by Charles Shaar Murray / NME
24th February 1973
ALRIGHT, so you’re a rock singer out of Beckenham, Kent called David Bowie and you’re hotter than a stolen atom bomb packed with pictures of Howard Hughes playing strip poker with Jacqueline Onassis.
You’ve got singles and albums in every conceivable chart and everybody from “Tit-Bits” to the “Times” has suddenly decided that it wants to know all about you’n yours, because of the songs you write, the way you look, your face, your race and all kinds of stuff like that.
And all over the chic bits of the planet, there are people doing their best to look like you and act like you and just generally be you. And naturally, you get pretty concerned.
So, when a journalist tells you about the lookalikes who he sees at your concerts, this is what you tell him.
“Firstly, I find it exciting. Then I find it sad, because I know the reason why I became Ziggy and what went into Ziggy. And I always want to rush up to them and explain, ‘Before you do this, you must know this and this and this and this.
But Bowie created a new persona, whereas all these young dudes are content to mimic.
“The same way that I do myself, and did, especially when I was younger. I was the world’s worst mimic – I mean, Anthony Newley. I was Anthony Newley for a year. He stopped his world and got off, which is terrible, because he was once one of the most talented men that England ever produced.
“Remember the ‘Gurney Slade’ series? That was tremendous. A friend of mine has a collection of them, and there’s a lot of Monty Python in there – left-handed screws and right-handed screws.”
One of the more disturbing things about Bowie’s work is that the same Nietschean concepts that formed a basis of Nazism crop up in songs like “The Supermen.” How does he feel about being rock’s prettiest neo-Nazi?
Well, he laughs out loud at the thought.
“That’s a humming bloody image, isn’t it? I don’t know that I’d be really at home with that. I know what you mean though. I set ‘The Supermen’ as a period piece, but I think it was a forward rather than backward thing. What did you think of ‘Stranger In A Strange Land’?”
“Stranger In A Strange Land”, the journalist instantly recalled, was Robert Heinlein’s legendary science-fiction novel and one of good ol’ Charlie Manson’s favourite pieces of bedtime reading. “I think it’s the worst-written great book I’ve ever read,” he offered hopefully.
Bowie considered this for a moment.
“Yes. Okay,” he replied at length. “What do you see as its faults, then?”
Oh well. Deep breath. “I don’t think he writes good dialogue. I don’t find his characters at all real. I mean, you’re pretty improbable but you’re believable.
Bowie shook with laughter, and then buried his face in his hands. “I’m feeling worse and worse the longer this interview goes on. I found very much the same thing. I find that a lot of it I enjoy very much.
“I liked the idea behind it all, but I thought the conversation was very bad. Do you think it would translate well into film?”
Definitely. Was Bowie considering buying it?
“I’ve got it. I’ve written some music for it, anyway.”
Could there ever be, I wondered, a Ziggy movie?
“A lot of people I’ve talked to that have been to the shows have got a very, very definite idea of what Ziggy is and what he represents. They know how he works for them. I would not want to shatter anybody’s private movie.
“I would not care to do that, because, not having heard their versions, I agree with them as well as I agree with my own version. I see what they mean, and I would hate to destroy and of that because it’s all real. It’s all valid.”
ONE OF THE many things that sets David Bowie apart from most of tepid ramblers currently passing themselves off as songwriters is his ear for dialogue.
“Suffragette City” owes its paranoid edgy feel to the constant, repeated vocal backing riff “Hey Man”, demand the voices, and that call-and-response technique perfectly evokes the mood of someone who’s endlessly trying to get something together, but “those freaks on the phone/won’t leave me along”.
“Yes, yes. That’s exactly what it was like. That’s what is was supposed to be. In fact, I was going to stage it with a phone box on stage.”
I mention Arthur Brown’s use of a ‘phone during Kingdom Come sets.
“Oh, Arthur’s fabulous. He lives quite near me in Beckenham, but we’ve only been together once in the last six months, which is ridiculous, because we’re just about a hundred yards from each other in the street.
“Actually Keith Tippett and Julie are just up the road as well. We’ve never, ever had the chance to actually get together. It’s always been that one of us is doing something – I’ve tried. I adore Centipede – I think they’re the most exciting experiment. They really excited me, they’re really good, especially because of the kind of music we’re getting into now.”
One vile rumour concerning Bowie’s recent teenage hit single was that the title refers to the noted novelist Jean Genet, author of “Our Lady Of The Flowers” and “The Thief’s Journal.”
“It was very, very sub-conscious, but I think it’s probably there, yes. Lindsay Kemp did the most fantastic production of ‘Our Lady Of The Flowers’ a couple of years ago, and it’s always been in the back of my mind. As a production it was superb, absolutely fabulous. He did it at the Travis Theatre in Edinburgh.”
On “Jean Genie”, Bowie “wanted to get the same sound the Stones had on their very first album on the harmonica. I didn’t get that near to it, but it had a feel that I wanted – that ’60s thing.
“I’ve got someone to play second guitar in the band now. I was with a duo many moons ago. A guy called Hutch from Scarborough used to work with me, and I’ve brought him back. He’s going to do some backup vocals.”
OFF ON another tangent, I asked David if it was necessary to believe in one’s own fantasies, or whether one could maintain a fantasy while remaining detached from it.
“Yes, I think you have to believe in them, and I think you have to really know whether you want to live in a fantasy, or in a presumably real world.”
How can David manage to not only live his own fantasies, but to enable others to live them also?
“Because I ride with it. I don’t plan it; it just becomes something that I derive much satisfaction out of letting ride, and seeing what happens. A lot of other people have them.
“I think my fantasy, especially in England, is pretty well what a lot of our audience has as well. It’s just that role business – about “What is my role?”
“Do you think reality has much of a future?”
It’s a cheap and nasty trick to throw people’s lyrics back at them, but I decided to question the lines from “The Bewlay Brothers” that ran: “We were gone/Kings of oblivion/we were so turned on/in the Mindwarp Pavilion”. It sounded like a kick at those who lie around all day long in a drug-induced stupor.
“I’ve been through that one as well, yeah. I was quite heavily into it at one time but I found that I wasn’t producing material. And that – to me – is very, very important.
“I like to think that I’m bringing something out of myself, and I have to be able to bring it to other people. It’s probably quite important to get very stoned a lot of times.”
Particularly what was David aiming for in his writing?
“I’m probably after, firstly, reaction. If I don’t get reaction, then a piece has failed, as far as I’m concerned. If a thing is booed into the ground, then that is a reaction, and I just want it to have a reaction.”
Trouble is, too many people react by regarding David as a new kind of poofter joke. Some of Russell Harty’s questions when Bowie recently recorded a segment in the London Weekend Chat Show were in fact concerned with poking fun at David’s clothing and manner.
“Yes, that’s because he’s…
Bowie caught himself in mid-sentence, and slowly a broad grin expanded outwards across his face. He sank his head in his hands, and muttered “Shit”, and then began to laugh. “Everybody has fantasies, and I’m sure Russell Harty probably has as many fantasies as I do.”
“I think that whole “Let’s come out on the streets’ bit is very new, to England anyway, and I think everybody is struggling with it very badly. I don’t know, we’ll see. I think it’s all very funny at the moment.”
Of course, most of the glitter brigade are very hetero, and the real gay ones are covering it up.
“Yes, that’s very sad, and I understand their predicament. It’s a great puzzle to me, because I don’t know whether I am against or for Gay Lib.
“I understand that they want to have people to be with, so that they’re not on their own. I mean, I understand that feeling so well, ‘Oh no love, you’re not alone’, absolutely.
“I mean, my feeling is that I need people a lot. I know that feeling so well. But on the other hand, to put that many people all together at once is perfect, perfect meat for the papers to pick upon and ridicule.
“When you’re all together like that, you can be stamped immediately. To be a guerilla, to be on your own, is far more rewarding in the end, if you have the determination to carry it though.”
WHEREAS IN the ’60s, the way to be outrageous was to be sloppy, inarticulate lout (c.f. Jagger, M.). today’s rebel will be gay or pseudo-gay.
“Probably for gay people that’s marvellous, because with a bit of luck it’ll become part of society. Now, every second person has long hair, and still retains the spotty appearance. With a bit of luck, there’ll be as many eccentrics as non-eccentrics.
“As soon as McLuhan made it so readily available to the public that science fiction was now part of everyday life, it began to be written about as much as any other subject.”
As a closer, a asked David for a quick ‘n nifty 35-second State-Of-The-Union message.
“Oh, Charles,” said the man, “you are dreadful”. But he leaned into the microphone, and have vent to the following: “Prepare for your war, because it’s going to be your war. this is to the people, because it’s going to be civil, and not worldwide.”