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Super Seventies RockSite! presents

 David Bowie - In His Own Words

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An innovator and an icon for rock followers for almost thirty years, David tells how he needed the alter egos to write songs and how the characters came and went in his life. A major league star.

David Bowie had a very reserved, respectable childhood. Nothing really happened to me that one would consider freaky. I went to one of the first art-oriented high schools in England, where one could take an art course from the age of twelve, thirteen, as opposed to waiting until seventeen when you go to art school. So there was a strong bias toward art from when I was quite young.

I had a very excellent art teacher, Peter Frampton's father, who was an inspiration to all who where involved with him. It was an experiment for him to try to get us involved in art at a younger age. I think three-fourths of our class actually did go on to art school, which is a hell of a proportion. Some of us went straight into street jobs because we didn't really believe in ourselves as painters/artists, and I was one of those. I went into the visual side of an advertising agency. I was doing paste-up jobs and small designs for raincoats. It was awful. If all this goes down the drain, I can be on Madison Avenue with the best of them.

A lot of people have tried to analyze me in print, and it just gets in the way of my own conception of what I do and what I want to do. Early in the English period, when Tony Palmer decided the Beatles were art, the whole ball started rolling for home philosophy and the psychoanalysis of artists. It was far too ridiculous. I'm just a popular musician, and that's how I view myself.

But a lot of us in England did try to bring another dimension to rock. Roxy Music, T-Rex, Marc Bolan. In America there was Iggy Pop, who is radically different than the person he projects on stage. Also David Johansen from the New York Dolls, who was a pretty hip guy during that period. But up until that time, the attitude was "what you see is what you get." It seemed interesting to try to devise something different, like a musical where the artist onstage plays a part. Like the Ziggy Stardust character. He was half out of sci-fi rock and half out of Japanese theater. The clothes were simply outrageous, and nobody had seen anything like them before. The clothes were the brainchild of a well-known designer, at least he is now, Kansai Yamamoto. Extraordinary designer. He did all the Ziggy clothes. He contemporized the Japanese Kabuki look and made it work for rock'n'roll.

David Bowie's Seventies
Billboard Top 40 Singles

"Space Oddity"  2/73  #15
"Young Americans"  4/75  #28
"Fame"  8/75  #1
"Golden Years"  1/76  #10

I moved out of Ziggy fast enough so as not to get caught up by it. Most rock characters that one creates usually have a short life span. I don't think they're durable album after album. Don't want them to get too cartoony. The Ziggy thing was worth one or two albums, so after Aladdin Sane. I had to start thinking quickly about what I wanted to write, which came out as an abortive attempt to do 1984. Abortive because we couldn't get the rights from Mrs. Orwell. She saw her husband's work through a far more serious pair of eyes than I imagine we did. I got half the thing written before I thought, "I better go and ask her if I could continue this."

So I sort of did a quick turnaround and it became Diamond Dogs, which was sort of a piecemeal attempt at forming a postnuclear kind of society with this rather shabbily disguised form of 1984.

From the Diamond Dogs /abortive 1984 thing, which did produce one excellent tour, I brought everything I ever wanted to see on the rock'n'roll stage. Needless to say, it was a huge financial disaster. But it was a terrific bit of stuff to have done.

It was on that tour that I met Toni Basil. She had been working with a group of black dancers called the Lockers, who were, I guess, the progenitors of the street dancers. Toni worked hard in the early Seventies to make street dancing something people would know about. It wasn't until the Eighties that street dancing itself became break dancing. Toni choreographed the Diamond Dogs tour. I won't say we waved any banners for street dancing, but it certainly was evidence of what was to come.

David Bowie

"On the whole it's been quite kaleidoscopic. It's all been rather terrific. I feel very lucky to have been able to do it all."

I've always found it easier to write for other people. I feel terribly inhibited about writing for me. It's only in the last few years that I've resigned myself into believing that I'm a moderately good singer. I can interpret a song, which is not quite the same thing as singing it. I had no problems writing for Iggy Pop or working with Lou Reed or writing for Mott the Hoople. If anybody wants a song, come and ask because I can do it in fifteen minutes. But I find it extremely hard to write for me.

I never had much of a relationship with the Beatles or Rolling Stones, but I did with individuals like Mick Jagger and John Lennon. Mick is ambivalent with his likes and dislikes. He's actually quite conservative when it comes to making his own records. He's aware of who's doing what and what's happening, but he's a rootsman to this day, and the music he plays more than anything else is the blues. He's never deviated from that. That's one thing you can say about Mick, he has absolute perfect integrity to the music he wanted to start playing when he first started playing. He's bemused by all the other things that go on, whereas I'm more of a sucker, more of a fan. If it's wearing a pink hat and a red nose and playing a guitar upside-down, I'll go and look at it. I love to see people being dangerous. Mick, I think, is more of an onlooker.

David Bowie's Seventies
Billboard Top 10 Albums

Diamond Dogs  7/74  #7
Station To Station  2/76  #4

John was the only one I got to know from the Beatles, and unfortunately it was toward the end of his life. I first met John in the middle Seventies when I was doing Young Americans. It was an inspiration to work with him, but it was one of those associations that last about the length of the recording. We didn't see each other for another year. Then we started to pick up on what was becoming a very instructive and deep relationship. Having gone to art school, a lot of the stuff we talked about went into the world of art, why an artist wants to do things in the first place, and all of that. It gets very melodramatic, but it's the kind of relationship that one savors, and it's something you don't forget easily.

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But I never really felt part of the other stuff, not from an elitist stance, at least. I knew I played as well as them, and I always felt a little out of my element, which is a ridiculously hifalutin' way of looking at it. From my standpoint, from '72 to '76, I was the ultimate rock star. I couldn't have been more of a rock star. Anything that had to do with being a rock'n'roll singer was what I was going for. I was it for all that period. I kept myself away from all the supergroups, or maybe they kept themselves away from me. Who knows?

On the whole it's been quite kaleidoscopic. It's been quite a rich, colorful affair over the last fifteen years. It's all been rather terrific. I feel very lucky to have been able to do it all. 

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