16th February 2013
‘I think if I could have anyone on The X Factor it would be David Bowie. It’s no secret I’ve asked him, and he hasn’t said yes yet, but I’ll keep extending the invitation. Why Bowie? He’s a legend. He’s a great songwriter, he has massive influence on music today and he’s 100 per cent credible. I’m a fan. Not just of his music but of him, the man. He’s cool. Most of us aren’t. Bowie is.’
‘David Bowie is the man. We all know the guy is a genius but he also helped me when I needed it the most. I was 45 and struggling to make a comeback, and without me asking he just did something for me.
‘He’d just signed to Capitol Records, who were stalling on taking me on. Bowie was in New York and the record company wanted to take him out for a celebratory dinner. He told them he wanted to go and see me perform at the Ritz nightclub instead.
‘On that night the whole rock ’n’ roll world was there – Keith Richards, Rod Stewart, you name it – and I’m sure it had a lot to do with him. David brought the guys from the record company in and they just looked around and thought, “This woman must be hot.” The next day I had a deal. I always thank David for that.’
Film director and artistic director of the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony
‘I’m not often nervous, but I was incredibly nervous meeting Bowie – far more nervous than I was meeting the Queen. I’ve loved his music since I was a teenager and time has only enhanced my respect for his work.
‘When I started work on the opening ceremony, I wrote to Bowie to ask if he might consider performing live. He agreed to meet, so I flew to New York and gave a presentation.
‘He was lovely and very complimentary, especially about the Industrial Revolution sequence. I’m not being trite when I say it was an honour simply to have spent a couple of hours with him.
‘In the end, he didn’t want to make any kind of live appearance – maybe he’s happy with the 30 or 40 years he’s been in the public eye.
‘At the same time, he wanted to support us and was more than happy to help us with video footage and the rights to songs. I loved it when Heroes played as Team GB entered the stadium.
‘After I met him I read about how during the Berlin years he’d record everything, including the backing vocals, before he’d written all the lyrics. It’s a bizarre way to work. His most memorable songs are great tunes, but it’s the vocal performance you remember.
‘I was as surprised and delighted as anyone when he released Where Are We Now? He’s still a titan for me.’
‘I first met David Bowie lying on the floor in a friend’s bedroom listening to Hunky Dory. It was one afternoon when we were cutting games in the sixth form.
‘I came to know every millisecond of Life on Mars?, and while the leap ahead to the post-prog Berlin racket of Heroes could have deflected legions of lesser fans, there was that voice again; hollering, crooning, telling tales of seduction, alienation and God knows what.
‘To be honest, I have no idea what Bowie is on about. Meaning if pinned down is like quicksilver. The voice is the thing. As with Miles Davis’s trumpet, the settings behind it may change, the accompaniments may alter – but Bowie’s voice remains at the heart of it, the message of the music. Whatever that might be.’
‘Growing up in Coventry, I was crazy about Bowie. He was a very big inspiration – he probably inspired me to go into acting more than any other actor. He offered something other than the norm. I used to dye my hair many colours like Bowie and I saw him live in Milton Keynes in the early Eighties.
‘A lot of people think they’re cutting edge, but Bowie genuinely broke down boundaries. Plus, the music was phenomenal. I’ve met him a couple of times over the years, but I got very tongue-tied.
Music critic and contributor to the book for the V&A’s ‘David Bowie is’ exhibition
‘The first time I tuned into David Bowie in a big way was in January 1972. I bought a copy of Hunky Dory and was transfixed by it. The album has a great cover: you don’t know whether he’s transgender or gay or a straight boy dragging up. And you know what? It doesn’t matter; he looks great.
David Bowie knew what he needed to do in order to make a great impact, and he did it.
‘The gender confusion Bowie embraced was something new. Hunky Dory came out four years after the 1967 Sexual Offences Act that legalised homosexuality. Gay liberation was off and running in the UK. In a wider sense, Bowie legitimised homosexuality.
‘He said he was gay in an interview in January 1972. People had a go at him for not being gay, but it doesn’t matter if he was gay or not. It’s pop music. And it was very important back then for people to get affirmative images.’
‘When I was growing up I was inspired by the legends, the real artists: Freddie Mercury, Andy Warhol, David Bowie. Bowie made me feel what I was doing was right. He was different. He stuck out, he went against the tide and he made people’s jaws drop.
That was what I loved. As a musician he’s a genius. I found out he used to tear up strips of words to make his lyrics and I tried that.
I loved what he wore, the way he became Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust. I got it. I got him.
The theatrics, the dreams, the vision and at the same time those songs. He’s amazing. Just amazing.’
Turner Prize-winning artist
‘David Bowie understood the importance of how music looks, not just what it sounds like. He understood that pop music is an art form. He was a cultural magpie; he realised that everything was up for grabs.
‘The Rolling Stones took black American music, developed it and kept going with it for six really good albums, whereas Bowie actually changed pop music.
His work is timeless because he worked with such great producers. Low still sounds like it was made tomorrow – not even today.
‘Bowie ruled the Seventies. He owned it both in terms of popular music and also in the effect he had on those of us who were growing up in that era. As a six- or seven-year-old child I was into his imagery and his lyrics. Life on Mars?, which I remember hearing for the first time in a car, has almost nursery-rhyme lyrics.
‘When I was around the same age we went to visit family friends. Their naughty 16-year-old son, who had long hair and a blue RAF coat, pulled the Aladdin Sane cover out apropos of nothing while we were drinking tea and said, “This man is beautiful.” We all stared at Bowie in awe for a full five seconds.’
Cultural critic and contributor to the book for the V&A’s ‘David Bowie is’ exhibition
‘Bowie has endured as an icon because of his profound understanding of the public and the private. He knows that there should be an enormous gap between the real persona and the hyper-entity on stage.
‘The performance space is for the higher self. The person outside that space can be frail, shy, awkward. Bowie knows he can be unassuming – invisible even – offstage.
‘I suppose he had to learn the hard way. He has talked openly about Ziggy Stardust taking over his personality; he was very close to having a major crack-up in the early Seventies. I don’t know how he survived, given his cocaine-and-milk diet.
Maybe he killed Stardust just in time. He then went to Berlin, rented an apartment and did his own laundry, his own cooking. He stripped away everything and returned to basics. And look at the trilogy he then produced: Low, Heroes and Lodger.
‘I’ve never met Bowie or seen him live, but when I was writing my first book, Sexual Personae, there’s no doubt his influence was in the air. We were totally on the same wavelength regarding gender issues.
‘He took his influences – Cabaret, avant-garde theatre, mime – and pulled gender-bending in a decadent direction. His work is vastly superior to what’s called gender studies today. He has a truly amazing mind.’
‘I saw Ziggy Stardust at Lewisham Odeon when I was 11. I never really recovered. I first met David at Le Beat Route club in London in 1979. He said, “You look like my friend Klaus Nomi”, which annoyed me, as I thought my look was wholly original.
‘Later, I passed him in the airport at Sydney, but couldn’t work up the courage to say hello. We finally had dinner in New York in 2005, The discussion ranged from Russian art flicks to Eastenders and British tea.
‘I felt as much of a fan then as I did in the Seventies.’
Author and avid record collector
‘I wasn’t a huge fan of David Bowie at school, but one of my best friends used to force-feed me his music. I grew to love Bowie.
When I got my first cassette recorder at the age of 12 in 1972, I taped The Jean Genie off Radio 1. In 1974, a few years after it came out, I bought John, I’m Only Dancing.
I liked the big crunching guitars and the questionable sexuality in the lyrics – was this really a man singing to another man?
‘I was attracted to Bowie’s image. He seemed incredibly exotic. I grew up in a small, working-class mining town in Fife, and he was like a peacock. I’d never seen anyone who looked like that before.
The costumes, the hairstyle, the slap he put on his face. I’d never have dared to dress up in glam rock gear. I’d have been stabbed! I’d also have had to fight my parents tooth and nail.
‘When my best friend and I got to Edinburgh University we shared a bedroom due to financial constraints. Late at night we’d play the Berlin-period Bowie records. I’d fall asleep listening to Low or Heroes.
‘I was surprised by the crazy internet response to his new single. A few of his albums have come and gone without anyone really noticing.
‘I suppose everyone thought Bowie had retired, but here he was with a sad, retrospective, introspective song and an intriguing video. I just hope the album is as good.’
TV executive and documentary-maker
‘Early in 1974, when I was in my early twenties, I got a phone call out of the blue from someone in New York called Tony.
‘He turned out to be one Tony Defries, the self-proclaimed emperor of the fast-expanding Bowie dynasty trading under the name MainMan. Would I be interested in making a film about David as he embarked on his Diamond Dogs tour of North America?
‘I met Bowie in New York and he promised to make time for me to get my film made in the midst of a staggeringly demanding schedule.
‘He made good on that promise straight away by agreeing to endure the seriously uncomfortable procedure of having a life cast made of his face and features, which enabled the memorable opening sequence of our film Cracked Actor to make its indelible mark on generations of Bowie fans.
‘Throughout the tour, he was fragile and exhausted, frustrated by the huge management circus which engulfed him at every turn and preparing to discard the extraordinary cast of characters he’d embodied both physically and mentally over the previous two years.
‘He’d killed off Ziggy Stardust at the Hammersmith Odeon a year earlier, but his reincarnation as Aladdin Sane fuelled his paranoia with the dark side of America, and by the end of the tour there was effectively a mass burial of the entire cast of Bowie alter egos and the birth of the wholesome, soulful Young Americans.
‘Immediately after the film aired on the BBC, I got a phone call from the film-maker Nic Roeg which prompted the creation of yet another character to add to the Bowie armoury, The Man Who Fell to Earth.
‘You’d do Top of the Pops and find out what your status was. Elton John would get a dressing room to himself and a few for his band, while Roxy and even Bowie would get squashed into a tiny room.
‘Then there would be a fight over bar tickets. Only certain bands would get a pass to the BBC bar to get free drinks afterwards. It was fun. They were creative times. We were friends and we were rivals.
‘There’s always been a lot of respect between us. Bowie is Bowie.’
‘Bowie is amazing – he always has been – although there was a lot of rivalry between us.
‘We went to an early Bowie gig at the Greyhound in Croydon, and before they went on stage all the band were just sitting around dressed as giant Spiders from Mars. Bowie had realised that to get the best out of dressing up, you had to use theatrical lighting. We stole his lighting man after that.
‘The bands shared a sense of humour. Bowie would always turn up to Roxy gigs, because underneath it all, we respected each other.’
‘David Bowie was and is a very interesting guy; the coolest guy in the room. Nothing ever phased him. The first time I photographed him was with Marianne Faithfull, who was dressed as a nun at the time.
‘I remember thinking, “This guy is really something.” I was used to taking photos of the Beatles and the Stones, but Bowie was something else. We worked together pretty solidly from then on.
‘One of the next big projects was the Diamond Dogs album cover and tour. I wanted to shoot him as a dog, so I took along a friend’s dog and snapped it, then showed David the shots so he could get the right poses.
‘The session went great, then at the end I brought the dog back in and it just went crazy. Everyone else freaked out, but not David. He just took it in his stride; the shot made it on to one version of the back cover.
‘Liz Taylor was a friend of mine, and said she wanted to meet him as she was thinking of casting him in a film she was making out in Russia. I helped set up a meeting, and David turned up three hours late! No one did that, but he got away with it.
‘I last photographed him in the mid-Eighties, and he still looked great. He hadn’t changed and I don’t think he ever will. He is an icon.’
New York-based artist and director of the video for Where Are We Now?
‘I first started working with David Bowie in 1996. A year or so earlier I’d been invited to show my work at an exhibition in Italy and saw his name was on the list of artists. I couldn’t make the trip, so I sent along my assistant. She called from Italy to say that she was with David and he really liked my work and wanted to get together.
‘Nearly 12 months later I got a message on my answer machine: “This is David Bowie calling.” I nearly had a heart attack. I played it back to my siblings, who are all diehard fans.
‘He came over a couple of times to this real hole-in-the-wall studio I had back then. Eventually he asked if he could use my electronic effigies for his 50th birthday celebrations at Madison Square Garden.
‘I pretty much gave up asking David if he was working on any new material. He was on fire in 1997 and it was a shock when he slowed down after that. He has never expressed why he stopped or why he started.
‘He had a very precise idea of what he wanted for Where Are We Now? We shot the video in my studio; it’s a surprisingly nostalgic video, a kind of memory palace. It’s very DIY and no doubt the antithesis of what people expect from a huge pop star.
‘I’ve heard three incredibly dynamic songs from the new album, but I really can’t say anything about live shows. David is avoiding interviews.
‘He knows that art doesn’t benefit from analysis after a certain point. He’s made all these wonderful projects over the years and knows it’s probably better if he lets people interpret them as they choose.’