Hello, I’m David Bowie and You’re Not

by Karen Swayne / No. 1 Magazine

April 1987

This one was definitely the hottest ticket of the year so far. It was only a press conference, but it was David Bowie.

….Everybody knew that David Bowie was announcing a world tour – his first since the Serious Moonlight bash – and that DB had a new LP ‘Never Let Me Down‘ and single ‘Day-In Day-Out‘ to promote, not everyone knew that the Great Man was to play two live songs in London’s old Music Hall Theatre, the Players, on a tiny stage that had witnessed such ancient show biz legends as Marie Loyd, Hettie Jaques and the Aspidistras.

….After a few record company type announcements from anonymous chaps in suits David and band bounded on and snapped into the new single as if he and they had never been away.

….Cynical hacks rose to their feet and applauded while Bowie pulled out a stool, Val Doonican style, and greeted us by saying “Hello, I’m David Bowie and you’re not! Would anyone like to ask anything, he said bemusedly.”

….From there on in it was plain sailing for the former Ziggy Stardust, also known as the Thin White duke and the Man Who Fell To Earth.

….Bowie is nothing if not an accomplished arch manipulator and he even had the nerve to pull out a list of his own questions, all of which the press duly asked.

….We learnt that Bowie’s new ‘Glass Spider‘ tour will have “lots of flipping great spiders all over the stage” and that it will be “my most theatrically ambitious set since the ‘Diamond Dogs’ tour which never played Britain, boo hiss”.

….He also confirmed that “I never said I was going to retire from live music after this tour, I’m just diversifying my career” and that “I never said it would it would feature lights, costumes and lots of theatrical SEX but theatrical SETS. Got that?”

….“I’m not worried about it on the road competition this year. I do my thing and they do theirs”. He did plan to “do something with Mick Jagger in 1988 but I haven’t been told yet by Mick (said in knowing best chums tone) when he’s got the time and date.”

….A lot of the conference was spent putting the record straight. Bowie admitted “I have pretensions to direct but I’m not playing Lawrence of Arabia or Frank Sinatra thinks I’d be good for the role but I’m not very good with horses heads”.

….So, no chance of seeing the Godfather of Glam singing ‘My Way’ then?

….He would like to star with Kim Basinger he said but nobody asked him about the title track ‘Never Let Me Down‘ which features 9 1/2 Weeks star Mickey Rourke making his rapping debut.

….People were still curious about those glass spiders. “They’re Jungian (Jung was an old German psychologist, like Freud) figures, mother figures. Why do I keep on writing about spiders? I dunno. It’s about realizing you can’t rely on your parents anymore.” Humph.

Dressed in immaculate three quarter length morning jacket and pin-striped baggies and with his hair in a long version of the Pin Ups quiff, everyone agreed that DB looked sharp and remarkably young for a 40-year-old. How does he do it?

….“I got the gym, I lead a sane existence and go skiing whenever possible,” he grinned.

….Most memorable question was had he taken the AIDS test?

….“Yes, I have taken the AIDS test and I would take it every time I changed partners. I would also advice everyone to use condoms. AIDS is the most frightening disease affecting the planet now”.

….“Does anyone want to hear another song?” was the way Bowie neatly brought the press conference to a close.

….As usual he managed to answer every question without revealing too much of his inner self.

….“I always get confused when people ask who is the real David Bowie,” he flibbed before launching into ‘’87 And Cry‘ but then, like he said, “I’m David Bowie and you’re not”.

….Everyone went home happy, except Karen Swayne. She stayed for our exclusive interview . . .

Times change, and David Bowie changes with them. The man who was once considered the most outrageous rock star ever now choose the sedate, mega-posh Savoy Hotel to hold court to the privileged few.

….Then again, he is now into his fourth decade – although the trim figure who bounds into the huge mirrored bedroom suite sporting a nifty pair of red suede shoes looks nearer 30.

….Smaller than you’d imagine, Bowie shakes hands, then flops into a chaise-lounge clutching his head in the manner of a patient on an analyst’s couch.

….Clearly in the best of spirits, Bowie smiles and laughs a lot, and after insisting on checking that the tape recorder is working, we’re off. . .

You’ve said you are still quite shy. Do you ever have any qualms about leaving your nice, orderly Swiss lifestyle to go back in the public eye?

“I used to be much shyer than I am now. It’s very hard when you are shy to break out and say I’m going for it, talk to that person, and it’s taken an awful long time to shake that off. It’s just willpower. But once you break through and find it is OK to talk to people, the shyness slowly starts to go. I still get it through – I’ll be somewhere and I’ll suddenly go into myself, get really shy and wish I was somewhere else.”

People must react to you in odd ways sometimes?

“That’s always the worst thing. The perception of me changes worldwide, I don’t know why. People don’t know what to expect – some people literally expect some kind of weird Martian. If people have a definite perception of me and try to put things on me that are in their own minds then I get angry.

….“It’s quite extraordinary the way people expect me to be sometimes though. They seem really amazed that I talk, smoke cigarettes – I don’t know what they think I’ll be.”

Do you still live in Switzerland?

“Yeah, but when you say ‘living in Switzerland’, that’s for so few months of the year because most of the time I’m traveling. Last year was the most amount of time I’ve ever spent there – nine months. I was writing Iggy Pop’s album ‘Blah Blah Blah‘ there with him, then we recorded it in Switzerland, then I wrote and recorded my album there.

….“So I was there for nearly that whole year. But this year I just haven’t been there – I’ve been in Los Angeles and New York since Christmas working on the video and ideas for the tour.

….“So this year I won’t see Switzerland at all, because I’ll be on tour, and next year I’m making two movies. . .”

Do you ever long for a normal life?

“Like roots, you mean? When I’m not working I lead quite a quiet existence. I’m very self-contained – I can go for months without wanting to see anyone or go clubbing or partying. I’m a real avid reader.

….“I like going for a walk or skiing. I live in the mountains and I’m an obsessive skier. My son started skiing when he was a child – three or four years old, ‘cos they start early out there – and he’s really good. He has to slow down for me.

….“I started about eight years ago, and I’m not bad.”

How old is your son Joey now?

“He’s 15. In Switzerland they speak four languages, French, German, Italian and Romanish, depending on what part you’re in. The Swiss are like mountain people – well, they are mountain, pleasant people. They’re very insular – kind of like the Scots in the Highlands – very contained into themselves.

….“They all speak English too – so I never bother to speak anything but English because I’m lazy.”

How do they treat you in Switzerland?

“They’re very blase about people who are famous. I go to the shops to get the shopping and they couldn’t care less. It’s so easy to live there. It’s kind of hard in Britain sometimes, but I get about a lot more than people would imagine.

….“When you don’t read about me I’m moving about all over the place, but when I want to be known somewhere, I’ll be known. I’m in and out of England the whole time, people just don’t know it.”

Do you use disguises?

“I don’t have to. I go to a club, and some people will say, ‘blimey, isn’t that. . .?, but that’s as far as it goes. I get away with it. People are usually really nice anyway – they don’t make a big fuss. I go out to see the bands I want to see, and I’m always at the Theatre or the movies.”

Does music still excite you?

“Oh yeah, there’s a lot of music I like. I think The Screaming Blue Messiahs are terrific. They’re not particularly well known, but they should be. I’ve always got my ears open for new things – I just stumble across people all the time.

….“At the moment there are dance groups who I think are really exciting. There’s a Canadian group called La La La Human Footsteps who are fantastic. They’re unbelievable – you’re never seen anything like it in your life. People think Michael Clarke is something new – wait till you see Human Footsteps. They’re my tip for the top!”

What else do you do socially?

“I love going to the Theatre. I saw Metamorphosis which I adored. Tim Roth was fabulous. And Decadence with Steven Berkoff was great too.”

Your son is a fan of bands like Run DMC and The Beastie Boys. What do you think of them?

“The thing I like about them is that they’ve pulled the focus back onto touring and stage work, and the emphasis off videos a bit. Because the energy was getting lost, and every video you saw was a glam video with everyone more worried about looking right than the music.”

You could be accused of starting the ‘style over music’ trend though. . .

“No, I never accept that. My style never overshadowed what I was doing. And the songs that I was doing. And the songs that I was writing and singing were always more important than anything else. I’ve never just worn a suit and looked pretty – I’ve done something with whatever I was working with. It’s been part Theatre, part songwriting, and I won’t take that charge from anybody.

….“With videos I’ve noticed that the whole thing has started to look very, very vain. There’s no meat there. Bands like Beastie Boys and Run DMC have brought it back to exciting rock and roll – although it’s a little dangerous in the Sates.

….“It’s not something the bands condone at all, but unfortunately they’ve been attracting a lot of violence, which is scary. I saw The Beastie Boys in Los Angeles, and the feeling in the audience was very scary. Los Angeles has a bad teenage gang problem – it’s very heavy.”

Some of the lyrics on your new album ‘Never Let Me Down‘ do deal with urban violence. Is it something that you’ve been worrying about?

“Yeah – I haven’t been in England long enough to feel the atmosphere again, but I’ve spent a lot of time in America, and in New York and Los Angeles there is a very, very strong feeling of youth violence again.

….“I presume it’s the same in England – the feeling of an uncaring society, with governments more involved in playing games with each other over military supremacy.

….“Urban problems are completely being swept under the carpet – nobody seems to be taking any notice of what’s happening on the streets with people who don’t have any strength or help. That’s where the focal point of my writing has been over the past few months.”

Would you want to be a teenager now?

“I didn’t want to be a teenager then! You don’t have a choice in the matter though. Being a teenager is one of the most emotionally disturbing times of your life – there’s an awful lot of sorting out to do.

….“There’s another thing going on in America which is indicative of things going wrong, and that’s that there is a huge wave of suicide pacts. It’s unreal – to suddenly feel that you have a nation that hates its young or despairs of them like that that they’re killing themselves. . .

….“Being a teenager is a very tender and sensitive time and my son’s right bang in the middle of it so I know how he feels.

….“I remember what it was like and the feelings I had, like was I anybody, did anyone care about me. It’s really hard to cope with, and it’s really nice to have someone to talk to. It seems a lot of kids don’t have someone to talk about it.”

Have you made a big effort to keep your son out of the public eye?

“Oh yes, because it’s no fun being in the public eye if you don’t really want to be there.”

Will you be doing anything to help the AIDS campaign?

“Yeah. I try to take an active, or sometimes low profile part in many things. When you’re in my position you can do things other people can’t, like help out financially in a quiet way, or loudly by doing a concert. This year I’ll definitely be contributing to a number of different projects.”

What was the first CD record you bought?

“Einstein On The Beach’ by Philip Glass – he wrote it for an American Theatre director called Robert Wilson. The greatest CDs I’ve got are the James Brown one which is dynamite, and another Philip Glass one, the soundtrack for Mishima (cult movie about Japanese author who commits hari-kiri). That’s fantastic – makes you face the day with a purpose!”

Do you buy a lot of clothes?

“I go out on a big spree every now and again when I find that everything smells or has fallen apart! I just pick a bunch of stuff. You’re not going to believe this, but I don’t care much about clothes. I’m a good picker though – I’ll go out, say, I’ll have that, that and that’ then I won’t go shopping for months. I’m not an avid shopper.”

Why did you decide to grow your hair?

“I saw Peter Frampton (Bowie’s current guitarist who sports a Joey Tempest-style head of blond curls) and I thought, yeah, long hair, I’ll grow mine – I haven’t done that in years. Last time I had this long hair was Ziggy Stardust, but I haven’t had really long hair since about ’69.”

Do you get embarrassed by old photos of yourself?

“It depends what photo it is. There was a Japanese guy who took pictures of Ziggy, and eh took photographs that made it timeless. It looks great I think, really timeless.

You were ridiculously skinner then, even now you’re thin. Do you ever have to watch your weight?

“No, I’m incredible healthy these days. I still eat anything from good food to junk food. I work out a lot though, I go to the gym about three times a week. On the ‘83 tour I started boxing to train, because if you can do fifteen rounds in the boxing ring then you can do two hours on stage. I’ve kept that up, and I’ll be doing more to train for this tour. I’m a pretty active guy.”

Do you worry about growing old?

“No, not at all. When you’re enjoying yourself you don’t think about stopping what you’re doing – it doesn’t even enter your mind.

What would David Bowie of 1967 make out of the David Bowie 1987?

“If the one in ’67 had seen the one in ’77 he would have been scared stiff. And if the one in ’77 had seen the one in ’87 he wouldn’t have believed that he turned out so differently.”

Is it true that you live in a castle in Switzerland?

“No, it’s just a regular house. There’s nothing unusual about it, you wouldn’t even notice it. What’s really funny is that someone showed me a photo of my house in Australia the other day, and I haven’t even got one there! It was this incredible huge white building in Perth – though who the hell would want to live in Perth? – and they said how much time I spent there each year. I haven’t got a house in Australia, it’s absurd.”

Why do so many people in the public eye turn to drugs?

“It’s very hard to find any one involved in rock who hasn’t been through that at some time or another. It’s a dreadful thing – in the early 70s I had a lot of trouble coping with success, with all the acclaim, having money for the first time, and you get involved in those stupid things.

….“Frankly, I think I was lucky to come out of it, because it is hard to stop if you do have a problem. You have to exert an awful lot of will power. For me, it all ended in ’76 – I could see terrible things coming, I knew it could only end one way, and I wasn’t prepared to go that far. Nothing’s worth dying for.

….“I don’t know how it is with Boy George, but I wish him every success in the world with the problems he’s got.”

Boy George has recently taken up Buddhism, like a lot of pop people – do you think some sort of spiritual help is useful?

“I didn’t know Boy George had taken it up, but I was a Buddhist when I was 18 – for about a month and a half! It was actually a bit longer than that, I took it very seriously for a couple of years, and I still can refer to it.

….“I learnt a lot through Buddhism, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing to form some kind of spiritual rock or foundation which you can keep referring to.

….“Buddhism is a wonderful philosophy.”

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