Can Bowie’s act turn him into a Movie Star?

by Ernest Leogrande

September 1976

Who is David Bowie? How can anyone tell? One of his early songs, “Changes,” told it. No other figure in the world of pop music has changed his physical and artistic image so many times and with such calculation.

….The United States first became aware of him in 1972 with orange hair standing up like a fright wig, wearing hilarious exaggerated science fiction costumes which pulled were pulled away during performance to reveal him in sequined jockstraps. This was his Ziggy Stardust period and has remained the most popular image of him. The British rocker became crown prince of the bizarre, spawning a spectrum of glitter-struck imitators; the suggestion of his bisexuality was an asset.

….Later Bowie, married and father of a son named Zowie, 5 years old now, was to intimate that these sexual innuendoes were a publicity ploy and, later to acknowledge that they were true. By then the general impact of this information was minimal on a society already jaded with sexual input from movies, books, plays, magazines and even television.

….Bowie considers himself so well known now that he goes by the single name Bowie. In his latest concert from he is severe in appearance, slicked-back hair with toned-down color, plain white shirt and draped pants. His music too has changed, going from disturbing melodies and lyrics echoing themes of death and paranoia to a more joyful approach, influenced strongly by disco rhythms.

….It was this sound which brought him his first NO. 1 single in the U.S. last year, “Fame,” even though he had had plenty of real fame before that.

….In his earliest show-biz phase, at age 19 in 1966, he had been David Jones, his real name, a wide-eyed innocent heading his own rock band, but what kid wasn’t in a rock band then? Since there already was a David Jones, a young actor-singer who later made a hit as a part of the Monkees quartet, Bowie was born.

….He had a go with mime troupe headed by Lindsay Kemp, prominent British mime, and the resultant acting training has been incorporated ever since into his musical performances. He also is musically versatile, playing guitar, piano and saxophone. Just before he first came to the United States, he had gone through a phase of affecting an extreme feminine look with a long Veronica Lake-style hairdo (although his most frequent comparison was with Lauren Bacall).

….By the time he came to the U.S. the hair had been cut but the continuing ambiguous sexual aura got him more press than his music. His wife Angie, sitting in on an interview at the time, was rather shrill in her denunciation of this emphasis on her husbands sexuality. “People ought to wake up some morning in the loo,” she said “look themselves and say “Why am I so concerned if David Bowie is bisexual! “. “I wished to come over as a songwriter with his band,” Bowie said during that interview, “and be taken on our own merits.” However, the theatricality he surrounded himself with was so thick it was bound to complete with the music.

….Two years later, he presented what was almost an opera, a dark vision of the future called “Diamond Dogs,” with theatrical sets of a ruined city dripping blood. It was inspired by George Orwells 1984.” There were all kinds of gimmickry, like Bowie being lowered in a cherry picker while singing “Space Oddity,” a song of a doomed astronaut named Major Tom.

….Even today, with no scenery except stark white lightning, Bowie commands the stage as a theatrical figure. His theatricality at last has found legitimate acting expression, as the star of a movie, The Man Who Fell To Earth, directed by Nicolas Roeg, the same man who put Mick Jagger into a movie, the 1970 Performance. In The Man Who Fell To Earth Bowie plays a mysterious inscrutable man from another planet, a role some cynics might call type casting: The Bowie mystique was only helped by his arrest on a marijuana charge in Rochester, New York, last spring on his concert tour. He and two male members of the touring party and a young woman fan were arrested in a motel room with what police said was a half-pound of the weed. The charge against them was a felony, carrying a maximum sentence, if convicted, of 15 years in prison. While he was waiting arraignment in court that evening, he and his companions were placed in a room with half a dozen prostitutes, who began screaming his name ecstatically when they recognized him. One of them cursed the police for arresting him. Bowie contended he never has smoked dope. He was released on bail and at the end of his tour sailed for Europe and his Switzerland home aboard the Leonardo da Vinci with the outcome of the case still pending.

….He sailed because he has a fear of flying. “I don’t like to press my luck,” he says. “I’m just a baby about going high. I don’t like going above the tenth floor. All my hotel rooms are low.” Well, he has compensations for his problems. His income for one. He can afford to indulge himself with such luxuries as a custom-fitted limousine-a Lincoln Continental for the U.S.-a Daimler for Europe-with TV, stereo, refrigerator and hanging pictures and plants. “My retreat,” he calls it.

….He also is a sometime artist and he intends to spend time at home getting together painting and sculpture for a U.S. exhibit.

….Despite his multiple facets, he insists there really are no more than two Bowie’s. There is the David Bowie who performs on stage, “he said,” and there is the real Bowie.”.


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