BOWIE TICKET FURORE
NEWS OF David Bowie's five concerts in early June has generated an unprecedented demand for tickets which, says promoter Harvey Goldsmith, far exceeds any previous shows with which he has been associated - even surpassing the clamour for Rolling Stones tickets last year.
Within 24 hours of the dates being announced - London Wembley Arena (June 2-4) and Birmingham NEC (5-6) over 120,000 applications had been received, and that in itself is a record. By last weekend, that number had been trebled, and at press time sacks of mail were still pouring in by every post. So NME's forecast last week, that at least nine out of ten applicants would be disappointed, appears to be totally justified.
Bowie himself is said to be concerned that so many people will be unable to obtain tickets for the existing concerts. And because of this incredible furore his official spokesman admitted this week - for the first time - that these will not be Bowie's only dates in Britain.
The exact nature of any follow-up appearances hasn't yet been determined - officially, at any rate - but it seems virtually certain that a massive open-air concert is the logical answer to the problem. And it's known that Bowie's promoters are already scouring the country for suitable locations.
One of the recognised sites - like Castle Donington, Knebworth or Blackbushe - could be chosen. But in view of Bowie's fascination for the unorthodox, a complete new rock venue is equally on the cards, and a famous racecourse has been mentioned as a distinct possibility.
If and when this unique event occurs, when will it be?
ROCK KING BOWIE REIGNS
By Geoff Baker
THE ELEPHANT MAN
"London Hospital of 1886 - a doctor ponders Merrick's appalling case. As the slide show proceeds, a small scrim is swept aside, and there, wearing nothing but a rough cloth diaper, all wax-white skin and elegant bone, arms and legs extended as though tacked to a zodiac, stands David Bowie. Wordless and unmoving, he is nevertheless an electric presence. As the doctor details the particulars of Merrick's affliction - an incurable infestation of bone, skin and nerve tumours known as multiple neurofibromatosis Bowie's sleek frame starts to sag and wither. His arm stiffens, his leg droops and curls, his spine crooks outward, and his head begins to bobble benignly. Provided with a cane and a tattered cloak, the character is complete, and as Bowie hobbles off downstage, every eye in the house stays on him. It's an entrance that Ziggy Stardust himself might have envied, had he lived to see thirty-three."
David Helps The Kids Lick Drink
By Andrew Shelton
"IT'S TOO bad it was just for one day," moaned Gilly Rath, a 22 year-old youth from Cologne, West Germany, who was among the thousand David Bowie fans who invaded Chicago's O'Hara Kennedy Holiday Inn last month for a 13 hour extravaganza called "The 1980 Floor Show: Bowiecon I".
Over 1,000 Bowie fans, some as far away as Australia, attended the first convention celebrating the career of English 'entertainer' David Bowie.
"I just had to come and be here," said Australian Kim Amor, who took out a three year $3,000 personal loan to cover her expenses to fly to America.
The marathon multi-media presentation included showings of movies Bowie starred in, ten hours of video concerts, guest speakers, a Bowie lookalike costume contest and live bands.
Besides the day long fare of entertainment, Bowiecon I was a fundraiser for Operation Snowball, an organization run for the prevention of teenage alcoholism.
"We set up the convention to be a fundraiser for alcoholism because I thought such a twist would attract public notice and alert people about the problem of alcoholism. Besides, it's about time a rock 'n' roll event benefited the same audience that supports Bowie and other rock stars," said convention director Dr. David Jeffrey Fletcher, who is the author of the definitive American guide to Bowie's recorded works David Bowie: The Discography Of A Generalist.
"For sure, David Bowie himself would be very proud that this event in his honour is benefiting the cause against alcoholism," said Mr. Kenneth Pitt, David's manager back in the late '60s around the recording of 'Space Oddity'.
"Few people know that David's father died in 1969 from pneumonia because his resistance was so low because of the effects of alcoholism." he said.
The Bowie lookalike competition had 13 very feeble entrants. Each one would come on and wriggle about to 'Rebel Rebel' for about 5 seconds. One man in a red plastic cape came on wearing roller skates and did an Evel Knievel bit by jumping four chairs on stage. What this had to do with Bowie remains a mystery. Another entrant was surely a stray from the weight watchers convention, a spectacular 12 stone number in a black shimmering dress. A girl nudged me in the audience and said: "Gee, that's my next door neighbour. What the hell is she doing up there?" The winner won his $100 and was favourite from start to finish, but even he didn't look a lot like the man himself.
The evening ended with Pitt auctioning various items of clothing: the boots he wore in the first Space Oddity film (gaily painted wellies) went for a mere $280 and the jock strap he wore in an early mime film, The Mask, went for $80.
A film crew was hired to capture all the convention's highlights. "Someday soon it will make an outstanding documentary - it's a piece of rock 'n' roll history," claims Fletcher.
SERMON FROM THE SAVOY
By Charles Shaar Murray
THE WEEK before Carnival: London is gasping like a beached fish. All along the Strand is sweat and dust and air hanging heavy with the promise of coming thunder, but the foyer of the Savoy is a world away from the oven of Trafalgar Square just a couple of minutes down the road.
Cool and dark and marbled, it has something of the hallucinatory ambience of a mirage: step inside and you almost expect it to disappear, leaving you back on the blazing pavement.
In the tea room, with its vaulted ceilings and tromp l'oeil murals, an almost perfect insulation exists. Outside, the miners' strike could boil over in open insurrection: Maggie Thatcher could declare martial law and no one inside would even notice. No one speaks above the polite murmur: the walls seem to swallow sound, filtering and smoothing anything which would upset the equilibrium.
The Savoy is the next best thing to being underwater.
At three in the afternoon, a blue Mercedes pulls up outside and David Bowie walks briskly and decisively through the foyer and into the tea room, his destination a table tucked inconspicuously away to one side of the staircase. Bowie moves everywhere like that, with the clam and determined air of a man who knows exactly what he is doing and where he is going at any given moment. Whether this is actually the case is another matter entirely.
He is wearing - starting at the ground and working upwards - blue shoes, black slacks, a studded belt, a white shirt with a spidery black Picasso print and a crucifix on a neck chain. He is suffering from a summer cold brought on by a sweat-soaked day's filming in the sweltering confines of the Wag Club in Wardour Street where a guest appearance on a US MTV gala had been laid down the previous week.
The principal items on Bowie's agenda are the release of 'Blue Jean', his first new single of '84, a highly unorthodox video based around the song and directed by the young British film-maker Julien Temple (who directed The Sex Pistols' Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle movie and has since become the cutting edge of radical style and content in the pop video racket), plus 'Tonight', a new album with a dizzying variety of mood and technique.
Bowie arms himself with a fresh pack of Marlboros, a pot of decaffeinated coffee and a sandwich and settles down to explain why - after the numerous exertions of 1983, a year in which he released his best-selling 'Let's Dance', starred in two feature films and toured the world - he made an album this year in the first place.
"I SUPPOSE the most obvious thing about the new album," he begins, "is that there's not the usual amount of writing on it from me. I wanted to keep my hand in, so to speak, and go back in the studio - but I didn't really as if I had enough new things of my own because of the tour. I can't write on tour, and there wasn't really enough preparation afterwards to write anything that I felt was really worth putting down, and I didn't want to put out things that 'would do' so there are two or three that I felt were good things to do and the other stuff...
"What I suppose I really wanted to do was to work with Iggy again, that's something I've not done for a long time. And Iggy wanted us to do something together. We're ultimately leading up, I hope, to me doing his next album. We've been talking about it for a year or so and we've got him off the road. He's not on the road now and he won't be going back on the road for a while."
The star-crossed Iggy Pop - James Osterberg in civilian life - was one of Bowie's early heroes. His group The Stooges were the last word in late '60s Detroit dementia, and Pop's blistering, demonic stage act was a primary source of inspiration for Bowie's own characterisation of Ziggy Stardust. When his own career took off, Bowie sought out Iggy and signed him to his then management company Mainman, who in turn signed the band to CBS, for whom Bowie mixed Iggy's 'Raw Power' album.
The association didn't work out, but the two remained in contact, reuniting for two enormously influential 1977 albums 'The Idiot' and 'Lust For Life', both of which combined Bowie's production and melody lines with Pop's scarifying lyrics and vocals.
Bowie's massive 1983 hit 'China Girl' was drawn from 'The Idiot', and now 'Tonight' revisits two more songs from this period: the title tune and the savage 'Neighbourhood Threat', as well as including two new collaborations by the pair and another song from Iggy's past, 'Don't Look Down', written in collaboration with guitarist James Williamson.
"I don't think touring was having a good effect on him, particularly on his writing. He wasn't getting any done. He's always had an incredibly loyal following, but that's not really enough. Living continually from one gig to the next just made him feel that he was falling out of time, because he had no time to write anything any more: it just seemed to be a question of getting from Akron to Philadelphia and doing the rounds: I think 'China Girl' helped him out a lot that way, and now he's writing quite prolifically. Hopefully, we should be able to mull through about 30 or 40 songs by the time we come to record.
"I think more than anything else I write the musical side of the new songs; we worked very much the way that we did on 'Lust For Life' and 'The Idiot', and I often gave him a few anchor images that I wanted him to play off and he would take them away and start free-associating and I would then put that together in a way that I could sing. Rather than write straightforward songs, he would do collective imagery, and we'd rearrange things from there."
So it's nothing as simplistic as Iggy becoming your lyricist?
"No, not at all. I think it worked out around 50/50 lyrics on most of the songs, but Jimmy's work stands out most obviously on 'Tumble And Twirl' (a surging, Afro-tinged snapshot of Bali and Java) "I think that's obviously his line of humour. The lines about the T-shirts and the part about the sewage floating down the hill... we had a holiday after the tour, Jimmy and his girlfriend Suchi, Coco and I - we went to Bali and Java, and in Java particularly the very rich oil magnates of Java have these incredible colonial-style houses with sewage floating down the hills into the jungle.
"That stayed with me, and watching films out in the garden projected on sheets. It felt so bizarre to sit there in the jungle watching movies at the end of the garden through monsoon weather with rain pouring down. Images of Brooke Shields... it was quite absurd."
"I like the free world," sings Bowie in 'Tumble And Twirl', a line less ironic than might at first be thought.
"I guess those circumstances make one quite fond of the 'free world' because a country like Java or Singapore is quite most definitely not free.
"There's an extraordinary split between one class and another, far more exaggerated than any class system in the West. If I had the choice between Singapore or Java, I'd pick England! That's what I meant by that line, but when put in a musical structure these things take on a life of their own - as we know from past experience!".
TWO OF the Iggy tunes - 'Tonight', which is a duet with none other than Tina Turner, and 'Don't Look Down' - receive reggae treatments, which is something of a surprise, because Bowie's only previous dabble with ital beats came on 'Lodger's' 'Yassassin', and Bowie stated at the time that he hadn't penetrated reggae and intended to leave it alone. What changed his mind about Jah Music?
"I think it was the drum machine!" He laughs loudly. "I was trying to rearrange 'Don't Look Down' and it wouldn't work. I tried it as a march, and then I just hit on an old ska-sounding beat, and it picked up life. Taking energy away from the musical side of things reinforced the lyrics and gave them their own energy. I think working with Derek Bramble really helped a lot, because he played proper reggae bass lines..."
Derek Bramble is Bowie's newest collaborator, the former bassist with British pop soulstars Heatwave and more recently musical partners to ex-Linx frontman David Grant. Bowie was introduced to Bramble's work by his London PR Bernard Doherty, was intrigued and got in touch. Bramble made the album's reggae tunes possible, because most Americans can't play reggae to save their lives.
"I'm sure Dennis Davis won't mind me saying this" (Dennis, now with Stevie Wonder, was Bowie's drummer from 'Young Americans' through to 'Scary Monsters') "but when we did 'Ashes To Ashes', that beat was an old ska beat, but Dennis had an incredibly hard time with it, trying to play it and turn the beat backwards, and in fact we worked through the session and it wasn't turning out at all well, so I did it on a chair and a cardboard box and he took it home with him and learnt it for the next day. He really found it a problem. I've found that with American drummers, more so than with bass players. Where Derek can succeed is that he will leave a lot of spaces. He's not scared not to play a note. Omar, I must say, didn't have a problem."
Bowie's drummer for the new album is Omar Hakim, who featured on a couple of the 'Let's Dance' tracks and who replaced Peter Erskine in Weather Report in the same shake-up wherein Victor Bailey replaced my man Jaco Pastorius.
"What did you think of the album, by the way?"
I tell him that I approved heartily, except for the rather iffy version of The Beach Boys' 'God Only Knows'. He chuckles a trifle defensively.
"Really? Oh - I knew you were going to say that."
However, the reinterpretation of Chuck Jackson's 'I Keep Forgetting' is masterful.
"Oh good! Oh, you liked that! I've always wanted to do that song... I think that this album gave me a chance, like 'Pin-Ups' did a few years ago, to do some covers that I always wanted to do. 'God Only Knows' I first did - or tried to do - with Ava Cherry and that crowd The Astronettes when I tried to develop them into a group. Nothing came of that! I still have the tapes, though. It sounded such a good idea at the time and I never had the chance to do it with anybody else again, so I though I'd do it myself... it might be a bit saccharine, I suppose".
Bowie's reinterpretation of 'Tonight' itself, apart from transmuting the song into reggae, changes the context considerably by omitting Pop's hair-raising prologue, which establishes that the song is being sung to a lover in the throes of a heroin overdose.
"That was such an idiosyncratic thing of Jimmy's that it seemed not part of my vocabulary. There was that consideration, and I was also doing it with Tina - she's the other voice on it - and I didn't want to inflict it on her either. It's not necessarily something that she would particularly agree to sing or be part of. I guess we changed the whole sentiment around. It still has that same barren feeling, though, but it's out of that specific area that I'm not at home in. I can't say that it's Iggy's world, but it's far more of Iggy's observation than mine."
DID YOU play on the album yourself?
"No, I didn't. Not at all. I very much left everybody else to it. I must say, I just came in with the songs and the ideas and how they should be played and then watched them put it all together. It was great!" He chuckles to himself. "I didn't work very hard in those terms. I feel very guilty about it! I did five or six pieces of writing and I sing a lot, and Hugh Padgham (the engineer) and Derek put the sound together between them. It was nice not to be involved in that way".
It makes quite a change from the period between 'Low' and 'Monsters'
"Yes, I couldn't have been more dictatorial about it... I feel that period coming on again now we've had a refreshing bash with other people's songs and other people playing the way they want to play. I feel I really want to do something probably with no more than myself and two other people, and build up tapes again. I haven't done that for such a long time.
"But I've got to a point that I really wanted to get to where it's really an organic sound, and it's mainly saxophones. I think there's only two lead guitar solos on it. No synthesizers to speak of, though there are probably a couple of twing sounds or something. It's really got the band sound that I wanted, the horn sound".
FUNNILY ENOUGH, the album's opener 'Loving The Alien' features some ah... ah... ah backing vocals that are reminiscent of Anderson's 'O Superman'.
"No, that's Philip Glass actually, more reminiscent of 'Einstein On The Beach', but maybe Laurie was thinking also of something from that."
Both of the Bowie solo compositions from the album 'Blue Jean' and 'Loving The Alien' are astonishingly dissimilar to each other.
"Aren't they just!" 'Blue Jean' reminds me of Eddie Cochran." He sings the opening lines of Cochran's 'Something Else' under his breath and follows it with the "She's got evreh-thang" line from 'Blue Jean'. "It was inspired from that Eddie Cochran feeling, but that of course is very Troggs as well. I dunno... it's quite eclectic, I suppose. What of mine isn't?
"Somebody once said - who was it? It's terribly important - that Harry Langdon, the silent comedian, cannot be taken on his own; you have to put him alongside that which went on around him, like Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd and Chaplin. He can only be seen by reference, and somebody said that about me, which is probably very true. I kind of quite like that, actually, that you can't take me on my own. You can only use me as a form of reference!".
He bursts into such hearty laughter that people actually start looking round.
"Don't ask me! The older I get, the less I know about what I'm doing!"
Regaining composure, he continues, "I think this'll be the last album where I'm involved in this kind of thing. There's a particular sound I'm after that I haven't really got yet and I probably won't drop this search until I get it. I'll either crack it on the next album or just retire from it. I think I got quite close to it on 'Dancing With The Big Boys' - the Bowie/Pop collaboration that closes the album and occupies the B-side of 'Blue Jean' - "which got somewhere near where I wanted it to be. I think I should be a bit more adventurous. That was quite an adventurous bit of writing in the sense that we didn't look for any standards. I got very musical over the last couple of years; I stayed away from experimentation. It's not helpful sometimes, although it's a good discipline.
"I really got into that: trying to write musically and develop things the way people used to write in the '50s, but in 'Big Boys' Iggy and I just broke away from all of that for the one track. That came nearer to the sound I was looking for than anything. I'd like to try maybe one more set of pieces like that. Whenever anyone asks me what the next album is going to be like, I invariably reply 'protest' because I have as little idea as anybody what comes next.
"I'm terribly intuitive - I always thought I was intellectual about what I do, but I've come to the realisation that I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing half the time, that the majority of the stuff that I do is totally intuitive, totally about where I am physically and mentally at any moment in time and I have a far harder time than anybody else explaining it and analysing it. That's the territory of the artist anyway: to be quite at sea with what he does, and working toward not being intuitive about it and being far more methodical and academic about it.
"That's what produced the last two albums. I'm not sure how comfortable I am with that any more. It was fun for these two albums, but I'm not sure that I want to do that again."
OVER THE last few years, Bowie has performed a remarkable about-face from the solipsistic concerns of his early work and has concerned himself with the precise nature of the world that he finds around him, and the kind of world into which he wants his son to grow up. This 'un-typical' concern has, however, manifested itself more through the visual imagery of the 'Let's Dance' and 'China Girl' videos than through any blatant pronouncement, which is probably just as well, since the political activities and statements of pop stars are generally devalued by the general received notion of entertainers as privileged cranks and eccentrics.
Despite his off-the-cuff remarks about 'protest', Bowie has shied away from the overt-statement, but he stills feels that his responsibility exists.
"What one ends up doing, I think, is charity work, which is very interesting I think it's because you start doing things quietly and low-profile rather than doing something excessive in one's writing. It's because I'm terrified of all forms of musical writing in the popular music idom just getting crunched within days of release in terms of any political significance or any social statement they might make. It just becomes a T-shirt too fast. I often adore and appreciate the sentiment, but I'm just so unsure of myself in that area. I'm never sure how much real, physical manifest good it can do, whereas I know that if I do this for such-and-such a charity then that's a physical accomplishment that can do something manifest."
Last year, at the end of the British leg of the Serious Moonlight tour, Bowie put his act where his mouth was. With one show at the Hammersmith Odeon, he raised £90,000 for the Brixton Neighbourhood Community Association.
"In songwriting, I feel all at sea with that; I'm not sure where my place is with all of that. My writing for so long has been to do with the surreal that I don't even know whether I could take myself seriously as a writer of didactic statements. I'm not sure that as a writer I'm succinct enough to give it a wholeness."
Last year you used to quote John Lennon: say what you mean, make it rhyme and put a backbeat behind it...
"Yes, I know, and John was so excessively good at that, but the things I end up doing are done on a far quieter basis. Also having a lot of money is very problematic for changing things..."
People often don't take millionaire socialists like Ray Davies and Pete Townshend seriously.
"I know, and so it's best not to be one, but I take them very seriously. I take Pete very seriously.
He's absolutely committed to his way of life and the expression of what he believes. Pete's quite right: it makes a lot of sense for people in the so-called artistic professions to become involved in areas that they are knowledgeable about.
"I think that unless one has a penetrating understanding of the social issues of the time it's very dangerous to get involved in other areas where one might be mislead by forces who would take you off the path. It's very important not to be led, and in political areas I think it's very dodgy for a lot of artists - including myself - who have only an understanding of the topsoil of the political and social system to declare themselves under any political banner.
"But I tell you one thing that's very interesting for me, coming back to England only periodically as I do, to see what happened with the 2-Tone music of a few years ago, to see how that black and white/together thing has now become a given in popular music here. That is incredible, and it's happened quite fast. That has made a difference, and it has said something socially and promoted, particularly for a lot of younger people, the idea of being together with another sex and another race. To put that against 1972, it has become a different world over here. Now that is something to get excited about."
Bowie himself has led integrated bands for the last decade, but it hasn't always been easy.
"Back in '74 it was something of an effort. Going to play in the South was something of an effort for my band. It wasn't a pleasant experience going down to Atlanta in those times: we have to just hit and run, play and get out as fast as possible. Socially it was just a no-no; it wasn't pleasant for them and likewise to a lesser extent it wasn't pleasant for me to see them being insulted..."
As Bowie wrote in 'It's No Game': "to be insulted by these fascists is so degrading..."
"Yes, it was very much like that. I don't think that much has changed. We only played a couple of Southern gigs last time, Houston and Dallas... but things have changed, yes they have. It's changed a lot, especially in those big cities in Texas. I wonder what it would be like playing Florida now..."
THE SONG from the new album that deals most strongly with the pleasures and pains of the struggle for unity is the album's opener 'Loving The Alien'. It also approaches subjects Bowie has never tackled before: religion and history.
"It really doesn't fit in there very much, does it? That was the most personalised bit of writing on the album for me; not to say that the others were written from a distance, but they're a lot lighter in tone. That one was me in there dwelling on the idea of the awful shit that we've had to put up with because of the Church. That's how it started out: for some reason I was very angry."
You don't normally hear people wearing crucifixes making remarks like that.
"I know... this" - fingers the crucifix around his neck - "is strictly symbolic of a terrible nagging superstition that if I didn't have it on I'd have bad luck. It isn't even religious to me - I've hardly even thought of it as a crucifix, anyway, probably because it's so little. The most obvious lie or cover-up I can think of is through education... at the time of writing the song I was reading a book called The Jesus Scrolls, and the conclusion of that book is that Jesus died at the age of 70 at Masada and wrote a scroll himself, which is currently in the hands of the Russians, who are holding it over the Catholic Church. Actually I read that a long long time ago, around '75 - it was a real Los Angeles book, but it really stayed with me. The crunching thing about the Church is that it has always had so much power.
"It was always more of a power tool than anything else, which was not very apparent to the majority of us. I never thought about it as... as a child it was just going to church and listening to the choir and hearing the prayers, and it was never really made apparent how much weight they carried. My own father was one of the few fathers I knew who had a lot of understanding of other religions. He - this is an abuse of the word - 'tolerated' Buddhists or Muslims or Hindus or Mohammedans, whatever, and he was a great humanitarian in those terms. I think some of that was passed on to me, and encouraged me to become interested in other religions. There was no enforced religion, though, he didn't particularly care for the English religion - Henry's religion. Oh God!
"'Alien' came about because of the feeling that so much history is wrong - as is being rediscovered all the time - and that we base so much on the wrong knowledge that we've gleaned. Now some historian is putting forward the notion the whole idea of Israel is wrong and that it was in fact in Saudi Arabia and not in Palestine. It's extraordinary considering all the mistranslations in the Bible that our lives are being navigated by this misinformation, and that so many people have died because of it, and all the power factions involved..." Bowie sighs.
"I don't know... just like everything else, it's just a song of images. I can't ever see any cohesive view point in my songs.
"It's a fortunate thing in music that so much of the subconscious comes through with the melody and the placement of a particular word on a particular note. For better or for worse, the information is inherent in the song, not in the writer or his intentions or even in the lyrics. It's probably my strongest point that I write evocatively in terms of musical and verbal expression. When I put the two together it can be a powerful format, and I'm just starting to rediscover that again. I think that's what's giving me the bug to be a bit more adventurous in my writing again.
"Recently I've used an accepted vocabulary, as Eno would say. I think because I was starting to feel sure of myself in terms of my life, my state of health and my being... I have relapses, as we all do, but I feel on the whole fairly happy about my state of mind and my physical being and I guess I wanted to put my musical being in a similar staid and healthy area, but I'm not sure that that was a very wise thing to do. I don't know.
"I never bloody know."
THE ROOM is filled with the languid strains of celebrated ditties from the past few decades of the collective unconscious. A neatly attired man has walked to the piano in the centre of the room and commenced tickling it. The piano does not seem to mind. The conversation moves neatly to the subject to movies, including a couple of things that are not happening, like the alleged score that Bowie was described as contributing to a forthcoming adaptation of our old friend Mr Orwell's 1984 featuring John Hurt as Winston Smith and the late Richard Burton as O'Brien.
"No, I'm not doing that. There was talk of me doing that at one time, but I don't have enough time. I've seen bits of it and I think it's a fabulous movie. Really, really good."
Then there was the small matter of a role as the villain in the next Bond movie, a role allegedly (ho ho) previously declined by Sting.
"Absolutely out of the question. Yes, I was offered that. After Sting? I rather think it was the other way about. I think for an actor it's probably an interesting thing to do, but I think that for somebody from rock it's more of a clown performance. And I didn't want to spend five months watching my double fall off mountains."
Predictably enough, Bowie has a keen interest in and strong views on the British film industry.
"I like to believe that it's going through one hell of a shake-up. I think we've got some great young film-makers, I really do. I think the guy that I'm working with, Julien Temple, is really a very perceptive and ambitious young film-maker and I think he's going to end up doing something quite remarkable. The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle wasn't faultless by any means, but it was rejuvenating, and I think his plans for his own film Absolute Beginners" - adapted from Colin MacInnes' classic '50s novel, scored by Gil Evans and featuring Paul Weller, Keith Richards and Ray Davies in supporting roles - "should do a lot for young British film-making. It feels essentially London: but London not in a passé way. The excitement of London, which has never been featured properly.
"I mean, there are so many stories of young America and young New York."
American has indeed monopolised the '50s to the point where it's hard to believe that there ever was a '50s anywhere else.
"For instance, he deals with the '50s black riots in Notting Hill, and that's an area which has never been treated on film. That's an extraordinary thing to have even dug up; so few people remember that it even happened. He's got a very good chance of carrying it off. I'd love to do a feature with him because we've enjoyed working together tremendously. I've never ever put so much into someone else's hands in terms of making videos."
Temple, on the other hand, says that he's never had so much input from the performer on a video before.
"I think that what for me feels like handing stuff over to somebody else as a responsibility for other people still seems very much like a collaboration, but that's only by past reference. I was completely protective with everything I did, so for me loosening up on some aspects and letting Julien decide what camera shots should be used is for me passing the responsibility over.
"It's a bit like the album: for me, that was like standing back; having the courage to admit that other people have their own ideas on what should be done and that I should be so graspingly self-opinionated about what's best, not granting other people the respect that they deserve as musicians or whatever job that they have. It's taken me an awful long time to get to that point. I feel much easier working on a collaboration basis now.
"In film-making, I'd love to do a collaborative thing with someone like Julien. I don't think pop videos are very interesting, and I don't think video's to go anywhere. Firstly, nobody's doing it on video. Forget videotape. It's all being done on celluloid. Video's out the window. Nothing ever happened to video; it's like the quadrophonic sound system, which just stood up and went down again. There are so many innovative people in video, but they'll never be accepted by the majority and never accepted on network television. The experimental videos will be as well received as experimental movies were, like Eraserhead. It'll have about that much impact.
"As far as video is concerned, the video format - stuff that gets called video and goes on television - I know the music channels in the States want to open up. They don't know which way it's gonna go themselves. I think we're coming to a revitalisation of the '50s short; that's the only direction it's going in. I know what I'd like to do with it; which is to start making full-scale movies for television. What standard or quality they are is dependent on the people who put them together.
"The thing that we've just put together is more like a '50s short than a video, the music takes a back seat - more or less. It's a piece in the film. The first thing that EMI are going to have to do is put subtitles on it, because there's so much dialogue that it won't mean a thing if it's shown in Germany or Spain or France without them. The talkies - I think we're into the talkies. The format of 'Blue Jean' is of a small talkie, and that's the emphasis.
"I think what is going to work is getting our finance out of record companies and video stations to make movies rather than the film industry. The producers in the video market are keener to make movies than the movie people: it's as simple as that, and some of us are taking full advantage and trying to make movies through this other channel, this new system that's developing."
Bowie's own current taste in movies - current movies, at any rate - includes John Schlesinger's forthcoming feature The Falcon And The Snowman.
"It's the story of two young American guys who sell secrets to the Russians. It's Tim Hutton and Sean Penn giving the performances of their lives, but I don't know how it will be received in the States given the current political climate. It's very objective, though one feels great sympathy for the two boys. It's a magnificent piece of film-making, the best Schlesinger movie I've seen in years."
Another current favourite is Wim Wenders' current release Paris, Texas.
SO WHAT does Bowie, the arch-trendsetter, think of current London fashion? He finds it considerably less impressive than, say a Wenders movie or a good book.
"I think it's silly," he declares defiantly, and then snorts with laughter. "But it looks like fun. I can see that they derive an awful lot of pleasure from it, but I can't take it seriously. I don't think it expresses very much."
What, big white T-shirts with things written on them?
"God, I hate those damn things, I really hate them. That's why I had my Ernie character in 'Blue Jean' wearing a RELAX T-shirt!"
Bowie can afford to grin at the vagaries of frivolous youth. As he approaches his 38th birthday, he is securely enthroned as one of the pop racket's most dominant individual presences. He is a consistent innovator and experimentalist who nevertheless maintains a massive hold on the pop mainstream, and his career as an actor is just beginning. He has a huge and devoted audience which nevertheless not only refuses to demand that he stay with a winning formula but which virtually insists that he follows his own instincts and desires. He is the '80s incarnation of the dashing English gentleman about the arts, reassuring and unsettling his public simultaneously. He is as established as an artist can get in this racket.
Does Bowie think pop is at its best when it's dangerous, when it's something subversive and weird and unlike the harmless consumer durable we know and love today?
"It's very interesting to hear Julien talking about 'the old days' when he thinks back to The Sex Pistols. You mention '77 and he says 'Oh, in those days, it was so dangerous then!' Well, it's not so far off, is it? If things are as cyclic as they're supposed to be, then it's bound to come. I didn't get the full brunt of all that, because it was just the period when I was settling in Berlin, so it came from a different direction there and it didn't have the full wrath and anger of what happened in England. For me it's all just footage and I can't feel the same thing.
"I really regret missing out on that. I wonder how I would have received all that. I'd love to have seen the dialogue on television and all that, and the feel of the clubs at that time... of course that's a much healthier climate. Of course it is."
Could you see yourself contributing to another major upset?
"In rock, I think it's very hard for... after the initial point of view that you put forward, unless you're capable of adopting more than that initial statement, it's hard to come up with another that has that same kind of force that the first one did. For me, the early '70s period was the thing that gave me my opening. I don't think I would ever contribute so aggressively again...
"The interesting thing about rock is that you never think that it's going to go on for much longer. Then when you find that it has... I'm 37 going on 38 and I find myself thinking, 'I'm still doing it!"
"So you're re-defining it all the time. The whole animal of rock keeps changing itself so fast and so furiously that you just can't plan ahead. I've got absolutely no idea. I've got two or three anchors: to do some more work with Iggy and to try and write something for myself that is extraordinary and adventurous.
"Those are the only things in music that I know I'll be doing in the future..."
LIVE BOWIE! BRUSSELS VOORST NATIONAL
By Charles Shaar Murray
BRUSSELS VOORST NATIONAL
"WE ARE the goon squad and we're coming to town. Beep-beep!".
Thirteen minutes before they open the doors on the opening night of the Bowie tour and the soundcheck is still in progress. The two gigs in Brussels are essentially warm-ups, mainly because gigs in Brussels are about as discreet as it is possible to get in front of eight and a half thousand people.
Let me tell you about Brussels. If you managed to remove every single vestige of style from the French, and then dumped them in a reasonable facsimile of Holland, they would - and did - build Brussels. There are no more than sixty of seventy acceptably dressed people in the entire audience.
The Serious Moonlight Tour is Bowie's first venture onto a rock stage for five years or so, and despite all the painstaking (and expensive) pre-production that goes on for modern megatours, there still remains a variable (or three). The most blueswailing Stevie Ray Vaughn, whose spirited Albert King impressions added so much sharpness and piquancy to the 'Let's Dance' album, departed from the company some five days before blast-off, which meant that Bowie alumnus Earl Slick was drafted in to learn a two-hour 35-song set virtually overnight. (And then the poor bastard's new amp blew up in the fifth number).
Coming to grips with the megagig often leads performers into the kind of techno-excess associated with Pink Floyd or the semi-departed ALice Cooper, but 'Serious Moonlight' managed to be the best-staged and best-lit concert I can remember without once seeming cluttered or gimmicky or cute. Every moment of the way, Bowie's staging supports, enhances, underlines and comments upon the music, rather than distracting your attention from it and creating a lot of fuss to tide you through boring bits.
On the left of the stage, a huge pointing hand. On the right, the (serious) moon. In between, strung out across the back of the stage behind the instruments, four huge translucent columns. Plus a computer-driven lighting system that produces colours I've never ever seen from stage lighting.
The band expand outwards from a basic funk/rock position to encompass whatever musical requirements are presented by each tune: Earl Slick's (quite understandable) lack of assurance was more than outweighed by the agile, powerful grooves laid down by Chic drum maestro Tony Thompson, former Stevie Wonder bassist Carmine Rojas and the indispensible Carlos Alomar. With a blazing horn section and two uncannily Bowie-like backing vocalists, the band punch through the set with a rare blend of imagination, enthusiasm and precision. The arrangements for the tour demonstrate that Bowie is at least as interested in revitalising his music as he is in simply reproducing it, as he did on the 'Stage' tour.
Oh yes, David Bowie. What can I tell you? Five years off the stage has done no damage whatsoever to his voice, his skills or his presence. He sailed through the two hour-long segments of his show without the slightest hint of Springsteenian sweaty endurance spectacles. Despite the show's almost Romanic pace and energy, Bowie stayed as cool as Gregory Isaacs from the opening teaser of 'Jean Genie' through to the all-systems-gone encore of 'Modern Love'.
Dressed up way past the nines (tens or twelves, easy) in a cream-coloured 'Young Americans' soul suit (with haircut to match), Bowie programmed his material so intuitively that it became routine to anticipate the set-list simply by the association conjured up by each song. If Bowie plays 'Fashion', complete with a quick display of body-pop-ping, then of course it goes into 'Let's Dance'.
Plus a few surprises: Bowie hasn't performed Lou Reed's 'White Light White Heat' in concert for a good decade (if you'll pardon the expression) and... 'I Can't Explain'?????
The 12-string comes out of mothballs for 'Space Oddity' and 'Young Americans', the alto sax surfaces for 'Modern Love', and the skull rears up once more for 'Cracked Actor.' All it needed was a few bars of mouth-harp on the final berserk-out on 'Jean Genie.'
You have to give the man some credit. Rather than cynically tout a freeze-dried legend around the world - Rolling Stones stylee - Bowie has created a show that lives up rather than down to expectations. Not on the basis of his legend or his publicity, but on the strength of this show, Bowie is the finest white pop performer alive. I'll be very surprised to see any of Bowie's alleged peers produce anything remotely this good for quite some time to come.
THE BYRONIC MAN
By Charles Shaar Murray
David Bowie's horoscope, Daily Mirror August 9, 1984.
CAPRICORN (Dec 21-Jan 19): A good time to project a confident image. Make sure you are seen at the right places at the right time. Religion, philosophy and occult matters interest you now.
"What we're doing here is bringing back the talkies," David Bowie announces self-mockingly. His livid mask recalls the white-faced clowns and demons of the Commedia del'Arte and the grotesque disguises of the early cinema: pallor so extreme as to suggest a powerful but distinctly unhealthy light juxtaposed with swirling, smoky shadows. His amiable but vulpine grin seems thoroughly incongruous in this ghastly settings. The dark, sandy hair is immaculately styled, but it is streaked with an unpleasant-looking gel that suggests that an asthmatic dog has just coughed on his head.
Ten-thirty a.m. in a fifth-floor ballroom in West London. Bowie has been in make-up for a little over two hours. Outside, Kensington High Street is about to spend the day baking until it glazes over. If you follow the street far enough west you end up in Hammersmith, but the High Street takes its role of linking the well-heeled bohemia of Holland Park and the crisp upper crust of Knightsbridge very seriously. During the early Seventies, designer and entrepreneur Barbara Hulanicki took over the crumbling Derry & Toms department store and turned it into the most grandiose incarnation thus far of what had begun as a boutique called Biba's. The upstairs ballroom became an extremely chic little venue, host to everything from the Twenties kitsch of The Pasadena Roof Orchestra to the high-octane insolence of The New York Dolls. A memorable wee soiree that was... the potted palms probably never recovered. Neither did the security staff, who had to move in to prevent a couple of the Dolls from a little selective shoplifting - women's stuff it was too! Life was a good deal less complicated in the early Seventies.
Now the ballroom is principally used for conventions and banquets, but today The Rainbow Room is having something of a fling, an event worthy of past glories. The old stage at the far end of the room has been refurbished into a straight-faced re-creation of Hollywood's cheesiest Arabian nightclub set, all braziers and rugs and cushions and hookahs. David Bowie is commencing the second day of shooting on a new video to accompany (as these things generally do) a new single called "Blue Jean" under the direction of Julien Temple, firmly accepted after his Sex Pistols movie and his popvid work with ABC, The Kinks and the Rolling Stones as absolutely it in this racket.
The ballroom floor is ringed with tables. In the arena, Temple marshalls his crew, darting from camera to monitor, conferring with choreographer David Toguri and then heading backstage to consult Bowie.
Phyllis Cohen is putting the finishing touches to Bowie's make-up. Her reference is a garish handbill depicting Bowie, face frozen to its utmost haughtiness and streaked with the black-and-white deathmask which she has just re-created on the living countenance. The handbill announces an appearance of Screamin' Lord Byron (The Byronic Man) at The Bosphorus Club.
"This is going to be like the old-style Fifties short," explains Bowie. "The song definitely takes second place to the plot and the characters. There's quite a lot of dialogue and different parts of the song crop up in different places. It's about a boy, a girl and a rock star. The rock star gets the girl," he adds with a grin.
Isn't that a little predictable?
"Not the way we're doing it! Just wait and see.
"I think we can promise you," he adds, "a long, boring day with spasmodic outbreaks of interest."
David Toguri is leading his team of ten dancers through a last-minute revision of their routine. Six men in zoot suits, four women in tight, dramatic gowns stalk and twirl around the catwalk built out from the stage. A naggingly familiar figure in blue shirt and cream slacks is seated quietly at one of the tables. He is lean, sharp-featured and sandy-haired and from across a room could almost be mistaken for David Bowie.
In fact, his name is Ian Ellis and he's an engineering student and he is the registered David Bowie clone at 'Lookalikes' model agency, whom he contacted after being told over and over again how much he resembled Bowie. He's enthusiastic about the idea of getting work as 'himself', but here his services are required so that Bowie can play a dual role in the video. "Still," he says, "it's better than looking like Christopher Lee."
As the dancers continue working over key steps, the new tune, "Blue Jean", spills out of the speakers to fill the room. A chugging rock and roll nugget with an explosive alto sax break to supercharge the chorus, it awakens instant memories of Marc Bolan and the Rolling Stones (as well as the less harrowing sections of Bowie's own "Diamond Dogs"). Bowie emerges from his dressing room to listen. An old friend has shown up with a copy of his old school photographs, unleashing a flood of reminiscences of Bromley High School, 1959. Excitedly identifying half-forgotten teachers ("Oh God he was a bastard, this bloke!") and mates ("Now he used to get all the girls"), he points out his art teacher, Peter Frampton's father, who created an arts course so progressive that "it was almost like being at art school from eleven years old onwards."
Julien Temple looks highly abstracted. His manner is perpetually rumpled: his shirt bags out of his pants and he is wearing the most bizarre pair of shoes clocked so far this decade. Based on Japanese shoes split between the big toe and the rest to accommodate sandal-straps, they have been copied from the canvas prototypes into soft black leather and lend Temple's feet an unsettling, two-toed unhuman look, something like Nightcrawler in Marvel's X-Men. "I never wear anything else," he says, "especially for meetings with Hollywood producers." Temple helped develop the storyboards for "Blue Jean" from Bowie's plot and roughs, and then the two of them brought in playwright Terry Johnson to fine-tune the dialogue.
"Bowie's not only very interested in film, but he has a lot of knowledge about it," says Temple.
"I get a lot of input from him, which is very different from the Stones, who always want you to do everything yourself."
The three musicians who've been hired to mime to the music are set up on stage with their black brocaded waistcoats, sashes and baggy pants, clutching their matching rented black Fenders. They are all from different bands (drummer Paul works with Physique, bassist Richard is now lead singer with Ian Flesh, and Daryl the guitarist plays with The Blondini Brothers) and got the jobs by auditioning, but Bowie later becomes sufficiently enthusiastic about their musical abilities to talk excitedly about using them as his real-life backing band for a charity show that he is planning for some unspecified future date.
By now things are running drastically late, but no-one seems flustered. A hundred extras, rounded up from the Wag Club by Chris Sullivan from Blue Rondo a la Turk, are filtered through from the hall in which they have been waiting and told to leave all their bags outside. Bowie has always had an uncanny ability to enter rooms so unobtrusively that he often seems to have just materialised by the time that you get around to spotting him, and so he appears genie-like near the stage in a real Aladdin suit: black pants, silver-grey tunic and a riot of scarves.
"I wish I'd thought of this in '74," he deadpans, gesturing at his outfit.
The first section of the performance to be filmed is a tricky little set-piece wherein Bowie starts out holding one end of a long ribbon, the other end of which is tagged to the head of Richard's bass. The move that Bowie and Toguri have concocted requires Bowie to snatch the ribbon loose, run two steps forward and fling said ribbon to the back of the stage, but it takes a few goes to get it right. One take collapses when the ribbon refuses to detach itself from the bass in time, another when it doesn't reach the back of the stage, and a third when one of the scarves in Bowie's costume ends up over his face.
Bowie performs "Blue Jean" in the role of Screamin' Lord Byron, a device which enables him to revisit the extravagant role-playing in which he indulged a dozen years ago, but this time he caricatures his old approach with considerable deftness. As he slides confidently through Toguri's routine, his movements are fluid and decisive. The choreographer watches approvingly. A show of his is opening tonight, but he displays no anxiety about the increasing lateness of the hour. "I've missed opening nights before," he shrugs.
"Bowie moves like a wave," he says, "there is a weight behind his movements, a real authority. And he makes every move his own. I can't make him move like I do, but I can give him moves that he can make his own. His concentration is extraordinary."
The closing section of the song is shot over and over again for angle variation: Bowie moves down the catwalk in a dazzling display of dips, hipshots and kicks, seizing one of the dancers and flinging her into the arms of one of her partners. The dancers and extras move in close as the song ends, clocking their fingers to applaud.
At length Temple declares himself satisfied. Bowie disappears to climb out of his Screamin' suit and wash off Phyllis Cohen's make-up.
It's getting on for midnight and the action switches to a ringside table where sits Bowie, in his other characterisation as Vic, an earnest nerd who has blagged his dream girl (played by Louise Scott and named, as it happens, Dream) into coming out with him so that he can introduce her to The Star.
Wearing a powder-blue suit and a blood-stained piece of Elastoplast on his nose, he pushes his way through the extras towards the stage, where an assistant director is wearing the Screamin' pants and boots. Sitting on the edge of the catwalk, he treats the performer to just what everyone needs to hear when they're working. "We're at a table in the corner!" he shouts. "I think you're doing really great - they really like ya!" Suddenly Screamin's boot comes down hard on his hand, and he retreats towards the table mournfully clutching the injured appendage.
They run through various sight gags: Vic gestures commandingly for champagne and it is delivered from the opposite direction. His discomfiture is complete. Bowie goes to wallyhood.
By 1.50 everybody except Bowie is showing signs of exhaustion. The air is turning foul and everybody has run out of cigarettes. Bowie's right-(and left-)hand person Corinne Schwab controls a secret stash of Marlboros in her handbag, and Julien Temple is believed to have a packet of Rothmans somewhere. Ian Ellis, the lookalike, is wearing Screamin's off-stage drag: powdered and puffed like a Regency rake in a ludicrous velvet frock-coat, he resembles Adam Ant on a bad day. Bowie is chatting to the desperately bored Louise Scott as they await the arrival of The Great Man.
"Must be 'ard to get all that make-up off," he mutters uneasily as the club empties and the star does not emerge. "Must take time... well, it 'as taken time." Suddenly Ellis swaggers into shot, and slides into the vacant chair on Louise's other side. "Ello mate! Sorry, I'm very rude... allow me to introduce... " his voice dies away as Ellis ignores him, takes Louise's hand and stares into her eyes.
CUT! It's time to swap over: for the evening's final shot, Ellis will become the hapless Vic and Bowie will incarnate Screamin' once more. The beer has run out as well as the cigarettes, but Bowie wanders over to share his can before disappearing back to the dressing room for yet another round of make-up and costuming.
"Tiring, this acting lark innit?" he announces. He describes a tune from the forthcoming album "Tonight" which deals with "the problem of accepting someone else's religion" and is called "Loving The Alien". The song also concerns certain matters of Biblical history and alludes to the Templar-Saracen conflict and the political cover-up through the ages of various circumstances surrounding the death of Jesus. He mentions a booked called The Jesus Scrolls: I recommend The Holy Blood And The Holy Grail. "Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader have been trying for some time to put together a movie on that subject called The Last Testament. They've got Harvey Keitel to play Pontius Pilate and I think at one point it was supposed to be De Niro as Jesus, but now I think they're going for an unknown. Strangely enough, they can't raise a cent of finance for it in America..."
A squad of extremely large and intimidating men have been assembled to play Screamin's bodyguards. With their pale blue tunics, dark blue pants, holstered guns and motorcycle helmets, they look like American coppers after the privatisation of the police force. With Ellis togged up in Vic's blue suit and stained Elastoplast, Bowie - all velvet, buckles, bows and beauty spot - is hoisted off the stage by his minders to make his way over to the table to ignore Vic and make his exit with the Dream.
At ten past four, it's a wrap. At the end of a 21-hour day, Bowie is still fresh enough to hang around and shoot the breeze.
David Bowie's horoscope, Daily Mirror, August 17, 1984.
CAPRICORN (Dec 21-Jan 19): For those of you in the limelight this is an excellent spell. Holidays are well-starred. Weddings and christenings seem likely. Listen to good advice.
Eight days later the company reconvene at The Wag Club in Wardour Street, a location decided upon after Shepperton (home of The Who's business interests and Britain's Greatest Living Novelist J.G. Ballard) had been nixed. Formerly the Whisky A Go Go, the Wag is tricked out in African murals, kidney-shaped stools and booths upholstered in faded blue plush. Spandau Ballet no longer hang out there, and the toilet seat is loose. The Wag's stage backs onto a huge picture window covered in pink and blue translucent panels and providing a panoramic view of Gerrard Street, London's Chinatown.
A circular track for the camera has been laid around the stage and the drum kit is set up in position. The purpose of today's shoot is to tape a straight-ahead, informal performance vid of "Blue Jean" for MTV, the noted protectors and defenders of Black music in America.
They have invited Bowie to participate in an awards ceremony, but since a trip to New York right now is neither feasible or even desirable, he'll be sending a video billet-doux to represent him at Radio City Music Hall. Everybody concerned is adamant that this clip - much more of a 'conventional' item than the sardonic playlet filmed the previous week - is strictly for one-time-only use, despite the fact that it would fit far more easily into the run-of-the-vid-mill pop show.
Temple, as absorbed as ever, is wearing a crumpled white shirt, black leather pants and moccasins. "Bowie is just getting better and better as an actor," he says, "and the guy is so acute and precise about what he wants. It's quite amazing to see, actually. I'd like to do a feature with him at some point. On this thing, I've never seen a video crew get so involved with a performer. It's extraordinary in the music field to have someone who understands film like Bowie because film and music don't often mix. The energy is different because of the hours that you have to spend waiting around.
"He's also very considerate of the problems that the crew might have with lighting, or just working the long hours. He's very supportive, which is... unusual. When I was younger, Bowie was really important to me, and he has kept changing in interesting ways where other people haven't. I think maybe he's done that a little too much at certain times, but he's always drawn ideas from the street and been in a position to put them out before maybe the people who instigated those ideas. It's very, very difficult to stay ahead of the game like that. I think he's unique in that sense, and I've always respected that."
At 1.30 sharp, Bowie's blue Mercedes pulls up outside the Wag. He zooms through the crowd and heads straight upstairs: absolute hush is immediately called so that some dialogue from the previous week's shooting can be re-recorded. When he and Temple have lift-off on that, extras are shifted in and carefully spread around the stage.
A stool has been set up onstage, and Bowie appears next to it in a seriously disruptive black and white print jacket from Culture Shock clutching an Ovation acoustic guitar. Temple's sound men run the tape and Bowie moves through the song, getting rid of guitar, jacket and shoes by halfway through the take. The second time around he begins the number sitting on the stool ("I feel like Segovia," he grins) before handing the guitar to a girl sitting on the stage, dumping the jacket and trying out a few Elvis Presley knee-wobbles. A sax player brandishing one of those cream plastic alto saxophones that Ornette Coleman used to play has been added to the ensemble, and when he blows along with the track he's wildly out of tune, but he looks the part and that is the order of today's business.
The third time through, Temple, clutching a can of lager, is staring tight-lipped at his monitor screen and Bowie knocks his stool over when he gets up, but he's creating new bits of business all along. Towards the end he grips a girl (wearing the kind of sailor cap that Bowie wore on the 'Stage' tour in 1978) between his knees and rocks her body as he sings. She looks thrilled.
Between takes Bowie chats to extras and the sax player or sits on his stool strumming the Ovation, improvising flamenco lines, little modal riffs and even absently playing a snatch of "Space Oddity". A bleary eyed extra wanders up to confide eagerly that this video is being re-shot because the original was "too raunchy for the BBC". We listen spellbound to his revelations.
"Okay, let's do this PLEASE," bawls Temple and they go for it again, Bowie swinging his jacket off for a string of bullfight moves and ending the song with a perfect Elvis pose. As the extras applaud him, he bows and applauds them. At five to four they break to re-lay the rails for the camera. Bowie and Temple go into a huddle to discuss the spoken introduction to the track; Temple suggests, "My fellow citizens, we have just outlawed America." Bowie promises to go upstairs and write himself some lines.
The MTV gala is to be held at New York's Radio City Music Hall, and Bowie has mixed memories of the place: he played his first big New York show there in 1973, and fainted onstage towards the end of the set. "It was pure nerves that caused that," he remembers. "I was absolutely terrified. Also I'd had some make up done by Pierre Laroche - not Guy Laroche, Pierre Laroche - and he did some brilliant things, but he used glitter on me for the first time, and it ran in my eyes. I did the whole show almost blind."
The Wag brings back some memories for him as well, especially after he discovers that it's the old Whisky A Go Go. "Good Lord... yes, I used to come here quite a lot. They played mainly a James Brown style of music in those days. I remember a lot about those days..." - he points out of the window - "Pete Townshend's flat used to be just over there.
The rails have now been laid in a straight line from the front of the stage towards the bar. The air-conditioning has had to be switched off since it ruffles the gels over the lights, and the humidity has risen alarmingly. Our extra friend with all the inside information staggers up, oh-wowing all over the place, shakes hands with Bowie, who reacts with a mixture of warm amiability and polite incredibility. He asks Bowie if all the extras are actually going to be seen. Bowie reassures him, looks him in the eyes and announces, "'E's got Townshend's eyes!" This is not strictly accurate. Our friend's eyes may be bloodshot, but they are not blue.
"That guy's got almost the same kind of sax I used to have," he remembers. They're called Grafton. Used to be made by this company in Grafton Street. They don't make saxes any more" - he grimaces - "they make bombs." He excuses himself to write his introductory remarks.
Fashion accessory of the day: a copy of Jean-Paul Sartre's Age Of Reason, worn in the back pocket.
By 5.10 he has written the magic words and a live microphone is set up for him to deliver them. "Good evening! This is David Bowie and his band The Aliens giving you a big welcome from sophisticated down-town Soho with a lunchtime gig... and our first number is called 'Blue Jean'."
He tries it again: "You weady to wock and woll? This is David Bowie, his band The Aliens and some of the prettiest people still standing after a lunchtime gig..."
By 5.25 he's got it down perfectly: " ...and the only people still standing after a lunchtime gig. This is for all our friends in the American Empire, and we'd like to launch into the first of our lunchtime songs... "
This one gets it. "Now we'd like to do for you," cries Bowie to howls for more, "the groove on the end of the record!" Even Bleary is dancing now and by the time Bowie and Temple decide to overdub live backing vocals and handclaps by the audience over the existing track, a kind of crazy heatstruck euphoria has gripped the entire room.
"WOOOOOOHHHHHH," everybody chants, "THE WHOLE HUUUUUUMAN RACE!"
I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
"I've had so much fun on this thing with Julien," Bowie announces a couple of days later. "I can't wait to see it. If it works the way that I hope it works... it's nothing particularly revolutionary in story terms, it's pretty lightweight, it's comedy material, it's very acceptable... and it's quirky. I think one thing that it does do is serve as as demythification of the rock star, I hope. I do a very campy type of rock star and a very Ernie type of character, which is fun. One always wants to do something like that."
You're blowing up an old bridge, then.
"Oh yeah! It really does blow it up quite a lot! If it works as a piece of cinematic material, it will encourage me a lot to continue striving to pull my own production together, but I've needed something like this to really get pass the three-minute boundary and... adding words.
"I think I'm perceived as being quite po-faced but... not any more! Not after they see this thing!"
They'll be screaming bring back the po face!
"Or we'll find out how unwittingly comic they think I am."
Is The Lad Too Sane For His Own Good?
Interview By Tricia Jones
At 40 years of age, David Bowie is still regarded as one of contemporary music's demigods. In a career that spans over 20 years of massive achievements, dismal failures, records, movies and marriages of one kind or another, Bowie still has an unearthly aura about him. Chopping and changing is second nature to the man, and though his projects have sometimes fallen flat, he is always given the chance to bounce back with another image. But although he has wardrobes of charisma, when the real David Bowie stands up, are we going to be interested?
At 40 years of age - the point at which celebrities traditionally announce that the best years of their life are about to commence - David Bowie is embarking on another world tour. One of the most influential figures in the history of rock music, Bowie has recently released a critically savaged album 'Never Let Me Down' (on the cover of which the arch imagist appears as Mick Hucknall revisited), and has had to let Pepsi sponsor the accompanying tour.
As maturity sets in, Bowie seems ever more sane, reasonable and at peace with himself. Yet the more personal stability he achieves, the more control he seems to gain over his life, the less interesting his music becomes. He may well have been on the commercial ball with 'Let's Dance', but we have to go twice as far back to find his last pioneering album, 'Lodger' (1979). With great tunes, rough sounds and innovative arrangements, 'Lodger' predicted the resurgence of three-minute pop, and it's explicit adoption of African and Middle Eastern music vastly predates the ethnic explorations of Byrne, Eno or McLaren.
In contrast, this decade's cinematic diversions have been patchy ('Labyrinth' and 'When The Wind Blows', were whimsical meanderings; 'Absolute Beginners' was a misguided attempt at pushing him as a character actor), and Bowie's new-found inner calm has resulted in albums which cause less excitement with every release. But he still pulls a cracker out of the barrel every so often: the theme song from 'Absolute Beginners' was a 24 carat vintage Bowie offering, a diamond in the rough; and last year Bowie made his best move in a while, producing and co-writing parts of Iggy Pop's superb comeback LP 'Blah Blah Blah' (including the classic cool anthem 'Shades').
The tour? Well, the 'Glass Spider' tour looks like Bowie's final attempt at 1987 redemption, since 'Never Let Me Down' and it's singles have been universally panned. "It's the most theatrical thing I've ever done", he says. The tour will probably finish with some sort of Tina Turner tie-in, the result of the Pepsi liaison which also demands television advertising from the man who says of the drink, "It's all right - well, it's better than a lot of other products around today."
So why is David Bowie still making music? He has already experienced and created enough to ensure himself a prime position in an annals of rock history, and can hardly expect to regain or surpass his former influence on contemporary music. He can hardly be wanting for money and, despite being one of the most skilful interviewees ever, claims not to enjoy the attentions of the media. Is David Bowie a workaholic who can't let go with dignity, or has he still got something to say through music? And is he tiring of the fame game or scared of leaving the limelight? i-D travelled to Amsterdam to investigate the middle-aged megastar's state of mind.
iD: Could you have become David Bowie famous rock star, at the beginning without the different characters - or were you too shy?
DAVID BOWIE: That's probably as near to the truth as one could get from looking back this far, and it's looking back a long way. No I don't think I really would have had the strength of mind at the time to have wanted to go out and just sing my songs - straight off - for me it's always been about developing some kind of character that would be interesting. But it's not true so much now.
Are you a person who needs other people a lot, or do you need space and time to yourself?
Other people a lot? No more than anybody else, it's nice to have neighbours and friends. I'm quite self contained when I want to be. I like to get away from it all occasionally but I like a social life and I have a good one, so I'd miss that if I didn't have it. The people I see aren't usually involved in my particular career. They're not usually musicians - there's a few contemporaries, I guess, that I'm friendly with like Iggy, naturally, and Mick Jagger and everybody else is sort of on a hello basis. I occasionally run into some of the newer guys. I got to know Nick Rhodes and Simon Le Bon from Duran because we were in the same part of America together earlier this year, and I really quite like them, they're nice lads.
Do you still enjoy fame - is the price ever too high?
Oh gawd! It's how you deal with it, I think. Touch wood I deal with it in a way that affords me as little stress as possible, in that I don't put myself in the situations that you would expect to screw you up. I mean I don't live in Hollywood. I live in the quietest of countries. I still have established friends in London that I can creep out and see. I mean I'm in London a lot more than people would know, because I'm quite capable of creeping in and out - I've always believed that thing that if you want to be known and want to be seen you go out clubbing a lot with some bird on your arm so that you get cameras and you do things to attract attention to yourself. I mean, the most I get when I'm going out is "Oh, hello David, I didn't expect to see you here". So it's at that level, it's really easy to get about. I think it becomes a problem when you live the kind of existence that Michael Jackson lives. I mean I'm presuming, I really don't know but from what one gathers, Jackson is incredibly isolated from things. I fell into that, back in the Seventies and I know what it's like - it's a horror, something that you wouldn't really want to go through again... not ever. I'm too old a hand to let that happen to met again.
What are the compensations of getting older?
That I can say what the fuck I want really! (Laughs) I think when you're young you think that every day to day thing you do and say is sacred and important, and when you get older, you realise that one's actions in the scheme of things are virtually undetectable. I think in my case, hopefully there's a certain amount of self seriousness that sort of evaporates with time and you put yourself in perspective again - which is a lot easier and less stressful.
Are you in complete control of the David Bowie machine?
Oh there's no machine. It's just me.
You never feel manipulated, you never feel you have to do things because other people want you to?
Occasionally I've done things for the wrong reasons but I would never blame anybody for manipulating me. I would never say I've been manipulated over the last ten years. I've made some gross mistakes, but fortunately they're all on my shoulders, so I've had nobody to blame but myself. I mean I stopped having management and managers and all that kind of thing around 1977.
Would it be presumptuous to ask what the gross mistakes were?
A couple of things. I think making the wrong kinds of movies, although I don't see them as a big problem, all I see them as is bad movies... and rushing an album or two that I really should never have done. I was pressured by a record company, but not manipulated.
Which one do you regret?
'Tonight' specifically, only because taken individually the tracks are quite good but it doesn't stand up as a cohesive album. That was my fault because I didn't think about it before I went into the studio.
And what about the movies?
'Just A Gigolo'... I think we have to look back on that with a certain amount of irony. I had a wonderful time making that movie because by about the second week we looked around at each other and said "this is a pile of shit so let's have a good time!" So we had a good time... but it was an atrocious movie; but there again all it was was an atrocious movie, I mean it's not the end of the world or anything like that. When one starts out one's career with 'Laughing Gnome' it's very easy to just put things down to experience.
Who are your heroes?
I don't have any heroes, none. I can't think of one human being who I could describe as a hero... There are people I admire... right now the person I admire ambivalently is Gorbachev, who I think is a possible nomination for man of the year, because of what he's trying to do. And if one can be less cynical about his ulterior motives, I really feel there is a man there who foresees the inadmissible introduction of a nuclear catastrophe and is not willing to let it happen. I really sincerely feel that he is not willing to let it happen, and one has to believe that's how he feels. Because if you don't feel that, then you've got two of them out there playing that game, which I think is just absolutely terrifying. But one feels that he is part of a new regime in Russia, the like of which they've never seen before, and I think it's knocking everything sideways. If he survives I think he'll bring about some very interesting changes to that country.
What would a favourite non-working day be?
A non working day? Well it depends on the time of year!
Yeah! Exactly! If it's anywhere between February and April then that's exactly what I'd be doing. Er, other times of the year, frankly I work. I don't think I spend a day without jotting something down. Even if it's one sentence. If I go through a week and haven't written a good paragraph or two of ideas I feel as though I've been really lazy.
Do you keep your notebooks?
Oh yeah! But I can't understand a word. I write in a shorthand which means it's okay for a week or two, but then I forget what it means, so it's completely indecipherable. But I guess if I studied and thought back I could understand it.
How has having a son changed your attitude to life?
Immeasurably. But it grew slowly. I had the usual father's thing - what's this funny little creature, wandering around, sort of gurgling. It wasn't until he started toddling that I realised what a ray of sunshine had come into my life. You must understand that my ex-wife and I actually lived together for only two years even though we were married for such a long time. One day I suddenly realised that something seriously had to be done about Joe's life, because he wasn't being looked after in the way he should have been. I decided to take the reigns, and so I fought and won for the custody. As you probably know it's a very unusual thing for a father to be given custody of his child, especially in Switzerland. Which, without having to say anymore indicates how the maternal side of his life was going. It was tragic. So I took full reign and ever since that time I've had to grow up with him, which has been delightful and a source of reserve and discipline and energy. If my eyes are streaming, it's because I've been sitting in this fucking smoke all day long. It's awful down there, the smoke's made out of some sort of petroleum stuff. It's really hurting. (Bowie is in between takes of a commercial he is shooting for Pepsi.) Have you got a light?
Have I got a light? No, sorry, I haven't. I'm a 'reformed'.
Are you? And quite right too! Yes everybody's on at me to kick this last thing. "David - you've got to get this one out the way, you've kicked them all".
(Finds lighter and lights cigarette)
What would be your most important message for life to Joe (aka Zowie) and kids his age?
Never ever consider becoming involved with drugs. Something I could never underestimate the importance of. It's absolutely tragic, what it can do to you, and how it can screw you up. That would be the primary piece of advice I could give on a general basis. Yeah (laughs) and drugs includes alcohol, folks! And cigarettes...
If you had to re-run your life, what are the bits you'd edit?
The bits I'd edit out? I can't think like that. I mean I've made an awful lot of mistakes, and I've done some good things as well. But I can't think in terms of editing it. It's just a bunch of stuff I did and that's me. That's what I've done, all the goonisms as well as the nice bits. It's hard for me to say. I guess, for my own absolution I would edit out me starting to take drugs - again it comes back to that, because so many bad things happened because of it. If I could have edited out that period an awful lot of my life would have been absolutely different, and the next six years of putting it back together again would have changed. That's the other thing people don't realise - it's very hard to just give up. You go through a lot of dreadful things giving up. A lot of depressions, a lot of switching addictions. In my case I switched to alcohol. And it took an awful long time to shake that one off. It just goes on and on and it's really hard because your metabolism changes and it's been proven fairly well now that if you are addicted to any one thing, transference to another is quite easy. It's pointless to try to switch people from a heroin to a methadone treatment, because methadone is just as addictive as heroin. My problem was cocaine, and then I went from cocaine to alcohol, which is a natural course of events. You have to be lucky enough to have friends around you who want you to succeed, but you also have to want to stop yourself. You have to know in your own mind that you don't want to go on like that. That's the biggest hurdle. And if you can overcome that, then you're OK. Cos once you're addicted, you're addicted for life. Your metabolism has changed like an alcoholic. It just takes one drink and he's gone again. He's out on a binge. For the rest of the weekend, bye bye Bert. And he comes back on Monday full of remorse and guilt and everything. It's dreadful. You cannot take one drink.
Are you materialistic?
I was never actually a material person. Ideas always meant a lot more to me than that... I mean I never bought a big car. The company bought a big car for me to drive around in once. I had a limo in '73 and '74, but I'm not a limo person. And I'm not a sports car person. Those kinds of things really aren't something I work for. And I don't get them as a result! Seeing people is lovely. An unexpected person turning up. Somebody out of the blue that I really used to like who I thought has disappeared off the face of the earth. And then you run into them and things are just like they used to be. I mean, that's a great thing to happen.
Why did you get involved with Pepsi, couldn't you afford to tour on your own?
Yes, I could have afforded to tour on my own, but I couldn't have afforded to tour in quite such an elaborate way. What they paid for is a third stage. I've had three stages built which means we can leapfrog! Being with Pepsi means that we can take in more countries than we were going to before. So when they made that offer, they made an offer I couldn't refuse. I was only too happy for them to pay for my stage, I thought that was great. It now means that we can definitely do South America and probably Russia without losing money. If I didn't have backing I would have to take just a backing band to Russia instead of a full theatrical show.
Weren't you angry when they banned the video for 'Day In Day Out'?
Well I've seen such a lot of banning going on and it's coming up with quite puritanical face at the moment. I was pissed off because it was for the wrong reasons. Can you tell me if Madonna is being played on TV?
Yes she is.
It's a mesmerising video but basically seems to be about Madonna having an affair with Jesus - with churches and crucifixes and all that stuff. That video is being played on Top Of The Pops. Well, I don't understand how she can run her fingers over her pussy and in the next shot be clutching a crucifix... and then you see a shot of Jesus Christ on the street, and a church and an altar, and I don't know what... I find that has something a lot more perverse about it than anything in my video. Mine was very straight ahead street violence and it was quite obvious... there was nothing titillating about what was happening on that screen. It certainly wasn't done for it's sexual overtones, so I think that they have a morality problem at the BBC but it's nothing new, is it, and I'm not really up in arms about it.
Are you ever embarrassed about some of things you've done in the past?
Not really. Only the drug thing. I think that's the most horrendous; things that I've been involved with that don't really embarrass me now, so much as worry me that other people might be at all influenced by them.
Were you dismayed by the critic's rejection of your new LP? Some were pretty nasty.
Not at all. I got my first real hatchet job on 'Aladdin Sane' in 1973 and it's been continuing ever since. So I've not really expected much else. I'm delighted if anybody ever says anything nice about my stuff, I mean... fortunately the Americans think completely the other way.
The new LP is your most 'normal' to date - why?
Again I knew that I wanted something I could tour with on a very ground roots level. I wanted something that would work well with a small band, because I wanted a lot of performers on stage other than just the band. So it had to logistically be a five piece band kind of music. I wrote small but energetically.
There was a time when you avoided the mainstream. But now you seem to want to embrace it.
I don't think that I've actually strayed any closer to the mainstream, I just think that nowadays my music is the mainstream; it has become the mainstream. I'd like to think of it that way. The stuff that I'm doing on the new album isn't so very different melodically, or musically inherently from 'Aladdin Sane' or the harder rocking stuff on the 'Heroes' album or 'Scary Monsters' so it just seems as though music has changed into the kind of thing I was doing. I'm just doing the same kind of thing, really. I think 'Let's Dance' was probably the most commercial. But I don't think this one was intended to be inherently commercial. Otherwise I'd have been doing another 'Let's Dance'.
Apart from the 'Absolute Beginners' single you haven't had a major hit for over three years. Doesn't this worry you?
No, not really, because I haven't put out any singles in Britain other than 'Day In Day Out'. Hits are not something I've gone for either. Dylan, The Rolling Stones, myself, John Lennon, none of us really sold albums, far fewer albums than people would imagine. The big sellers were always bands like Foreigner, Heart, the kinds of bands you couldn't put a face to - they always sold masses and masses. There's a lot of us out there, who were sort of maybe musically pretty important, but actually didn't sell vast amounts of albums. I was always quite happy with the amount that I sold up until 'Let's Dance', and when 'Let's Dance' happened I was delighted to say the least. That was the watershed. I think I have something quite important to say musically and theatrically, and as long as I keep doing that then I'm quite happy.
How do you feel that your career as an actor has succeeded?
I don't know if I do have a career as an actor. I do some acting jobs occasionally, but I don't really think it's a career. It's something that I get offered every now and again and if it seems witty or silly or something that I might enjoy doing, then I do it. But it's not like a second career or anything.
How much do you monitor what's happening in fashion
Not at all. I've got no idea. I haven't got a clue about fashion.
How many of the clothes that you wear on stage and at photo sessions are your own? Do you use a stylist for everything?
I choose them. I certainly take the advice of others but then I'm presented with a lot of ideas and carted around a bunch of shops, and usually, luckily enough, with someone who knows what they are talking about. But I choose eventually what I'm going to wear. But if I buy for myself I buy rubbish. (laughs) I'm a terrible buyer!
What sort of clothes are you happiest in?
Black cords and denim shirts.
Is the way you look as important to you now as it was 15 years ago?
It depends what I'm doing. If it's for a character then it's very important that it must be right and if I'm on stage then it obviously has to suit the atmosphere of the show. It's terribly important, as important as anything else I do. But I look a wreck when I'm not working. I mean you wouldn't look twice thank God, as it helps me get through life!
Is it more important to try for eternal youth... or to grow old gracefully?
OOOHhhh!!!! I think the most important thing is to actually try and grow old... meaningfully (laughs).
And how would you like to be remembered?
I don't give a fuck. I really don't. It doesn't even occur to me... It's nice to have got through it all.
SAVAGE - David Bowie Cuts The Crap
By Paul Du Noyer
DAVID BOWIE/TIN MACHINE
EMI USA MTS 1044 LP/Cass/CD
What a racket. Bowie's new record, the first with his so-called Tin Machine band, is the loudest, hardest, heaviest effort of his whole career, and offers the listener an experience that's not unlike allowing your head to be used as a punchbag. Stranger still, you'll come to find you kind of like it.
Tin Machine, the album, is obviously a result of some re-thinking on Bowie's part. It veers dramatically off the circular, self-absorbed, pedestrian path he's trudged across the past two or three LPs, and revives his energy levels and all-round excitement quota by recalling some of the bolder moments of his musical history - Width Of A Circle, Jean Genie, the most jagged edges of Ziggy Stardust - and cops a feel off hard rock inspirations such as Jimi Hendrix and, perhaps, prime time Sex Pistols. Nor is it coincidental that his choice of rhythm section (Tony Sales on bass, brother Hunt Sales on drums) is the same one he deployed on Iggy Pop's 1977 storm back to form Lust For Life.
With its line-up completed by guitarist Reeves Gabrels, Tin Machine sets about its task with quite savage gusto. There are monstrous, marauding riffs, brawling beats, mucky and drunken mixes, every song apparently lurching headfirst into the next. The record has a unity - or, viewed another way, a lack of variety - entirely unlike any previous Bowie album, and strikes you first as a purgative exercise in crap-cutting. Several listens in, though, individual tunes begin to make themselves heard, and in the end their emotional simplicity establishes Tin Machine as a more accessible sort of record than we're used to from the man who once made artifice the crux of his manifesto.
Crack City, for instance (its riff lifted bodily from Hendrix's version of Wild Thing) surveys the same apocalyptic vistas or urban disintegration that he used to prance among with goblin glee; this time around, though, he depicts it with unequivocal disgust. Heaven's In Here, Amazing and Prisoner Of Love, meanwhile, are openly and romantically positive. If there's one uncertain note, it's struck by Bowie's reading of Working Class Hero: Lennon's original was cynical and self-pitying ("A working class hero is something to be"), but gained a sort of poignancy from its bleakly disillusioned view of how empty a life can be after dreams have all come true: here, however, the treatment is just too rollicking, too boisterous, to carry much of the irony.
Reprised elsewhere, and more successfully, are Bowie's Laughing Gnome-vintage London accent (on I Can't Read) and toy soldier marching beat (on Bus Stop), and his old facility for blanked-out numbness (I Can't Read, again, and Video Crimes), where the character's detachment evokes the value of passion by virtue of its chilly absence.
Overall the man himself sounds more at one with his music than at any time since the days when the back pages of music papers carried ads for six-pleat "Bowie pants" and matelot caps. Happily, those items have been consigned to history. Better still, his talent has not.
DAVID BOWIE'S BACK IN STYLE
By David Wigg
DAVID BOWIE makes his first stage appearance in Britain for five years at Wembley, this week, and during the next two months he will play to 200,000 people in this country.
As Bowie takes to the 8,000 seater Wembley Arena stage on Thursday, the same night his third film, "The Hunger", a chillingly erotic vampire movie in which he stars with Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon, will open in London.
In the film, Bowie plays John Blaylock, an 18th century aristocrat who falls in love with Miriam, (Catherine Deneuve) a woman with the gift of eternal life.
Bowie hopes the part will be another step on the road to recognition as a major film actor, currently his burning ambition.
In the Seventies, this 36-year-old singer never ceased to shock and amuse with his flamboyant behaviour; for at each stage of his career he has looked and sounded different.
At one time he dyed his hair redder than a blood orange, shaved off his eyebrows, wore make-up and from one ear wore a sparkling chandelier earring.
His musical disguises from Ziggy Stardust to Aladdin Sane and the Thin White Duke, have long been buried, and when Bowie returns to Britain his fans will see more of the man than they have ever seen before.
He had changed his habits and given up the drugs that almost killed him in the mid-Seventies. The different is he is no longer gaunt, pale or dissipated, but healthier than he has ever been before. In place of the eccentric colourful clothes he used to wear, he now favours a smartly cut suit and tie.
At his concerts he receives the kind of accolade reserved for a ballet star like Nureyev or Baryshnikov, with fans tossing him flowers and toys.
Yet he told me: "I never expected all this to happen. In the Sixties I was told I was too avante garde to be successful."
Bowie was certainly no over-night success. For years he struggled for recognition in various little known groups, starting off as a somewhat shy, artistic saxophone player. It wasn't until 1969 that his talent was recognised world-wide with the epic composition "Space Oddity."
He had a triumphant Broadway season in the title role of "The Elephant Man", but he is still looking to the cinema to bring him similar critical acclaim for his acting. Japanese director Nagisa Oshima chose him for the PoW drama "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence" - released this August - in which he co-stars with Tom Conti, and Bowie is excited about this project.
Examining his new-found self, he reacts: "I'm up, and I feel I have got a future as a person rather than just feeling like a commodity."
BOYS KEEP SWINGING
By Adrian Deevoy
"I'm David," says David Bowie blushing slightly and extending a moist hand. "I'm not looking forward to this one bit."
We are standing in the control room of a recording studio three floors above the reverberating music stores and palm-slapping huddles of between-gig musicians on New York's West 48th Street. Positioned solemnly around David Bowie are his own three musicians, collectively called Tin Machine: the softly spoken lead guitarist, Reeves Gabrels, wearing a denim shirt and an expression of mild distress; the wisecracking drummer Hunt Sales, his raven-black mess of hair wound up in a combination of bandanna and cloth cap and his feet encased in a stout pair of tartan bedroom slippers, and his brother Tony Sales, a lean, lantern-jawed bass player dressed all in black and sitting cross-legged and silent on the floor.
The Sales brothers first worked with Bowie twelve years ago when they provided the spunky and swaggering rhythm tracks for Iggy Pop's Lust For Life album. Gabrels met him last year when they both joined the dance group La La La Human Steps to perform a ballet - Gabrels wrote the music, Bowie rather woodenly cut a classical rug - at London's ICA.
"You wanna see 'em all together," Bowie's American press agent had enthused prior to entering the studio, "joking and funnin' like bands do!" He too, however, is now looking rather sullen and apprehensive having, no doubt, registered the worrying absence of all activities light-hearted.
The root of all this concern is the reason why we are here. For David Bowie has decided to hold what Americans have come to call a "playback" - the airing of a previously unheard record in the presence of a (in this case very) select few. And now he's regretting it. Perched uncomfortably on the arm of a sofa, he pensively strokes a newly nurtured beard in a slow, downward motion as if willing it to grow. The blond meringue-like hairdo that has sat uncertainly atop his head for the last few years has been trimmed down to a more sober mousey arrangement. Similarly his clothes have made the painless but significant transition from flamboyant to "classic". Today David is wearing a fine maroon shirt and dark tie with dapper charcoal trousers and brown suede shoes rakishly buckled at the side.
These are suddenly put into action as he jerks to his feet. Snake-hipped and devoid of any discernible backside, he walks, in small, delicate steps, across the studio floor and returns clutching a sheaf of papers. "These are the lyrics," he grins sheepishly proffering the sheets. "There's probably a few mistakes. I haven't proof-read them yet." He settles once more on the studio settee and nods to the album's producer, Tim Palmer whose previous achievements have included works by The Mission and The Cult - who, in turn, moves to the vast, flickering mixing desk.
"Shall we have Side One?" enquires David Bowie, lighting a Marlboro.
Of course, this situation could prove uniquely embarrassing should the album - as Bowie's last two LPs, Tonight and Never Let Me Down with their blustery pomp, cod-reggae "treatments" and twaddlesome lyrics have intimated - turn out to be a whimpering artistic failure. Indeed, because of these two records, the latter promoted by the ludicrously overblown Glass Spider tour. Bowie's career had reached an impasse so sticky it necessitated a hasty reacquaintance with the drawing board. His last convincing album was Let's Dance, in 1983.
Track one, side one of this soul-scouring exercise is now cannoning out of the French dresser sized studio speakers. It is, mercifully, quite splendid. The sound is raw, hysterical and crackling with life. Reeves Gabrels's decidedly non-vegetarian guitar - bringing immediately to mind the words, Jimi and Hendrix - screams, crunches and collides with the big, bare drums and rolling bass. Bowie shrieks and snarls and sings of "beating on blacks with a baseball bat", "right wing dicks in their boiler suits" and "savage days". Then as abruptly as the track started it ends.
The room is oppressively quiet. Not a solitary word is spoken. Bowie stares ahead hard at the wall in front of him, resting his chin on the steeple formed by his hands. Tony Sales flashes a quick smirk from the floor and the second track begins. Toes begin to tap, Bowie mouths some words and twitches his head in tiny, tense movements and reaches, once again, for his cigarettes. By the time the fourth track is under way, either confident that his album is being well received or exhausted by the almost electric intensity in the room, Bowie slips out into a side room where, through a small window, he can be seen playing pool with a bespectacled Oriental youth. Upon closer inspection, his partner turns out, bizarrely, to be Sean Lennon. By some strange - positively surreal - coincidence, the next song to blare forth is a powerful rock revision of Working Class Hero, during which Bowie re-positions himself on the edge of the sofa and Sean Lennon sits on the other side of the studio glass, tinkering with a guitar.
After 28 minutes, side one crashes to halt. Reeves cracks a joke about the album being "pastoral mood music" which is completely ignored. "Side Two?" suggests Bowie.
Tim Palmer complies and more of the same fills the room. This time, between the great surges of guitar and harsh vocals there a few tender moments: an English-accented song about finding religion at a bus stop; a racy number which expresses the desire to "tie you down, pretend you're Madonna" and a touching heavy metal love song. As the album finishes there are audible sighs of relief and Bowie cracks a huge wide-mouthed grin, laughs lustily and stubbing out his sixth stress-relieving cigarette says, "Of course, the CD comes with two extra tracks."
The ordeal over, Reeves, Hunt and Tony repair to a side room with tumblers of mineral water to discuss their new venture. The much-promised "funnin" commences immediately in musicianly good spirits. "Is it too late to re-do all the guitar parts?" enquires Hunt innocently.
Ever the dramatist, Bowie appears a minute or so later and extravagantly mops his brow. "Phew!" he says. "That was like having an argument with your girlfriend in front of a crowd of people. Did you feel like that? It was, Honey! Not here! It was very much that feeling. This was really traumatic for us inasmuch as it was the first real listening session we've had. It was like, This is it. lt's only now I'm starting to think, Well, what is the reaction to it going to be like? It's really like exposing yourself in a way. lt's been an incredibly insular experience making it, almost tunnel vision at times. Finally breaking it open to other people - it's uncomfortable."
When asked, en masse, in their first interview as Tin Machine, what's the best part of being in a group, they launch into a bout of excited badinage, giving a good indication of how the next couple of hours will shape up.
"For me," says Bowie, "it's the element of surprise that I get from the other guys. They surprise me all the time, mostly by what they say. It's quite gang-like in that there's a kind of buoyancy."
"Oh yeah," says Tony, adopting Bowie-like sincerity. "This is like one big happy family..."
"...with child abuse!" shouts Hunt triumphantly.
"There's a lot of love," deadpans Reeves.
"That's right," agrees Tony. "It's a unity. A unit."
Bowie feigns confusion. "A eunuch?"
Q: What do you think the main criticisms of the record will be?
Bowie: There's going to be a whole bunch of people who'll say it's just not accessible. I guess it's not as obviously melodic as one would think it would probably be. I don't know. We don't know. But (adopts the voice of a children's television presenter) I think the little house knows something about it. (Laughs at his fellow band members' blank faces). That's the problem working with bloody Americans, they don't get half your references!"
Q: Is this a brief indulgence or a long-term project?
Bowie: There'll be another two albums at least. Oh, yes, this will go for a while. While we're all enjoying playing with each other so much, why not? The moment we stop enjoying it, we're all prepared to quit. I'm so up on this I want to go and start recording the next album tomorrow.
Q: The sound is, in parts, rather extreme. Are you worried about losing fans?
Bowie: I've never been worried about losing fans. I just haven't bothered to put that into practice recently. My strength has always been that I never gave a shit about what people thought of what I was doing. I'd be prepared to completely change from album to album and ostracise everybody that may have been pulled in to the last album. That didn't ever bother me one iota. I'm sort of back to that again...
Q: What would you recommend people do while listening to the LP?
Bowie: Don't drive! I was listening to the roughs and I was just glued into it. I just put my foot down and had gone 15 minutes past the studio before I realised where I was. It's a demanding album. There's no compromise. It demands your attention.
Q: Do you feel more at ease with this record than any of your recent recordings?
Bowie: Oh absolutely. I... it's hard without sounding phony. I love it. This, for me, is kind of like catching up from Scary Monsters. It's almost dismissive of the last three albums I've done. Getting back on course, you could say.
Q: Was it basically a relinquishing of control?
Bowie: It was really throwing myself into a group format which is something I haven't done... for ever really. Even in The Spiders it was what I said went. I was young, I was going to burn the world up and you do think that when you're that age. But to have other members of the band making decisions was... really difficult! (laughs)
Q: Can you be a tyrant?
Bowie: Less and less as I've got older. But I was born to have opinions.
Hunt: Man. he's got a reputation. The whip's in the other room...
Bowie: (Shouts jokingly) Look, I know what I want!
Q: When was your most tyrannical period?
Bowie: What, the desperate vision? Let me see now. It was pretty bad - although in a slightly different way - around Ziggy Stardust. There was just no room for anything else. I had to - at least in my mind I had to - hum a lot of (Mick) Ronson's solos to him. It got to the point where every single note and every part of the song had to be exactly as I heard it in my head...
Reeves: I'm shattered! Did you really do that?
Bowie: No, no, that's not true of say, Man Who Sold The World which was very much Ronson. But say the more melodic solos that Ronson did, an awful lot of that was just me telling him what notes I wanted. But that was cool. He's very laid-back and he'd just go along with it. He was happy to be playing. I didn't know any other way anyway. No... I did. That is what I had to do. I knew what I wanted, you know? They didn't know what I wanted.
Q: Is it ever embarrassing bumping into people you've thrown out of groups or "let go" in the past?
Bowie: I never threw anyone out of my band. Never. I've never had a permanent band. Being a solo artist, you're in a funny position because I hire guys for eight months or a year and that's the parting of the ways at the end of that. I still see some of them, Carmine (Rojas) and Carlos (Alomar) and I was with Slicky (Earl Slick) last year. But it's their life. The only real band thing which, I guess, at the time, was a bit nasty was The Spiders. That was because they wanted to remain doing what we were doing and I didn't. I was going somewhere else and they didn't want to go. They were quite happy to play Jeff Beck covers. But I knew what I wanted the band to do. I still do, it's just that no-one takes notice any more! I get shoved around - Go and put another tie on, David!
Q: Were there arguments during the recording?
Bowie: There were disagreements.
Reeves: But not actually about the music.
Bowie: There was that strange period of feeling each other out in Switzerland. Did you sense that? It was in the first week. Once we'd decided to go for it we went to Montreux, because we could all get away from the shit that we were up to our necks in and go and be alone while we decided how we'd work together. And for the first week there was this kind of... sparring.
Reeves: No, not sparring. I'd not met Tony and Hunt at this point and I'd heard that they had weird attitudes and everything.
Tony: The only weird attitude we had was you, buddy!
Reeves: When I first got there, Hunt has got a knife on his belt and he's wearing a T-shirt that says, "Fuck You, I'm From Texas". So I think, Oh shit. And whenever I played something they'd say, No, you play it like this, kid. And after a week of being a nice guy - walking that fine line between ignoring what people were telling me and being gracious about it - I did it how I wanted.
Q: How determined were you that the project worked? Was it something that you would easily have given up?
Bowie: I was desperate that it worked. I wanted it to happen very badly. After a few days I was very nervous that it might not work out. Then everyone sorted themselves out, got over their emotional jet lag...
Q: What would you have done if it hadn't come off?
Bowie: I don't know. I really don't know actually. Wept... at least. But I can't even think of a hypothetical situation. I definitely would have reversed what I'd been doing some way or another. I had to for my own musical sanity. I had to do something where I felt more involved and less dispassionate. I had to get passionate again. I couldn't keep going the way I was going. It was shit or get off the pot.
Q: Your last two LPs - Tonight and Never Let Me Down - weren't terribly good, were they?
Bowie: Mm. I thought it was great material that got simmered down to product level. I really should have not done it quite so studio-ly. I think some of it was a waste of really good songs. You should hear the demos from those albums. It's night and day by comparison with the finished tracks. There's stuff on the two albums since Let's Dance that I could really kick myself about. When I listen to those demo's it's, How did it turn out like that? You should hear Loving The Alien on demo. It's wonderful on demo. I promise you! (laughs). But on the album, it's... not as wonderful. What am I meant to say? (laughs).
Q: What have the other band members thought of your career over the past five years?
Bowie: Oh, that's not fair. Get outta here! (laughs). Oh God.
Hunt: Listen, I like David. On a personal level, I like him...
Reeves: He's a beautiful cat, right?
Hunt: But, man, those albums. I dunno. And the Glass Spider tour? Well, I didn't go and see it but I saw it on TV and...
Bowie: But, Hunt (slips into music hall straight man mode), I thought you never missed any of my tours....
Hunt: ....I never miss any of your tours. I never go see 'em, so I never miss 'em....
Bowie: Boom boom!
Hunt: But I didn't like Glass Spider. I mean that. Seriously. I thought it was a bit beneath you. That's my opinion. I don't need to sit here and say that I love something I didn't think much of. I watched it thinking, This is the guy who did Spiders From Mars.
Bowie: What he's saying is he hasn't listened to anything of mine since Spiders From Mars!
Reeves: But Glass Spider was cabaret. A lot of critics said...
Bowie: Yeah, critics. Give me your personal opinion.
Reeves: If you want my personal opinion you'll have to ask my wife. But it seemed to me it was about entertainment more than music. I went to see a soundcheck in Chicago and that was better than the show.
Q: It was a very hammy show, wouldn't you say?Bowie: To come to its defence. I liked the video of it. But O overstretched. I made too much detail of... Oh Christ. Next question!
Q: How did you cope with the stress?
Bowie: Badly. I just had to grit my teeth and get through it which is not a great way of working. I admit, I overstretched and put too many fine details into something that was going to be seen (indicates tiny figure with his finger and thumb) this big. Serious Moonlight worked much better because they were much broader, bigger strokes yet there was detail work as well. There were facial moves. I mean, why bother? It was only for myself really. It was so great to burn the spider in New Zealand at the end of the tour. We just put the thing in a field and set light to it. That was such a relief!
Q: The lyrics on the Tin Machine LP are very brutal. There's a lot of quite violent imagery. Is there any particular reason for this?
Bowie: Lummee. I didn't realise they were that brutal. I wouldn't really like to say why that is.
Reeves: There was a lot of resistance on our part to him going back to a lyric and re-writing what was essentially gut-writing.
Bowie: I'd not thought of that. That's it! I hadn't even thought about that. That's true. They were there all the time saying, Don't wimp out, sing it like you wrote it. Stand by it. I have done and frequently do censor myself in terms of lyrics. I say one thing and then I think, Ah maybe I'll just take the edge off that a bit. I don't know why I do that. I'm English. Maybe I just felt it was a bit impolite or something. I don't quite know where that comes from but it's almost like something somewhere in me doesn't want to offend. I've always been like that.
Q: Have you made lyrics deliberately obscure in the past. Dressed ideas up?
Bowie: Dressed them up? No. Watered them down. But certainly over this immediate period I simply haven't been allowed to. Reeves is quite correct and that's quite an insight for me. They didn't let me re-write. The lyrics were my first kind of feelings when the stuff was coming out. I just got it down as fast as I could. Do you know a guy came up to me on the street the other day and said, 'Do you like pussy cats?' And I said, 'Yes I do but my name isn't Cats!'
Q: Boom boom
Tony: (Laughs) Oh, Jesus...
Bowie: No, seriously, the words just went straight down on to the canvas as it were...
Reeves: I hate to bring Art up...
Bowie: Art does a good job. Paul was the wordsmith but Art could sing 'em and make you cry. He would if you stuck him on a wall anyway!
Q: There's a couple of lyrics that leap out. Could you explain them? The line in the song Pretty Thing - "Tie you down, pretend you're Madonna."
Bowie: (Laughs) Hey, we were hanging out with Sean and he told us a few things! You know what I mean? Nah. It's a throwaway. I was just trying to think of a... it's such a silly song anyway.
Q: Do you think Madonna will respond?
Bowie: Respond? Oh... who cares? Really?
Q: Whose idea was it to cover Working Class Hero?
Bowie: I think that was mine. That's always been a really favourite song of mine. I like that first John Lennon album a hell of a lot. I think all the songs are really beautifully written and, again, very straight from the shoulder. There's an honestly in the lyrics there. And that particular song, I thought, would sound great as a rock song. It seemed very worth doing.
Q: What does Sean Lennon think of it?
Bowie: I think he likes it a lot. He's followed this album almost from the start, from the second week. He's a big Reeves fan.
Tony: Reeves was giving him guitar lessons while we were putting tracks down.
Bowie: Ah. Sweet.
Q: One song, Bus Stop, you sing in a very English accent. Why has your singing accent always changed so much?
Bowie: The song felt so English. It's almost vaudeville. I don;t know if the others feel very American or whatever by comparison but that felt very English.
Q: Do you still feel English?
Bowie: Well I spend so little time there. I haven't really been in England since 1973. I don't really know much about it. I go in there once a year or, actually, sometimes not at all. When I was living in Berlin I wasn't going into England at all. I stayed in Berlin for two and half years without moving out. I mean, my present day knowledge of England is based entirely on what I read. But in terms of atmosphere it's just a blast every time I go in for three or four weeks.
Q: Does it get sepia-tinted? Good old Blighty.
Bowie: Not really.
Q: Do you miss the humour?
Bowie: Yes. (Stony faced). That's something that stays with you. Always. (laughs).
Q: Presumably you've heard Lou Reed's New York LP. What do you think about the way his writing has developed in relation to your own?
Bowie: I think Lou writes in a much more detached manner from me. Lou's the kind of guy who sits back and watches what's going on and takes notes. He's very New York. I feel he could have been a feature writer of some kind if he wasn't a musician. He'd write these little essays and they'd go in New Yorker or maybe something a bit punchier like Bomb magazine. He's a natural journalist. He's almost become a kind of musical Woody Allen. The writer, the observer, the Samuel Pepys of New York.
Tony: Don't you think he's become a caricature of himself?
Bowie: No, I just think as he's growing older he's becoming the writer that he was probably always going to become. A short story writer. He writes in the narrative form very clearly. For me there's still a lot of symbolism or instinctive or emotive lyric writing - I don't know where it comes from - that explains the way I feel or the atmosphere I'm in. There's a couple of lines in Crack City on this album - They'll bury you in velvet/And place you underground - which had intent. The drug dirge - and this is not a slight on Lou because Lou is clean - the sound that one associates with that particular lifestyle is very much personified by the early Velvets. I had hoped that I gave that away in those two lines.
Q: Have you listened to much Velvet Underground lately?
Bowie: No. I'm too old for that (laughs). That was 1971!
Q: It certainly sounds as if you were listening to Jimi Hendrix prior to making this record.
Bowie: Jimi Hendrix is definitely in there. That new Rykodisc stuff is exceptional (an American CD release, Live At Winterland). The clarity of vision that the man had. It's just fabulous. Trying to catch things mid-air. I guess I re-discovered Hendrix, Cream, New, Can - all the Berlin period bands - Glenn Branca (noisome electric guitar orchestrator). Me personally - not so much these other guys - spent a long time with my old albums. Heroes, Lodger, Scary Monsters, Low to push myself back into why I was writing.
I had been doing that anyway before we got together. I wasn't enjoying myself as a writer and performer again. I get that periodically. I think every writer and performer does. Inevitably what happens - and it happens every time - is that one goes back to what one considers one's roots are. For me that was the people I used to listen to whether it be Syd Barrett, Hendrix or whatever and the stuff you did yourself that you knew was really good. You listen to it again and think, Where has that state of mind gone? Why aren't I thinking in those terms anymore - thinking that I should be pleasing myself first and foremost, and then if somebody else likes it, great. But I'm not going to be happy if I'm not happy.
I love those albums, you know. I think I've done some great albums. In 20 years, generally, what I've made is stuff I'm so happy with and I'm so glad I've done it. I think I've made some fabulous albums. I've got to be honest. I love it. I love my stuff. And I get so shit-headed and angry when I hear stuff that I haven't done my utmost on. I couldn't possibly articulate what happened when I listened to those albums but it crates.... an atmosphere.
Q: Did you take any drugs while you were making the album?
Hunt: A lot of LSD, right?
Bowie: Lox, Salmon and Danish (laughs). No, we didn't take drugs. We've all been around the block and we all have different perspectives than those we had 10 years ago as to what we want to do with our lives. We've watched ourselves screw up our lives in the past and - why waste the time - we just want to do what we're doing and enjoy it for what it is.
Tony: We know better now. We weren't in the pursuit of destroying ourselves while we were recording. Our forum of hanging out was not at a dealer's house or at the bar.
Bowie: We were hanging out in the parking lot! Sitting on comfortable chairs.
Q: What, in contrast, do you remember about making Low?
Bowie: I was a very different guy by then. I mean, I'd gone through my major drug period and Berlin was my way of escaping from that and trying to work out how you live without drugs. It's very hard (Turns to Tony) You know that period?
Tony: I remember that period. I tried to figure the same thing out.
Bowie: You're up and down all the time, vacillating constantly. It's a very tough period to get through. So my concern with Low was not about the music. The music was literally expressing my physical and emotional state... and that was my worry. So the music was almost therapeutic. It was like, Oh yeah, we've made an album and it sounds like this. But it was a by-product of my life. It just sort of came out. I never spoke to the record company about it. I never talked to anybody about it. I just made this album... in a rehab state. A dreadful state really.
Q: Why did you choose to go to Berlin?
Bowie: Well the whole reason for going there was because it was so low-key. Jim (Iggy Pop) and I - we were both having the same problems - knew it was the kind of place where you walk around and really are left alone and not stopped by people. They're very blasé, there. Cynical, irony-based people and it's a great place if you really want to try and do some soul-searching and find out what it is that your really want.
Q: Does listening to Low bring back uncomfortable memories? Do you sweat when you hear it?
Bowie: Yeah, I do. It brings it all back instantly. It's a great piece of work but you certainly feel the shivers and the sweats again.
Q: What are the band members' favourite Bowie periods?
Reeves: Aladdin Sane, Station To Station.
Hunt: I like Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders.
Tony: I'm there with Ziggy Stardust too. It made such an impact. I really dug Ronson and the bass player. Who was that bass player?
Bowie: Trev. Trevor Bolder. Trev's still working. He's with Uriah Heep, isn't he?
Reeves: It was a great period - 1970 to 1973 - because you could go to school with a green streak in your hair and say, Fuck you, I look like David Bowie.
Bowie: My biggest up was when I met Mickey Rourke for the first time and he said (unspeakably poor Mickey Rourke impression), Oh man, in 1973, man, I was dressing just like you, man, I had green hair and stack-heeled boots and leather trousers. And I'm trying to see Mickey Rourke wearing all this gear. I said, You were a glam-rocker? He said, Yeah, man, in Florida nobody had seen anything like it! I found that absolutely great. I felt so encouraged by that. A guy like that and it was a major part of his life.
Q: That must happen a lot - people relating periods of their life to the different stages in your career?
Bowie: It does and... it's lovely. No, it really is lovely. Ever so nice. If it meant something to someone, that's great. Even if you looked like shit in eye-shadow (laughs).
Q: What will Tin Machine be like live?
Bowie: When it happens it will be in what I guess you'd call a fairly intimate situation. We've already done one gig. We showed up at a club in Nassau where we were recording and did four or five songs. We went down to the club and just did 'em.
Reeves: We weren't announced, we just walked up on stage and you could hear all these voices whispering, That's David Bowie! No, it can be David Bowie, he's got a beard!
Q: So the gigs will be very pared-down affairs?
Bowie: Non-theatrical. Definitely. Just a six-piece horn section and a trapeze artist!
Q: What will you look like?
Bowie: You're looking at it. We're wearing it!
Hunt: I might change these socks.
Bowie: And Kevin Armstrong will be playing. He's been involved from the start. Kevin was originally in the band I used at Live Aid. That's where he came from. He'll play rhythm guitar because I tried but my rhythm guitar just isn't good enough.
Reeves: Oh come on, you just want to run around and pull girls out of the audience.
Bowie: There you go (laughs). I don't want to be rooted to a microphone.
Q: Will it be a big change not doing an over-the-top theatrical stage production?
Bowie: But it's only really been like that for the last couple of tours. Before Let's Dance the last theatrical tour that I did was Diamond Dogs, which was 1974. Everything in that period afterwards, like the Young Americans tour was pretty basic. It was just like a white soul band thing. It was very image-oriented. There was (David) Sanborn on saxophone, Luther Vandross on backing vocals and all that. It was a hell of a band but it wasn't very theatrical. It sounded great and it was going for that white soul feel. And then the Station To Station tour was a bunch of lights but we didn't do anything. I walked around rather haughtily, a lot of the lights went (opens and closes hands) like that a lot. It was very white and black. It was about non-colour schemes. So really the theatrical things have been since Let's Dance. From '74 to '83 they weren't really theatrical.
Q: Have you listened to very much hardcore?
Bowie: Thrash metal I love. Or speed metal. It's actually been around America for a while. It kicked off in about '78 or '79 in California. It's become the California sound in a way. Now New York has picked up on it. Actually, I say I love it, it depends who the band are.
Q: Do you still keep your eye on what is happening in Britain?
Bowie: Not really. I've heard a lot of stuff that comes out of England. I've always known what's happening musically. Nothing has really excited me for a while. What is happening there at the moment?
Q: Hardcore, deep house, various types of world music, Morrissey is still very popular...
Bowie: Oh he isn't bad. I think he's an excellent lyric writer. I've never been able to come to terms with his melodies. I'm a sucker for an old-fashioned melody and I find his very disparate. They tail off a lot. But I think his lyrics are absolutely superb. One of the better lyric writers that England - and it's very English - has produced over the last few years. I don't know much about his image or what he's about because I've never seen him live but I like the records.
Q: In interviews you used to name-check particular groups that you were listening to at the time - Psychedelic Furs, The The, Screaming Blue Messiahs. You were almost championing them. Is there anyone this time?
Bowie: It's very nice to be able to say Tin Machine is my favourite band. It satisfies everything I want out of music at the moment. Being where I am, where I'm from, my age, Tin Machine is everything I want to hear. And that's the first time, in a long, long time that I've been able to say that.
Reeves: It's pinstripes and Purple Haze.
Bowie: It's what? Pinstripes and Purple Haze? That's brilliant. Can I say that?
Bowie: Incidentally, have I told you, it's pinstripes and Purple Haze! (laughs)
The interview having reached a satisfactory conclusion, David Bowie rises and shunts his tie knot neckwards. He enquires nervously about the safety of flights in and out of Britain. "Why are they having those delays?" he asks with all the paranoia of a true flying phobic. "Are the delays as long as you hear or is that just airline propaganda?" When he learns that one flight was held up on account of a faulty wing he turns red in the face, sits down again and clutches his head and says, very quietly, "No, no, not the bloody wing!" Then, remembering his promotional duties he stands, shakes hands and delivers his parting shot.
"You know I was playing the album at home," he says confidentially, "and my son (Joe) who's 17 and listens to rap, heavy metal, The Smiths and hardcore said, Is that you, Dad? God, that's more like it!"
|Created: July 1997 © Paul Kinder
|Last Updated: 3/9/06