by Steve Turner
Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes, Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes, Look out you Rock n Rollers. (“Changes”) Look-out – David Bowie’s on his way to superstardom. He’s gay. He’s glam. He sings of stars and planets and the super-race to come. Cashbox says he’s writing music to take us into the 1980’s.
….David Bowie says: “A character called David Bowie has sprung up over the past year and I don’t quite know him. I read all my articles and I don’t know how this character has snowballed.”
….MACHINE…Perhaps the snowballing has come through the image that’s been promoted – and make no mistake, the cultivation has been intentional. In an RCA news release of December, 1971, Bowie is quoted as saying: “I want to retain the position of being a Photostat machine with an image, because I think most songwriters are anyway.” Part of the image is a result of being the Photostat machine. He’s absorbed himself in most of the avant-garde philosophies and beliefs which are bubbling beneath the surface of contemporary youth culture. Bisexuality, astral projection, magic, insanity, reincarnation, the apocalypse and …rock n roll superstardom – they’ve all been photocopied and then put together in a collage called David Bowie. That’s how the character sprung up. You are what you eat. David Bowie’s home in Beckenham is a reflection of these same interests. Books on pop art lay on the floor, pictures of David Bowie lay beside them and news items on homosexuality are carefully clipped and put on the mantelpiece. The bathroom reading is Curious and Heat rather than House and Garden or the Observer Supplement. He’s really far too observant to be amazed at the rise and rise of David Bowie and the reasons why this character has grown. The music has changed and grown along with the image. The Man Who Sold The World is better understood after a listen to the album that followed it – Hunky Dory. “A lot of people have said that to me” remarked David when I met him at his home. “The Man…tended to superfluous in places whereas Hunky Dory was tighter, more immediate to the listener. There are reasons for the change” said Bowie. “Two big events happened between those two albums. Firstly, I went to the States for 3 months to promote The Man.. and when I returned I had a whole new perception on song-writing. My songs began changing immediately. Secondly, by the time I came back I had a new record label, RCA, and also a new band.” The band who Bowie introduces as The Spiders came up from Lincolnshire. They are lead guitarist Mick Ronson, drummer Mick Woodmansey and bass player Trevor Bolder. Together they formed Bowie’s first permanent line-up for some time and they were able to grow with the songs, and into the songs. It was the impermanency and lack of a deep musical relationship that led to the lack of tightness on The Man…
….GREENHOUSE…Most of the songs on Hunky Dory were written during Bowie’s trip to the States. The country acted as a greenhouse for Bowie’s pop art character. The numbers ripened…as did the image. America is man’s furthest venture into the future and Bowie is investing in the subject of the future even if we’ve only got five years of it left. His biggest single hit “Space Oddity”, came as a result of seeing a futuristic film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Now he precedes his stage act by playing part of the soundtrack from another Kubrick film of the future A Clockwork Orange. He’s writing songs for a Clockwork generation and That’s why Cashbox are recommending his songs for the 1980s – if we get there. “Its an electric nightmare” said the magazine commenting on his album THE RISE AND FALL OF Ziggy Stardust. “Its a cold hard beauty.” Charged with neon, steel and concrete, Bowie found himself overwhelmed by inspiration. “America was an incredible adrenaline trip” he told me. “I got very sharp and very quick. Somehow or other I became very prolific. I wanted to write things that were more…immediate.” The American experience had provided Bowie’s song-writing with guts and The Spiders came along to hold it together. The American visit was important for another reason. It enabled Bowie to meet up with two of his heroes. Two high priests of the movement that was once termed pop art – Andy Warhol and Lou Reed. Warhol is the man who’s made superstars out of objects, like soup cans and coke bottles. He has a belief in the idea that we’re all equal anyway. All equal in our meaningless. “The world would be easier to live in if we were all machines” he once said. “Its nothing in the end anyway. It doesn’t matter what anyone does.” His belief was borne out in an ironic way when Bowie met him in New York. There was no communication whatsoever between the two of them until Warhol looked down at Bowie’s feet. He noticed an object which happened to be of more interest than the person. “He noticed my shoes” remembered Bowie, “and then he really opened up. Andy Warhol loves my shoes!”
….THRILLS…The meeting with Lou Reed was on a different level. Although Reed was a founder member of Warhol’s experimental rock group The Velvet Underground, he at least makes the effort to communicate. “The biggest thrill was meeting Lou Reed” recalled Bowie. “Not only meeting him but becoming a close friend.” Since then their relationship has grown into one of mutual admiration. Bowie has become something of an evangelist for the work of Lou Reed. At any of his gigs you’ll here cries for Lou Reed and “White Light/White Heat.” He performs this number and has also begun doing “Waiting for the Man.” “Queen Bitch”, which also featured on Hunky Dory, is a deliberate lift from The Velvet’s “Sister Ray” and the acknowledgements are included on the cover. In fact most of his harder rock numbers bear the mark of Lou Reed. A central part of the snowballing Bowie image is his bi-sexuality. He plays the part well and teases the audience for giggles. Most of the prominence that he’s achieved through publicity has come through his unisex clothes. “I’m a practising bi-sexual although I’ve never tried to put it over or make a meal of it. Now it happens to be trendy to be gay and its made in the subject of a feature. But I was talking about it in the first interview I ever did with International Times.” Many people felt that he was perfecting a gimmick when the first stories began coming out. After all, he was married with a child wasn’t he? Despite his openness on the subject he’s not a leading light in Gay Lib although he may be something of a hero to members of this organisation. “I know a few people that are in Gay Lib and they are people that obviously need it. They need the umbrella of Gay Lib.”
….BI-SEXUAL TREND…I wondered whether Bowie felt there was a tend towards the bi-sexual star rather than the all-out masculine or feminine image. I remarked on the number of glitter-eyed young boys who are seen at T-Rex concerts dancing with each other in the aisles. Bowie didn’t see this as a new phenomenon. “What about Elvis Presley? he asked “If his image wasn’t bi-sexual then I don’t know what is. I think that Jagger’s image was also very bi-sexual. People talk about fag-rock but that’s an unwieldy term at the best of times. I think its all rock n roll. Its the audiences that are fags if anything.” Did he feel that the breaking down of opposite values and qualities which we are seeing today would result in a bright future for bi-sexuals? “It does have to happen” he replied “I don’t think that people will have to carve out their gender any longer. But obviously the swing will come back again to the way its always been.” Had he been influenced by the trend of relative values? “I’m carried along” he admitted by the current of energy I feel in the environment in which I exist.” This is David Bowie the Photostat machine. David Bowie the image – an image of a turbulent time where no-one seems really sure. Where black and white has merged into an uncertain shade of grey, right and wrong into “anything goes” and male and female into bi-sexuality. [On “Song to Bob Dylan] Bowie bemoans the fact that Dylan somewhere “lost his train of thought” and began writing solely for himself. It would seem as though Bowie is maybe subconsciously coming along to fill such a gap and that his songs are reflections of our culture “seen through a million pairs of eyes.” In this case he’s telling us what we see rather than why we see. Photostat machines don’t give opinions.
….BOTH MARKETS…One advantage that Bowie has over most serious rock artists is the fact that he’s able to capture both the intellectual and emotional markets. Teeny fans will be happy to bop along and see what gear he’s wearing this week whereas university audiences will begin compiling theses on The Reflections of Contemporary Culture In the Work of David Bowie. For this reason, and also because I feel he’s the best solo artist performing today, I’m willing to stick my pen out and predict he’ll be the world’s best in, let’s say, November 1973.