by Adrian Deevoy / Q Magazine
Six years since his last convincing album, and with the overblown Glass Spider tour still fresh in the memory, David Bowie has rapidly returned to basics. He’s back with a raucous rock album and a blistering club band of modest ambition. But, quiet – a world exclusive “playback” is about to begin. There’s an invited audience of one: 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!
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 unwiedly and everybody had a problem all the time, every day, and I was under so much pressure. It was unbelievable.
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!”