Over the Rainbow Selection 2016 David Bowie has been one of pop music’s greatest interviewees since January 1972, when he famously risked career death by asserting to Melody Maker that he was gay. Although he wasn’t yet a big star, it was a groundbreaking moment. And over the years, Bowie has failed to give an uninteresting interview. It might be said that he has habitually used the media for his own ends, but he has paradoxically also been searingly honest, declining to ever be coy about his ambitions, his private life, and even his occasional ennui. Bowie on Bowie presents some of the best interviews Bowie has granted in his near five-decade career. Each interview traces a new step in his unique journey, successively freezing him in time as young novelty hit-maker, hairy hippie, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke, plastic soul man, fragile Germanic exile, godfather of the New Romantics, eighties sellout, Tin Machinist, and, finally, permanently, artistically reborn beloved elder statesman of challenging popular music. In all of these iterations he is remarkably articulate. He is also preternaturally polite—almost every interviewer remarks upon his charm. The features in this book come from outlets both prestigious (MelodyMaker, Mojo, New Musical Express,Q, Rolling Stone) and less well-known (The Drummer, Guitar,Ikon, Mr. Showbiz). In all cases, Bowie enables the reader to approach the nerve center of his ferociously creative and prolific output.
About the Author
Sean Egan is an author and journalist who has interviewed members of the Beach Boys, the Beatles, the Kinks, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, the Sex Pistols, the Velvet Underground, the Who, and many others. He is the author or editor of several books, including Keith Richards on Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix and the Making of Are You Experienced, Defining Moments in Music, The Mammoth Book of the Beatles, The Rough Guide to the Rolling Stones, and David Bowie: Ever Changing Hero.
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Bowie on Bowie
Interviews and Encounters with David Bowie
By Sean Egan
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2015 Sean Egan
All rights reserved.
DON'T DIG TOO DEEP, PLEADS ODDITY DAVID BOWIE
Gordon Coxhill | November 15, 1969, New Musical Express (UK)
David Bowie's first two albums (1967 and 1969, both eponymously titled in his native UK) were over-quota with feyness. They were also the work of a man audibly not quite sure what to do with his talent.
However, the second album spun off the single "Space Oddity" (and was retitled after it in some territories). The tale of an unstable astronaut sentencing himself to a lonely death in the desolate depths of space hardly seemed the sort of thing to reap dividends from the euphoria surrounding Neil Armstrong's giant leap for mankind, but it established Bowie as a chart artist — as well as a distinctive voice.
It's interesting to note the ambivalence Bowie expresses about fame in this half-page New Musical Express feature. Although his next album, The Man Who Sold the World, was released a year later, he kept such a low profile in the two years after this early success that some considered it a form of retirement. –Ed.
It looked like a piece of master planning, but it wasn't. It looked like a monster hit, and it was. David Bowie's "Space Oddity," inspired by a visit to the film "2001," was released just as the world was staying up all night to watch the moon landing.
Like the modest, self-effacing young man he is, David passed the credit on to his record company, but as it was written last November, he can hardly disown his amazing foresight!
"Put it down to luck," he said over the phone from Perth where he was about to begin a short tour of the Haggisland. "I really am amazed at the success of the record, even though I had confidence in it.
"I've been the male equivalent of the dumb blonde for a few years, and I was beginning to despair of people accepting me for my music.
"It may be fine for a male model to be told he's a great looking guy, but that doesn't help a singer much, especially now that the pretty boy personality cult seems to be on the way out."
Much as David takes his songwriting seriously, he is amused by pundits who examine his material looking for hidden meanings even he is totally unaware of. "My songs are all from the heart, and they are wholly personal to me, and I would like people to accept them as such.
"I dearly want to be recognised as a writer, but I would ask them not to go too deeply into my songs. As likely as not, there's nothing there but the words and music you hear at one listening.
"I see you've noticed that my songs are seldom about boy and girl relationships. That's because I've never had any traumas with girls.
"I like to think myself a pretty stable person, and I've never had a bad relationship with an intelligent girl. And if a girl isn't intelligent, I don't want to know."
Although David made a very good impression on the recent Humble Pie tour, he maintains he is a songwriter first, and even denies he is a good performer.
"It was my first tour," he told me, "and I never stopped being surprised the concerts even went on. It appeared so badly organised to me, but I suppose everybody knew what they were doing.
"For me, it was nothing near an artistic success, mainly because I was limited to a twenty minute spot, and I ended up accompanying myself after a mix-up.
"I was very pleased to see that 'Space Oddity' went down well, I thought the audiences would miss the orchestral backing which was on the record.
"I throw myself on the mercy of an audience, and I really need them to respond to me. If they don't, I'm lost. But all the same, I'm determined to be an entertainer, clubs, cabaret concerts, the lot.
"There is too much false pride within the pop scene, groups and singers decrying cabaret without ever having seen the inside of a northern nightclub.
"I just want to sing to as many people as want to hear me, and I don't care where I do it. Mind you, I refuse to have my hair cut or change my appearance for anybody. I'm quite happy with the way I look, and people will have to accept me the way I am, or not bother at all."
A former commercial artist, David played tenor sax with a modern jazz group, "went through the blues thing," during which time he switched to vocalist, and then joined a traditional French mime company, where he met and worked with Marc Bolan.
"Marc has been a great influence on me, not so much with his music, but with his attitude to the pop scene. He shuts himself off from the destructive elements, and prefers to get on with his work.
"That's how I intend to be, in fact I ran away from London a while back when people started talking about me, and didn't come back unless it was really vital."
Inevitably, the underground cropped up, and David had some interesting comments on the movement, "I thought when the whole thing started," he said, "that a whole lot of new, musically-minded groups were going to appear with some meaningful music and try and spread it around. Well, we've got the music, and most of it is very good too, but I can't figure out the attitude of so many of the underground groups.
"It seems to me that they have expanded their own personal little scenes to a certain extent, and then they stop, content to play to the converted. That doesn't get them anywhere, and in the end both the audiences and the groups will get fed up with the same faces and places.
"A lot is said and written about the musical snobbery with the fans, but I think the groups are just as bad. For some reason, even the words entertainer and cabaret make them shudder."
Obviously, having a hit record and being able to command the money that goes with it, is going to make a few changes to David's life, not least of all in his bank balance.
He seems to have made a good start already. "I've bought a big car and a nice little house which needs a lot more time and some money spent on it before it will be as I want it.
"I suppose other little things will crop up as time goes on. At the moment, I'm more concerned with remaining a 22 year old, or even going back a year to 21.
"This business might keep you young mentally but I feel almost middle-aged physically. I often regret not leading a more normal teenage life. From the time I was about 16, I never kicked a football over a common with my mates, I haven't had to chat up a girl like an ordinary teenager for ages, and believe it or not I miss it.
"I have to try and figure out if a girl knows who I am and whether she wants me for what I am or my name. It's a more difficult problem than it sounds, but as I was saying, I haven't had much trouble with girls, touch wood."
The immediate future for David looks bright, with as much live work as he wants, an LP on release this week (14), and even the prospect of his own TV show.
But the usual pressing worry about follow-ups hasn't caught up with David yet. "Follow-up?" he queried, "but the first one's still alive at the moment. Actually I haven't even thought about it.
"I'm not sure if I've got a suitable song for another single, but even if I have, I don't want to be one of those singers whose career depends on hit singles and they are virtually dead for six months of the year.
"I hope to get some free time to do some writing when I return from Scotland, but even then I can't write just because I've got the time. But it's a bit early in life for all my ideas to have dried up, isn't it, so I suppose I'll come up with something."
At the moment, David seems to be the sort of person much needed in pop: full of original thought, a willingness to work, a hatred of the hard drug scene and class distinction in music, and common sense enough not to let the fame and adulation surely coming his way turn his head.
I'm sure he has been around long enough to withstand the pressures, and if he can't, he'll be wise enough to run.CHAPTER 2
OH YOU PRETTY THING
Michael Watts | January 22, 1972, Melody Maker (UK)
This is almost certainly the most famous David Bowie interview ever published.
When UK music weekly Melody Maker despatched Michael Watts to interview him at the start of 1972, Bowie was a man on the comeback trail. The three years since "Space Oddity" had been in the charts was an age in an era where visibility was all-important for musical artists. That part of this was voluntary — Bowie's immersion in the Beckenham Arts Lab seems to have genuinely been a greater passion for him than music and stardom at the start of the decade — would have been of little import to those kids scared that their affections might be moored to a has-been.
His comeback was one of the most spectacular of all time. Hunky Dory — his December 1971 offering — was hailed as an instant classic, chock-full of great melody and instrumentation while cleaving to the alternative zeitgeist. Yet, astoundingly, it transpired to have been an album knocked off in a hurry to appease a record company disgruntled by the length of time Bowie's magnum opus was taking to reach fruition. Said opus — The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars — was playing on the turntable as Bowie held court to Watts. It too was a classic, and it too cleaved to the zeitgeist — a new one, exulting in trash and flash rather than stoned profundity. This was truly a man on fire creatively, if one hardly interested in philosophical consistency. He was also a man clearly tilting for stardom on his own terms.
Note how blasé and skeptical Watts remains in the face of Bowie's posturing. As subsequent interviews in this book will attest, he was right to do so. However, although Bowie's "I'm gay" assertion was not quite truthful, it was a huge risk: even most hippies and rock consumers were repulsed by homosexuality at the time. Yet his gambit paid off as perfectly as he predicted to Watts. On a related note, the feature gave rise to one of Bowie's other famous quotes: the one about becoming huge before crashing down to earth. The first part of that prediction came true. – Ed.
Even though he wasn't wearing silken gowns right out of Liberty's, and his long blond hair no longer fell wavily past his shoulders David Bowie was looking yummy.
He'd slipped into an elegant-patterned type of combat suit, very tight around the legs, with the shirt unbuttoned to reveal a full expanse of white torso. The trousers were turned up at the calves to allow a better glimpse of a huge pair of red plastic boots with at least three-inch rubber soles; and the hair was Vidal Sassooned into such impeccable shape that one held one's breath in case the slight breeze from the open window dared to ruffle it. I wish you could have been there to varda him; he was so super.
David uses words like "verda" and "super" quite a lot. He's gay, he says. Mmmmmm. A few months back, when he played Hampstead's Country Club, a small greasy club in North London which has seen all sorts of exciting occasions, about half the gay population of the city turned up to see him in his massive floppy velvet hat, which he twirled around at the end of each number.
According to Stuart Lyon, the club's manager, a little gay brother sat right up close to the stage throughout the whole evening, absolutely spellbound with admiration.
As it happens, David doesn't have much time for Gay Liberation, however. That's a particular movement he doesn't want to lead. He despises all these tribal qualifications. Flower power he enjoyed, but it's individuality that he's really trying to preserve. The paradox is that he still has what he describes as "a good relationship" with his wife. And his baby son, Zowie. He supposes he's what people call bisexual.
They call David a lot of things. In the States he's been referred to as the English Bob Dylan and an avant-garde outrage, all rolled up together. The New York Times talks of his "coherent and brilliant vision." They like him a lot there. Back home in the very stiff upper lip UK, where people are outraged by Alice Cooper even, there ain't too many who have picked up on him. His last but one album "The Man Who Sold The World," cleared 50,000 copies in the States; here it sold about five copies, and Bowie bought them.
Yes, but before this year is out all those of you who puked up on Alice are going to be focusing your passions on Mr. Bowie, and those who know where it's at will be thrilling to a voice that seemingly undergoes brilliant metamorphosis from song to song, a songwriting ability that will enslave the heart, and a sense of theatrics that will make the ablest thespians gnaw on their sticks of eyeliner in envy. All this, and an amazingly accomplished band, featuring super-lead guitarist Mick Ronson, that can smack you round the skull with their heaviness and soothe the savage breast with their delicacy. Oh, to be young again.
The reason is Bowie's new album "Hunky Dory," which combines a gift for irresistible melody lines with lyrics that work on several levels — as straightforward narrative, philosophy or allegory, depending how deep you wish to plumb the depths. He has a knack of suffusing strong, simple pop melodies with words and arrangements full of mystery and darkling hints.
Thus "Oh! You Pretty Things," the Peter Noone hit, is, on one stratum, particularly the chorus, about the feelings of a father-to-be; on a deeper level it concerns Bowie's belief in a superhuman race — homo superior — to which he refers obliquely: "I think about a world to come/where the books were found by The Golden Ones/Written In pain, written in awe/by a puzzled man who questioned what we were here for/Oh, The Strangers Came Today, and It looks as though they're here to stay." The idea of Peter Noone singing such a heavy number fills me with considerable amusement. That's truly outrageous, as David says himself.
But then Bowie has an instinct for incongruities. On "The Man" album there's a bit at the end of "Black Country Rock" where he superbly parodies his friend Marc Bolan's vibrato warblings. On "Hunky Dory" he devotes a track called "Queen Bitch" to the Velvets, wherein he takes off to a tee the Lou Reed vocal and arrangement, as well as parodying, with a storyline about the singer's boyfriend being seduced by another queen, the whole Velvet Underground genre.
Then again, at various times on his albums he resorts to a very broad Cockney accent, as on "Saviour Machine" ("The Man") and here with "The Bewlay Brothers." He says he copped it off Tony Newley, because he was mad about "Stop the World" and "Gurney Slade": "He used to make his points with this broad Cockney accent and I decided that I'd use that now and again to drive a point home."
The fact that Bowie has an acute ear for parody doubtless stems from an innate sense of theatre. He says he's more an actor and entertainer than a musician; that he may, in fact, only be an actor and nothing else: "Inside this invincible frame there might be an invisible man." You kidding? "Not at all. I'm not particularly taken with life. I'd probably be very good as just an astral spirit."
Bowie is talking in an office at Gem Music, from where his management operates. A tape machine is playing his next album, "The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars," which is about this fictitious pop group. The music has got a very hard-edged sound, like "The Man Who Sold The World." They're releasing it shortly, even though "Hunky Dory" has only just come out.
Excerpted from Bowie on Bowie by Sean Egan. Copyright © 2015 Sean Egan. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Don't Dig Too Deep, Pleads Oddity David Bowie Gordon Coxhill
November 15, 1969: New Musical Express (UK) 1
Oh You Pretty Thing Michael Watts
January 22, 1972: Melody Maker (UK) 5
David at the Dorchester Charles Shaar Murray
July 22 and 29, 1972: New Musical Express (UK) 12
Goodbye Ziggy and a Big Hello to Aladdin Sane Charles Shaar Murray
January 27, 1973: New Musical Express (UK) 25
Bowie Finds His Voice Robert Hilburn
September 14, 1974: Melody Maker (UK) 36
Bowie Meets Springsteen Mike McGrath
November 26, 1974: The Drummer (US) 45
Bowie: Now I'm a Businessman Robert Hilburn
February 28, 1976: Melody Maker (UK) 54
Goodbye to Ziggy and All That… Allan Jones
October 29, 1977: Melody Maker (UK) 61
12 Minutes with David Bowie John Tobler
January 1978: ZigZag (UK) 70
Confessions of an Elitist Michael Watts
February 18, 1978: Melody Maker (UK) 77
The Future Isn't What It Used To Be Angus MacKinnon
September 13, 1980: New Musical Express (UK) 102
The Face Interview David Thomas
May 1983: The Face (UK) 140
Sermon from the Savoy Charles Shaar Murray
September 29, 1984: New Musical Express (UK) 159
Boys Keep Swinging Adrian Deevoy
June 1989: Q (UK) 175
Tin Machine II Interview Robin Eggar
August 9, 1991 192
"One Day, Son, All This Could Be Yours…" Steve Sutherland
March 20 and 27, 1993: New Musical Express (UK) 207
Station to Station David Sinclair
June 10, 1993: Rolling Stone (US) 231
Boys Keep Swinging Dominic Wells
August 30-September 6, 1995: Time Out (UK) 249
Action Painting Chris Roberts
October 1995: Ikon (UK) 262
The Artful Codger Steven Wells
November 25, 1995: New Musical Express (UK) 272
No Longer a Lad Insane Hp Newquist
January 1996: Guitar (US) 285
Fashion: Turn To The Left. Fashion: Turn To The Right David Bowie Alexander McQueen
November 1996: Dazed & Confused (UK) 291
A Star Comes Back to Earth Mick Brown
December 14, 1996: Telegraph Magazine (UK) 304
ChangesFiftyBowie David Cavanagh
February 1997: Q (UK) 317
Bowie Retrospective Linda Laban
March 1997: Mr. Showbiz (US) 329
"Now Where Did I Put Those Tunes?" David Quantick
October 1999: Q (UK) 341
Bowie: Most Stylish Man Dylah Jones
October 2000: GQ (UK) 350
"It Means More to Me Than Any Number of Hit Albums, This. Thanks Very Much." John Robinson
December 2, 2000: New Musical Express (UK) 356
Contact Paul Du Noyer
July 2002: Mojo (UK) 365
David Bowie: Life on Earth Ken Scrudato
July 2003: Soma (US) 377
Such a Perfect Day Mike Jollett
July/August 2003: Filter (US) 386
Do You Remember Your First Time? Paul Du Noyer
November 2003: The Word (UK) 394
About the Contributors 413
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