by Jean Rook / Daily Express
14th February 1979
He’s been all things to a lot of women. And to some men. He admits to a ‘more than platonic relationship with drugs’. He’s been down to a skeletal eight-and-a-half-stone, and the depths of suicidal despair (‘when I thought I was coming to the end of my tether I considered everything as a way out’). He used to dye his hair as scarlet as sin and wear platform-soled women’s shoes and one chandelier earring. That was before he caked himself with white Max Factor and tinted his hair tangerine.
David Bowie has rocked a generation of pop fans. But miraculously his flaming mascara’d head hasn’t rolled.
Keith Moon and Sid Vicious are dead. But Bowie, at 32, is alive and, at 10 stone, as well as ever he’s been in a life that would have killed a far stronger man. Bowie has seen it all and done most of it. When I interviewed him three years ago he was terrifying to look at: chalkskinned, bloodless and apparently dying, if not undead. In 1976 he looked like a cross between a stick insect and Dracula.
Today he looks 17. His undyed hair is pale brown and short-back-and-sides. The unmade-up face is guileless and spotless. In grey flannel bags, grey shirt and tasteful tie he looks like a public schoolboy. Or like Edward before he met Mrs Simpson. And looking like that after all he’s been through, Mr Bowie is even more terrifying. Interviewing him is like coming across a daisy in hell. How the hell does he do it, after all he says he’s done? And has he really been reborn a brand-new Persil-washed man overnight?
‘Not overnight – it’s been a struggle,’ said the one-time glittering, diamante, lipsticked superstar. ‘I hated the pop lifestyle but it’s hard to kick the habits of a lifetime. I’m learning to be happy. To go to bed at night instead of 5 am and get up in the morning instead of halfway through the day. I’m painting pictures nobody wants to buy, but I love it. I’ve grown my hair back to mouse. I’m even practising walking down the street.’
Doesn’t that come naturally?
‘Not to me,’ said Bowie. ‘For years I daren’t walk out of my front door alone. I was paranoid about it, terrified. It still takes me courage to walk from A to B and not think, “This person walking down the street is David Bowie and everybody’s looking at him.” Now I look at other people. I even go into shops and, if somebody talks to me, I chat back. Three years ago I could have no more done that than fly literally. They couldn’t drag me onto an aeroplane screaming, at one time. Now, every day, I get up more nerve and try to be more normal and less insulated against real people.’
Bowie used to be totally lagged against real life. Protected by cars with tinted windows. Guarded by his ‘stormtroopers’ in black leather pants. He was never seen in public until he appeared like a god – or demon – to lash his thousands of pop concert fans into a foaming frenzy. He’s still not that easy to get at. He didn’t manifest at the press preview of his new film with Marlene Dietrich, just a Gigolo. And he told me he’d rather face 15,000 pop fans than watch himself, for the first time, at tonight’s premiere of his movie.
I’m the only journalist who knows his hotel and even I don’t know his room number. Our undercover meeting took place in a hired private suite, later cleared of any trace of us. Down to the butts of the 60 cigarettes a day on which Mr Bowie is still hooked. How did he drag himself free of the deeper, more dangerous hooks which finally tore apart Moon and Vicious?
‘I don’t really know what happened to them – their deaths were terrible. If I really knew that, I’d be one of them. I nearly was. I realised just in time that I was destroying myself,’ said the man-god who claims he shocked himself even more than he electrified his audiences.
‘I loathed the pop scene – I never wanted to be a pop star. I was David Jones from Brixton who wanted to do something artistically worthwhile. But I hadn’t the courage to face an audience as myself. It takes tremendous courage to face up to the adulation, the pressure, without cracking. That’s why some of us crack. I was the first pop star to invent masks to hide behind. I played at being Ziggy Stardust. That was fine until I became Ziggy, and Ziggy became a monster who nearly destroyed me. Then I played at being the Thin White Duke. Now, I think I’ve got rid of him.
‘Making films has helped. It’s taught me that you can be a character and stop being him when they finish the movie. As a rock star I couldn’t stop – I went on playing the bizarre people I’d invented on and off stage. I honestly believe that what you see now is myself.’
Now that the real David Bowie is standing up – however unsteadily – what manner of man is he? A modem rock poet. A chronicler of his disturbed times. A probable genius. The nearest thing to Christopher Isherwood, whom Bowie idolises. And the furthest from a lesser pop light like Moon or a flashy little star like Vicious. Though, to be more generous to Vicious than I am, Bowie maintains: ‘Punk was absolutely necessary. A sort of musical enema. I think they honestly believed it was a new wave, a new school of music. And maybe it was until, they started selling one another out.’
Stripped of his paint, powder, drugs, dyed hair, earrings, boyfriends and false eyelashes, Bowie sees himself as ‘a very conservative man’. Now that his world-rocking marriage to Angie Bowie, who prides herself on her bisexuality, is nearing divorce, he’s fanatically protective of his son, Zowie, pushing eight and ‘already overly fond of playing his drums’.
‘I want him to be a real person,’ said the man who’s pushed himself to the limits of unreality. ‘Thank God he doesn’t associate me with the awesome thing he sees on stage. He thinks of that as just the way Daddy makes his money. He doesn’t take much interest in what I do. To him I’m Dad – the man in the next bedroom who has breakfast with him every morning. For me, that’s being real people.’
Real people grow old, lose their hair, whatever colour it’s dyed. Die undramatically in the next bedroom. How will David Bowie face up to his unmasked, lined face at 50?
‘I shall welcome it, Lord yes,’ he said. ‘Pop stars are capable of growing old. Mick Jagger at 50 will be marvellous – a battered old roue – I can just see him. An ageing rock star doesn’t have to opt out of life. When I’m 50, I’ll prove it.’