Saturday, August 22, 2015

Bowie on Bowie: Interviews and Encounters with David Bowie

Lately, I've been having a fabulous time reading non-fiction of people that I adore. I just finished this one that's centered on the interviews of one of my most favorite people, David Bowie!

Obviously, if you're reading a book like this, you're one hardcore David Bowie fan. Many of these interviews are so well known that they are iconic and have essentially catapulted the career of a man who's more than just music, but who has changed the face of it with every chameleon-like transformation that he makes. David is also an underdog: not everything he has done has wowed the world. Many of his records are hit and miss, but no one can say that the man isn't surprising and boring. Even in his musical failures and flops during the mid-to-late '80's, David Bowie still tops. Every interview is chronological, starting from 1969 with New Musical Express (UK) to his last and final interview where he'd hint of abandoning the press for good in 2003 with The Word (UK).

What's most intriguing and fascinating about these interviews is how much they feel as if they aren't actually interviews, but simply David and a lucky reporter hanging out and having a chat about life, the universe, politics, art, literature, and of course, David's latest project. As many reporters have stated over the years, David is of course DAVID BOWIE, but sitting down with him is like sitting down with an old friend. David's wit, honesty, sense of humor, and intelligence just oozes off the pages as if you're in that interviewee chair with David. With every interview, it gives us a blast to the past through every one of David's album eras from Hunky Dory, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Young Americans, Station to Station, Heroes, Lodger, and oh so many more. Also as cool is to see how with each album era, there's a new essence to Bowie, of a man who gets wittier, funnier, more well-read, more honest, and jaded with time, and that's what makes reading these interviews so compelling. David has never done one bad interview, and none of them haven't damaged his career one bit. With exception to two interviews that maybe weren't the most exciting or where I felt that the writing was kind of annoying, I loved all the thirty. I'll choose my top 5 interviews from here that I felt were the most impressive and fascinating (the pg. number is where you can find these interviews in Bowie on Bowie if you want to take a quick looksee at them):

"One Day, Son, All This Could Be Yours...."

Steve Sutherland, March 20 and 27, 1993, New Musical Express (UK), pg. 207

Of all David Bowie interviews, this is the first and perhaps only one where he serves us the most in-depth exploration of what gay and bisexual themes mean to him. My favorite lines of his are:

"When I was going through my bisexual stage in the early 70's, and then it became apparent to me eventually that I was heterosexual."

 "I found out I wasn't truly a bisexual but I loved the flirtation with it, I enjoyed the excitement of being involved in an area that, up until that particular time, had been perceived as a social taboo."

And I don't quite remember if it was this interview or in another, but David used the term "closeted heterosexual" to describe himself at that time period. Closeted heterosexual? How often do you here that phrase? I find that so amazing and so honest! This interview is so meaty and chock full of other rarities that David hardly ever talked about but does here: about his mentally unstable half-brother, Terry, who committed suicide in 1985. This is one of the longest interviews in the book, but it's absolutely the best, so in-depth and rich with so many topics shared between David and Steve.

Station to Station

David Sinclair, June 10, 1993, Rolling Stone (USA), pg. 231

This one is very cool, bittersweet, kind of eerie, but a whole lot of fun - not just for the reader, but for David and David! Bowie takes Sinclair on a "memory tour" of London where they visit David's past, of places that no longer exist or have been abandoned (like, for instance, Trident Studios). Throughout the memory tour, David reflects on the glam rock era ("I don't think it was clear what exactly it was at the time. But it took us over rather than us taking it over"), the scene of that era ("It's a bit disappointing in some respects to look back, because there was actually no 'scene' as such in the early Seventies in London"), some of the places where he used to perform in the 1960's, like the Marquee Club ("I played here a lot in the 1960s, always as a support act"), and life after Ziggy ("It was work, work, work...."), and reflecting on him ("To this day I'm really not sure if I was playing Ziggy or if Ziggy was exaggerated aspects of my own personality. A fair amount of psychological baggage was undoubtedly coming out through the character. Because I felt awkward and nervous and inadequate with myself, it felt easier to be somebody else.") And an adorable highlight was him talking about Iman with the mention of Black Tie White Noise, recorded post-wedded bliss:

"I'd never been out with a model before so I hadn't even bargained on the cliche of the rock star and the model as being part of my life. So I was well surprised to meet one who was devastatingly wonderful and not the usual sort of bubblehead that I'd met in the past. I make no bones about it. I was naming the children the night we met. I knew that she was for me, it was absolutely immediate. I just fell under her spell. Our romance was conducted in a very gentlemanly fashion, I hope, for quite some time. Lots of being led to doorways and polite kisses on the cheek. Flowers and chocolates and the whole thing. I knew it was precious from the first night, and I just didn't want anything to spoil it."

There's so much more to this interview, and basically, it can be summed up in David Bowie's own words:

"It was quite extraordinary, despite the fact that most of the things I went to see were either closed or pulled down. It puts into focus just how much time has really was a long, long time ago."

Fashion: Turn to the Left.
Fashion: Turn to the Right.

David Bowie and Alexander McQueen, November 1996, Dazed and Confused (UK), pg. 291

Two royalties of fashion unite together for a phone interview, David interviewing Alexander McQueen! This is more about Alexander McQueen than it is about David, but both their personalities jump out here, and it's not only so adorable, but pretty brilliantly hilarious. What a comical duo and like-minded spirits - it's no wonder they collaborated together (even though they never met)!

DB: Are you gay and do you take drugs? (laughter)

AM: Yes, to both of them! (more laughter)

DB: Do you think of clothes themselves as being a way of torturing society?

AM: I don't put such an importance on clothes, anyway. I mean at the end of the day they are, after all, just clothes and I can't cure the world of illness with clothes. I just try to make the person that's wearing them feel more confident in themselves because I am so unconfideent. I'm very insecure as a person."

DB: Could you design a car?

AM: Could I? It would be as flat as an envelope if I designed a car.

A Star Comes Back to Earth  

Mick Brown, December 14, 1996, Telegraph Magazine (UK), pg. 304

Here, David Bowie with Mick gives us touching accounts, like -

His relationship with John Lennon:

"I loved John. I remember asking him once what he thought of glam rock and he said - It's just fooking rock and roll with lipstick."

Being his characters (Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, and the Thin White Duke):

"As long as you're really in control of the image, as a painter is, for instance. But when you're using yourself as the image that you're trying to project as a character, so it becomes a hybrid of reality and fantasy...then the awareness that that's not the real you, and you're uncomfortable having to pretend that it is, makes you withdraw. And I withdrew, obviously through the use of drugs, as well, which didn't help."

His drug problem:

"I blew my nose one day in California and half my brains came out."

In a cafe with his head in a plate, David cried "Please help me." "I was in a serious decline, emotionally and socially."

And, of course, his marriage to Iman:

"I was actually beginning to find my life really pleasurable, and I just wanted to share it with someone. And one person was all I wanted. When I met Iman, it was just so instantaneous. It was really one of those overnight things. In fact, it was so overnight we knew we should wait a couple of years before we got married, to make sure we weren't kidding ourselves. And fortunately we weren't. It's just been such a joy."


"Now Where Did I Put Those Tunes?" 

David Quantick, October 1999, Q (UK), pg. 341

This one was in promotion of Hours, where he talks plenty about that, but a lot of this interview is where David looks back and kind of reads his contemporaries.

What he said about Bing Crosby (seriously, THIS is hilarious):

David Quantick: Can you remember what you were thinking when you did it? (Little Drummer Boy)

David Bowie: Yes. I was wondering if he was still alive. He was just...not there. He was no there at all. He had the words in front of him. "Hi, Dave, nice to see ya here...." And he looked like a little old orange sitting on a stool. 'Cos he'd been made up very heavily and his skin was a bit pitted, and there was just nobody home at all, you know? It was the most bizarre experience. I didn't know anything about him. I just knew my mother liked him..."

About Sly Stone (another hilarious moment!):

"I remember being over a dealer's one night when Sly Stone walked in. He walked in and looked at me and he said "Huh! Bet he takes a lot of drugs." I was angry because I did take a lot of drugs! "How are you! I'm David Bowie! I do more drugs than you've looked at!" It was funny, it was hilarious. We met each other a long time after that and laughed about that."

About Ricky Martin (ouch?):

"Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get away from Ricky Martin..."

After David Q. says how Ricky Martin mentions him "favorably in interviews," Bowie makes "a weird noise." "Arhh...I know! That's why I'll be careful here. I don't know. I keep seeing him on the telley and he's on the radio and stuff like that. Um. He's not irritating in the way some people are, I'm just aware of his I getting out of this? Ha ha ha ha!"

These 5 interviews were a trip, weren't they?

Remarkable most of all about each and every interview is how they are as eclectic as the man himself. Whether David is talking about his past, films, literature, art, his hobbies, his projects, acting, music, his son (Joe), his wife (Iman), politics, mental illness, death, the afterlife, spirituality, history, fashion, and this list can go on, as what he's famous for, he's always a step ahead into the future. It's no surprise that nowadays, David does NOT talk to press, not even when he was on the heels of releasing his first album in a decade in 2013, The Next Day. As Sean Egan puts so perfectly:

"Bowie discovered something which previously had not occurred to him: although he enjoyed talking about himself and his art, he didn't need to."

And as Sean also puts succinctly in his introduction:

"Whatever the renown of the magazine, newspaper, or website, Bowie - the first artist to consistently employ the act of interviews as a means of artistic expression in itself - provides great copy in all."


  1. Aww, I especially like what he has to say about Iman. I'll have to tell my dad about this one since he loves musician/actor bios a lot, and he also really likes reading/watching interviews.

    1. I HAD to quote those sections where he mentions Iman. Too precious! And the last interview in this book, David sounds so content being a homebody, a new dad, and a devoted husband, where the music is secondary and baby, wife, and home come first. This book is a treat. If your dad is a fan of Bowie and musician bios in general, he'll LOVE this.