The First Synthetic Rock Star.
There Is No Other
Lisa Robinson • New Musical Express • 7 March
(Edited version. Published in full in Hit Parader, August & September 1976)
"Bowie's back, David's great, the show is just
a straight rock'n'roll show, he's in such good health, my interview
with David was fabulous."
All this and more I heard prior to departing
for LA and Phoenix where I was to talk to Bowie for the first time
in nearly five years, and to see his current stage show. It had
been arranged for me to 1) watch him tape the Dinah Shore TV show;
2) catch his final sold out show at the LA Forum; and 3) Interview
the Artiste in Phoenix several days later.
I went with mixed feelings,
no illusions, few expectations. I was amused that he was showing
Un Chien Andalou before his concert, how naïve, in a way. David
would later agree with me that he is naïve, and proud of it. If
one views the journalistic/reportage process as confrontation.
We perhaps came out even. There is an honesty about David these
days even though it really can't be described as refreshing. It
is as carefully acted out as anything he's ever done, and as such,
the face of David Bowie presented to me that week was who David
Bowie decided to be, February 1976. He's clever, totally aware of
his persona, and there's a very determined gleam in his eyes these
The Dinah Shore show audience is a mixed lot
– housewives with blue hair who wait in line to be a part, somehow,
of Hollywood "show business", and more teenagers than
The warmup man leaps out in bright orange turtleneck
sweater and beige polyester leisure suit, and hits us with the rap:
"We get some nutty audiences on this show, folks… We want
you to scream, applaud, do your own thing… Just got back from
Lost Wages… yuk, yuk, yuk… "'
"Didja see Day-vee?" shrieks a maniac blond
("Angela wanted to be here," whispers the publicist,
"but she's home cooking for a dinner party they're having later
with Alice Cooper and Ray Bradbury.")
"And now - here's someone considered by many
to be one of the most influential people in the rock spectrum!!!"
Pix flash on the screen - the Ziggy patterned jumpsuit,
the long striped sock, the pink jockstrap, the white suit. About
50 teenagers in the audience scream as a screen is raised and There
David Bowie sings Stay and out of camera range, co-hosts
Nancy Walker and "Fonzie" Winkler tap their toes. Bowie does
little disco steps, looks great.
The song over, he sits down with Dinah to "rap".
Dinah: "How do you feel when you hear those
Dave: "It's my drummer, actually… "
More photos of our boy flash on the screen, big white
suit, red suspenders blue and white polka-dot sweater. Dinah elicits
remarks from David: "Oh that one, I was living in New York at the
time and was influenced by a lot of Puerto Rican clothing. I steal
from everybody, you know."
Switch to Bowie on the couch, sipping
tea with Dinah, Nancy and Fonzie. "I have never seen David
perform before." Nancy Walker says earnestly. "He's beautiful. But
you know I was brought up on Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart… "
"Hoagy Carmichael," David offers.
"David, you're a puzzle to many people," says
Dinah. "There are a lot of David Bowies - but is there really only
one David Bowie?"
"Well, I started as a painter," Bowie replies,
"but I was a natural ham. Rock and roll is superb way of releasing
that. I still act the songs rather than sing them. If the French
can get away with it, I figure so can I.
"It's the policy of the self-invented man,"
he continues. "You strip down all the things you don't like about
yourself. One thing I didn't like was being very shy. If I gave
myself an alarming reputation, then I'd be faced with defending
Dinah: "You know, David, we all often do interviews
and put people on, but I read where you said and now I've
met your lovely wife Angela - you said 'I've never been in love,
thank God… "
David: "I have a vast capacity to love, but
the one time I found myself falling in love it was obsessive in
a way. The thing about putting a person on a pedestal, it's like
what people search for in God. "
"You've said," Dinah continues, "that if
you were an original thinker, you would not be in rock'n'roll."
"Oh yes," smiles David.
"But rock'n'roll has been very good to you,"
"I've been good for rock'n'roll," he says.
At the end of the show David sings Five Years straight
into the camera, tight closeup on his face. That same song, the same
face that was in closeup about five years ago when he was on Old
Grey Whistle Test.
"I think with the stage show," David would tell me
later, "I've put myself in a position of being more like the real
David Bowie the audience has wanted. This show is more bisexual,
more theatrical than anything I've ever done, I think Ostensibly
because it's the most real show I've done.
"Now, I can start work."
ELTON JOHN swoops into the Forum
backstage area dressed in brown. He's taken a few hours out of rest
and hiding in LA to pay his respects, but doesn't stay long at the
concert after his presence begins to attract attention.
In the audience are Linda Blair, David Hockney (who's
had a busy week, attending parties for the Spinners, and The Pretty
Things) Christopher Isherwood ("Can you imagine?" Angela Bowie gasped
after the show, "CHRISTOPHER ISHERWOOD!!! My idol!!"), and
Henry "Fonzie" Winkler.
The taped music of Kraftwerk can be heard over the
PA "Radioactivity for you and me," croons writer Cameron Crowe.
Before the screening of Un Chien Andalou, Carole
King treks up the aisle with new hippie boyfriend in tow. "You wouldn't
believe how crazy it is down there," she shrieks to a friend in
her very best Brooklyn yenta voice. I cannot believe how, with all
her money, she is wearing a three-dollar Indian shmatah. Cameron
Crowe cannot believe I say this. She does however seem very young,
and glowingly in love.
At last Bowie comes casually out onstage, singing
Station to Station. There's a huge roar, and everyone stands up.
As the show has been reviewed in these pages at length
by Ben Edmonds, I'll just add these observations: I didn't much
care for the band - too loud, too funky, too much bottom. My seat
was reverberating throughout the show - not a pleasant sensation
- and Waiting for the Man doesn't really work in its new sultry,
The show is perhaps more theatrical than any that
have preceded it, because Bowie's creating the illusion that it's
real - just A Man And His Music. Make no mistake: this is a show,
not a concert.
Bowie moves like a film actor who knows that standing
still in front of a camera often commands more attention. The entire
production - from the Kraftwerk, to Un Chien Andalou, to the black
and white - is like a film David's directed himself.
It's focused, and the focus is definitely on the
Star. No more cute guitarists to go down on, no more shoving the
band to the side of the stage in an attempt to be visually rid of
them. This band stands behind Bowie, but could just as easily be
behind a curtain.
It's fine to hire "excellent musicians", but conceptually,
visually, these people have nothing at all to do with Bowie.
("Do you consider this to be your band?" I would
ask him later. "Oh no … they'll all probably wander off after
the tour and go back to James Brown or wherever they came from,"
he replied. "I really don't know them … I mean, I know Carlos… ")
One thing I do love in the show is when David stands
to the side of the stage during the instrumental solos, nodding
his head as if he digging them. Aside from admiring such fine acting,
it makes one long for the star's speedy return to centre stage –
and don't think David doesn't know that.
But I'm a sucker for the more familiar rock'n'roll
numbers like Suffragette City, Jean Genie, Changes, so for
me they're the most successful songs in the show. Strangely enough,
he leaves out Young Americans and Golden Years, but mercifully
he's put Space Oddity to rest, perhaps forever.
The shows lasts about one and a half hours and, after
much cheering and lighting of matches, he returns to say: "We're
touring the world, and I won't see you for, oh, a year, so we'll
leave you with this… "
A great Rebel Rebel.
In the dressing room after the show Bowie chats quietly
with Hockney and Isherwood.
Wouldn't you know it would be a full moon in Phoenix - the town where Alice Cooper and The
Tubes went to high school. I push open the door to Bowie's suite
and, omigod. Iggy is in the room. A perfect Surrealist setting,
guaranteed to throw me off guard. There's a definite air of tension…
David, I begin, how are you enjoying this tour?
"I'm a little bored," he replies, quietly.
"I guess I'll have to change the show around. Maybe
just the order of songs. I definitely left some numbers out like
Time, Space Oddity, precisely for the reason that I'd rather the
energy level come from the eye line, rather than an association
with any particular piece of theatre.
"I'm doing a lot of unknown songs, which is hard
for the audience, so I've compromised and put a few of the more
familiar ones in."
Are you doing it for the money?
"Good lord, of course I am."
I ask about his involvement with R&B.
"If you played my records to somebody who was brought
up on R&B they'd laugh in your face. "
"TVC 15" sounds a lot like Otis Redding's Hucklebuck.
"Really?" Eyes wide. "It sounds more like Elvis's
Girl Went Walking to me. I know Hucklebuck intimately… that's
why I know that the music I play is nothing like R&B… "
So what do you think of the album?
"I like it. I wish I'd done it differently though.
I compromised in the mixing, I wanted to do a dead mix. It should
have been a dry mix. All the way through, no echo.
"All the way through the making of the album I was
telling myself I'd do a dry mix. And I gave in, I gave in and added
that extra commercial touch. I wish, I wish… I wish I hadn't."
You've said you don't consider yourself a musician…
"No one else would deny that."
But you've managed to write at least one great rock
and roll song every year for the past six years.
"Incredible luck and a shrewd mercenary attitude
got me that far."
Isn't it hard to write a good rock'n'roll song?
"Not if you're desperate enough. And not if you passionately
want to be a rock'n'roll star and be lionised and have eulogies
written about yourself. Then you write a bloody good song.
"And if you don't, then you're not going to be a
rock'n'roll star. Anyway, I'm not in rock'n'roll. I never thought
of this as a 'career' - it's my own field. Now I'm wondering what
When did you first realise that you had a voice?
"I sort of did it all hopping on one foot, hoping
I'd get by."
Now really. All this wide-eyed innocence, all this
chance stuff - it doesn't convince me one bit. I mean, you were
always at least a half step ahead of the others.
When I saw you in January 1971 [sic]* at your birthday
party and you made an entrance wearing the grey patterned Ziggy
jumpsuit and red vinyl boots, you told me you hadn't seen Clockwork
"Well, I knew everybody had seen Jason And The Argonauts and knew about the Harpies. That was the most outstanding hairstyle
I had ever seen. I suppose I followed my own indulgences to such
an extent that it created a field of its own.
"I feel thoroughly responsible for the state of rock'n'roll.
As Mick once said, the Grandfather of Glitter Rock." He laughs.
A laugh, by the way, is a performance. The eyes flash,
the head is artfully tossed back, the grin is lovely. it is then
that I notice the teeth.
Nice new ones?
"What? These? They're my same old fangs."
I thought everyone at MainMan had new teeth.
"I was never at MainMan," Bowie replies with a wicked
gleam in his eye. "And I couldn't afford new teeth, I was so busy
paying for everybody else's."
How do you view your "competitors"?
"I would hate to be considered that I was put up
against other people in rock. Good heavens, no. If I was in it for
that kind of reason then I've failed dismally.
"The biggest joy in rock'n'roll is to be able to
acknowledge everybody else's talent and be a fan and get by and
make a living at the same time … It's terrific."
You're a fan?
"Well, the people in it, not it. The personas. It'll
do until I can start directing films. I wish I could direct a show.
My perfect gig would be to take all the people I like and drag them
onstage. I'd like to direct their shows. I can't do that, so I do
"My albums … most of them I think are too naïve.
I thought so at the time. That's one of the most amazing things
about rock'n'roll apart from any message or statement or
whatever the thing that people really, really have empathy
with is naïvete. It's the most loving factor of any art form.
"It's nice to know that behind the callous, cold,
iceman cometh Bowie he's really probably pretty uncertain about
what he's doing. I think that's poignant, and very tender."
"I'm a good synthetic. I'm really the first
synthetic rock artist. There is no other.
"Everyone else sort of keeps the faith. I try
and keep the counters. I'm very good at that. I'm even better than... Oh, you fill that in."
So when did you first discover The Grand Illusion?
"Seeing my brother do coin tricks - making them
disappear. Then seeing him do it in front of other people, and seeing
their faces. Sixpences appearing under the pillow if you put a tooth
under it. That kind of thing."
Tell me about The Man Who Fell To Earth.
"It's a good film. Working with Nicolas (Roeg)
was a classic experience. It was one of the more important experiences
that I've ever had - not on a film level, on another level that
I can't explain in such a brief meeting.
"He has a depth, and a quality as a human being
that I admire - and tried to wallow in a much as possible, actually.
Tried to soak it up and hope that I took a little of it with me.
An excellent man, fabulous.
"Yes… I know where my baskets, and my eggs
are, dear." Flash of the eyes, toss of the head, laughter.
Bowie suddenly says, "Oh do put that thing down,
my love," (referring to the tape recorder I'm holding), "I mean
I don't mind it, but… no matter how many of these things I've
done, I'm not in my element.
"I wish I could stay with someone for three
weeks, and the sort of… I mean I always fell that afterwards
I've done a sorry job. You know, 'Oh, did I tell them enough about
myself', 'were they impressed enough', 'do they know I'm a man of
many talents'… it's really tiresome.
"Oh well, we've all got our props. You've got
that machine, I've got this bottle of beer today."
Then he says: "I wish I was a farmer."
"Something wholesome and invigorating." he laughs.
Which reminds me … Lou Reed.
"To be honest, I haven't heard the last two
albums. I heard Metal Machine Music, he brought it over. But hmmm,
Edgar Froese I like. Oh dear, this is going to sound like I'm dropping
the ultimate unknown names.
"I mean, who do I like? Christ, it all stinks
in general. Eno - I quite like Eno. I'd like him to be in lggy's
band, actually. How gauche. No, actually, I'm getting lggy an all-black
band of ex-basketball players.
"I like Bryan Ferry. He's much better than I
am as a writer, I've not seen him onstage for a while, but I thought
he had the makings of a good film actor… I'd love to direct him
in a film.'
"I think he's the most talented thing to come
out of England, whether he knows it or not. I think oh, he's going
to hate this but I think he should lose his band. Quickly. They're
holding him back in this country, and he better be fast …
"Bryan, dear. There's nobody else."
Tell me about love, David.
"Oh, they're all so sex mad here." More laughter.
"It's all they want to talk about."
No - the religious stuff you were on about on Dinah
"Well, if I started to preach and spout what I really
believed in I would be off the program in fifteen minutes. Pure
boredom, and I can never find the words for it anyway.
"I'm terribly emotional. I'm everything. I'm spiteful,
I'm tedious, then warm and loving and such great company … debonair
and charming and a horror. I go off at the mouth and get very tyrannical
and then again I'm very philosophical, with my heads in the clouds.
"Heads," he laughs, "now there's the sign of a schizophrenic… 'got
my heads in the cloud'… and I want to keep all those. Anyone
wants to take those away from me I'll sue 'em.
"I'm getting used to suing people."
When you look back on your projects, do you feel
that they're incomplete? Have you ever felt that's it, you've got
"No. I can't even brush my teeth without feeling
that I haven't done a good job. I always wish I could do it again… ."
When did you first look into the mirror and realise
that you were good looking, honey?
"When I was a couple of weeks old." He laughs loudly.
"I'm sorry … I don't know … ahhhhh, I do remember. I'm not
telling you though. (Laughs) I was naked at the time. Then I got
'round to looking at my face …
"I'd be scared stiff if I ever felt that one of my
projects had been totally right, complete," he continues, seriously.
"I would be unbearable if I was at that stage, as a person. Wouldn't
I just? I mean wouldn't anybody? If they got to the stage where
they thought that everything they did was the cat's asshole … "
What do you think when you look back on your various
stages - all those costumes?
"How embarrassing. Actually, it's only embarrassing
after about the second or third year. The third year when it came
out of being cliche to archetype. Then it started looking good again.
"There was a point where you go through all this
haziness about 'God, that's the most dreadful thing I've ever seen
in my life, how on earth did I wear it', then you go past that and
think, 'how incredibly right I was'.
"It was so tentative all the way through, and looking
back on it, I remember a photo. Of the four of us - the Spiders
- at a table at an RCA press reception. Four photos of really scared
little boys wearing funny clothes, and stark light - in fact, that's
where I got the idea of bringing back the old Bertolt Brecht lighting.
It was so rivetingly news. It looked like news, I looked like a
"Yes, this is the popular music social condition.
This is what popular music felt like, not what it looked like, but
what it felt like. This dressup and these faces, all looking out
… and the photos were taken right in front of them so it was
like boom, boom, boom - big pictures of pretty David Bowie in the
back, then these four creatures sitting there, absolutely riveting.
"And that's when I realised just how good it was.
Not just it, or me, but the thing - what actually went down. That
was what it was all about. It was a film, it really was.
"It's now a long time ago, 1972. And I can now be
arrogant and self-pleasing enough about it to look back on it and
know that I did what I had intended to do. Which was bringing a
"Whether I was responsible for it or not, I was at
least a spearhead. To recognize, and be able to adopt a position
where I would be able to drag it through, makes me feel good.
"I've said this elsewhere, but I feel that my contribution
to rock-and roll is all done. That was it, creating a whole era,
by being responsible, by being the one to take the plunge. If I
had really fucked up, it would have been dismal … where would
it have gone??
"If I hadn't come over here in 1969 [sic]** wearing that
dress, what would have happened? I mean Alice wouldn't have dressed
up - they were a punk band at the time, with a great name. With
lyrics all about street fighting.
"Alice and I are very close now, we had dinner the
other night. Isn't that lovely," he beams, "having dinner with these
people. Because now I do feel like their grandfather. I tell them
what to do.
"I never had any competition. Except Marc Bolan,
back in England. I had to Find somebody I would have friction with,
somebody I could compete with, just to get me off the ground. Someone
that would give me motivation to do the thing in the first place.
"So Marc was perfect; a friend, gets there before
me. I fought like a madman to beat him. Knowing theoretically there
was no race. But wanting passionately to do it.
"Now of course Marc and I are best friends. He's
one of my closest friends actually… he's the funniest person
I know. I never laugh so much we're gloriously silly when
we're together, you wouldn't recognize either of us. It's lovely,
"There are some people in rock'n'roll who are really
nice. They relax with me. I don't think they expect somebody to
intimidate them as much as I often do. Not purposely, but I have
learned how to relax a lot in the past couple of years. And I understand
my position and I'm very proud of it, and I think it helps others
to relax with me because I know what it is all about.
"I know everything about this business, though how
good I am at some aspects of it I don't know. But I know it thoroughly,
intimately. And other people no longer have to be anything …
and they become different, they don't talk to other people the way
they do with me, they open up and bring out these amazing things
about themselves. It's fantastic."
The Media, David. Tell me about The Media.
"Oh they're absolute idiots. Well have to get in
there and blast open films, television, whatever. Most of it will
be done by reversed infiltration and seemingly pandering to a particular
aspect, then blowing it apart when you have the position, reputation,
prestige, to do that.
To change the media, you've got to own it first,
"I've ripped off Picture newspaper, I think it's
very good. Good old Andy, he was right, wasn't he? A newspaper with
"I want to bring that out again. Absolutely identical
to Picture newspaper, but with different pictures. Mostly of me,
at first, until it starts selling. And a lot of whoever's popular
at the time.
"And slip in a few things … William Burroughs,
"But if I might add eulogy to eulogy, I think the
whole theatrical, elusive quality of what's gone down has been the
most cutting thing. To cut the shit. It has, and it will - mark
my words - produce a new kind of truthfulness.
"Stark. I mean it's stark, for me it's Man Ray … "
Are you putting me on? You know that Richard Robinson
and Lenny Kaye formed a band in 1969 called Man Ray. All black and
"Oh, that's incredible. But of course, you know that
… And the object of my getting around to doing that, to bringing
it there … how can you bring it there until you produce an
extreme of the opposite psychic movement?
"You can't come out of Dylan into black and white.
No way. There's no friction, To cause an art movement, you have
to set something up and then destroy it. The whole rock culture
has become so self-important that is doesn't realise its incredible
strength comes from finding cliches.
"It is now looking for an archetype first; it's looking
for a new Dylan, it's looking for a new Lou Reed. It's looking for
a new something to prove that it really is a culture. It won't get
excited by great mediocrity, because it doesn't understand itself.
"And the only thing to do is what the Dadaists, the
surrealists did; complete amateurs who are pretentious as hell and
just fuck it up the ass. Cause as much bad, ill feeling as possible,
and then you've got a chance of having a movement.
"But you'll only create a movement when you have
a rebellious cause, and you can't have any rebellious cause when
you're the most well loved person in the country.
"What you've got there is… well, a chance of
being the most well loved person in the country."
David wants to play me a tape he's done with lggy.
It's fabulous, very tense.
Iggy's voice is amazing, I note.
"Of course," Bowie smiles, pleased. "Why do you think
he keeps coming back to me? Iggy's amazing. He really has nothing
to do with rock'n'roll, he's in it by accident. He's just the
You must save him, I say to Bowie, with a smile on
my face but meaning it. He grasps my hand, nods emphatically. Accompanies
me to the door, and in the most charming way, thanks me for coming.
Basically all art, Bowie feels, is a process of destroying
what was set up before. So it was with this interview, in a way.
I had no desire to find the real David Bowie. I fully
accept that he is whoever he wants to be at the moment, and adapts
totally to whoever he's talking to.
At the end of All About Eve, Phoebe the girl
who has idolised Eve Harrington, played chillingly by Anne Baxter
dons Eve's long silver cape, picks up her Sarah Siddons Award,
and looks into a three-way mirror.
Hundreds of her own images look out at her, and one
feels that director Joseph Mankiewicz is telling us that there are
thousands of them out there.
I keep feeling that there must have been a time when
David Bowie looked into a three-way mirror and saw how many David
Bowies there could be. He's only just begun.