The Bowie Scene

by Mick Rock / Music Scene

18th July 1973

    “I should like to replace all parts of my body with plastic equivalents. Then I couldn’t grow old. I could just sit inside and watch it all function perfectly.” The strange young man with the flame-red mane and the thin blue lines where most people have eyebrows seems to relish the thought. His eyes gleam excitedly. “I’d be a robot then, wouldn’t I?” Not quite. But you get his point.

He pauses; a set of neatly manicured and varnished fingernails – “All my own work,” he chuckles – reach up to administer a delicate flick to his nose. Already, though still flesh and bone, David Bowie gives a distinctly futuristic, otherworldly feel.

It might seem strange that someone as young as he is, and enjoying so much success, should be so concerned about age and decay. “I’m always worried about it,” he grins ambiguously. “Think of the pain involved.”

He would love to be put on ice before he got really old. Kept alive until a new age, “Walt Disney’s done it. He got them to freeze him until they’ve found a cure for the illness which was killing him. Anyway, think of the fun waking up in 200 years time. There’d be so many new things to look at and find out about.” He winces; changes tack radically. “Of course, more likely there’ll be nothing to look at at all. It’d be nice though to know how exactly it did all turn out.”

Nobody has created such a stir as Mr. B, Old Aladdin Sane himself, since the turn of the decade. He’s the most provocative figure in modern music. Listen to his records. Watch him perform. Read what the press have to say about him. Where does that leave you? Confused probably. And intrigued. Actor, poet, clown, and, of course, songwriter, as with that great enigma of the sixties, Bob Dylan, he recedes from your grasp, even as he reveals himself. Now you see him, now you don’t. Roll up, roll up, I give you the new Wizard of Rock. What he has over the all the other rock superstars is a real mystique. Sheer class. He is able to generate powerful images, to promote a sense of myth, like no other modern star.

It’s mostly due to the fact that he has always been at least equally as interested in theatre and films as he has in music. And also because he’s always refused to allow himself to be bound by the images he generates. This is at least part of the reason why he recently decided to retire from live performances after his last date on his U.K. tour.

He needs to involve himself with many different things. Record production, films, theatre; he’s always said that he never regarded himself primarily as a rock star. That it was only a mantle he assumed for convenience sake to get himself to a position where people would take notice of what he did. Now he’s in that position, now that the public as a whole recognise his abilities, he can expand and explore further a whole range of activities.

Not that he intends to stop recording. Almost immediately after the tour he left for France to record his new album “Pinups.” But he’s not a musical technician; he’s a performer, a writer, an instigator. “I always knew from an early age that my role in life was to lead; not follow.”

He never had any intention of flogging himself round the world year in, year out, like the conventional rock musician. He’s an original, and knows it. His guitarist and fellow-arranger musically, Mick Ronson, platinum blonde and skinny, points out: “Dave’s always making up chords and sequences of his own. That’s why his songs sound so different.” Nothing daunts Bowie from trying his hand at the new. His chequered career is an excellent indication of that.

“Something’s got to happen. It’s all very sterile at the moment. I mean, few young people go to the theatre. Rock’s replaced it. It has the energy which modern theatre has been striving to find, but can’t. It is the new theatre, really. But, let’s face it, most rock artists don’t know what they’re up to; they don’t know how to use it. They’ve lost their way.”

Certainly, Bowie is one of the few performers who seem capable of giving rock a new, fruitful direction, away from the arid, self-indulgent instrumental meanderings and macho posturing of the so-called ‘progressive’ faction. His live performances exhibited a subtlety and control which rock them beyond the range of the average rock audience. This explains why his admirers cover such a broad cross section of age groups and attitudes, and, for all his ‘fag’ image, nowhere is he loved more than in traditionally ‘earthy’ working class cities like Glasgow, Liverpool, Leeds.

It’s probably true to say that he’s one of the few people to really touch the pulse of this insane age we live in. When you buy a Bowie album you are not just coughing up for the songs and the sound, you’re taking an aura, a life-style back into your homes. And in a society as deluged by image and sound as ours is, the distinctiveness and individuality of Bowie’s work is as refreshing as a raindrop in the Sahara. Right.

That’s why he has had so many imitators. All across the country on his last tour, boys, and girls, men and women were turning up in their Bowie make-up and garb. The zig-zag from Aladdin Sane sleeve, and the gold studded spot in the centre of the forehead which Bowie used throughout the tour were to be seen flashing from all parts of the auditorium.

In Guildford, there was even a security guard, called Brian Burchett, an antique dealer by regular trade, who sported a Ziggy hairdo and heavy eye make-up, which belied the obvious power and muscularity of his physical frame. “He’s a very beautiful person,” said Brian after meeting David backstage. “He’s so friendly and considerate.” What, some may ask, is it all coming to? When even the men, the ‘real’ men with broad masculine physiques are camping it up. “It’s all coming out into the open,” grins David, “and I love it.”

No one’s too sure what Bowie will do after he’s recorded his new album, and Bowie isn’t saying too much about it, although he does expect to involve himself in a film in the near future. He’s being wooed at the moment by the likes of John Schlesinger, director of ‘Midnight Cowboy’. His ambition is huge. You can feel it in all he does.

Yet he has the discipline to ensure that he takes each step one at a time, even if some of them are frighteningly gigantic ones. Whatever he does, everyone’s eyes will be on him, watching for any signs of weakness. Bowie knows it and enjoys it. It’s all part of the game. “I’m a tightrope walker. Always have been. That’s the only way I know how to live.”

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