Sydney Morning Herald - September 15th 2003

Family man hits the road

Rock legend David Bowie embraces his latest role. And it's his finest, writes Katherine Tulich.

David Bowie, the man who gave pop music a gallery of images, from the orange-haired punk alien of Ziggy Stardust to the baggy-suited Thin White Duke, is ageing gracefully.

While his marriage to supermodel Iman and the birth of their daughter three years ago has given him more headlines than his music of late, the legendary performer is hoping to change all that with the release of his new album Reality and the launch of a large-scale world tour - his first in more than a decade.

As he walks into a downtown New York studio wearing a brightly coloured shirt, it's hard to believe he's 56. His sandy blond hair falls casually around his face, and his hands and body constantly move like those of a restless teenager. But it seems the chameleon of rock has finally found the persona that suits him best - as happily married man and new father. It's a contentment that extends into his music. Reality is a buoyant album full of vibrant sounds and lyrics, a departure from Bowie's last album, the brooding, dark Heathen.

"I think Heathen was more reflective of the period we were all going through post September 11, but this one reflects the energy of a bustling energetic city," Bowie said. "I tried to take a snapshot of where I'm living and how I feel living in it."

And he isn't opposed to a little light-hearted humour in his music. There is a tongue-in-cheek look at an ageing rocker in Never Get Old.

"The image of a rocker in his 50s singing petulantly 'I'll never get old' is ludicrous and funny," Bowie said. "It's an irresistible line to sing at this age."

In reality, the legendary rocker long ago put behind him a past of drugs, sexual experimentation and excess. "Wouldn't that be fun to age disgracefully?" he said with a laugh. "But I'm afraid I won't be hitting the bottle. I'm stone-cold sober these days."

He has even given up his beloved pack-a-day Marlboros. "It was the hardest thing I ever did," he said. "But as I get older I'm trying to get rid of some of the poisons in my body."

Bowie said his 11-year marriage was the catalyst to get his life in shape. "I wouldn't say it was an overnight thing," he said. "I wouldn't say one person really changes another, but I think you change yourself to adapt to a situation, and I desperately wanted this relationship with Iman to be a good, true healthy and successful one. So it really made me look at myself.

"One of the things that gave us a real basis for any kind of union was the fact that we both have been through all the positive and negative aspects of celebrity life. We both have had previous marriages and both have had children. There are a lot of things we had in common right from the word go, which really helped us form a strong bedrock to this relationship."

Bowie said the couple has become the quintessential boring parents, happy to stay at home with their three-year-old daughter Alexandria (or Lexie, as he calls her). "I have this piece of string that only allows me to go half a mile in any direction from home," he said.

Home for Mr and Mrs Bowie is Manhattan's downtown trendy SoHo neighbourhood.

"We spend a lot of time at home, especially now that we have Lexie."

He blushes when asked if he is one of these dads that will take out the baby photos. "Of course, I'm totally proud of her," he said. "She is wonderful and probably I believe the most intelligent child that has ever been born."

She's even showing signs of musical inclination. "She is terribly physical and I think she is mad for anything athletic ... running and dancing and getting bruises ... she's a lovely, lively child, but I'm going gooey now aren't I?"

Bowie's Reality tour will see him on his first major world tour in more than a decade. He hasn't performed in Australia since the late 1980s. "Has it really been that long?" he asked. "I promise to make it up to everyone ... they will be really great shows and very long."

While he guarantees a great show, Bowie warns not to expect the theatrical extravaganzas of Ziggy Stardust or the Aladdin Sane. "There will definitely be a visual slant to it - but I finished with all the running around and pieces of set and all that a long time ago. There wasn't much of it when I was first doing it, but now everyone is doing it. I've gone the other way and become quite minimalist."

While Bowie once said he would be embarrassed to sing songs such as Rebel Rebel as he got older, he said he's now happy to revisit his musical past.

"It has taken me to this age to finally feel comfortable with my old personas. I went through a vulnerable period in the '80s when I lost a lot of my motivation for music, but through the '90s as I got happier I looked back at the old stuff and [I feel it's not] competing with what I do now.

Long gone are the endless nights of partying. This tour will be strictly a family affair. "Iman and Lexie definitely will be there at every opportunity," he said. "I couldn't bear to be away from them for any long periods of time."

Bowie adds: "I adore Australia. "I have been wanting to take Iman there for so long now. I know she will love it."