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  David at the Dorchester 1/2

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by Charles Shaar Murray  - New Musical Express (22 & 29 July 1972)


Three changes of dress and a kiss from Lou Reed. The waiters were horrified.

Jill and Lyn are seventeen and they’re into Bowie. They’ve both seen David work in three times in as many weeks. They’ve both got "Ziggy Stardust" and neither of them like Marc Bolan. Jill says she likes the way David looks. She doesn’t necessarily think he’s good looking she just likes the way he looks. They and me and a sweaty hallful of other people saw David Bowie and the Spiders From Mars work Friars in Aylesbury at the weekend. The phantom waver of the Ziggy banner put in an appearance as well, and it was alright, the band were altogether and Ziggy played guitar.

The Spiders are a surrealistic vision of a rock band. Trevor Bolder’s silvered sideboards hang several inches off his face and Woody Woodmansey’s hair is an orange Vidal-Sassoon duck’s ass similar to David’s. Through the show at top speed until the final encore of Suffragette City where David pulls of his most outrageous stunt and goes down on Mick Ronson’s guitar. David is gonna be huge.

The day after the gig he’s holding an extended press conference at the Dorchester Hotel, held especially for the planeload of American writers flown in for the weekend. In the foyer everything is frosty, air-conditioned elegance, in slow motion after the sweltering dusty street. Down the mirrored corridors of the second floor through the door into a suitably chic room where assorted media people are eating cakes and sandwiches and drinking tea and/or scotch.


"This was actually a press conference. RCA flew in a lot of journalists from America because David was planning this tour for the fall of 1972 and the idea was to generate some press. David was starting to be a big deal in England and Lou and Iggy had both recently arrived and obviously they were invited for part of the flavoring of things. They were just 'David's friends.' Mick Ronson, the Spiders, the management people, the wife Angela, Iggy, Lou, my ex-wife Sheila were there. There weren't that many of us, maybe a dozen in all. And a couple of people from Tony Defries' [Bowie's manager] office. It was teatime at the Dorchester Hotel. You can see it was mostly for the American press. David also used this opportunity to get Lou and Iggy out and parade them around. Maybe in his excitement for their work which is an excitement we both shared. When I first met David there were three people we talked about. One was Iggy, one was Lou; the other one was Syd Barrett. So we kind of swapped stories. I swapped him Syd Barrett stories and he swapped tales of Iggy and Lou. So that was probably the first bonding with David when we found a certain taste in common. It tended to me the more esoteric and extreme variety, these two of course among the manifestation of exactly that attitude and philosophy. But it was teatime, daylight hours and we're all in the very expensive room at the Dorchester. But I did take this picture. I knew I was gonna get this picture no matter what happened. I was not letting anybody out until I got a shot of the three of them together. At the time it wasn't really a big deal. Because David was just breaking and just starting to garner a lot of attention and Iggy and Lou were still underground figures. But for me, this was a very important moment and it remains an important shot. That's the only time the three of them were in a photograph together. And of course Iggy was wearing a T-Rex t-shirt. And he's got a pack of Lucky Strike in his mouth. It just happened. That was just one of those great fortuitous things..... David was doing what he always did. He kept changing clothes. That was his thing. He's always changing clothes. We were all very young. I mean, we were no longer teenagers but David was about 25, I was 24, Iggy was 23. Lou's the oldest. He might have been 28, 29. We were all in our twenties." - Mick Rock (1999)

Lou Reed and his band are there, all the Spiders and curled up in a corner in a Bolan T-shirt eye shadow and silvered hair is Iggy Pop. When I got there David was wearing an entirely different outfit. Before I left he’d changed into a third.

David’s wife, lithe and crew-cut, is smoothing things down, getting together drinks and being assaulted by Lou’s roadie. When I arrived, he’d just bitten her in the stomach and as she’s very slim, the bite had gone direct to her abdominal muscles and everybody was falling about. Woody pours me a sumptuous Johnny Walker Black Label and peach juice. Lou Reed is talking quietly to David. He’s wearing shads and maroon fingernails. Periodically, horrified waiters enter to deliver yet more scotch and wine and sandwiches.

MURRAY – At the moment, the most popular rock journalist words appear to be funk, camp and punk. To what extent do you think you’ve brought these words into essential usage?

Bowie - I think it’s most probably due to the general inarticulacy of the Press. They’re very small-minded. They do indeed revolve around those three words.

Not revolve around. They crop up…

Yes they do. Funk, I don’t think I have anything to do with funk. I’ve never considered myself funky. Would you say that? I wouldn’t…

Would you want to be?

Yes. It’s a muddy kind of thing. Camp, yes I understand the camp thing. Once upon a time it was, I think, put down in the category of entertainer but since the departure of good old fashioned entertainers the re-emergence of somebody who wants to be an entertainer has unfortunately become a synomon for camp. I don’t think I’m camper than any other person who felt at home on stage, and felt more at home on stage than he did offstage.

Nobody ever called Jerry Garcia camp.

No right buts he’s a musician and I’m not a musician. I’m not into music, you see on that level. I don’t profess to have music as my big wheel and there are a number of other things as important to me apart from music. Theatre and mime, for instance.

You say you don’t consider yourself a musician, but for somebody whose producing music of a very high grade, I would reckon that you’re entitled to be called a musician.

Okay then, I’ll shift my emphasis. I wouldn’t think I’d ever be considered a technocrat on any instrument. I have a creative force which finds its way through into a musical form.

You were saying you didn’t consider yourself to be a musician.

In that terminology, in that definition: that a musician is a virtuoso on his instrument? By no stretch of the imagination. I play a good alto, I played a bit actually on the Mott album, which is quite pleasing for me, having not touched a sax for a long time.

You used it on "Hunky Dory"?

Yes but just for a few phrases. I used it quite heavily on the Mott thing. (Mick Graham: You used it on stage) What? Yeah, I did a James Brown thing for a couple of gigs. We did Hot Pants and we blew a bit. We did it at some of the gigs where there seemed to be a lot of Mods, so we thought we’d throw it in, I ad-libbed most of it.

I remember five years ago trying to run a blues band and failing completely because people were standing at the front shouting "Geno! Geno! Play some Tamia!"

Oh yeah but I was a great soul merchant, a James Brown merchant. I’ve always dug his very funky things, but I’ve never considered that I was capable…I’m never gonna try and play black music because I’m white. Singularly white!

There’s a distinct kind of white funk. Velvet Underground for instance. Going by that as a yardstick of funk and not Albert King. Wouldn’t you say that what you are doing is into a certain kind of funk?

Yes, I couldn’t put my finger on what it is. Of the rock n roll things that we write, they would definitely be in the Velvets bag, because that’s my biggest influence in rock n roll, more so than Chuck Berry, the archetype.

I’d say that Lou Reed was to you as Chuck Berry was to the Stones.

Yes very much so, that’s a very good analogy, and I agree with it entirely. In fact I’ve said the same myself on numerous occasions.

The second pre-conceived question I came with was that rock n roll is increasingly becoming a ritual. Instead of the very down to earth stance of say the Dead. Its becoming very much of a spectacle, very formulised.

I’ve not seen many bands where I’ve noticed that

Alice is a very extreme example. I think you come into it to a certain extent. I think Bolan does. Sha Na Na in their own particular way also…

Well, you must firstly tell me your feelings on this before I quite know what your question is…

I have mixed feelings about it, in some cases it works. I think it works when you do it, but sometimes I get the feeling that the audience is being excluded.

Yes, I feel that a great deal more theatres does not necessarily mean props. As you saw with us, we were using no props. We’re not into props. If we have theatricality it comes through from us as people, not as a set environment or stage. Like playing an instrument, theatre craftsmanship is something that one learns. There are going to be a lot of tragedies and a lot of clangers dropped over the next few years when a lot of bands try to become theatrical without knowing their craft. I’m a very professional person, and I feel that I contribute all my energies into my stage performance, that when I’m on stage I give more to an audience than to anybody else when I’m off stage. I’ve worked hard at it. I was with a mime company and I’ve had other theatre experience. What I’m trying to say is that its important to know about the tings you do and to have learnt it, as it is to learn you instrument. As the theatrical expression evolves a lot of it is going to be on a secondary school amateur dramatics level. There will only be the odd bands who have the knowledge to master their theatre. Iggy has natural theatre. Its very interesting because it doesn’t conform to any standards or rules or structures of theatre. Its his own and its just a Detroit theatre that he’s brought with him. Its straight from the street. Remember we have only been on the road for 3 months, so its still coming together, but I wish myself to be a prop, if anything for my songs. I want to be the vehicle for my songs. I would like to colour the material with as much visual expression as is necessary for that song.

One thing I've noticed is the way you use words, like in Andy Warhol where you transform the word Wall into Warhol.  I mean, the way you listen to speech and incorporate it into sound.

One can say a sentence to three people and it'll take on an entirely different meaning for each of those three people.  I think if any of my stuff becomes at all surrealistic its because that's the purpose of it.  Its to give people their own definitions.  I certainly don't understand half the stuff I write.  I can look back on a song that I have just written and it means something entirely different now because of my new circumstances new this or that.  I get told by so many people - especially Americans - what my songs are about.

You had better watch out or you'll have your very own A.J Weberman rooting through your garbage.

I have one already!  He's not quite at garbage level yet, but he's certainly very adamant about what I mean.  Its disconcerting to say the least.   Alarming.  But America is made up of academics.  They're very Germanic in that respect.  Because they are so subconsciously aware of being a new nation that has no accepted roots in the old world, they strive for their own culture as fast and as quickly as they can.  Whatever isn't needed is soaked up by the media and becomes part of the American way of Life.  They're terribly self conscious about everything.   The level to which rock music has become an academic subject is just incredible.   I could walk into a shop and see row upon row of books about any aspect of rock.   I mean writers about rock.  I mean writers about writers.  There are even books on Meltzer.  Layer upon layer.  Its a build up.  They're making their own culture.

Another line of yours I wanted to ask you about is in Five Years.  You said "I never knew I'd need so many people"

Basically what it means is realising the inevitability of the apocalypse, in whatever form it takes.  I was being careful not to say what form it would take because that to me would be incredibly sad and I just tried to get that feeling over in one line.  Its like the things you flash on supposedly when you're dying running down the street and...

His whole life passed before him

Yeah really its like that, the grasping for life.

Do you feel worried by people who regard you as a guru?

I'm not that convinced, at the moment that I am anybody's guru.  I know there is a lot of interest in what I'm doing, and we seem to be getting our goodly fair share of exposure, but I'm not convinced that we are leading any particular cult.

But its happening almost in spite of you, people examining your albums almost line by line.

Okay, well if this is going to be an inevitable situation with the chronicles of rock, and one must presume that it will be, then I would strive to use that position to promote some feeling of optimism in the future, which might seem very hypocritical related to Five Years.  There the whole thing was to try and get a mocking angle at the future.  If I can mock something and deride it, one isn't so scared of it.  People are so incredibly serious and scared of the future that I would wish to turn the feeling the other way, into a wave of optimism.  If one can take the micky out of the future, and what it is going to be like...Its going to be unbelievably technological.  There isn't gong to be a triangle system, we aren't gong to revert back to the real way of life.  That's not going to happen.  Its certainly not a new thing, My God I haven't got any new concept.  I juggle with them, but what I'm saying, I think, has been said a million times before.  I'm just saying again that we've gotta have some optimism in the future.

Five Years struck me as an optimistic song.

It is, it is.  The album in fact should be taken that way. "Starman" can be taken at the immediate level of "There's a Starman in the Sky Saying Boogie Children", but the theme of that is that the idea of things in the sky is really quite human and real and we should be a bit happier about the prospect of meeting people.

On the second side of Ziggy Stardust the songs seem to go in a cycle.  But when you play live you don't necessarily play them in that order.

I must admit I speculate on the prospect of a show which would be Ziggy Stardust, but the way I want to do it requires a lot of planning and we haven't had time for that.  I'd rather leave it alone until its gonna be done properly.  I don't want to do anything unless its gonna be done well.

In the other room I saw a tape box of the Mott album.  The only title I recognised was Sweet Jane.

That's right, Lou came down.  I've got Lou singing it at the moment.  I've got to put Ian on, but he doesn't know the lyrics yet.

So you recorded it with Lou Reed singing on Mott's backing?

Lou phrased it so Ian can pick up how it was.

How does it sound when Mott play it?

Fabulous, its really good.  I'll play it for you.  The album is fabulous.  They've never written better stuff.  They were so down when I first met them.

They were having troubles with Island, weren't they?

Oh, everything was wrong.  Everything was terrible, and because they were so down I thought I was gonna have to contribute a lot of material.  Now, they in a wave of optimism and they've written everything on the album bar one Lou Reed number and the Dudes single I did for them.  They were being led into so many directions, because of general apathy with their management and recording company .   Everybody was very excited about them when they first came out and then, because they didn't click immediately, it fell away.  When I first saw them and that wasn't very long ago, I couldn't believe that a band so full of integrity and a really naive exhurberance could command such enormous following and not be talked about.  The reactions at their concerts were superb, and its sad that nothing was done about them.   They were breaking up, I mean, they broke up for three days and I caught them just in time and put them together again cause in fact all the kids love them.

(At this point, Bowie put on the rough tape of the Mott album.   First cut was Lou and Mott's "Sweet Jane".  It sounded the best Mott I've heard.  While it was playing, Reed entered the room.  I hoped to get him to join in the conversation but he just came over and kissed David)

REED: That's it (exit)

I was hoping to get a two way interview.

BOWIE: That was a two-way interview.

Next week: The mind-shattering conclusion of this glitzy, super neato interview.  Be there or be square!

Continued on next page

---This page last modified: 12 Dec 2018---

Ziggy Stardust Scarf (1973)