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 too - 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 auwful 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.
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,
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 wnt 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, no 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 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.
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
nerveous that it might not work out. Then every-one sorted themselves out,
got over their emotional jet lag. . .
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 hypotethical 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.
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 demos 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)
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 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.
It was a very hammy show, wouldn't you say?
Bowie: To come to its defence,
I liked the video of it. But I overstreched. I made too much detail of .
. . Oh Christ. Next question!
Tony: He's beginning to roast!
Bowie: There was too much responsibility on the last tour. I was
under stress every single day. It was a decision a second. It was so big
and so unwieldy and everybody had a problem all the time, every day, and
I was under so much pressure. It was unbelieveable.
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 releif!
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.
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!
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 up art. . .
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 the wall anyway!
There's acouple 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.
Do you think Madonna will respond?
Bowie: Respond? Oh . . . who
Whose idea was it to cover Working
Bowie: I think that was mine.
That's always been a really favorite 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 honesty in the lyrics there. And that particular
song, I thought, would sound great as a rock song. It seemed very worthy
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
Bowie: Ah. Sweet.
One song, Bus Stop,
you sing in a very English accent. Why has your singing accent always changed
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.
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 for two and a 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.
Does it get sepia-tinted? Good old Blighty.
Bowie: Not really.
Do you miss the humour?
Bowie: Yes. (Stony faced).
That's something that stays with you. Always. (laughs)
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 Yor. 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 a 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 Velvets. I had hoped that I gave
that away in those two lines.
Have you listened to much Velvet Underground lately?
Bowie: No. I'm too old for
that (laughs). That was 1971!
It certainly sounds as if you were listening to Jimi
Hendrix prior to making this record.
Bowie: Jimi Hendrix is definitely
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 ctach things mid-air. I guess I re-discovered Hendrix, Cream,
Neu, 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 perodically. 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 the 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 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 creates
. . . an atmosphere.
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 a dealer's
house or at the bar.
Bowie: We were hanging out in the parking lot! Sitting on comfortable
What, in contrast, do you remember about making Low?
Bowie: I was 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, vacilliating 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.
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 blase', 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 you really want.
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.
What are the band members' favorite Bowie periods?
Reeves: Aladdin Sane, 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: 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.
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-shaddow (laughs).
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't
be David Bowie, he's got a beard!
So the gigs will be very pared-down affairs?
Bowie: Non-theatrical. Definitely.
Just a six-piece horn section and a trapeze artist!
What will you look like?
Bowie: You are looking at it.
We're wearing it!
Hunt: I might change 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.
Will it be a big change not doing an over-the-top, theatrical
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 wenr (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.
Have you listened to very much hardcore?
Bowie: Trash 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.
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?
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 Englan - 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.
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 favorite 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
The interview having reached a stisfactory 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
quickly, "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!"