David Bowie in concert at Earl’s Court, London during his 1978 world tour
Bowie’s alter ego, and star of the album of the same name, with the famous blue and red lightning flash on his forehead on top of pale make-up.
The photograph was shot by Brian Duffy, with make-up by Pierre La Roche.
[The lightning bolt is] “An electric kind of thing. Instead of, like, the flame of a lamp, I thought he would probably be cracked by lightning. Sort of an obvious-type thing, as he was sort of an electric boy.”
In 1976, Bowie moved from Los Angeles to West Berlin to escape drug addiction and his show business life.
“I went naked in Berlin, I really did try to strip down my life to what I believed to be absolutely basic essentials so I could begin again. I gave a lot of possessions away, my wardrobe really was just jeans and checked shirts. I walked around, I had a bicycle. I think it was the first freedom I’d had from all those so-called trappings of celebrity.
“The thing that was most exciting about it all was I found that even without drugs I was writing very well and that was probably the most rejuvenating aspect of it all. You don’t need to get stoned out of your gourd to write well, that was an incredibly important thing for me.
“I can’t say it was like night and day but suddenly I was this different person. I wasn’t, and it took quite a long time, but I did see light at the end of the tunnel and it wasn’t a train.”
B is also for BISEXUALITY – after the release of Hunky Dory, Bowie told a journalist that he was bisexual.
“That went down very well, didn’t it? It was a bit of a throwaway [remark], but I stuck to my guns. When I got to America it meant a lot more as it was a much heavier statement over there; more radical and political in a way as they were going through the Gay Lib thing at the time.
“So for the first couple of years I had a heavy battle because it was hard to tell people that that whole bisexuality thing was part of me, but it wasn’t necessarily part of the work I did.
“Because I wore funny clothes on stage it didn’t mean they were drag clothes but Americans don’t appreciate the subtleties of dress as they do in Europe. Just because I was bisexual didn’t mean that everything I wrote about or did was all gay. That bisexual thing was part of my private life.
“The biggest obstacle I had was getting away from being put up there as some kind of gay performer.”
A track on the Aladdin Sane album, it also became the title of the 1975 BBC documentary showing Bowie at the height of his fame and cocaine abuse.
“I was so blocked… so stoned… It’s quite a casualty case, isn’t it. I’m amazed I came out of that period. Honest. When I see that now I cannot believe I survived it. I was so close to really throwing myself away physically. Completely.”
The multifaceted star in Labyrinth as Jareth the Goblin King
Fame itself… doesn’t really afford you anything more than a good seat in a restaurant
Bowie famously had a cocaine addiction through his Thin White Duke phase but he successfully cleaned himself up: “I don’t do drugs or drink any more. A glass of wine would kill me. I’m an alcoholic, it would be the kiss of death for me to start drinking again.
“Everyone around me – my friends, my family – are so good and have been for so many years now and I would not do anything to destroy that again. It’s very hard to have relationships when you’re doing drugs and drinking. You become closed off, unreceptive, insensitive, all those dreadful things you’ve heard every other pop singer say and I was very lucky that I found my way out of that.”
In 1980 Bowie played the Elephant Man John Merrick on Broadway.
“I went to see it on Broadway and was totally knocked out by it. The director came to see me a couple of months later and asked me if I would consider taking over the role at the end of the year and I was flabbergasted as I’d never been asked to do anything so supposedly legit.
“The toughest part was working with my own body and trying to create this distorted, ugly, figure without using make up. It came very naturally to me, which I assume was something to do with the mime training I’d had earlier.”
“Fame itself… doesn’t really afford you anything more than a good seat in a restaurant.”
F is also for FAN MAIL
“It’s very sexy… I seem to draw a lot of fantasies out in people. A lot of it is very nice, people ask ‘How’s your baby, what’s your mum’s name’. The others are heavy duty.”
GLASS SPIDER TOUR
This was the 1987 world tour for the Never Let Me Down album. Rarely, for Bowie, it was critically panned. However, he wanted to do something different.
“I guess that they come along to see whether I’ll fall down or something. I really don’t know. I know that they get what they consider is a really good performance. I think that over the years I’ve proved that I do my best to provide them with some new vision of musical information on the stage.
“So I think there’s probably that element in it, but I couldn’t go any further than that. I really don’t know what they want from me. I’ve never really been able to write for them. I’ve only written and performed that which interests me. So essentially they have an agreement with me and that’s great.
“I mean, I’ve lost audiences many times over the years, and they’ve come back again for one reason or another. I’ve sort of got that mutual agreement with them. If it’s not going very well then they stay away. Which is fair enough, you know.”
The 1977 album, part of the Berlin triptych which included Low and Lodger, also contains the iconic title track of the same name with a mysterious story behind it.
“I’m allowed to talk about it now. I wasn’t at the time. I always said it was a couple of lovers by the Berlin Wall that prompted the idea. Actually, it was [producer] Tony Visconti and his girlfriend. Tony was married at the time and I could never say who it was.
“But I can now say that the lovers were Tony and a German girl that he’d met whilst we were in Berlin. I did ask his permission if I could say that.
“I think possibly the marriage was in the last few months, and it was very touching because I could see that Tony was very much in love with this girl, and it was that relationship which sort of motivated the song.”
In September 1998 BowieNet, an internet service provider and platform for Bowie’s music and fans, was launched.
The following year he said: “The potential of what the internet is going to do to society, both the good and bad, is unimaginable. We are on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying.
“The context and state of content is going to be so different to anything we’ve seen before, and the interface between user and provider will be so sympatico, it will crush our ideas of what media is all about.”
Duncan, who was named Zowie but later changed his name, is Bowie’s film director son by his first wife Angie. He is behind the films Moon and Source Code, and is working on the film of the Warcraft computer game.
“He’s seen me through some of the most awful depressing times when I was really in absolute, abject agony over my emotional state; the heights of my drinking or drug-taking. He’s seen the lot. So he’s had the full dose of me – more than he’ll ever need again. I look at him sometimes and I’m amazed we’re related. But we have just the most wonderful relationship.”
A touching song about parenthood from the Hunky Dory album. Written for Duncan, it was performed on BBC radio three days after his birth.
“I’d been listening to a Neil Young album and they phoned through and said that my wife had a baby on Sunday morning, and I wrote this one about the baby.”
Bowie performs ‘Rebel Rebel’ on the TV show TopPop on 7th February 1974
The 1983 album was one of Bowie’s bestsellers but in hindsight he wasn’t happy with the artistic change it brought in him.
“The Let’s Dance period was my ‘Phil Collins years’. There was a point where I was performing in front of these huge stadiums and crowds and thinking ‘What are these people doing here, why have they come to see me? They should be seeing Phil Collins’. They were definitely Phil Collins type audiences.
“And then that came back at me and I thought ‘What am I doing here? I should be playing to people who don’t look like they’ve come to see Phil Collins’. It was a certain kind of mainstream feel that I don’t feel comfortable in.”
MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH
Bowie starred in the 1976 Nicolas Roeg film as alien Thomas Jerome Newton.
“Nic just said, ‘Be yourself’. I think he realised that I had some serious problems at the time and just thought ‘He’s perfect. Just put him in, change his clothes and let him walk through it’. Some days my face would ache through not being able to use it and having to be absolutely expressionless. It was three months of being totally ‘the iceman cometh’.”
M is also for MARRIAGE – Bowie wed the model Iman on April 24, 1992.
“You would think that a rock star being married to a supermodel would be one of the greatest things in the world. It is!”
And MONEY – after a manager took a huge slice of the money from his early catalogue, Bowie became financially savvy and sold innovative Bowie Bonds which gave investors a share in his future earnings.
“The majority of money now I plough back into some form of project or other. I, of course being working class, I feel there’s never enough to leave my family so there’s a survival instinct there.
“I’m not a buyer of things, the only thing I buy obsessively is art. I’m not a house man or a car man. The only nice car I ever had was an E-Type Jaguar in 1967. Money is the oil to get other things going.”
Bowie first visited the city in 1971 and it was his home for the last two decades or so of his life.
“I’m here most of the year now. I leave only if work demands it. (I’ve read the rumours about how I have houses elsewhere but this is it.) I am not a secretive guy, but I am quite private. I live as a citizen pure and simple. I don’t go for the disguise thing. I’ve never found it necessary, at least not since my real hair colour grew in years ago.”
Omikron: The Nomad Soul was a computer game in which Bowie appeared as the character Boz who was sucked into the internet. He also provided the music.
“Boz is the spiritual leader of the Awakened, a revolutionary bunch trying to free Omikron from the grasp of the demons. He was a mere mortal who was sucked into the Omikron equivalent of the internet and continues to live ‘amidst the binary tides’. As Boz, I offer sage words of advice to the players.
“I saw Boz as being a kind of digital patchwork quilt, made up of all sorts of shifting patterns, fleeting thoughts, and fractured memories. Someone who would slip in and out of focus, one moment drifting and world-weary, the next absolutely concise and direct. He says some pretty profound things, in his own way.”
Bowie died on January 10 after a battle with cancer
Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and the Thin White Duke are the characters that Bowie took on for performance, which served him well for a time, but he gradually left them behind.
“I did tire of creating new images for myself. When I left Los Angeles, the way I could psychologically rid myself of these people for a bit was to open a wardrobe door and to mentally push them in and then I locked the wardrobe door but I’ve still got the key which I think is sort of hedging one’s bets, really.
“If I’d gone all the way I would have thrown the key away.”
The band had a huge hit with Bowie when they joined forces for Under Pressure in 1981.
“The song was written from the ground up on the night I visited their studio. I believe the riff had already been written by Freddie Mercury and the others so then we jointly put together the different chord sections to make it a cohesive piece of music.
“Then Freddie and I came up with our individual top line melodies. So when you hear Freddie sing, that’s what he wrote and when you hear me sing, that was mine. Then we worked on the lyrics together.
“I still cannot believe that we had the whole thing written and recorded in one evening flat. Quite a feat for what is actually a fairly complicated song.”
Ronson was the guitarist and arranger from Hull who was the key player in the Spiders From Mars.
“When I first heard him play I thought, ‘Oh! There’s my Jeff Beck, he is fantastic, this kid is great’, so I hoodwinked him into working for me. Mick was the perfect foil for the Ziggy character. He was very much a salt-of-the-earth type, the blunt Northerner with a defiantly masculine personality, so what you got was the old-fashioned Yin and Yang thing. As a rock duo I thought we were every bit as good as Mick and Keith or Axl and Slash. Ziggy and Mick were the personification of that rock ’n’ roll dualism.”
Bowie was never an ego-maniac and was always trying to improve.
“One painting isn’t the painter’s life and often they’ll do lots of paintings and he is only satisfied with a couple in his entire career and I think that applies to me definitely.
“I’m only happy with a couple of albums; occasionally I think I’ll strike something that’s very good but you can’t set out and do a painting and say ‘This is it’, you just try and if you don’t like it you put it to one side and do another one.
“I really don’t care if people buy my records or not. There’s a bohemian side of me which wishes they’d never buy another one and then I could go back to being a painter.
“Then the other part says ‘Who’s going to gratify your ego then?’. And the other one says ‘Well, I’ll be a successful painter’.”
The pop and fashionlegend at the 2010 CFDA Fashion Awards
Bowie formed Tin Machine in 1988 and it was poorly received. However, he did gain something from it, if not positive reviews.
“For better or worse it helped me to pin down what I did and didn’t enjoy about being an artist. It helped me, I feel, to recover as an artist. And I do feel that for the past few years I’ve been absolutely in charge of my artistic path again. I’m working to my own criteria.
“I’m not doing anything I would feel ashamed of in the future, or that I would look back on and say my heart wasn’t in that.”
This was a track from the soundtrack of Jim Henson’s film Labyrinth, the 1986 movie in which Bowie played Jareth the goblin king.
“Jim… outlined the basic concept for Labyrinth and showed me some of Brian Froud’s artwork. That impressed me for openers, but he also gave me a tape of The Dark Crystal, which really excited me. I could see the potential of adding humans to his strange world.
“I’d always wanted to be involved in the music-writing aspect of a movie that would appeal to children of all ages, as well as everyone else, and I must say that Jim gave me a completely free hand with it.
“The script itself was terribly amusing without being vicious or spiteful or bloody, and it also had more heart than many other special effects movies. So I was pretty well hooked from the beginning.”
Visconti was Bowie’s most celebrated producer, working with him on 13 albums including his final two: The Next Day and Blackstar.
His work on the Berlin tryptich was key to Bowie’s career.
“For whatever reason, for whatever confluence of circumstances, Tony, Brian Eno and I created a powerful, anguished, sometimes euphoric language of sounds. In some ways, sadly, they really captured, unlike anything else in that time, a sense of yearning for a future that we all knew would never come to pass.
“It is some of the best work that the three of us have ever done. Nothing else sounded like those albums. Nothing else came close. If I never made another album, it really wouldn’t matter now.
“My complete being is within those three. They are my DNA.”
Bowie wrote a song called Andy Warhol on his Hunky Dory album, ll in 2008.
“[Andy] hated it, he loathed it, he told people afterwards ‘That’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard’.
“I was upset by that, I thought it was kind of a flattering portrait of Andy at the time.”
David Bowie – Lazarus Official Music Video
X-wife ANGIE BOWIE
David married Angela Barnett in 1970, divorcing nine years later, and it is acknowledged that she was a key part of making him change his style to become a superstar known for his outrageous fashions. He was clearly in love in 1974…
“Obviously Angie must have turned me on for me to have married her! I mean you just don’t go marrying anybody. For a start I suppose I was attracted by her looks but no relationship can last long if it’s just based on physical attraction. There has to be more to it than that. You’ve got to be able to respect somebody in every way, especially if you’re going to marry them…
“With Angie I found that I really liked her personality. She’s got a lively mind and she’s always doing lots of different and sometimes unusual things. If I’m feeling jaded or tired she’s great because her bubbly mood soon rubs off on me and I don’t feel nearly so down any more.
“Obviously it works both ways and I feel that I can help her out too when she’s not feeling so good. I think our relationship’s good because we both know how to give and take. That’s our secret, I suppose.”
Bowie’s 1975 album was influenced by listening to the club music of the time. He described the work as “plastic soul”. John Lennon contributed to the track Fame.
“After meeting [Lennon] in some New York club we’d spent quite a few nights talking and getting to know each other before we’d even gotten into the studio.
“That period in my life is none too clear, a lot of it is really blurry, but we spent endless hours talking about fame and what it’s like not having a life of your own any more.
“How much you want to be known before you are and then, when you are, how much you want the reverse: ‘I don’t want to do these interviews! I don’t want to have these photographs taken!’
“We wondered how that slow change takes place, and why it isn’t everything it should have been.”
Another alter ego, star of an eponymous song and the album, Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars.
“Myself and my mates and a certain contingent of musicians in London were fed-up with denim and hippies and just wanted to go somewhere else; the more pompous, arty ones who’d probably read George Steiner and thought we were entering into this post-culture age and thought we ought to do something post-modernist, quickly, before anybody else did.”
Sources: BBC, Daily Telegraph, Davidbowie.com, Fan magazine, Gamecenter, GQ magazine, Movieline magazine, Musician magazine, New York Magazine, NPR Radio, Performing Songwriter, Rolling Stone, Q magazine, Words & Music magazine, Uncut magazine
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