Andrew Eldritch of Sisters of Mercy interviews Bowie (and is kind of a bastard), 1995

 

The Lad’s Insane

Tempted by another cheap holiday in nearby Las Vegas, Andrew Eldritch recently accepted a commission to interview David Bowie for Rolling Stone. The following article appears in the German edition of that magazine, where it was badly translated and treacherously re-written by the usual bastard suspects. In a UTR exclusive, we bring you Mr Eldritch’s original version….

Everybody has an agenda here; it’s so tiring.” Except that Mr Bowie looks as fresh as ever. He’s one of those people who remind you of the story of Dorian Gray: somewhere there must be a painting of him looking fucking terrible. If the painting still has David Bowie’s original teeth, then I probably resemble the painting more than he does. But his record company won’t let us be photographed together, so there is only way to prove the distinction: tell him his record’s no good.

David Bowie is in Los Angeles to promote the new Bowie/Eno album, ‘Outside’ An exciting prospect for those of us who are old enough and smart enough to remember previous Bowie/Eno albums.

As a very backhanded compliment, I suggest that since ‘Low’ or ‘Heroes’, Bowie has been deliberately waiting for the rest of the world to catch up. Bowie says “I don’t know about that”, and laughs a little uncomfortably at the idea that it might have something to do with the burden of responsibility.

“At one time I was floating alongside of myself. There was a period in the eighties that I felt so redundant. Brian Eno and I went through incredibly similar things. We both came to loggerheads with music. We both felt that we were out of sync with the eighties, that we were doing our worst work, and we both opted out to some degree. Between ’86 and ’88 I virtually did nothing of any consequence at all in the studio. I was painting more than ever, and sculpting. Brian went off to Malaysia for a long time, to work out what he really wanted to do in life, and he didn’t do very much music. Then towards the end of the eighties he buddied up with U2 and I met Reeves Gabrels. Both of us found that we were suddenly excited about music again. It was almost like treading water through the eighties. For both of us it seemed so inconsequential. 

I’ve got a theory about this, from looking at my son and his friends and what I know of youth generally. It seemed to me that the numbness which was the face of youth in the eighties, that kind of opting-out which is between indifference and lethargy, was in fact a generation learning to adapt to a new way of life, a new kind of society, coming to terms with chaos really being the structure of reality. It was almost like a nurturing period for youth, and I think that it was very necessary. If you’d asked somebody in the eighties if there was any decent music being produced, that would be around in ten years time, I think they’d have said, “You’ve got to be kidding” It was just disposable, it was Paula Abdul.” 

David Bowie had hits, along with Paula Abdul.

 “Don’t remind me. But I think in the nineties, there’s a list of albums, musicians and bands that people consider would be around in ten years’ time. Everything from Nirvana to Pearl Jam.”

 I’m reminded of the waitress who likes country AND western, but I decide not to mention it.

 “Kids don’t see those things as disappearing. They see those things as real milestones in their lives. They’re actually getting involved in the depth of music again.”

Or are they just buying some ersatz hippy bullshit? No, explains Mr Bowie patiently, Woodstock 2 was very important to the people who attended. He then attributes Nine Inch Nails’ deep success to the fact that they were suitably muddy. I point out that some people would say they looked like an ephemeral eighties band of the most despicable kind.

 “Those people would be wrong,” he laughs. “I think it was the emergent voice of a new direction.”

 Now, I hold myself personally responsible for Nine Inch Nails (among others), but not for the fact that they look like Alien Sex Fiend. This makes Mr Bowie laugh some more. “I liked Alien Sex Fiend. It’s a fucking great t-shirt.”

 So he likes the clothes, basically?

 “No, it was the attitude and the tight trousers.”

For whatever reason, Bowie has decided that Nine Inch Nails are a nineties icon, and is about to collaborate with them. In a similar vein, he is keen to stress his connection with Damien Hirst. This is much more to the point, since the story behind ‘Outside’ is set in a world of art- terrorism, where there is no longer a dividing line between shock-art, mutilation and crime. The sleevenotes are brilliant. Unfortunately, I can’t see any of it reflected in the actual record. And because I don’t think the concept is conveyed at all without the accompanying background material, I had to ask whether ‘Outside’ was really an album, or just an unfinished CD Rom. Turns out it’s an album.

 “I don’t think it will be a CD Rom, because Brian and I have got very different ideas about what should be done with CD Roms.” Bowie does likes Myst, though. Did he ever play the old text-adventure computer games, which are like Myst except that you have to imagine your own pictures?

 “No. Brian used to.” We agree that providing the listener with pictures is a problem. ’That’s precisely the area that Brian and I have been working on.“ He doesn’t say what they’ve decided to do about it. For the time being, we will have the sleevenotes instead. ”I’m including the sleeve notes because it’s an identity thing. I’m treating the narrative and its characters as the subject-matter, but not the content. The content is the texture, the subtext and the atmosphere of this particular year, 1995. We’re trying to accomplish a series of albums that would record musically what the last five years of the millenium feels like. The characters are a device to lead you through it all.”

 I tell him that he might have made the album’s background concept clearer if the characters appeared in the music, and although he “would have been quite keen to hybridise character and real life”, Bowie insists that “we were trying to leave as much space as possible for a multiplicity of interpretation”. Given his respect for the shamanistic, doesn’t he know that his audience misses the kind of impact which he could make if he incorporated one or more of the characters, as he used to do in the old days?

 “I’m not sure it’s an impact that I want to have.”

Doesn’t it bother him that certain other people have usurped his role(s), some of them using almost exactly the same characters which he used to incorporate?

 “I think for my own sanity and my own artistic life I have to be almost indifferent to those kinds of situations. I decided emphatically to remain a pluralistic creature and that all interpretation lies with the audience and culture, not with me. I’m merely the author. I’m quite content with that situation, playing author.”

 Yeah?

 “Yeah.”

 Like many right-thinking people, I was blown away by seeing “Starman” on

English TV. If I was David Bowie, I would be even more annoyed to see

Suede repeating the character.

 

“It can’t be the same character.”

 

It is.

 

“No it’s not. Once you play something in another context it cannot be

the same creature, by virtue of the fact that it’s being

recontextualised.”

 

Even to people who are seeing it for the first time?

 

“No, because they bring different luggage to it. Their interpretation is

incredibly different to the way that the parallel generation were

interpreting it in 1973, because they are not informed by the same sets

of circumstances. They’re informed by an entirely different world, where

contradictions – the idea of putting contradictions together – is

virtually the network that we exist in. There are so many contradictions

now, that contradiction almost simply ceases to exist anymore.”

 

Seems to me that contradiction is alive and well, and easy enough to

spot when somebody is trying on a little situationism where it’s

convenient. Bowie continues.

 

“In 1973 we still had an idea of absolutes, that there were real rules

through everything: through every science, through every religion,

politics, art. Picasso was the god of the twentieth century. Everything

was a known quantity. All Starman was in ’73 was a shock. Presented now,

it’s merely another colour in this incredibly tangled-network of

information that we exist in now. And it’s read only at surface value.

It’s very rarely read with any depth.”

 

Aren’t these the same kids who are “getting involved in the depth of

music again”? Would he like to point out what they’re missing?

 

“No. It’s merely my interpretation, which is really invalid in the long

term. It comes from an archaic stance. It’s not applicable to them.”

 

Assuming that Bowie aspires to depth (and hopefully more of it than

Nirvana and Pearl Jam), then he’s got two big problems: album and

audience.

 

Why did he decide to make this album by putting half a dozen musicians

in a room and then improvising for fifty hours before Brian Eno chose

which sections to work on?

 

“It’s about trust Brian is one of the few people who can tell me what

the fuck it is I’m doing. Often he’ll contextualise things for me when I

don’t actually see what the framework is. He’s an excellent framemaker.

Brian used a wonderful allegory which I keep coming back to. He said “Ad

is one of the few aspects of life where you can take the plane and crash

it and walk away from it. Never be scared of going too far, because it’s

a safe zone.” On the albums before ‘Low’, things like ‘Diamond Dogs’ and

‘Station To Station’, I would get involved in areas that weren’t

coherent, and there was an atmosphere which made up for the lack of

coherence. But I would only go so far.”

 

Doesn’t David Bowie feel the urge to sit down and write some David Bowie

songs before going into the studio?

 

“Brian would never put himself in that situation. He has no time to do

that, he couldn’t be bothered. That’s why it’s so essentially freeing to

work with him.”

 

Is music the right medium to express that kind of incoherence?

 

Bowie pauses for a long time. “It is our chosen one.”

 

While claiming to be less interested in the end result than in the

process of making the record, he says “We’re at our best when we may be

a little bit out of our depth… in an area where you’re out of

control.”

 

I tell him that when I think of Reeves Gabrels and improvisation, the

term ‘jazz-wank’ springs to mind. On this album there are five musicians

out of control. Is that such a good idea?

 

“It’s good when you’ve got Brian there. He’ll just scan it all and say

“That bit is an essentially interesting piece of work. The rest is

superfluous rubbish.“ He’s very good at that.”

 

I remain unconvinced. Besides, will anybody understand the record?

 

“They’ll certainly pick up on the atmosphere of it all, and realise that

what I’m doing is extrapolating the idea of what can become of ritual

art, in a far-out situation which isn’t so far-out any more. There won’t

be a broad understanding, no. I don’t believe it could happen, and I

don’t think it’s actually very necessary. Art being an event on TV is

precisely my understanding of how culture now works. There is virtually

no difference between OJ’s trial and Christo’s building. They’re both

taken totally at surface value… But any more than that is not required

in this age. You scan through it all and make a new network of

understanding for yourself. There is no time to analyse anything. Events

are tumbling out of our screens and from newspapers, gossip and rumour

at such a vast proliferation that one almost questions the idea of

having a history at all. If history changes so radically and is being

revised so continually, if historians barely have time to revise it (and

are misunderstanding and questioning it anyway), we as laymen certainly

don’t have time to plough through their books and get a further

understanding of what history is. We don’t therefore have time to

acknowledge history per se. History is fast disappearing, and if that’s

true, then so is the future. You cannot have one thing without the

other. We’re creating, possibly, this almost synthetic Buddhistic

situation of nowness, we’re cramping ourselves into this bottleneck of

now, in which all happens only at the moment, which is quite an

interesting prospect, because it’s virtually a parallel to Buddhistic

thought, but we’ve contrived to create it by all these mutant and

deviant devices of mass-communication. It’s our kharma of the tv.”

 

Well put. A good idea for the next album. But surely that means that

this album can’t make any impact, because it’s never going to come

storming out of the TV screen?

 

“I had experience of a similar situation, with ‘Low’. It influenced

certain people in interesting ways, and so it insidiously worked itself

into the culture. I think that’s what one counts on, if you’re not going

to make the Michael Jackson kind of explosion. I hate to keep using this

analogy, but it’s the one I know best: if you have white paint, you only

need to add a few drops of red to it. If you stir enough, it’s going to

give it an irridescent kind of pink quality eventually. You know? And

that’s kind of what one presumes will happen with one’s work.”

 

I ask if this album going to push the envelope the way ‘Low’ did. There

is a very long pause. Does Bowie at least hope it would?

 

“No, I don’t think so.”

 

Then why put it out?

 

“I tell you what, I’m fairly strong in my resolve to enjoy the quality

of my life and therefore the process of what I do. That has really

become a priority in day-to-day life, because of certain personal

aspects of my life, you know? This is a personal agenda, and because of

that I don’t have expectations for the album or its impact. I just want

to continually feel that what I’m endeavouring to do is put out the best

possible artistic output that I have available to me. That’s really,

really very central to me, as I get older, and I have less and less days

to live, and it becomes increasingly obvious to me that I should not

fuck about and do crappy things.”

 

So why doesn’t he do the art-crime instead of making an album about it?

 

“Well, it had occurred to me to knock off a couple of minotaurs. In fact

Damien and I have this project that we intend doing. I told him the

minotaur myth, and he really loved it. He’s got a fan who’s left him his

body as long as it’s included in an art work, and so I said maybe we

could take his body – when this fella pops off, so to speak – and that

of a bull, and make a minotaur. I could buy a tiny bit of rock in the

Outer Hebrides or somewhere, and we could Christo it: build a small

labyrinth on the island and put the minotaur in the middle. The entire

island would then become the artwork.”

 

According to much of the art philosophy which we’ve been discussing for

an hour, it’s already done, because the idea has now been communicated.

 

’Virtually, yes. Absolutely right. To be a true conceptualist one would

just have to do the drawings. We should take it to Brian and he could

type it up and articulate it and – ”

 

  • and sell it to people in Dusseldorf?

 

“Absolutely.”

 

 

========================================================================

 

 The following is a letter (from Clenshaw, the editor of UTR) in the

same issue of Underneath The Rock (issue 14). Included here because

Eldritch speaks further of his interview with Bowie.

 


 

Dear Andrew,

 

I have received and read your article on David Bowie, which was

marvellous. You are a snide bastard, though.

 

Ian Clenshaw Reptile HQ


 

Er, thank you. Jury’s out on the “bastard’ charge. Not guilty on the

other count. For the benefit of the public gallery here’s my case…

 

My only aside (about C&W) was flagged as such. What I find snide about

journalists is their tendency to rewrite or even insert questions after

the event, and to unveil an agenda with presumptions and musings which

one couldn’t address at the time. All my doubts, questions and

propositions were put to the man himself. They were posed in exactly

the same terms as the text. Most of it is verbatim, although i decided

against two sets of inverted commas for the sake of readability.

Likewise my criticisms of his current methodology where I paraphrased

his own characterisation of the recording process. If I wrote ’Jazz-

wank”, that’s because it’s the word I used in the conversation.

 

I think the album sucks. Mr Bowie wasn’t phased to be told that, and

come pretty close to admitting it himself on those occasions when the

situationist defence started to slip. (You should have heard his sorry

verdict on Tin Machine.) In the limited space available I concentrated

on letting him explain why ‘Outside’ had to be the way it is. There are

two fundamental issues: “What are the means, and can they justify the

end?’ (which is a matter of art theory) and “Do the means justify the

end?’ (at which point I unfortunately have to ask myself whether I think

the album’s any good). Bowie gets to address the first question, and

uses that answer to dismiss the second question, on the grounds that

it’s superfluous. Fair enough, but we all know that Rolling Stone

expects an answer from both of us. At least I had the decency to explain

my opinion to him be explaining it to the world at large. He chose not

to challenge it in the normal fashion.

 

I guess from your comment that I didn’t sufficiently reflect the playful

nature of the whole exchange. Still, the poor sod actually told me how

nice it was to do an interview which didn’t ask after his ex-wife, so I

reckon he’s not going to be too unhappy.

 

I have great sympathy for his immediate concern: it’s not so important

that I say the album’s wonderful (or even, as it happens, that I refrain

from being a snide bastard). It’s important that the discussion take

place on his (or his album’s) chosen ground, ie. art philosophy. If not

the theory which he claims is the subject of the album, then at least

the theory behind the construction of the album. I’ll bet I did the only

interview which bothered much with either.

 

Paradoxically, I could have adopted the some theories as Bowie himself,

and written an article which was completely useless to him and to

Rolling Stone, if not to you. Such an article could have resembled this

very letter (without including any of the actual interview). I could

have cobbled together a post-structuralist stream-of-consciousness from

peripheral experiences in Bowie’s hotel. In the music press of the

eighties, typically unencumbered by any justifying philosophy other than

a deep unwillingness to report, an inability to investigate anything on

its own terms, and the overweening egotism of those without ct life, I

should have dwelt at length on peripheral experiences in my own hotel In

the even-moreignorant music press of the nineties I should have referred

constantly to Blur’s hotel, regardless of which artist I was ostensibly

talking about.. chez Blur/Oasis/Elastica/Suede/etc, depending on whose

fifteen minutes it is. Apart from the shining beacon which is your own

fine publication, I note that journalism is a damn sad profession.

 

For what it’s worth, I told David Bowie that I think he’s a genius. I

told him his sleevenotes for “Outside” are as brilliant as the album

itself is disappointing. And I tried hard to tell him why. Hard but

fair.

 

I see the jury’s just absolved me of the “bastard’ charge. You can

release their children now.

 

Andrew Eldritch

 

Advertisements

BOWIE AND BRETT ‘ALIAS SMITH AND JONES’ (Part Two) NME 27 march 1993

by Steve Sutherland / NME
 
27th March 1993
 
In Part Two of our mega-exclusive meeting of minds between DAVID BOWIE and BRETT ANDERSON, the starlet and the starman discuss what’s great about Moz and the problems of maintaining artistic integrity; Bowie reveals how he lost his confidence in the 80s, talks about the highly personal nature of his new LP, his experience of the LA riots, and lectures Brett on the sacrifices he must make to be a successful artist.
 
Referee: Steve Sutherland
 
 
There’s quite a bit of you in this…” Brett is at the tape, his back to us, about to play a rough mix of an as-yet-untitled track from the forthcoming Suede LP. Bowie puts his hand to his mouth, checks that Brett can’t see him, and sniggers.
 
The track plays, Bowie closes his eyes and mock-swoons at the voluptuous chorus. He compliments Brett on his vocals and lyrics. “That’s brilliant,” he says. “The poignancy of the everyday is very apparent in your work.”
 
Brett smiles: “Well, I’m bogged down by the everyday, so it feels like I should write about it.”
 
“And here they come, the boys from Suede, dignifying the lot of the working man…” Bowie has adopted the plummy accent of a Second World War newscaster. “In their long shorts, with their shovels on their shoulders, they’re ready to dig the trenches for the good of the English folk. Hooray, wa say. Hip hip hooray.”
 
“I always aim to take a small statement and make it elegant,” laughs Brett. “The point is to actually speak to other people. I never actually do things for myself at all. Thoughts are essentially quite useless foe me unless they’re broadcast in an acceptable way.
 
“That’s the great thing about Morrissey – loads of people have thought those thoughts before, his thoughts weren’t particularly ground in any way, but the fact that he actually managed, for the first time, to express them to the general populous instead of being an elitist philosopher or just a writer that spoke to a few people, the fact that he actually managed to put those thoughts within an easily palatable art form; that’s what was great about him.”
 
Bowie: “And he did it asexually. So many of Morrissey’s songs are very asexual. There’s not a sexual bait to them, even if he talks about sexual situations. I think people are quite happy to take their grey anguish from a band like the Velvets or, at the moment, Nirvana, because it’s got great dollops of sex attached to it. But he neutered it to an extent and that seemed kind of unfair or something. I think that maybe produces a lot of hostility toward him.”
 
Brett: “Were you into The Smiths, then?”
 
Bowie: “I thought they were good, yeah. I got to like The Smiths more and more as it went on. I wasn’t an immediate fan. I must say that I was disturbed to find out that the Pixies had broken up. That was the band that I thought was gonna happen in a big way, and I was a bit miffed when Nirvana came along using the same musical dynamics; y’know, keeping it way down for a verse and then suddenly bursting out with volume on the chorus. And, of course, Charles was far better lyrically. His lyrics were fabulous. It feels like so many of the bands now are Johnny-Come-Latelys. There’s a huge bandwagon. It’s opened the gates to mediocrity.”
 
Brett: “But anything good does, doesn’t it?”
 
NME: I guess there’s a whole generation of little Suedes on their way as we speak. And the irony of that you’ve got people who stand for individuality being copied. Instead of following the credo – be yourself, do something different – they just waggle their bums and rip their shirts.
 
Brett: “That’s the whole horror of the music business generally though, isn’t it? The visionless people who inhabit the music are always looking for copies of bands that are now being successful and never actually looking for anything that’s truly got any worth.”
 
Bowie: “And boy, is the word ‘business’ applicable to the American situation right now? I mean, never ever, has it become such a career oriented option. It’s light years away from how it felt in the early 70s. It really grinds ’em out. I mean, nobody believes in bands, works with them, promotes them. It’s such a ruthless, ruthless business.”
 
Brett: “That’s why the independent scene should be championed. It’s true that sometimes independent is just a byword for untalented but, on the other hand, there’s a certain life to it that doesn’t exist within the Sonys who just plough it out. The funniest thing is you get these comical bands who are like major label ideas of what indie bands are. I mean, have you heard this band The Lemon Trees? They’re just MCAs idea of what a indie band is.”
 
Bowie: “Ah, didn’t they do Simon & Garfunkel’s…”
 
NME: No, that was Lemonheads.
 
Bowie: “Oh, Lemmonheads. That’s right.”
 
NME: Same thing, though. With a crappy record that was. What a crappy thing to do.
 
Bowie: “Yes, I honestly don’t get that at all.”
 
NME: Do you pity Brett that he finds himself working now as opposed to, say in the 70s?
 
Bowie: “Yeah. For most new bands starting up it must be a fuck of an uphill climb.
 
Brett: “It’s very stifling when there’s so much emphasis on producing the goods. I mean, you could never have done something like ‘Low‘ if your band were starting now. You’d have just been dropped, because people wouldn’t have known what it was. But now, in hindsight, it’s seen as completely ground-breaking.”
 
Bowie: “Yeah. We’ll be listening to the first Tin Machine album in a few years and re-evaluating that, I’m sure. Hahahaha!”
 
NME: I take that you’ve never been in the position of having an A&R man come into the studio to tell you that maybe the backbeat shouldn’t be like that?
 
Bowie: “Never! Absolutely not!”
 
NME: I bet Brett has to put up with that sort of thing, though.
 
Brett: “Yeah, and that’s why you have to be shrewd in deciding who you work with. That’s why we signed to an independent in this country, so we don’t have that kind of interference, because in the end the artist does know best, otherwise it just becomes a product.”
 
Bowie: “I can’t imagine what that must feel like. I was advised, though. When I delivered ‘Low‘ I got a telegram offering to pay for me to go back to Sigma Sound in Philadelphia to do another ‘Young Americans‘. They just couldn’t accept ‘Low‘, they couldn’t understand it. That’s when I knew it was over with that particular company. And that’s why it’s so psychic that I should come back to Arista, within the RCA association, for this album. In my mind, it’s almost as though I lost ‘Let’s Dance‘, ‘Tonight‘ and ‘Never Let Me Down‘ and, if I was putting together sets of albums, I would go ‘Low‘, ‘Heroes‘, ‘Lodger‘, ‘Scary Monsters‘, ‘Black Tie White Noise‘. It kinda slots in there in feel. And, of course, my last album with RCA was ‘Scary Monsters‘, so the EMI years are this misfit that kinda got in there somehow. Maybe this is the album that Nile Rodgers and I did make in 1983, and there’s been this timewarp ever since!”
 
NME: Maybe the fact that so many people said Tin Machine were crap gave you your attitude back? Maybe that was the edge you needed to start fighting for your music again, and maybe that’s what gives the album its strong sense of purpose?
 
Bowie: “Funnily enough, I think working with Tin Machine was a confidence-builder, because I lost my confidence during the 80s and I was quite willing to use the stand-in of indifference. I always look back on those two albums after ‘Let’s Dance‘ as being indifferent; I purposely didn’t get very involved with them. Now I listen to ‘Never Let Me Down‘ and I wish I had, because there were some good songs on it, but I let go and it became very soft musically; which wasn’t the way I would have done it if I had been more involved.”
 
NME: When I heard that this album was inspired by your wedding to Iman (two pieces were specifically composed for the occasion), I feared it was gonna be soft as shite.
 
Bowie: “Yeah, I know: He’ll probably put Iman on the cover. Oh, she’s gotta be in the video.’ Hahahaha! I knew what people would think when they heard I was going back in to work with Nile. But I was thinking, ‘I hope this doesn’t turn into another ‘Let’s Dance‘,’ and that probably drove me even harder. It is a very personal album.
 
“Jump They Say‘ is semi-based on my impression of my step-brother and probably, for the first time, trying to write about how I felt about him committing suicide. It’s also connected to my feeling that sometimes I’ve jumped metaphysically into the unknown and wondering whether I really believed there was something out there to support me, whatever you wanna call it; a God or a life-force? It’s an impressionist piece – it doesn’t have an obvious, cohesive narrative storyline to it, apart from the fact that the protagonist in the song scales a spire and leaps off.
 
“There’s also a personal reason why I cover Creams’s ‘I Feel Free‘ on the album. One of the times I actually went out with my step-brother, I took him to see a Cream concert in Bromley, and about halfway through – and I’d like to think it was during ‘I Feel Free’ – he started feeling very, very bad… He used to see visions a lot. And I remember I had to take him out of the club because it was really starting to affect him – he was swaying… He’d never heard anything so loud; he was ten years older then me and he’d never been to a rock club, because jazz was his thing when he was young. He turned me on to Eric Dolphy…
 
“Anyway, we got out into the street and he collapsed on the ground and he said the ground was opening up and there was fire and stuff pouring out the pavement, and I could almost see it for him, because he was explaining it so articulately. So the two songs are close together on the album for very personal reasons.
 
“So much of this album comes from a more emotional plane than I’m wont to generally show about myself. It’s a very emotionally-charged album. There’s a lot of jumping into the unknown about it. Maybe a lot of my negative things have surfaced on this album, that’s why it’s got such a saccharine ending. It’s called ‘The Wedding Song‘, but it should have been called ‘The Wedding Cake’, because it really is all icing with a couple on top.”
 
NME: The title track’s the hardest thing Bowie’s done in ages, and it transpires it was inspired by the LA riots. Bowie and Iman returned from Italy to LA the day the verdict of the Rodney King trial was announced.
 
Bowie: “We were standing on the roof of out apartment block, hand-in-hand, looking out at these fires starting up everywhere. And they were close! it was unbelievable. If it hadn’t been so frightening, you could have looked out and said ‘Cor, dunnit look like Blade Runner?’ But we thought, ‘Oh shit, we’re in this’ and we did the same thing that everybody else did – we got in the car and went down the supermarket and started buying food, because we didn’t know if we’d be able to get out of there for a few days.
 
“And I stayed up all night the second night because they were getting quite close to our block.”
 
NME: What were you going to do if they came knocking?
 
Bowie: “I had my car keys, I had some money and I had my jeans near the bed, and I was gonna quickly get dressed and get outta the building in case it went up.”
 
Brett: “You should’ve told ’em you were born in Brixton!”
 
Bowie: “That wouldn’t have helped. Hahaha! And I don’t think showing ’em my wife would’ve helped either. They’d have just said. ‘Well, you’re bith to blame. You’re the problem!’ Hahaha! It was terrifying.
 
“It really did feel like a prison where people had been imprisoned unfairly on no trial and no evidence, and that they’d just had enough. This was like the last insult by the guards and it was like, ‘I don’t care what you think, we’re gonna fuck you up!’
 
“And Clinton had better do better than he’s doing at the moment. He’d better actually have some policies, because everybody’s depending on this administration to resurrect this wave of hope and, if all that morale just dissipates – which is what’s happening at the moment – all hell’s gonna break loose over there.”
 
NME: How come you namecheck Benetton in ‘Black Tie White Noise‘?
 
Bowie: “Because I thought it was dodgy when Spike Lee did a thing for them. Y’know, I felt that reading about race relations through Benetton adverts was almost an insult. But then again, we’re presuming that any statement made has to be altruistic. I mean, what actually has the most validity: altruism or opportunism? I wonder… I mean, because of the humanization and dignifying of black athletes, are Nike doing a better job at promoting race relations than say, the administration?
 
“Everybody loves Magic (Johnson), everybody loves those guys now, primarily because Nike made people of them and showed them as personalities rather than saying, y’know, ‘All black guys are good at basketball’.
 
“It cut through all that and presented them as real, living human beings who think and have their own opinions, and it’s very successful and very seductive and, yes, of course it sold loads and loads of Nikes. But has it done something else also, in terms of race relations?
 
NME: Spike Lee does get people’s back up though, doesn’t he? Maybe he’s not the best spokesman…
 
Bowie: “Hahahah! Well, not the best spokesman from a white perspective. ‘Shouldn’t we have a more altruistic spokesman up there for the black people?’ Y’know, they can have any damn spokesman they want! We don’t have a say in it. We’re far to keen, as white liberals, to suggest to black people how they should improve their lot. I don’t think they actually wanna hear it anymore. They’ve got their own ideas of how they can improve their lot, and they couldn’t give a fuck what we think. They don’t want our advice. Actually, they’re pissed off every time we advise them now, us goody goody liberals.”
 
NME: We argue bout homophobia and sexism in black music for a while, good naturedly getting nowhere. Then I ask Brett if he can imagine being in Bowie’s position, a dozen or so albums down the road?
 
Brett: “No. I think it’s a bit dangerous thinking like that. Once you’ve got too clear a sense of your path, you lose a bit of your spark.”
 
Bowie: “To make a difference I bet.”
 
Brett: “Just really a track record. That’s it. To be a thorn that you can never really get out. Crawling off somewhere and having a comfortable lifestyle doesn’t really interest me at this point. Right now I don’t particular personal harmony or anything like that, because I think that would be quite an unhealthy thing at this stage.”
 
Bowie: “What! Yeah, well let me tell you, my son… hah ha haha.”
 
Brett: “Go on dad!”
 
Bowie: “Well, you’re going to give up a lot, you really are.”
 
Brett: “I’m willing to give it up, though, I really am.”
 
Bowie: “You are at the moment, but believe me… haha… Oh dear, I don’t like this bit at all. Hahaha. Um, you see, it works like this… I presume you don’t have children yet?”
 
Brett: “No, I don’t.”
 
Bowie: “Well, you see, I do. I have a son, and one of my major regrets is that I just wasn’t there for the first six years of his life. And that is a continual source of guilt and regret, because I really should have been able to except that I would be there for him. But you don’t know that you’re giving all that up when you’re going through it. It’s only in hindsight that you think. ‘Wow! I really let go of some serious relationships along the way. If only I’d known’. It’s true when they say you sacrifice a lot as a musician. And it’s generally out of selfishness. You see something and you go for it. But you don’t realize that until much later.”
 
NME: Brett, are you saying that you’re deliberately avoiding relationships?
 
Brett: “No, I’m not deliberately avoiding them, but I’m very wary of them. I don’t feel there’s any space in my life for those sorts of things. It’s nothing to do with not having the time it’s actually to do with realizing that creativity comes through tension and as soon you get too comfortable, it all goes.”
 
NME: Isn’t that a recipe for loneliness? Won’t you wake up one day and think. ‘I’ve achieved all this but what the fuck for?
 
Brett: “Maybe, but at the moment it doesn’t matter to me. The thought of loneliness doesn’t really bother me. I don’t feel I’m some sort of Morrissey. I’ve always had a really good friends that I’ve always relied on; I’ve always had a lot of people in my life. I’ve never been a sad case. I’ve always been too much inclined to the other side of life if anything, to having a good time…”
 
Bowie: “Friends I’ve always relied on’… There’s a giveaway, young Brett. Hahaha.”
 
Brett: “You a prophet of doom or what?
 
Bowie: “No. It’s just that I’ve never heard a young artist say, ‘Well, I want a fairly balanced life. I don’t want the work to actually take over my private life’…”
 
Brett: “You want it to take over, you want it to occupy your dreams and everything. That’s the whole point. Otherwise it wouldn’t be any good.”
 
Bowie: “Yeah, and that’s why you do have to remain empty of relationships and all those things. But you’re always the loser in the end. You must be aware of that.”
 
Brett: “I am, yeah.”
 
Bowie: “It sounds very pretentious, but that is the sacrifice one makes. You do sacrifice a lot of real, honest internal psychological safety by doing what we’re doing. You end up as some sort of emotional casualty because you learn how to keep relationships away from you. And breaking that habit suddenly becomes very hard. You suddenly realize at some point that you don’t have the equipment for creating relationships; because you’ve never utilized it, you don’t know how to do it. You’ve lived your life learning how to not create relationships that will tie you down to anything or anybody. And there you are, at a certain age, thinking, ‘Wonder how you get to know people and develop something?’
 
“Art is burden isn’t it? Hahahaha!”
 
Brett: “Oh it is!”
 
Bowie: “Genius is pain. Oh, dear me.”
 
NME: It’s time to part. Brett is due back in the studio. Bowie has another engagement. They swap phone numbers and Bowie promises to come and see Suede play live the next time he’s around. The original plan – that I should interview Bowie separately for an hour about his new album – has gone out the window. We’ve used up all our time and more. 
 
“That was too much fun.” says Bowie.
 
Later Brett tells NME’s John Mulvey: “It was just great. I was really shitting myself, much more than when I go onstage, ‘cos it could have been really dreadful, it could have completely changed my point of view about a whole section of my life… which would have been quite grim. I imagined coming back and smashing up all my Bowie records, but he was actually one of the nicest people I’ve ever met… just so, so charming.
 
“He came in and he smelt beautiful, that was the most important thing. He smelt of Chanel – but not poor person’s Chanel. He wafted in in a suit. It was just like Jim’ll Fix It!”
 
 
 

BOWIE AND BRETT ‘ONE DAY, SON, ALL THIS COULD BE YOURS…’ (Part One) NME 20 march 1993

by Steve Sutherland / NME

20th March 1993

  

From across the generational divide they came, one a ground breaking icon possessed of an androgynous beauty and a happy nack touching the often subconscious spirit of the times, the other, a ground breaking icon possessed of an androgynous beauty…Erm, Well you get the idea, don’t you? Brett Anderson and David Bowie, fantastically savvy chips off the same block, brought together by your close-personal-friend-of-the-stars NME to compare notes, trade compliments and discover whether there is anything more to this son-of -spiritual-godfather press blather than a mutual fascination with eye-liner and a love of the occasional creatively-rewarding stimulant. The tasty filling in this never-before-attempted talent sandwich?  Steve Sutherland.



It happens like this: Suede are about to release their debut album and, as fate would have it, one of David Bowie, is about to release an album of his own about a week later.

Now, considering Suede are widely reckoned to be crucially influenced by the glam scene that Bowie invented in the 70s, and seeing as Bowie’s forthcoming ‘Black Tie White Noise‘ LP is widely rumored to be a return to some kind of sassy form after about a decade in the wilderness, it seemed a damn good idea to get them together.
So I compile a Suede tape for Bowie – I occasionally send him tapes; he likes to keep in touch. I include the first two singles and some bootleg stuff, and wait. Bowie usually writes back to say thanks but no thanks. This time it’s different.

“Of all the tapes you’ve ever sent me, this is the only one that I knew instantly was great,” he tells me later. Bowie agrees to the meet. I inform Brett, who’s been kept in the dark up until this point because I didn’t want to disappoint him if it didn’t come off and I didn’t want to give him enough time to get cold feet if it did.
WE MEET on a dull afternoon at a studio in Camden that Bowie has hired for the specific purpose of playing Brett his new LP. Brett is nervous, Bowie assured. They do photos together.

  
Bowie has brought along a contact sheet of a photo session he did with William Burroughs in 1973. Today Bowie is dressed just like Burroughs was – gray suit, white shirt with a thin, dark stripe, and a fedora. Brett is dressed like Brett, in what the tabloids have taken to referring to as his “jumble sale chic”.

“Tell you what, I’ll be Bill and you be me,” Bowie says to Brett. It helps break the ice.

Photos over, we retire to the studio where Bowie plays us some of his new album. He jokes about the tracks I won’t like in advance. He’s right every time. There’s a great, hard-edged Eurodance number called ‘Nite Flights‘, a crappy, campy cover of Morrissey’s ‘I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday‘, something weird called ‘Pallas Athena‘ in which Bowie’s voice is treated beyond recognition, going on and about God being on top of it all. “I don’t know what the f… it’s about,” he admits.

We laugh and drink tea. Brett compliments Bowie on the way he’s messed around with his sax sound and Bowie bemoans the purist snobbery that surrounds the instrument. “It’s great when when you don’t know what you’re doing.” he says. “Like when Lennon told the orchestra to play from the bottom note to the top not for ‘A Day In The Life’. He didn’t know what an insult that could have been to those guys.” Bowie tells us what a thrill it was to work with Mick Ronson again and Brett goes off for a piss.

“Doesn’t he look like a very young Jimmy Page?” Bowie asks. “Page played on some of my early session. He must have been six years old! Hahahaha. Brett looks just like him. Believe me, I’m really accurate. Especially when he smiles…”

  

Brett returns and Bowie plays us one last track. It’s ‘Looking For Lester’, a racy jazz instrumental with Bowie getting off playing with trumpeter Lester Bowie. He admits the title cheekily emulates Coltrane’s ‘Chasing The Trane’.

Then the track finishes and Bowie precludes any embarrassment about getting down to the interview by immediately launching into a long and elaborate question about Post-modernism. He starts with Picasso stealing the native form from the Ethnological Museum in the 20s and expands it through the recent history of Western art until he arrives, somewhat flamboyantly, at this point.

“Your playing and your songwriting’s so good that I know you’re going to be working in music for quite some time,” he says to Brett. “Butt how aware were you of how deeply you were involved in the chord progression of…well, actually not specifically me at all; you’re far nearer Roxy Music.”

Brett, visibly relaxed by not having to make the running, replies that he has always been quite bored by post-modernism as an idea: “We never wanted to trigger off any political or cultural things in anyone’s mind by alluding to the past, like Denim or people like that. That’s too theoretical. It’s just that lots of the things from that period, lots of the devices, strike a chord with me emotionally rather than mentally. Lots of things that we rip you off for like…well, specifically like the octave lower vocals and things like that. I just love what it does to the song; how it makes it darker.

“But half the time people say we sound like somebody that I won’t even heard. Like, I haven’t heard one song by..what’s his name? Joe Brown? Y’know, the cockney Rebel bloke, apart from ‘Come Up And See Me’ but everyone keeps saying we steal from him.”

 

Bowie: “Oh him… I wouldn’t even claim to have heard that if I were you! Hahaha! When Steve sent me your tape, I listened to it with an open mind because, although I’d heard of you, I hadn’t actually heard you before. And I thought, ‘Well, it’s supposed to be a ’70s thing’ but I got over that within seconds. I was very aware that there was a very bright set of minds working and your writing abilities are really very mature. I wonder, are you apprehensive that there are bands like Denim around?”

Brett: “Yeah, completely, because you start getting put in the same bucket and it’s just a coffin really”

Bowie: “In our day. “he says, a little reluctantly, and with some sense of resignation, (he goes into theatrical cock-er-nee) “we used to’ave to make do wiv stack ‘eel boots… No actually, looking back on it, we were a very odd little genre because, to knock out The Sweet and all that, there was actually only a very few of us working. What became known as glam or glitter rock wasn’t movement at all, musically. It was very limited. On this side of the Atlantic there was myself, Roxy, Bolan and, to a certain extent, Slade, I guess.”

Brett: “You didn’t feel part of a gang then? Bowie shakes his head. “So it’s only that people like Suzi Quatro came along and started ripping you off that, in history’s eyes, makes it seem like it was a scene. I think people get it wrong when they talk about ‘Bowie, T-Rex, bah blah blah’. I always thought of your gang as much more you and Iggy and Lou Reed, people who were just thinking rather then…”

Bowie: “Yes, well that actually became my outfit, but I always put myself in with the English… and with the New York Dolls to a certain extent but never with people like, say, what’s his name? Elizabeth Cooper. Hahahaha! Alice Cooper were just a rock band who wore mascara. I don’t think they even tried theatricality until they saw the English bands. It felt to us that they were more Frank Zappa than part of this kind of compunction to parody rock and make it very vaudeville or whatever it was that some of us were doing.”

Brett: “Did you feel as though, at the time, you wanted to run away from it altogether?”

Bowie: “What d’you mean, with the advent of Suzi Quatro and Gary Glitter and all the rest? Yes, it actually became a sense of embarrassment, ironically. I mean, in my feather boas and dresses, I certainly didn’t wanna be associated with the likes of Gary Glitter who was obviously a charlatan.”

NME: They’re running this Sounds Of The Seventies programme on TV just now and most of the glam rockers look like old pub rockers who’d chanced upon a third or fourth bite at the cherry. Y’know, like Shane Fenton reinvented him self as Alvin Stardust. They looked like beer guts in make-up, which isn’t how I remembered it at all. Nostalgia just ain’t what it used to be.

Bowie: “Very true. But we were very aware of it at the time and we were very miffed that people who had obviously never seen Metropolis (Fritz Lang’s ground breaking silent sci-fi film about industrial society gone mad) and had never heard of Christopher Isherwood (the author of Cabaret) were actually becoming glam rockers.”

NME: Brett, do you think you’ve learned from what happened to people like David and to other icons from other eras? Do you spot the pitfalls and try to avoid them?

Brett: “No, I’m never that conscious of it. The only thing I’m really wary of is things getting cartonised, but that happens to anyone who’s any good – you get misinterpreted and what filters through lacks all the subtly of the original.”

Bowie: “That’s true and, way back then, I think I kidded myself that I didn’t wanna be a stereotyped because it would lock me into one kind of image that would be very hard to break away from if ever I wanted to start doing other things. But now I see it differently. Now I wonder if, in fact, the reason I didn’t want to be stereotyped is that it would force me to actually examine what it was that I wanted out of my life. Now I have far deeper psychological reasoning for a lot of my actions in the early 70s which, at the time, I explained through the machinations of being in the rock business and what one needed to do to not be caught like a moth under a searchlight. But you’re not in that position yet where you’ve been pinned.”

Brett: “Oh there are people who want to pin us:”

Bowie: Before the first album comes out! That’s awful! That’s a fast event horizon if ever there was one!”

Brett: “Well, that’s the media for you. Pinning only happens when people can only see one side of you because that’s all they’ve been shown. That’s why it’s so necessary for us to play live because, when everyone’s so critical and you’re under such a microscope it’s necessary to actually go out there and be quite honest about it. I’d never wanna appear like a media fabrication which I’m sure lots of people think we are. Premeditated is one thing we’re completely not. We do what we do quite naturally.”

Bowie: “Ah, therein lies the difference. That’s where we vary. I may not have had any real understanding of why or how but what I was doing was a fabrication.”

Brett: “But the important thing is the ultimate product, and if you create something great out of premeditation, then that’s fine. That was one of the greatest things that came out of the whole dance thing; the reaffirmation that it’s the end product that matters. Dance music had the whole punk ethic – y’know, dispense with the musicians because it’s the record that’s made in the end that matters. I’m quite a believer in that.”

NME: But you can’t deny that you both inspire adulation because your fans respond to something that they believe is your personality being expressed through your music. When David said he was making fabricated records – ie, inventing personalities – and when Brett says he makes his records naturally, they do in the end, amount to the same thing. It’s the character that people respond to. When Tin Machine got panned, it was because David just wanted to be one of the lads, one of the band, an ordinary bloke. And people didn’t want that. They wanted a star. We needed our heroes. We need people to stand out to be individual, because we can’t. And with Tin Machine, David was absconding from his duty.

Brett: “It’s funny that, when David started Tin Machine, it was at the start of the cult of non-personality and the whole Manchester thing, when the star of the alternative press was someone called Ian Brown, y’know, the blankest name in the world. And everything was geared towards being mates. Maybe you were just feeling the times…”

NME: Well, that’s what people always say about David Bowie, that you react to the zeltgeist like a chameleon. Compare ‘Black Tie White Noise‘ to, say, Bryan Ferry’s new LP, ‘Taxi’, which is just an old crooner doing cover versions, and it’s obvious that it’s important to you to matter. That your artistic pride won’t let you relay on your reputation. I mean, to make this album in the middle of Tin Machine projects is another statement of your individuality. You still won’t be pinned down and, whether it’s for selfish reasons or not, it seems to me that the way you behave is somehow synonymous with what Brett is always saying in the press, that we should speak out against the facelessness and sloth indicative of artistic cowardice.

Brett: “I agree. David, did you have quite a romantic self-image before you started? Did you have an image of yourself as an individual star?”

Bowie: “I think I had an image of myself more as an artist somehow; an artist who would work through the medium of entertainment somehow or other only it never became clear until I 1970 now seems to have been a learning period for me. I just put myself through every possible situation I could, just to see what would happen to me and what kind of taboos I could mess with, just to see if it meant anything.”

Brett: “No-one had ever really messed with anything before, had they? I mean, there’d been stars but, y’know, Elvis Presley was the biggest star and he never wrote his songs and he would always just state that he was just a singer.”

Bowie: “Yeah, and it’s strange that when I broke a rule, it really produced an awful lot of hostility. I mean, when I was going through my bisexualstage in the early 70s and then it became quite apparent to me eventually that I was heterosexual, I never disclaimed my messing around with bisexuality. But the fact that I wasn’t gonna be a spokesman for the gay community really produced a lot of hostility. It seemed like, ‘Well, how about guys like me then, guys that sorta try it out for a few years? Where do we actually fit in? Us who aren’t gay; us who are straight but just wanted to find out.”

Brett: “You’re not allowed to be like that.”

Bowie: “Exactly. Everybody wanted me to be either one thing or the other or definitely bisexual or definitely this or definitely that. And I found that quite disturbing. Even some of my own friends who were gay, afterwards, it was like. ‘Oh, you really sold out, you let us down, you were just a fraud’. Well, trying out bisexuality is not being a fraud, what it is is trying out bisexuality. That’s what it is.”

Brett: “And just because you express yourself bisexually artistically, iy doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with what you’re like personally. I don’t thin it actually matters what you do personally because you’re just one individual in the world but, when you make a record, you speak to millions of people and that’s so much more important. It’s like when you get fan mail from people wanting you to solve their problems. You’re not a psychiatrist. People should gain strength from your records, not from you individually as a person.”

Bowie: “Yeah, people just won’t let you diversify. So… hey, let’s diversify! I find the whole banner-waving of AIDS over people’s lives scary. I mean, I would hate to be a 14-year-old now and believe that there was no way that I was ever gonna be able to try and find my orientation if I was at all confused; that I was already a victim, already a prisoner. We’re almost being told, ‘Hey, forget about sexuality, it no longer exists. You can’t do anything apart from meet one person and stay with that person for the rest of your life’.
I go against the flow of, ‘Oh you mustn’t mess around any more’. I think that’s bullshit. Of course you’ve gotta take every possible precaution you can, but for us to feel our sexuality is crushed at this point could become the greatest impotency-brining factor of the whole civilization because it’s going to produce incredible psychological nightmares with people, especially young people. Young people are almost being told that they will never have the fun that everybody else had for the rest of history and, ha, just hard luck.”

Brett: “Hence nostalgia.”

Bowie: “Yes, absolutely. And of course, it’s starting to build this huge anti-gay thing and, until they find a cure for AIDS – which I have no doubt they will – I think anti-gay campaigners will have a heyday. And I think we should be aware of all this, aware that you should keep pushing the walls because so many breakthroughs were being made in the 70s whether people want to admit it or not. We now look back and, because some of those experiments went wrong – specifically the ones with drugs – that doesn’t mean that all the experiments were negative. The Dionysus-style energy was have of being and doing, that’s what makes us human beings, that’s what gives us the advantage over every other living energy form, and it is right and our need to be continually pushing the boundaries of what we believe our existence means. And there are people who are telling us we shouldn’t be doing that. It’s terrifying!”

NME: People are suspicious of people like you, people in showbusiness, talking like this. They’re always looking for the angle. Like, the thing people say about your bisexual period is what a great gimmick it was.

Bowie: “Well, talking personally, I had been bisexual for many years before I made that statement but, yes, it was perceived like that and, yes, 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. That exited me a lot.”

NME: And now Brett is being accused of flirting with ambivalent sexuality to titillate us into buying his records.

Bowie: “That’s enough these days! Hahahah! In the dangerous 90s, you even talk about it and you’ll get beaten with a big stick.”

Brett: “That really pisses me off because the reason people might think I flirt with it is because I use it in my songs. But I use it in my songs because I don’t wanna write about boy-meets-girl. I sometimes write my songs from a gay point of view regardless of whether I am gay or not because I think there’s certain segments of society that have been horribly underrepresented in pop music. That’s why I write like that. It’s not a desire to be deliberately commercially viable or deliberately difficult for any profit-making reasons or anything like that. It’s because I truly feel that even some gay men tend to play the game and that bothers me quite a bit.”

NME: So what you’re saying is that in 1993, sex is even more taboo than it was in the 70s? I suppose that goes some way to explaining why Madnna managed to whip up so much publicity with her sex book.

Bowie: “Well, it looked like the out takes from a Helmut Newton session but the action itself was so confrontational that I was very impressed with it. I’ll definitely go against the usual opinion about her. We don’t have to say any more that she exploits the situation – we know that, OK. But I think the action that she made in doing that at this particular time is very adventurous. It almost doesn’t matter what she thought she was doing. Divorce the action from the personality and that was an extraordinarily courageous and adventurous thing to do. In a way more things like like that should probably happen to fight the tide of repression.”

NME: If you thought of it in the 70s, would you have done it?

Bowie: “Yes, I probably would. But the thing is, I didn’t take photographs of it. I did it? Hahahah! Tony DeFries (one of Bowie’s old managers) never thought of it, obviously. Otherwise I’m sure all those hotel shots would have been out everywhere. Hahahaha! No doubt they probably will be one day.”

Brett: “What it actually achieved is commendable because everyone should be completely aware of their sexuality no matter what it is. But what bothers me with Madonna was that it was so Athena, so bland.”

Bowie: “Sure, but I’m not sure people are aware that they have every right to demand from themselves their true sexuality any more. If a guy or a girl feels that they’re gay, they’re probably thinking about how they’re gonna hide it these days rather than, ‘Let me go and find out if I really am’. They daren’t even think about it now. They’re being told not to think about it. I except a campaign coming out soon to say, ‘Make Yourself Straight and ‘Learn Monogamy Right Now’ and ‘The First Girl That You Meet, That’ll Be The Only Girl In Your Life’. That’s how it used to be! Hey, you got a girl pregnant, you married her.”

NME: And this sort of thing forces the gay community to become more radical which, in turn, alienates it even further from what is perceived as the mainstream.

Bowie: exactly. No doubt we’ll get the little pink triangles eventually. One rather well-known television political commentator suggested they all have their backsides tattooed with numbers! In all seriousness! This was a respectable person. That’s the scariest part. He’s taken seriously.”

NME: OK, so we all agree that Brett has the right to be ambivalent about his sexuality in his songs and we agree with David that a person has the right to be ambivalent with his or her own personal sexuality, but doesn’t that also apply across the board? For instance, David, you’ve covered Morrissey’s ‘I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday‘ on your new album. I don’t know if you’re aware that he’s been ostracized recently for his ambivalent use of the Union Jack at his concerts. It has been decided that Morrissey does not have the right to be ambivalent about race and that he should make a statement regarding whether he is or is not a racist. Are we not beating him with the same stick?

Brett: “No. The difference is, the way I speak about things is in a positive way and I think the way he’s speaking about certain issues of racism is an intentionally negative way. Therefore, I think we need to know the reasons behind it.”

Bowie: “I have to be careful here because I’m not quite sure what he said. But what I believe he said is that blacks and whites will never get on. I think that’s the general tone of it. So I guess the adult approach is to say. OK, let’s take his question and figure out for ourselves our own answer to that. Will they get on? Won’t they get on? And why? He is just posing a question so there is an argument that it’s perfectly OK for him to just pose that question. “He’s not giving us facts either way or giving us his feelings on the matter. Surely it would only be really negative if he were to say blacks and whites will never get on because it’s obvious that one is superior to the other.”

NME: I think his silence is more sinister than that. I’m suspicious of his motives. He’s never, to my knowledge, committed one altruistic act in his life so I don’t know why he should start now.

Brett: “He’s said other things in the past about how reggae is vile and hang the DJ and other things with all these connotations but, the thing is, he might actually be one of the most generous people that’s ever lived. I don’t know if it’s true but, by making himself a target, he might actually be trying to mend some gaps and build some bridges. I mean, he must know that he’s making himself a target because he’s not stupid and, by having criticism directed towards him, he might actually be doing some good. It might just be possible that he’s thinking that.”

NME: Oh come on! He’s just luxuriating in playing the misunderstood, the martyr, and damn the consequences.

Bowie: “I mist say I found him charming the couple of times I met him. When he heard my version of ‘I Know It’s Gonna Happen’ (which, according to Brett, is “very 50s, very Johnny Ray”), it brought a tear to his eye and he said, ‘Oooh, it’s so-o-o grand!’ ”
NME: I’ve been suspicious of him from the start. All those bedsit anthems about wallowing in misery didn’t seem to be helping anybody achieve anything. He was just making himself an icon on the back of other people’s inadequacies and I don’t find that in any way admirable.

Bowie: “Tell that to Samuel Beckett. Or John Osbourne.”

Brett: “David, what were you thinking about with The Thin White Duke? You were accused of similar things at the time and you were flirting with similar right wing symbolism.”

Bowie: “Yes, I certainly was. I wasn’t actually flirting with fascism per se, I was up to the neck in magic which was a really horrendous period. All my reading in that particular time were people like Ishmael Regarde, Waite and Mavers and Manley and all these sort of warlocks. And, y’know, it was all the secrets of the cabbalistic practices and all that, an intense period of trying to relate myself to this search for some true spirit. And I thought I was gonna find it through reading all this material.
“I didn’t get into Crowley by the way, because he uses too much Greek. I’m always very suspicious of anybody who says they’d better have a pretty fair handle on Greek and Latin otherwise they’re talking bullshit.”

Brett: “You mention him in “Quicksand’.”

Bowie: “Yes… Haha! Caught out! Well, that’s before I tried reading him. Hahahaha! That’s when I had hi biography in my raincoat so the title showed. That was reading on the tube. The irony is that I really didn’t see any political implications in my interest in Nazis. My interest in them was the fact that hey supposedly came to England before the war to find the Holy Grail at Glastonbury and this whole Arthurian thought was running through my mind. So that’s where all that came from. The idea that it was about putting Jews in concentration camps and the complete oppression of different races completely evaded my extraordinarily f-ed up nature at that particular time. But, of course, it came home to me very clearly and crystalline when I came back to England.”

Brett: “Do you think, again, that you were picking up on the zeitgesit with the whole punk thing happening?”

Bowie: “I don’t know because, over in Los Angeles, where all this was happening for me, I had absolutely no idea what was going on in England so, presumably, if the swastika was becoming a motif in the London punk scene, it was synchronistic. I was certainly unaware of it.”

Brett: “Your antennae seem to be subconsciously in tune with things sometimes. Lots of movements in your career seem to be in tune with things that are happening that you might not be consciously aware of.”

Bowie: “Yes, unnervingly so. At times it rather reminds me of the South Seas tribe that saw an aeroplane going over and then built a wooden model of an aeroplane in their forest hoping for that God to come back again. They had the shape of the aeroplane absolutely perfect but had no idea what it was. Y’know, sometimes I felt a lot of what I did was rather like that. I built models of the things that I didn’t fully understand.”

NME: It’s interesting that you talk about it in the past tense. Do you not work that way any more?

Bowie: “Well, no. By virtue of the fact that I don’t do drugs. I think that probably has a lot to do with the fact that I now have some idea of where my rationality comes from.”

Brett: “D’you think you miss anything through not doing drugs?”

Bowie: “No, not at all, because looking back, ‘Low, ‘Heroes‘, ‘Lodger‘ and ‘Scary Monsters‘ were all virtually drug-free… I wont say they were completely drug-free because I was still climbing out of it, but it wasn’t anything like the kind of drug situations that I was going through, starting with ‘Diamond Dogs‘ and Station To Station‘. I think probably my best work came out of the late 70s period when there was virtually no drugs…”

Brett: “How did you actually manage to keep a grip during the darkest depths of it?

Bowie: “Well, I didn’t.”

Brett: “You were pretty profilic for someone so deeply into drugs.”

Bowie: “D’you know, there are alcoholics that can keep the pretense of real, normal existence, clinging on by their fingernails, and nobody around them will ever suspect how deeply their problem goes? I think a lot of it was like that. I think I held on by my fingernails. I really did. Especially by ‘Station To Station‘, I look back at photographs of myself in those days and I just can’t recognize the same person. It was extraordinary that I made it through. And the two or three times that I overdosed and actually came out of it… y’know, I’ll never understand how I allowed it to become two or three times! Why the first time wasn’t, That’s it’, I don’t know! But you just don’t.

NME: Did you glean anything positive from it all?

Bowie: “Um… I would have to feel so irresponsible in saying that I did. Possibly… but the chances of being able to dip in it just enough to get the positive stuff and then step out are so stacked against you that I would never in my right mind advise anybody to try it. Y’know, that’s the trouble it’s like having this huge great oyster with this pearl in the middle and you could get the pearl but you do risk having your arms snapped off. Well, do we do it or not? I would suggest that possibly the best thing is just to not bother.”

NME: And yet people continue to revere f-ups. We all know Jim Morrison grew into a great fat, wasted jerk and yet people steal his gravestone.

Bowie: “Well, we don’t see enough photographs of the stupid fat berk lying in his bath tub, we only see him moody and handsome. It’s the same with Dean. The youthful expression goes that he lived too fast and died young. Well, maybe if more photographs were published of him after the car wreck…I think we are just led to believe by the mythology of drugs that, if we take them, we shall be put in touch with the secrets of the cosmos, that we shall have this straight line to knowledge of what it’s all about. And it’s just not true. I know from my past that I used drugs in such excess that I probably obliterated any chance of getting anything useful out of the situation at all apart from maybe these quick insights.  

“One of them was this thing of only living in the moment. When I was heavily into coke, I couldn’t remember two minutes past and I certainly didn’t think about the future. I really felt as if I was existing in the now and, because of that, there was this so totally focused into the moment that you felt you had a godlike insight into what was going on. And the feeling of no past and no future gave you a weightlessness of insight and perception.

“But I also remember there were times when I occasionally got near that when I was doing meditation back in the late 60s. It’s just harder work and drugs are the quick passport to nirvana. You can get it on acid. You can get it on coke. You can get there quicker and you don’t have to do all the hard labor of actually having to meditate and all that boring stuff, y’know? Learn a language instantly. Hahahah! It’s like those little books on Learn Japanese In A Week. You learn how to speak all these questions yet God forbid anybody should answer you in Japanese ‘cos you won’t have any equipment to understand what they’re talking about!”

NME: But the people who buy Brett’s records, the drugs that some of them come into contact with are likely to be very different from what you were talking in your days. Cheap crap that really f-s’em up.

Bowie: “Yes, I must say it was good stuff in my day. In the giddy heights I was operating in, we had what was called pharmaceutical coke which is this extraordinary, sparkling medicinal stuff…”

Brett: “I think that’s why Ecstasy became so big, because for lots of people it was the first drug that was actually like how people imagine drugs to be. When I first started taking drugs when I was young, you took something like coke and were left wondering what the big shit was all about.”

Bowie: “It was probably an awful lot of talcum powder.”

Brett: “But the first time you take Ecstasy, it’s a completely different story. You think, ‘This is the most amount of happiness that anyone’s ever had since… Julius Caesar.”

Bowie: “Well, I have heard from the people I know who still take drugs that the kind of purity that was around 20 years ago just doesn’t exist any more.”

NME: Listen to us! Drugs ain’t what they used to be!

Brett: “Club culture’s completely changed it all really. People don’t take drugs how they used to at all as far as I can tell. I mean, drugs used to be used in a much more experimental way, it was a mental thing, whereas now people use them for an almost animalistic return. Y’know, you go to a club and you take Ecstasy which is quite an ugly thought to me. I wouldn’t really wanna do that.”

Bowie: “I know somebody who was with Aldous Huxley (author of Brave New World and Doors Of Perception) when he died an it is absolutely true that he took acid as he was dying. Isn’t that extraordinary? He went out tripping. That’s real belief! That really is using yourself as a guinea pig and there’s an element of that in wanting to be in music as well. Using yourself as a guinea pig is terribly seductive – what can I do to myself and how far can I go before it starts to have an advance effect on me? How far can I go and get the delights of this thing before it starts turning nasty? The trick is knowing when to stop. Hahahaha!”