Rock & Folk Interview

by Jerome Soligny / Rock & Folk, French-language magazine (translated)

December 1998

Ziggy Stardust is known today as David Bowie. He lives on planet Earth, which he is about to cover with a web he named BowieNet. “Velvet Goldmine” called him to order, as we well remember. To surprise us, he always thought a lot. To have control over his image he took the habit of using the reflection of the idea the public has of him and to agree with it.

….Some find him cold, others see him as calculating. But, David Bowie who is nearly 52, has had his ups and downs. And his nature, chased away since the time of lam (on the 6 June 1972 to be precise, the date of the release of “The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars” and start of big orchestral maneuvers in the open, did not come back on the back of a horse.

….But who cares. Creator, conceiver, rapist, violator, choker, Bowie knows that the truth of popular art comes lying. Or perhaps redrawing its shape with charcoal or with a machete depending on the mood or the necessity. And that while ” Velvet Goldmine “, Todd Haynes film, reinstates reality in a more empirical way, and finally puts Glam back on the big map of rock, knowing David Bowie’s opinion about a film which tells his story without naming him seems to be crucial.

….Even more since, as we already know the man from elsewhere is planning at this time a project (forbidden to be seen as similar) about these years of glitter and the birth of his Ziggy. But a double reserve seemed to block any form of communication on the subject. His own first, the one of a man who is so warned about the odyssey of his own species that he is worth at least 2001 and who chooses more often to be silent when he wants to be heard. And also the one of Rock&Folk, wishing to respect the law of silence tacitly imposed. So, why on earth, despite all the services given to his cause (in exchange of inestimable cultural satisfactions) would this paper have obtained what the others (Rolling Stone, Q, Mojo, Record Collector, Select, Uncut, etc.) did not get?

….Because. Because David Bowie is like that. Unpredictable, genius, thrilling. So much that when his assistant Coco Schwab phones to the Éditions Larivière on the 28 October at 7 PM to announce that he is prepared to talk about the film and about Glam, we are not much surprised. Like we know, the man is capable of anything, of the best as well as of something even stronger.

These good words fallen from his sky are very dear to our hearts.

Q:Since the start of your career, the word nostalgia seems to have been banned from your vocabulary. Do you sometimes think of these glitter years with emotion?

David Bowie: I remember each period of my life with emotion but I have I must say, no particular affection for those years. I know that they were effectively decisive, because I saw for the first time a real audience. But equally I have the feeling that I worked a lot before 1970.

Why did you refuse the opportunity to give some of your songs for “Velvet Goldmine” ?

Two month even before being approached about this film, my two business advisers had contacted American agents to study the possibilities of a project based on the story of Ziggy Stardust. In the current state of things I cannot say much more about the exact nature of that project as it might be much more complex than a simple film or a musical. What’s certain is that I was already very excited at the idea of an opportunity to present my vision of the Ziggy years. I know that it will be fantastic and will probably say the day of light in 2002.

Have you seen “Velvet Goldmine”?

Yes, a while ago already

Your only words about the film was that it was the trailor of your project.

It is effectively my opinion and you will understand why when you’ll see it.

What do you think about it ?

I would like to say something that I think pertinent because, far from having left me indifferent, the film very strong feelings. Here is what I feel: I don’t want to say anything at the moment because I am convinced that if I made any negative comments in the current state of things, it could be interpreted as hostile or premeditated. Having said that, I will talk about it but not during the next six months. For the time being my only comment is that people have to go see the film to form their own opinion. I prefer not to add anything instead of giving it discredit, which is not in my interest as it does not disturb me much. I don’t want to give the impression that I have been upset by anything because frankly, it is not the case.

By killing Ziggy Stardust you were going to make of glam rock, at the time a simple musical genre, a mythical current. Did you do it on purpose or were you so tired and disgusted of Glam that the only thing that counted was for you to go forward?

I was surely not disgusted but effectively exhausted. Most of all routine annoyed me and, as you know, I have never been very stable artistically. When I have created something I have just the idea in my head to start something else. But I think there are two types of glam rock. The one Roxy Music, for example, were trying to make was to expand the vocabulary of rock music. We were trying to include in our music certain strong visual aspects on the artistic side, taken from the so called fine arts, or theatrical and cinematographic references, in fact everything external to rock. I introduced myself some bits of dadaïsm, and a lot of elements borrowed to the Japanese culture. I think we took ourselves for avant-garde explorers, representatives of an embryonic form of postmodernism. The other aspect of things was borrowed directly from the rock tradition, strange clothes, all that. Honestly I think that we were very elitist. I can’t talk for Roxy Music but, I was myself a real snob.

….More than the Spiders anyway (laughs)… And at the end, I reckon there were two levels of glam rock, the one on the top and the other… further down. I think we were more in the first category (laughs)… We saw much further than the other that I won’t name but that you know well.

In Rock&Folk, we are very conscious of that fact and we have no intention of approaching Roxy Music or T Rex in the same way we would approach Gary Glitter.

It’s interesting to hear you talking about Marc (Bolan), who is effectively of a crucial importance but strangely I am not sure that he would like to be assimilated to glam rock. For him he was the first Marc Bolan, T Rex. I personally saw him as a character of transition between a certain hippie culture and a more flamboyant aspect, incarnated by what he was going to be, and wearing satin jackets and velvet trousers. It was by the way a look borrowed to the Rolling Stones, and he added also glitter around the eyes. He introduced the period but I think that he was not glam in the sense that he would never have worn high heels boots. He was satisfied with his little hippie shoes from Anello & David where I also bought my dancing ballerinas. But his position was very interesting. He found himself a bit like Johnny Ray, between the crooners à la Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley the rocker. Johnny Ray knew that he was there in the middle, not any more really crooner but still not rocker…

A sort of human bridge?

Exactly, Marc was a bridge. In fact we have even been lucky to be able to talk about it after we became friends again. As you probably know, we were very good friends two or three times in our careers (laughs). For the first time in the early sixties, at the end of the same decade and finally during the two years preceding his tragic death. He didn’t see himself as a glam artist but more like somebody else. The concept of bridge or missing link suits him well, which was exactly how he felt.

The ultimate aim

The glam years are the ones of the coming of sexuality in rock and then the using of rock as a media more and more powerful until complete vulgarisation, start of a certain decline…

I reckon that sexuality has always been around through artists like Little Richard, Elvis Presley or Mick Jagger but suddenly it got articulated, moving for the first time. And above all it was not mute any more. I never said that the famous interview “I’m Gay”, given at the dawn of the movement, was the most intelligent thing I ever said, as I often read by revisionists of history, but it effectively proved that rock should carry good and bad words high and loud.

During our last meeting you declared that you consider yourself as a survivor, a fish which passed through all nets and all excess. Mike Garson says that you don’t trust people because you have been too often stabbed in the back. You have nevertheless a few friends left that you met during that period. You just started to work again with Tony Visconti (the last collaboration between the two men dated from 1980, the year in which Tony Visconti produced ” Scary Monsters “)…

Absolutely, we just finished recording “Mother”, the John Lennon song, for a compilation of covers that Yoko is just arranging. It was a good excuse to go back to the studio. In fact we were looking for a stepping-stone to do something together again, and this totally autonomous piece seemed to me to be convenient. We didn’t want to take the risk of starting a whole album to recognize after three songs that there was no more connection between us. In fact it worked very well and we decided to work together in the near future.

Today, from Air to Marilyn Manson passing through Smashing Pumpkins or Placebo, you are a unanimous influence. We have the feeling that lots of musicians make music because of you.

It is incredible, it is a real phenomenon since the beginning of the ’90s. So much that I recognised it myself. It is well known that most groups have been influenced by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones – it is a fact. I recognized it myself when I started working with orchestras, I considered these two groups as pioneers. And of course, to find myself on the same list as these prestigious people is something remarkable and terribly flattering.

….But moreover, it confirms the fact that I real succeeded in creating something different on the cultural level, which is in my opinion the ultimate aim of every artist. I am particularly proud of it. It’s fabulous, grandiose. Euh, I want to get a cigarette, I still smoke…

Too much?

Yes, probably.

Young Dudes

You repeated lots of times how highly you thought of Mick Ronson, your work mate of the glam years, that you invited at the end of his life for the “Black Tie White Noise” sessions (in 1991). There is one question left without answer and Ian Hunter has his own theory on the subject : why weren’t you at the Mick Ronson Memorial Concert ?


If it is too embarrassing, you don’t need too answer.

No, It is not that at all (very long silence). I think that I will effectively not say anything on this subject. Believe me there are a few good reasons, but I am very happy that you asked me the question because it forces me to think about it. I will certainly answer your question one day… There were of course personality conflicts. The only thing I can tell is that Ian has nothing to do with it.

What ever the reasons are, you don’t have to feel forced to tell them?

Let’s say that for now I am on the other side, the only one who knows the full story. But that’s OK, I am used to this kind of situation. I will certainly talk about this absence sooner or later.. The truth is I was not convinced by the motivations of this event but, frankly, I prefer to stay silent for the moment, it is too tricky.

Thanks anyway to have talked to me about it. How is Ian by the way?

Very well, he is doing this glam special with you. The Mott the Hoople box set just came out and it is really a nice piece of work. I hope everything is OK for him sometimes I have the feeling that he is very resentful.

He has nevertheless been always very correct about you. About David Bowie in 1991, Hunter had declared to Rock&Folk : “I will never say anything bad about him. When you have been lucky enough to cross a genius along the road, you must be quiet”). On the contrary he had no problem giving his opinion about Tony Defries.

Oh yes? I must admit that does not disturb me at all (laughs)…

About Mott The Hoople, don’t you find it very ironic to have given them ” All The Young Dudes “, the hymn of that time, which was an enormous hit for them, and not for you?

Don’t tell me about it, I know it better than anybody else. When I finished writing the song I knew it would be a hit and I could not believe that I was about to give it to somebody else (laughs)…

It must be a horrible feeling…

But there is something else which has always amazed me and you should ask this question to Ian : why didn’t they want to record ” Drive-In Saturday ” that I wrote for them later? I never understood because I always felt that for Mott the Hoople it would have been a perfect single. What I know is that Ian hates having the feeling of owing something to somebody and he must have particularly hated the idea of singing another Bowie title. He is very proud and probably didn’t want to give the impression of depending on me. It is a supposition, but I could never understand why they refused this chance.

I believe that history has shown that this fear of Ian Hunter was justified. Most of the time we remember Mott the Hoople through “All The Young Dudes “.

It is luck, only luck.


How is BowieNet going?

Very well. We expect to do an English launch before the end of the year and the same for Europe at the start of spring. For now twice a month we have started to release two live pieces from the Earthling Tour and I have encouraged all the users of the server to send their own illustrations, comments, mementos, videos and text which will be used for the booklet of a project which, for now, is called: “Live & Well”. In fact everything will be done by myself and the users of BowieNet. On the 19th of October we’ll also have a songwriting competition for a song I just wrote the chorus for, that I will record soon and which will be exclusively available on the Web. You should perhaps enter It.

It would be the beginning of the end…

No, not at all, you could use a nom de plume, invent a character (laughs)… Create a character !

Of course, excellent idea, why not Ziggy Stardust? It sounds good, doesn’t it?

Yes, super and it would be inspired by my own life (laughs).

And when can we hope for a new studio album?

Reeves Gabrels and I have written a lot during the last few month and we might just record all these songs to see what will come out of it. There will also be a lot of sessions with Tony Visconti but for now there is no real concept. We compose for the pleasure and our spectrum is wide, between purely electronic music and acoustic songs. Right now I am unable to predict the exact nature of the next album. Because Reeves and myself have been working together for so long we cover today a wide amount of incredibly different styles. It is fantastic, it is like having a gigantic…


Yes, exactly, and we just need to mix the shade. But I will inform you about the progression of these projects.

And we will write about it…

I know that. You know how easy it is for me to manipulate the press (laughs).


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