INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Zigzag JANUARY 1978 - by John Tobler
TWELVE MINUTES WITH DAVID BOWIE
ZZ: The last couple of albums, which is really what you're here to talk about, have been, to some people, somewhat inaccessible. I think you said at some point that you were determined not to be predictable. Is that what it's about?
DB: Well, no. There's a predictable answer. What it really is that I'd got tired of writing in the traditional manner that I was writing in America, and coming back to Europe I took a look at what I was writing about and decided I had to start writing in terms of trying to find a new musical language for myself to write in. I needed somebody to help with that cos I was a bit lost and too subjective about it all, so I asked Brian Eno if he would help me and that's really how the whole thing started. It was really a process of trying out new methods and new processes of writing rather than for the more obvious line of being unpredictable, and 'cos I've brought out two now of the same nature, and that's not predictable with me. I've gone against myself you see, can't even predict myself!
(Laughs) Yeah, I know his work quite well.
Do you in fact have a tendency to try and investigate the more 'off the wall' happenings in music?
They're the ones I tend to gravitate towards. I've got a particular code of working, which is if it works it's out of date so I generally apply that to every given situation, in music or on tour or whatever and especially music. I hardly ever listen to anything that's currently in vogue or popular. I tend to buy rather obscure kind of things.
Well, let's see, the last things really that I bought were Steve Reich and Philip Glass - things which I've been listening to for quite some time. But, again, when it comes to music my influences tend to come more from observation of the environment that I'm in, which is fairly obvious when you look at the albums and where they were made. They tend to very much mirror where I was. You can tell more or less which street in the city I was in. Young Americans you know is Philadelphia and Diamond Dogs is definitely LA and New York.
It's funny you should talk about Diamond Dogs cos you also said you made that as a plastic soul album which you...
No - Young Americans.
Yeah, sorry, Young Americans, that it was just a joke record.
No, it was not a joke record. It was seriously a plastic soul album. It was definitely me, portraying as a white Englishman, my view of American Black Music, somebody who watches more from outside than actually getting involved with it inside.
Do you in fact prefer the current disco type of sound to the soul music of the '60s which I'm sure you are more familiar with.
Er, no, I'm not a big fan of disco at all. I loathe it. I really get so embarrassed that my records do so well in discos. I've had two enormous disco hits now, can't hold my head up when I go into arty clubs. Yes, of course I was a big fan of the soul sound of the '60s. That was part of a somewhat sketchy musical education that I had, a quite diversified one as well to boot.
Indeed. I gather you're embarking on a tour very soon?
Next year I'm planning to do a world tour, yes.
Who are you gonna use backing you?
That's very difficult to say at the moment. One would like to work with Eno and Fripp on stage but of course to get Brian out of his apartment takes about a week, so to get him on the road is an impossibility, but I think he'll do selected cities with me. If he's never been there before he'll probably come and play. He tends to work in that fashion.
Fripp is a bit more easy to accommodate I mean, he can go on the road and it's no great pain, but I don't know whether he'd want to do a very long tour. He seems to be about a four-week man. (laughs) Neither of them are crazy about touring, so I'm gonna have to look for other guys as well.
Mmmmm. Were you a great fan of either Roxy Music or King Crimson?
Roxy I liked their first album very much indeed. I thought that was very exciting. The whole concept was very new and had lovely juxtapositions that I hadn't heard before. King Crimson. I was always... funnily enough Fripp was one of the only virtuosos that I liked. I'm not a big fan of virtuosity, but Fripp always appealed to me, his playing.
It was said when you were doing Low that your poetic muse at one time had deserted you momentarily, and that was why many of the songs were short lyrically, as opposed to the somewhat lengthier stuff you had done before. Is that still...
I guess there was some truth in that, I mean it can be applied to what I said earlier that it was strictly a question of experimentation and discovery. I had no statement to make on Low. It was low in profile in its own way and it was a very indulgent album for me to find out what I wanted to do musically. The strange thing that came out of Low is that in my meanderings in new processes and new methods of writing, when Eno and I listened back to it we realised we had created new information without even realising it and that by not trying to write about anything we had written more about something or other that one couldn't quite put one's finger on than we could have had we actually gone out and said, 'let's do a concept album'. It was quite exciting, so we did that with "Heroes" . We used an immense amount of imagery and juxtaposed one against the other and used incredible startling methods of writing, anything from random selection out of books, musically as well, I mean, chord changes. We were quite arbitrary sometimes and the total effect astonished both of us when we sat back and listened to the finished thing.
Do you intend to pursue this direction rather than getting back to the more lyrical...
No, er yes! (laughs) We've always said, because we are both arty, we've both said we'd do a trilogy so our triptych will be completed. We will do one more at least. We do have a very solid relationship with each other. I think it also is very strong outside of the musical area, because when we're together the last thing generally we talk about is music. Um, as you probably well know, Eno's a wonderful conversationalist and one can sit there and laugh all night and also I'm working on Fripp's next album. He's asked me to do some work with him in America when I go over there. I don't know what he wants me to do.
Are you sort of using the lyrical side of your ability to do Iggy's albums, I mean, not that you write the words...
Well, one must look at it this way. Jim hadn't worked for um at least two years, had been through some very bad times, and needed more than a little bit of support emotionally and mentally as well as materially and I think he resolved most of his problems on the first album. And if it shows at all my influence or attributes won't be quite as recognisable in any future stuff that we're doing and we're doing another album after this. Jim is very much in charge of his own situation and he realises what he wants to write and what he wants to write about. He's becoming an excellent songwriter but he had that lapse and that peaking thing.
Really. He was most impressive on stage.
Oh, he's fantastic. I've always thought he was for me, rock and roll, absolute rock and roll, uncompromising rock and roll.
Did you in fact go out with him on the first tour because you were somewhat sceptical about whether he could cut it alone?
No, not at all. He encouraged me to play piano with him and I thought the idea was thoroughly enticing and very tempting and I did it for the nerve of it really. I never enjoyed a tour so much, because I had no responsibilities on my shoulders at all. I mean I just had to sit there, drink a bit, have a cigarette, wink at the band. I mean, ya know, and watch him.
Right, which is something to watch.
You said a couple of years ago that you didn't really care if your LPs continued to sell or not.
Does that apply to Iggy as well in any way because you're very much involved.
No, that was personalised to my albums, of course. I really want Jimmy to regain his old audience and find an even bigger, newer one because I've always considered him very important. No, that applies strictly to my albums.
Does it still apply?
I still feel very much that way although now I have to go against myself because I'm so excited about the new stuff. I want people to hear it so I'm rather in a quandary... "well I don't care". But then on the other hand I do care 'cos I think they're really good. I think they're really good albums.
Do you look back on the stuff you've done and say, "Well that one wasn't really... ya know".
Oh yes, yes. I look at them all and there's not one I like, I... the only one I like is Young Americans because its the only likeable album, but the others, one could hardly apply the adjective "likeable" to any of them. Some of them I think were sketchy ideas that I didn't work on hard enough. That didn't quite cut it. It's like painting really, I mean, not every painting that you do is gonna be good but you've done them and there you are. I tend to look at albums rather like that. I admit some of the ideas didn't came off, but there's some good work in there somewhere though. There's a logical sequence. I mean, if it just seemed to meander on and didn't seem to make any sense to me. I can just about see the year that I wrote that album, or I can say, "Yes, that describes that environment and that year very well", I think. Which is very good, sort of what I set out to do.
There's been a number of people involved with you all though this time and you're unlike many, many other rock stars in that you never seem to go backwards to these people with the odd exception. Mick Ronson for example. Do you ever see Mick Ronson?
I haven't seen Mick Ronson for years. But to flatten your other point my rhythm section has been with me for four albums and two to three years, I think (laughs).
But you basically discovered them. No, I was thinking of people like ... I mean it was rather bizarre that both Marc Bolan and Bing Crosby both of whom you worked with snuffed it recently.
Do you really want me to... what do I say?
I mean, do you see anything sinister in that?
No, I don't.
I'm glad to hear that. You did do a Bing Crosby TV show, didn't you?
Yes, I did.
Which could be very interesting to see ... Do you have any plans to work with anybody else, like The Astronettes or anybody?
No, there's one band that I can mention. I like them very much indeed. They're an unrecorded band in America called Devo. I've been listening to them for a long time since they sent me their tapes and I hope if I have the time at the end of this year to record them. It's sort of like three Enos and a couple of Edgar Froeses in one band. Most peculiar. That's very nut-shelling of what they're like.
Right. We should ask about this new film that you are doing.
It's a partial life story/biography of Egon Schiele, an expressionist painter of early nineteenth century and it's sort of a fairly quiet, intimate study of his relationship with his model and it's a non-sensationalist film. Again, it's a reaction against the last film I made. Most of the things I do are reactions to the last thing I did, rather than just for the sake.
You turned down a young Goebbels film didn't you?
Yes (laughs). That's fairly predictable.
Great OK. Thanks very much. It's good to see you, come back soon.