I met David Bowie for the first time in February 1993 when he was promoting Black Tie White Noise, his first solo album in six years.
Much secrecy surrounded the album. I had to go to the publicist’s home in Venice Beach and listen to it there, once. A bare-bones press release omitted the title of a classic rock song that Bowie was covering. He later said he did not want someone else to steal his thunder by also doing Cream’s I Feel Free.
Black Tie White Noise hit No. 1 in the U.K., while first single Jump They Say became his last top-10 entry. Stateside, the album opened at No. 39 and sank to No. 100 in its fourth week. Bowie did not tour to promote it, wisely preferring to keep the home fire burning with new wife Iman. Bands in flannel shirts were more fashionable anyway. The New York Times, neatly summing up the dilemma Bowie would face for the rest of his career, said the album “stumbles because it tried too hard to be current.”
We spoke in a salon at the Peninsula Hotel, with his attack dog Corinne “Coco” Schwab hovering in the background to ensure the room temperature was to his liking. He was dressed in a natty blue suit, and smoked constantly. I had been in America for just six months and now I’m conversing with the guy behind The Laughing Gnome, one of my earliest musical memories.
HOW OFTEN DO YOU GO BACK TO BRITAIN?
I do go there more than is probably realized, but I do it on a very low profile basis. I’ve got friends going right back to my childhood that I have there, that I pop in and see, go and spend a weekend or something with their families and stuff. But I just creep in and out. I don’t really want to live there. There’s no great hankerings to go back to London.
YOU HANG OUT IN SWITZERLAND MOST OF THE TIME?
Yeah, well it’s been my base now for over 12 years.
HAVE YOU BEEN BACK TO BERLIN SINCE THE WALL CAME DOWN?
Yeah. I went back on the Sound and Vision tour (in April 1990), and we went there with Tin Machine as well (in October 1991). Different feeling entirely, completely different feeling. It’s overwhelmingly — I dunno — despondent, in a way. There’s a great feeling of tension there now, a different kind of tension to when I was living there. (Back then) it was people playing with their leanings toward Marxism. There was a very strong socialist contingent there when I was there, because all the students there were basically socialist-oriented, and I think the line there was “We used to hide the Baader Meinhoff in our attic”. Yeah sure you did! But now there’s a real unease about what exactly the future Germany’s going to be. It’s not a pleasant feeling now. Berlin, it’s really changed a lot. It’s very messy. Very, very messy. This new rise in racism is just intolerable, just unbelievable. Unbelievable that it could happen. That’s to look at it as an isolationist thing, and it isn’t. It’s throughout Italy, and it’s throughout France, and I guess enthusiastically enough it looks like that England is one of the few places in Europe that has some conception of balance at the moment, which is great but it’s looking very risky for the rest of Europe.
BRITAIN WENT THROUGH THAT YEARS AGO
Yeah we had a lot of that, blacks bashing and Pakistani bashing throughout the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.
AS SEEN IN ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS?
Yeah, absolutely. Of course, our first Notting Hill riots were back there in the late ’50s, early ’60s. But over here it also seems relatively calm at the moment but that riot in late April/June was something that this new administration really has gotta take notice of. I think everybody’s still willing to go with the bubble of enthusiasm that was created around him. But if things don’t really move and if changes aren’t really put into effect in the inner cities in America that is going to explode all over again. Nothing has happened in central L.A. at all. Nothing. It’s exactly what it was before those riots.
I DON’T THINK CLINTON HAS GOT A HOLD ON IT, REALLY
It’s either that, or he just didn’t realize what the undertaking was when he moved in. I’m sure the economic situation over here really was a shock to him when he realized how bad it was. There’s almost no way out, no conceivable way out, even with maximum taxation that he could ever possibly put into effect. It’s got itself embroiled into such a huge debt it’s almost unforeseeable that it could ever come out of it again.
And anybody who’s foolish to believe that race relations is gonna change into this great genial coming together are fooling themselves. At this moment in time the blacks have no interest whatsoever if the whites have any interest in coming together. They don’t care. They don’t want necessarily to have any equality with whites. They want their own thing based on a black economy. Which frankly is the only way that they can make it work over here ‘cos there is nobody anywhere who’s gonna do anything about making a real and absolute and pure integration into society.
SO IT’S BASICALLY SEPARATE DEVELOPMENT?
Yeah … The obstacles in the inner cities are almost insurmountable. It’s quite incredible how everything’s been structured. You just don’t find any areas in white America that have the same amount of liquor stores on every block, the same amount of gun shops on every block that you get in those areas. It’s like, “Come on, do yourselves in.
WERE YOU PISSED OFF WHEN THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME REJECTED YOU?
Actually they didn’t. I pulled out. I don’t recognize that kind of situation. I’ve never accepted any award that I’ve ever won. I think it’s ludicrous. To put music in the realms of the Olympics is fundamentally inappropriate. I think it’s insulting to those artists who aren’t recognized for anything but really should be … I’m always terribly wary of American awards shows. There’s got to be a hidden agenda behind all those shows. If it’s not for outright commercial purposes, then somewhere along the line it’s going to be for political purposes or somebody’s going to increase their currency by being involved in that kind of situation. I don’t really want to be a part of all that, at all. (Indeed, as seen above, Bowie was a no-show at his 1995 induction where Madonna spoke on his behalf.)
WHAT’S HAPPENING ON THE FILM FRONT? I THOUGHT YOU AND MICK JAGGER WERE DOING SOMETHING?
It came out. It’s the bane of my existence. We actually had a really hot property going. I’m trying to remember what it’s called. Ohhhhh. It was given to somebody else, would you believe? I think they thought it was too good for us. We got signed up to do this film, and the script was written — and I only found out about it by reading an interview with the scriptwriter, who said, “Well when I originally wrote this project I thought it was for Jagger and Bowie, and by the time it came out it was with Michael Caine and Steve Martin (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels).” Yeah, that was supposed to be our movie! So there it is! Well, it did quite well! I’m sorta proud of it!
ARE YOU EVER, EVER GOING TO PLAY THE OLD SONGS AGAIN?
No, definitely not. Without doubt. Except!-
-EXCEPT AT THE HALL OF FAME!
Yes, of course, I’d do a whole concert. I believe I did make it clear. The only time I would do them again is if they could be useful in terms of any kinds of charity work. If I’m asked to some benefit and it can raise money for some other concern I have no problem doing two or three of them then or something like that. For me as a solo artist in my own right, that’s it. It’s over. Obscure songs I’ll still do. I’ve, in fact, got quite excited about the prospect of amalgamating the present material with things like Teenage Wildlife (from Scary Monsters) and Repetition (from Lodger) and some of the more obscure songs in the past that I’ve never done on stage, which might be an interesting thing to do.
Copyright © 1993, 2013 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING