Shapeshifter, artist and mage, David Bowie.
There were two rock and rollers that really captured my imagination as a youth. One was Jimi Hendrix (Sag), whose psychedelic forays into cosmic realms of incendiary fretwork and space pimp persona epitomized cool heat and the other was David Bowie, who, like Hendrix, also trafficked in other-worldly ways. I always loved Jimi, but Bowie, simply due to the fact that he lived, continued to mesmerize me, with each new, incarnation. He managed to be obtuse, confident, cool and chameleonesque. Bowie was a shape-shifter par excellence and his ability to always reinvent himself was a revelation that pointed towards a liberated and multi-dimensional form of self-expression. From Ziggy to Earthling, I saw in Bowie, a kindred spirit that always seemed to master whatever domain he inhabited.
When I was at MONDO, I got a call from Bowie’s publicist at Virgin. They wanted to fly me out and interview him for his latest album at that time, Hours, a rather desultory collection of tracks that saw Bowie uncomfortably coming to grips with middle age. The album is not without it’s merits, unlike some of the others that would follow it, so I felt good enough talking with him about it.
I stayed with friends in Brooklyn and had a very hard time sleeping the night before.
When I arrived the next day at Virgin the next day, I checked my batteries about ten times, tried to wipe the sweat off my palms more than once and nervously awaited my time with the man that I grew up idolizing.
He played a nasty little trick on me when he entered the board room of Virgin, where the interview took place. You can read about it later in the piece that follows.
I have mentioned this before and we talked briefly about astrology, mainly about him being a Capricorn and how every year, when it gets closer to his birthday, hornlike bumps protrude above each eye and then recede afterwards.
January 8th is also Elvis’ birthday, along with Queen Mu, the once and always Editrix of MONDO 2000 and perhaps one of the greatest minds and writers I have ever known.
So without further adieu, I am re-printing my interview with David Bowie, today’s Star of The Day.
In Bowie’s Head A conversation with the consummate dreamer by Robert Phoenix Published October 5, 1999
Reportedly worth over $800 million, David Bowie has gone from “The Man Who Sold the World” to “The Man the World Is Buying.” From space oddity to corporate entity, he’s busy recreating his persona once again. With the ISP BowieNet, his Web site, Bowie Bonds, and arrangements to set up ISPs for the likes of the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, Bowie is becoming a computer baron.His energy, a titanic clash of classical cultivation and maniacally driven curiosity, has given birth to a new record, Hours…, the first major-label release to be sold in its entirety over the Internet.
The album finds Bowie in a contemplative mood. With middle age looking him dead in the third eye, he’s addressing the themes of loss, regret, and redemption.He’s also had a hand in creating the new computer game Omikron: Nomad Soul, from which many of Hours’ tracks are culled. Omikron provided a vehicle for Bowie to virtually recreate himself as a 21-year-old rock star (Boz) who performs in an alternate dimension. Dorian Gray looks back through pixilated reflections in the digital mirror.Hidden beneath Bowie’s alien veneer and his ability to fuse artistic effort with Wall Street smarts is a trickster-par-excellence — a corporate coyote who’s not above blowing the mind of a sweaty-palmed journalist at Virgin’s New York offices.
A half-hour late, he arrives with his publicist in tow — stuporifically stumbling across the room, teeth badly broken, dead eyes staring at me through a Thorazine dream. I say to myself, “Christ… Bowie’s fucked.” I extend a hand to a shaky hand. We sit. Bowie rips the fake teeth from his mouth and laughs with a vengeance: “Unflappable — I like that!”
I’ve passed the initiation. The interview can now proceed.
GETTINGIT: Along with the release of Hours…, Iggy [Pop] and Brian Ferry have releases coming out at the same time. Is this a coincidence or a conspiracy?
DAVID BOWIE: How about that! If I’d had my druthers, I’d rather not have put out an album right now. But Virgin wanted me to put this album out now, because everyone has gone for the end of the millennium thing. I don’t mind. But I would rather have had it come out earlier this year or waited until the beginning of next year. But at least it will come out and I can move onto the next one — which is how I tend to think. I don’t like to sit around and watch it, dust it off and say, “yeah, that’s a beauty.” It doesn’t bother me that it’s coming out with everyone else and their fathers.
GI: Do you still communicate with Iggy?
DB: I don’t see Iggy at all. I’ve not seen him since ‘97. We were working on a tour in Germany. He seemed fine. I think he does far, far more touring than I do. I like touring, but I don’t like it quite so obsessively as [he does]. We have drifted away from each other, and in a way I understand why. I’ve never talked to him about this and I probably shouldn’t talk to you about it…
GI: Oh c’mon.
DB: All right then. [Laughter] I think there was a moment where Jim [Iggy] decided that he couldn’t do a fucking article without my name being mentioned, and I don’t think that’s a very comfortable feeling. I completely understand — I really, really do. Unfortunately, I think Jim took it personally, and that’s a shame because I would have liked to remain closer to him.I think that he felt he had to physically take himself out of the picture to become autonomous again. We’ve never voiced this to each other, because we’re sensitive to each others’ feelings. I’m not saying that it’s a resentment, but I do believe that he always felt that there was this svengali-type figure dogging him. Because I did such a load of work with him and I was a major mainstream artist myself at the time. [A phone begins to ring in the boardroom where we sit] What do you think?
GI: Why don’t you get it?
DB: You think? Okay. [The trickster rolls up his sleeves, springs across the room and answers the phone]Hello, Polygram! [Hearty laughter at his own hijinx]
GI: Here comes the Velvet Goldmine question: How did you feel about the portrayal?
DB: I didn’t notice that I was in it. Am I really that uninteresting? God, he was about as interesting as a soapdish, wasn’t he? I presumed that they kind of backed off the portrayal
characterization and just went for cipher. I had the advantage of reading the script before it was made and knew it was a stinker from the moment I read it.It had two things going against it: First, they wanted all of the songs that I want to use for Ziggy Stardust, and from about halfway on, the writing just fell to pieces. It had a fairly interesting start and totally disappeared somewhere. I anticipated it would be a bomb. I also think its location was totally wrong. I think [writer/director Todd Haynes] located it in the early ’80s — unwittingly. I presume that’s when he grew up. Because for me, I was watching Steve Strange and Boy George and the New Romantics, who had by that time, (when they had reinvestigated the idea of Glam) put a certain kind of ennui, a certain kind of sophistication on the thing. It was all very mannequinish, by the time it got to the ’80s. It was all made very well. The stitches didn’t show in the ’80s. In the ’70s it was vulgar, tacky and funny and there was a lot more shopping. They didn’t show that in the movie. It was located in the wrong era. The only entertaining areas for me were the gay things. I think that [Haynes] inherently has an understanding of the gay situation.But the lovely thing that came out of it was a fantastic five-page letter from Michael Stipe who asked me to be involved — which I’ll keep for the rest of my life and is far too personal and adoring for me to reveal, yet. But of course it will go up on the Internet eventually.
GI: Are you doing a Ziggy film?
DB: Yeah, I’m not only doing it (overly ambitious as always), I’m doing it on three platforms. I’m working with people on a film version and I’m working with people on a theater version that’s completely different and I’ll synthesize the two into a huge version of Internet hypertext — where we will find out about Ziggy’s mum and things like that. I want this kind of parallel world with Ziggy on the Internet that stays there as archive forever — like a living organism. But the theater version and the film versions will be completely and utterly different from each other. The stage show will be about the interior values of Ziggy and his contemporaries. It won’t have terribly many characters in it. The film would be the audiences’ perception of who or what Ziggy was. It will be a bigger, grander, more blah, blah. But the three taken together is, I suppose, lazy post-modernism where the same story is told in different ways.
GI: What’s the timeline on that?
DB: 2002. It’s scary. It’ll be exactly 30 years by then. I hope we can get one of them out by that time.
GI: While we’re on the subject of film, weren’t you going to do a film with Derek Jarman called Neutron?
DB: Neutron, yes, absolutely. I still have the script and Derek’s drawings. It’s so sad that things get left behind. I tend to want to do too much. I want to approach his family at some time to see if we could do something with it. I have his script and his drawings. I even know down to the music how he wanted to do have things done. And it would be lovely posthumously to do his piece. It would be fabulous. A wonderful script — very scary piece of work. How did you know that anyway? Very few people know that.
GI: Well there’s another part of the story I want to ask you about. The guy that I heard it from said that you had left a pack of Marlboro’s at Jarman’s and that word had gotten back to you about your cigarettes being there and you stopped the project because you thought Jarman was practicing sympathetic magic on you.DB: No, absolutely not!
GI: Urban legend?
DB: God yeah. I would’ve given my arm to work with Jarman. My remembrance of the thing was that, as usual, he couldn’t get the funds to actually make the movie. It had some quite spectacular scenes in it. It did require proper sets. There weren’t existing properties around London. He went back to his set designing ideas for it and came up with these amazing Neo-Fascistic buildings for it. I don’t think that anybody was willing to put up the bread for it.
GI: How does it feel to be considered a “Buy-In” versus “Sell-Out?”
DB: I like the phraseology, but I’m not quite sure what you mean.
GI: Bowie as commodity, Bowie as brand.
DB: Ah, the branding of David Bowie! Well it’s been done to artists after they’re dead, like Presley Ltd. and selling ashtrays and so forth. It’s definitely a viable option and it’s quite exciting. It’s sort of pioneering and it’s not an acceptable way to go. And that I always find subversive enough. People say; “How can you brand yourself? How disgusting — oooh.” [Gleeful and slightly pervertedly] Yes, I know!
GI: Finally, in Omikron, there’s this theme of transmigration of souls with different characters within the game. And a player can be anyone including Iman, but not you.
DB: Yes, that’s right. [More laughter]
GI: How does she feel about that? How do you feel about that?
DB: She is a freelancer. You can hire her. She’ll work for anyone… apparently.Well, I quite like that they can’t get inside of me. That was tabled by the French. It’s a French game. A really diplomatic courtesy was extended toward me. They said, [in his best camp French] “but of coorse, nooone can become you. You are David Boweee.” I said, “yes, you’re absolutely correct.” I’m not lettin’ anybody climb inside of me.