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Men In The World:
by Ros Franey - Petticoat Magazine ( 8 September 1973)
"No" said the people from the record company. "It will be quite impossible for you to see David Bowie."
"No" grunted Jamie, the tour co-ordinator, when I woke him mid-morning on the hotel phone, and he instantly fell asleep again.
"Impossible" confided the hotel porter. "There's to be no party - just a private gathering after the show."
"Oh no you don't" snapped the policeman as I jostled past stampeding fans and barged half-way through the hotel's revolving door. He grabbed my arm and wrenched me back. I have bruises to prove it. He was rather hassled.
"I'm staying here," I told him. I enjoyed saying that.
Waitresses clustered in the foyer. I sat in the sparse lounge amid chandeliers, copies of Country Life and several bemused tourists who sipped liqueurs and asked each other why people were trying to climb in through the window. Sinking into the depths of an ancestral arm-chair, I poured a large cup of coffee and waited to see what would happen.
At twenty to eleven, a whole section of wall at the back of the room swung away and David Bowie, with a towel round his shoulders, closely followed by Mick Ronson and a short procession of people, strode into the flabbergasted lounge.
"Jesus" he breathed, and climbing into the lift disappeared to the second floor.
"That's it" said the night porter morosely "You've missed him now."
"Will he be down again"? I asked one of the roadies who were milling around in the hall. "Sure" the man said. "Downstairs in the bar. Later." Back in the lounge, be-pearled lady residents looked slightly purple, their husbands glancing nervously towards the gaping hole which Bowie had made in their civilized evening as if they might expect the White Rabbit to appear next. One or two of the older ones shook their heads and sadly went to bed.
"Sorry" said the guys in the MainMan T-shirts standing at the entrance to the bar. "No strange ladies."
"I'm from Petticoat" I told them
"No press then"
"Jamie said I could come along." I ventured and they yelled into the depths beyond for Jamie.
"Never seen her before" he informed them "Sorry, love"
"But I'm the one who woke you up this morning. You said it would be alright."
"I did?" Oh hell. Okay, you can come in, but you're to keep away from David. Strictly no questions, is that understood?"
"Of course" I replied and with that I was ushered through the door.
Inside it was all confusion and laughter and strange people. Round the corner a piano was playing and voices crooning in wild harmony "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." A moment of drowning and then someone dragged me by the hand through the crowds at the bar and I found myself clutching a drink sitting round Mike Garson, the piano player who turned Aladdin Sane into a cabaret send-up, with assorted musicians, technicians, ladies and three or four of the most persistent fans. In the farthest corner, near the piano, protected by smoke and noise more effectively than any of his loyal heavies, sat David Bowie.
He had changed out of his final costume into black dungarees, a black jet choker necklace and cascading jet ear-rings. His bare arms and shoulders suprisingly white and wiry and his eyes behind the eyeliner catlike, scrutinizing the scene in a detached way despite the rumpled laughter on his face.
"This is the only moment in the whole day" I was told "that he gets any time to relax with friends. In the morning he sleeps; after lunch there's a sound check in the hall and for about two hours before the show he stays in his dressing room preparing, making-up. No one's allowed to go near him then. He never gives interviews on tour."
He rarely gives interviews off tour either. Mystique is a thing to be sternly guarded and Bowie most certainly knows how. Even here, surrounded by the people called, rightly or wrongly, his friends, he wasn't letting anything slip.
Although every single person in that room was directing their attention towards him, talking glazedly to each other with a watchful eye on the master; despite the jokes which were being fed him with half-pints of lager and French cigarettes; despite even the music to which he most nearly related, watching with affection the glissandi and chunky chords under the fingers of the piano player, his real attention focused inwards in places unknown.
Oppersite in silent adoration sat three of the chosen fans, Aladdin-jagged red and blue zig-zags blurred on their shining faces, their eyes riveted. Further down the bar a girl danced impressively out of time; a second at Bowie's feet sang alto. But he took no notice of either of them or of the pretty coloured girl content in her pink frock to sit beside him and occasionally hold his hand.
"Who's she?" I asked, but no one seemed to know.
Then without warning, the whole circle broke up: David Bowie was going to have his supper. Mike Garson played on for a little, his gaze anywhere but the piano keys, twisting around in his seat to smile lopsided at whoever would smile back, then he too, ambled away in his large linen suit towards the bar. To be replaced by Mick Ronson whose makeup is smudgier than Bowie's and more pronounced, bending concentrated over the keyboard to play with a little delicacy and a lot of loud pedal Chopin waltzes from memory.
Mick Ronson surprised me when I saw the show: he doesn't exactly give the impression of brilliance (though not for lack of effort), yet as an arranger and producer for Bowie and on Lou Reed's album Transformer, his inspiration shines. People nudged each other. "Mick's quiet tonight. Is he okay?"
"We're a very close team" they told me. "On the road we' amazingly together. We care a lot about each other's well-being. Look around you: how's this for friendship?"
Certainly it was all good spirits, more casual now that Bowie had gone: the watchful fans had turned from stone back into people, while the dancing girl bought a drink and retired to a corner. I chattered to RCA's Barry Bethal about Bowie's future, concerning plans for more records and for films - but films always with music.
"What will he do," I asked "when the glamour thing is over?" But Bowie is a genius and geniuses invent trends, they don't follow them.
"He is totally involved with his music," Barry said. I could have told him that from the press hand-out.
This may or may not be true, but I don't believe Bowie is totally involved with being a star - which implies a measure of detachment at least from his lyrics, and most certainly from a lot of this gathering.
Nonetheless, a ripple of tension now heralded his return to the scene. The fans froze, the music rose, and David Bowie sat down beside us.
"Great meal" he commented in the flat South London voice so rarely heard by hopeful journalists and then added, holding my hand in his rather cold one, "Hello". It wasn't exactly original.
That's it, I told myself: the instant of a lifetime. Careers may rocket or crash, reputations break, make or freak at this moment. My exclusive with David Bowie: one whole word long. It was almost more than he had spoken the entire evening.
Mike Garson struck up again and we all launched into selections from West Side Story, Bowie not knowing the words, laughing at those who knew them better and picking up the odd phrase. Our table became more crowded as musicals slid one by one through the piano-players hands and the clock on the wall approached two-thirty a.m.
From a corner shuffled Mick Ronson. Bowie watched him leave concern flickering over his face, but the piano player switched with a ripple of notes to Oliver and the singing went on.
An ear-ring trembled against Bowie's neck as he clapped the rhythm and everyone yelled the chorus, but beneath the glowing hair his profile stayed taut like a weasly animal and frequently forgetting to sing, forgetting to clap, he lapsed into trances and brooding frowns. At other times he would seem to recollect himself and join in with a will. But magical though these moments were, there was no escaping from the tiredness, the man with a heavy day at the office behind him whose pipe and slippers don't quite fit. Suddenly I'd had enough too, and I got up to leave.
"You didn't get an interview?" they gasped when I marched into work next day. "Well, good gracious, whatever are you going to write about?"
---This page last modified: 13 Dec 2018---