BETWEEN BOWIE AND ENO
David Bowie and Brian Eno
BRIAN: This human is becoming rapidly out of condition, to find that he is having to write the articles for journalists. It used to be that we would just talk for two hours and then they would claim they'd interviewed us, but now they send a fax saying; Could we have 1,500 words on the future, Brian? and then THEY collect the cheque. Is this a step forward? For them, yes.
DAVID: This gives me an idea, IRA old bean. How about arbitrarily selecting 1,500 words and submitting them on a typewritten sheet? Words like soul, tribalisation, disfranchised, reinforcing etc. And they may string them together in any order they wish.
BRIAN: Very good idea. They didn't say which words. In fact, we could use your lyric writing program (combined with my patent lyric-extender) to make wonderfully meaningful webs of exotic and futuristic terms, which would then qualify us for a jointly held seat (I always like a seat to be jointly held) at the Sorbonne, where we could hang out with Derrida and other people I can't pronounce, let alone understand.
DAVID: Oh hallowed exotic synchronicity! Andy and I are feeding your questions and my answers, in part anyway, into the Verbasiser. Within an hour after this session I will be sending you the fragmented version of our interview. Please extend any viable parts you so wish. This exercise may well be illustrative of much of that which you have been gabbing on about in your year-end future round-up.
BRIAN: This is a very promising direction, and much better than answering questions such as, What are your thoughts on Q magazine? (which name is now fed into the system.) Meanwhile, there is one question which this man asketh which may be worth answering. Which is the least useful thing in you studio?
DAVID: Bert Weedon's Big Book Of Skiffle Chords.
BRIAN: I find that hard to understand, since this is a well known classic of modern musical thought, ranked alongside such worthy epistles as Derrida's Writing And Difference. I had to mention that so that we got the word 'difference' into the sausage-making machine.
DAVID: This reminds me of a conversation I had with Keith Richards at the 1972 Weedon convention. Keith said to me, "What's the difference between a Lonnie Donegan B-side and a Derrida deconstruction?" (Please supply punch-line).
BRIAN: (Lengthy pause for thought). There must be a great punch-line to this question. Perhaps this is what the journalist could supply. The first joke linking skiffle and post-structuralist philosophy.
DAVID: I would like to mention that Ron Athey the performance artist will commit an act of scarification on a friend and fellow artist in public on Thursday night here in NYC. What are we to make of this current move towards ritualisation? It resembles in some aspects the body part art of the late 60's and early 70's. Could this be God-pleasing in some way to appease and to ask for corrective measures to be applied to our fast fragmenting society?
BRIAN: I wonder if they use anaesthetics, or is the pain a big part of it? If it is, why is it? This is not dissimilar from the now well entrenched popular movement towards tattooing and body art in general but I have a queer feeling about it. I think part of its message is, "Look - Art in general is that it doesn't - that it's a place where you can do things without life-threatening consequences" - a simulator if you like.
DAVID: Tell that to Chris Burdon.
BRIAN: Burdon and others like him are definitely interesting artists, but as anecdotes (or almost popular urban myths). I wonder if you actually have to do it? Why not just say that you did it? Wouldn't it have the same effect on the rest of the world? If this isn't satisfactory, then it must be because the effect you wanted is the effect on yourself, not on the world at large. I favour the clever con artist who remains intact to the committed Fine Artist who ends up with his arms shot off or even worse (in the case of that Austrian blockhead - he would be Austrian, wouldn't he?) with his dick cut off. I mean this is so romantic, it's ridiculous... "The artist must suffer for his art."
DAVID: I suppose that would have been Hermann Nitsch or Rudolf Schwarzkogler or one of those guys. It's called the cutting edge, Brian. Enough of your "queer feelings". Do you think Abba can ever be replaced?
BRIAN: Sorry, I'm having to do something else at the same time). What would we replace them with? A large plastic gnome? Something from a DIY store? In fact, I like them more and more, which indicates that I am moving further and further from the dick-cutting-off consciousness of Viennese art towards the anodyne world of sweet universal harmony as espoused by the Scandinavians.
DAVID: I hate to sour your worldview, Brian, but you are not taking into consideration the Gothenburg castrationists. Every cloud has its silver stomach lining; this is a known fact. Read your Kant.
BRIAN: You leave my Kant out of this. But now you mention it, weren't Abba the founding members of the Gothenburg castrationists? And isn't this how they acquired those sweet tunes to begin with?
DAVID: You are quite right, Brian. In fact, they were initially known as Abbattoir.
BRIAN: Very good. A joke at last! People might think we're flippant reading this, so we should go on to some more serious subjects. I'd hate people to think that we talked about abattoirs most of the time. Though I am fascinated by current abattoir throughput figures which have reduced considerably since all those animal rights people insisted that the animals had to be properly dead before being eaten. But anyway, let's look at this man's questions again. He asks me what does the future hold? How would I know? Uncertainty is the answer, but the interesting possibility is that we all become comfortable with it.
DAVID: Our expectations of an ending of conclusion, Brian, learned from repeated story-film-narrative culture, gives us a completely unjustified set of expectations for life, Brian. Read my Kant.
BRIAN: For me, the big breakthrough is accepting that fade-outs happen at both ends of whatever you are doing. I always liked records that faded up as well as down, so you felt that what you were hearing was part of a bigger and unknowable thing that existed somewhere out in the ether, but to which you couldn't have access... as though this piece of music was like a comet that had just entered your atmosphere for a while but then spun of again into its own orbit.
DAVID: Sort of like a Rock God, Brian?
BRIAN: Sort of like that.
DAVID: Could we possibly ponder the probability that popular music is, in fact, the most divisive form of music, contrary to the popular belief that if helps teach the world to sing with one voice?
BRIAN: Yes. Popular music is as much of a badge of allegiance AGAINST certain things as FOR them. There's no point in thinking that an appreciation of a culture automatically qualifies you to empathise with its members, or will lead to your acceptance by them. But then, I think that what artists hope to do is to at least show you what other pictures of the world might be like. You, as listener or viewer, can then decide whether or not you want to inhabit those worlds. For instance, when you see a Rambo movie, you see a theory about how the world is constructed (with, for example, clear patterns of good and evil, and unambiguous allegiances). Then you see a man, a real man, Rambo, dealing with that simple picture. It's a kind of diagram and if it fails because the diagram doesn't include enough detail. But at least you can then find out what level of detail other people are working on... (By the way, I must say that I find this a very hard way to discuss ideas. Perhaps I'm too used to my normal E-mail system, where you get longer to respond. Perhaps also I'm not usually in such a bloody hurry. I have to go to Innsbruck, land of chopped-off willies, tomorrow, first thing).
DAVID: I'm seriously hoping that we will finish before tomorrow, Brian. Tomorrow being the first day of the rest of your life (Nietzsche), a few thoughts on Rambo, poor dunce: he's less than within us, the brains talk, but the will to live is dead, and prayer can't travel so far these days.
BRIAN: I forgot to tell you that I did a new beginning to that song which I like very much. It's an atmospheric piece about 90 seconds long using your "poor soul" phrase played very slowly and forming long drifting overlays. In the background is a sound like motors or machines or transmissions of some kind. I think it's lovely and you should get the tape soon.
DAVID: I must tell you I'm overjoyed with the new mixes you sent. I really feel we are in an extremely exciting and uninvestigated area. Same goose bumps as 1977 and a Tuesday in late 1984.
BRIAN: I think so too. But what happened that Tuesday? All right, don't go into details. But have you heard this band called Towering Inferno? They are doing something amazing, working with projectors and film and all the best new musical ideas. They did a record called Kaddish which I have sent you. And they can't find anyone to sign them - though I just heard that Radio Three is ahead of the record companies. Shouldn't the music biz be hanging its head in shame and what about the high/low divide when the so-called snobs start signing rock bands? They really are good, though, and right on that cusp which we hadn't previously known to exist.
DAVID: High/low. Sounds like a sort of Gilbert and George Michael kind of thing. I think we have given Q magazine its requisite several thousand words. Send them over in a box, well shuffled, and indicate to them that they may put them into some pleasurable order. Please go to Innsbruck. I'm going to the Met with Coco to see de Kooning (bet he doesn't turn up). Wave bye bye.
BRIAN: As my uncle said, never trust a concept that you can spell. Best of luck, scramble these things for us and I'll do the same here. Say hi to Co.
HOW BOWIE AND I HAD A SINGALONG
By Vinny Davies
AFTER filming scenes for a movie with pop icon David Bowie in the Isle Of Man, actor Vinny Davies tells me this picture with his superstar pal is just one prized memento he has of them working together.
"There is film of us singing a duet, but it doesn't appear in the movie," says Vinny, who worked with David earlier this year on Andrew Goth's violently stylish Everybody Loves Sunshine, a thriller controversially based on Manchester's Moss Side, and due to be premiered in London.
Vinny explains that, in between takes, he sang with David for the benefit of another film crew, who spent days shadowing the stars of the £2m movie.
"It was my idea to do a duet, and David happily went along with it, says Longsight-based Vinny, who tells me that in the film he helps the real-life pop star run a crime syndicate. "Everyone on the set thought I was a bit cheeky to ask David to sing with me, but it was a big surprise to everyone when he really got into it and enjoyed himself."
Not as big a surprise as David's questions during a break in filming. Says Vinny: "He suddenly started quizzing me about Blackburn, of all places, and wanted to know if it was still there.
"When I assured him it was, he explained that as a youngster he spent a few years in Blackburn with his grandparents and has very fond memories of the place."
Obviously a good start for the person recently named by Business Age magazine as the richest man in British rock, with a personal fortune in excess of half a billion...
Ziggy Stardust And The Spider's Web Site
By Elizabeth Summerhayes
David Bowie has a new obsession - the Internet. When he discovered its potential he became instantly hooked. Which is exactly what you would expect from a man who has in the past experimented obsessively with everything from drugs and sexuality to the wilder extremes of music and art.
Today, having just turned 51, he is fascinated by technological frontiers, and almost every aspect of his creativity now finds it expression through a computer.
He has, for instance, had a program designed which lets him adapt his unique mode of lyric-writing to the electronic age. Whereas once he wrote lines on paper, cut them up and rearranged them at random, now he taps them into his Apple Mac, hits the random button, and has it done for him.
He has experimented with CD-Rom versions of songs which enable the user to create videos to accompany the music, and released a single, Telling Lies, over the Internet. He has even used his computer to generate designs for his own wallpaper.
But the area that interests him most is computer art. Bowie has pursued painting in parallel with his music career for the past 20 years and now, just as the computer and the net have aided and promoted his music, they have become vital to his art. He has given up live appearances for two years to concentrate on it.
Bowie has set up a Web site on which to display and offer for sale works by himself and other modern artists. "We wanted to create a very simple platform from which we could expand," he says. "As there has been extremely positive interest, we will do that at the beginning of February. There are many sites selling art, but very few pay any attention to the actual design of the site or the presentation of the works being sold.
"On bowieart the works are in a visually sympathetic page design. And you can make purchases online via e-mail. Most gallery sites just offer pricing information."
A few years ago his son, Joe, introduced him to the KidPix art program which he still uses, as well as the more adult program Painter5 and PhotoShop.
After scanning in my own drawings I can go crazy with them and create the kind of eye-noise that I like to look at," he says.
"I first started using the computer to create artwork in 1993, so I have quite a lot of work that is strictly computer-created. The first time I exhibited that was in 1994 for Brian Eno's (his collaborator on various albums) War Child auction with a limited edition boxed set of prints called We Saw A Minotaur. I also like to make job-related work for charity fundraisers as it is a much more personal way of contributing than giving a signed piece of clothing or such-like."
Bowie now has four of his lithographs for sale via the net: a self-portrait, a painting of the American singer Iggy Pop, an abstract called Star and another work called Conflict.
He says the key to his obsession with computer technology is its interactiveness. He sees art on the Web as offering great potential for interaction between the creator and the viewer who, rather than merely looking at the work, will be able to change it.
He has no qualms about having his work interfered with in this way, and first experimented with interaction in 1993 on CD-Rom. His single Jump They Say came in a CD-Rom version which allowed users to create their own videos for the song as many times as they liked.
Unlike most music-orientated CD-Roms, he decided, his would be fully interactive, and have a non-linear storyline, allowing the fan to "approach the thing again and again and never go through the same experience."
Now he brings the same missionary zeal to the Internet. "A wide number of instructions could be lodged in the site by its creator," he says. "The user would have an unlimited number of permutations available by merely touching the keys in immeasurable combinations, creating a startling interaction on-screen. Some things may grow overnight while you're asleep, like a plant."
But Bowie does not believe that all art is suitable for the Web. "It's great for viewing large amounts of late 20th-century works as technique and touch are not so important," he says. "But it will do most traditional forms an injustice as the brushstroke and scale are often a substantial part of the experience. Nothing would replace the real-life viewing of a Turner, for instance.
"When I was much younger I had a really confused and embarrassed relationship to art. I liked something of everything. "Now I admire the German expressionists. They still form the basis for my figurative work. At the other end of the spectrum I've always been in awe of artists such as Duchamp, Picabia and Nauman and the way they widened the language with their systems of triggers and doors."
Bowie has great ambitions for his art Web site. "We will create an E-zine with interviews with artists and reviews of exhibitions," he says. Newsletters, downloadable freebies, time-eaters like the interactive art game I mentioned and members-only events.
"In April we will make available work by both little-known and famous artists. It is definitely an outlet for those that work in prints or multi-exampled pieces of sculpture.
Bowie sees the power and potential of the net as unlimited. "It is something I could quite easily lose myself in," he has said, "That's the trouble - it's so bloody addictive."
The Bowie Web sites are, for art, www.bowieart.com and for general information, www.davidbowie.com.
SURFING WITH BOWIE
"I BOUGHT my first computer in 1993. Now I have heavy artillery in my office for doing the artwork update or hour-eating jobs. On the road, we only have Powerbook 540c machines, and for scrolling and viewing I just use a 17in monitor with 33.6k connection so that I'm seeing what most of the world sees.
"I don't spend much time on the relaxation side of the Internet. I'll cruise through the chatlines for fun, but mostly I stick with sites that relate to what the band and I are doing. I still have a major input as to what goes on my homepage and on bowieart.com
"On tour, we keep updated daily on what our audience think of the show, new songs, different running orders or whatever. We get a good understanding of what people are expecting from us. I really like fray.com which is a nice, quite out-there online e-zine. Artresources.com is light on artwork but good on information, and Artnetweb.com/abstraction/index.html has hosted the Guggenheim's Abstraction in the 20th Century exhibit from early in 1997. And there's entropy8.com, an award-winner for design and originality. "I'm not big on games but Ultima Onsite is good.
Mostly, though, I still use programs that allow me to be an artist."
Bowie Painting Helps Clear Artist's Debt
By Jim McLean
THE most glamorous of the latter-day Glasgow Boys, artist Peter Howson, has shaken off a six-figure overdraft and re-established himself as the darling of the world's celebrity circuit.
The artist whom many feared was becoming one of his own characters - a hard-up but noble dosser - has just finished a portrait of rock superstar David Bowie and will soon paint another rock legend - Madonna - who will pose for him after his next Los Angeles show in the summer.
Bowie agreed to a sitting after buying the controversial rape painting Croatian and Muslim, inspired by Howson's nightmare experiences as the Imperial War Museum's official war artist in Bosnia in 1993.
He returned to Britain suffering from exhaustion and dysentery, haunted by his personal involvement in the horrors of war around Vitez, to produce what many consider to be some of his best work but to the detriment of his own psychological health.
His marriage suffered and for the past four and a half years he has lived in self-imposed exile in London.
Howson admits he does not like thinking about money, although his paintings routinely sell for thousands. He confesses that he was recently in dire financial straits having run up an overdraft of around 150,000 pounds.
With major canvases selling at more than £30,000, like his oil painting The Glorious Game unveiled last week in the Gallery of Modern Art (Goma) in Glasgow, Howson can always depend on being able to paint his way out of trouble.
He is also in the frame for a £100,000 commission from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery to paint Donald Dewar and other members of the cabinet.
Howson has agreed with David Bowie that there will be no pre-publicity of the portrait before its unveiling. But Howson's Scottish agent Roger Billcliffe recently sold a pastel and ink study of the portrait to an Edinburgh man, who wishes to keep the price and his identity anonymous.
"Bowie being Bowie, he wanted it all to be completely hush-hush," said Howson.
"We have had about six sittings together and each of them was a bit cloak and dagger. One time he turned up early in the morning at the studio but was recognised by some schoolkids who saw him getting out of a car. Before long there were hundreds of kids surrounding the place.
"I am trying to organise the Madonna thing at present. I hear she is wanting painting lessons so that could be part of the package. She said recently I was her favourite artist and that gave me a big buzz."
Bowie will be invited back into the studio for one last sitting to finish the portrait.
The multi-millionaire, famous for painting his own face during his Aladdin Sane period in the early Seventies, may add the work to his own collection which has veered recently from the figurative to more surreal works by another big contemporary name, Damien Hirst.
BOWIE PLAYS SURPRISE GIG FOR 300 FANS
by Kevin Courtney
By Caroline Sullivan
BOWIE wants to meet his public so he plays a small London club - heaven or what? Some fans paid 100 pounds for a ticket. So why were so many leaving at the interval? Caroline Sullivan has a hunch.
Oi, Bowie! No! That was one's first reaction to the rumour sweeping the Hanover Grand on Monday that David Bowie would follow his show with a drum & bass set. Though he conducted some brave experiments with the genre on his current album, Earthling, there was something undignified about the idea of him trying to recreate adrenalised beats in front of a bemused crowd of people his own age.
But unlike other rocksters of his era, at least he's still interested in the world outside his Swiss chalet. His recent back-catalogue deal with EMI, and flotation of himself on the stock market may potentially make him one of rock's richest stars, but the creative fire is still burning, virtually undimmed by age.
Reaching his half-century in January triggered a flurry of work that resulted in Earthling and, now, a mini-tour of places like the 720-capacity Hanover Grand. He has even adopted Prince's custom of surprise after-show sets - though, fortunately, not his habit of jamming till dawn.
That Dame David deigned to set foot in a small club at all was something. Your average superstar often bemoans the hangarous arenas he's forced to perform in, but Bowie put his money where his mouth is. He was literally within spitting distance - not that anyone would have dared sully his red polo-neck and tracksuit bottoms. He was so close you could see the perspiration bedewing his still spectacular bone structure. To get a proper look, though, you had to elbow your way past forty-and fifty-something men more ample-bellied than the maestro would have had time for in his androgynous youth.
So was it worth the £100 touts were extorting? (Most of the tickets had gone to fan club members via the Internet, leaving few for the public). Yes, mostly. Once you'd recovered from the disappointment of realising that the set was to be predominantly based on Earthling, it became quite a little party.
On the Sound & Vision tour a few years ago, the Davester vowed never to play his old hits again, which meant no Suffragette City or Young Americans.
Why the denial of his past? But he hurled himself into the new songs with such vehemence that just his convulsed features were worth the price of admission. And, as a sop to fans like the youngish woman whose flailing limbs continually banged into her tightly-packed neighbours, he threw in one or two oldies.
In fact, he started with one - Quicksand, from Hunky Dory. But he hurried through it, anxious to get to Earthling tracks like Battle For Britain and Little Wonder. As enjoyable as many new ones were, though, few of them cut much ice with the crowd. Bowie couldn't resist toying with them, announcing 'Here's one from way, way back' then silencing the ecstatic whoops with the opening chords of Little Wonder.
Sir, you are a caution.
His performance was never less than heartfelt - but so, regrettably, was that of guitarist Reeves Gabrels. This survivor of the Dame's benighted heavy metal band, Tin Machine, saw every number as a chance to wring power-drill noises from his instrument. Mind, he could have been under orders from the boss to prove Dave is 'down' with young folks (though any present were probably impatiently awaiting drum & bass celebs, like Goldie, rumoured to be turning up for the second set).
Bowie's energy saved the day, turning Earthling's tune deficits and reliance on souped-up drum loops into something highly enjoyable. The man has the charisma of a hogshead of Liams and Jarvises, and once ensnared you simply watched, hooked.
But there is a limit. At the end he confirmed that his 'little drum & bass set' would follow the interval - and the audience voted with its feet. Apparently, the notion of Bowie tackling crackhead breakbeats was just too painful.
When the dust cleared the place was substantially emptier, but at least now he knows who his true fans are. Those who left missed something fearfully loud, sweaty and hypnotic. Bowie, honking away on his saxophone, looked more like one of his new jungle buddies than like David Bowie Plc. Which is the way it should be.
SHORELINE AMPHITHEATRE REVIEW
By Barry Walters
At Shoreline Amphitheatre, David Bowie shows that his approach to rock still favors intellect over passion. The strange but inspired pairing of a vet rock icon and Nine Inch Nails.
MOUNTAIN VIEW - Pairing Nine Inch Nails with David Bowie certainly makes commercial, conceptual sense. The two acts that filled the Shoreline Amphitheatre Saturday night with theatrical angst, two generations of pop fans and a whole lot of smoke represent separate, but increasingly overlapping schools of merging the noise of rock with the mind of art.
Trent Reznor - the singer and multi-instrumentalist behind Nine Inch Nails - puts the rage first and then considers the overall package. Mixing the guitar attack of punk and heavy metal and the synthesizer experimentation of left-field dance music, Reznor throws a musical tantrum that approaches greatness when his melodies are as strong as his bluster. Just as Kurt Cobain made something personal out of Grunge, Reznor individualizes the inhuman drone of industrial rock with multiplatinum results.
After a quarter century of hit-making, Bowie remains committed to an approach to rock that favors intellect over passion. He's an ideas' man who has expanded the possibilities of how popular music could present itself. His latest album, "Outside," is his first serious - perhaps too serious - bid to recapture the attention of pop tastemakers. By connecting with former collaborator Brian Eno, Bowie affirms his avant-garde credentials as he courts the alternative crowd.
The major difference between the two is that Reznor attracts an almost exclusively young audience while Bowie's following is an ever-dwindling mass of adults who discovered him ages ago. Reznor needs to score with Bowie's era of fans to expand his cultural impact, while Bowie faces an even greater pressure to connect with Nine Inch Nails fans. His current single, "The Heart's Filthy Lesson," has actually been remixed by Reznor and it's that version you're most likely to hear on the radio.
The evening was designed to make the most out of the pairing and blur the differences between the two entertainers. After a brief delayed set by the ho-hum NIN wannabes in Prick, Nine Inch Nails played for about an hour, then joined up with Bowie for several songs. Bowie's musicians gradually filled the stage as the NIN crew left without ceremony. The singer picked up where Reznor left off until nearly 11 p.m., when he suddenly exited without warning. There was no encore by any act.
On their own, both Bowie and Reznor alternated between flashes of brilliance and predictable excess.
Reznor - whom most of the crowd apparently came to see - was very much his usual bratty self. He stalked the stage, threw around his mike stand, tackled his musicians, knocked over the equipment and pounded on his instruments. Because he's done this routine since the late '80s, it's gotten kind of old. Rather that appearing passionate and spontaneous, Reznor now goes through the destructive motions with detachment, calculation. His roadies scurry to clean up his mess and the antics detract from the very real frustration embodied by his music.
Bowie devoted much of his set to "Outside," a pretentious and nearly tuneless concept album devoted to the semi-futuristic theme of "art-murders." He was joined by many of the musicians on that album (minus Eno of course), who breathed some fire into the cold studio arrangements. But the unfamiliarity of the material mixed with its melodic limitations worked against him. Only when Bowie reached back to reinvent some of his less obvious older songs - particularly "Look Back in Anger," "Andy Warhol" and "Under Pressure" - did his solo set click.
The real excitement came midway when NIN, Bowie and his band all teamed up. Reznor and Bowie traded lines on each others songs while the professionalism of Bowie's seasoned musicians complimented the intensity of Reznor's band. The choice of Bowie's "Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)" was pure genius: The veteran crooner warbled away at the finish while Reznor screamed "No! No! No!" and punched his keyboard. Their joint rendition of NIN's major MTV hit "Hurt" was just as intense. It was oddly moving to see these icons of alienation uniting together, riding each other's stylistic coat-tails. Their inspired union justified the indulgence of the rest.
THE WEDDING OF DAVID BOWIE AND IMAN
By Brian Aris
With everybody thinking that the ceremony was going to be held in Mustique, David Bowie and Iman's wedding was closely guarded secret until the day itself - when Florence came to a virtual standstill.
On the morning of the big day one local newspaper had run a speculative story - and well before four o'clock in the afternoon, when the service was to begin, hundreds of Florentines lined the streets of the historic city.
But even if the news had not been leaked, the commotion caused by police sirens and flashing lights would have alerted the population to the fact that something important was up. With the typical Italian flair for creating drama and excitement, a helicopter had been circling the Saint James Episcopal Church in the morning. And when the bride and groom travelled, separately, to the church, they were escorted by police cars and motorcycles speeding through red lights and causing traffic jams in the city.
Florence, which he visits at every opportunity just to admire its art works and architecture, is one of David's very favourite places. And the couple, intent on keeping the occasion simple and private, decided a few months ago that this would be the perfect spot for their special day. But they gave no clues, and families and guests were sworn to secrecy.
Iman had been in Florence for a while, but David didn't arrive in Italy until mid-day Friday - the day before the wedding. He had spent the previous weekend in Mustique with his son Joe - from his earlier marriage to Angie Bowie - who was celebrating his 21st birthday.
Upholding tradition the couple spent Friday night in separate bedrooms. As well as most of their guests, they were staying at the luxurious Villa Massa hotel. Originally the 17th-century mansion of a noble family, the hotel is situated in the Tuscan hills overlooking the Arno river and is about ten miles from the Saint James church where the ceremony took place.
Saturday was the day David and Iman had been dreaming of ever since he proposed to her with a song during a boat ride on the Seine last October. It was grey and rainy, but in true storybook fashion, the sky began to clear as the magic hour approached - and when they emerged from the church after their wedding, the sun was shining brightly.
David arrived at the church an hour early to supervise the candle and flower arrangements with the six ushers - while Iman, punctually appeared five minutes before the ceremony was due to start.
What was happening inside the Saint James church and what was happening outside was a different as night and day.
Up to 1,000 fans had congregated at the front of the building to see the arrival of the bride and groom and many of them pushed against the gates trying to get in.
Their close friend Yoko Ono, one of the 68 guests, got a taste of Italian enthusiasm when she was nearly swept away by the crowds as she got off the bus that was used as transport between the hotel and the church.
With the mass of people outside jostling for a better view and the carabinieri (Italian policemen) and security guards pushing to keep them at bay, the commotion threatened to disrupt the tranquility that Iman and David so strongly desired. At one point a group did manage to open the gate, but they were successfully held back by the guards.
But although at some moments - particularly as the newlyweds were about to sign the register - the racket outside could be clearly heard indoors, the scene inside was peaceful - and immensely moving.
Only the couple's closest friends and family had been invited. David's mother, Margaret Jones, was there, as well as the singer's son Joe who acted as best man. Both of Iman's parents - Marion, who wore a magnificent traditional African costume, and Mohamed Abdulmajid - were present, together with her brothers Elias and Feisal, although, sadly, her sister Nadia was not able to make it because her visa was not ready in time.
As well as Yoko Ono, guests included Brian Eno and his wife Anthea, Thierry Mugler who designed David's suit, Eric Idle of Monty Python and his wife Tanya. Bono, of U2, missed his flight from Dublin and therefore the service, although he arrived in time for the photo line-up that preceded the reception.
This was not a celebrity event - these were the only famous faces in the pews. Several of the guests were childhood friends, such as Geoff MacCormack, who has known David since they were seven years old, and who read Psalm 121 during the service. David's cousin Kristina Amadeus read from Corinthians.
Iman's maid of honour was her best friend Bethann Hardison, also a model like the exquisite Somalian-born bride. The chief usher was David's publicist Alan Edwards.
The intimate tone that pervaded the occasion, once removed from the excitement of the fans outside, was set by a small group of Italian musicians who played classical music as the guests filed in.
The first breathtaking moment came when Iman was led down the aisle by her father, former Ambassador Mohamed Abdulmajid. She looked spectacular in an oyster dress with a long train designed by Herve Leger and with her hair arranged by Teddy Antolin. Teddy was a very special guest - in a way responsible for what was happening that day, because it was he who introduced David and Iman at a dinner party two years ago.
It was with a song that David proposed to Iman - a rendition of Doris Day's April In Paris. And he again made a musical tribute to his great love on this very special day - in an even more personal manner: David himself composed the music for the event - an atmospheric composition, soothingly beautiful. The strains of a saxophone alternated with exquisite solos and keyboards creating a mesmerising effect on all.
Everyone who has known David and Iman has remarked on how deeply they are in love. And although the couple had already celebrated a registry wedding in Lausanne on April 24, they were so emotionally overwhelmed during this tender, traditional service in Florence that at one point David was on the verge of tears and Iman looked as if she might faint.
After the 50-minute service the entire congregation returned to the Villa Massa hotel and David and Iman retired to their room - now both together - to rest and change for the reception that evening.
Their drive back to the hotel, in a dark blue Mercedes Benz, had been like their arrival at the church - with a police escort and speeding throughout the traffic lights in a flurry of sirens as crowds of onlookers clapped, waved and called out their names, and bemused tourists wondered what was going on.
In the evening the newlyweds appeared downstairs for a picture session for their photo albums, which took place in one of the halls in the Villa Massima, and at 8.30 they adjourned next door for the formal dinner. There, David introduced Joe as his "handsome son", and in a short speech, Joe stood up to say, "I wish David and Iman as much happiness as I'm sure all their friends out there do." Then the guests - the same ones who had attended the service - got on with their wining and dining.
The guests were seated at eight tables. David's mother Margaret, who sat at the groom's table was clearly delighted at her son's happiness. During the dinner she revealed that her favourite singer - after her son! - was Nat King Cole, and also that she was a fan of U2. She had earlier insisted on having her photograph taken with Bono!
Dinner was followed by a splendid fireworks display over the Arno which was viewed from the hotel's terrace, and the night ended with a disco.
David and Iman left the party at around 1am. The next day, Sunday, they drove off to Rome from where they flew off on their honeymoon - a full month at an exotic, secret destination in the Far East.
We spoke to the happy couple on the morning after the wedding.
When did you first meet each other?
David: "I never really 'met' Iman. I saw her about three or four times at different social functions. Once was in the theatre when we leaned over several people and shook hands. I then saw her briefly at a gig in Los Angeles, and so on. Both of us had just, in the last few months, ended previous relationships. For my part, I felt that was it, for me - I didn't want, need or desire any more permanent relationships. Then, by chance, a mutual friend invited us both for a dinner on October 14, 1990 - so that's when we actually met and talked."
Iman: "I was a big fan of David's ever since I moved from Africa to New York. I was always sent VIP tickets to see his shows and invited to go backstage to meet the rock god and go partying. Being a big fan, I always saw the shows, but never went backstage to meet him or go to parties.
"I always played hard to get and that's how I made him fall in love with me!"
What was your first impression of Iman, David?
"I guess what everyone's is - that she's terribly elegant, very dignified and has a great sense of self. I mean that she's her own person and not swayed by other's opinions.
"For about a week or two, I was a bit cautious because I have a silly sense of humour and I was scared it might put her off me. But when she started laughing at some of my antics, I realised she was a real fun-loving person. And I think humour has become one of our strongest bonds.
"Now one of the things we try do to nurture our relationship is, on every 14th - the date we met - we always have an anniversary dinner. If we're not together, we send flowers to each other, or a note or card. It's just another building block in our relationship to show it is alive and well and a real thing. It is terribly important to help a relationship along."
Why did you choose to get married in Italy?
David: "We both have very strong ties with Italy. I have always been a huge fan of Italian art, especially of the Renaissance period. And there is a quality of life here that you rarely find in another country - life itself, how you spend every second of your time, is more important than your career. And because of the really hectic careers we both have, this is a very important change for us."
Iman: "Italy and Italians are fun. And Italian was my first foreign language. I speak Italian better than English - Somalia was an Italian colony, and I was taught the language by Italians.
"I have done a lot of modelling in Italy and often visited the country, and one of my favourite places was Florence. And it was in Florence that David and I spent our first summer holiday together. We had a wonderful time. For beauty, art and the people - and for good capucchino - Florence is really it."
How was that first holiday?
David: "We took a six-week boat trip up and down the Italian coast. Under those circumstances, in such a claustrophobic situation as being on a boat, you really get to know somebody. By the the end of those six weeks, you are either passionately in love or you can't stand the sight of each other. But for us, it just worked out.
"We fell more and more in love as the trip went along, and we ended up in Florence and said this is our own little Shangri-La - the place we adore more than anywhere else we have been so far."
Has the fact that both you and Iman are of different religions created any problems with the wedding?
David: "No problems. I'm not a religious person - I'm a spiritual person. God plays a very important part in my life - I look to him a lot and He is the cornerstone of my existence - even more as I get older. But it is a one-to-one relationship with God. I believe man develops a relationship with his own God. I tend to judge a man or a woman by their actions - the way they are with me and the way they are with their friends."
Iman: "We don't have any problems. I don't think there is anything that can come between my and David's unity. Getting married did not convert me from a Muslim into a Christian. I am not a religious person - but I do come from a religious family and the most important thing to me is that I have their blessing. And I have their total blessing. What matters to them is that we are happy and have faith in each other and in God."
David what made you compose the music for the ceremony?
"We both loathed Here Comes The Bride, which is one of the least likable bits of music that I have ever heard in my life. So for the entrance of the bride we choose a tranquil piece of music called Evening Gathering, by a Bulgarian group.
"And I wanted it to be a personalised service, so Iman allowed me to take the lead and write music for the rest of the service - which I did. So I wrote several pieces of instrumental music that I felt were in keeping with the kind of service we wanted."
Who designed your dress, Iman?
"The French designer Herve Leger. I met him years ago when he was starting out and working for other designers. Then I met him again when he began working on his own two years ago, and I've been very impressed with his clothes. I wanted something very simple, elegant, no frills, no fashion, no gimmicks. Something that would outlast anything."
Who designed your suit, David?
"I asked my good friend Thierry Mugler, who has been designing my suits for a good few years now, to do a variation on traditional tails. He has done a delightful job. I think it looks quite dashing. I know Mugler likes it, but Mugler likes everything he designs and nine times out of ten, so do I."
Which friends were at the wedding? Surprisingly, there weren't too many famous faces at your wedding.
David: "We just went through the celebrity book of LA and picked out the most famous people we had never met and sent them all off to Mustique! Seriously, the people who actually attended nobody would ever have heard of, because they are literally our friends. Both Iman and I, believe it or not, have very few friends who are actually in our professions. There are the odd exceptions - Thierry came, and Herve, and on my side Yoko, Bono and Brian Eno. But the rest have been people from our past who have meant a lot to us. And, of course, our immediate family."
You went through a civil ceremony in April, so in fact you already were married when you had your church wedding.
David: "We did all the bureaucracy and all the paper signing but we didn't really feel married. I know the forms were signed, but at the back of our minds our real marriage, sanctified by God, had to happen in a church in Florence. The civil wedding was just Iman and myself and two witnesses."
Both your families were present here in Florence.
David: "They had never met before and it was nice to see they got on with each other. It was lovely to have everyone there. It was a real family thing."
Iman: "When I called my parents to tell them I was getting married and the wedding was going to be in Florence, they said there was no way they were going to miss it.
"Because I've lived away from Somalia so long, I thought it was just going to be my mother and father who came. But it was also my two brothers, my aunt, my uncle, my cousin...
"So it was a big African family gathering. And as you know, everyone in the Western world wears tuxes and subdued short dresses for church weddings. But with them being from Somalia, there was ceremonial color, African magenta red. I was happy to see the juxtaposition of cultures.
"And it was fun because my parents speak Italian very well. My father told me he went to school in Florence. So there you go - Florence again."
David: "I was absolutely privileged and honoured to have my son Joe ask if he could be my best man, which I think was probably a first. He was absolutely terrific and he didn't lose any of the rings!"
David, where will you live now that you are married?
"I promised that after we got married I would provide Iman with a fine home. Several, actually. The main house, what we really consider our main home, is a lovely chateau in Switzerland. We also have a delightfully whimsy exotic Indonesian-style house in the Caribbean and, I guess you could call it more of a work apartment, in Los Angeles, which we occasionally use. But I think primarily we will be living within each other's affections."
How will marriage affect your careers?
"Having now been with each other close on two years, I can't see any great difference in the future. We have decided, basically, that if one of us is working, then the one who isn't will join the other. And if we are both working at the same time, then we will both work through it.
"It is a very difficult situation for most couples, and I don't think it will be any less difficult for us. The difficulty is in being apart - only because we love being with each other so much. But we seem to make up for that by being on the phone to each other at least ten times a day. I think our greatest expense in life is phone calls. And of course Iman's jewellery, which goes without saying! And my clothes.
"Iman has taught me how to dress very sophisticatedly, in a very simple fashion, and terribly expensively, which is a whole new approach to fashion for me. I used to go gawdy and cheap, so this is quite a turn-around for me!"
What about children?
Iman: "It has been proven that parenthood and career can be done, but one of the parents always makes sacrifices because the child cannot just be left with a nanny. I think the priorities change because I will never be able to say I will leave my career to be David Bowie's wife - because this is not a career, it is a full time job. But for my own fulfilment, as a person and for my own interest as a human being, I don't want to feel that I am not independent any more just because I have children. But priorities do change. When I do have my children hopefully, God willing, they will be the priorities. It is as simple as that."
David: "I think we have both made different kinds of commitments in terms of career. For me it is relatively easy to continue my work which, as a writer, can be done almost anywhere. So, say Iman was filming in Africa, it causes me no problem to be able to go over there and continue writing and still be with her. I don't like touring for more than a maximum of four months a year. The days of touring for ten to 12 months are over and, stamina wise, I don't think I could do that any more. Interest-wise, I have never been enamoured with tours."
Where are you going for your honeymoon?
David: "We want to go to somewhere we both have a heavy hankering for. The Far East. We are going to take an extensive honeymoon, and we are going to explore many wonderful lands while we are out there. And bring back lots of fabulous clothes - at least I will!
"I've never met a woman who shops as little as Iman does. She can be in and out of a shop in three minutes. It's rather refreshing actually."
You have both been married before - how did that experience influence you?
David: "For my part I got married when I was very young. It was an unfortunate marriage and it didn't work out even remotely. The most glorious thing that came out of my last marriage was my wonderful son Joe whom I love dearly. And, fortunately, all through my indiscretions, obsessions, addictions and whatever else went wrong in my life, we have been able to form a mutual tie.
"As he gets older - he has just become 21 - our relationship grows daily. We are father and son in the best and nicest possible way. I don't want to slip into the cliché of saying that we are friends. We are father and son and that's how it should be and it works well.
"As for marriage, I don't think I ever really had what we could call a proper marriage. This for me is so exciting and so invigorating. I have such great expectations of our future together. I have never been so happy."
Iman: "I didn't expect to be married again because I didn't want to. I have a daughter Zuleika, who is 13 years old, and I love her very, very dearly. I leave the past to the past. I had a very happy marriage while it lasted.
"This relationship with David is taking me totally by surprise, a wonderful surprise. I have found my soulmate in him, my friend. In him I have found my lover, my companion. The person I was looking for - my other half. I hope everyone in this world finds their other half as I did mine."
By Chris Roberts
I met him once before, four years ago, in LA, crazed sun blazing. So I've come, personally, to associate the David Bowie I interview, impersonally - as opposed to what David Bowie signifies to me - with rude health, cars, sumptuous hotel lobbies, pools, Sunset Boulevard. It feels great but it doesn't feel apposite. I tell him this, after a fashion.
David Bowie lights a cigarette, which is something he does well and often, making love with his ego, always crashing in the same car. The face that launched two-decades-and-counting of imitators cracks, in its own time, into a famous English grin. "I have moved since then," he says. "I haven't just sat here since you left."
White Duke, he speak the truth. Music, films, paintings and ideas in general are flying out of 49-year old David Bowie at an alarming, charming, disarming rate. I try really hard not to use the phrase 'renaissance man', and then I use it.
"God I'm scared of that word! Let's just say I'm taking the bull by the horns and expressing myself - by any means necessary. I can do it, so I'm gonna flaunt it. I'm really not very self-judgmental anymore. I feel, psychologically, in a safe place. It's publish and be damned, it really is."
The king, the very king, of artifice and appropriation, David Bowie was Ziggy, then Aladdin, then a better soul singer than any real one, then kind of German and frosty and depressed and coked-out, then a cheery skippy Live Aid person, and then fell, finally, out of vogue. Then he did the Tin Machine thing at precisely the wrong time in precisely the wrong suits. While all this was going on he was in films ranging from sublime (The Man Who Fell To Earth) to The Linguini Incident. Now he's releasing an album, Outside, which is, naturally, nothing like his last (the ambient The Buddha Of Suburbia), or even the one before that (the sensible poppy, Black Tie White Noise). While Suede have come and - some might say - gone, Bowie's undertaken yet another wild mutation. Outside is provocative, creepy, nasty, irritating, and, eventually, addictive. The first in a planned series of collaborations with Brian Eno, it documents, albeit abstractly, the fictional diaries of 'art detective' Nathan Adler. Bowie's also working with Nine Inch Nails soon, and if he will design wallpaper for Laura Ashley we sure as hell can't stop him.
Early 1996 will see Build A Fort, Set It On Fire, a film by painter-turned-director Julian Schnabel about the late African-American painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, in which Bowie plays Pop Art guru Andy Warhol. I'm crediting you with intelligence to keep up here. Also this year Bowie exhibited his own work (watercolours, sculptures, computer-generated prints) at the Kate Chertavian Gallery in Cork Street. I went to look at it one lunchtime with the girl who played the alien in the Loving The Alien video. A mad woman with teary eyes started shrieking at us for no reason whatsoever that we'd be sorry, very sorry, when David came along to sweep her away and make everything alright. We ran off, confused, but the mad woman chased us down the street. The best thing in the show was a picture of a star, called Star.
"I'm not content," Bowie said in 1972, "to be a rock 'n' roll star all my life." In 1995 he is almost absurdly energetic. You have to interrupt him to get a word in edgeways. We talk about art, cinema, literature, music, computers, South Africa, ageing, religion, and Boys From The Blackstuff. He's very keen to discuss his friendships with Damien Hirst and Julian Schnabel, less keen to mull over the past. Without breaking sweat, and even while wearing a peculiar snakeskin shirt, he'll say things like: "When you've developed an art form that questions its own existence you're left only with philosophy. Heh heh heh! Or so my son tells me!"
You have healthy debates with him (Joe, formerly Zowie, now 23 and a philosophy graduate) on such topics?
"Oh boy, you try and stop us. We can shoot the breeze; we can talk so much crap all night long. But that's one of the joys of parenthood, I've found."
Joe (The Lion) has influenced his groovy dad "in an obtuse fashion, I think. "Watching him" getting into Cream and Dylan and Hendrix", Bowie Senior realised there was no eighties music of interest. "Apart from maybe the beginnings of rap, it was all rubbish. Paula Abdul had no bearing on his life. He'd had to go back to find something with musical depth to it. It kind of gives validity to what Lennon used to say - what were his exact words?" Bowie shifts into faultless Scouse accent. "Say what you wanna say, make it rhyme, and put a backbeat to it".
As regards your new album then, one out of three ain't bad.
Bowie laughs uproariously. "Accessibility is not its keynote!" I am somewhat relieved.
"Pose the same question NOW to the younger generation and they I'll say YES, there's a lot of music we'll take with us. Pearl Jam, Nirvana, NIN, Smashing Pumpkins.
"And in Britain, Tricky is wonderful, PJ Harvey is extraordinary. The context and atmosphere of it all is tremendous. I think rock music's got strong legs at the moment. It's really bloody exciting."
Here is what I think David Bowie's new album is about: WHAT IS ART? To someone like Bowie, or rather to someone who is Bowie, you can actually say that, say those three words with a question mark at the end, without being laughed at. He loves a lot of things but most of all he loves being taken seriously. Nobody expends this much effort on creativity, not when they've already scored as many been-there-done-that points as he has, without some unquenchable desire for acclaim, to defeat mortality.
How is your ego these days?
"Well, you know, I have enough vanity to be convinced that what comes out of one of my cut-up lyrics is only as good as the stuff that was put in in the beginning."
And so when you say WHAT IS ART? to Bowie, plain as that, he'll say, "It's either art or murder, ha ha! The strength in MY work is when there's as much room for multi-interpretation as possible. I've always had an orientation toward combining contradictory information. And just seeing what happens. Messing about with structures, taking them apart. Dismantling toys and putting the wrong bits back together. I would've been great in Japan making those Godzilla-type things that become tanks, I'm sure. I treat music in the same way; what happens if you put that note with that word, what effect do you get? Because of that, it has its own informational output, that's sometimes more, sometimes less than the two components. That's one of the fascinations of writing for me."
I ask if he seeks to confuse as much as to enlighten, and am given possibly the longest and most articulate answer in 'rock interview' history.
"I don't think so. I think that we as a culture embrace confusion. We're happy to recombine information, we take event horizons incredibly fast. The generations - and I CAN use that plurally now - underneath me have an ability to scan information much quicker than my lot, and don't necessarily look for the depth that maybe we would. They take what they need for their survival, and their means to adapt to this new society.
"It IS the inheritance of the Sixties, not only of what happened with the breakdown of the American Dream and the conflicts of that period, and the emerging pluralistic attitude towards society, but also of a spiritual loss. A realisation that absolutes weren't the law, weren't the thing that one could abide by. There's no absolute religion, no absolute political system, no absolute art form, no absolute this no absolute that. Things weren't black and white like we'd always been told (especially during the great stiff Fifties).
"There are so many contradictions and conflicts that when you accept them for what they are, when you accept that this IS a manifestation of the chaos theory that's been put forward, that it really is a deconstructed society, then contradiction almost ceases to exist. Every piece of information is equally as unimportant as the next."
Bowie glances at the TV for a second and I have to stop myself thinking I'm Nicolas Roeg.
"An OJ Simpson trial, one week's buzzword is 'the gloves didn't fit', those few words were the news on it - and, say, something from a Middle East crisis, it could be the 'mother of all wars' - those two pieces have EQUAL WEIGHT. There seems to be no disparity between them, it's all relevant and all irrelevant. When you get the lack of stress upon what's important and what isn't, the moral high ground seems to disappear as well. You're left with this incredibly complex network of fragments that is our existence.
"Rather than running away from it, I think the younger generation is learning to adapt to it. I'm very wary of calling them out for being - and this is so often thrown at them - indifferent or ignorant or lazy or all that. That's bullshit, I think that actually they're in their own nurturing stage. It's not going to get any more clarified; it can only get more impetuously complex. There's no point in pretending: well, if we wait long enough everything will return to what it used to be and it'll all be saner again and we'll understand everything and it'll be obvious what's wrong and what's right. It's NOT gonna be like that."
Sorry what was the question?
"So. The album deals with all that to an extent. That kind of... surfing on chaos."
Bowie gets a coffee and another Marlboro Light going, sprawls across his armchair like a confident woman or a happy cat. Some of his prints are on the wall. We're at the Chateau Marmont, where every ten minutes someone tells you "this is where John Belushi died." Keanu Reeves was in the lobby earlier. Later, Bowie will tell me something funny about actors, but right now the sometime editor of Modern Painters, who last year interviewed Balthus, is on paintings...
"...on the other hand, I can revel in a Romantic or Renaissance piece. I can just fall away into a sort of euphoria over a beautiful-painted landscape or a wonderfully-executed sculpture. I have needs for all those things. I don't think one thing REPLACES the other. Consider the more positive aspects of post-modernism. I hope we get bored with the ironic stance it continually takes, because one of the better things about it is that it seems so willing to embrace ALL styles and attitudes..."
Do you feel like an elder statesman of sorts? Your hilarious press release says portentously: 'It is only now, when he has reached his own mid-life, that Bowie can make music encompassing the point of young, middle-aged, and old.'
He creases up, for the only time today, shaking his head, speechless.
Do you feel you've acquired significant wisdom?
"The old sage, har har har! Ah but you see I was playing 130 at 38, or something, in The Hunger. It comes easily to me now!
"I am now old enough - hurray! - to have a body of work, which is great. It means that I can dip in and pull out symbols and atmospheres and even processes and techniques that I've utilise before, and re-apply them in new situations. It's the basic maxim that if you take something out of one context and put it in another, it takes on a whole different set of meanings.
"So with Outside, placing the eerie environment of Diamond Dogs city now in the Nineties gives it an entirely different spin. It was important for this town, this locale, to have a populous, a number of characters. I tried to diversify these really eccentric types as much as possible. Overall, a long-term ambition is to make it a series of albums extending to 1999 - to try to capture, using this device, what the last five years of this millennium feel like. It's a diary within a diary. The narrative and the stories are not the content - the content is the spaces in between the linear bits. The queasy, strange, textures."
Bowie wants to stage all this as a piece of "epic theatre", hopefully with Einstein on the Beach director Robert Wilson, and with "a definite sensibility shift from when you went into the theatre. It'd probably be about five hours long, so you'd have to bring sandwiches".
The work sounds paranoid and ominous, whereas you personally, or as personally as I'm ever going to get to know you, seem exuberant...
"Oh, I've got the fondest hopes for the fin de siècle. I see it as a symbolic sacrificial rite. I see it as a deviance, a pagan wish to appease gods, so we can move on. There's a real spiritual starvation out there being filled by these mutations of what are barely-remembered rites and rituals. To take the place of the void left by a non-authoritative church. We have this panic button telling us it's gonna be a colossal madness at the end of this century. And it WON'T be. The biggest problem we'll have will be what to call it. Twenty-O-O? Twenty-O-Zero? Two Thousand? Well we lived through it; now what shall we call it?"
David Bowie openly admits that after the success of Let's Dance gave him a mainstream audience in the early Eighties, he hit a quandary. "I succumbed, tried to make things more accessible, took away the very strength of what I do." The Tin Machine period he puts down to "Reeves Gabrels shaking me out of my doldrums, pointing me at some kind of light, saying: be ADVENTUROUS again." When it's interpreted like this, it nearly makes sense. But not quite. "It did break down all the contexts for me. By the time it was over, nobody could put the finger on what I was any more. It was: what the fuck is he DOING?! I've been finding my voice, and a certain authority, ever since."
"The acting," chuckles Bowie, who has so much pop and so much art in his blood that it must be a riot in there, "is purely decorative. It's just fun, it really is. It's not something I seriously entertain as an ambition.
"The few things I've made that were successful were because I homed in on the directors, as they had something I wanted to know about. And just... curiosity. I wonder what Scorsese's like - well you'll find out, he's offered you a role. Right! With somebody like that you don't even question the role. You say - Scorsese? Yeah, I'm doing it.
"That's the impetus for me. Whenever I CHOOSE ROLES, it's usually a joke. I've now learned that my gut instinct is right - just go because you think the guy making it is interesting. And generally then I'll have a better time and be able to live with the end result.
"I find it really boring, actually."
A lot of hanging around and waiting?
"Yeah, I hate all that, y'know? I run out of film talk after a bit. People sitting around talking about what films they've just finished or are gonna be doing - the whole thing revolves around the INDUSTRY. People don't seem to have another life outside of it - you think: Christ, can't we talk about anything else except movies? Zzzzz..."
Playing Warhol, who you once claimed not to be able to tell apart from a silver screen, must've been fun though.
"Yeah, that was great 'cos it was just ten days. I only had 7000 words, and once I got them in the right order, it was a doddle. I mean, a most challenging role".
Once he revs up however, he's full of praise for superstar painter Schnabel's directorial debut - "the first film about an American painter, and it's a BLACK painter. Not Pollock, or Johns or de Kooning - although John Malkovich as Pollock would've been stunning."
This leads to anecdotes about a recent visit to Johannesburg ("accompanying my wife on a modelling gig") and the "fucking sensational" exhibition Africa 95, which comes to Britain soon. "I got very evangelical about it. It has no pretensions of grappling with philosophical problems. It's: can I eat? Can I stay in this house?
"They look on Basquiat as THEIR Picasso, who made it in a white world. I'm not sure even Julian realises the reverberations of his movie. It's an informal, poignant story of a tragic life. How by tacit agreement an artist and society endeavour to demolish the artist himself. His own addictions are so much a part of his downfall. But then that's one of the great occurrences of the day.
"If the film cocks up in the editing, I'll be so angry at him 'cos it's going so well. The performances are wonderful."
There follows a rather darling list of how well David knew the rest of the cast. "I've known Hopper, Dennis, for close on 20 years. Through good times and bad! And Gary Oldman I've known for maybe the last eight years. Chris Walken I've known FOREVER. And Willem Dafoe I worked with in the Scorsese movie, when... when he was Christ! Ha! He was hung up at the time."
You washed your hands of him.
"I did! Ha ha! Got tired of him hanging about."
In The Diary of Nathan Adler or the Art-Ritual Murder of Baby Grace Blue, a text which accompanies the new album, Bowie writes: "He didn't do much after that. I guess he read a lot. Maybe wrote a whole bunch, I suppose. You never can tell what an artist will do once he's peaked."
"I tend to steal from high art and demean it to street level," he smiles, apropos of nothing. "Brian [Eno] is the professor, and hasn't changed a bit in 20 years - he's STILL bald. Me, I'm the old limey queen."
We've done everything bar scuba-diving, so we may as well discuss books.
"I've always been drawn to stream-of-consciousness. Ever since I was a kid. I felt more familiar, had more empathy, with people like Jack Kerouac and Ginsberg and Farlinghetti, and then Burroughs of course in the late Sixties. There's a resonance in people like Thomas Hardy, that I appreciate, but I still find it hard work."
"Yeah, y'know, I understand that it's of its times, and that there are nuances in there I should ponder over. I'm just not sure I have the time!"
Yeah, there's a lot of trees.
"I can read a LOT, mind you. On a good week I'll get through three or four books. We are by tradition a literary nation. As can be seen by the way we revile all visual arts! And I've inherited that great love of literature, I love being told a story, being shown new ideas.
"But what I like about the stream-of-consciousness writers is - it's the same reason why I would HOPE my audience likes MY work - that they belong to me more. There's more room for interpretation. In a Hardy book the parameters of the narrative and its sensibility are dictated by the author. You have to follow his plan and get into his world the way he wants you to. I prefer to be allowed more latitude; something I can USE.
"I don't know why I'm picking on Hardy. Jane Austen then. Alright, even later... who've we got at the moment? Oh, Amis, I can - well, he's just funny. Peter Ackroyd is great. There's a great mysticism in his work. Now who's somebody who's really stiff and hard work?"
You mean, like a Booker Prize winner?
"Oh! Yeah! Of course! Oh dear. Anita Brook... Brook."
Um, Brookner? Hotel du Lac?
"Yeah, I mean something like that I have a real problem with. It really takes the aesthetic high ground and its all up there in the rarefied stratosphere. I'm sure it's great art, but I can't USE it, it doesn't apply. It just shows me that woman has a very well-honed sensibilities, and I'm very pleased for her. But I need art that actually enriches my life in a very personal way. Something that I can USE. Something that's FUNCTIONAL. And in its own way, interpretation is a function, it's a function of the psyche. And I kind of hope that's what my audience finds as one of the main things they can do with my... stuff. Ha ha ha!"
Fleetingly, when you're talking to him, or more likely listening, the shafts of sunlight shimmy a little and the eyes do something or his profile does something and you're thrown, your breath goes: wow, it's David Bowie, who redirected the finest minds of my generation. He's still recommending books about Mapplethorpe and revelling as a raconteur as hints are being dropped that it's time for him to go make videos, and records, and films, and paintings, and CD ROMs, and things happen, and whoopee.
"Or", he adds enigmatically, "they could bury it under dust."
We'll interpret that David Bowie line as we wish. We always do.
TIN MACHINE: BOWIE & GABRELS
Tin White Duke Exclusive!
FROM A SMALL HOTEL bedroom in the heart of Paris I can hear the voice of DAVID BOWIE. Not on the radio, not on the stereo, not on the television, but in real life. David Bowie. He's exchanging pleasantries with a gentleman from the Italian press, who emerges flushed with excitement from the room in a bright green David Bowie suit, circa 1986. Later, during my allotted 30 minutes or so with the man, the green suit will re-emerge to have its photo taken next to David and his musical chums. This is me and David, he'll tell his friends. And, damn it all, they'll be impressed.
MADONNA, JAGGER, JACKSON, Bowie; there aren't that many musicians on the planet left to meet that you can impress your friends with. And I mean seriously impress. And not just your friends; there's girlfriends, aunties, uncles - Christ, even mums and dads want to know what he's like.
So what is he like? As I'm escorted into the room, David (I think we can call him that) is strewn casually across an elegant yet comfortable sofa, with REEVES GABRELS, his right hand man, positioned appropriately on an armchair to his right. The familiar nicotine-enhanced voice bids a cheery hello, and his handshake is firm and long. Looking relaxed in a casually undone silk shirt and smart (yet casual) trousers, he's smaller than you'd imagine, tanned, healthy looking, friendly and has an almost permanent smile on his face. As he talks he gets more animated as the subjects drift closer to his heart, hands waving and face contorting as he searches his mind for the answers, and Reeves is his perfect foil - easy in his company, understanding of his asides.
David Bowie isn't known for his technical prowess, but as any good musician knows, technique should never be mistaken for talent. Bowie's talent isn't the result of hours spent studying nodal chord structures and mixing desk manuals, but as both a songwriter and producer he has naturally excelled. His personal musical history is almost the history of all things musical, with Bowie out front shaping change itself.
It's been a long journey for Bowie, and the changes he's seen in recording technology have been immense. It's just a little under 30 years since the young David Jones got his first taste for what he could accomplish with a tape machine, and he remembers it like it was yesterday.
"It was upstairs in my bedroom in 4 Plaistow Grove, Bromley, on an Elizabethan tape recorder," he says cheerfully. "Stereo? It was indeed a stereo tape recorder. I don't know if I could get it stereo because it only had a mono speaker in it, but you could get an extension speaker. That was the first time, just voice and acoustic guitar."
Bowie being Bowie, of course, he wasn't content with just a voice and guitar. Even in 1963 in a back bedroom, overdubbing was the order of the day.
"I borrowed somebody else's tape recorder. I was 15 or 16, and I'd just record a basic track on one tape machine, then play that back through the speaker, sing to it and play guitar parts over it onto the other tape recorder, backwards and forwards until there was nothing left but tape hiss, with the idea of a melody for a song way in the background. God, things haven't really changed very much now - except you don't get the tape hiss any more."
It wasn't long before young Jones was mixing with the big boys, and taking his first tentative steps into a professional recording studio.
"It was a studio that BILL WYMAN used to use out in Cricklewood. I did demos there because it was very, very cheap; stuff like London Boys. It was a four-track, I think - no tape hiss for ages. I was intrigued by the fact that you could keep going backwards and forwards. I do remember that mathematically we tried working out how many times you could go until it started hissing badly, and how, with pre-planning, you can reduce the amount of tracks you've got to do.
"But the most absurd situation I encountered when I was recording was the first time I worked with IGGY POP. He wanted me to mix Raw Power, so he brought the 24-track tape in, and he put it up. He had the band on one track, lead guitar on another and him on a third. Out of 24 tracks there were just three tracks that were used. He said 'see what you can do with this'. I said, 'Jim, there's nothing to mix'. So we just pushed the vocal up and down a lot. On at least four or five songs that was the situation, including Search and Destroy. That's got such a peculiar sound because all we did was occasionally bring the lead guitar up and take it out."
Even though Bowie has assumed the role of producer on a number of occasions, the technology itself still passes him by.
"I'm absolutely hopeless. I know what I want when I'm doing my own solo things, and we (TIN MACHINE) know what we want when we're working as a band. I think that's probably half the battle. It's like musicianship itself: it's 0K to be a virtuoso, but unless you've got any ideas, being a virtuoso serves you no purpose at all. All you can do is paraphrase everything else you've heard before, or play very conservative, melodic lines. Just scales."
So how good a player is David Bowie?
Gabrels: "He doesn't have the bias of technique to hold him back. He comes up with these great parts that I would never have thought of, and that I really wish I did, which really pisses me off. He does that consistently."
Bowie: "It's 0K for me to break rules on instruments because I have no embarrassment - I don't know if I've done anything wrong. Until it's pointed out."
Gabrels: "That's the hardest thing with recording and playing. If you've acquired any sort of technique, it means breaking the rules that you've made yourself - forgetting the technique, thwarting the knowledge you've acquired, trying to forget what you know. That's a cliché in itself, but it's definitely true."
Perhaps it was Bowie's uninhibited approach to the studio that made a lot of his earlier recordings sound so experimental. To Bowie himself, he was just having fun.
"Funnily enough, I didn't really think any of them were that experimental. I was always thwarted by the presumption that THE BEATLES had done everything anyway, so you might as well just get into the fun of it. It wasn't until later that it became apparent that some of things we'd done were actually quite innovative in their own way, even the choice of musicians. That was essentially eclectic, to say the least, like bringing somebody like MIKE GARSON into THE SPIDERS. You wouldn't think of bringing a fringe avant garde pianist into the context of a straight ahead rock and roll band, but it worked out well. It brought some really interesting textural qualities to the album that wouldn't have had quite the same feel on it if Mike hadn't been there. The track Aladdin Sane, for instance - I think that's a really exciting track still."
The innovation of early albums like Hunky Dory - and Aladdin Sane Bowie puts down mainly to the songwriting, but it was in 1974 with the recording of Diamond Dogs that the actual process of recording started to become more important.
"I don't think I really got into messing about with recording technique until then, where it was virtually just myself doing everything. I played a great percentage of everything on Diamond Dogs, apart from the odd lead guitar, and the bass and drums. But most of the other lead guitars and the rhythm guitars and the keyboards, and saxophones, were just me. That was real playhouse stuff I just had a ball, with the late KEITH HARWOOD, who was the producer and engineer on that and who was a great buddy. I remember we were running backwards and forwards with ENO, who was in the studio next door doing Here Come The Warm Jets, and we were dashing in and out of each other's studios. We hadn't worked together then, but little did we know..."
It wasn't long before Bowie and Eno formed their classic partnership, with a common aim.
"We both had the same ideas - that everything was shit, and we should fuck it up some more. The main thing was to make rock and roll absurd. It was to take anything that was serious and mock it. Diamond Dogs, as I remember it at the time, was trying to accomplish some great mockery of rock 'n' roll. It seemed to be part of my manifesto at the time, I don't know why.
"One of the great strengths of the early '70s was its sense of irony; MARC BOLAN was an extremely funny, witty man. There was a very strong sense of humour that ran throughout the early British bands; myself, ROXY MUSIC, Marc; we really thought a lot of it was a jest, and I think that hadn't happened for a few years in rock. Whatever came out of early '70s music that had any longevity to it generally had a sense of humour underlying it. Like THE SWEET were everything we loathed; they dressed themselves up as early '70s, but there was no sense of humour there. They were humorous - we felt they were funny - but there was a real sense of irony about what we were doing."
So were Bowie's early characters merely a joke?
"Oh yeah, definitely."
You mean Ziggy was just a joke?
"Well, not just a joke, but it was definitely a reaction to late '60s seriousness, and the real murky quality that rock was falling into. I think a bunch of us adopted the opposite stance. I remember at the time saying that rock must prostitute itself. And I'll stand by that. If you're going to work in a whorehouse, you'd better be the best whore in it."
It's just possible, I suppose, that if you too had a video of yourself wearing thigh-length woollen leg warmers and a thunder stripe on your face, 15 years later you might wish to point out the subtle 'irony' of the situation, but the effect that Bowie had on the development of music was no joke at all. It was Bowie, in fact, who was one of the first commercially successful artists to embrace synthesizers.
"Yes, and not just to do classical reproductions. The idea was to fuck the sound up - give it some 'woah, what's that?'. 1973 was the first time I used synthesizers, on Let's Spend The Night Together."
The wobbly noise in the break?
"Yeah, that's it, the wobbly noise in the break. It was an ARP 2600, and it had patch wires, but by the time I went onstage they'd already brought out the MiniMoog, and that's what we adopted for live work; it was much more convenient to cart around the country."
For a man known for embracing technology, it's odd to find him in 1991 fronting Tin Machine, whose token nod to technology seems to stop at the brandishing of headless guitars. Why resist what technology has to offer when it's getting so exciting?
"Well, it's so strange, because it's not a part of my character at all, technology. It's not in my life."
But it was always used to enhance your sound, so why the total abandonment?
"It's their choice," he says pointing to Reeves, now assuming the role of all three Tin Machine members that aren't David Bowie. "It's the way they play."
Gabrels: "I've found, from a guitar player's point of view, that I'm still convinced the guitar has got a world of sounds in it. The art for me lies in imposing a limitation, in sticking with this electric guitar."
It's true that, in Bowie's music, the guitar has remained centre stage, and his choice of guitar players central to the development of his sound. In Gabrels, Bowie's convinced he's hit the jackpot.
"Not to embarrass him, but of any of the guitar players I've ever worked with, without doubt Reeves is musically the most accomplished. He's an extraordinary musician, but he hides it very well, fortunately. Probably the nearest in those terms was FRIPP. In musicianship, Fripp and Reeves are probably on a par."
It was Fripp, of course, who was responsible for the soaring guitar that underpinned Heroes. Rumours about the making of the track included the story that Bowie told Fripp it was to be an instrumental, thus ensuring carefree playing from beginning to end. Alas, the story isn't true.
"The only premise that I gave him was to play with total abandonment, and in a way that he would never consider playing on his own albums. I said play like ALBERT KING, and he would look puzzled for a few moments, and then he'd go in and try his damnest to get somewhere near it, but it would come out his way. So things like Joe The Lion were him really having a bash at the Blues. He was great like that - he really got into the swing of it. He really liked the idea of me giving him an image or a guideline; it was his way of breaking what he normally does. If he went in with his own set of methods it would turn out recognizably like Fripp, but because I would throw this spanner in the works and give him two more signposts as to where to go, he would go 'ah, right, I see what you mean,' and he'd do something.
"The problem with Fripp is that he doesn't have a way of abandoning his own style. I've got to be terribly careful about this because I have an incredible respect for him as a player, but that's the difference between him and Reeves. Eno is the bridge between the whole thing in that way. Eno knows how to stop his flow in a certain direction and create new channels, whereas very few musicians know how to do that. Once they've got a link with their abilities it's all over in a way; they have a style. It's a style that they'll mature with, but it will keep re-presenting itself. Other than Eno, Reeves is one of the few people who knows how to change his streams of thought. He'll present himself with his own obstacles - he doesn't need me to give him obstacles."
Whereas most solo artists would find the context of working in a band creatively stifling, Bowie actually finds the exact opposite. He talks of Tin Machine coming along at exactly the right time to give him the artistic freedom he needed.
"The band became my obstacle," he explains. "They re-present me with ideas and also problems that I wouldn't encounter working on my own, telling people what to do. You start to learn how to tell people how to do things, and that becomes a system. And once you've got a system you're really fucked up. When you develop a system, that's the time that you have to break it - and I needed to break it! Fortuitously, this band has done that for me. My system has been broken."
Gabrels: "Within this band, there's a total mistrust of a comfortable thing. As soon as it starts to feel like it's our mode of operation, then we have to change the parameters."
Bowie: "Everyone in this band has something they want to say musically. Somebody will do something in rehearsals, and rather than do the obvious, which is to say 'no no, that's not what we should be doing', we say, 'let's go with that'. HUNT may suddenly turn the beat around or something, and your instinct is to say that's not how it goes, and so rather than do that you tend to sit on your opinions. Suddenly you find that the band has turned around on itself and is doing something it wouldn't have been doing ten minutes before.
"When that kind of flow stops, that's when the band will stop."
Until then, Tin Machine remains in full operation. And maybe, like the rest of Bowie's career, it'll all make a lot more sense in a few years' time.
After The Baggot, Bowie Plans Another Surprise Dublin Gig
By Maeve Sheehan
IT WAS the gig of all gigs for Charlie McGettigan of Dublin's Baggot Inn.
On Friday night David Bowie played a surprise concert at the rock venue to try out his new songs on a live audience. And it is reported that he will play another 'secret' gig tomorrow night.
The Sunday Tribune managed to get past the 15 security guards enforcing the no-cameras rule at the Baggot Inn on Friday to get these exclusive pictures.
"We've got some material, we're just here to try it out on you," Bowie told the applauding audience of 400.
They had queued for an hour and a half and paid £5 to get into the concert, and seemed more than happy to act as David Bowie's 'trial audience'.
The 1990s Bowie is clean cut, fit and into hard rock. Tanned with cropped highlighted blonde hair, he wore a Hawaiian shirt over a white T-shirt and trousers. His band crashed out heavy metal guitar solos and riotous drum rolls over Bowie's thin, nasal vocals.
Half an hour later the gig was over, Bowie said goodnight - no encore - and disappeared back to the Hotel Conrad, where he and the band are staying.
They have been in Dublin for the last two weeks rehearsing songs from the forthcoming album Tin Machine in the Factory studios in Barrow Street, before embarking on a world tour. On Tuesday they return to Los Angeles.
The Baggot's owner Charlie McGettigan got word on Thursday that Bowie was to play the gig. He was under strict instructions not to tell anyone, even his staff.
At 3pm on Friday word got out and press and fans began to stream into the venue. By 7.30pm the queue of 1,000 stretched all the way down Merrion Row.
Six English dedicated fans got news of the secret gig on Thursday night in Brighton from a "musical source". They travelled by ferry and plane on Friday to their hero at this unique gig. They had no idea when they arrived in Dublin that a second Bowie spectacular might be in store for them.
Word has it that the rock star will play another "top-secret" farewell gig at Dublin's Waterfront Rock Cafe tomorrow night.
JARVIS AND BOWIE LIGHT UP
David Bowie has given up every vice in his life - except fags. So, does the drug still work? - Asks Jarvis Cocker.
Jarvis Cocker: I asked Damien why he wanted me to talk to you about smoking, and it seemed to be that you'd given up every other vice in your life, but you hadn't given up smoking and he wondered why that was?
David Bowie: Oh, I see. Well I think I still do a lot of drugs, you know: caffeine and smoking, and I'm probably addicted to television and certain kinds of newspapers and art. Addiction comes in all sorts of forms, but the ones that were physically damaging, not so much to me but to the people around me, they had to go firstly. Then there's cigarettes. Once Iman and I start having children I think they will have to go too. Do you really stand by the idea of living for a long time or do you instead want to fill a shorter life with maybe more interesting things? One makes a compromise between the two actually.
JC: I remember when I was growing up and my mother smoked and she used to say to me: "Go to the corner shop and buy me some cigs."
DB: Yeah, I had exactly the same.
JC: And I used to say: "You know Mum, you're killing yourself". I really was against it, so it's quite ironic that I've ended up smoking.
DB: Mine was a house of smokers as well, both parents a considerable number of cigarettes. I think it was Senior Service and then when my father had a better job it became Weights. And I'd steal his. I think it was the rite of passage through to adulthood that appealed to me, that was the thing about it.
JC: I'd like to ask you some specific questions about cigarettes. So I came up with 20.
DB: Oh my God...
JC: Well, I thought that was appropriate - there's 20 cigarettes in a packet.
DB: Oh that's very good - that's a very nice way to conduct this. Are you smoking at the moment, by the way?
JC: No, but I've got a packet just in case I feel the urge.
DB: Well, I've got one on so...
JC: OK, I'll join you then. So, can you remember the first brand, would that be Weights?
DB: Yes it was, but my father realised I was stealing his so I moved on to Dominos, I think they were called. You could buy them in one's or two's from the newsagents just down the road from the school and we all went down there to buy them. I also specifically remember trying the first menthol cigarettes, which was dread - I've never touched them again - on top of the number 410 green bus going to school one day. I did half a packet of them real fast. It was a long ride, about 20 or 30 minutes to get to school, and they made me sick as a dog. I was throwing up all morning. I've never touched them again.
JC: That's quite weird, the first cigarette I ever had was a Consulate menthol cigarette. Maybe it's because I thought they weren't a real cigarette because they had a minty taste, so it was almost like a sweet or something.
DB: So what did you hope to get from it though? What do you really expect to get from cigarettes before you smoke?
JC: Well, this is it. You know, I never thought I'd end up smoking. I used to really give my mother a hard time about it and then it wasn't until I got to the age of 20, 21.
DB: It was that late? Wow.
JC: Oh yeah, I was going out with a girl. We were out one night and we'd got to that stage that we were a bit bored of each other and so we were kind of wandering the streets wondering what to do. I suddenly thought it would be a really inappropriate thing to do to start smoking. So I went into a shop and bought a packet of Consulate and that's it, that's what started it.
DB: Smoking just to be boring. Well that's interesting because I guess that's one of the hundreds of reasons why one does smoke. You get the idea that it dulls anxiety if you're going through anxious periods. You can also do it to stave off hunger and I think you also do them if you think it's relaxing. You kind of think that you'll become relaxed once you smoke it or that you're in such a great kind of lazy mood that a cigarette would be just right now with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine or whatever.
JC: Yeah, the hardest one to stop having is the one after you've just eaten.
DB: When you're a kid it's really a kind of perverse need to try something that's risky, because it's frowned upon by older people. Also because you know it's inherently bad for you.
JC: I remember when I first started that I couldn't believe it made me go dizzy and really light-headed.
DB: Yeah - I never understood why you just grit your teeth and carry on smoking just so you can get it right because it makes you so sick and feel so awful. It has to be what it symbolises and what it gives you of that "I'm old enough to have attitude". With you it was different 'cos you were 21, but I was still very gawky and awkward and wanting to find my attitude. Cigarettes sort of supplied it quite easily.
JC: So it was like a social movement?
DB: Yeah, very much. A fair amount of peer pressure. The guys that I hung around with and liked all smoked and I wanted to be in there.
JC: So, when you wake up in the morning, are you one of these people that reaches straight for the bedside table and lights up, or do you try to stave it off for as long as possible?
DB: I'll stave it off until breakfast. At the end of breakfast when I'm having a cup of coffee I'll have a cigarette. So it's from pretty early on in the morning. In a general day I get through about 40 Marlboro Lights - which is a cut down from what I used to smoke, believe me. When I'm on the road I tend to drop down to about 20.
JC: I was going to ask you that - do they affect your voice?
DB: I think probably that I'd sing much better if I didn't smoke. I'm sure of that actually. I've lost loads of notes from the top register with the years of smoking, but then someone suggested that smoking will often help people presume that they could be greater if they didn't smoke. Which I kinda like - "well you know if I didn't smoke of course I could get those top C's".
JC: I'll quote some lyrics to you. "Time takes a cigarette, puts it in your mouth" - am I getting this right? - "You pull on your finger and then a cigarette."
DB: That was a sort of plagiarised line from Baudelaire which was something to the effect of life is a cigarette, smoke it in a hurry or savour it.
JC: I've heard Damien say that every time he has a cigarette he thinks about death. Do you go along with that?
DB: I can't think of a time that I didn't think about death. There again, I've been smoking all my life so it's hard to not equate the two together. You know, I'm fairly easy-going about the length of life in a way - it'll sort of happen when it happens. It sounds good anyway. But will Damien still smoke around his child?
JC: Eh, I don't know actually. I'll have to ask.
DB: That's an interesting thing because that's the area that worries me. That's the area where I get a little righteous and moral about it because, over the past at least 10 or 15 years, it's really come home to me what impact one's own vices can have on other people and that really determines how I mistreat my own body. I try not to smoke around Iman that much but I'm not very good at that.
JC: Have you read 'Smoking Is Sublime'? I've got a few quotes here: "They are sublime because they involve a confrontation with mortality."
DB: Ah, that's the thinking-of-death-as-you-smoke number.
JC: Mmm, that's it, isn't it? What about this one - Oscar Wilde: "A cigarette is the perfect type of the perfect pleasure. It is exquisite and it leaves one unsatisfied, what more can one want? Each cigarette is an absolute failure, never providing the imagined fulfilment."
DB: But I think you can apply that to nearly any of life's pleasures. They all leave you unsatisfied because you try to reach that high every time. You always have to go back.
JC: You have to keep trying.
DB: You have to keep trying. You keep going for it. Not just to get the high but you're hoping in desperation that one day the high that you do achieve will stay with you. But of course it never does, so in its own way it's an avenue to insanity. It produces a rat syndrome, you know, where you just go round and round and round. Circularity.
JC: No one can ever accept the fact that life consists of a series of highlights and you can never really keep those highlights going.
DB: It's plate-spinning.
JC: That's the thing that makes them a pleasure.
DB: It's wise not to get too euphoric or too melancholic. A balance in-between for me has always given me a much wider and easier passage through life. I find it's such a disillusionment to get incredibly excited and happy about things, and that will not maintain. Also it's quite psychotic to become like that. I mean it's really depressed schizophrenia, when you go from those incredible heights to lows. I've done all of those and it really serves one badly.
JC: It's like the Prozac argument, that the drug will level people out so they will never feel things very extremely at all.
DB: Right, but the other side of that is that it also reduces your ability to have emotional contact. People will not really pay quite such close attention to what their children are going through, or their wives or husbands, or whatever. They exist in a kind of Stepford Wife world, so there's two sides. There's two sides to everything, though, Jarvis. Don't you feel that honestly in your system?
DB: Are we giving Damien what he wants, do you think?
JC: Oh God, I don't know, and I don't know what he wants. I don't think he knows what he wants. So these are the last two questions I've got here.
JC: These are going back to a more basic level really. Which cigarette of the day would you say you enjoy most?
DB: Well, I have the workman-like habit of Marlboro Lights now, but in my past Gitanes were the ones that really I thought had it all. When I was working as an illustrator in advertising I went through four or five different kinds of exotic brands at that stage, trying to find the right brand to put me away from what other people smoked. But then when I went to France for the first time I found Gitanes and I liked them more than anything else because the illustrator was actually named on the packet. I think it was M Giout if I'm not mistaken, and that particular packet, the Gitanes packet, took me all through the Seventies. But they were so strong.
JC: Oh I know, I tried those and they're not good.
DB: Yeah I know, you really had to try to work at it to get to enjoy it, but they get to become really addictive and it took me a long time. But then I went from those to Marlboro Reds. I went through the Eighties on those and around the time I started Tin Machine, around 1988, I realised I wasn't getting the high notes at all, so I dropped down to Marlboro Lights. And I've stuck with them ever since actually. I should go even lighter, I suppose, because I know I'm going to have to give up sooner or later when the kid comes.
JC: You could try that Silk Cut white-packet stuff.
DB: Oh God, I've tried all that stuff and it just hasn't got the kick, you know.
JC: Well, the thing that you find with those is they've got perforations in the filter and you unconsciously start putting your fingers over the perforations to kind of block the holes so you just get a little bit more.
DB: There was a brand that I tried in Russia when I first went over there on the Trans-Siberia called Sputnik, and they had a wonderful illustration on the thing. Illustrations really move me into buying cigarettes more than anything else. That was before I went on to good old fundamental Marlboro.
JC: I was put off Marlboro when somebody once had a conspiracy theory that they were...
DB: Oh, the KKK thing. Well the very easy thing about Marlboro is that they are actually available everywhere. There's no way to avoid them, so once you are into a brand when you travel like we do, you kind of want one that you can get anywhere from Russia back to America to England, you know. Even though they're made by the individual countries that package them, you just feel comfortable if you've got that one. You develop a certain kind of brand loyalty.
JC: In America, there are loads of no-smoking buildings and no-smoking bars and you often stand shivering outside on the streets in the middle of winter.
DB: Well yes - we think of ourselves as sometimes approaching a nanny state but I think it's far more prevalent in the States. It's been part of their history since prohibition onwards - the idea of telling people what they should be doing. Their assumption is that they know best. Within a rational, straightforward way they're probably right, but I think you must have the choice to screw yourself. On the other hand, I do appreciate it is quite nice sometimes to have a meal without people smoking around you.
JC: But it's going to make it more attractive to people.
DB: Oh yeah, absolutely. It will become a right little renegade thing to do. Although I must say at the moment smoking in LA I feel positively grimy, I no longer feel rebellious because I know it's just outright hostility to me when I light up a cigarette. Especially when I'm in a house with people I know and respect and I light up a cigarette and they look at me as though I'm dirt. You think, God, it really has come home, this thing about not smoking, I feel like the lowest of the low with this damn thing.
JC: But do you resent that you're made to feel that way?
DB: Yeah, I resent that my freedoms have been inhibited in that way, but on the other hand I am aware that it's bad for other people.
JC: It seems to be a kind of contentious point about secondary smoking or passive smoking.
DB: Yeah, and I do understand, but there again have you ever tried to conduct a relationship on cocaine? I mean, what you do to the person is absolutely foul. It really is beyond tolerance, it's dreadful. So few drugs don't have an effect on the other person. Coffee so far seems to be OK.
JC: Yeah, you can still keep a relationship together then?
DB: I think you can get a bit irritable if you've had too much, but I think the sort of by-product of it isn't ruined lives. I've not heard of many couples that were split apart by one's addiction to coffee.
JC: It probably will happen if cigarettes get ground out of the way. So, my final question is: do you light your cigarettes with matches or a lighter?
DB: Wow. I used to light them with matches because it had a more theatrical effect, I think. But as my awareness that the cigarette doesn't represent any particular attitude any more, it doesn't have the potency of a symbol it used to have. I saw it once as a prop on stage, now I smoke on stage just because I need one. So now I'm quite happy with a Bic, which is pretty sort of fundamental. But I was aware of ritual and routine and theatricality with a cigarette when I was younger. I knew exactly what I was doing around the stage and the cigarette became symbolic of a certain kind of removed identity kind of thing, you know - that I don't have to be singing these songs, I'm just doing you a favour. I think the symbolic cigarette has dropped way behind now. It's just another bloody thing that I do.
JC: Well, you know, don't worry about it.
DB: No, I must say I don't. I'm not losing sleep.
JC: Right, well, that's it.
DB: Well it's really nice to talk with you, Jarvis.
JC: You know it's for this Big Issue thing, don't you?
JC: Thank you very much.
DB: And I hope I bump into you when I come back to England again.
JC: I'm sure we will do.
JC: Alright then.
JC: Bye bye.
DB: Bye bye.
SIX HOURS IN A LIMO WITH BOWIE
By Stuart Gilles
By David Cavanagh
Planet Earth is blue and on January 8 David Bowie will have been living on it for 5O years. Tributes and accolades arrived early. In the first two months of 1996, Bowie was inducted by David Byrne into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in New York. Then, he received the Outstanding Contribution To British Music award at the Brits in London. By November, he had completed work on his 21st studio album, Earthling. This year, David Bowie will become the first rock star to sell himself off on the Stock Market in a Bowie Bond issue scheme to be worth £30-50 million.
The day after his birthday, Bowie will give a charity concert at Madison Square Garden, where his four-piece band will be augmented by special guests including Lou Reed, Foo Fighters, Sonic Youth and Robert Smith of The Cure. In the coming weeks Bowie also plans to read two recently published biographies of himself, Loving The Alien by Christopher Sangfroid and Living On The Brink by George Tremlett.
A particularly galvanized demicenturion, Bowie has put a great jolt of energy into the Earthling album, which comes out in February. Combining jungle and rock in often startling ways, Earthling has a non-concessionary stance the at takes several listens to become acclimatized to. And Bowie's on-line fans are already deep in discussion on the official web site.
"Dear Mr. Bowie" wrote a woman called Crystal on December 2."I wish to thank you for the imaginative ride through your music and thoughts. It has been both thought-provoking and a pleasure. PS, At one time I fancied changing my name to Crystal Japan." An immediate response followed from someone claiming to be David Bowie: "Hallo darling. I think Crystal Clit would be a better choice, you icy bitch, Now bend over and prepare to be cornholed by a thin white duke with a thick white dong."
"Oh, he's back is he?" the real Bowie groans later that day "No, I usually post anonymously to get a better dialogue going."
A better dialogue than that? Is there any? Anyway, however Bowie spends his 50th birthday (he spent his 40th ski-ing and can't remember further back than that), he does not intend to monitor Earthling's sales figures from the comfort of his Swiss home. Instead he is going to tour the hell out of it, hopping aboard the European festival circuit this summer, just like he did last summer. Bowie's delight with the album - and with the musicians in his band - is so infectious that even his 25-year-old son Joe has remarked on it.
"He says, 'God, you really like what you do, don't you?"' Bowie reports with the laugh of a lifelong smoker. "But it does really give me a buzz - I love being excited by what I do. I'm still playing Earthling every day. I've not stopped enjoying it."
IT IS EARLY SEPTEMBER, 1996 - A NEW York afternoon, and avid Bowie is at Looking Glass Studios on the ninth floor of a building on Broadway, where he and his new/old band are two-thirds of the way into the recording of this surprising Earthling thing.
There are four musicians in the band: drummer Zachary Alford, who's previously worked with Bruce Springsteen and The B-52's (he's in the Love Shack video); bassist Gail Ann Dorsey; guitarist Reeves Gabrels who has played with Bowie since 1988; and keyboard genius Mike Garson, who looks a bit like Robert Morley and who recorded and toured with Bowie between 1972 and 1975.
They are taking a break and Garson is showing his bandmates some old photos of the mid-'70s Bowie line-up. There's one of Garson with an afro. There's one of Bowie at Radio City, New York, in November 1974, looking gaunt arid seasick. There's one of the whole band together.
"Look at Luther!" Bowie laughs, spotting his former BVs bloke Vandross "Carlos Alomar. And who is this guy? I don't remember him."Garson names him as Emir Ksasan, the bass player who preceded George Murray. As Dorsey and Gabrels crane to see, Bowie recognizes guitarist Earl Slick (whom he calls Frank), David Sanborn and Warren Peace. Then his eyes darken as he notices the imprint of his old management company at the bottom of the photo. "MainMan," he sighs. "Fucking MainMan."
He brings out a slide which he is considering using for artwork on the new album. It was taken in 1974 at UCLA with a Kirlian camera, which photographs energy fields. The left half of the slide shows the circumference of Bowie's forefinger immediately before taking cocaine. The, other half of the photo was taken 30 minutes later. (In fact, he has written helpfully on the back: "Just before doing coke" and "30 mins later"). In the "before" photo, Bowie's finger is a neat circle with a little outer rim of darkness. In the: "after" photo, however, his finger has an angry, frazzled halo, as thick as a washer. This was clearly no average line of cocaine.
"Not in 1974 it wouldn't have been, no," Bowie admits. "Highly dangerous camera it was, too. It would regularly explode. Nick Roeg wanted to use some examples of it in Man Who Fell To Earth, but it wouldn't film well enough."
So saying, Bowie snaps out of the mid-'70s, leaps to his feet and takes Q into the next-door studio to hear some rough mixes of new tracks. While the songs play, he's constantly out of his seat, explaining how certain of the effects were generated ("no samplers"), or where a solo will go. He points at the speakers whenever there's a good bit coming. Seven Years In Tibet is his current favourite: it has pile driving drums, an itchy saxophone sound, and it has just been added to the live set.
It was while enjoying himself on the festival roundabout last summer that Bowie decided to keep the momentum going. As soon as the tour elided, he and the band immediately hit the studio, This week they're back on the road, playing a four-date tour of small clubs which sold out instantly. Meanwhile, Bowie, is back to an album a year, and proud of it. "It's funny, you know, when I was a kid, we would do two albums a year," he recalls. "Two albums a year! And I loved it."
Bowie now believes that he is the only 50 year-old in British rock whose music really challenges the listener. While his superstar profile might seeing to align him with cosy old Rod Stewart and the grand old Rolling Stones, he describes his current attitude as that of a "a not terribly retrospective person, who is really enthusiastic about life and really keen to be different from everybody".
Musically, his tastes are in jungle, in nerve shredding guitar, in computer cut-up lyrics and, of course the avant-garde In this sense, at least, he is the same David Bowie who made Lodger and Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). Those songs from his illustrious past which he sees fit to play live - which include "Heroes", The Man Who Sold The World, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) and All the Young Dudes - are often rearranged so violently they defy recognition until he starts the vocal.
"It's unfortunate when musicians qualify their work with, Now that I'm married, now that I've got kids, I've got to be more creatively pedestrian," he muses. "Whereas there's people like myself, Neil Young and Scott Walker who move with the way life flows."
For Bowie, this has resulted in the following developments: a warn embracing of jungle and drum 'n' bass; forming a touring band of very dissimilar musicians and personalities, whose common thread is that they each "excite" their leader; taking a more active role on the youngsters' gig circuit (for example, playing the Phoenix Festival as opposed to Wembley Stadium); and not really bothering about how many old-style fans he might lose on the way. Convinced that his current band out-hammers even The Prodigy, be is now talking of playing raves in Europe this year.
"I know what happens when I play the classics," he sneers, a little impatiently, "I know the outcome. So why would I want to do it again? Other than for financial remuneration, which frankly I don't need. There's a few of us now reaching our fifties and sixties, and I don't want to throw my chance to experiment away, You see, once you've gone so far, you can't turn back. And I've come that far. I'm there. I'm in my land, I'm doing it." He catches himself up with a laugh.
"In ten years time, when I'm playing to halls with no audience whatsoever, my contemporaries can turn round and say, Well, that's the reason we didn't do what you did. But we'll see. At least I'll have the chance to see how far you can go in this life."
It's the following night, Bowie's tour bus is heading back to New York from Boston, where he and the band have just played the penultimate date of their club tour.
The show was a strange affair. Loud and punishing in places, it focused heavily on 1. Outside and new songs. The crowd, with an average age of perhaps 28, was visibly much hotter for songs like Breaking Glass and Moonage Daydream. Under Pressure, played faithfully like the record (with Dorsey doing the Freddie Mercury bits), received the loudest ovation. Meanwhile, one girl held aloft a bouquet of flowers for 20 minutes continuously, until Bowie finally acknowledged her in Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps): "What a beautiful flower garden... lavvly blossoms"
While still a terrific singer, on stage Bowie mover, with a gaucheness that ill-fits the metallic pulse of the music. There's a bit of mime, a few hand-claps at waist level... ooh, dear. In the quincunx din of his all-devouring band, he somehow seems a spare part, a piggy in the middle, draped in a hugely garish Union Jack frock-coat when, for all its relevance to the music, he might as well be sporting a Stove-pipe hat. It's strange: fronting his own group, singing his own songs, the legendary David Bowie is the one person on stage who looks at odds.
But, on his coach home, Bowie is very pleased with the audiences response, particularly to Seven Years In Tibet. He comes forward to the front lounge of the bus for a chat, He is wearing only a white terry bath robe and his voice is hoarse. Corinne "Coco" Schwab, his PA-cum manageress and close friend for 20 years, tells him that tomorrow nights show in New York will be the first anniversary of the start of the tour, They've been on the road for a year. Excited, Bowie tells her he wants to play at a Techno club immediately after the gig, (Tonight, he has inexhaustible stamina. Tomorrow common sense will prevail. There will be no techno club).
Does he feel that the new album is as adventurous and ground-breaking as albums like Low, "Heroes" and Lodger?
"I don't know if, it feels like that," he ponders. "But it feels really good-hearted and uplifting." It's hardly comforting, though. "No? Blimey, I get all happy when I hear it, How do you hear it?" A pounding, shrieking, relentless sort of sound. "Golly" He thinks. "It's not difficult music, it really isn't - If the audiences can just open their minds to it."
What are the songs about?
"I guess the common ground with all the songs is this abiding need in me to vacillate, between atheism or a kind of gnosticism," he explains, slowly. "I keep going backwards and forwards between the two things, because they mean a lot in my life. I mean, the church doesn't enter into my writing, or my thoughts; I have no empathy with any organized religions. What I need is to find a balance, spiritually, with the way I live and my demise. And that period of time from today until my demise - is the, only thing that fascinates me."
You're already thinking about your death?
"I don't think there's been a time when I haven't" he laughs blithely. "It was ennobled with a romantic, cavalier attitude when I was much younger, but it was still there. Now it's measured with rationality. I know that this life is finite and I have to accept that."
What's stopping you from believing in an afterlife?
"I didn't say I didn't," he says quickly. "I believe in a continuation, kind of a dream-state without the dreams. Oh, I don't know. I'll come back and tell you."
DID THE YEARS WHEN YOU TOOK A lot of drugs do any lasting damage?
"I've been a really lucky sod," he admits, shaking his head," I'm extremely fit. But then I've never had a brain scan. I remember reading about the effects of vast amounts of amphetamines and cocaine, and the holes they leave in your brain. They specified the amounts you had to take to produce, Sizable holes, amounts I far exceeded. I thought, Oh God, what the hell's going on up there?"
Listening to the albums you made in the early '70s, it seemed that you didn't think there would be a 1996 or a 1997.
"Oh didn't I? When did I stop thinking that, then?"
It was all very apocalyptic.
"Oh really?" he chuckles. "Well, I know what you mean. But a lot of the negativity when I first started was about myself. I was convinced I wasn't worth very much. I had enormous self-image, problems and very low self-esteem, which I hid behind obsessive writing and performing. It's exactly what I do now except I enjoy it now. I'm not driven like I was in my twenties. I was driven to get through life very quickly."
Did there come a realisation in middle age that you weren't the most important person on the planet?
"No, it was, in fact the antithesis of that. I thought I didn't need to exist. I really felt so utterly inadequate. I thought the work was the only thing of value. Now I'm starting to quite like me. You know, we really should continue this conversation with... people who talk about that stuff, I don't really..."
Did you know, growing up, that you shared a birthday with Elvis Presley?
"I was absolutely mesmerized by it," he grins. "I couldn't believe it. He was a major hero of mine. And I was probably stupid enough to believe that having the same birthday as him actually meant something."
You saw him play in New York in 1971.
"I did. I came over for a long weekend. I remember coming straight from the airport and walking into Madison Square Garden very late. I was wearing all my clobber from the Ziggy period and I had great seats near the front. The whole place just turned to look at me and I felt like a right cunt. I had brilliant red hair, some huge padded space suit and those red boots with big black soles. I wished I'd gone for something quiet, because I must have registered with him. He was well into his set."
DO YOU REMEMBER WHERE THE FIRST British date of the Ziggy Stardust tour was?
"Ooh... my God. I really don't know. Aylesbury?"
It was at The Toby Jug in Tolworth, between Surbiton and Cheam.
"Ha ha haaa! Oh, that's perfect. Ziggy at the Toby. It was probably a pub. Things moved quite fast in those days, but Ziggy was a case of small beginnings. I remember when we had no more than twenty or thirty fans at the most. They'd be down at the front and the rest of the audience was indifferent. And it feels so special, because you and the audience kid yourselves that you're in on this big secret. It's that English elitism and you feel kind of cool. It all gets so dissipated when you get bigger.
Which of your old albums do you listen to?
"Not Ziggy," he laughs. "Actually, I started listening to Low again which I heard Trent Reznor was a big fan of it. I went back to it to find out why and I started to hear the breaking down of the drum sounds and obvious signposts to the way he writes. It was fairly instructive. And what a damn good album it was. I also think Station To Station is great. I've listened to it a few times"
Exactly how true is the story that you can't remember making Station To Station?
"Very true. I would say a lot of the time I spent in America in the '70s is really hard to remember, (sighs) in a way that I've not seen happen to too many other artists. I was flying out there - really in a bad way. So I listen to Station To Station as a piece of work by an entirely different person. Firstly, there's the content, which nobody's actually been terribly clear about. The Station To Station track itself is very much concerned with the stations of the cross, All the references within the piece are to do with the Kabbala (a set of mystical instructions supposedly given to Moses on Mount Sinai and often said to have links with ritual magik). It's the nearest album to a magik treatise that I've written. I've never read a review that really sussed it. It's all extremely dark album. Miserable time to live through, I must say."
What would have happened if one of your unsuccessful singles in the mid-'60s, such as Rubber Band or You've Got A Habit Of Leaving, had been a huge hit?
"Ha! I'd probably be in Les Miserables now. I would have been doing stage musicals I could almost guarantee it. Oh, I'm sure I would have been a right little trouper on the West End stage. (Laughing) I'd have written ten Laughing Gnomes, not just one."
He pauses to tuck into a sandwich. In the rear lounge of the bus sits a group that includes Schwab, Dorsey, Alford and Garson. The latter is a phenomenal keyboard player who brings a strong visual presence to the show. He'd not seen Bowie for 18 years until he was summoned to play on the 1993 album Black Tie White Noise and The Buddha Of Suburbia.
"We used to call him Garson The Parson in the Spiders, poor love," Bowie grins, "When he was into Scientology. But it did cause us one or two problems. I was thinking about having him back in the band and the thing that really clinched it was hearing that he was no longer a Scientologist."
Garson is steeped in classical and jazz music (he's made 10 solo albums) and tends to stay out of the jungle area on Bowie's new songs. At soundchecks he executes astonishing flourishes of concert piano without even looking at the keyboard. He is enjoying working with his old boss again.
"I felt that spiritually he had advanced," he notes of meeting Bowie again after so many years. "He was much more calm and stable to work with on a daily basis. His actions were a lot more sane and rational, But the essence of who he was, as in artist was exactly the same."
Is the new music completely different to play compared to the 1974 stuff?
"Well, David's music still has the essence of rock but it's actually rather more advanced. There's a lot of layers and complexity on both 1. Outside and the new album. Reeves you know, views guitar playing almost like a reinventor of the instrument."
Reeves Gabrels, a guitarist whose squealing style antagonizes as many people as it pleases, is arguably the most important musical influence on Bowie over the last 10 years. And he's probably the most controversial musician ever to play in a Bowie band. It was Gabrels who urged him in 1987 to rethink his direction entirely.
"He knew that it had gone wrong after Let's Dance," claims Gabrels, who met Bowie through his wife, Sarah, a publicist on the Glass Spider tour. Gabrels was a virtuoso guitarist from Boston whose love of Bowie's music had been curdled (as had most people's) by the poor quality of Tonight and Never Let Me Down. Bowie, too, was bored rigid by these albums.
"I was something I never wanted to be," Bowie admits. "l was a well-accepted artist. I had started appealing to people who bought Phil Collins, albums. I like Phil Collins as a bloke, believe me, but he's not on my turntable twenty four hours a day. I suddenly didn't know my audience and, worse, I didn't care about them:"
Full of doubt and loathing for his increasingly bland music, Bowie scarcely bothered turning up to the recording sessions for Never Let Me Down.
"I was letting the guys arrange it, and I'd come in and do a vocal," he recalls, " and then I'd bugger off and pick up some bird."
Privately, he saw only one escape route: retirement. This became his intention.
"More than anything else, I thought that I should make as much money as I could, and quit, "he, confesses. "I didn't think there was any alternative, I thought I was obviously just an empty vessel and would end up like everyone else, doing these stupid fucking shows, singing Rebel Rebel until I fall over and bleed."
NO WONDER HE'S SO GRATEFUL TO the dry-witted 39-year old Gabrels. The guitarist told Bowie that the answer lay in reinvention. Bowie,who had reinvented himself between five and seven times in the 1970s alone, installed Gabrels as his new lead guitarist and first performed publicly with him in April 1988 at a benefit gig at the ICA in London. Within a year they had formed Tin Machine, a vilified and soon abandoned quartet which blew a lot of Bowie's cobwebs away and cheered him up considerably.
Nine years later, it is still Gabrels's guitar playing that sorts out the men from the boys in a David Bowie audience. Some, of what he plays sounds downright horrible. Or is it genius? Or is it both at once? And couldn't he just put a sock in it occasionally? As knowledgeable and enthusiastic discussing techno as he is Aerosmith, Gabrels is part-intellectual and part-madman.
A few weeks ago he went to collect Bowie at his hotel. Nothing unusual there, except that Gabrels was wearing a full size Tigger (out of Winnie The Pooh) suit at the time. Bowie came out of the lift and laughed so much he walked into a wall. He is enchanted by Gabrels.
"I like players who don't try and prove what great guitarists they are, but try and show you who they are as people," drools Bowie. "Maybe give you a little clue to the cracks in their psyche. And Reeves is a good man, he really is, I just feel happy with him."
"You gotta make your choice," Gabrels will declare. "Commercial survival is Rod Stewart.
Artistic survival is reinvention. Do you play Las Vegas or do you want to do something vital?
'That's what I think. But then, I'm a bad influence."
"HAVE YOU MET LULU?, ASKS GARSON, who toured with her after her 1974 hit version of Bowie's The Man Who Sold The World. "She's a sweetheart."
The Bowie bus is two hours from New York. Garson soon falls asleep, while the rest of the party, including Bowie, watch a video of All You Need Is Cash, a TV documentary about the financial affairs of The Beatles. It's fairly critical of John Lennon, Bowie's old friend John Lennon, which doesn't impress him. He keeps tutting and shaking his head. And when biographer Philip Norman makes a glib comment about Lennon's relationship with Yoko Ono, Bowie turns indignant:
"Shaaaatup! Who the fuck are you?"
But Bowie is a happy man. He's got his band together, all in the same room on the one bus and he loves them. There isn't a single group world wide that he fears. While he can still talk respectfully - and does - of his classic rhythm sections of the 1970s, or the wonderful bass playing of Herbie Flowers, or the entertaining stories of Rick Wakeman (whom he now hears is a very good friend of Norman Wisdom), you can tell that these people rarely figure in his thoughts. He loves his new band too much.
"I care about People now," he concludes. "I never used to, probably because I never cared about myself. But I really think I care about people now - about whether they're in pain or whether they're alright."
At last, the bus pulls up outside the Essex House Hotel in New York, where Bowie and his band are staying.
Some disembark, but not David Bowie or Reeves Gabrels. Still glowing a faint orange in their stage make-up from the Boston gig, they insert a Prodigy cassette into the tape machine. And with the after hours Central Park traffic drifting past their drawn curtains, they get the all-night rave underway.
DAVID BOWIE - BACK IN BLACK (AND WHITE)
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: "What have I got myself into this time?"
AFTER TWO STUDIO ALBUMS WITH TIN MACHINE, DAVID BOWIE RETURNS WITH HIS FIRST SOLO LP IN SIX YEARS, AND EXPLAINS THE BACKGROUND TO THE SESSIONS
IT'S six years since David Bowie's last studio offering, "Never Let Me Down" - which the critics hated, failed to maintain the commercial profile of "Tonight", and which produced only a couple of minor hit singles.
From being the biggest cult artist of the 70s, Bowie crossed over into the international mainstream during the early 80s, when the "Let's Dance" single and album revealed him as a man who, after years spent hedging his bets, had blond ambition in his veins after all. The pinnacle of his mass acceptance came when he duetted with Mick Jagger on "Dancing In The Street", as a part of Live Aid. As his music became more radio-friendly, and his image wholly in tune with the Armani-wearing rock establishment, Bowie the entertainer threatened to engulf Bowie the artist.
His venture with Tin Machine polarised his fans further. Some saw it as yet another extension of Bowie's game-playing, which harked back to the persona-swapping 70s; others baulked at the group's ugly, headless guitars, even uglier attempts at hard rock, and dubbed the project Tinpot Machine. Worse still, a lot of people didn't care either way.
Ever since Tony Parsons mentioned that he'd been given a sneak preview of Bowie's forthcoming album at Xmas, and more to the point, that it marked a dramatic return to form, a sense of expectation has surrounded this latest release. First, the news was that it marked a return to the classic, boundary-breaking "Low" and "Heroes" albums of the mid 70s. More recently, the triumphant noises have become rather muted: "Well, it's actually David's best since 'Let's Dance' said one insider.
Q: Your new album is called "Black Tie White Noise". What is the significance of the title? And what does the record say about the divisive role colour still plays in the world?
David Bowie: A lot of it's just very impressionistic. I think "Black Tie White Noise" refers to the very obvious - the radical boundaries that have been put up in most of the Western World. It also has a lot to do with the black and white sides of one's thinking.
I think it goes a little further than simply the racial situation. Obviously, there are the stereotypical situations that we encounter every day that one has to address. I think, at this particular moment in time, it's very important to promote the coming together of the disparate elements in any nation, specifically America, where the record was written, but actually I guess even more so now in Europe.
These last few months have been terrifying. Change is no easy thing, and it's not going to happen without a certain amount of violence. In fact, I think there is no revolution with violence. It's not a soft solution, but there is a positive outcome. It won't be gained easily and it won't be gained by singing, "We Are The World" or "We Shall Overcome". Those elements of coming together should be foremost in our minds, but it's not going to be like that in actuality. There's going to be an awful lot of antagonism before there's any real move forward.
Q: Were you in Los Angeles during the riots?
DB: Yeah. My wife and I had been away on holiday and we arrived back on the day the riots started. It was an extraordinary feeling. I think the one thing that sprang to our minds was that it felt like a prison riot more than anything else. It felt as if innocent inmates of some vast prison were trying to break out - break free from their bonds. I don't think they've succeeded in doing that, by any means. The whole thing has been forgotten: I don't see any real change in Los Angeles.
Q: You don't seem very talkative about it.
DB: Oh, I am, I think (laughs). I foolishly believe that the new Clinton administration will help things. I would like to believe that the new administration will be far more caring.
Q: New York author Don DeLillo wrote a novel about post-industrial static, entitled...
DB: "White Noise"! It's an interesting thing. White noise itself is something that I first encountered on the synthesiser many years ago. There's black noise and white noise. I thought that much of what is said and done by the whites is white noise.
'Black ties' is because, for me, musically, the one thing that really turned me on to wanting to be a musician, wanting to write, was black music, American black music - Little Richard and John Coltrane in the 1950s.
The first artist I really sort of dug was Little Richard when I was about eight years old. I found it all very exciting - the feeling of aggression that came through the arrangements. It was like breaking up the sky - his voice broke out of the skies - an extraordinary voice. That's what triggered my interest in American black music. That led me to the blues, John Lee Hooker and all those guys, and for a number of years I worked with rhythm and blues bands, and my participation in them formed my own black ties in that area of music.
Q: So does the new album date back to that time in any way?
DB: Yeah, I don't think there's been an album that hasn't owed a lot to rhythm and blues music. Everything that I've done has had that basis.
Q: Let's talk about some of the musicians who worked with you on "Black Tie White Noise". What about Wild T.?
DB: Wild T.'s real name is Anthony. I find it very hard to call him Wild T. He comes from Trinidad and he's lived in Canada for some years and he plays the blues. It's sort of a lilting take on Hendrix's guitar style.
I first encountered his work when somebody gave me a CD while I was touring Canada with Tin Machine. I liked it so much that I phoned him and invited him to a show so that we could meet. He came backstage one night, I told him that I really liked his guitar-playing and said that if we ever got a chance, would he like to work with me. I think he thought I was simply being polite or something.
So I think he got quite a surprise when I called him up and asked him if he'd come down to New York and do a session. He was an absolute delight! I mean, I've never worked with him before and he'd come straight from his show in Vancouver, I think. He was very tired when he arrived, but he worked really hard. He had some delightful qualities on the song in question, which is a Morrissey song called "I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday" - just the silliest song I think Morrissey's written, but it's very cute.
Q: And you've teamed up again with Mick Ronson, the original guitarist in the Spiders From Mars.
DB: This project is the first time we've worked together in almost twenty years - it's been a long, long time. We sort of keep track of each other through the years: every time I go on tour, Mick turns up somewhere along the line and guests on my show. It was just synchronistic that we happened to be in the same city at the same time. I asked him if he'd come and work on a song that we both liked very much, which was Cream's "I Feel Free". He said he'd be delighted and he turned up and played his usual breathtaking solo. Extraordinary man, extraordinary guitar-player.
Q: And Mike Garson?
DB: Mike Garson is a bit of a mystery. He also worked with The Spiders. At that time, he was a Scientologist, I think, and that was the cornerstone of his life for a long time. He parted ways with that in the mid-80s and has subsequently become one of the leading jazz pianists in California, working a lot with Stanley Clarke. He really has a gift. I wanted his particular, rather eccentric playing on a couple of tracks. One is called "Looking For Lester", the other "Bring Me The Disco King". He kind of plops those jewels in the track and they're quite, as I say, extraordinary, eccentric pieces of piano-playing.
Q: You mentioned Lester, which brings us to Lester Bowie...
DB: Well of course, I had absolutely nothing to do with his surname! Actually, I had everything to do with it, because it was his name that made me go out and buy his CDs - and what a pleasant surprise! I mean, he's got to be one of the major inheritors of the Miles Davis approach to playing. You have to follow him around the studio with a microphone because he won't stand still! He's absolutely wonderful, and he weaves great anecdotes of his early days in music.
I needed a trumpet on this album, so Lester was an obvious choice. You know, I couldn't resist it: Lester and David - the Bowie brothers!
Q: What influence do these guest artists make on your music? Did you simply bring them in and let them do what they wanted to?
DB: Yeah. I think with a sound or with a song, what's required from a solo player, unless you're a control freak, is for them to interpret what they're hearing in their own way. It's this that gives the song a character of its own, and through the input of these individuals, the track becomes a collaboration. They hear the songs and interpret them through their own instrument. All I require from them is to bring their own language to it.
Q: In the past, you've sung with people like Mick Jagger, Freddie Mercury, Tina Turner and John Lennon. How did you enjoy working with Al B.?
DB: I've never worked longer with any artist than Al B. (laughs). I had a particular thing that I wanted to do with this song, and he spent a long time working through it. He's really dedicated to what he does. I don't think I've never seen anybody work harder. He's a really great guy. He understands very much what I'm trying to do, and his contribution to this album is not lightly given. It was often quite punishing for both of us. However, out of those kind of punishments, jewels often appear.
Q: What prompted you to record Morrissey's "I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday"?
DB: It occurred to me when I first heard Morrissey's latest album that he was possibly spoofing one of my earlier songs, and I thought, I'm not going to let him get away with that. I do think he's one of the best lyricists in England, and an excellent songwriter, and I thought his song was an affectionate spoof. Of course, this is where it gets very incestuous because Mick Ronson produced Morrissey's last album. Anyway, I thought, I'll take that song he's done and I'll do it my way, so we'll have David Bowie doing Morrissey doing David Bowie! And that's what I did.
There's something terribly affectionate about the idea in the lyric - you know, don't worry, somebody will come along if you wait long enough. I mean, it's very weepy and silly, so I did it very grandly with a gospel choir and horns, and it's saying "God comes shining through the mountains in the end". It's a bit silly, but it's done with affection.
Q: Do you have any plans to promote the album with a tour?
DB: Heavens, no. I'd like to, but it takes up so much time. There was one period when I toured for ten years, eight or nine months a year, and I think I lost such a lot of my life through doing that. I don't think I'd ever let that happen again. Nowadays, I really want to involve myself in my own life again, take back my life and see some of it and live through some of it.
Q: You've never been afraid to take risks musically, so when making a new album, how concerned are you by it's commercial prospects and its subsequent public acceptance?
DB: I don't care a tick for it's commercial viability, which has often caused me a lot of problems with record companies that I've been involved with in the past. Every time I make an album, I tend to take the road to commercial suicide because I actually revolt against the last album I made, especially if it's been successful. I think it's to keep me in sort of desperate straits, because if I get too comfortable, I write really badly - I write terrible songs.
Q: So it's to keep you creatively interested?
DB: It shouldn't be necessary, should it? I mean, I should be quite capable of just drawing on my own life experience, blah blah, blah. But I'm not, you see, and that's why I'm not the same as everybody else.
Q: What music do you listen to today?
DB: I listen to a lot of old Pixies albums, things like that. For me, that is grunge music, but I guess I'm in a small group there. But you know something? Frankly, over the past year, I've been listening to me an awful lot. I really like this new album, it's really good. If I find that I'm not playing the album that I'm making, then something must be very wrong - it has happened on a number of occasions, but not this time.
Q: You recently signed a long-term recording deal with Savage Records and BMG. With so many major labels to choose from, what was it about Savage that made you choose them?
DB: I tend to think in terms of how you work and the people you're going to work with, so personalities come into it a lot. David Nemran of Savage Records was the only man I met who actually seemed to accept the situation with open arms and encouraged me to do exactly what I wanted to do, without any kind of indication that it would be manipulated, or that my ideas would be changed, or that other things would be required of me. That made me feel comfortable and that he was the deciding factor.
Q: So you can't see any problems looming on the horizon with BMG?
DB: As I said, it really comes down to personalities, and the two or three key people who are involved with me at BMG are the people that I feel comfortable with. For instance, I've known Heinz Henne for a number of years now and I think he's a good man. I think he wants to work with me on the kind of music that I write, and that gives me a kind of security. An artist doesn't get his security with a record company: a company will never make an artist feel secure. It's the individuals involved in that company that give them that.
I always dread the day when these people leave their blessed companies, and they do: it's like a roundabout out there. You see somebody for five minutes and the next time you knock on the door there's somebody else. I end up thinking, what the hell have I got myself into this time. But this won't happen this time, of course.
Q: So it's the individuals that you respond to, and not the companies?
DB: Yeah. I couldn't give a toss for companies, per se.
WE GET A LOT OF FAMOUS PEOPLE HERE.
LIKE OWEN MONEY...
£3 TIP FOR WAITRESS WHO SERVED DAI BOWIE WITH FISH 'N' CHIPS
DAVID BOWIE AND BRIAN ENO
By Dominic Wells
David Bowie: Could I just ask you first, do you mind terribly if we also tape this? Just for our own usage.
Dominic Wells: So you can sample me and stick me on your next album?
DB: Actually, it is likely. I nearly sampled Camille Paglia on this album, but she never returned my calls! She kept sending messages through her assistant saying, 'Is this really David Bowie, and if it is, is it important?' (laughs), and I just gave up! So I replaced her line with me.
Brian Eno: Sounds pretty much like her.
So how did this album come about?
DB: A pivotal moment for us was actually at the wedding.
BE: It's absolutely true, that's where we first talked about it.
DB: I was just starting the instrumental backings for the 'Black Tie White Noise' album and I had some of them, just as instrumental pieces at the wedding, because it was written half around the idea of the marriage ceremony. Brian at the time was working on 'Nerve Net', and we realised that we were suddenly on the same course again.
BE: That was quite interesting, because it was the wedding reception, right, everybody was there, and we started talking and Dave said, 'You've got to listen to this!' He went up to the DJ and said, 'No, take that off, play this.'
DB: And then we both rushed off to our individual lives knowing it was almost inevitable we'd be working together again. Because we both felt excited about the fact that neither of us was excited about what was happening in popular music.
It seems strange that on your last album you went back to Nile Rodgers, with whom you had your greatest commercial success ('Let's Dance'), and now you're going back to Brian...
BE: With whom you had your least commercial success!
With whom you had some of your greatest critical successes.
DB: Funnily enough, the things I said to Nile were much the same things that Brian said to me: look, we're not going to make a stereotypical follow-up to 'Let's Dance'. I'd just come out of the Tin Machine period, which was a real freeing exercise for me, and I wanted to experiment on 'Black Tie'. I love doing a hybrid of Eurocentric Soul, but there were also pieces like 'Pallas Athena' and 'You've Been Around' which played more with ambience and funk. Then there was an interim album for me which was very important - 'Buddha Of Suburbia'.
BE: That was the one I got really excited about. In fact I wrote you a letter saying this record has been unfairly overlooked. I felt because it was a soundtrack, as usual people were saying, 'Well it's not real music then, is it?' It's so incredible to me that the critical community is so unbelievably restricted in its terms of reference. I went to the 'War Child' exhibition at Flowers East [where Eno persuaded dozens of rockstars to auction off their art works for Bosnia], and you made a very good little speech about that. And in fact my magazine was one which had printed a snide, snipy little thing in Sidelines.
BE: Yes, I remember that. Do you, David?
DB: Which snide was this? Ha ha. I've had at least a couple in my life.
BE: It was, 'If these people are so concerned why don't they give their money over instead of just massaging their already enormous egos.'
DB: I remember that line! Yes, but it's perfectly understandable. It's a very British thing, isn't it? The same's true in America, isn't it?
BE: No. You're allowed to take pleasure in, enjoy and actively even benefit from the act of helping somebody else. Here, if you want to help somebody else it's got to be directly at your own cost.
DB: It's got to have a halo attached.
But it's not just the charity, is it? It's an assumption that rock musicians shouldn't be doing art shouldn't be acting and shouldn't be writing books.
DB: It's like saying journalists shouldn't be doing television shows - which in some cases is probably very true!
BE: In England, the greatest crime is to rise above your station.
DB: There are more and more people moving into areas they're not trained for, especially in America. I've just been doing this film with Julian Schnabel ('Basquiat', in which Bowie plays Andy Warhol], and he's making movies, having just made an album... I think that's fantastic.
What's the album like?
DB: It's Leonard Cohen meets Lou Reed. Lyrically, I think it's really good.
A good dance record then?
DB: Ha ha. I think it's as good as a lot of other records that came out that week. Not as good as others that came out that week.
BE: One of the reasons it's possible now is that for various technical reasons, anybody can do anything, pretty much. I can, sitting in my studio, put together records with basses and drums and choirs, or I can put together a video in a similar way. So the question then becomes not, 'Do I have the skill?' It's not an issue.
DB: The skill hasn't been an issue in art for 50 years. It's really the idea.
Damien Hirst once said something to the effect that if a child could do what I do, that means I've done it very well.
DB: Picasso said, I think, when someone said to him a child of three could do what you're doing he replied, 'Yes, you're right but very few adults.' I think he said: 'It took me 16 years to paint like Raphael, but 60 years to learn to paint like a child.'
BE: Einstein said, 'Any intelligent nine-year-old could understand anything I've done; the thing is, he probably wouldn't understand why it was important.' That's the other side of that coin: to be free and simple and child-like, but to be able to understand the implications of that at the same time. To be Picasso is not suddenly to become a three-year-old child again, it's to become someone who understands what's important about what the three-year-old child does. It says in the blurb about your album that much of it was improvised, and that Brian would hand out cards to different musicians saying things like: 'You are the last survivor of a catastrophic event and you will endeavour to play in such a way as to prevent feelings of loneliness developing within yourself; or: 'You are a disgruntled member of a South African rock band. Play the notes they won't allow.' Is that to strip everything down, remove everyone's preconceptions and start again from scratch?
BE: There are certain immediate dangers to improvisation, and one of them is that everybody coalesces immediately. Everyone starts playing the blues, basically, because it's the one place where everyone can agree and knows the rules. So in part they were strategies designed to stop the thing becoming over-coherent. The interesting place is not chaos, and it's not total coherence. It's somewhere on the cusp of those two. The rhythm is very strong throughout the album. That's what holds things together...
DB: Something we really got into on the late-'70s albums was what you could do with a drum kit. The heartbeat of popular music was something we really messed about with.
BE: And very few people had done. It was, 'Right, bass and drums, get them down, then do all the weird stuff on top.' To invert that was a new idea. I did a lot of walking around with the album playing on my headphones, and often you would get noises from the street - a bicycle bell, beeps from bus doors - and wherever they came in the songs, whatever noise it was, it fitted right in, you could absorb it into the song and it would work because the layers were so strong you could add anything on top.
DB: The great thing about what Brian was doing through much of the improvisation is we'd have clocks and radios and things near his sampler, and he'd say find a phrase on the French radio and keep throwing it in rhythmically so it became part of the texture. And people would react to that, they'd play in a different way because these strange sounds kept coming back at them.
BE: Yeah, and he was doing the same thing lyrically. We had a thing going where David was improvising lyrics as well; he had books and magazines and bits of newspaper around, and he was just pulling phrases out and putting them together.
DB: If I read some off to you, some of them you'd find completely incomprehensible.
I did try that in fact. I read the lyrics sheet out loud and thought, 'He's gone off his rocker.' Then when I heard it with the music, it made sense.
DB: Exactly. There's an emotional engine created by the juxtaposition of the musical texture and the lyrics. But that's probably what art does best: it manifests that which is impossible to articulate.
If an English student, on a poetry course or whatever, sat down and tried to analyse your lyrics, would they be wasting their time?
DB: No, because I think these days there are so many references for them in terms of late twentieth-century writing, from James Joyce to William Burroughs. I come from almost a traditional school now of deconstructing phrases and constructing them again in what is considered a random way. But in that randomness there's something that we perceive as a reality - that in fact our lives aren't tidy, that we don't have tidy beginnings and endings.
So you'd be very happy if I and another journalist had different ideas of what the songs were about?
DB: Absolutely. As Roland Barthes said in the mid '60s, that was the way interpretation would start to flow. It would begin with society and culture itself. The author becomes really a trigger.
In rock music, the lyrics you hear are sometimes better than they turn out to be. In one of your early songs, 'Stone Love', a line I adored was 'in the bleeding hours of morning', I finally got the lyrics sheet and discovered it was 'fleeting hours of morning', which is much more Prosaic.
DB: That's right. For me the most fascinating thing was finding out after years that what Fats Domino was singing was nothing like... I'd gained so much from those songs by my interpretation of them. Frankly, sometimes it's a let-down to discover what the artist's actual intent was.
You've now got a computer program, apparently, to randomise your writing. But you've been doing cut-ups since the '70s, inspired by Burroughs.
DB: As a teenager I was fairly traditional in what I read: pompously Nietzsche, and not so pompously Jack Kerouac. And Burroughs. These 'outside' people were really the people I wanted to be like. Burroughs, particularly. I derived so much satisfaction from the way he would scramble life, and it no longer felt scrambled reading him. I thought, 'God, it feels like this, that sense of urgency and danger in everything that you do, this veneer of rationality and absolutism about the way that you live...'
It's a drugs thing as well, isn't it? When I was a student and took lots of drugs, suddenly all kinds of things would make sense that otherwise wouldn't; or rather, you'd see connections between things you otherwise wouldn't.
BE: That's what drugs are useful for. Drugs can show you that there are other ways of finding meanings to things. You don't have to keep taking them, but having had that lesson, to know that you're capable of doing that, is really worthwhile.
DB: But you know, I think the seeds of all that probably were planted a lot earlier. Think of the surrealists with things like their 'exquisite corpses', or James Joyce, who would take whole paragraphs and just with glue stick them in the middle of others, and make up a quilt of writing. It really is the character and the substance of twentieth-century perception, and it's really starting to matter now.
BE: What I think is happening there is it removes from the artist the responsibility of being the 'meaner' - the person who means to say this and is trying to get it over to you - and puts him in the position of being the interpreter.
DB: It's almost as if things have turned from the beginning of this century where the artist reveals a truth, to the artist revealing the complexity of a question, saying, 'Here's the bad news, the question is even more complicated than you thought.' Often it happens on acid I suppose - if I remember! - you realise the absolute incomprehensible situation that we're in... (Bowie, who has been gesturing with dangerous animation, knocks an ashtray full of chain-smoked Marlboro's on to the carpet) ... like this kind of chaos! (Eno kneels to sweep up the ash and butts from Bowie's feet) Why are you doing that, Brian? That's immensely big of you.
BE: Just so you can finish your sentence.
DB: I didn't need to. I illustrated it! (Hilarity) The randomness of the everyday event. If we realised how incredibly complex our situation was, we'd just die of shock.
(There follows a good 20 minutes of discussion about Bosnia, how morality is an outdated concept which should be replaced simply with the law; and how sex and violence are not gratuitous, but forces our human nature compels us to explore).
There's a lot in the short story that accompanies your album about artists who indulge in self-mutilation: Chris Burden, who had himself shot, tied up in a bag and thrown on to the highway and then crucified on top of a Volkswagen; Ron Athey, an HIV-positive former heroin addict who pushed a knitting needle repeatedly into his forehead until he wore a crown of blood, then carved patterns with a scalpel into the back of another man and suspended the bloody paper towels on a washing line over the audience. You seem to have this morbid fascination. It's also the most literal expression of the old idea that art can only come out of suffering.
DB: Also it has something to do with the fact that the complexity of modern systems is so intense that a lot of artists are going back literally into themselves in a physical way, and it has produced a dialogue between the flesh and the mind.
BE: Yes, it's shocking suddenly to say, in the middle of cyberculture and information networks, 'I am a piece of meat.'
And is shock also a necessary part of a definition of art?
BE: At some level I think it is, yes. It doesn't have to be only that kind of shock.
DB: The shock of recognition is actually more what it's about, you know. I think that's what it does to me, anyway. That, for me, is Damien [Hirst], of whom I am a very loyal supporter, it's the shock of recognition with his work that really affects me, and I don't think even he really knows what it is he's doing. But what there is in the confrontation between myself and one of his works is a terrible poignancy. There's a naive ignorance to the poor creatures he's using. They're cyphers for man himself. I find it very emotional, his work.
Have you been collaborating with him?
DB: We did some paintings together. We took a big round canvas, about 12-foot, and it's on a machine that spins it around at about 20 miles an hour, and we stand on the top of step-ladders and throw paint at it.
BE: You should see his studio!
DB: It's from a child's game; you drop paint on and centrifugal force pushes the stuff out.
You're on the editorial board of Modern Painters, along with the likes of Lord Gowrie, and actually they're not so modern. You must be like the man in the H.M. Bateman cartoon, saying, 'Actually, I think Damien Hirst is rather good.'
DB: The magazine is changing. But why write for, say, the Tate magazine, which is full of people already on one side of the argument? At least on Modern Painters there's a chance of opening up the magazine a little bit. I love the idea of combining some ideas from the Renaissance with ideas that are working now; not to make some kind of... editorial point, but because of the pure... fun of creating those hybrid situations.
A lot of people were shocked by you doing a wallpaper.
DB: Well, it's not very original. Robert Gober and a number of others, even Andy Warhol, did them. It's just part of a tradition.
You also had your first solo art exhibition recently. It must have been frightening to open up your work of 20 years to public scrutiny and to the critics.
DB: No, it wasn't at all.
DB: Because I know why I did it. Ha!
BE: The thing is when you show something, or you release a record, you open it up to all sorts of other interpretations which don't belong to you any longer. I have millions of tapes at home I haven't released. I feel quite differently about those than if I put them out on to the market and suddenly there they are, filed in the racks, after the Eagles. Suddenly I imagine someone who isn't at all sympathetic, who's actually looking for an Eagles record happening on mine, and I start to hear the thing through what I imagine are their ears as well. So by putting something out you actually enrich it, I think, and you enrich it for yourself. You get it reflected back in a lot of differently shaped mirrors.
DB: I was just a bit late. The reason I wasn't afraid, either, is I'm an artist, a painter and a sculptor. Why should I be afraid? Seemingly the only other thing I'm supposed to be afraid of is whether other people thought it was any good or not, but I've lived that life ever since I began, publicly, of whether I'm any 'good' or not, for nearly 30 years, so that comes with the territory.
Does it hurt you if a lot of people are walking around London saying, 'David Bowie, what a pretentious tosser'?
DB: I don't know of a time when it was never said, though. What's the difference? It's just a different colour overcoat. Not at all.
BE: You know for sure that in England, if you do something different from anything that you did last time, there is going to be a band of people who'll walk around saying you're a pretentious tosser but after a while you just have to accept (Bowie is laughing too), both of us just have to accept that we're good at what we do. The record proves it. We've both influenced a lot of things, and a lot of things that are going on can be traced back to what we did, as we would trace ourselves back to other people.
DB: The history of any art form is actually dictated by other artists and who they are influenced by, not by critics. So for me, my vanity is far more interested in what my contemporaries and peers have to say about my work. A lot of it just comes from pure pleasure, you know? I work because it's such a great way to escape having to work in a shop - to be a songwriter, and a musician and a performer and a painter and a sculptor - it's so cool to do all this stuff, I can't tell you how exciting it is. It really is great.
BOWIE ROCKS, BABUSHKI SHOCKED
By Owen Matthews
THE lights dimmed, the speakers rumbled with thousands of watts of building bass, and David Bowie burst onto a Moscow stage, for the first time in his 25-year career with all the power and passion that has made him one of the most enduring and provocative legends of avant garde rock.
The show, which he said would be "less theatrical" than the extravaganza's of his Ziggy Stardust days, nevertheless had the unmistakable stamp of vintage Bowie, as he powered through old classics and more mature recent tracks with consummate assurance. "Diamond Dogs" and "Aladdin Sane" mixed with songs from his latest album, "Outside."
"Outside," four years in the making and improvised in the studio, is the most profound and introspective of Bowie's thirty albums. Like other concept albums of the '70s, such as Pink Floyd's "The Wall" and The Who's "Quadrophenia," "Outside" is a narrative based on the fictional diary, written by Bowie, of detective Nathan Adler, describing the hunt for a brutal serial killer who preys on young girls.
"I wanted to explore things which are outside normal existence," said Bowie, 49, on Monday. The result, showcased in the "Outside" world tour, may be out of the normal run of existence but are very much in the classic tradition of powerful, haunting lyrics and the unforgettable Bowie voice.
The only trouble was that for Russian amateurs who were expecting Bowie to launch into "Space Oddity" ("Ground control to Major Tom...") rounded off with "Changes," the repertoire may have been a little too eclectic.
An overture, which sounded like a sample from Philip Glass' modern opera "Akhnaten," was altogether too arty, and a minimalist white-draped stage set decorated with what looked like mummified bodies was perhaps a shock to old-time Bowie fans.
But the saddest part of an otherwise excellent concert was that Bowie, like other Western artists visiting Moscow, had to suffer the inanities of the Russian promoters. This began with a Monday press conference as regimented and fascistic as roll-call at Stalag 3 and ended with the usual idiotic choice of venue.
The very formal Kremlin Palace, not the most atmospheric of venues, was particularly unsuited to Bowie's passion and presence, and the initially enthusiastic younger contingent of the audience were cowed into submission by a battalion of fierce, uniformed babushka attendants.
The front seats of the stalls were sparsely filled with dour rows of expressionless and expensively dressed New Russians, whose most spirited reaction was the occasional rattle of jewellery. The real fans, on the other hand, were packed at the back in the cheap seats, cheering, dancing and applauding wildly. One girl who made a break for the stage to hand Bowie some flowers was brutally wrestled to the ground by a knuckle-headed security guard until rescued from a half-Nelson wrestling hold by the singer himself.
Outside the concert, ticket touts also were finding Bowie was not quite to the taste of the average Russian, with tickets for this, Bowie's only Russian gig, being dumped at less than half of their face value. Two St. Petersburg concerts slated for last weekend were cancelled along with the White Nights Festival.
Though the security guards and seating arrangements may have minimalised Bowie's contact with the Russian public, he will come away from Russia with at least one musical gift: A giant, antique, three-stringed bass balalaika presented to him by the Russian David Bowie Fan Club shortly before the singer was hustled away into his suite at the Palace Hotel.
THE KING OF COOL RULES IN THE RAW
By Carl Johnston
LAST NIGHT'S REVIEW
THE prospect of seeing David Bowie at a tiny venue which goes big on atmosphere was an appealing one.
The 40,000 who endured last year's greatest hits extravaganza at Maine Road - which had its fair share of the nasty side-effect associated with stadium rock - will agree with that.
Yet not many more than 800 excited and curious supporters got the chance to see his latest project at the International 2 club, Longsight, last night.
Those who have followed Tin Machine's desperate struggle to be taken seriously will know that The White Duke has shunned his millionaire lifestyle to rediscover his musical roots.
This was a rare chance to see Bowie in the raw. And Tin Machine regularly displayed their talents as skilled songwriters. And Heaven's In Here, a Bowie composition, had the King of Cool stripping off a physique which had the ladies drooling.
His mammoth presence wasn't over-shadowed when he handed over the limelight to his new partners. Even drummer Hunt Sales' "moment with Stateside" was snatched away when Bowie added some backing vocals.
It makes it impossible to perceive Tin Machine as anything other than Bowie's Band. But Reeves Gabrels does plenty on lead guitar to earn his place alongside one of rock's biggest legends.
And Bowie booted into touch the critics who have tried to squeeze the life out of Tin Machine's so far brief career.
DAVID PLAYED GUITAR
By Philip Bradley
THIS IS THE SORT OF THING YOU'RE almost certain that he swore he'd never do. One minute there's TIN MACHINE, a totally democratic Rock 'n' Roll band, with David Bowie as just another member. A radical departure which one sensed was necessitated by a couple of not too brilliant Bowie albums and the ill conceived extravagant debacle, that was the Glass Spider Tour. And then, following on from the lukewarm critical and commercial response to Tin Machine, there's a greatest hits album (selling very well, thank you), an around the world live jaunt to accompany it and a couple of up-to-the-minute style remixes of an old single - the only thing resembling any new product in sight. On the surface, something of a whole scale artistic retreat?
Certainly Bowie hasn't enjoyed this sort of popularity and profile since the three hit single spawning, multi-Platinum selling Let's Dance and associated Serious Moonlight Tour. Changes Bowie - little more than the marriage of two previously available compilations - has held a top three chart position from day one. And the remixes of Fame, two by ARTHUR BAKER, one by JOHN GAS (engineer of LA Babyface) and the other, featuring QUEEN LATIFAH, courtesy of MARK THE 45 KING, hit the shops just ahead of the man playing all the faves, in front of the 9,000 odd crowds packing out the Docklands arena. But none of this in itself would have been sufficient to entice the man on stage to recite the musical highlights of his 25 year career for one last time.
The real reason was apparently the loving care taken by the small American label, Rykodisc, in restoring and digitally mastering his entire RCA back catalogue for release on CD; from Space Oddity right through to Scary Monsters. It was a process that involved Bowie on a personal level, helping the company to select extra tracks for inclusion on the CDs: "I would look for old obscure tracks and demos and so on and they had their fingers on stuff I'd forgotten about, so between us we compiled a lot of original things that hadn't seen the light of day. What impressed me was the care they take with the product."
A greatest hits tour is of course something that people (not least of all, probably his accountants) have been trying to convince him would be a good idea for a long time: "I gave in last year when Ryko said 'it would be great if you would help support this thing', and I said, 'let me think about it'. So I went away and thought, well I've never done it before and I'll probably never want to do it again so what about if I do these songs for the last time."
Things could have got really tacky if he had tried to reform The Spiders From Mars and punctuated the set with the corresponding makeup and costume changes. Probably the most obvious option would have been to call on the services of his stalwart side kick CARLOS ALOMAR, but Bowie decided that a meander through his back catalogue need not be devoid of a sense of style - both musical and theatrical.
"Carlos is a wonderful guitar player with whom I'm sure I'll work again," he explains, "But the fact that he is so familiar with the songs is the reason I didn't choose him for this tour. It needed the air of unfamiliarity.
The man that Bowie chose as his musical director, in order to create this air of unfamiliarity was of course ADRIAN BELEW, which was a bit of a cheat really, since that particular Electric Cat played along side both Bowie and Alomar on the Stage tour, a set that included a run through of a fair number of back numbers that feature in the Sound and Vision set.
The band are in fact Belew's own - drummer MICHAEL HODGES and keyboard player RICK FOX - supplemented by ERDAL KIZILCAY, from the Glass Spider line up, on bass. (Belew's outfit has no bass player, the bottom end duties being assigned to the sequencer or Rick Fox's left hand). An all together more concise ensemble than that featured on Glass Spider.
"It's a much smaller sound." confirmed Bowie at the New York pre-tour press conference. "It's not quite as orchestrated as any of the other tours. The plus is that there is a certain kind of drive and tightness that you get with that embryonic line up, where everybody is totally reliant on the other two or three guys, so everybody gives a lot more."
This show is a far cry from the 14 people on stage for Glass Spider.
"David asked me to come and play with him," recounts Belew. "He even offered me the option of using Rick and Mike, with whom I was touring the Mr Music Head album. Being a music director, I was very careful to preen from the songs any of the details and things that were unnecessary and would only get in the way of stadium Rock-type performance. I wanted the band to sound very plain and unadorned. I also wanted them to go from sounding like an orchestra for Life On Mars to sounding like a garage band for Panic In Detroit."
Rehearsing the 30 or so songs took around two weeks, creating the stage show and the visuals took considerably longer and thought nothing resembling the sheer mechanics of Glass Spider was involved, artistically it was breaking a considerable amount of new ground.
The man himself again; "We're using a real Opera screen. It's the largest use of video ever: 40ft by 50ft high video images through state of the art projection systems built for it.
"We are using special film; it's a contemporary combination of film and video. I'm delighted with it, it takes a lot of pressure off of me.
"With the Station To Station tour, we worked very much on the lighting... I think we have returned very much to that for this one."
"The interesting thing about Rock is that at some point there's a complete disassociation between the physical image and the perceived image. At some point the image becomes another person's altogether, which the first personal can't even completely control. And that thing - a kind of social manifestation - is what people are coming to see. It almost has nothing to do with the performer themselves." So says EDOUARD LOCK, designer and choreographer for the Montreal-based contemporary dance group LA LA LA HUMAN STEPS, explaining what it was that interested him in working on what must be one of the most innovative stage shows ever designed.
Since forming La La La Human Steps 10 years ago, Lock has been exciting audiences worldwide with his imaginative use of movement and dance. Having met Bowie, prior to The Glass Spider Tour, there has been a mutual desire to work together (Bowie in fact approached Lock to work on Glass Spider but prior commitments prevented this occurring). The chance finally presented itself, when they collaborated on an experimental piece, choreographed to Look Back In Anger and performed as part of Intruders At The Palace, a series of benefit performances on behalf of the ICA.
Six months ago Bowie was on the phone again, this time to get Lock to create the images and routines for Sound and Vision. Lock agreed and the staging, involving a massive central screen made of Opera gauze onto which computer controlled images synchronized to the music were to be projected, began to take shape. With the assistance of scenographers LUC DUSSAULT and LYN LEFERVE, Lock developed the technique which involved a series of both related and often unrelated images to be projected while Bowie performed, either in front of or behind the screen, and at one point, even allowing a giant Bowie to dust with the real one.
"What I wanted to was avoid the usual pitfalls," continued Lock, "you can amplify sound to reach large areas, the problem is that the technology hasn't extended itself to visuals. You can still go to a stadium and see a pea on stage. You can't see anything of the performer's face. Rock's traditional answer has been to extend the stage set, which actually makes the problem worse. It just underlines how small the human being is.
"I don't think people come to stadiums for the music. They can listen to records if they want that. They come to the stadium to meet the artist. And that meeting which the person desires to see, that face, never actually happens.
I wanted to build an architecture based around the person as opposed to the set. Make the person into the building; use bits of the face, etc. to create a more spherical architecture."
The matching up of sound and vision was of course the crucial part of such a scheme and that's where SMPTE came into the picture. At the start of each song Rick Fox sends a SMPTE signal which is read by the film projectors, kicking off all the SMPTE procedures for the film and starting up the musical sequence at the same time. That in turn sends four clicks to Mike Hodges, who then starts off the band. Viola!
The effect definitely grabs the crowd at the arena, the obvious interplay between video - on such a massive scale - Bowie and the music must have them all doing mental gymnastics trying to figure out how it's done and what actually comes first. How many realise it's all down to an invisible stream of digital information?
Songwise things are fairly predictable, Ziggy, Blue Jean, Panic In Detroit, Station To Station, John I'm Only Dancing, Fame - a la ARTHUR BAKER House mix - they're all there.
Unexpected might be The Alabama Song, half way into the second set, in amongst stuff like Let's Dance and Modern Love. A rendition first aired on the Stage Tour, it gives Belew ample opportunity to weird out. One from Bowie's own list of faves must have been Be My Wife, from Low. Working with ENO is a period Bowie has fond memories of, even if his former record company were a little less than impressed...
"When we followed up Young Americans with Low, RCA said they would gladly pay for me to go to Philadelphia and record another Young Americans, because what I was working on was a load of rubbish," laughs Bowie. "At this point I was interested in what was happening in Germany, with KRAFTWERK, CAN, etc. There was feeling in the air, everybody was playing with a new identification of music, as failed painters do. BRIAN (ENO) hadn't worked with Soul/Dance, I had.
"We had no format, five or six notes, two or three chords, repeated over various cut ups and repeated."
Open ended collaboration has often been an important element in the divergent strains of Bowie's music. With Let's Dance, it was NILE RODGERS, "Frankly the song Let's Dance didn't start out to be anything more than just another track on the album. It was Nile Rodgers who took it and structured it in such a way that it had incredible commercial appeal."
Tonight's encore is yet another case in point, Pretty Pink Rose, which appears on Adrian Belew's new LP. "I didn't want to be seen as going back to being a sideman for David Bowie, even though I love David Bowie. And what we decided was maybe it'd be good if David came and did something on my record to make sense of this touring. I sent him five tracks that I'd not have any vocals, and he sent me back a song called Pretty Pink Rose that he hadn't used but thought it might fit in with my album. We went to record that in New York and because we'd been rehearsing for the tour, his voice was shot. He said 'I'm sorry, but I can't sing it today'. I said 'okay', I'd work on another song that hadn't got vocals and he could go home and rest. But he said, 'let me hear that'. He began writing lyrics and about half an hour later, he'd finished a song called Gun Man. I was amazed. He then went in and sang it two or three times and that was it."
Both Pretty Pink Rose and Gun Man appear on Belew's new LP, Young Lions, out on 5 May.
Bowie meanwhile plans to continue working with TIN MACHINE, a second album is already well under way and the band will soon be back on the road. A new Bowie solo album in also on the cards.
"At the moment, I'm keen to do things in the studio on my own," he confirms. "I have no idea how they will turn out because I'm not going to write anything before I'll just grab some instruments and go in."
ERDAL KIZILCAY - BASS
Fender Jazz Bass, Padula fretless bass, 1200 watt Crown Amp, 2 Seymour Duncan 400 watt amps, 2 Boogie cabs, Korg A3, Boss Octaver.
"Dave phoned me up and said, 'Are you ready for the tour?' I said 'what tour?' And he said 'My tour, and this time I want you play the bass'." ERDAL KIZILCAY, top session man turned producer/solo artist is busy explaining how he first heard the news about David Bowie's Sound And Vision Tour.
Turkish born - Kizilcay - now, incidentally a Swiss patriot - grew up in the beautifully warm climes of Istanbul in the 1960s. He first became acquainted with music at the tender age of either years old, when he took up the chance of lessons on the violin. Very soon, however, he was also playing trombone, piano, drums and percussion and by the time he was 14, he had turned professional and was playing in Dance bands in local night clubs.
Eventually, at the age of 19 he began to tour Europe with a Turkish band, and as such was exposed to more and more Western music. At first it was the Pop music from the likes of THE BEATLES and DAVID BOWIE (apparently, David was a bit of a star in the land of the Saz), although, after a time, Erdal became fascinated with the sound of Jazz music, and in particular, JACO PASTORIOUS.
"When I heard JACO PASTORIOUS, I realised the power of the bass. You can be very simple and just play two notes, or you can be very powerful and play more."
Taking up residency in Switzerland, Erdal carved out a comfortable living as a session player. In 1982, he bumped into a bloke called David Bowie.
"He had heard about me and just called up. We worked on the pre-production for the Let's Dance album. Since then I've worked on Labyrinth, When The Wind Blows - which I co-wrote with David - and Never Let Me Down and The Glass Spider Tour.
"In this tour, it's nice to play bass because there are some nice bass licks on David's songs. We're allowed a little room to put in our own ideas and on songs like Space Oddity, I play fretless bass. Although, overall, I felt you should keep the bass pretty much like they were. Maybe with a few breaks, here and there, but no great big bass solos on every track, otherwise you wouldn't be here!"
Erdal Kizilcay has a solo artist publishing deal with EMI.
ADRIAN BELEW - GUITAR
3 Fender Strats, custom built (Khaler trems. G50 guitar synth built in, Fender Lace Sensor pickups) - Rack containing: 2 Korg A3s, Roland GP8, Roland G86, Roland G50. Hush unit (to cut down noise), Mitigator, Flash Units (to direct the signals).
It was while accompanying FRANK ZAPPA on a world tour that BRIAN ENO spotted ADRIAN BELEW and recommended him to BOWIE, who was looking for someone to provide a more off beat foil to the water tight rhythm playing of CARLOS ALOMAR, on the worldwide Stage tour; someone good enough and radical enough to pull off something comparable to what ROBERT FRIPP had just laid down on Heroes. Bowie followed up Eno's lead and was suitably impressed. He was later to go on to work with Eno's and TALKING HEADS on Remain In Light, as well as with TOM TOM CLUB and the YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA and later joined Robert Fripp in the resurrected KING CRIMSON. On top of all of which he found time to release a series of solo avant-garde Pop albums, including the inspirational Lone Rhino LP.
Following the Stage tour and double live LP, Belew was again invited to work with Bowie, this time in the studio to work on the criminally underrated Lodger.
"Originally the Lodger LP was to be called Planned Accidents," tells Belew. "When I arrived, they (Bowie and Eno) had about 20 tracks already done: bass, drums, rhythm guitar, but no vocals. They said, 'Adrian, we're not going to let you hear these songs. We want you to go into the studio and play accidentally - whatever occurs to you'.
"The control room was downstairs and the recording area above it. They could see me on closed circuit TV but I couldn't see them. I would just suddenly hear '1,2,3,4...' in the headphones and a track would start. I was just to play whatever came to mind. I didn't even know what keys the songs were in or anything.
"The on particular song I remember where I lucked out on was Red Sails, 'cos I started the guitar feeding back and it was right in key. Anyway, they would let me do this maybe two or three times an by then I might know something about the song, so it was over. I wasn't allowed to do anything else. They would take the ideas that I'd had and make some sense out of them."
Belew actually began playing guitar around the same time as people like HENDRIX and BECK were carving out their respective places in the Rock and Roll hall of fame. It was the desire to surpass all their techniques - which he had all to quickly mastered - and push the instrument into further realms of expression that led him to develop what is now a much imitated approach.
"By the '70s I realised I could play like all these people and didn't like the sound of any of them. And everything I caught myself playing a stock lick. I would try to think of something else."
This brought on tendencies to imitate various environmental sounds, beginning with car horns and seagulls (check out Big Electric Cat on the Lone Rhino LP) and to utilise almost every conceivable playing position along and beyond the fret board.
Added to which was a good deal of mucking about with tunings and of course a loving devotion to signal processing.
Naturally enough the man's guitars are themselves something a little beyond the ordinary. "My main guitars are vintage Stratocasters that have been customised by the Fender Custom shop. They put the latest hardware and tremolo on, and they build in the Roland GR50 guitar synthesizer. It's a design that I made for them and they've built me four of them now. I want them to feel and play like an older Rosewood neck Stratocaster. They hand make them, the Fender Custom Workshop still has all the old pre CB8 lathes and stuff that Fender had."
Belew's rack is a serious affair - and there are two of them in case one goes down: "There's the GP8 and GS6 ganged together, the GP8 is very noisy and the GS6 has the ability to quiet that down. The G96 also has stereo delays and choruses, and has several guitar sounds that I like that I developed - they sort of sound like Vox amplifiers. There's a Roland pitch shifter, which is a mini rack device. The only thing I use that for is backwards guitar. The two A3s have a variety of sounds that I like, they're very warm sounding units and have modulated delays that actually sound like a double guitar."
The two A3s give Belew a stereo set up and the effect are routed together by Flash routing boxes, allowing things to be chained in any order. At the end of the line is a Midigator pedal board; which will allow effects change to be activated from an external source like a keyboard or sequencer.
Belew would normally use a JC120/Fender Twin amp combination, for the Bowie shows everything went directly to the PA and was fed back to him with stereo monitors, one either side. As for the other two members of Belew's band, MICHAEL HODGES uses a Tama kit and RICK FOX uses current Music Tech Mac 'n' Rack with Vision software to drive a variety of Yamaha and Roland units.
A LIFE IN ART - AND FICTION
By David Lister - Arts News Editor
David Lister went to the New York launch of a book about a little-known painter. But all was not as it seemed...
It was a mini heatwave in New York. But on the corner of Broadway and East Houston Street, the cream of the city's art world was looking decidedly cool and chic as they darted smiles at the photographers and made their way into one of the most exclusive and glitziest launches of the year.
Rock star turned publisher David Bowie was presiding. His wife, the supermodel Iman, was at his side. The venue was the cavernous studio of pop artist Jeff Koons, complete with his large, kitsch sculptures of kittens. Among the guests were fellow artists Frank Stella and Julian Schnabel, Bill Bruford, deputy editor of the New Yorker, hip New York novelist Jay McInerney, fellow writers Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt, collectors, dealers, art groupies, press and TV.
The buzz in Koons's studio last Tuesday evening was almost deafening, as New York society swapped gossip and enjoyed the whisky provided by the evening's sponsors.
But everyone went respectfully quiet as Bowie read an extract from his publishing company's latest venture, a biography by the best-selling British author William Boyd of the doomed New York artist Nat Tate. It was a sad story and, as Bowie read from the page where Boyd poignantly detailed Tate's tragic suicide, the fixed smiles at the party turned fittingly into reflective frowns. Tate drowned himself at the age of 31. His body was never found and almost none of his work survives.
My shirt was as wringing wet as everyone else's. It was too hot for whisky and I shared the thirsty annoyance of David Bowie, who only drinks water and had dispatched an assistant to buy some. Perhaps it was the mixture of the heat and the sight of Koons's incomprehensibly expensive sculptures that made me irritated enough to be a true Englishman in New York and show my ignorance.
I had never heard (I was admitting at least to myself) of Nat Tate. "Is he very well-known?", I asked a folly of art critics next to me (bearing in mind what was to become apparent, folly seems a reasonable collective noun). They nodded their heads sagely and murmured: "Not terribly well known... not hugely... didn't have much of a reputation outside New York... the abstract expressionists, you know, there were a lot of hangers on..."
It was all very odd. Bowie had that afternoon been on an hour-long TV special to publicise his latest publishing ventures. A separate launch was planed for the UK at a London restaurant on 8 April. The Sunday Telegraph was running a full-page extract at the weekend. The Observer was writing a report of the New York launch party. Yet no one seemed to have more than a passing acquaintance with the brief, tragic history of Nat Tate, the abstract expressionist, lover of museum founder Peggy Guggenheim, friend of Braque and Picasso and a depressive genius who at the age of 31 leapt to his untimely death from the Staten Island Ferry.
Perhaps because I had stuck to water I was beginning to have my doubts about the life and death of Nat Tate. Nobody else appeared to smell a rat, perhaps because of William Boyd's evocative account of the story. I went the next day to ask about Tate at Alice Singer's 57th St gallery, where Boyd first saw a drawing by Tate. 57th Street was there all right. But Alice Singer's gallery was not. Nor were the other galleries mentioned in the book.
Boyd had pulled off one of the great literary ruses. His account of Nat Tate was a work of fiction, a fiction that had fooled the New York art world, struggling in a city which clearly contains not just more artists than they can keep up with, but clearly more art galleries too.
Jeff Koons, who hosted the launch, was unaware of the truth. His fellow New York artists present also failed to blink at the sad story of Nat Tate.
Those associated with publishing the book panicked at first when I said The Independent would be revealing the secret. It was not meant to leak out until well after the London launch tomorrow, and then only very gradually.
At least one of the paintings in the book ascribed to Tate was by William Boyd himself and the photographs of Tate are simply photos picked up by Boyd at various locations over the years.
Karen Wright, a director of 21 publishing, along with Bowie, Sir Timothy Sainsbury and London gallery-owner Bernard Jacobson, explained to me: "Will and I were both aware it was a scam, but we never meant it maliciously. Part of it was we were very amused that people kept saying 'yes, I've heard of him'. There is a willingness not to appear foolish. No one wants to admit they've never heard of him. No one can have heard of every artist. But critics are too proud to admit that."
And to be fair the book has convincing endorsements. Picasso's biographer, John Richardson, is quoted in it. He was one of the few in on the secret, as was Gore Vidal, who describes the book on its jacket as "a moving account of an artist too well understood by his time".
David Bowie almost, but not quite, goes too far in expounding on the jacket that "William Boyd's description of Tate's working procedure is so vivid that it convinces me that the small oil I picked up on Prince Street, New York, in the late 60s must indeed be one of the lost Third Panel Triptychs. The great sadness of this quiet and moving monograph is that the artist's most profound dread - that God will make you an artist but only a mediocre artist - did not in retrospect apply to Nat Tate."
William Boyd could not be in New York (though he will be at the London launch tomorrow). Last week he was in Europe promoting his new novel, Armadillo. And his publicist assured guests at the launch party that "William became interested in this extremely talented and almost wholly forgotten young artist while he was on assignment in New York for the art quarterly Modern Painters, on whose editorial board he sits. Boyd discovered a drawing by Tate and that single work intrigued him."
Tate's body has indeed never been found. The critics, artists, gallery owners and collectors who have been taken in by one of the best literary scams in years must be wishing that they could disappear as effectively as Nat Tate - and, like him, resurface with their reputations dramatically enhanced.
"I still don't know what made me climb the stairs to Alice Singer's 57th Street gallery. It was June 1997, New York City... It was late afternoon, I was hot and I was tired and I wandered past dozens of unremarkable drawings and sketches - a Feininger, a Warhol shoe, a Twombly doodle caught my eye - before I was held and shocked by something I had never expected to see. It was a drawing, 12x8 in ink, mixed media and collage: Bridge no. 122. I did not need to read the printed label beside it to know it was by Nat Tate."
"He recalled to Mountstuart that he learnt of his mother's death when a boy leaned out of a window overlooking the schoolyard where he was playing and bawled, 'Hey, Tate, your mom's been run over by a truck.' He thought it was a cruel joke, shrugged and carried on with his softball game. It was only when he saw the headmaster grimly crossing the playground towards him that he realised he was an orphan."
"None of the rampant cross-fertilisation currently taking place in the New York art scene of the early Fifties could be applied to him. Indeed, while Tate was notionally a member of the 'New York School' and at the end of his life what might be termed an abstract expressionist, his pictures are always sidelined, or differentiated, by their idiosyncrasies. However, what caused most astonishment was that all of Tate's drawings were sold before the show officially opened."
"Gore Vidal met him at this time and remembered him as an 'essentially dignified drunk with nothing to say'. Unlike most American painters, he was unverbal. 'He was a great lover,' Peggy Guggenheim told me years later.
THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH
By Dave Fanning
Dave Fanning talks to David Bowie, currently rehearsing in Dublin for his new tour.
AS we sit in the basement of The Waterfront a few hours before the second of Tin Machine's two low-key Dublin gigs last weekend, David Bowie and his sidekicks just don't seem to be as full of the camaraderie and good spirits one might associate with a band who have just completed their second album.
Critically, at least, to say that Bowie hasn't had too much to smile about for almost a decade now (since his biggest ever commercial success, "Let's Dance") is cruel, but fair; although the playing seemed a little tighter on Monday at The Waterfront than on Friday at The Baggot, the most significant fact was that a living rock legend was playing in two Dublin rock clubs.
"Well, we wanted somewhere to start the rehearsals and this seemed a lot quieter than London," Bowie says. "People are pretty cool here and laid back. So we were able to get all the work that we needed to do, done. We're still only about half way through rehearsals but it's coming together, hence the reason for doing these gigs. It's a chance to try out the new material and count the mistakes.
"Even taking in The Spiders, or whoever, I've never been in a band", he remarks, London barrow-boy accent still intact. "I've never been in a band. I've always led a band. It's probably the only band I'll ever be in, because it's fulfilling everything I ever thought you could do with a band and I would see no necessity for being with another one."
Since the Glass Spider tour and the awful accompanying album, Bowie had dished up "Tin Machine One" to a lukewarm response; and last year he brought his greatest hits package to The Point for two nights. Does Tin Machine II mean that his solo career is on the back burner with the movie career?
"Well, as regards movies I did two this year. I did a comedy with Rosanna Arquette called "Linguini" which comes out in the fall and I've done a film with John Landis and Sylvester Stallone for television which comes out later this year. And I'm directing my own first movie next year. So with movies I'm still in there. I've no plans whatever at the moment for what happens next for David Bowie solo."
This month sees the re-release of his late-Seventies triple set "Low", "Heroes" and "Lodger", which have stood the test of time and demonstrate a fiery artistic potency and staying power.
Bowie had gone to Berlin at the time to get away from his fast-lane lifestyle in Los Angeles. He worked with Brian Eno and stayed for over two years.
"If you put yourself in the same environment or with the same people for too long, there's a certain sterility which starts to cause a stagnation so you have to break free of that. It generally is by meeting another personality who also has a very sorta off-the-beaten-track point of view. These things happen accidentally and they're really meant to last.
"Brian has always worked in a much more cerebral way than I do. He prides himself quite rightly on being an intellectual whereas I'm far more sorta physical. I sometimes don't know how I come up with some of the things I come up with. With me it feels right; with Brian, he knows.
"I think artistically it was a very interesting time. But then again so was making 'Scary Monsters' in New York. And 'Diamond Dogs' was. Each album represents a whole different thing for me."
And Tin Machine represents more changes. There were times at The Baggot and The Waterfront when the music's sense of primal release harkened back to the days when Mick Ronson was bending the frets as Bowie's chief Spider From Mars. But two decades later the litmus test in judging just how seamlessly Bowie's delicate songcraft can be woven into the music's muscle-rock framework.
|Created: July 1997 © Paul Kinder||Last Updated: 28/9/05|