel and the less sure I am about exactly which political philosophies are commendable.The more government systems I see, the less enticed I am to give my allegiance to any set of people, so it would be disastrous for me to adopt a definitive point of view, or to adopt a party of people and say "these are my people".
I guess it was all pretty glib. But the again, I'm not one for delicate social niceties. If I take a jump into the pool I generally swallow all the water.
He is reminded of his fascist salute to the country when he arrived at Victoria Station and is asked to define its significance. He virtually explodes from his chair.
That didn't happened. THAT DID NOT HAPPEN. I waved. I just WAVED. Believe me. On the life of my child, I waved. And the bastard caught me. In MID-WAVE, man. And, God, did that photo got some coverage... As is I'd be foolish enough to pull a stunt like that. I died when I saw the photo. And even the people who were with me said, "David! How could you?". The bastards. I didn't...
GOD, I just don't believe in all that.
David was 30 this year. It's significant, he feels no resentment now of the passing time: in his early 20s, he reflects, the very thought of growing older appaled him (it was an horrendous thought). Now he accepts with equanimity the responsibilities of maturity, and even the eventuality of death.
I think having a son made an enormous difference to me, he remarks. At first it frightened me, and I tried not to consider the implications. Now it is his future that concerns me. My own future slips by. I'm prepared for it, and I am prepared for the end.
There are still people on immortality kick, and it amuses me now . We'll do anything in our power to stay alive. There's a feeling that the average lifespan should be longer than it is. I disagree. I mean, we've never lived so long... Not in any century that's man's been on this planet.
Not so very long ago no one lived pass the age of 40. And we're still not happy with 70. What are we after exactly? There's just too much ego involved. And who wants to drag their old decaying frame around until they are 90, just to assert their ego? I don't, certainly.
In this context of age and the process of change, I inevitably mention the minions of the new wave presently battering at the doors of success and achieving now the kind of publicity Bowie enjoyed five years ago.
The sad thing about it all he says, is that it is being called a movement. I wish the people involved were been treated as individuals. I'm so worried for them. I'm dissatisfied with them because I can't tolerate people who want to form, or be part of, movements.
It should always come back to individuals. I, think there are now some individuals who have some very exciting ideas. Some of them, at least. I only hope they survive. Because I totally sympathise with their indignation.
It is suggested (as the hounds bark at the door in an attempt to bring to a conclusion this brief interview) that both "Low" and "Heroes" betray an extraordinary pessimism, and there is, in the jagged atmosphere of the music they contain, an anticipation of violence and imminent disaster.
I'm afraid I am pessimistic, Bowie offers. I'm not at all optimistic about the future. But I'm totally resigned to the situation. There is, I hope, some relief in compassion - and I know that's not a word usually flung at my work - and "Heroes" is, I hope, compassionate.
Compassionate for people and the silly desperate situation they've got themselves into. That we've all got ourselves into, and generally by ignorance and rash decisions. Decisions to join or remain within sets of people.
We haven't moved on at all from that tribal thing - you know, if you don't understand it, have a swing at it with an axe.
You know people simply can't cope with the rate of change in this world. It's all far too fast. Since the industrial revolution there's been this upward spiral with people desperately trying to hang on, and now everybody's started to fall off. And it'll get worst.
There's not really a cause for hope, says David Bowie finally, but I haven't given in yet. I think there is some fight left in the still. Somewhere I'm not a brave man and I do see it all as a vast enormous joke. A very bad joke at that.
But there is an area of optimism. Even bothering to write about it all and think about it is some kind of fight against it. But even so, I can't help thinking that it's all nearly over. He turns his eyes toward heaven. Just give us a date will you?, he asks.
BOWIE IN STUDIOS
AYNSLEY DUNBAR is among a squad of musicians chosen to back David Bowie, on his next album to be recorded in France and Italy.
Bowie's "farewell" concert at London's Hammersmith Odeon was taped by Ken Scott, but RCA say that there is no hurry to put this out as a live album. "David's next album will be the one he's working on now," said Press Officer Rodney Burbeck.
DAVID BOWIE: ALADDIN SANE
By Ben Gerson
A lightning bolt streaks across David's face; on the inside cover the lad is air-brushed into androgyny, a no less imposing figure for it. Though he has been anointed to go out among us and spread the word, we find stuffed into the sleeve, like dirty underwear, a form requesting our name, address, 'favourite film and TV stars', etc., plus $3.50 for membership of the David Fan Club (materials by return mail unspecified).
Such discrepancies have made David Bowie the most recently controversial of all significant pop artists - all of it owing to the confusion of levels on which he operates. His flamboyant drive for pop star status has stamped him in many people's eyes a naked opportunist and poseur. But once it is recognized that stardom represents a metaphysical quest for Bowie, one has to grant at least that the question of self-inflation is in his case unconventional.
The twin impulses are to be a star (i.e. Jagger) and to be a star (i.e. Betelgeuse). The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars depicted an impending doomsday, an extraterrestrial visitation and its consequences for rock and society. Although never so billed, Ziggy was a rock opera, with plot, characters, and musical and dramatic momentum. Aladdin Sane, in far less systematic fashion, works over the same themes - issuances from the Bowie schema which dates back to The Man Who Sold The World. Bowie is cognizant that religion's geography - the heavens - has been usurped, either by science or by actual beings.
If by conventional lights Bowie is a lad insane, then as an Aladdin, a conjurer of supernatural forces, he is quite sane. The titles may change from album to album - from the superman, the Homo superior, Ziggy, to Aladdin - but the vision, and Bowie's rightful place in it, remain constant. The pun of the title, alternately vaunted an dismissive, plays on his own sense of discrepancy. Which way you read it depends upon whether you are viewing the present from the eyes of the past or the future.
Bowie's programme is not complete, but it involves the elimination of gender differences, the inevitability of Armageddon, and the conquering of death and time as we know them. Stardom is the means towards attaining a vantage point from which to foresee, and an elevation from which to lead. The awesome powers and transformations civilization associates with heaven and hell will be unleashed on earth.
The title song is this album's "Five Years". Ominously, within parentheses after the title, are the dates '1913-1938-197?'. The first two are the years before the outbreak of the First and Second World Wars, respectively, and we have no reason to think that 197? represents anything but a year prior to the date of the third. The music is hothouse orientalism, jagged, dissonant and daring, yet also wistful and backward-looking. Phrases like 'battle cries and champagne' evoke images of earlier, more romantic wars. The impatient chug of the machine (the electric guitar) gently clashes with the wilder, more extreme flailings of a dying culture (the piano). We have been deposited in the realm of Ives and Stravinsky.
Mike Garson's long piano solo is fabulously imaginative and suggestive, incorporating snatches of Rhapsody In Blue and 'Tequila'. The reference to sake, the Japanese drink, in the first verse, and the last verse's 'Millions weep a fountain/Just in case of sunrise' suggest the land of the rising sun as a potentially significant future locale. While writing this album, Bowie decided to tour Japan (where he has recently been performing), and Ziggy was described on the last album as 'like some cat from Japan'. The relationship of Aladdin's visitations to the outbreak of war is not clear. Is it his appearance, or our failure to embrace him, which plunges us into strife?
Although a good portion of the songs on Aladdin Sane are hard rock-and-roll, a closer inspection reveals them to be advertisements for their own obsolescence - vignettes in which the baton is being passed on to a newer sensibility. 'Watch That Man', the album's opening number, is inimitable Stones, Exile vintage. Mick Ronson plays Chuck Berry licks via Keith Richard, Garson plays at being Nicky Hopkins, Bowie slurs his lines, and the female back-up singers and horns make the appropriate noises. Like Ziggy, one of the subjects of Aladdin Sane is rock-and-roll (and its lynchpin, sex), only here it is extended to include its ultimate exponents, The Stones.
Taking up the warning he gave in 'Changes' - 'Look out you rock-and-rollers/Pretty soon you're gonna get a little older' - David presents 'an old-fashioned band of married men/Looking up to me for encouragement'. To emphasize the archaism of these fellows, there are references to Benny Goodman and 'Tiger rag'. Jagger himself has become so dainty 'that he could eat you with a fork and spoon'.
'Let's Spend The Night Together' continues The Stones preoccupation. Here, one of the most ostensibly heterosexual calls in rock is made into a bi-anthem: The cover version is a means to an ultimate revisionism. The rendition here is campy, butch, brittle and unsatisfying. Bowie is asking us to re-perceive 'Let's Spend The Night Together' as a gay song, possibly from its inception. Sexual ambiguity in rock has existed long before any audience was attuned to it. However, though Bowie's point is well taken, his methods are not.
'Drive-In Saturday' was conceived during Bowie's passage through the Arizona desert. It is a fantasy in which the populace, after some terrible holocaust, has forgotten how to make love. To learn again they take courses at the local drive-in, where they view films in which 'like once before... people stared in Jagger's eyes and scored'.
'Panic in Detroit' places us right in the middle of a battered urban scape. Ronson deals out a compelling Bo Didley beat which quickly leads into a helter-skelter descending scale. The song is a paranoid descendant of the Motor City's earlier masterpiece, Martha and the Vandellas' 'Nowhere To Run'. The hero is 'the only survivor of the National People's Gang', the revolutionary as star (shades of Sinclair), Che as wall poster. By the end of the song, all that is left to claim his revolutionary immortality is a suicide note, an 'autograph' poignantly inscribed 'Let me collect dust'.
Rock and revolutionary stardom are not the only varieties which are doomed. In his work Bowie is often contemptuous of actors, yet his is, above all, an actor. His intent on 'Cracked Actor', a portrait of an aging screen idol, vicious, conceited, mercenary, the object of the ministrations of a male gigolo, is to strip the subject of his validity, as he has done with the rocker, as a step towards a re-definition of these roles and his own inhabiting of them. The homosexuality of 'Cracked Actor' is not, as elsewhere, ground-breaking and affirmative, but rather decadent and sick. 'The Prettiest Star', the album's other slice of cinematic life, again asserts the connection between secular and celestial stardom. But the song itself is too self-consciously vaudeville.
'Time' is a bit of Brecht/Weill, a bit of Brel. All the world's not a stage, but a dressing room, in which Time holds sway, exacts payment. Once we're on, as in all theaters, time is suspended and will no longer be 'Demanding Billy Dolls' - a reference to the death of Billy Murcia in London last summer.
The appeal to an afterlife, or its equivalent, which is implied in this song, using the theater as its metaphor, is further clarified in 'Lady Grinning Soul'. The song is beautifully arranged; Ronson's guitar, both six-string and twelve, elsewhere so muscular, is here, except for some faulty intonation on the acoustic solo, very poetic. Bowie, a ballad singer at heart, which lends his rock singing its special edge, gives 'Lady Grinning Soul' the album's most expansive and sincere vocal.
The seeming contradictions intrinsic to this album and the body of the last four albums are exasperating, yet the outlines are sufficiently legible to establish the records from The Man Who Sold The World to Aladdin as reworkings of the same obsessions - only the word 'obsession smacks too much of psychological enslavement. Partly, the difficulty derives from the very private language Bowie employs; partly, I suspect, it is the function of a very canny withholding of information. Each album seems to advance the myth, but perhaps it is only a matter of finding new metaphors for the same message, packing more and more reality (in Aladdin's case, the America Bowie discovered on tour) into his scheme, universalizing it.
Aladdin is less manic than The Man Who Sold The World, and less intimate than Hunky Dory, with none of its attacks of self-doubt. Ziggy in turn, was less autobiographically revealing, more threatening than its predecessors, but still compact. Like David's Radio City Music Hall show, Aladdin is grander, more produced: David is, more than ever, more mastermind than participant. Aladdin's very eclecticism makes it even less exposed, conceptually, than Ziggy. Three of the track 'The Prettiest Star', 'Let's Spend The Night Together' and the related 'The Jean Genie', are inferior, they lack the obdurate strength of the remaining songs, not to mention the perfection of Hunky Dory and Ziggy The calmness of the former, the inexorability of the latter (which managed to subsume the question of each individual song's merit) are not Aladdin Sane's.
You needn't buy the mumbo-jumbo to accept Bowie's provocative melodies, audacious lyrics, masterful arrangements (with Mick Ronson) and production (with Ken Scott). As a strictly musical figure Bowie is of major importance. His remoteness, his stubbornness, do not describe a man at the mercy of the media or his audience, ready to alter his course at their behest, but one who wills them to do his bidding - the arrogance of the true believer. David has organized his career according to a schedule to which he steadfastly adheres. With Time waiting in the wings, an apocalypse near at hand, he lacks the freedom to tamper with it.
Certainly there is a general sense of oncoming catastrophe afoot in the land; many of his other concerns enjoy equal currency. But Bowie, uniquely among the pop musicians of today, sees them as the province of popular music (and popular music, by extension, as a world-shaking force). He is attempting to seize hold of these questions with the energy and commitment The Beatles and Dylan evinced towards their areas of concern in the sixties. With the benefit of hindsight, he seeks the kind of power The Beatles and Dylan had to discover they could have. However, it is not his goal just to return music to its stature as more than music. With the benefit of hindsight, it is to take it one step further.
OH YOU PRETTY THING
By Michael Watts
DAVID BOWIE, rock's swishiest outrage; a self-confessed lover of effeminate clothes, Bowie, who has hardly performed in public since his Space Oddity hit of three years ago, is coming back in super-style. In the States, critics have hailed him as the new Bob Dylan, and his tour de force album Hunky Dory looks set to enter the British charts. Changes, the single taken from it, was Tony Blackburn's Record of the Week recently. David will be appearing, suitably spiffy and with his three-piece band, at the Lanchester Festival on February 3. Breathless for more? Turn to page 19...
EVEN though he wasn't wearing silken gowns right out of Liberty's, and his long blond hair no longer fell wavily past his shoulders David Bowie was looking yummy.
He'd slipped into an elegant, patterned type of combat suit, very tight around the legs, with the shirt unbuttoned to reveal a full expanse of white torso. The trousers were turned up at the calves to allow a better glimpse of a huge pair of red plastic boots with at least three-inch rubber soles; and the hair was Vidal Sassooned into such impeccable shape that one held one's breath in case the slight breeze from the open window dared to ruffle it. I wish you could have been there to varda him; he was so super.
David uses words like "verda" and "super" quite a lot. He's gay, he says. Mmm. A few months back, when he played Hampstead's Country Club, a small greasy club in North London which has seen all sorts of exciting occasions, about half the gay population of the city turned up to see him in his massive floppy velvet hat, which he twirled around at the end of each number.
According to Stuart Lyon, the club's manager, a little gay brother sat right up close to the stage throughout the whole evening, absolutely spellbound with admiration.
As it happens, David doesn't have much time for Gay Liberation, however. That's a particular movement he doesn't want to lead. He despises all these tribal qualifications. Flower Power he enjoyed, but it's individuality that he's really trying to preserve. The paradox is that he still has what he describes as 'a good relationship' with his wife. And his baby son, Zowie. He supposes he's what people call bisexual.
They call David a lot of things. In the States he's been referred to as the English Bob Dylan and an avant-garde outrage, all rolled up together. The New York Times talks of his 'coherent and brilliant vision'. They like him a lot there. Back home in the very stiff upper lip UK, where people are outraged by Alice Cooper even, there ain't too many who have picked up on him. His last but one album The Man Who Sold The World, cleared 50,000 copies in the States; here it sold about five copies, and Bowie bought them.
Yes, but before this year is out all those of you who puked up on Alice are going to be focusing your passions on Mr Bowie, and those who know where it's at will be thrilling to a voice that seemingly undergoes brilliant metamorphosis from song to song, a songwriting ability that will enslave the heart, and a sense of theatrics that will make the ablest thespians gnaw on their sticks of eyeliner in envy. All this, and an amazingly accomplished band, featuring super-lead guitarist Mick Ronson, that can smack you round the skull with their heaviness and soothe the savage breast with their delicacy. Oh, to be young again.
The reason is Bowie's new album Hunky Dory, which combines a gift for irresistible melody lines with lyrics that work on several levels - as straightforward narrative, philosophy or allegory, depending how deep you wish to plumb the depths. He has a knack of suffusing strong, simple pop melodies with words and arrangements full of mystery and darkling hints.
Thus 'Oh! You Pretty Things', the Peter Noone hit, is, on one stratum, particularly the chorus, about the feelings of a father-to-be; on a deeper level it concerns Bowie's belief in a superhuman race - homo superior - to which he refers obliquely: 'I think about a world to come/where the books are found by the golden ones/It's written in pain, written in awe/By a puzzled man who questioned/What we came here for/All the strangers came today/And it looks though they're here to stay.' The idea of Peter Noone singing such a heavy number fills me with considerable amusement. That's truly outrageous, as David says himself.
But then Bowie has an instinct for incongruities. On The Man Who Sold The World album there's a bit at the end of 'Black Country Rock' where he superbly parodies his friend Marc Bolan's vibrato warblings. On Hunky Dory he devotes a track called 'Queen Bitch' to the Velvets, wherein he takes off to a tee the Lou Reed vocal and arrangement, as well as parodying, with a story-line about the singer's boyfriend being seduced by another queen, the whole Velvet Underground genre.
Then again, at various times on his albums he resorts to a very broad Cockney accent, as on 'Saviour Machine' (The Man) and here with 'The Bewlay Brothers'. He says he copped it off Tony Newly, because he was mad about Stop The World I Want To Get Off: "He used to make his points with this broad Cockney accent and I decided that I'd use that now and again to drive a point home."
The fact that Bowie has an acute ear for parody doubtless stems from an innate sense of theatre. He says he's more an actor and entertainer than musician; that he may, in fact, only be an actor and nothing else. 'Inside this invincible frame there might be an invisible man.' You kidding? 'Not at all. I'm not particularly taken with life. I'd probably be very good as just an astral spirit.'
Bowie is talking in an office at Gem Music, from where his management operates. A tape machine is playing his next album, The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, which is about this fictitious pop group. The music has got a very hard-edged sound, like The Man Who Sold The World. They're releasing it shortly, even though Hunky Dory has only just come out.
Everyone just knows that David is going to be a lollapalooza of a superstar throughout the entire world this year, David more than most. His songs are always ten years ahead of their time, he says, but this year he has anticipated the trends. 'I'm going to be huge, and it's quite frightening in a way,' he says, his big red boots stabbing the air in time to the music. 'Because I know that when I reach my peak and it's time for me to be brought down, it will be with a bump.'
The man who's sold the world this prediction has had a winner before, of course. Remember 'Space Oddity', which chronicled Major Tom's dilemma, aside from boosting the sales of the stylophone? That was a top ten hit in 1968, but since then Bowie has hardly performed at all in public. He appeared for a while at an arts lab, he co-founded in Beckenham, Kent, where he lives, but when he realised that people were going there on a Friday night to see Bowie the hit singer working out, rather than for any idea of experimental art, he seems to have become disillusioned. That project foundered, and he wasn't up to going out on one-nighters throughout the country at that particular time.
So in the past three years he has devoted his time to the production of three albums "David Bowie 1969" (which contains "Space Oddity") and "The Man Who Sold The World" for Philips, and "Hunky Dory" for RCA. His first album, "Love You Till Tuesday," was released in 1968 on the new Deram label but it didn't sell outstandingly, and Decca, it seems, lost interest in him.
It all began for him, though, when he was fifteen and his brother gave him a copy to play an instrument he took up sax because that was the main instrument featured in the book (Gerry Mulligan, right?). So in 1963 he was playing tenor in a London R and B band before going on to found a semi-pro progressive blues group, called David Jones and The Lower Third (later changing his name in 1966 when Davy Jones of The Monkeys became famous). He left this band in 1967 and became a performer in the folk clubs.
Since he was fourteen, however, he had been interested in Buddhism and Tibet, and after the failure of his first LP he dropped out of music completely and devoted his time to the Tibet Society, whose aim was to help the lamas driven out of that country in the Tibetan/Chinese war. He was instrumental in setting up the Scottish monastery in Dumfries in this period. He says, in fact, that he would have liked to have been a Tibetan monk, and would have done if he hadn't met Lindsay Kemp, who ran a mime company in London: "It was as magical as Buddhism, and I completely sold out and became a city creature. I suppose that's when my interest in image really blossomed."
David's present image is to come on like a swishy queen, a gorgeously effeminate boy. He's as camp as a row of tents, with his limp hand and trolling vocabulary. "I'm gay," he say's, "and always have been, even when I was David Jones." But there's a sly jollity about how he says it, a secret smile at the corners of his mouth. He knows that in these times it's permissible to act like a male tart, and that to shock and outrage, which pop has always striven to do throughout it's history, is a balls-breaking process.
And if he's not an outrage, he is, at the least, an amusement. The expression of his sexual ambivalence establishes a fascinating game: is he, or isn't he? In a period of conflicting sexual identity he shrewdly exploits the confusion surrounding the male and female roles. "Why aren't you wearing your girl's dress today?" I said to him (he has no monopoly on tongue-in-cheek humour). "Oh dear," he replied, "You must understand that it's not a woman's. It's a man's dress."
He began wearing dresses, of whatever gender, two years ago, but he says he had done outrageous things before that were just not accepted by society. It's just so happened, he remarks, that in the past two years people have loosened up to the fact that there are bisexuals in the world - "and - horrible fact - homosexuals." He smiles, enjoying his piece of addenda.
"The important fact is that I don't have to drag up. I want to go on like this for long after the fashion has finished. I'm just a cosmic yob, I suppose. I've always worn my own style of clothes. I design them. I designed this." He broke off to indicate with his arm what he was wearing. "I just don't like the clothes that you buy in shops. I don't wear dresses all the time, rather. I change every day. I'm not outrageous. I'm David Bowie."
How does dear Alice go down with him, I asked, and he shook his head disdainfully: "Not at all. I bought his first album, but it didn't excite me or shock me. I think he's trying to be outrageous. You can see him, poor dear, with his red eyes sticking out and his temples straining. He tries so hard. That bit he does with the boa constrictor, a friend of mine, Rudi Valentino, was doing ages before. The next thing I see is Miss C. With her boa. I find him very demeaning. It's very premeditated, but quite fitting with our era. He's probably more successful then I am at present, but I've invented a new category of artist, with my chiffon and raff. They call it pantomime rock in the States."
Despite his flouncing, however, it would be sadly amiss to think of David merely as a kind of glorious drag act. An image, once strained and stretched unnaturally, will ultimately diminish an artist. And Bowie is just that. He foresees this potential dilemma, too, when he says he doesn't want to emphasis his external self much more. He has enough image. This year he is devoting most of his time to stage work and records. As he says, that's what counts at the death. He will stand or fall on his music.
As a songwriter he doesn't strike me as an intellectual, as he does some. Rather, his ability to express a theme from all aspects seems intuitive. His songs are less carefully structured thoughts than the outpourings of the unconscious. He says he rarely tries to communicate to himself, to think an idea out.
"If I see a star and it's red I wouldn't try to say why it's red. I would think how shall I best describe to X that that star is such a colour. I don't question much; I just relate. I see my answers in other people's writings. My own work can be compared to talking to a psychoanalyst. My act is my couch."
It's because his music is rooted in this lack of consciousness that he admires Syd Barrett so much. He believes that Syd's freewheeling approach to lyrics opened the gates for him; both of them, he thinks, are the creation of their own songs. And if Barrett made that initial breakthrough, it's Lou Reed and Iggy Pop who have since kept him going and helped him to expand his unconsciousness. He and Lou and Iggy, he says, are going to take over the whole world. They're the songwriters he admires.
His other great inspiration is mythology. He has a great need to believe in the legends of the past, particularly those of Atlantis; and for the same need he has crafted a myth of the future, a belief in an imminent race of supermen called homo superior. It's his only glimpse of hope, he says - "all the things that we can't do they will."
It's belief created out of resignation with the way society in general has moved. He's not very hopeful about the future of the world. A year ago he was saying that he gave mankind another forty years. A track on his next album, outlining his conviction, is called "Five Years." He's a fatalist, as you can see.
"Oh! You Pretty Things," that breezy Herman song, links this fatalistic attitude with the glimmer of hope that he sees in a birth of his son, a sort of poetic equation of homo superior. "I think," he says, "that we have created a child who will be so exposed to the media that he will be lost to his parents by the time he is twelve."
That's exactly the sort technological vision that Stanley Kubrik's foresees for the near future in "A Clockwork Orange." Strong stuff. And a long, long way away from camp carry-ons.
Don't dismiss David Bowie as a serious musician just because he likes to put us all on a little.
DAVID BOWIE: MANCHESTER HARDROCK
IT'S THE big return and Bowie's out there suggesting 'Let's Spend The Night Together', though his offer is more innocent than the sinister sexuality of Mick Jagger's version. There's our lad in glitter jacket and tight, tight, red knee-length pants, yelling out something about schoolkids and urging "I believe in education - educate me!" before thrusting into 'Spiders From Mars', 'Superman' and 'Changes', all effort and little subtlety, with Mick Ronson playing guitar much as a Dowager Duchess might play with her beads, good twiddles here, mucho padding there.
But Bowie's pleased to be back, anxious to be adored, and he delivers the rest of the set with a zest that actually drains onlookers and it's the crowd who finally stagger out into the street feeling knackered but ready to face '73.
Who was that (un)masked man?'
By Charles Shaar Murray
Christ, how long has it been?
Four years, man, and set up the tape machine - Bowie attempting to balance the microphone on top of a Carlsberg bottle - and no time to swap small talk because interview time is severely circumscribed, so by the time we've both sat down and Bowie's lit a Gauloise there's nothing to do but pull the pin and get straight on it.
Where can we start after four years? he asks.
Hell we can start anywhere; we both know where it will go... Why does "Heroes" - or more accurately '"Heroes"' come in quotes? Are the inverted commas actually part of the title.
Yeah. Firstly - it was quite a silly point really - I thought I'd pick on the only narrative song to use as the title. It was arbitrary, really, because there's no concept to the album.
I'd felt that the use of quotes indicate a dimension of irony about the word "Heroes" or about the whole concept of heroism.
Well, in that example they were, on that title track. The situation that sparked off the whole thing was - I thought - highly ironic. There's a wall by the studio - the album having been recorded at Hansa by the Wall in West Berlin - about there. It's about twenty or thirty meters away from the studio and the control room looks out onto it. There's a turret on top of the wall where the guards sit and during the course of lunch break every day, a boy and girl would meet out there and carry on.
They were obviously having an affair.
And I thought of all the places to meet in Berlin, why pick a bench underneath a guard turret on the wall? They'd come from different directions and always meet there... Oh, they were both from the west, but they had always meet right there. And I - using license - presumed that they were feeling somewhat guilty about this affair and so they had imposed this restriction on themselves, thereby giving themselves an excuse for their heroic act. I used this as a basis... therefore it is ironic.
Yes it is. You're perfectly right about that, but there was no reason why the album should have been called "Heroes". It could have been called "the sons of silent ages". It was just a collection of stuff that I and Eno and Fripp had put together. Some of the stuff that was left off was very amusing, but this was the best of the batch, the stuff that knocked us out.
Do you find that recording in a studio that's right by the Berlin wall gives you a sense of being on the edge of something?
That's exactly right. I find that I have to put myself in those situations to produce any reasonable good writing. I've still got that same thing about when I get to a country or a situation and I have to put myself on a dangerous level, whether emotionally or mentally or physically, and it resolves in things like that: living in Berlin leading what is quite a spartan life for a person of my means, and in forcing myself to live according to the restrictions of that city.
So it's time to move now that other persons are writing songs about the Berlin wall.
Bowie chuckles into his special brew. Yes, I have noticed that, actually. I haven't yet made up my mind, but I have the choice of two places that I'm thinking of going to. One's Japan and the other is Israel, and I don't know which one's going to win.
The sight of the Thin White Duke in a Kibbutz strikes one as being too good a visual to pass up, plus Bowie went through a Japanese phase in '73.
Yes, and I keep wanting to go back there. I think I'll plump for Kyoto, because I want something very serene around me for a few months to see if that produces anything. It is also important to my private life that I go to Kyoto.
We talk about the Japanese mime/dance/theatre troupe Ondeko-Za, who'd just completed a run at Sadlers Wells and who Bowie had missed by a day in Amsterdam. It sounds like a token show for us lot to have a gander at. Bowie comments after I've described the show:
But in Japan - when I was travelling though it - there was an awful lot, particularly in the outlying villages and provinces, of very strange ritual performances that I hadn't seen before. And still, because my knowledge of Japanese is limited - to say the least! - I never really found out from what school it came from, or what its origins were. Since the purpose of all ritual must be invocation, what were the rituals designed to invoke.
Well, a lot of them where from Shintoism, and they talk very liberally about being one of the few countries in the world that tolerate all religions, but you'll only find about three Christians in the whole of Japan. They're tolerated he laughs harshly, but everybody else is a Shintoist, mate! So most of their art forms derive from either that or the imperial sources. Its very sophisticated but a bit suspicious sometimes.
Yeah but so is Bowie himself. I think of the koto Bowie plays on "Moss Garden" from side two of "Heroes" and his berserk scream of "I'm under Japanese influence and my honour's at stake" from "Blackout" on the same album, and reflects that the Kibbutzim probably won't see DB for a while yet.
So what about China? After all, back in '71, Bowie was something of a Maoist.
Ahhh, that's still there. That place continues to intoxicate me. I got a glimpse of it when I was in Hong Kong... it's strange. There's no wall there, you see.
When you move out of Hong Kong into China you can just walk over and often you won't get shot at. It's quite feasible to sort of wander into China and just look around, wander around all those villages right near the border.
Hey, living dangerously is one thing, but recording an album in a situation where one of your musicians was actually liable to get shot.
(A sharp chuckle) I never travel with musicians. I only travel on my own these days. A far cry from the times he wouldn't budge an inch without bodyguard, secretary, personal assistant, travelling companion, hairdresser, P.R.
All my travelling is down on the basis of wanting to get my ideas for writing from real event rather than from going back to a system from whence it came.
I am very wary of listening to much music.
He gestures at the massive stereo set enthroned on the table by the sofa.
RCA sent all this stuff over and I forgot to ask them for some records, but by the time they deliver any I'll be gone. It doesn't really follow me around much. Imagine trying to plug in one of those in Bangkok! My drummer insists in carrying one around with massive headphones and wires sticking out everywhere. I don't travel like that. I only have a tape machine to use as a notebook.
No, event, character, situation: they're my preference for the basis of writing.
But at the moment, I'm not even really interested in that. I mean, the last two things have made for a complete re-evaluation of my writing style. It had a lot to do with being bored with the traditional things I'd been writing, and with wanting to put myself in the position of having to come up with a new musical language for myself.
I mention that "Low" missed me completely.
Well I'm not surprised, he says, a lot of it missed me as well. I don't understand "Heroes" either. It's something that's derived trough process and method with absolutely no idea of the consequences and no preconceptions of any kind.
"Low" had seemed to me an album and presenting in an attractive light-withdrawal from the world almost to the point of catatonic schizophrenia.
Bowie grimaces and clear his throat a trifle ostentatiously. There is more than an element of truth in whet you say. For me it was very... I wanted to do that, he interrupts defiantly.
What you have read from the experience of that album is absolutely accurate.I did achieve something, because there's very few albums that I haven't experienced at first hand. You can even tell what city I've been even by listening the albums.
I'm completely open. I'm so eclectic that complete vulnerability is involved. You've got no shields, then. I've never developed them, and I am not to sure that I want to anymore because I'm becoming far more satisfied with life... my private life. I'm becoming incredibly straight, level, assertive, moderate... very different from, say, two years ago.
Two years ago you were an uptight game player with a sore nose.
Out there on the wall! No, listen, I'd been exposed (he gives the last syllable of the word a savage, ironic twist) to a general LA-ism which, quite frankly, I can't cope with. It's the most vile piss-pot in the world.
LA, I say, is like being trapped in the set of a movie you didn't want to see in the first place.
Absolutely! It's worst than that. It transcends that. It's a movie that is so corrupt with a script that it is so devious and insidious. It's the scariest movie ever written. You feel a total victim there, and you know someone's got the strings on you.
So, why do people build themselves mansions out there? It must be like voluntary self-imprisonment.
Oh it is. It's like going to to live in Switzerland to look after your tax money, which is the most incredible thing I ever did. I don't live there but I stayed there. I don't live anywhere. I have never got around to getting myself a piece of land, putting up a house on it and saying this is mine, this is home. If I did that, that would just about ruin everything. I don't think I'd ever write anything again. I must have complete freedom from bases. If I ever had anything that resembled a base-like a flat on a long lease or anything - I felt so incredibly trapped.
Even if I go away I know that it's waiting for me - more than that, it's like it has me on a string, and it's dragging me back. I don't foresee that I could live comfortably in any of the cities I go to. Unlike my managerial predecessor, I'm not investment minded. I still like the idea of making records of to the wall.
I think that is what one should do, in my case anyway.
Returning to the subject of the recent waxings, it seems that "Heroes" is an attempt to fight back against the state of mind that "Low" wallows in.
Do you know something? The hardest thing for me to do is to help you in solving those problems, because all I know is the input of the album. I have as much idea of the - Outback? he laughs, about what comes back off that album as what you do. Eno is the same. Neither of us understand on a linear level what the thing's about, but we get a damned good impression of information coming off those two albums that seems very strong, and that was not very intentional.
The intention was to go in and play around with method and process, but when we'd finished "Low" and "Heroes" that what we had in our hands was something that actually does give information.
If it seems to you, then you've described my state of mind at the time of making those two albums very accurately. That's exactly - on both albums - what I've gone trough. "Low" was a reaction to having gone through that peculiar... that dull greeny-grey limelight of America and roll and its repercussions; pulling myself out of it and getting to Europe and saying For God's sake re-evaluate why you wanted to get into this in the first place? Did you really do it just to clown around in LA? Retire. What you need is to look at yourself a bit more accurately. Find some people you don't understand and a place you don't want to be and just put yourself into it. Force yourself to buy your own groceries.
And that's exactly what I do. I have an apartment on top of an auto shop in an area of the town which is quite heavily populated by Turks, and I did that for a bit.
Two revelent quotes: the novelist Elizabeth Bowen once wrote: "Anywhere, at any time, with anyone, one may be seized by the suspicion of being alien - ease is therefore to be found in a place which nominally is foreign: this shifts the weight" which is as good a thumbnail sketch of the obsessive traveller as any I've encountered.
And the there's a character of Herbert Stencil in Thoms Pynchon's V: Herbert Stencil, like small children at a certain age and Henry Adams in the Education, as well as certain autocrats since time out of mind, always referred to himself in the third person.
This "Helped Stencil" appear as only a personality among a repertoire of identities. "Forcible disolvation of personality" was what he called the general technique? Which is not exactly the same as "seeing the other person's point of view"; for it involved, say, wearing clothes that Stencil wouldn't be caught dead in, eating foods that would have made Stencil gag, living in unfamiliar digs, frequenting bars or cafes of a non-Stencilian character; all this for weeks on end; and why? To keep Stencil in his place: that is, in the third person.
Ooh, aren't you well read! mocks Bowie, but his eyes show a flash of recognition. I understands that completely! I completely sympathise with the man! I know exactly why he did that, I think! So that initial period in Berlin produced "Low", which is isn't it great to be on your own, let's just pull down the blinds and fuck 'em all. The first side of "Low" was all about me: "Always Crashing In The Same Car" and all that self-pitying crap, but side two was more an observation in musical terms: my reaction to seeing the East bloc, how West Berlin survive in the midst of it, which was something I couldn't express in words. Rather it required textures, and of all the people that I've heard write textures, Brian (Eno)'s always appealed to me the most.
Yeah, but they lack context.
Brian isn't interested in context. He's a man with peculiar notions, some of which I can come to terms with very easily and are most accessible, and some of it way above my head, mate, in terms of his analytical studies of cybernetics and his application of those things to music and and his general fine arts approach. It's something that I've known from way back as a general characteristic of a kind of person that I used to know when I was a lot younger.
I find that very simpatico. All those crazies.
But I can't really talk on his behalf. We spend most of our time joking. Laughing and falling on the floor. I think out of all the time we spent recording, forty minutes out of every hour was spent just crying with laughter. Do you know Fripp? Have you ever spent time with him in an humorous state? He is incredibly funny. Unbelievable sense of humour. Having the two of them in one studio produces so much random humour - incredible stuff.
So anyway, what I'm doing in this wonderful new world of discovery and experimentation, is a refocus about what I'm trying to do.
We talked a little bit about (you should pardon the expression) punk rock - a little of which cropped up in "Thrills"(*) a fortnight back - and Bowie opined that the worst thing about punk was the way so many bands were diving gleefully into the category instead of striving to be assessed outside of it.
That's the worst thing about it. None of them are fighting it; none of them are saying we are us. They are saying yes we are punk and in so doing they're putting a boundary on their writing scope, which is a shame because they could be a movement of sorts. But you have to let a movement remain as a subculture for a little while and gain some - I'm wary of using the "maturity" - gain some recognition of its own relationship with the environment that it lives in. That's Eno's Rate Of Change; one of his cybernetics thing, and it's very interesting.
People are more interested in the technical innovations as they happen rather than the rate of change within where they happen.
Hence gadget obsession?
Oh, that's not so bad. I don't mind that. I welcome any new relationship between man and his machine. I think that's very optimistic and very good. The average man... see what you have got is a situation where a hundred years ago the average man could fix anything that went wrong in his home. If it went wrong he could fix it. But how many things does a man have now that are out of the area of his knowledge? If his television goes, he has to get a specialist to fix it. He doesn't know his immediate environment. This is because we are put under the impression that we are to accept every new technological achievement that is pushed upon us before we readily understand the last lot.
What's the last technological innovation that you understood?
Me! I think the fountain pen. I'm the perfect example of the victim of technology I think it's disastrous.
Change of subject. Did Bowie considered he was being misrepresented when he was tied with fascism last year?
What I thought was that I'd made some very trite theatrical observations which in fact backfired. I can't blame the press for that.
Did you consider it to be a mistake?
Oh God, yes, but I thrive on mistakes. If I haven't made three good mistakes a week, then I'm not worth anything. You only learn from mistakes.
So what exactly were you trying to say with all that?
It was an immediate reaction to England having not seen it for so long. What I said on the continent was based on anticipation, and when I got here I thought I'd got it right.I seem to have a knack for putting myself in those kind of dangerous positions. I'd just dried up and I couldn't write anything.
Do you think that, once again, London would be a place that would stimulate your writing?
It is a very different London, and that is worth consideration. It's been on my mind the longer I've been here, and I've been coming back for a couple of days at a time just tentative looks, but there's so many places that I haven't been to get a vibe from.
(*)THRILLS (244 words on punk rock from David Bowie).
With Charles Shaar Murray, Melody Maker, too.
You must find it interesting seeing elements of inputs you made five years ago coming back at you filtered through various other things?
(Thinks: "Let's introduce the subject of punk rock in a sneaky, subtle way...")
(Thinks: "He must mean punk rock") I don't get that feedback. It's not apparent to me. It's made apparent when I come to London for a few days, but not as marked as it would be if I lived in this city. Most of the time when I'm not working I've been travelling in quite obscure countries.
And you come back here and find out about Johnny Rotten et al.
Right then! PUNK ROCK!!
It's therefore unreasonable to expect you to have a neat, tidy, ready-made statement about punk rock.
Oh yes, I do. Of course I do!
Okay then... neat ready-made statement about punk rock.
I think it's a crying shame that the category has dissipated its importance. What it is is a lot of very individual people doing very individual things, and I also think it's a shame that the guys who are being called this and put into that category are so willing to accept themselves being put in that category. I think that they are blinkering themselves - possibly crippling their writing - and will eventually... I know what will happen to them, because it happened to me. They'll lose their enthusiasm for the very things that they held sacred when they started, and they won't expand as far as excitingly as they would wish to if they allow themselves to be branded now with a category. Already, while they're still wet behind the ears, they've been branded. I can't stand sets of people in any way, shape or form; politically, artistically or socially, a set of people has the most devastating effect on one's chances of producing anything.
You've been through - and played - enough elitist games yourself in the past.
Absolutely! So am I talking (adopts crusty middle-aged voice) from thirty years experience. That's easily the worst thing about it.
|Created: July 1997 © Paul Kinder||Last Updated: 3/8/06|