RAYGUN 3RD ANNIVERSARY
By Moon Zappa and Brian Eno
Tuesday. June 27. high noon. Windows face east, room 55 at the Chateau Marmont. yellow. He looks fucking good. Today, both of his eyes are blue. Black and cream pullover. black jeans. black lace-up boots. A thin gold cross on a thin gold chain. He is wearing mascara ... maybe last night's. Dark eye shadow in the creases of his lids teases. navy or black. when he looks down. which isn't often. He is a walking imagination in overdrive whose recent masterpiece is called Outside.
David Bowie is an exceptional person. Love life. love being alive. love creating for creation's sake, love creating because there is only one of you in the entire universe. know yourself and, if you can, love yourself for when you die all that was unexpressed dies with you. Understand this and you will be in the neighborhood of what I can tell you about David Bowie.
I had exactly 60 precious minutes with the Holy Man. and he began the damn thing himself: Bowie: Tresa [Redburn, publicist] tells me you've done a lot of good stuff.
Moon: Oh. yeah. yeah ... I really enjoy interviewing people.
Bowie: Yeah. it's exciting. I just started myself. I've not done that kind of thing before. but the last two years I've gotten involved with a magazine in Britain. I've started doing interviews. I just love the hell out of it. I really do.
Moon: What do you like about it?
Bowie: Finding out how other people work. Finding out the procees of work. I've always found that the most stimulating thing about other artists is not what their things mean. which is always sort of boring 'cause I'm quite happy with my own interpretation. but how they get there. I've been concentrating on painters because that's sort of my own pet thing. I did Balthus just before Christmas. a 20.000 word in-depth interview. A man nobody can get to and I got all these sort of mutual friends and wormed my way in and did the most extensive interview that he's ever done. And it was absolutely fantastic. Ninety-six years old.
Bowie: The last of the great school of Paris painters. he knew 'em all. Hung out with Pablo, got drunk with Duran and all the rest of it. And it was great sort of having him go back and then suddenly remember ... [96-year-old voice]. 'Oh. I remember Pablo would say to me...' or "I was sitting there with Igor...' Stravinsky! This guy's sitting between Pablo Picasso and Igor Stravinsky. And he's talking to me about it [machine gun laughter].
Moon: How did you decide to interview him?
Bowie: I think because I wanted to show my mettle. you know. because it's really hard to move above your station in Britain. it's very hard to change roles. And. uh, being a rock singer - Rock GOD - it's quite hard to convince people that your interests extend outside the parameters of purely being up on-stage wearing funny trousers. It was quite a battle, so I thought I'd go in with a vengeance. I thought, 'Well, I'll get some sod that none of them can get to. and it really paid dividends because it's become a definitive interview. Jed Pearl. the Americans very high fallutin'. and somebody actually I now admire even more than I admired before. has actually quoted the interview extensively in articles he's written. It's fabulous. .
Moon: Why is that important to you?
Bowie: I think in an area that I'm not associated with. to actually sort of feel that I'm as informed as most other people, is great for my vanity and my morale, generally. I thought, 'Well, reading all dem books all those years paid dividends in the end.' You want your diploma. I just attended the graduation of my son about two months ago and it was so cool to see him do something that he'd studied, all virtually on his own with no encouragement. but a lot of misunderstanding. in fact. about what he wanted to do. it was so great to see him not only endeavor but succeed with honors in a subject I really didn't know that he had quite such an attitude for. and then go on to do his doctorate. You know, for me it's almost like now I'm thinking [wistful cockney voice], 'I can do that! I'm as good as 'e is!' [Laughs]. So one's academic tendencies sort of come to the fore. I think middle age brings that on.
Moon: So the images on Outside are your characters come to life?
Bowie: Yes. they've come to life, just for you!
Moon: How on earth did you do this?
Bowie: We set a session up, a straightforward session with a ... a... virtual identify ... established for each of the characters. Then we fed the results into a computer and manipulated the end result to ... [laughing] become a mixed-race child, a 14-year-old girl and a 75-year-old man.
Moon: So you are what's been manipulated in each of these pieces?
Bowie: Yes. they're all based on me.
Moon: What do you like to be called, by the way?
Bowie: Often ... [laughing] David.
Moon: All right. Can I ask you about each of the characters? What they want? What does Nathan Adler want?
Bowie: I think Nathan Adler would require the world to come back to ... certain parameters that he understands. He looks back rather nostalgically to a time when there was a seeming order in things. He's really rather despondent that things are broken into this fragmented. chaotic kind of state. Which. of course, it always has been. but in his own Apollonian way, he sort of created these parameters for his society and how life should be. That's him. And he's got to solve this crime...
Bowie: I'm terribly wary of this and I'll fell you why: The only reason is that I'm fighting furiously to keep it non-linear.
Moon: Oh. I see...
Bowie: No, it's okay. they do have certain jobs to do. so I don't mind that. but [I'd like tol sort of preface it with the fact that it's a non-linear story. I also feel quite strongly that for me. subject matter is merely something to place content on. So the subject is almost arbitrary; I think that the content comes through in terms of the text. Specifically music in this case because that essentially is what we are talking about ... even though there is characterization. It's a series of ambiances that are created with a kind of a built-in drive. and you have the impression that there's a narrative being told somewhere along the line [laughing] which may or may not be the ase ... I simply have no idea.
We're starting the next year's album in January; we're going to make these 3 series of albums. Texturally diaryesque till the end of the millennium sort of encapulating what it fell like to live through the last five years of the Nineties. So these of [points to portraits] are merely a device [laughs] to get us through the next five years and to kind of keep our interest in the whole thing. I'll develop new characters each year that will expand this-it'll be Nicolas Nickelby of Rock by the time it's finished.
Moon: So it's not fair to ask what each o these characters wants?
Bowie: No. you can definitely do that. I mean they have some kind of a... they signify something I guess ...
Moon: They must to be able to propel you live years
Bowie: Well. they didn't. I only sort of yeah, well, they'd better. If they start getting boring, I'll just kill them off. They'll just become victims to this horrendous Did you hear about Rod Schultz? The Dutch artist? Well. it happened in December of last year. We'd already got well under way with this piece, and then read that Rod Schultz had gotten into his car one morning with his wife and was driving down the road when the car bomb under his seat blew up and blew his legs off. And then not so long after that. another artist was taking claim for it as a performance piece.
Moon: Oh. that's disgusting!
Bowie: And it starts to suddenly reek of everything that Brian [Eno] and I were sort of heading toward in terms of when does ritual get out of hand and become in actuality something that is a life-threatening situation. I mean, Chris Burden would put himself in life-threatening situations with his performance pieces of the Seventies. and many others had done the same thing. but who's going lo suddenly take up Andre Breton's ideas of he who shools a revolver into a crowd creates a master work of art? Which is what his suggestion was-that murder is art.
Moon: We know it's murder but is it art in here [referring to the diaries]?
Bowie: Yeah. absolutely. And to see it vaguely start living itself out. to think we're possibly doing our own detective work-not that we really wanted to do that. It became the fabric of this piece of work. that subject matter. It was rather unwilling because it came out of a series of improvisations, uh. both musically and lyrically and with dialogue. We only had some near-lenuous idea of what we were doing. We knew the elements of the text. but we didn't quite know what the whole was going to be. You know. painters. for instance, only title their paintings after they've done them [laughing]. There are very few who actually say [odd artist voice). "This is going to be about...' and then do it. At least modern artists. There are so few that actually know what the hell they're doing while they're doing it.
Moon: When the listener sits down to have this experience that you've created. what is waiting at the other end?
Bowie: Uh. an implication that they should buy the next in a series of albums! [Laughterl I certainly hope.
Moon: What are you hoping that someone gets out of the experience?
Bowie: Do you know I'm not even sure yet. I'm at the stage where I haven't any expectations whatsoever. All that I know is that both Brian and I feel quite moved by it when we've listened to it in it's entirety and feel it's a successful piece of work. I rather think the older I get. the faster you let go of what you do. the better for your sanity. And I think the only obsessive trait that I have left from this particular piece of work is the high enthusiasm I have for moving on to the next piece. It's really horrid to say that there comes a point-you can drop things really quickly once you've done them. The actual talking them up and all that is something that's implicit when art meets commerce, but there's only so long that you can be thoroughly intrigued by your own work. And I think, again as you get older. not that one ever thinks one's work is inconsequential. but I think you feel that 'It's just what I do. It's my job.' It starts to take on that kind of relevance. rather than [swingin' voice]. 'Hey. I've really got something to say...'
Moon: I. uh, actually have the opposite experience. I actually would love to know how to be more interested in my own work ... so I'm fascinated to hear
Bowie: [Old man voice] 'Well, how it used to be...' I think when I was working as a younger man, I had a pretty fatuous idea that I was, that my work was me. you know. but it's an aspect of my person. my myriad and complex personality. I was quite certain that it represented me and in fact, at the worst times in my life I think it probably stood in for me .... I'm not of that persuasion anymore. I feel much...
[There is commotion by the hotel room door]
Bowie: I'm sorry. I just can't concentrate when other people are talking. [Quietly, laughing] My voice has to be the loudest in the room.
Moon: You were saying that your work sometimes stood in for you
Bowie: Now I just use it more now as a reference device of maybe how I feel. and what it is I'm struggling with, why I struggle with the idea of death all the time.
Moon: Ah, is that what we're wrestling!?
Bowie: I think I do. I can't speak for anybody else. but I think. not in a morbid or truculent fashion but a much more ... I have such an earnest. impassioned love of life. I think it's so totally unfair that we've got to die ... and I've lived a lot of my life kind of thinking that. My working is some way to working toward that absolute inevitability. I read somewhere. some very strange magazine. it was an advert for jeans or something. and it was very cutting-edge London. and it said "Good news for smokers, non-smokers die too.' (Laughter] This is the advert for jeans! I thought. 'Yes. of course. they fucking do.' I believe on a sociological level that 50 many of our problems stem from the fact that we have such an unhealthy disrespect for the idea of death. that it's sinful. almost disease-like. It has become increasingly apparent to me how mortal one's life is. and I think that really starts to unclothe all your illusions. You understand that is the big one of the two major questions. One: 'When am I going to die?' and two: 'What am I doing here?' And there's virtually very little else that we actually really. really. really. earnestly in our souls want to know. As I get older. I've been able to actually clarify that those are my two most pressing engagements with philosophy [laughs).
Moon: How does that affect your work and your relationships?
Bowie: I think it's all status quo [laughs]. I don't think it's changed a thing. but at least in myself. I'm more aware of the two areas where I get spiritually impassioned. I think it's maybe changed me in as much that it makes me want to impinge a little bit more on my spiritual life. I want to be able to book a lot of what I do. how I live and where I go. experiences that I have. I want to fit them all into some spiritual-I'm not even remotely religious. but I am spiritual. and that's become very clear to me as well: that I need to develop some signpost along a spiritual path somehow or other.
Moon: What would a signpost provide?
Bowie: I don't know because until I get it in place, I'm not even sure what the route is. [laughter] And I presume that's why I'm looking for the signpost. you know. to construct the route...
Moon: Well. I have to tell you that this album. I feel, is a masterpiece. I can't say that I understand it. and I hope to understand it a little bit better
Bowie: God. I wish I could help you. I really do. and I mean that [swindler voice] sincerely. I really do. But that's why Brian and I feel it's a success because neither of us can actually grasp exactly what it is that we're doing here. And I think [quietly]. I don't know about your father; I didn't know him. I met him only a couple of times. but I think that [for] every artist who's really impassioned about what he does as something more than a career opportunity. there's this sense that your real excitement comes when you're working in an area that you feel is rather dangerous to yourself. When you start saying. 'Well. I know what this is and I know (clicks his tongue and teeth) why this note sounds so good against this one. this is really safe...' it's disappointing.
And you know that you're letting yourself down as an artist when you're treading water like that. when you're only involved in an area where you know what you're doing. Once you start feeling as though. 'Whoops. I think I'm a bit out of my depths here.' that's when something exciting happens. And both Brian and I think we egg each other on a lot into. 'Look, well, how far are you willing to go?' There's a lot of that. 'Let's take the drums away .... Well. let's not play the bass part...' Brian would always venture to do that because he is a conceptualist. I mean that is his instrument: he's a conceptualist first and foremost, above anything. He's even a Societe Professor of Conceptualism at the Royal College of Art in London now. He's got his tweed jacket and his leather arm patches - not a pipe. I'm pleased to say. And here's a man who used to wear longer eyelashes than I did in the Seventies [laughs]. Irony is not lost on Brian. I must say. He's a very funny guy. But for me. I think possibly, I don't push myself as much as I do when I'm working with Brian. He's an absolute master at pulling out the best in the people that he works with by defying them to search out their deceived parameters as artists. That's really a great way to work.
Moon: You're really lucky.
Bowie: I only get that with Brian, nobody else ... do we tread into immodesty here? There have been very few occasions where I feel there's somebody who actually meets my requirements. that I feel is either intellectually or esthetically as aware of what I'm doing as Brian. He knows what I'm doing. No other fucker that I've worked with actually has a clue half the time. And I kind of get used to that situation. Then what happens is I let myself move in the area that they're moving...'cause I'm such a people pleaser [laughs] that I'll tend to do that. you know? Brian is incredibly selfish, which I very much admire about him.
Moon: That's a great trait.
Bowie: He's sitting in the control room saying, 'Why is it that when you put four musicians together. they always want to jam! God. it's boring!' I'll say. "Stop being grumpy. Brian.' I'm the diplomat: he's the grumpy one.
It's very fulfilling for the listener in as much as that it gives him satisfaction to be able to weave and interpret something he's listening to. It's a deeply felt satisfaction and a sense of achievement. I actually feel the resonance of the piece of work. that a work has a single. dominant voice and I get it. I can hear it: it actually speaks to me. communicates something to me. It's a great feeling, and any band who says to me [rocker voice]. 'Well. we just write our own music for ourselves; it some people turn up at the gig. man, that'd be a bonus.' Fucking liars. That is absolutely not true. You die a thousand deaths every time only seven people turn up. You go down on your knees at night and hope that the fucking thing communicates something to somebody ... except. of course, one's own mother [laughter].
Moon: And why do you hope that. though. why do you hope that?
Bowie: Oh. God, is it wanting to impress somebody? Or is it wanting to touch somebody? Or is it the excitement of thinking that you've got some new information or special information that nobody else knows and you want to impart it to all these people, I don't know. I don't know what that particular force is. how much at it is vanity and how much of it is a sense that what you've found really is important and should be expressed. I think it's probably somewhere in between the two.
Moon: So if it's fair to go back and ask you about some of these pieces. what does Grace want?
Bowie: Well. Grace. we don't really quite know. But her last line at the end of her rather sad, poignant little cassette is [in Grace's voice], "I think something's going to be horrid..." Whether or not it has anything to do with her. we don't know because we don't really know whether she is the first victim but we do know that she's disappeared. We don't know very much about her except she was on drugs at the time of her disappearance that made her 'brain work too fast, like a brain patch.' It's delightful stuff.
Maybe I should explain that while the band was writing. I preset the day before they came in. I'd been writing in a style that I copped from Brion Gysin and William Burroughs. the cut-up/cutting-into sections of prose and then sort of resorting them and recombining them in different ways. A friend of mine in San Francisco developed me a computer program that does it really quickly. So now all I have to do is to type my fodder into the Macintosh and it will produce reams of reorganized phrases and sayings and words in three-and-four-block words that are rematched with each other in unlimited number of combinations. And so I just press 'random' and this thing spews out hundreds and hundreds of pages. So at the start. When the band started improvising, I'd put all the paper all over a table and just sort of read. We actually set the microhones and the cameras up in the studio - it's only super eight but you kind I really get a feeling what went on.
It we do a bit of a four. which I'm very excited about. I hope that we el to perform this stuff live. I think that when we come off that I'd like to sort I get in there and try to put together more or less in archival form. not for any great presentation but for CD-ROM or something. exactly what the process was of actually putting this thing together. Because it's equally as interesting the thing itself.
One of the days that we worked - it was the 12th of March. 1994, I'll never forget - we had a blindingly orglastic session where it just didn't stop. Almost the entire genesis for this album is contained in those three and a half hours. but it's nearly all dialogue and narrative description and wandering off characters. I play out a character for maybe five minutes at a time; I mean. developed an entire interior life for him whilst I was on mike. with this very piece of music.
We kind of had these artistic - at least conceptual - parameters in place before we went into the studio. We sort of knew we were on a mission. Put of the set-ups we gave ourselves. we went to a mental hospital just outside Vienna and that particular hospital is famous for it's artistic wing. Inmates who've shown really strong orientation to painting or sculpting or something like that are given their own wing. And they paint and sculpt and do all these fantastic things and they're allowed to sell their work. Because it's an experiment that's been going since the Fifties. some of these guys are in their sixties and seventies. even eighties and they've become the mainstay of what's now alled 'outsider art.- So we spent two days with them and sort of had their stories translated. Some of their stories are so bizarre and off the wall. I can't even begin to tell you...
Moon: Not while I have five minutes
Bowie: I know. But if those walls could talkl Their whole process and how they instinctively jumped from symbol to symbol in their narratives and things. One man is called the Angel Man - and in fact he turns up in one of the songs in the end - he believed he was an angel and said [German Angel Man voicel, 'I was exactly who I was up until the 5th of February. 1948. and then I became an angel ... it was just after lunch.' And from that point. he believes that his old person disappeared and his angel took over him. he was totally reborn at that moment.
I sketched them a lot and Brian was tape recording them. and we were just looking at their work. And two days of that really set us up for puffing us in a place we hadn't been before. And we came back tingling with excitement about the peripheries of society and what it's like out there. So all this stuff. as I say. it's all information. and I'm not quite sure what sense it makes. but it has something to do with being alienated. And it has something to do with not understanding what the life-system is and the rituals. the blood rituals that seem to take on such strong paganistic shape. kind of throwback to the fires of the Roman bull worship and the drinking of the blood and the eating of the meat. which then became the transubstantiation of the Catholic Church and all these thousands of years I had a thing about the minotaur for the last couple of years; I'd been drawing and painting it a lot and didn't really know why until bout four or five weeks ago in The New York Times there was an article on the new cave paintings in the south of France dating back 30.000 years - the most sophisticated cave paintings that have ever been found. Fascinating. fantastic drawings of animals and bulls and lions. Not just meal, not just eating stuff. but carnivorous things that ate man, all kinds of things on there. The most Remarkable thing of all is one composite of a human being with a bull's head - 26.000 years before the Greeks came up with it. These people had already somehow come into the idea of the minotaur as being ... God knows what. a high priest? Was that a visualization of God maybe? What? This is the most illuminating. fascinating. mind-boggling drawing they've seen in any cave. The first composite of a man and a bull. and I knew it was important. I instinctively knew what the minotaur was important. And I have no idea why. Oh, God! There's just no time!
Moon: I know it. May I ask one thing as we come to a close: What do you wish your yourself?
Bowie: A fantastic personality! [Laughter] I would love to be completely at ease at dinner parties. That's about it. really.
(From Raygun October 1995)
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