14.6.14

DAVID BOWIE, Detroit, March 1976 - Part 3

The third and final part of my interview with David Bowie.

David’s sets change from night to night but all the songs from Station To Station are played, along with half a dozen songs from Bowie's past. He says he's never been as loose on stage since the early days of the Spiders, and he's enjoying the experience. Despite his appearance onstage – severe and formal – he denies he's the "Thin White Duke" referred to on the album. It's someone else and he won't say who.
I asked which of the old songs he still liked to sing. "I think 'Jean Genie' is a gas. I like that one. I still love 'Changes'. All the songs I still do I still like, but I'm not doing 'Golden Years' or 'Space Oddity'. I've really been very radical for this show and I won't do any hits for the sake of doing hits.
"I think people look on the show as an honest appearance, and that's why they develop such a strong empathy for it. For the first few minutes they are absolutely alarmed at what they are seeing, they don't understand it, but there's one point when it breaks out and people realise what it is all about. It's not honest, really, but then I've never been a let-it-all-hang-out entertainer. One thing I do is fabricate a personality for a stage. I was never a rock and roll singer. I was clumsy as a rock and roll singer, but I do have a certain penchant for fabricating a character and portraying a cold, unemotional feeling.
"I'm still giving them a persona, but that persona out there is possibly an exaggeration of all the things I feel about me. Maybe it's some aspect of me as a person blown-up to life-size. A lot of the other characters were blow-ups of other rock and rollers that I saw around. I'm more approachable onstage this time around, unlike the last time when the character I played was a paranoid refugee of New York City. That was about the collapse of a major city and I think I was right to be remote, don't you?"
I agreed. But was it necessary not even to acknowledge the presence of the audience or his group? "Oh yes. That character was in a world of his own. This time I at least say 'good evening' to the people. Now you know that I'm not the warmest performer onstage, and I never have been, but that's because I feel too shy about talking to people onstage. I've never felt comfortable talking on stage. With Diamond Dogs I even wanted to have the band in an orchestra pit.
"If ever I have the audacity to do a Diamond Dogs tour again, I think I know how I would do it, and I will do it properly because of everything I've learned over the past few years. You know, unless you make some big mistakes you are never going to grow, you've got to make mistakes. I've made one a week, and if you don't make them then you won't become a self-invented man. I've got to learn to make mistakes to understand the character that I am clawing the air for. People like watching people who make mistakes, but they prefer watching a man who survives his mistakes. To make a mistake in life, and survive it, is the biggest kick of all.
"The so-called rebel figures are not popular because they're rebels, but because they've made mistakes and got over them. I think audiences go to rock concerts to obtain information and the artist is the one who provides that information. I don't know what the information is but it is something to do with survival. I'm sure that rock and roll has something to do with survival, and that survival instinct transcends the music, the words and everything else."
It wasn't long ago, I mentioned, that Bowie stated he wasn't going to tour again. He shrugged. "Oh yes, I did, but I don't feel that way now. I love it. The other tours were misery, so painful. I had amazing amounts of people on the road with me. I had a management system that had no idea what it was doing and was totally self-interested and pompous. They never dealt with the people on the road, so I was getting all those problems.
"I was getting all the problems every night. Ten or 15 people would be coming to see me and laying their problems on me because the management couldn't or wouldn't deal with it. For me touring was no fun, no fun at all. They were little problems, but to each individual they were important. I understood all their problems but I couldn't cope with them all, so the two major tours I did were horrendous experiences. I hated every minute of them, so I used to say I'd never tour again. Then I would be talked into doing it again to make somebody some money.
"This time, though, I will be touring again. We've got it down to a sensible number and it works. It's the most efficient tour I've been on, and I can truthfully say it's the most efficient tour I've seen. Everybody on this tour is in a wonderful mood, and we're well through half the tour. This time no one comes to me with problems, so we get together as people instead, and I actually find I'm spending time with the band, which is rare. I've actually written on the road this time. The band and I have written three things and I've never been able to do that before.
"If I'm in charge I'll tour again, whereas before I always thought there was somebody better at doing this kind of thing. It wasn't until John [Lennon] pointed it out to me that I realised maybe the artist is as good at managing as anybody else. It was John that sorted me out all the way down the line. He took me on one side, sat down, and told me what it was all about, and I realised I was very naive. I still thought you had to have somebody else who dealt with these things called contracts, but now I have a better understanding of show-business business."
And the right wing politics I had read about? "Oh, that was just bullshit, something I said off the cuff. Some paper wanted me to say something and I didn't have much to say so I made things up. They took it all in."
Why had he chosen to live in the US for the past three years? "Because I didn't have any money to get out. I was told I couldn't go back to England because I had tax problems there and didn't have the money to pay them, but now I do, so I'm going back. Unfortunately, I'm going to have to live in Switzerland, because I want to keep my money. I'd like to live in England because I don't like America at all as a place to live, except maybe New Mexico.
"I haven't lived properly in America. I've been here but I haven't lived. I've been in Los Angeles, coping with a town that I consider to be the most repulsive wart on the backside of humanity. I'd rather live here in Detroit than in Los Angeles."
Bowie has formed his own film production company, Bewlay Brothers Ltd., which will handle his movie business in the future and, he hopes, produce films of its own, especially films of artistic, rather than commercial, merit. He plans on sinking his money earned in rock into the film company.
"I've been trained in a career as a rock and roll singer and I now see that I do that very well. Therefore, like any good chap who has a career, I should utilise my talents and the training that I've got and make some money out of it. You have to own up to that after while.
"It's all very well being number one protest kid for a while, but you have to consider whether you are just protesting to stay around or whether you really mean to protest. If that's the case you won't be at the top of the hit parade all the time, but if you think your protest lies elsewhere you'll change horses and quickly earn some money out of the business you are good at. That's what I'm doing now, but I'll only do it if I'm enjoying the stuff that I'm doing.
"I'm enjoying this tour so I'll do some more tours. Albums? I'll make some commercial albums and I'll make some albums that possibly aren't as commercial. I'll probably keep alternating, providing myself with a hit album to make the money to do the next album, which probably won't sell as well."
At that point Bowie wanted to finish, but some quick probing revealed that he has completed an electronic album ("without vocals that you'd recognise"). Also, he still has plans to produce a record with Iggy Pop, who was at the hotel and seemed in much better health than usual. ("I'm a good lad. I look after him".) And exactly the same show will be coming to London, though probably with some additional numbers.
As a parting shot I asked David whether he still professed to be bisexual. Momentary shock. "Oh lord, no. Positively not. That was just a lie. They gave me that image so I stuck to it pretty well for a few years. I never adopted that stance. It was given to me. I've never done a bisexual action in my life, onstage, record or anywhere else. I don't think I even had a gay following much. A few glitter queens, maybe.
"You know the funniest thing of all," he continued, talking like a conspirator, "I'd never heard of Lou Reed until somebody said my stuff was influenced by him. So when I heard that, I started saying it myself, that my songs were influenced by Lou Reed. It seemed the obvious thing to say, and that's when I started getting interested in Lou. The same with Iggy. It wasn't until people told me my music was very sort of Detroity that I happened to discover Iggy Pop and the Stooges. I thought 'what a great name', and although I'd never heard them, I used to tell everybody who asked that I liked them a lot. Then I got around to meeting Iggy, but it wasn't until months later that I actually heard anything he'd written.

"It's marvellous. A lot of people provide me with quotes. They suggest all kinds of things to say and I do, because, really, I'm not very hip at all. Then I go away and spout it all out and that makes it easier for people to classify me. People dissect the songs and say that's influenced by someone or other, but I don't know whether I'm influenced. All I know is I'm drinking a beer and enjoying myself."

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