Return to Sender

by Jim Irvin and Paul Du Noyer / Mojo

July 2002

Neighbors in Manhattan, Bowie and Moby have fast become pals. MOJO linked up with the pair in cyberspace to engage in rock’s strangest three-way conversation.

John Lennon declared that one has to be a bastard to survive in the music business. True?

Moby: Personally, I think that you have to be a mercenary masochist to survive in the music business.

DB: I don’t think it necessary to be an utter bastard. A little bit of a bastard will often do. We don’t all have to be James Brown, fining musicians for wrong notes played. The other side of that, of course, is that you wouldn’t believe the advantage crew and musicians will take when they think you’re not looking. In the old days, I would quake in disbelief at some of the expenses submitted. I even found a small car in the footnotes.
Most, but not all, of my close friends tend to be not well known and will remain so. I wouldn’t inflict fame on my worst enemy.

What was the first music that really got you?

M: David Bowie

DB: The very first song I remember hearing on the radio was Oh, For The Wings Of A Dove by Ernest somebody. It would have been on Two-Way Family Favorites, a very popular BBC radio programme when I was around five or six years old. It took requests from families who had sons and daughters serving overseas, usually in Cyprus, it seemed. The same programme often featured, for some insane reason, Mars – The Bringer Of Was from Holst’s The Planets Suite, which was the first time I had encountered classical music that spun my head with pictures. I would go off to Woolsworths and buy classical stuff based on the album cover artwork. That’s how I found Stravinsky at around the age of 10 or so. And Vaughan Williams as it happens.
But the rock of ages has to be Elvis’s Heartbreak Hotel. It was simply revolutionary. Although I later went ape-shit over Little Richard. As Lennon put it, “Before Elvis, there was nothing.”

Have you ever consulted a psychic? And what did they tell you?

M: No, I’m afraid that they would tell me something awful. The if it were untrue, I would’ve spent time unnecessarily worrying, and if it were true I would’ve spent time waiting in doom.

DB: Never went to one either. Never even tempted. I have been to a hypnotist, though. He was supposed to stop me smoking and had an impeccable reputation. Several friends of mine had been to him and couldn’t praise him enough. I sat on a very hard wood chair and he went through his ‘you’re getting sleepy’ routine, but about 10 minutes in, the seat of my chair seemed to get harder and my arse was hurting and there was no chance of me nodding off. But I sat there like a fool with my eyes closed because he was a nice guy and I didn’t want to embarrass him. At the end, he said that I probably wouldn’t ever smoke again and I said ‘Ta’, and popped off down the street and lit a fag.

Describe the night you first saw and heard Iggy Pop.

M: In Sweden at a festival. It was two in the morning. He looked very thin.

DB: I remember his bottom more than anything else. I saw him only from the back as I was playing piano for him. This was around 1976, I suppose. I’d never seen him on-stage up until then, I knew him and loved his records and had brought him to England to play in 1973 but had missed those gigs because I was working. I couldn’t get over his energy and commitment to savage realism. It was just not the same Jim that I knew, though. A rather lonely and quiet guy with a drug problem, horn-rimmed glasses and huge appetite for reading. When he was straight he was one of the sweetest guys you wish to be and talk with. But when stoned, oh, what a mess. Well, we both were. Can’t help but respect what he’s done, though. Not sure about this Charles Bukowski direction he’s taken over the last few years. It’s not defying expectations. It’s playing to the gallery. I think he’s got far greater potential than he allows himself. He just needs nudging in the right direction.

Collaborations between artists – a good idea?

M: My most successful single in the States was a collaboration with Gwen Stefani. I think it’s safe to say the success had more do with her than with me. I would rather watch Gwen on TV than me. She’s pretty, I’m not.

DB: I’m excellent at finding very good musicians but not many of them could be described as collaborators. In some cases, you only have to listen to their work outside of what they do with me and it’s evident that some of them haven’t much of a clue how to use their talents. There are expectations, of course. Stevie Ray and Fripp jumped to mind. Mark Plati, who co-produced Earthling, is a terrifically reliable sort when it comes to Pro-tooling about. Eno is a wonderful person to collaborate with. I’m sure it’s been said many times before but it’s not what he plays so much as what he says. He helps reinvent the idea of how a recording can be made.
Visconti is also a number one collaborator. Apart from being a top drawer musician, producer and superb string arranger, he gives a lot of emotional and spiritual support. But I think he would be the first one to acknowledge that I know exactly what I’m doing and have a very clear idea of where we will ultimately end up, project to project. But that’s my job. That’s what I do.

Which if any, of your records do you consider to have been unfairly overlooked?

M: Six years ago I made a weird punk rock record called Animal Rights. I don’t think it’s been unfairly overlooked, but I love it and I think that if people are patient with it then they’ll see it for its merits and not its liabilities.

Do you have muse?

DB: Although I fell head-over-heals in love with Kitty Mitchell at around 10 years old – she had a wonderful outgoing smile, a little bit Sophia Loren, a little bit Mary Tyler Moore and had big tits before any of the other girls in the class – it was Hermione Farthingale (immortalized in Bowie’s Letter To Hermione) who got me writing for and on a specific person. We were around 19 or 20 at the time. This was true love of a pure and idealised sort. Except that I was totally unfaithful and couldn’t for the life of me keep it zipped. Bad move on my part as I’m sure we would have lasted a good long time if I’d been a good boy. She, quite rightly, ran off with a dancer that she had met while filming. Then, I heard, she married an anthropologist and went to live in Borneo for a while, mapping out unknown rivers. We had everything in common, from music to art to wall colours to… everything.
After we had broken up, I would conjure her up in my mind whenever I felt a love song coming on. We met up again after I had become Ziggy but it was gone. We spent a night or two together but the spark had been extinguished. More recently, my family is constantly in my mind when I embark on a new writing spree.

Do you still like to be in a room with lots of musicians? Or have you been seduced by technology?

M: I record by myself in a room full of equipment. So yes, I’ve been seduced by technology.

DB: I got a little Pro-tool happy when making Earthling and that was very much Mark Plati’s way of doing things. I enjoyed it thoroughly and would jump to do it again if the music required it. Nile Rodgers was very big on ‘computertechniques’ while we were doing Black Tie White Noise. That was my first real exposure to the speed of process. With Visconti, we try and keep to analogue as much as possible. I usually lay down a demo kind of backing track and then have one musician work with me at a time to get what I want. On Heathen, I have often reverted back to my original parts that I played myself as they had a certain something.

Who’s at the moment impresses you as a visionary pop performer?

M: As much as it pains me to say this, Eminem and Bono. And Busta Rhymes. Who else? Robbie Williams. Can’t think of anyone else off the top of my head.

DB: Nobody. But I’m not looking very hard. I obviously feel an empathy with so-called outsider music. Folks like Daniel Johnson.

What do you do for soul food? Practice any freaky religions?

M: I’m a simple, idiosyncratic Christian. The universe is an old and complicated place, so I don’t believe that I really know anything on an objective level.

DB: No, but I think and read about it all obsessively. It all tends to become the content of my songs.

Do you think the internet has improved your relationships with the public or does the permanent dialogue feel intrusive?

M: I LOVE the permanent and intrusive dialogue. I’m addicted to it, actually.

DB: It’s very bloody tiring, is what I do know. I spend an inordinately huge procentage of my week attending my site. I’ve cut down surf-time tremendously since the mid-’90s as it was biting into my work time too much. I could live without it.

Without wishing to be flippant, are you aware of how many mad fans you both have?

M: I haven’t met too many mad ones. I’ve met a lot of really nice fans. Is that a bad answer?

DB: Certainly no madder than me or some of my friends. I find my lot an interesting bunch and, judging by their likes and dislikes, a hugely diverse crowd. There are always a couple of ‘types’ out there, though. Not mad necessarily, but fefinately cunning was the kid who put drops of belladonna on his left eye to make the pupil large. Armed with the appropriate haircut, he convinced a film producer’s wife to run off with him, and $200,000 of the poor guy’s money. They had a whirlwind and very public romance in Hawaii, spending money like water. Front-page news all over the West Coast: “Bowie Runs Off With Producer’s Wife”-type thing. A journalist who knew me figured it didn’t quite sound right and gave me a call in Switzerland to establish that I was there. The kid was arrested a few days later. The part is that he told the judge that he got the idea from a cell mate, when he was a young offender, who was a Jimi Hendrix impersonator.

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