by Jim Sullivan / Radio WBCN
9th April 1997
CAMBRIDGE – The hardest-working man in showbiz? James Brown surrendered the title – at least for one day – to David Bowie, who has to be the most effervescent 50-year-old in pop music.
…..Bowie, along with longtime collaborator, Boston-based guitarist Reeves Gabrels, came to Fort Apache Studios for a WBCN-FM-sponsored (and simulcast) mini-concert / Q&A session with lucky contest winners last night. It was Bowie’s second music-and-chat session of the day, having done something similar in Atlanta in the morning.
…..Call it the re-return of the Thin White Duke – all acoustic, warm, genial, and at ease with his surroundings, which included candles and big bouquets of flowers.
…..Contest winner Jane Gilmartin, in the front row, called it ‘the icing on the cake, the cake being a Bowie fan.” ‘A miracle!” added Melanie Maung, of the opportunity to view Bowie – usually spotted more distantly in hockey arenas – at such close range. WBCN gave away 52 pairs of passes to the people who sent in the most interesting questions. Program director Oedipus said the station received more than 1,000 entries.
…..Winners got to ask things like ‘Do you have a pet?” (A: He once owned a German shepherd), ‘What books are you currently reading?” (A: ‘Life of Picasso” and a biography of Marcel Duchamp) and “If you could visit any moment in history, what would it be?” (A: 1907-1913, Paris and London, because it was the most exciting time for music and art – and before World War I). One especially good one: If an asteroid was certain to hit the earth in a week, wiping out civilization, how would Bowie spend the time? ‘Apologizing,” he said, after a pause. “Just incase…”
…..Bowie, who said after the set he admires how Ray Davies weaves music and stories, proved a master at it himself. He was in full raconteur mode and he is one funny, self-deprecating chap. As to why he spends so much time in America, Bowie blustered, ‘Do you have a problem with that?!” – before praising an American pop landscape full of rebels: James Dean, the beatniks, ‘the dear-departed Allen Ginsberg.” He discussed Buddhism and history; he praised Neil Young’s dignity and grace.
…..The lucky fans – another 50-plus VIPs joined the winners – were treated to a C&W version of Scary Monsters” (Bowie as Johnny Cash?), Seven Years In Tibet,” a snippet of The Supermen,” ‘Dead Man Walking,” ‘The Jean Genie” and the Tin Machine song ‘I Can’t Read.”
…..The sunglassed Gabrels added tasty slide guitar to the latter and was an amiable foil through out the hourlong set. Bowie discussed mysteries large and small, from the genesis of the songs to the role of art. He said he drew ‘Heroes”’ from the ‘hokey” situation of a couple that met at the Berlin wall every day, but said he believed it has turned into an extraordinary song. His Ziggy Stardust character was partially based upon a real-life delusional performer named Vince Taylor, who once performed a rock show as Christ and ended up a maintenance man for Swiss Airways. Art? ‘I’m not sure any kind of artwork has to have intentions behind it,” he said, explaining his frequent use of science fiction allegories and modern man’s distance from traditional religion.
…..Say this about Bowie: He recently released ‘Earthling,” his best album since ‘Scary Monsters,” but we live in a world where the Spice Girls and Blur, both acts on his label Virgin, sell more albums – a world where ‘Earthling” is not even on Billboard’s Top 200. It’s to his credit that Bowie does not want to let it die on the vine. The best ‘Earthling” song, ‘Dead Man Walking,” is the current single and is also featured in the movie ‘The Saint.” After a summer tour overseas, he’ll be likely back our way in August-September, playing Great Woods, but also, possibly including a small venue performance akin to last night’s. ‘We,” he said, post-set of himself and Gabrels, ‘are enjoing the hell out of it.”