'ZIGGY' HAPPENED IT WAS JUST WORK, WORK, work," says Bowie. "And
for the first time you realized what you were going to be giving away. You
realize that you're not going to have any kind of private life, and you're
not going to be able to wander down to the club. Well, you don't think you
can. Actually, time proves that you're wrong. It's not worth giving up all
those things to become a popular artist. Fortunately, I learned how to get
back into circulation again."
....The car speeds
westward, down Cromwell Road toward Hammersmith Odeon, the scene of Bowie's
final gig with the Spiders From Mars.
The venue has recently been renamed the Hammersmith Apollo, and the stage
has been extended at the front, but otherwise it remains the same 3500-capacity
theater in which, on July 3rd, 1973, Bowie made his fateful announcement:
"This show will stay the longest in our memories, not just because
it is the end of the tour but because it is the last show we'll ever do."
....Standing at the
front of the stage, Bowie now repeats the statement to the rows of empty
seats. His feet clomp noisily on the boards, and in the cold, deserted atmosphere
the words take on a ghostly ring. Pulling up a wooden chair, he casts his
mind back to that strange period of his life when reality and fantasy were
becoming increasingly blurred.
day I'm really not sure if I was playing Ziggy or if Ziggy was exaggerated
aspects of my own personality," Bowie says. "A fair amount of
physolgical baggage was undoubtly coming out through the character. Because
I felt awkward and nervous and inadequate with myself, it felt easier to
be somebody else. That was a relief and a release. And that feeling of not
being a part of any group of people. I always felt on the fringe of things
rather than being a participant. I always felt I was a wallflower of life.
So it really got a bit complex. Because once you lay these little patterns
out for yourself, it's very hard to retrace the steps and see how far you've
got yourself immersed in all that. And when drugs came along, that really
added to the brew to the point that it was inescapable that I was committing
huge psychological damage to myself.
on the drugs at the end of 1973 and then with force in 1974," Bowie
continues. "As soon as I got to America, pow! It was so freely available
in those days. Coke was everywhere. It was just impossible to get away from.
Because I have a very addictive personality, I was a sucker for it. It just
took over my life, but completely, until late 1976, '77, when I got myself
over to Berlin - the smack capital of Europe, ironically - to clean up."
....In her book Backstage
Passes, Bowie's ex-wife Angie describes him during this period as "a
friend-abusing, sense-mangling, money-bleeding, full-fledged Vampire of
Velocity. Like coke addicts long before and after him, he'd learned to travel
far and fast, to keep his mind spinning in tight circles even when standing
perfectly still, to arrange an existence almost entirely devoid of daylight,
to assume a worldview of paranoia. . ."
....Bowie greets mention
of Angie with a show of complete uninterest. "The reason that we got
married was for her to get a work permit to work in England," he says,
"which really wasn't the basis of a good marriage. And it was very
short, remember. I mean, by '74 we rarely saw each other. After that she
would drop in or drop out for a weekend or so, but we were virtually living
our own separate lives. There was no real togetherness. I think the one
thing that we had in common was Joe [their son, originally named Zowie,
born in 1971]. He's what became the signpost toward me retrieving my sanity.
I saw how he'd been emotionally neglected, and we started to develop a father-son
relationship around '77, and since that point he's been under my custody
in his chair, Bowie pulls another Malboror from its packet. He is a heavy
smoker. The flame from his lighter flares momentarily beneath his face,
and he shivers slightly as the cold of the deserted theater begins to take
been blessed with a nonaddictive personality and has no truck with drink,
drugs, smoking or anything," Bowie says. "It's just not part of
his life. I think he likes himself in a way that I never did. He doesn't
feel that he has to change his personality or lose his personality in quite
the same way I felt I had to escape myself and the responsibility of my
own feelings of inadequacy.
love myself, not at all," Bowie continues. "Ziggy was a very flamboyant
and theatrical and elaborate character. I wanted him to look right, and
I spent a lot of time looking in the mirror, but it wasn't me I was looking
at. I saw Ziggy. I think I'm vain, but I hope I'm not narcissistic. We all
have our own feelings about what we look like. I like to dress well, but
it's not something on which I felt my reputation should be built. I always
held great store by my writing abilities. That's my strength, whether it's
songs about me or about some fictional character, that's what I do best."
Every time I thought I got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
...........................- "Changes" (1971)
BE THAT AS IT MAY, THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT A vital element
of Bowie's peculiar talent has been his ability to filter his thoughts and
writing through a kind of psychological prism provided by characters like
Ziggy, Aladdin Sane and the Thin White Duke. Taking his cues from the visual
arts - sculpture, painting, dance, mime - of which he has long been a knowledgeable
admirer, Bowie has instinctively recognized and accepted that presentation
is an integral part of his art form. It was when he lost his feel for presentation
that he stumbled and fell.
....The 1980s kicked
off with the biggest success of his career, Let's
Dance. Produced by Nile Rodgers and
released in 1983, it was a worldwide smash that hoisted Bowie into the international
first division. But the view from those Olympian heights was not as clear
as it might have been.
...."I fell foul
for the first time, wondering if I ought to be writing for the audience
as opposed to me," Bowie says. "Should I try and duplicate the
success of Let's Dance, or should I keep
trying to change with every album? It was a real quandary. In the end I
didn't lose the songs, but I lost the sound. There are some really good
songs on Tonight  and Never
Let Me Down , and I literally threw them away by giving them to
very good people to arrange but not being involved myself, almost to the
point of indifference."
....Bowie's cure for
this indifference was to find a new way of triggering his creative enthusiasm.
For the first time, at least since the early 1960s, he threw himself into
a democratically organized band situation. The result was Tin
Machine. But here was a role and a presentation that his fans simply
would not accept. In trying to sell himself as a part of a bona fide, four-way
democratic group, Bowie came up against a mirror version of the credibility
problem faced to stars associated with groups trying to carve a solo career.
In the same way that gifted performers like Mick Jagger, Roger Daltrey,
Roger Waters and Jon Bon Jovi have all failed to establish themselves as
solo acts with anything like the success of their respective bands, Bowie
simply wasn't convincing as a member of a group.
....Then there was
the music. Quite unlike the suave synthesizer soul of Heroes
or the mainstream white R&B of Let's Dance,
the raw, scathing, bruising noise of the first Tin
Machine album, released in 1989, was greeted by many Bowie fans with
shocked disbelief. It was in many ways an inspired piece of work that neatly
prefigured the grunge explosion, even if the band did guess about the suits.
....Bowie is unrepentant
about the project, which he describes as "a dreadful commercial failure,
but and artistic success." The band plans to reconvene toward the end
of the year to record a new album, and Bowie professes himself at a loss
to understand why the band has attracted such a virulently adverse reaction,
especially in England. "It doesn't seem to be England's cup of tea
at all," Bowie says. "People seem to have a job seeing me in a
band context. Judging by some of the antagonistic letters we had, it's almost
as if I'd let the side down. Very strange. Maybe it's because it has no
further abstractions then just being a band that's making music. It didn't
have anything more to it. There's no real personality driving it, no theatrical
statement. "But it's not as if it was out of the blue and I'd never
been involved with that kind of music before," he continues. "Ziggy
and the Spiders were a hard-rock band, maybe not as experimental. I think
the fact that I was much better known than the others was a real obstacle.
A lot of the flak seemed to be saying, 'Why has he dropped back into their
anonymity?' We did make a big effort at the beginning to try and change
people's minds, but we gave up after a while."
....And the idea of
having the other members adopt the role of backing band was ludicrous. "The
Sales brothers would never except having another boss," Bowie explains.
"They are far too stubborn and aware of their own needs. They're not
in the market to be anybody's backing band, either of them. You do not fuck
with the Sales brothers, or Reeves Gabrels."
Oh no, not me
I never lost control
..................- "The Man Who
Sold The World" (1970)
THE WAY IN WHICH BOWIE HAS SHAKEN OFF THE chorus of discontent
that Tin Machine generated, swatted his
detractors like so many flies and reemerged to surf a fresh wave of cortical
acclaim and public adulation with Black
Tie White Noise will go down as one of the great Houdini-like tricks
in history of R&R.
Nile Rodgers, also the architect behind Let's
Dance, the new album succeeds because instead of searching for a new
role to play, Bowie has finally found the emotional strength necessary simply
to be himself.
he declares that he has not been so satisfied with the outcome of an album
since Scary Monsters. "I listen to
this album all the time," Bowie says, "which is always a good
sign. With all due respect to Nile, I
didn't listen to Let's Dance that much.
It wasn't all me. It was a lot of Nile.
I thought, 'Not again.' So it was very much my album that we made this time,
and Nile contributed to it, as opposed
to Nile doing everything and just me suggesting we get Stevie
Ray Vaughan in or whatever. That's probably why it's so identifiable
....According to Rodgers,
Bowie was "a lot more relaxed this time then he was at the Let's Dance sessions, a hell of a lot more philosophical
and just in a state of mind where his music was really, really making him
happy." Which is not to say the session were straightforward. Anything
but. As far as Rodgers is concerned, "Let's
Dance was the easiest record I've ever made - three weeks total; Black Tie White Noise was the hardest -
one year, more or less."
....Not the least
of Nile Rodger's worries during recording
was Bowie's saxophone playing, which is featured more on this album than
on all the rest of his catalog put together. The instrument has always been
crucial to Bowie's creative process. He uses it to compose his melody lines.
But in performance, Bowie's fiercely untutored style can be a little jarring
to the technically trained ear.
David would be the first to admit that he's not a saxophonist in the traditional
sense," Rodgers says with a wry
chuckle. "I mean, you wouldn't call him up to do gigs. He uses his
playing as an artistic tool. He's a painter. He hears an idea, and he goes
with it. But he absolutely knows where he's going, because he damn well
plays the same thing over and over again until I say, 'Well, I guess he
hears that.' It's what you might call accidentally deliberate."
....But more important
than such technical considerations has been the mood swing that has enabled
Bowie once again to become fully engaged with his music. His new-found willingness
to examine himself more openly and reconnect with his past has resurrected
his career. Black Tie White Noise is
without doubt the most personal album he's ever released. "I think
this album comes from a very different emotional place," Bowie says.
"That's the passing of time, which has brought maturity and a willingness
to relinquish full control over my emotions, let them go a bit, start relating
to other people, which is something that's been happening to me slowly -
and, my God, it's been uphill - over the last ten or twelve years.
...."I feel a
lot freer these days to be able to talk about myself and about what's happened
to me, because I've been able to face it," he continues. "For
many years, everything was always blocked out. The day before was always
blocked out. I never wanted to return to examine anything that I did particularly.
But the stakes have changed. I feel alive, in a real sense."
among the shadows of his past on the Hammersmith stage for the better part
of an hour, Bowie is ready to move on. The temperature has dropped uncomfortably,
and he moves briskly toward the stage door, thanking the man who let him
into the building with a courtesy that seems to come naturally. He is far
more solicitous of those around him than stars with half his status, and
it is one of his most disarming characteristics. The car heads off to a
nearby hotel, where Bowie thaws out over peacock soup and a cheese sandwich.
....A seizable chunk
of the new album was inspired by having to sit down and write the music
for his wedding to the model Iman last year. The album's opening cut, "The
Wedding" is a beautiful, mystical instrumental piece with haunting
Middle Eastern cadences, which reappear toward the end of the album with
lyrics as "The Wedding Song."
"I had to write music that represented for me the growth and character
of our relationship," Bowie explains. "It really was a watershed.
It opened up a wealth of thoughts and feelings about commitment and promises
and finding the strength and fortitude to keep those promises. It all came
tumbling out of me while I was writing this music for church. And I thought:
'I can't stop here. There's more that I have to get out.' For me it was
a tentative first step toward writing from a personal basis. It triggered
I could fall in love all night
as a rock & roll star
.....................- "Star" (1972)
"I'D NEVER BEEN OUT WITH A MODEL before," says
Bowie, "so I hadn't even bargained on the cliche of the rock star and
the model as being part of my life. So I was well surprised to meet one
who was devastatingly wonderful and not the usual sort of bubblehead that
I'd met in the past. I make no bones about it. I was naming the children
the night we met. I knew that she was for me, it was absolutely immediate.
I just fell under her spell.
was conducted in a very gentlemanly fashion, I hope, for quite some time,
" Bowie continues. "Lots of being led to doorways and polite kisses
on the cheek. Flowers and chocolates and the whole thing. I knew it was
precious from the first night, and I just didn't want anything to spoil
....This must have
been something of a novel situation for Bowie, having to adapt to the pleasures
(and rigors) of a monogamous relationship. "It's an incredible source
of comfort to me, " he says. "In fact for three years before I
met Iman, I was engaged to another girl, so I find [monogamous relationships]
very, very pleasurable. It excites me. I absolutely adore it. I've gone
from the extreme promiscuity of the 1970s to a changing set of attitudes
in the 1980s and hopefully to some sense of harmony in the 1990s."
....Would he be so
promiscuous if he were a young man now, in the 1990s? "No, I don't
think so," Bowie states. "I don't know. from my understanding
there's still a lot of experimentation going on, so maybe I would. I did
throw caution to the winds to an extreme point in the 1970s, so maybe I
would now. I don't think people should experiment; let me try and be responsible,
I think it's not the period to experiment, but I don't think people should
hide from their orientation.
I was always a closet heterosexual," Bowie continues. "I didn't
ever feel that I was a real bisexual. It was like I was making all the moves,
down to the situation of actually trying it out with some guys. But for
me, I was more magnetized by the whole gay scene, which was underground.
Remember, in the early 1970s it was still virtually taboo. There might have
been free love, but it was heterosexual love. I like this twilight world.
I like the idea of these clubs and these people and everything about it
being something that nobody knew anything about. So it attracted me like
crazy. It was like another world that I really wanted to buy in to. So I
made efforts to go and get into it. That phase only lasted up to about 1974.
It more or less died with Ziggy. I was only really adopting the situation
of being bisexual. The reality was much slimmer.
to imbue Ziggy with real flesh and blood and muscle, and it was imperative
that I find Ziggy and be him. The irony of it was that I was not gay. I
was physical about it, but frankly it wasn't enjoyable. It was almost like
I was testing myself. It wasn't something I was comfortable with at all.
But it had to be done."
They called it the Prayer,
its answer was law
......................- "Saviour Machine"
UNFORTUNATELY, I DIDN'T REALLY know Freddie [Mercury] that
well at all," Bowie says. "I'd met him about two or three times
in all those years. I found him very witty, quite bright and indeed very
theatrical. So I don't know the ins and outs of what he had to live with
or what happened to him. I do have a lot of gay friends , and I know the
pain of losing friends through AIDS. Unfortunately, I lost one just after
the Queen concert [the memorial concert for Freddie Mercury at Wembley Stadium
in April 1992]. His name was Craig, a New York playwright, and he'd actually
slipped into a coma the day before the show and died two days after it.
Which was why I said the Lord's Prayer that night."
for drama notwithstanding, the gesture left many people surprised. "Yeah,
they probably were," he says, "but it wasn't for them." Part
of the surprise was that Bowie has never been known as a particularly religious
sort of person. "I'm not, I'm spiritual," he says. "I've
never bought in to any organized religion. But now I have an unshakeable
belief in God. I put my life into his hands every single day. I pray every
Craig was not a Christian," he continues, "but I thought that
prayer the most appropriate inasmuch as it's not . . . it's a prayer about
our father, not so much about Christ. For me, it's a universal prayer. I
was as surprised as anyone that I'd said it at the concert. But I was pleased
that I'd done it."
....The image of Bowie
as a coldly calculating, European ice man who keeps his feelings buttoned
down as securely as his shirt collar became fixed at around the time of
Station to Station (1976) and the Return of the Thin White Duke. And yet
it is an image that now could not be further removed from reality. Bowie
is actually a highly emotional person, which may go someway to explaining
his behavior at the Mercury concert.
....One of the less
remarked but most highly charged performances at that show was Bowie's reunion
with his old sparring partner Mick Ronson,
together with Ian Hunter, for a rousing version of the old Mott the Hoople
hit "All The Young Dudes"(a
....It was an especially
poignant moment given that it was to be Ronson and Bowie's last live performance
together. Mention of this almost brings tears to Bowie's eyes.
ill, Ronson had been hanging on through sheer force of will. "The doctors
tell me I shouldn't be here now, "Ronson said from a London recording
studio shortly before his death. "But I don't go to the doctors for
chemotherapy or anything anymore. I just put one foot in front of the other,
and the next day is the next day, and you do your best. I've still got so
much to do."
to Black Tie White Noise, playing on
a drastically revamped version of Cream's "I
Feel Free." Like Nile Rodgers,
he noticed Bowie's incredible vigor and enthusiasm throughout the sessions.
"I hope David's album does well, "Ronson said. "He's put
everything into it. I speak to him often. He sounds so positive."
AT THE END OF HIS DAY'S SIGHTSEEING Bowie is in a reflective
"I've never done that before, " he says. "It
was quite extraordinary, despite the fact that most of the things I want
to see were either closed or pulled down. It puts into focus just how much
time has passed. I actually made a list the other night of the bands that
were coming up on the circuit during the time of Ziggy, Bolan and Roxy Music.
This was the competition: Lindisfarne, Rory Gallagher, Stary, America, Juicy
Lucy, Peter Sarstedt, Thin Lizzy and Grindrolog. It really was a long, long