VH1 Fashion Awards Show – David Bowie Interview

by Amy Scott / VH1

21st October 1996

David Bowie was interviewed on VH-1 in a two hour show (most of which consisted of music videos), in preparation for an upcoming VH-1 Fashion Show Awards (at which David performed two songs).

Amy Scott: Whether he’s defining gender roles as Ziggy Stardust, redefining a pop icon such as Andy Warhol in Basquiat, or simply…

David Bowie:…simply refining the post-modern sound, David Bowie is a performer and a personality who continually challenges our perceptions of the music, movie and fashion worlds spinning around us.

I don’t think I could have said that better myself.

Spinning as though vacillating between the extremes
of positive and negative.

Uh huh, uh huh.

All right, hello, how are you?

Hello David, welcome to our studio. It’s nice to have you here today.

Thank you, it’s good to be here.

Does anybody ever call you Dave? I doubt it.

No. (laughs)

I won’t either, I promise.

Actually, they do on the Internet.

Oh do they? Oh ok. I heard about your Cyberchat recently…

Yeah, yeah, Dave often comes up.

That was very interesting. You did a cyberchat…

But they do it because they know I hate it.

Oh really, well, how nice of them.

Well that’s just umm… love. (laughs)

Now I understand you’re currently recording the new album.

Yeah, we started just about three weeks ago. We laid down a couple of tracks before we went on our summer festival tour, and now we’re sort of redefining those and finishing off another ten or so. We’ve been doing gigs in between.

How’s touring changed for you now (in the 90s)?

Well the best thing for me is that the European way is tending more towards raves, so the whole tone of what we’re doing has been sort of moving in that direction. We find that we’re working with an awful lot of the contemporary European bands. We’ve been sort of touring with Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, and Underworld and all that, and it’s just been absolute dynamite, it’s been fantastic. And I think this is probably my favourite kind of work. I really enjoy the competition, I enjoy the whole vibe, I like the feeling of the audience. It’s really great and you get to see a lot of other bands as well. And you get to know them and talk to them. There’s much more interaction in those situations. And the rave culture now is so much a part of what Europe is about.

Alright, well, we’re going to hang out more with David Bowie we’re going to touch on a couple of major milestones coming up in your career when we come back. But right now here’s Fashion.

clip: “fashion”——

Welcome back, hanging out here with David Bowie in the studio. And I’m so happy to have you here.

Good to be here.

Now you have a couple of great big milestones in your career coming up this January. Thirty years in the music industry…

Yeah, and 50 years old.

Congratulations.

Well, thank you.

When you were starting out, did you ever think, “Wow, when I’m fifty, I’m going to do this”?

No, not, not even for one day. I didn’t really… I’ve not really changed in that way. I’ve always been fairly lodged in today, you know, in what I’m doing right now, and any long term thinking past six months, what tours I’ve got coming up or whatever has not really been part of the way I’ve structured my life, so I’m the same now. I just think about what I’m doing now.

Did you ever have any idols when you were first starting out?

Yeah, I think probably… they’re quite wide actually because they ranged from painters to musicians. I like people like Marcel Duchamp, Jackson Pollock, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Tony Newley, er and as I got older…

Didn’t they compare you to Anthony Newley when you first started out, I think?

Yeah, well I used to try and copy him as much as I could.

Did you really?

Yeah, I was a huge fan. I’ve always liked the theatre, and art, and movies. I just love getting around, I’ve always been curious.

How do you think your priorities have changed as far, you know, as a performer. I mean sure, in the 70s it was all sex, drugs and rock and roll. What is it now?

Apart from the drugs, not much really. (chuckles)

Yeah, you know…

No, really. My energies are still exactly in the same place. My work is a priority over a lot of my life. I still have the same enthusiasm for what I do. I guess that’s really been my…that’s what I’ve followed as a path since I was a kid is that if I’m excited about what I’m doing, then I’m doing the right thing, and if I’m not, then I’m definitely in the wrong place, and I have to sort of… just find out what it is that still excites me about music and performing, or sculpting or whatever.

You’ve certainly done it all, it’s a good path to follow. Well we’re going to be back with more with David Bowie here in the studio so stay with us. We’ll be back after the music. Check this out.

Back here, hanging out with David Bowie, in the studio. How’re you doing?

Good.

Good, you loosening up?

Well, I’m smoking more, so I guess that’s… that’s in the right direction.

That will work. Hey, I know recently you’ve done some work with the Children’s Defense Charity Fund. Tell me what that is.

It’s very much something that my wife is more concerned with as more of a full time thing than I am, but she asked me whether I would like to help her do some fundraising with her, for the BCCC, which is the Black Crusade Community Child’s Fund. And what I thought might be a good thing to get some interest going, is that a few years ago, in the Carribean, I was able to raise some money by getting some celebrities to decorate plates, dinner plates, and so I applied the same thing in New York, and the response was absolutely fantastic. Everyone from Janet Jackson, Muhhamed Ali, Rosa Parks, Madonna, Robert De Niro, they all submitted plates, and we auctioned the things. And I think it raised, the plates themselves, raised, all together, over $80,000. And I enjoyed it very much. I like auctioneering.

Yeah, did you get to do up and do the…

I like selling stuff. Yeah, that was my, that was what I… mycontribution was that. I can auctioneer, I can sell people stuff.

Yeah?

Yeah.

OK, sell me something… OK, put you on the spot there (both laugh). So let’s go back to your childhood a little bit. When you were a kid…

Do we have to? (laughs)

Do we have to? Yeah, come on, let’s go way back there. When you were a kid, what was the first instrument you played. Saxophone?

Yeah.

How old were you?

Ah, no, I guess it was piano, because sort of the obligatory piano lessons when I was a kid. But I saw a film, it was called Disc Jockey Jamboree in Britain, and it er…, one of the artists was Little Richard. And I thought, I was about 8, and I thought when I grow up I want to be a sax player in that band. So that sort of, it was just that one, I remember it very clearly, it was just that one film which really pushed me more into being a musician than anything else.

Did you ever get to play sax with Little Richard?

No, I didn’t. I did get to play piano with him one night.

Oh did you?

That was fun yeah. I didn’t meet him until, he was a real hero of mine for years and years. And I only met him a couple of years ago, a few years ago. And the strangest thing that in all these years, that I didn’t realize (points to eyes) that he has two different coloured eyes.

Really?

Yeah, and it just really blew me away. I’m an ultimate fan, I mean I love music and I love the people in it and I love meeting them.

That sort of amazes me, that someone like you could be in awe of someone else.

Oh it’s .. well you know, it’s magic, music is magic. It’s like meeting magicians really.

That’s great. Alright, well, we’ve got to toss to another video here. Wanna do it? It’s one of yours.

What is it?

It’s Modern Love.

Modern Love, something I’ve got in abundance, Modern Love.

Beautiful.
cut to music video clips starting with Modern Love

Back here with David Bowie, multi-talented performer. You’re like a multimedia performer. You do it all. You sing, you write, you paint, you act. In fact, I just saw Basquiat not too long ago.

It was a fun role to do.

cut to video clip from Basquiat

You knew Andy Warhol obviously?

Um, I’m not sure about that. I’ve met him so many times. I mean he was everywhere all the time. And so you couldn’t help but run into him if you were sort of hanging out in New York in the 70’s and 80s, early 80s.

In preparing to play him, what did you do?

(laughs) I put the wig on.

Is that it?

Yeah, I’m not very good at that stuff. I’m not an err… I did the film because Julian Schnabel, a painter, is a very good friend of mine. He’s an incredibly gregarious talented artist, and we just felt that he would be able to carry it off, and we were only too keen to work with him. It’s not something I particularly enjoy doing, I find it incredibly boring.

Really?

Yes, you really have to be prepared to throw yourself wholeheartedly into the minds and thoughts of somebody else, and I’m more sort of too interested in what I’m doing to really do that. And I much prefer to explore creativity in another aspect, umm, writing, painting, those are really the things that I enjoy.

Alright, well if I may, in Basquiat though, you played Andy Warhol so well. Is it true that you actually wore his real clothes?

Yeah, Julian knew the museum in Philadelphia pretty well, and they lent everything. Literally, the wigs, the wig, the jumpers, the shoes, the jeans, everything it was all his stuff.

That had to be very weird.

Well, it still had a slight perfume on it, so it was most peculiar, wearing clothes that closely that you could still smell…

Are you serious?

…what he was wearing, yeah.

clip from Basquiat

It was really most peculiar. And the little clutch bag that he used to carry around, they kept all the contents as was. So it had a little sort of spot-coverer things, and addresses and notes to… I don’t know… to boyfriends or something I guess.

Did you feel like the Warhol spirit ever visited you during this, any of this?

I thought “I could sell this stuff”! (laughs)

Yeah, good god.

This would make some serious money. (laughs)

Absolutely, don’t spill anything on this dirty jacket because it’s worth money. Alright, when we come back, we’re going to talk a little about David’s personal style, and we’ll have more, we’re just hanging out with David Bowie, stay with us. Oh here’s Let’s Dance, good one, love this one.

Oh yeah… (laughs)

cut to music video of Let’s Dance

Back here with David Bowie, a man who needs no introduction. Now, we’ve been talking to all sorts of fashion people, becau er, well, we’re into fashion here. And you seem to be such a fashionable guy, you’ve changed your look so many, many times.

cut to montage of Bowie clips

Tell me about the look you’re wearing today, David! (both laugh)

Ah… yeah.

This is called “out of the studio”?

I’m not sure actually… I’m not at all fashionable.

Oh please.

No, I’m interested in how whatever the performance is I’m doing looks, but it doesn’t go much further than that. I mean, I really sort of dress the show as much as, because I was so much into theatre when I was a kid, and how it looked, and how you produce something on stage. It was the aspect of characterization that interested me, and that would require certains ways of looking and dressing.

Which brings us to obviously Ziggy Stardust.

Yeah, it was a very innovative clothes form at the time. Yamomoto did all those orginal clothes, umm, and I think it was the first time really, that Japanese fashion clothes, which is what they were, had really been seen in the West.

Now did you come up with the idea and talk to him about styling, or…?

I saw his stuff when I was actually in Japan, and I got to know him pretty well. A lot of it was based on Kabuki theatre, a Japanese theatre form, but sort of modernized and slightly put into a sort of a space world.

So was that how Ziggy evolved? Was it through the costuming, or was it…? Tell me..

No, it was a myriad of ideas. I mean, it was the destruction of a created pop entity.

cut to video clip from The Jean Genie

What made you put him to bed, and will he ever come back?

I got bored. I mean, it’s you know, I’ve got a very short attention span and once I’ve done something, I really want to move on to the next thing, that’s exciting.

So will he ever come back?

No.

What if someone else brought him back?

Ah, Oh, god, I pity them… Good luck.

Well, we’re going to toss now to a video which was actually a little before Ziggy’s time, but was actually involved in a moon-walk, wasn’t this?

What is it?

Space Oddity.

Um, yeah, they just played it constantly at the time, in Britain anyway. I don’t remember what was happening.

It’s a great video, let’s check it out, Space Oddity.
cut to music video of Space Oddity

Back here hanging out with David Bowie. Now David I know the new album’s going to be out in January.

Yeah.

And it’s called Earthling. And I’m sure you’re going to launch a big tour to go along with it, right, you’re going to continue on your…

Lot, lots of stuff, yeah.

Now, like I said, I recently saw you at Roseland, and I’m really interested in David Bowie the creative guy versus David Bowie the person. When you get ready for a show like Roseland, in contrast to you know your Ziggy Stardust days or whatever, how do you prepare and how involved do you get into the actual…?

I find a new jacket, that’s the first thing I do.

(laughs) I liked the one you had on at that show by the way.

OK, Alex McQueen.

Oh, very good, see, he knows his designer.

Alex is, well, Alex is probably the hippest young designer in London at the moment, and he’s been working with me for the last year. We actually, the stuff that we do for, what I wear and what Gail wears, the mask with the crucifix on and all those things, they’re really collaborations with Alex. I like him very much. He’s very radical. Although of course he’s just been kicked upstairs to Givenchy. He’s now, sort of big-time designer. This last week I think.

And you helped him start it.

Well, his stuff is great. I love the way he sort of breaks it up and fragments clothes.

So, how, you know you’re obviously married to one of the sth women in America, or in the world. Does she help you out when it comes to…?

Again, it’s probably because when one works in that kind of area, the interest kind of fades off a bit. And for Iman, I mean, she really doesn’t have that much interest. I mean, neither of us have ever been to a fashion show, for instance. It’s not really part of our lives. She used to do them and stuff, but since we’ve met, no.

You don’t sit around and… She doesn’t go “Oh honey I love you in this, but you know what, if you threw a little”?

(laughs) I, er, no, it’s just not like that. Not at all, not even vaguely.

Wow, see the things you learn. Your staging, your sets, everything’s very dramatic – you strike dramatic poses on stage. It’s a show, it’s more than a concert. How much…?

Yeah, even the kind of the loose shows are fairly dynamic. I think it’s just for me, when I’m an audience, I want to have something that really is sort of full, and with lots of information visually. So if I want that myself, then I presume that’s what an audience would want to see too. So I work very intensely on lighting and production values and sets and clothes and all that.

overlay with clip from Roseland, NY show singing Little Wonder

We’re not done yet. We’ll be back with more David Bowie. Stay with us.

cut to music video of China Girl

Back here with one of the hippest cats I know, David Bowie. How’re you doing?

I’m doing great.

I just want to ask you a question.. I want to get back to fashion for a second here.

Yeah.

Madonna, Elton John, John Bon Jovi, they’ve always been in vogue, now they’re literally in Vogue, because they’ve modelled for Versace. What do you think about pop stars or rock stars you know becoming fashion spokespeople. Would you ever do that? Because you would seem a likely…

I did a lot in the 70s. I mean I, it was quite the thing in the 70’s. You wouldn’t remember that dear. But there was a time when I, would do a lot of stuff for Kensai for instance, specifically in Japan. Maybe Japan were on it a lot earlier. They always had a tie between rock and fashion. The two cultures were very entwined in Japan, very early on. And it really has, it’s taken quite a long time for that to happen over here. Although I guess so many street things spread up into the rock world and then from the rock world into fashion. That happens such a lot.

Do you think music follows fashion or fashion follows music?

Um, depends whose music doesn’t it? I think, er, music is its own world.

cut to short clip of The Hearts Filthy Lesson

I watch a lot of videos and go “I want that jacket” or something like that.

I think if the artist is just looking for something to wear on stage, I think probably he or she will buy what’s fashionable, often. But I think if it’s more about what the performer should feel like, then maybe more original ideas for clothing come out of that.

Well, we’re not done yet so don’t go anywhere. We’ve got one more segment with you.

Alright.

So we’re going to hang around here more with David Bowie after this fine music video.

Wrapping up the show here with David Bowie. It’s such a pleasure having you here, I can’t tell you.

It’s been great to be here.

So we got the new album coming out in January.

Yeah.

We can expect more great music from you. Tell us one more time.

A lot yeah. I’m working on two other albums immediately after this over the next six months, and in between that I’m working on stage stuff.

Man, when are you going to take a break?

I really don’t know. I mean it’s not occurred to me, and I don’t really feel like one. I’m pretty happy.

You going to celebrate your birthday? How are you going to celebrate?

I’ve not thought about it at all. I really haven’t.

Really?

No.

Someone’s got to be. I’m sure Iman is buying party hats as we speak.

I think she’s doing something secretively to that end. So it will be a big surprise.

Oh well, we’ll look forward to hearing about that. I’m sure it will be a fashionable soiree. So what sort of goals do you set yourself for the future?

I really don’t. My only goal is to really feel as though each day spent has a certain quality about it, that’s more than acceptable you know. I really just want to enjoy life on a day to day basis. That’s really as far as my ambitions go. And I feel that I’ve achieved that. I’m incredibly happy… with life.

Well, it’s working. You look great, you sound great, your music has never been better. You just…it’s just such a pleasure having you here.

Thank you so much.

Thank you so much for spending some time with us.

It’s been my pleasure.

Alright, we’re going to wrap it up with Blue Jean, hey one of yours, one of his.

Cut to music video of Blue Jean

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