by David Sinclair / Rolling Stone
10th June 1993
ON A PERSONAL TOUR OF ZIGGY’S LONDON, DAVID BOWIE LOOKS BACK AT HIS DAYS AS THE GLAM KING OF ENGLAND
IN A DINGY ALLEYWAY IN SOHO, London’s notorious red-light district, David Bowie stops in front of a doorway. Uncertain of whom or what he will find on the other side, he pushes a buzzer. “Yes, says a voice on the intercom. “Hi”, says Bowie. “Did this used to be Trident Studios once upon a time?” “Indeed so, a long time ago,” comes the voice from inside. “This is David Bowie. I used to record here. Do you think I could come in for a second?. A moment’s pause. The door swings open. Bowie walks in. Directly in front of him is a short flight of stairs, and filling virtually the entire wall on the landing, halfway up, is a massive print of . . . David Bowie, as photographed on the set of The Man Who Fell To Earth. “WEll, it’s nice to feel you’ve left a mark,” Bowie says, as various surprised people emerge from their offices to form an ad hoc welcoming committee.
Time – He’s waiting in the wings
He speaks of senseless things
His trick is you and me, boy
……………………………..– “Time” (1973)
IN LONDON, ON A COLD SPRING MORNING, Bowie is on a voyage round his past, revisiting the old haunts of the 1970s and reviving memories of a period of English rock when the brilliance of his work indeed hte very fact of his ambiguously gorgeous presence, eclipsed all other stars’. But the trip down memory lane, like his new album, Black Tie White Noise, is no idle exercise in retro indulgence, more a timely celebration of a legend that has become reenergized by the latest turn of the fashion wheel.
….After a long period of artistic and popular decline, Bowie has emerged like a man reborn. At the peak of his powers, of course, he reinvented himself on a regular basis, but this is something different.
….To say that his career went cold in the 1980s would be putting it mildly. While his lackluster post-Let’s Dance solo work eroded his standing in the mainstream, his detour into pregrunge, one-of-the-lads rock & roll with Tin Machine left even his hard-core fans at first baffled and then resentful.
….Two things have happened since then. One: Bowie has relocated the mother lode. Returning with his first new solo album in six years, he has picked up where 1980’s Scary Monsters left off. Out has gone the guitar-based rock; in has come a gleaming new set of dance track rhythms and keyboard-based arrangements redolent of his best work on on albums like Station To Station and Heroes but with a new jazz dimension reflected by the contribution of trumpeter Lester Bowie and by the singer’s own valiant efforts on saxophone.
….Two: The 1970s have suddenly become hip. Here in England, the era of Bowie’s greatest vitality and influences is providing the unlikely template for the latest music and fashion trends of 1993. A new generation of writers, artists, musicians, designers and fans is going back to take another look at that most glamorous, decadent and frequently reviled odd decades.
….So it is that Bowie has set off to see for himself – now that everyone else wants to know – of where exactly the bones are buried. Hence the unannounced arrival at what used to be Trident Studios, the place where he recorded Hunky Dory (1971), The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972) and most of Aladdin Sane (1973) with inhouse producer Ken Scott.
….In those days it was a sixteen-track studio with a state-of-art reputation. It eventually closed in 1984, and now the building has been split into separate floors. Of the actual studio where Ziggy Stardust was recorded, the four walls remain but not much else. It is now used by an audio-video production company specializing in dance records. A couple of amplifiers and an old bike are stacked in a corner. There is a bit of blue screen set up at the back, and most of the walls are covered with a sort of tatty felt underlay. It all looks a bit run-down.
….Not like it was in July 1968, when it was the first studio in London to boast a functioning eight -track recording machine. The Beatles came here to record “Hey Jude.” In the early 1970s, Elton John, Supertramp, T.Rex and Queen were regulars here. And in 1972 it was on this very spot that Bowie and the late Mick Ronson shared production duties while Lou Reed recorded Transformer. (Ronson, a frequent Bowie collaborator, succumbed to cancer on April 29th, just three weeks after the release of Black Tie White Noise.
….“Lou loved Soho, especially at night,” Bowie says. “He thought it was quint compared to New York. He kicked it because he could have a good time here and still be safe. It was all drunks and tramps and whores and strip clubs and after hours bars, but no one was going to mug you or beat you up. I think it’s got quite respectable now, but in those days it was very twilight.”
….Bowie is shown around the former Trident premises by several of the building’s current occupants. Somebody asks him for an autograph, a memento for his eight year old son, who is getting into Bowie’s music. Bowie, who writes left-handed (even though he does everything else right-handed), scrawls a suitable message, the pen gripped close to his platinum wedding ring. He checks the date and finds it is Saint David’s Day (March 1st).
….“Do you ever have the impression that you were twenty years ahead of your time?” the man asks. “Oh, Lor’, “Bowie says with a sigh. “Well, only when there’s a revival. Obviously, we were having a very exciting time. There were a bunch of us that knew we were on the wave of something that would be the dominate sound of the 1970s. I don’t think it was quite clear what exactly it was at the time. But it took us over rather than us taking it over. There’s a kind of Zeitgeist, and if you’re capable of plugging into it . . . I don’t know what happens, but I really believe that the fabric of your music starts to reflect what society is feeling. Music is usually well behind what society is actually thinking, and it’s those odd times when you catch up that it really becomes invigorating.
IN THE LONDON OF 1993 FASHIONABLE society is once again thinking of the 1970s. The capital is in the grip of a massive retro craze focused squarely on the period that for many years was derided as the decade that taste forgot. As The Face, the U.K. style mag, put it: “If the Seventies were all about having a good time and trying to get your look together with no money and no decent hairdresses, then the Nineties is looking pretty similar.”
….Many established artists have blatantly echoed the 1970s in recent months. Morrissey, whose last album, Your Arsenal, was produced by Mick Ronson, parodied a T.Rex sleeve for his Marc Boland-influenced single “Certain People I Know.” The Abba revival, kick-started last year by Erasure, has become a full blooded mainstream phenomenon. Abba’s Gold is lodged in the British charts, along with Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells II, Neil Young’s Harvest Moon and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, which reentered the Top Ten in March, exactly twenty years after it was first released.
….Meanwhile, a new wave of bands has plugged into the spirit of the early 1970s to create something more then mere revivalism. Primal Scream, which won the prestigious Mercury Music Prize for it’s album Screamadelica, makes no secret of its admiration for The Mott The Hoople. Saint Etienne has located the interface between 1990s and 1970s pop kitsch and elevated it into a minor art form. Denim’s album Back In Denim is littered with references to the Osmonds and glitter. And the Auteurs have released a superb debut, the audaciously titled New Wave, which combines songwriting in great English tradition of Ray Davies with lyrics that create the sort of mythical world and strange personas that Bowie himself created with Ziggy Stardust.
….Towering all of them and about as plugged into it Zeitgeist of 1990s rock as possible Sude, the London four-piece outfit that has unapologetically raided the Bowie-Ronson song book for inspiration, yet created a mood and a style that are all its own. The band’s debut album topped the U.K. charts in April. But in a twist of fate that illustrates Bowie’s almost supernatural sense of timing, Suede’s massive-selling record was knocked off the top slot by Black Tie White Noise.
….With his fey mannerism, ambiguous sexuality and magnetic star appeal, Suede’s singer, Brett Anderson, is virtually Bowie’s alter ego of the 1990s. But far from stealing Bowie’s thunder, Anderson, through his hero worship of Bowie, has given a vital boost to Bowie’s reputation, especially among a new generation of fans. The joke in London media circles is that Suede is really just an invention of Bowie’s record company, the band’s mission to pave the way for Bowie to make suitably spectacular comeback.
“Time may change me
But I can’t trace time
……………….– “Changes” (1971)
“IT’S A BIT DISAPPOINTING IN SOME respects to look back, because there was actually no ‘scene’ as such in the early 70s in London.,” Bowie says as his car travels east, past the splendor of the Houses of Parliament, across the Thames at Westminster Bridge and through Elephant and Castle into the shabbier environs of the East End.
….“If there was supposed to be something like a glam-rock scene emerging, it seemed to be happening only within three or four disparate bands,” Bowie says. There was no club or area that became the focus for our particular kind of music. We worked very much on our own, in isolation from each other. There was Roxy Music, myself, Marc Bolan [T.Rex], and it really is hard to think of anyone else who was actually doing anything very much between 1970 and 1973. I guess Eno was still doing a lot of stuff at the RCA [Royal College of Art]; he was probably still going backwards and forwards from being a conceptualist to being a rock star. In the States you had the equivalent of bands like the Flamin’ Groovies, the New York Dolls and to a lesser degree Alice Cooper.”
….The car travels south down the Old Kent Road. Looking out the window, Bowie points to a pile of rubble on a building site. “That used to be a pub called Bricklayers Arms,” he says, “which was one of my earliest constant gigs in the 60s. There’s another one further down here called the Green Man. They were very, very tough venues; real heavyweight South London kids. We were still doing a lot of R&B stuff, Marvin Gaye, “Can I Get A Witness,” that kind of thing. But you had to be pretty tight to keep their interest. It was a good honing ground for young bands.”
….The car pulls up at a club called Thomas a Becket, and Bowie steps out into a bitterly cold wind and a flurry of rain. He is dressed in a waisted black frock coat, trim black trousers and an immaculate pair of black brouges. He wears gold-rimmed spectacles, which give him a rather severe look, although at fortysix his lightly tanned and fabulously sculpted features remain enviably intact. A woman hoots her horn, giving him a big grin and a thumbs up as he crosses the road. Bowie responds in kind.
….The Thomas Becket a Becket, established 1787, is a three-story building where Bowie and the prototype Spiders From Mars began rehearsal room was on the top floor, above a boxing gymnasium, with the pub itself on the ground floor.
….In those days Bowie’s band was called Hype and was made up of Ronson (guitar), Tony Visconti (bass), and John Cambridge (drums). They all lived together at Bowie’s residence in a large Victorian town house called Haddon Hall, with a baronial staircase and a circling gallery at the top of the stairs that served as a communal dormitory. It’s since been demolished.
….“This was a major training ground for a lot of South London boxers,” Bowie explains. “We were very impressed that Henry Cooper [the British heavy-weight champion who floored Muhammad Ali in 1963] started his career here as well. The embryonic Spiders really put their sounds together up there, always expecting that Cooper would walk in at some point so we could get his autograph.”
….Nowadays, of course, it’s Bowie who gets plagued for his autograph, one of few things that he finds irksome when he’s out and about. In general, he seems perfectly at ease moving around town in a chuffeuer-driven, beige Mercedes. There is no fuss or celebrity entourage,
….“The only time I have people with me is when I’m on tour or doing something that has got a high profile for some reason or other,” Bowie says. “Otherwise, I much prefer to be on my own. I find that if you put a pair of glasses on and you don’t play it up, you can travel around very easily. I’ve always been suspicious of people who say they need entourages, because you don’t. In fact that’s when you’re going to get problems. I remember walking in Hollywood with Eddie Murphy, who I like very much as a guy, but every time we took five paces down the street, there’d be this sound of about forty footsteps following behind us. It was impossible.”
Staying back in your memory
Are the movies in the past
…………………..– “The Prettiest Star” (1973)
BACK IN THE HEART OF TOWN, BOWIE HAS ARRIVED at a tiny cul-de-sac called Heddon Street, tucked away off Regent Street. He gets out of the car a little uncertainly and starts walking toward an alley at the end, mumbling: “We’re gonna have to guess this out a bit. . . . .Everything’s gone, obviously. There was a photographer up here called Brian Ward, I think it was this building here, and outside the building there was a phone box, a squat, modern blue job. Suddenly, the realization dawns. This is where the photography for the cover artwork of Ziggy Stardust was done. But of course it’s all changed. For one thing, the sort of big, red enclosed phone box in which Bowie posed for the shot on the back of the sleeve is a thing of the past.
….A woman walking up the street toward her office greets Bowie with a genial smile. “They took your phone box away, isn’t it terrible?” she says. Whatever Bowie may say about wearing glasses and keeping his head down, he is still a face that few people fail instantly to recognize. The woman informs him that the photographer has moved on and so has the company, K.West, under whose sign Bowie stood with his foot up on a rubbish bin twenty-one years ago. Amazingly, the old light above the doorway is still there, but the famous sign was auctioned off as a part of a sale of rock & roll memorabilia. At home, Bowie has got hundreds of photographs of fans who sent him pictures of themselves with their foot on a dustbin under the K.West sign.
….“It’s such a shame that sign went,” Bowie says. “People read so much into it. They thought K.West must be some sort of code for quest. It took on all these sort of mystical overtones.
….“We did the photographs outside on a rainy night,” Bowie continues. “And then upstairs in the studio we did the Clock Orange look-alikes that became the inner sleeve. The idea was to hit a look somewhere between the Malcolm McDowell thing with the on mascaraed eyelash and insects. It was the era of Wild Boys, By William S. Burroughs. That was a really heavy book that had come out in about 1970, and it was a cross between that and Clockwork Orange that really started to put together the shape and the look of what Ziggy and the Spiders were going to become. They were both powerful pieces of work, especially the marauding boy gangs of Burrough’s Wild Boys with their bowie knives. I got straight on to that. I read everything into everything. Everything had to be infinitely symbolic.”
….Driving back to Soho, Bowie spots various landmarks. Selmer’s music shop on Charing Cross Road was where he bought his first saxophone. Turning onto Wardour Street, he points to a tall building on a corner where Pete Townshend used to live in the top flat. “I’ve always envied him for living right bang in the heart of London,” Bowie says. “The nearest I got was Oakley Street in Chelsea, just around the corner from Cheyne Walk, where Mick Jagger lived. Indeed, that was when I first got to know Mick.”
….At the next stop, yet another pile of rubble awaits. DANGER DERELICT SITE – TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED is the only sign now marking the spot where the celebrated Marquee Club once stood.
….“I played here a lot in the 60s, always as a support act,” Bowie says. “And I came to see a lot of acts here, because all the American R&B artists would usually open here. But then when the 1970s came, it was falling out of favor a bit. It picked up again during the punk era, but it had a really soft period when it was mainly holiday makers and tourists from abroad that were going to it.”
….Bowie did utilize the Marquee in late 1973, however, to record a show for American TV called The 1980 Floor Show. It featured a ragbag of material from Aladdin Sane, one or two Ziggy numbers and a preview of a couple of songs that were going to be on Diamond Dogs. The whole thing costumed affair was, according to Bowie, “shot abysmally.” Among the guests were the Troggs doing “Wild Thing” and Marianne Faithfull dueting with Bowie on a version of “I Got You Babe.” Bowie was dressed as the angel of Death and Faithfull as a decadent nun.
….“She was wearing a nun’s habit with no backside and black stockings,” Bowie says with a chuckle. “I’ve got that clip at home, and it is fantastic. But they wouldn’t show it in America. It was felt to be beyond the pale. Madonna, eat your heart out!”
When the kids had killed the man
I had to break up the band
……………….– “Ziggy Stardust” (1972)
“AFTER ‘ZIGGY’ HAPPENED IT WAS JUST WORK, WORK, work,” says Bowie. “And for the first time you realized what you were going to be giving away. You realize that you’re not going to have any kind of private life, and you’re not going to be able to wander down to the club. Well, you don’t think you can. Actually, time proves that you’re wrong. It’s not worth giving up all those things to become a popular artist. Fortunately, I learned how to get back into circulation again.”
….The car speeds westward, down Cromwell Road toward Hammersmith Odeon, the scene of Bowie’s final gig with the Spiders From Mars. The venue has recently been renamed the Hammersmith Apollo, and the stage has been extended at the front, but otherwise it remains the same 3500-capacity theater in which, on July 3rd, 1973, Bowie made his fateful announcement: “This show will stay the longest in our memories, not just because it is the end of the tour but because it is the last show we’ll ever do.”
….Standing at the front of the stage, Bowie now repeats the statement to the rows of empty seats. His feet clomp noisily on the boards, and in the cold, deserted atmosphere the words take on a ghostly ring. Pulling up a wooden chair, he casts his mind back to that strange period of his life when reality and fantasy were becoming increasingly blurred.
….“To this day I’m really not sure if I was playing Ziggy or if Ziggy was exaggerated aspects of my own personality,” Bowie says. “A fair amount of physolgical baggage was undoubtly coming out through the character. Because I felt awkward and nervous and inadequate with myself, it felt easier to be somebody else. That was a relief and a release. And that feeling of not being a part of any group of people. I always felt on the fringe of things rather than being a participant. I always felt I was a wallflower of life. So it really got a bit complex. Because once you lay these little patterns out for yourself, it’s very hard to retrace the steps and see how far you’ve got yourself immersed in all that. And when drugs came along, that really added to the brew to the point that it was inescapable that I was committing huge psychological damage to myself.
….“I started on the drugs at the end of 1973 and then with force in 1974,” Bowie continues. “As soon as I got to America, pow! It was so freely available in those days. Coke was everywhere. It was just impossible to get away from. Because I have a very addictive personality, I was a sucker for it. It just took over my life, but completely, until late 1976, ’77, when I got myself over to Berlin – the smack capital of Europe, ironically – to clean up.”
….In her book Backstage Passes, Bowie’s ex-wife Angie describes him during this period as “a friend-abusing, sense-mangling, money-bleeding, full-fledged Vampire of Velocity. Like coke addicts long before and after him, he’d learned to travel far and fast, to keep his mind spinning in tight circles even when standing perfectly still, to arrange an existence almost entirely devoid of daylight, to assume a worldview of paranoia. . .”
….Bowie greets mention of Angie with a show of complete uninterest. “The reason that we got married was for her to get a work permit to work in England,” he says, “which really wasn’t the basis of a good marriage. And it was very short, remember. I mean, by ’74 we rarely saw each other. After that she would drop in or drop out for a weekend or so, but we were virtually living our own separate lives. There was no real togetherness. I think the one thing that we had in common was Joe [their son, originally named Zowie, born in 1971]. He’s what became the signpost toward me retrieving my sanity. I saw how he’d been emotionally neglected, and we started to develop a father-son relationship around ’77, and since that point he’s been under my custody constantly.”
….Leaning forward in his chair, Bowie pulls another Malboror from its packet. He is a heavy smoker. The flame from his lighter flares momentarily beneath his face, and he shivers slightly as the cold of the deserted theater begins to take a grip.
….“Joe has been blessed with a nonaddictive personality and has no truck with drink, drugs, smoking or anything,” Bowie says. “It’s just not part of his life. I think he likes himself in a way that I never did. He doesn’t feel that he has to change his personality or lose his personality in quite the same way I felt I had to escape myself and the responsibility of my own feelings of inadequacy.
….“I didn’t love myself, not at all,” Bowie continues. “Ziggy was a very flamboyant and theatrical and elaborate character. I wanted him to look right, and I spent a lot of time looking in the mirror, but it wasn’t me I was looking at. I saw Ziggy. I think I’m vain, but I hope I’m not narcissistic. We all have our own feelings about what we look like. I like to dress well, but it’s not something on which I felt my reputation should be built. I always held great store by my writing abilities. That’s my strength, whether it’s songs about me or about some fictional character, that’s what I do best.”
Every time I thought I got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
………………………– “Changes” (1971)
BE THAT AS IT MAY, THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT A vital element of Bowie’s peculiar talent has been his ability to filter his thoughts and writing through a kind of psychological prism provided by characters like Ziggy, Aladdin Sane and the Thin White Duke. Taking his cues from the visual arts – sculpture, painting, dance, mime – of which he has long been a knowledgeable admirer, Bowie has instinctively recognized and accepted that presentation is an integral part of his art form. It was when he lost his feel for presentation that he stumbled and fell.
….The 1980s kicked off with the biggest success of his career, Let’s Dance. Produced by Nile Rodgers and released in 1983, it was a worldwide smash that hoisted Bowie into the international first division. But the view from those Olympian heights was not as clear as it might have been.
….“I fell foul for the first time, wondering if I ought to be writing for the audience as opposed to me,” Bowie says. “Should I try and duplicate the success of Let’s Dance, or should I keep trying to change with every album? It was a real quandary. In the end I didn’t lose the songs, but I lost the sound. There are some really good songs on Tonight  and Never Let Me Down , and I literally threw them away by giving them to very good people to arrange but not being involved myself, almost to the point of indifference.”
….Bowie’s cure for this indifference was to find a new way of triggering his creative enthusiasm. For the first time, at least since the early 1960s, he threw himself into a democratically organized band situation. The result was Tin Machine. But here was a role and a presentation that his fans simply would not accept. In trying to sell himself as a part of a bona fide, four-way democratic group, Bowie came up against a mirror version of the credibility problem faced to stars associated with groups trying to carve a solo career. In the same way that gifted performers like Mick Jagger, Roger Daltrey, Roger Waters and Jon Bon Jovi have all failed to establish themselves as solo acts with anything like the success of their respective bands, Bowie simply wasn’t convincing as a member of a group.
….Then there was the music. Quite unlike the suave synthesizer soul of Heroes or the mainstream white R&B of Let’s Dance, the raw, scathing, bruising noise of the first Tin Machine album, released in 1989, was greeted by many Bowie fans with shocked disbelief. It was in many ways an inspired piece of work that neatly prefigured the grunge explosion, even if the band did guess about the suits.
….Bowie is unrepentant about the project, which he describes as “a dreadful commercial failure, but and artistic success.” The band plans to reconvene toward the end of the year to record a new album, and Bowie professes himself at a loss to understand why the band has attracted such a virulently adverse reaction, especially in England. “It doesn’t seem to be England’s cup of tea at all,” Bowie says. “People seem to have a job seeing me in a band context. Judging by some of the antagonistic letters we had, it’s almost as if I’d let the side down. Very strange. Maybe it’s because it has no further abstractions then just being a band that’s making music. It didn’t have anything more to it. There’s no real personality driving it, no theatrical statement. “But it’s not as if it was out of the blue and I’d never been involved with that kind of music before,” he continues. “Ziggy and the Spiders were a hard-rock band, maybe not as experimental. I think the fact that I was much better known than the others was a real obstacle. A lot of the flak seemed to be saying, ‘Why has he dropped back into their anonymity?’ We did make a big effort at the beginning to try and change people’s minds, but we gave up after a while.”
….And the idea of having the other members adopt the role of backing band was ludicrous. “The Sales brothers would never except having another boss,” Bowie explains. “They are far too stubborn and aware of their own needs. They’re not in the market to be anybody’s backing band, either of them. You do not fuck with the Sales brothers, or Reeves Gabrels.”
Oh no, not me
I never lost control
………………– “The Man Who Sold The World” (1970)
THE WAY IN WHICH BOWIE HAS SHAKEN OFF THE chorus of discontent that Tin Machine generated, swatted his detractors like so many flies and reemerged to surf a fresh wave of cortical acclaim and public adulation with Black Tie White Noise will go down as one of the great Houdini-like tricks in history of R&R.
….Co-produced by Nile Rodgers, also the architect behind Let’s Dance, the new album succeeds because instead of searching for a new role to play, Bowie has finally found the emotional strength necessary simply to be himself.
….Artistically, he declares that he has not been so satisfied with the outcome of an album since Scary Monsters. “I listen to this album all the time,” Bowie says, “which is always a good sign. With all due respect to Nile, I didn’t listen to Let’s Dance that much. It wasn’t all me. It was a lot of Nile. I thought, ‘Not again.’ So it was very much my album that we made this time, and Nile contributed to it, as opposed to Nile doing everything and just me suggesting we get Stevie Ray Vaughan in or whatever. That’s probably why it’s so identifiable me.”
….According to Rodgers, Bowie was “a lot more relaxed this time then he was at the Let’s Dance sessions, a hell of a lot more philosophical and just in a state of mind where his music was really, really making him happy.” Which is not to say the session were straightforward. Anything but. As far as Rodgers is concerned, “Let’s Dance was the easiest record I’ve ever made – three weeks total; Black Tie White Noise was the hardest – one year, more or less.”
….Not the least of Nile Rodger’s worries during recording was Bowie’s saxophone playing, which is featured more on this album than on all the rest of his catalog put together. The instrument has always been crucial to Bowie’s creative process. He uses it to compose his melody lines. But in performance, Bowie’s fiercely untutored style can be a little jarring to the technically trained ear.
….“I think David would be the first to admit that he’s not a saxophonist in the traditional sense,” Rodgers says with a wry chuckle. “I mean, you wouldn’t call him up to do gigs. He uses his playing as an artistic tool. He’s a painter. He hears an idea, and he goes with it. But he absolutely knows where he’s going, because he damn well plays the same thing over and over again until I say, ‘Well, I guess he hears that.’ It’s what you might call accidentally deliberate.”
….But more important than such technical considerations has been the mood swing that has enabled Bowie once again to become fully engaged with his music. His new-found willingness to examine himself more openly and reconnect with his past has resurrected his career. Black Tie White Noise is without doubt the most personal album he’s ever released. “I think this album comes from a very different emotional place,” Bowie says. “That’s the passing of time, which has brought maturity and a willingness to relinquish full control over my emotions, let them go a bit, start relating to other people, which is something that’s been happening to me slowly – and, my God, it’s been uphill – over the last ten or twelve years.
….“I feel a lot freer these days to be able to talk about myself and about what’s happened to me, because I’ve been able to face it,” he continues. “For many years, everything was always blocked out. The day before was always blocked out. I never wanted to return to examine anything that I did particularly. But the stakes have changed. I feel alive, in a real sense.”
….After sitting among the shadows of his past on the Hammersmith stage for the better part of an hour, Bowie is ready to move on. The temperature has dropped uncomfortably, and he moves briskly toward the stage door, thanking the man who let him into the building with a courtesy that seems to come naturally. He is far more solicitous of those around him than stars with half his status, and it is one of his most disarming characteristics. The car heads off to a nearby hotel, where Bowie thaws out over peacock soup and a cheese sandwich.
….A seizable chunk of the new album was inspired by having to sit down and write the music for his wedding to the model Iman last year. The album’s opening cut, “The Wedding” is a beautiful, mystical instrumental piece with haunting Middle Eastern cadences, which reappear toward the end of the album with lyrics as “The Wedding Song.” “I had to write music that represented for me the growth and character of our relationship,” Bowie explains. “It really was a watershed. It opened up a wealth of thoughts and feelings about commitment and promises and finding the strength and fortitude to keep those promises. It all came tumbling out of me while I was writing this music for church. And I thought: ‘I can’t stop here. There’s more that I have to get out.’ For me it was a tentative first step toward writing from a personal basis. It triggered the album.”
I could fall in love all night
as a rock & roll star
…………………– “Star” (1972)
“I’D NEVER BEEN OUT WITH A MODEL before,” says Bowie, “so I hadn’t even bargained on the cliche of the rock star and the model as being part of my life. So I was well surprised to meet one who was devastatingly wonderful and not the usual sort of bubblehead that I’d met in the past. I make no bones about it. I was naming the children the night we met. I knew that she was for me, it was absolutely immediate. I just fell under her spell.
….“Our romance was conducted in a very gentlemanly fashion, I hope, for quite some time, ” Bowie continues. “Lots of being led to doorways and polite kisses on the cheek. Flowers and chocolates and the whole thing. I knew it was precious from the first night, and I just didn’t want anything to spoil it.”
….This must have been something of a novel situation for Bowie, having to adapt to the pleasures (and rigors) of a monogamous relationship. “It’s an incredible source of comfort to me, ” he says. “In fact for three years before I met Iman, I was engaged to another girl, so I find [monogamous relationships] very, very pleasurable. It excites me. I absolutely adore it. I’ve gone from the extreme promiscuity of the 1970s to a changing set of attitudes in the 1980s and hopefully to some sense of harmony in the 1990s.”
….Would he be so promiscuous if he were a young man now, in the 1990s? “No, I don’t think so,” Bowie states. “I don’t know. from my understanding there’s still a lot of experimentation going on, so maybe I would. I did throw caution to the winds to an extreme point in the 1970s, so maybe I would now. I don’t think people should experiment; let me try and be responsible, I think it’s not the period to experiment, but I don’t think people should hide from their orientation.
….“I think I was always a closet heterosexual,” Bowie continues. “I didn’t ever feel that I was a real bisexual. It was like I was making all the moves, down to the situation of actually trying it out with some guys. But for me, I was more magnetized by the whole gay scene, which was underground. Remember, in the early 1970s it was still virtually taboo. There might have been free love, but it was heterosexual love. I like this twilight world. I like the idea of these clubs and these people and everything about it being something that nobody knew anything about. So it attracted me like crazy. It was like another world that I really wanted to buy in to. So I made efforts to go and get into it. That phase only lasted up to about 1974. It more or less died with Ziggy. I was only really adopting the situation of being bisexual. The reality was much slimmer.
….“I wanted to imbue Ziggy with real flesh and blood and muscle, and it was imperative that I find Ziggy and be him. The irony of it was that I was not gay. I was physical about it, but frankly it wasn’t enjoyable. It was almost like I was testing myself. It wasn’t something I was comfortable with at all. But it had to be done.”
They called it the Prayer,
its answer was law
………………….– “Saviour Machine” (1970)
UNFORTUNATELY, I DIDN’T REALLY know Freddie [Mercury] that well at all,” Bowie says. “I’d met him about two or three times in all those years. I found him very witty, quite bright and indeed very theatrical. So I don’t know the ins and outs of what he had to live with or what happened to him. I do have a lot of gay friends , and I know the pain of losing friends through AIDS. Unfortunately, I lost one just after the Queen concert [the memorial concert for Freddie Mercury at Wembley Stadium in April 1992]. His name was Craig, a New York playwright, and he’d actually slipped into a coma the day before the show and died two days after it. Which was why I said the Lord’s Prayer that night.”
….Bowie’s flair for drama notwithstanding, the gesture left many people surprised. “Yeah, they probably were,” he says, “but it wasn’t for them.” Part of the surprise was that Bowie has never been known as a particularly religious sort of person. “I’m not, I’m spiritual,” he says. “I’ve never bought in to any organized religion. But now I have an unshakeable belief in God. I put my life into his hands every single day. I pray every morning.
….“My friend Craig was not a Christian,” he continues, “but I thought that prayer the most appropriate inasmuch as it’s not . . . it’s a prayer about our father, not so much about Christ. For me, it’s a universal prayer. I was as surprised as anyone that I’d said it at the concert. But I was pleased that I’d done it.”
….The image of Bowie as a coldly calculating, European ice man who keeps his feelings buttoned down as securely as his shirt collar became fixed at around the time of Station to Station (1976) and the Return of the Thin White Duke. And yet it is an image that now could not be further removed from reality. Bowie is actually a highly emotional person, which may go someway to explaining his behavior at the Mercury concert.
….One of the less remarked but most highly charged performances at that show was Bowie’s reunion with his old sparring partner Mick Ronson, together with Ian Hunter, for a rousing version of the old Mott the Hoople hit “All The Young Dudes“(a Bowie composition).
….It was an especially poignant moment given that it was to be Ronson and Bowie’s last live performance together. Mention of this almost brings tears to Bowie’s eyes.
….Still desperately ill, Ronson had been hanging on through sheer force of will. “The doctors tell me I shouldn’t be here now, “Ronson said from a London recording studio shortly before his death. “But I don’t go to the doctors for chemotherapy or anything anymore. I just put one foot in front of the other, and the next day is the next day, and you do your best. I’ve still got so much to do.”
….Ronson contributed to Black Tie White Noise, playing on a drastically revamped version of Cream’s “I Feel Free.” Like Nile Rodgers, he noticed Bowie’s incredible vigor and enthusiasm throughout the sessions. “I hope David’s album does well, “Ronson said. “He’s put everything into it. I speak to him often. He sounds so positive.”
AT THE END OF HIS DAY’S SIGHTSEEING Bowie is in a reflective mood.
“I’ve never done that before, ” he says. “It was quite extraordinary, despite the fact that most of the things I want to see were either closed or pulled down. It puts into focus just how much time has passed. I actually made a list the other night of the bands that were coming up on the circuit during the time of Ziggy, Bolan and Roxy Music. This was the competition: Lindisfarne, Rory Gallagher, Stary, America, Juicy Lucy, Peter Sarstedt, Thin Lizzy and Grindrolog. It really was a long, long time ago.”