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The Thoughts of a Rock n Roll Artist!

by Mark Stuart - Music Scene  (June 1973)

David Bowie is just getting into his monstrously long tour of this country and rumours abound that it may be his last round of public appearances for some time, as a rock musician that is.  Mark Stuart thought it a good time to try and find out first-hand what the creative ambitions of the Spider From Mars really are.

Although success in other parts of the world has come fast and furious for David Bowie I think it would be safe to say that the rise of Ziggy Stardust has always been a uniquely British phenomenon.  David is adamant that his influences are those of the environment in which he grew up.

"In the early days when I was in a Rhythm and Blues band I didn't like singing about America.  I wanted to sing about the things that directly influenced me at the time. One of the people I admired most around that time was Anthony Newley.  He was the only singer who didn't put on a false American accent...do you remember his Gurney Slade TV series?, it was one of the best uses that have ever been made of TV.  I've always liked him because he writes excellent lyrics, although I've gone off him a bit recently."

So David left the Rhythm and Blue field and became engrossed in the world of Theatre or, more precisely, the world of mime: "I went along to see the Lindsay Kemp mime theatre in action one night and it just so happened that they played one of my records in the interval.  Lindsay said that he liked my writing and that if I would write music for them he would teach me the technique of miming. Putting rock music together with theatricals is not the easiest thing in the world.  I still use a certain amount of my miming experience, but I'd say that my present success has a lot more to do with showmanship than anything else.  It's also very important to get things like lighting and setting together.  You can't however, go too far because by doing that you lose your audience.  I've been involved with some really far out things in the past, they're very satisfying for your own ego but the public soon gets bored."

The advancement of his music worries David.  Just how far he can go before his following loses sight of his direction?: "Some of the music on my new album Aladdin Sane" is very strange.  I've allowed myself to become influenced by some of the best avante-garde Jazz musicians like Mike Garson, the jazz pianist and Keith Tipett.  Mike is in fact, playing with the Spiders and the music that's evolving basically takes a theme and then myself and the different musicians improvise using that theme as a nucleus to hold it together. This is the problem, the glam rock thing has everything going right for me, but still leaves me with very little direction.  You take the position that I was in when "Jean Genie" made No. 1.  Its the sort of thing that my fans wanted to happen for me but I really didn't want it to happen myself...my mother thought it was great! I want to be considered purely an album artist and I want to carry on working giving myself my own directions and, in that respect, at the moment I don't know what I want to do."

Picture: Mick Rock

We went back to the influences and the people Bowie admires.  Amongst these there is one other musician, Lou Reed, and the band he used to play with, the enigmatic Velvet Underground.  The latter, of course were very strongly connected with Andy Warhol, whom Bowie also admires: "I think that Warhol will, in the future, be regarded as just as important as Michaelangelo was to the art of his period. I've met Warhol a number of times and its very difficult to get to know him, to know whether he's actually real or just a puppet is quite difficult as well.  I have written a song about him staring at a picture of Marilyn Monroe for a long time.   The thing is that he has so many people around him at any given time that's its very easy to get to know them without actually finding out anything about the man himself.   But we're all artists, in a way.  I keep my writing very separate from my work on the road.  I haven't really had that much time to think a great deal about it because I've been working so much.  When I did the Ziggy Stardust album I had the idea that the Rock n Roll artist as an enigma was very important, now I think that the Rock n Roll artist very often reflects what will happen to society in the future."

As said before, David's surroundings at any given point in time have a great deal of influence over his creativity.  As an example he told me how "Jean Genie" came about: "I have a morbid fear of flying.  I go everywhere, including to the States, by land and sea. I was in a coach between New York and Detroit and I saw that both cities were so basic in their environment...life in the gutter personified.  The lyrics, however, are not the most important thing as far as my songs are concerned, its the overall conception, the feel of the song that I like to get across both musically and lyrically.  People send me large screeds in which they've attempted to explain and analyze my lyrics,but its the atmosphere that I'm trying to project.  Songs don't take that long for me to put together once I start, but it may take me quite a long time thinking before I actually start writing."

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

Ziggy Stardust Scarf (1973)