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  Sound Scene: Freak Out In A Moonage Daydream 1/2

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by Lenny Kaye -  Cavalier (January 1973)

In July 1972 RCA flew  the cream of the American music press (Lisa Robinson - The New York Times; Lilian Roxon - New York Daily News; Bob Meusel - UPI; Ellen Willis - The New Yorker; Alan Rich - New York; Lenny Kaye - Changes; Henry Edwards - After Dark; Glen O'Brien - Andy Warhol's Interview and others from Rolling Stone, Creem, and Playboy) to the Friars, Aylesbury concert at the cost of US $25,000 in order to sell Bowie, who while well known in the UK, is less so in the US.  The press spent a weekend at The Inn on The Park and later had an opportunity to meet Bowie personally.

Aylesbury, England. He is, as he had planned, magnificent. The stage appears impeccably struck, lights arranged to catch the finer angles of his face, making him seem at times wonderfully ape-like and primitive, at others supremely regal, capable of the grand gesture now and again. The band stands behind him in a shock of silver reflections, each part steadily notching its integral role-lead guitar flashy, but always a foil; bass hung back, Just a stride or two to let you hint the presence; drums anonymous, but precise, punctuating, emphatic. There is never any question of whether they will make a mistake, lose their footing, leave a stone unturned. David Bowie has waited a long time for his time, and now that it's here, five years stuck on his eyes, he's not about to let it pass him by.

Nor could he have picked a better place to test his new-found power. The "venue," as they refer to it in the mother country, is Friars Aylesbury, located in this small suburban village north of London. The audience is mainly young, enthusiastic, without being deadly, and, because David had made his formal debut (in his current incarnation) here last September, regard him almost as a local hero.

But Bowie is taking no chances. Why should he, with "Starman" nudging its way into the English singles charts, with an album (The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars on RCA) quickly becoming the hottest property in local disc emporiums since Marc "Photographed by Ringo Starr" Bolan? The fact is that now, after a series of progressions which might seem totally illogical to anyone not gifted with a crystal ball and a healthy bribe to the devil, David has finally come upon a moment where all his selves can combine into just that new trick which is generally accorded the title of Where It's At; and if the world thinks it's ready for a once. Davy Jones who writes caustic, beautiful songs, proclaims his bi-sexuality and enjoys wearing drag, has a fine dramatic flair and (almost) single-handedly kicked off the movement toward made-up rock and roll bands while letting Anthony Burgess' vision of the future direct him from there . . . then David, with a little hat-tip in the right direction, is going to show the world that he's the prime candidate for the job.

Which only comes to mean that as the lights darken, the crowd at Aylesbury going through the motions of sitting down, the eerily synthesized sounds of the theme from A Clockwork Orange slowly begin to enter the room. In a way, it's almost too obvious a move, sort of like getting hit over the head with something it might have been nicer to discover for yourself; but then there's no room in this show for mistaken intentions. David and the band rush to their places, the extraordinary perfection of their visual style immediately stunning, and they step to the fore with the tale of Ziggy Stardust, jamming good with Weird and Gilly, the Spiders from Mars. By the end of the first verse, the place has risen in a body to receive him, and David is as good as home.

As good as home, did I say? Well, even better, because after that first audience rush, past the opening burst of applause, he shows off that he has the power to keep them on their feet, to not slacken the momentum for an instant so they might have a chance to sit down, lose attention, and thus think they were in the presence of just any rock and roll combination. If nothing else, Bowie is a master show-man, and using his songs as vehicles, he allows himself to be the dramatis personae through which they flow, embellishing phrases with studied facial expressions, hitting the word "time" and glancing at his watch, lingering on "shut your mouth" while turning his head to the side to let his teeth clash. He appears to listen intently to what his words are saying, slipping easily into their meaning, always coy and somewhat playful. The crowd laps it up, clearly won over in every discernible fashion.

He takes them with him, the band-always his foundation, playing at the twelve string hung 'round his neck, through most of the songs on Ziggy Stardust, plus a few other old memorabilia besides. He keeps them by his side during a long acoustic middle section, he and guitarist Mick Ronson balancing the pace during a performance ritual, often the ruination of many groups, bringing applause with the introduction to "Space Oddity," his first British hit, delivering a tribute named "Andy Warhol" (does he someday hope for one to chorus "Da-vid Bo-wie, Da-vid Bo-wie" in that same sing-song voice?), finally reaching a peak with a very strange version of Cream's "I Feel Free," in which-sitting-he slowly extends his arms, flapping them in wave-like motions, wheeling as the seagulls following the pleasure barges up along the coast of Wales.

After, he slips off the side of the stage, the band picking up the thread of "I Feel Free," converting it into a howling instrumental, with just the flashing stutter of a strobe light to set the mood for your midweek moment of meditation...

Okay, do you want the hard questions first or the easy ones?

Well, anyway you want it.

All right... um, in terms of the show you put on last night, what would you call your immediate goal? What are the kinds of things you're shooting for at this point?

Finding my audience.

And where do you think that audience is?

We're starting to find . . it sounds horrendous, I know, but we find that we have a cross-section audience. We find it goes from very, very young people to very heavy freaks, and that they will take us on their own particular terms.

So, then, you feel you cut across a lot of crowds...

Yeah, I think we have a spectrum, yeah. Why, I don't know. Maybe it's because we're an emergence of something, and it's just being looked on at the moment by everybody. I think probably within a year it'll start sorting itself out into a definite pattern, but you must understand that we've been on the road for three months only, so for all of us it's very new.

What kind of "definite pattern" do you think is going to emerge?

I can't possibly tell you; I have no idea.

Well, in terms of calculating how you approach an audience, what kind of things do you want to bring out in them? What kind of reactions do you want to set off... in other words, what kind of long-range goals have you set out for yourself in terms of....

As far as audience reaction goes? Actually, I'd be quite happy if their reaction didn't come until the end of the show... until they got outside. I'd like to present a full night that gives them no thought. . . no cause for review or, in fact, reaction during the course of the show. I believe in very high speed, and that's something that's very hard to develop. It takes a lot of time and practice. I think we re gradually getting there, but it's still ... things must be faster than they are, as far as I'm concerned. At the moment, it's only theatrical on one little basic point, and that is I foresee myself becoming a prop for my material, rather than using props. Theatrics would hopefully come from within me, rather than from the use of...

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---This page last modified: 30 Jun 2002---

Ziggy Stardust Scarf (1973)