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!”