So much has already been said about DAVID BOWIE.
"He was the first Rock Star who ever..." - "before him, no one had dared to..."-"he singlehandedly started the ... " - "every one of his albums was..." - "everything he said was.." he was always the object of so much critical chit-chat, surrounded by a halo of reactionary and outraged words; by third-party assessment, opinion, analysis, and wishful thinking ... see other current magazine cover stories for references to "chameleon-like", "enigmatic", "visionary", and "innovative"... see one of the over a dozen scholarly books written about him ... so what can we say? That he was the first Rock Star who was Gay and Straight at the same time? Good and bad at the same time? Cutting-edge and over with? That he was the most flaming and focused and stayed cool the longest? That he is one of the handful of all-time world-class Rock Stars? How about this - before him, no one had ever blown your mind quite like David Bowie.
It doesn't do any of us any good to once again explain David's lace in the Pop Pantheon or to further summarize his career in a flurry of clever fleeting thoughts - all of you who are reading this already have your own internalized version of the Bowie phenomenon. You know David's history in the same way that you know about prominent politicians or sports figures; you have your own preconceptions merging with fantasies and your own sexual vexation at his smiling sneer ... you know about his incredible Outer Space origins, his angst-ridden androgyny, his Black thing, his Dance Rock thing; his Who's-Who of musical luminaries with whom he has worked,- his hot hits and hot Ioves. You understand his casual, fashionable domination of the airwaves for almost three decades; you forgive his mistakes (if any); and all of you who are reading this have a soft spot in your hearts for him (or at least a few of his songs).
But despite any heart-felt admiration, all of you reading this harbor a secret disclaimer about him - such-and-such album sucked or after nineteen-whatever his stuff started to sound like this or that or his songs were always kind of... - "he didn't know how to really ..." - "he ripped off all his riffs from..." - "all of his band members had to sign a "Iman and him used to want to try to ..."
"So of course we wanted to get in there with a long list of leading questions seeking intimate secrets along with the names of the guilty parties. Of course we wanted to graft our own opinions and analyses and private wishful thoughts onto his magnetically malleable character. We wanted to expose something of him, as if it should be assumed that whatever we asked he could take it. We wanted to show him to be human, just like the rest of us.
And he was not that - he was, in fact, a very modern, updated version of a Space Oddity, a brand-new Man Who Fell To Earth, and - definitely - an elusive, ultra-Nineties Aladdin Sane. He was The Prettiest Star when he told us about his new album - Outside (Virgin) - being produced by Brian Eno and sort of continuing their collaborative streak from Low, Heroes, and Lodger. He was Joe The Lion as he proudly spoke of the aggressive improvisational input from present bandmembers, notably Mike Garson and Carlos Alomar. And he was the star of an as-yet-unmade version of George Orwell's 1984 when he pointed out how the dystopian realities of the Eighties affected his own career, and how Outside was a return to successful sensibilities abandoned or dismissed during that diabolical decade. Throughout it all, he was the one thing that we didn't expect him to be, and it threw off all our predatory planning and all our designs on his psyche ... Bowie was down-right, unabashedly honest.
Before we knew it our time was up, and our subject, in his innocent honesty, had somehow deflected all our curiosities about Sex and Drugs and Rock & Roll, and he had turned all our prurient interests into enraptured empathy with David Bowie The Faithful Friend Of His Fans - and what David was about at that moment was promoting Outside.
And so you will have to see one of the over a dozen scholarly books written about him to find out his real feelings about ex-associates or one of the current magazine cover stories if you want to know who's on top today or why he's not home with his wife or could he please mention the names of people who have fucked him out of money or who he knows that does drugs - people who have sued him - people who he doesn't like ...
If you would, please close your eyes for a moment and, in your mind's sound system, listen to all his hit songs as a composite, all played at once in perfect synchronicity, revealing the characteristics common to them all - and then remember how much you really like Bowie, and how much his music has meant to you over the years. Just listen to that composite all-at-once Bowie song playing in your head - and then read on.
SECONDS: Is there a signature Bowie sound? If so, is there a point where the familiarity of that sound works against you?
BOWIE: I think the particular sound I feel most comfortable with is when it has a peripheral voice. It doesn't sound as if it's at the center of any movement or any particular part of society - when it sounds as though there's some kind of ostracization going on. That's where I feel that my work is strongest.
SECONDS: Do you consider yourself a crooner in the tradition of Frank Sinatra or Bing Crosby?
BOWIE: I'm not sure. I regard the voice as something I can mess about with if the song demands. It can be a pert little cockney if it wants to be or it can get lonely and melancholy. Again, it's song-specific.
SECONDS: One thing that makes you different from those vocalists that you're the primary songwriter.
BOWIE: Yeah, and because of that priority everything else becomes subservient to it. Things like singing and performing are just ways of projecting the song and for me, the song is the be-all and end-all.
SECONDS: In terms of your writing, are hits a formula or a by-product?
BOWIE: I don't know, I don't have too many. You're speaking to the wrong artist; I think you should ask Elton John.
SECONDS: How has the role of the vocalist changed from the crooner's generation to the current one?
BOWIE: I can't really speak for them. I think for them, the idea of singing was a means to an end. It's a way of becoming famous. I'm not sure that they ever felt that what they were doing was pertinent sociologically. We've taken on the mantle of all that in Rock - that we actually believe what we're singing about has something to do with society. I think there was a period in the Eighties where I noticed a lot of the younger artists looked at the whole industry - the word "industry" was very big in the Eighties - and the idea of career opportunity was a flag that a lot of them were saluting at the time. I think that's receded a little now. In the Eighties, it probably approached the Bing/Sinatra feeling more than any other time since the Fifties. "Hey, you sing the right song, you get to the top of the pile."
SECONDS: Then every ten years or so, something comes around and levels all that.
BOWIE: Exactly. Hopefully, those periods will go by faster and faster.
SECONDS: We've seen all the Bowie impersonators over the years . . . do you see them as a compliment or an insult?
BOWIE: I don't know. They're kind of glitches in music history; they're kind of interesting. I don't really feel about them one way or another. There was a couple of songs of Gary Numan's I quite liked... I guess they all have their moments. There's always one song in there that's worth it all. It was only over the last eighteen months or so that I've been made aware of how influential my music - or our music I should say because a lot of it has to do with Brian Eno has been on American bands. I always felt we were incredibly Eurocentric in what we did. Now, having seen interviews with Trent Reznor and hearing Smashing Pumpkins do my songs on stage, and obviously Kurt Cobain with The Man Who Sold The World, it registered that I'd had that kind of influence on bands over here, too. That's absolutely lovely. I have to admit, it knocks me out that this generation of bands in the Nineties are reflecting that the roots of their music possibly comes from some of the things I've done.
SECONDS: When you first came out, did you feel you were part of the Hippie movement because your music seemed to be a reaction to contemporary ethics?
BOWIE: It was the thing I'm so against - idealism. Unfortunately, idealism turns into a certain kind of fundamentalism. I was a reaction to that, although much more naive and un-thought-out. I kind of know what I do these days. I didn't really know what it was that I did in those days.
SECONDS: I understand Jimmy Page played on some of the early Mannish Boys stuff...
BOWIE: He did indeed, with the first fuzz box in England. He was this kid who just left art school and was the youngest session man in the world, fifteen or sixteen. He was a fresh faced kid who had a real joy for playing. The Led Zeppelin thing ... it's hard to put the two together. He taught me a wonderful riff which became The Supermen.
SECONDS: When we hear about your fascination with a lot of the New York stuff, Lou Reed, Andy Warhol, even Wayne County-
BOWIE: Wayne County I only met twice in my life and I couldn't stand him. I had absolutely no fascination for him at all. I felt he was absolutely useless. I saw him work a couple of times - I didn't know him at all. The only one that I was aware of until I got to America was Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground that I've been huge fans of since the Sixties. It was such an alternative to what was going on. The New York Dolls I got to buddy up with when I came over and we just felt like-minded. In England, their own form was Roxy Music and T-Rex, a loosely-knitted movement.
SECONDS: I assume no one was selling a lot of records -
BOWIE: Well, we did very well in England. It took America a lot longer. The Ziggy Stardust thing and what subsequently followed was quite huge in England at the time, and so were Roxy Music and T-Rex.
SECONDS: Your work with people like Iggy Pop or Lou Reed, was that collaborative or in tribute?
BOWIE: It's hard to say. I was a huge fan of both of those.
SECONDS: You resurrected their careers in a lot of ways ...
BOWIE: Well ... we were all in the right place at the right time and it just worked out well for everybody concerned. I think it was collaborative, definitely, with Iggy. I spent a lot of time writing for him as well as producing. For me, Iggy's strength was as a lyricist - I thought he was the funniest, darkest lyricist of the time. I really wanted to give him some musical support that would get him a wider audience. It just seemed so unfair that he was virtually neglected, as was Lou Reed when I first started working with him ... I was going through a very experimental stage when I first started working with Iggy on The Idiot. I had some ideas on that which reached their fruition when I started working with Brian on Low. The Idiot, for me, was a kind of format for devising a new kind of musical scenario.
SECONDS: What misconceptions do people have about the Glam scene, for lack of a better word?
BOWIE: I think they believe we all had a lot in common with each other and that there weren't many of us - there were hundreds of copies really quickly. Within months, we had Sweet and Gary Glitter and all these other people. I think myself, T-Rex, and Roxy Music felt not a part of all that.
SECONDS: What's the relationship between glamour and Rock, and how has that changed over time?
BOWIE: What I find with a lot of younger bands these days especially the ones who have cut their teeth on a lot of the early Seventies bands - is that there's more of a desperate need not for recognition, but for insulating themselves from the world. What I believe we were doing in the early Seventies was making an occasion of our personalities. It's almost tribal now. There's a different spin on glamorization.
SECONDS: Where do you fit into that today?
BOWIE: I think what I might be good at is working in the drift area between real-life and make believe. An area that is a highly volatile one is: what exactly is pretension and what purpose does it serve? Pretend that you don't have integrity, that you do not have an absolute, that you are not manipulative. All those things are important and have so much to do with our real life. I think it's negating a lot of art to not realize that pretension is very valid.
SECONDS: Why have people run away from it?
BOWIE: Because they're told by an art elite that things have to be absolute and pure. For instance, you get somebody like Keith Haring who's a wonderful Graffiti artist but was plucked from his coterie of fellow artists and elevated to a point ... we were given the impression that he was elevated into high art because what he had to say was an absolute of some kind - that it transcended street Graffiti - which is absolute bullshit. It's important for the art world to create a distinction because for commercial reasons more than anything else, you can't put a $200,000 price tag on somebody who's just a "street artist". You have to create a synthetic platform for them. They were many other Graffiti artists running around like Fab 5 Freddy who were quite as good, but because they didn't have a specific motif, a well defined signifying character, they kind of got lost.
If I stayed with one kind of music and plodded on with i all these years, at least I would have had "integrity". I never stay with one thing for more than ten minutes, so of course I'm not "serious" about what I do - which is absolute bullshit. I'm probably one of the most serious artists that I know. I really feel that it's important to my life that what I do has integrity to it, but it's not perceived the same by s many ... I don't believe in a world of absolutes o fundamentalism. I don't work in that kind of polemic atmosphere. I really am a fan of hybridization and I believe that the mutation of systems is the way that things will go.
SECONDS: Who runs the music business?
BOWIE: Who does run it indeed? I've never been allowed to get close enough to actually know. I'm still one of the most naive people when it comes to actually knowing who is in the industry. I don't know anybody's names and I don't know what companies they work for and I don't know who pulls any strings. I have an awful lot of trouble dealing with the industry at any level. I have no friends at Virgin, I don't know anybody in the industry at all.
SECONDS: Is that by choice?
BOWIE: Yes. I just don't revolve in that society. Most of my friends tend to be painters or writers - not many musicians really.
SECONDS: You've also had a career as film actor and stage performer. How do you view yourself in that context?
BOWIE: My ultimate enjoyment is being in the studio recording. That's the most pleasurable activity of all for me, quickly followed by painting. The other stuff I do for a number of reasons. Acting, for instance, is because I have a thing about the directors and I want to get near them and see what it is they do. I really have no ambitions in that particular world. It doesn't seem a terribly exciting one to me. It's probably more exciting if you're doing it in Europe well no, you've got so much against you being a filmmaker over there ... maybe in New York it's more fun, but God forbid one would end up in LA. It's one big hassle here - it's the most frenetic, seething, hostile city on the face of the Earth under the guise of being this laid-back, cool place, which it is not by any stretch of the imagination. New York is calm and sweet compared to this place. The film world does seem to be this world in LA and it's not a world I'd like to be in at all.
SECONDS: Of all the Bowie characters like Ziggy or the Thin White Duke, which was the most satisfying?
BOWIE: From this perspective, none of them. In terms of characters, the new crop are much easier to deal with - and they are a bit of a crop, being between five and seven of them. I'm much the creator of them; there isn't any connection between myself and them, which I found was a block back then. To establish that set of rules for myself has been a lot more useful. It's a very different psychological situation now.
SECONDS: In terms of the new album, can your reuniting with Brian Eno be seen as a return to more familiar artistic territory?
BOWIE: Certainly a return to happier territory than what I was doing in the Eighties. The main problem with the Eighties was the Eighties. One of the first things we talked about when we got back together again - at my wedding in '92 - was the fact that both of us really hated the Eighties. It was such a nebulous, commerce-oriented period that we both felt invalidated. Brian himself went off to Malaysia for quite a long time and I went off to bed for a lot of that period. It was only towards the end of the Eighties that we both started feeling active and wanting to do new things - Brian with U2 and me with Tin Machine. It was really fortuitous that we got back together in '92 and realized that we both, again, wanted to approach music the same way we did back in the Seventies. We defined the subject matter and the musical style of the stuff we didn't want to do and that we felt was probably being done by other people - very well or not - and we just went to the edge in both subject matter and style of playing.
SECONDS: How did you get to that point in the Eighties ...
BOWIE: Me, it was easy. I escalated myself into some kind of MOR hell with Let's Dance. I was treading water after that. I just didn't have any real interest in writing or playing, it's as simple as that. I just trotted out albums which, ironically, became very big albums for me. It was just the most incorrigible situation. I felt really frustrated because I saw myself in a cul-de-sac that I just loathed and hated.
SECONDS: How do you maintain that balance between artistic credibility and commercial viability?
BOWIE: I don't. It just turned out like that. It's been extraordinary and I'm thankful that, commercially, I've always had a large, kind of cult-ish audience. There's been a certain group of people that have always been quite willing to go with the changes that I've made, or at least willing to look at it and decide whether they want it or not. Everything else about what I do has been up for grabs ... it's always tempered by the times I'm living through. Being a great supporter of hybridization, it's been invaluable that I have a facility for moving from one kind of music to another quite easily. I don't feel as though I hold a torch for one particular style of music. I find that absolutism outmoded. I like the idea of people being able to go through the boundaries of the arts. It's not necessary to stay in music - you can paint, make movies, or whatever ... apply certain tactical and aesthetic instruments to any of those particular art forms. For me, music is merely a palette. Brian thinks very much in a similar way. He's a eybernetician, I guess, but his whole philosophy has been about taking different parts of different systems and putting them together and seeing what happens.
SECONDS: I can't figure out if you're bringing Art into Rock or Rock into Art.
BOWIE: Brian and I have actually talked about this and what we seem to have come down to is that what I'm very good at doing is taking high s and deemin them down to low art, whereas Brian does precisely the opposite. He takes vulgar things and makes them high art. Because our approaches are so diametrically opposed to each other, it probably makes for a good artistic relationship. We find no real problem in collaborating. Also, he's a minimalist. He's at his happiest when he has a collection of o more than four notes. If he can work with a piece of music where those four notes change color, change position, and change arrangement, then he's like a kid in a candy store.
SECONDS: Are you happy with the new record?
BOWIE: Happy is not the word, I'm absolutely enraptured with it at the moment. I think it's the best thing I've ever made. I can't wait to do the followup. I think it's a wonderful piece of work. It's just the kind of music I need in my life.
SECONDS: It seems as if it's a collage of all your older styles.
BOWIE: Yes, that's possible. That's not a bad analogy. What I am tending to do is like what a painter does who has key signifying motifs that he develops during his career and then they start coming back and he incorporates them into his work. He ends up with a layer of his own images that he's created over time. That's possibly what I might be doing.
SECONDS: Speaking of painting, I know it's an interest of yours and I would guess that it's more than just a hobby....
BOWIE: Yes, it is. It's quite as obsessive as the music. I collect paintings as well doing a lot of them ...
SECONDS: ... yet we don't see your stuff.
BOWIE: No, I haven't shown over here at all. I've been showing in Britain over the last two years.
SECONDS: How come you've never a used a piece of your own art for one of your record covers?
BOWIE: It never occurred to me to do it. It really didn't, until the last five years when I started thinking about breaking down the lines between one thing that I do and another and starting to merge them. I'm actively involved in doing that right at this moment. It's almost a priority now. Why? I don't know, but it just seems to make sense to me.
SECONDS: Would your art be fairly received by critics here?
BOWIE: Probably not. I'd be "above my station", "not knowing my place in life", and that sort of thing.
SECONDS: You don't really get the benefit of the doubt here.
BOWIE: You just have to work harder. The thing is, you don't stop working.
SECONDS: What's your favorite medium?
BOWIE: It used to be just painting and then I started doing a bit of sculpturing in the Eighties. More and more I'm leaning towards a hybrid between conceptualism and painting. I'm not very keen on craft or technique anymore. I would pride myself that I could capture the likeness of something when I first started painting in a major way in the Seventies, but now I've kind of gotten past that. I'm more interested in the idea inherent in it rather than the execution, as long as the execution is reasonable enough to get the idea over successfully. I have a problem with the word "art" because it's such an elitist word. It has to do with training, technique and a craft - and I'm not sure we haven't already outlived that.
SECONDS: What's the next step for the world after art?
BOWIE: Hopefully, if the word "art" breaks down, that reduces the commercial value of it and it becomes more integrated ...
SECONDS: And you'd like to see the end of the elitist institutions.
BOWIE: Yeah, I think it's absolutely necessary so that we can get to the place where we break down the boundaries between the art forms. I just worked with a guy who's doing that, Julian Schnabel, on the Jean-Michel Basquiat film that he's doing. Robert Longo and David Salle have both made films as well recently. Naturally, the hatchet's out for them - "How dare painters try and convince the public they can make films?" Julian's got to go through all that when the film comes out. It could create quite a renaissance of a new attitude to how we express ourselves. I'm not so sure the word "art" fits into it anymore. I think we will being playing out everything Duchamp thought.
SECONDS: What makes someone like Duchamp or Man Ray different from the Pop Culture that followed them?
BOWIE: Man Ray had strong philosophic content to what he was doing whereas Pop Art really tried to be purposefully blasphemous about the idea of intellect in art, demeaning what was high art into low art. I kind of liked that; I'm starting to look back on the Pop Artists with something approaching affection. They definitely broke down the division between what was a commercial rendering and what was a Fine Art rendering.
SECONDS: Have you done that musically?
BOWIE: I think so. I think I bastardize a lot of more elitist forms of music - I try my best to, anyway.
SECONDS: Is there any type of music you've consciously avoided?
BOWIE: Country & Western. I have no idea how to get anywhere near that. When they were carting Buddy Rich into the hospital, the doctor leaned over and asked if he was allergic to anything and he said, "Yeah, Country & Western."
SECONDS: Were you trying to avoid certain trappings of your own sound by omitting Robert Fripp from the new record?
BOWIE: It was a consideration briefly at one time. But you know something.? I've got so used to being with and working with Reeves Gabrels over the last six years that it still seems like we're a new team. He has a sense of invention and humor about his work. Robert is wonderful but he's also involved in his own things to a degree where it would be more likepulling somebody in from the outside and letting go of themat the end of the session, whereas Reeves is there.
SECONDS: Was there a lot of improvisation among the bandmembers on this record?
BOWIE: A tremendous amount. In fact, that was one thing that we set up - seven days of improvisations. As you'll see from the writing credits, we culled several of the pieces from the improvisations. I just put everybody's name on it because they were all in the room when the piece was created so it seemed the fairest thing to give everybody a piece of that particular song. The improvs were put together by Brian. He's really good at setting the scene for them.
SECONDS: Some people might expect your new music to have more of a Techno flavor to it.
BOWIE: Do you really feel the music we did before was Techno?
BOWIE: Neither of us are particularly enamored with synthesizers. Brian doesn't trust them an inch and I don't know how to work them. It's the idea of conceptualism which is one thing that does run rampant on this album. Brian's instrument is his concept ... Brian's instrument is his mind. It's very hard to actually describe what he does in the studio. He talks a lot and he sets ul-i maybe loops of gunshots or something like that. He'll throw something nice on the radio and keep throwing it through the headphones. They're all very unusual and obscure things. It's not like working with Kraftwerk, for instance, who are very pedantic and everything is in form and has a reason for being there. Brian works on the outside, in obscure areas of life.
SECONDS: Is he an archivist, primarily?
BOWIE: What do you mean by that?
SECONDS: Is he is a collector?
BOWIE: For instance, one set-up that we had on the album for one of the pieces, Hearts Filthy Lesson - when we started playing the thing, Brian just put the radio on. He heard a French broadcast or something and looped it immediately and put into the mix every four beats. He works with whatever's there in the air.
SECONDS: It sounds like the construction of Rap music in many ways -
BOWIE: But Brian's always worked like that. That's what he's always done, finding atmospheres and throwing them into the whole thing.
SECONDS: What does the public have wrong about Brian Eno?
BOWIE: That he's not funny. I don't think they would imagine he has an incredibly weird sense of humor - a very funny guy, and extraordinarily pithy. Like all Brits, he's great at the put-down as well.
SECONDS: Does he paint, also?
BOWIE: He studied as a painter with a very fine conceptualist in Britain called Richard Hamilton, who was one of the fathers of Pop Art in Britain. In fact, Brian's now an associate professor of conceptualism at the Royal College of Art in London. Most of his time is spent on the lecture circuit. He just signed with Faber & Faber to do three books on culture and how it works. His whole thing has been, "Why is art?" When working with him, he sort of takes things apart and analyzes them.
SECONDS: Tell me about your interest in body art.
BOWIE: When I was a kid, there was a thing with the Surrealists that always stayed in my mind. Andre Breton said in the Twenties that maybe the greatest work of art is somebody who would fire a revolver into a crowd, which was the first idea that I'd had that murder could be considered as fine art. Researching it recently, I found that in fact a guy called Thomas DeQuincy, who wrote a book called Confessions Of An English Opium Eater in 1820, had written a very similar piece for Blackwoods magazine called "Murder Considered As A Fine Art". I then started doing a research thing on where this had gone and how it had continued through the years. It just seemed to be gaining tremendous momentum with people like Ron Affey and their scarification performance works and Kiki Smith and her anatomical pieces. Back in England, we've got a guy called Mark Quinn, who sculpted his own head out of eight pints of his own blood that coagulated. This kind of work is really gathering momentum as these last few years have gone by. Noting the kind of tribal associations with a lot of kids in terms of tattoos and scarifications - when I was a kid, tattoos meant a heart with "I love mother" written on it. Now, it's gotten into an almost paganistic area where they're using indigenous American designs or Celtic designs. A lot of it has reliance on tribal associations. It's kind of out of a displaced form of religion - that maybe we weren't feeling as much nurturing from the church, and that people are inscribing their own spiritual and religious areas. In fact, it smacked more of paganism than accepted, established "church". A lot of it seemed to go back to the Romans and their drinking the blood and eating the meat of the bull to enable us to go forward into the new era. I just felt that we're doing the same thing, a kind of appeasement to the gods to allow us to go into the next millennium. Using that as some kind of basis and extrapolating on that, it's entirely possible that the idea of murder as art is an option for some people.
SECONDS: Are you familiar with earlier examples of body modification, like the Comprachico cult in Spain?
BOWIE: No, I'm not at all.
SECONDS: They're like the Thugees in India...
BOWIE: The Thugees, of course -
SECONDS: - the Comprachicos were notorious deformers ... actually, everything from clitoridectomies to rhinoplasty falls under body modification.
BOWIE: I thoroughly agree and that's why I believe that what we and a lot of the artists working in the Western sphere do is a mutation of that. You get people like Chris Burden in San Francisco in the early Seventies who was doing extraordinary things like crucifying himself on his car or hanging himself with electrodes over vats of water daring his arms not to touch the water.
SECONDS: Then there's Joseph Mellon, who trephinated himself...
BOWIE: Absolutely. That became a big practice in Britain sometime in the late Sixties. There were several people walking about in London with great holes in their heads.
SECONDS: I understand they were quite well-adjusted and lived happily ever after.
BOWIE: Oh yeah, there's certainly no fatalities there.
SECONDS: Did you ever entertain the idea of doing that?
BOWIE: Never, not even for one second. It never really caught my eye. The most serious consequences of this sort of thing happened a few months ago in Holland. There's a very famous artist in Holland called Rob Schultz who came down to his car one day with his wife and they drove off and heard a clicking sound. Within seconds of realizing what it was, the car seat blew up and Rob Schultz was suddenly without legs. Now, one of his contemporaries had done it as a performance piece. It's a big awful story in Holland and it has been running these last few months. One guy was actually there filming what was going on and he shows those films in a cafe as an artistic presentation.
SECONDS: It's all come back to gladiatorial sports.
BOWIE: Exactly. It's where ritual meets art.
SECONDS: How about transexuality? That's a body modification form ...
BOWIE: Absolutely. Yes, it is. It's probably one of the earliest in the West.
SECONDS: Isn't that the conclusion of sexuality, to become a hermaphrodite?
BOWIE: All Gods are hermaphrodites, outside of our own particular religions. In fact, the transvestite priest is very big in Indonesia. That's part of their Titual there this androgynous figure who wears full makeup and female attire and is a high priest.
SECONDS: How did we in the Judeo-Christian world get saddled with -
BOWIE: How did we get saddled with it? Foremostly, the Christian side of things was a political structure, wasn't it? I think it was absolutely a necessity for them to co-op the Roman temples - in fact, all the architectural stylization of the early Church was based completely on the Roman temple, to give people empathy for that type of place along with the appropriation of Mithras' birthday, which is December 25th, as being the birthday of Christ. Even the Mithras meal of blood and meat into the transubstantiation of the Catholic Church, drinking the blood of Christ and eating his flesh with the wafer ...
SECONDS: Would the West have been better off if Christiantity had been displaced?
BOWIE: I don't think so because most of the religions that developed within the course of the last thousand years have been absolutist and fundamentalist. I think that is so scary ... I think anything that is absolutist and fundamentalist, including politics, is such a rigid and nonsensical system it just cannot work for our society. For me, the key word is hybridization. In the East, where the older religions come through, they seem to work better. In Indonesia, outside of the Islamic countries there's a kind of bastardized Hinduism that goes on where there's a balance between the dark and the light all the time and all the festivals every day observe both sides of our state. There's some very dark practices and some very light practices, but it's a sense of trying to keep a balance, which I think is absolutely missed with our particular inclination.
SECONDS: Why is that?
BOWIE: I think a lot of it came from the perpetuation of the original sin doctrine. I think original sin has done such massive damage to our psychic lives. It's made in unhealthy issue of' sex and death - those two things are our greatest worry. That's why you have violence and sex in popular culture and not in the Church. Death we have such a negative feeling about, anyway ... We feel that it's sinful and unhealthy and not a natural state and it's always regarded with a gasp when the subject of' death arises. You don't find that kind of atmosphere surrounding death in the East; there's a great embracement of death in the East. In some countries, it's a joyous occasion. What we regard as a funeral wake becomes a joyous celebration. We're continuing our journey - "Hooray, he's moved to the next level."
SECONDS: Speaking of institutions that atrophy, I think Albert Goldman called Rock Music the most conservative institution on the planet right now.
BOWIE: We must listen to Albert Goldman, mustn't we?
SECONDS: Do you see where he's coming from?
BOWIE: I think up until recently I would agree with him. I can see the corporate side of it breaking back down and becoming smaller independent companies again. I cannot believe that we're left four or five monolithic companies that run the entire music world.
SECONDS: How about the fans?
BOWIE: I think the fans will demand more than what they're given.
SECONDS: Are Rock fans today more sophisticated than they were in 1975?
BOWIE: I think they perceive music in a very different way. They see it much more as a lifeforce and not just as entertainment. Again, it's transmutated itself into something tribal.
SECONDS: And something that is to elicit a reaction from the body and less from the mind?
BOWIE: Absolutely, it is much more the beat of the heart now than it ever was before. These days we can have music where the center of the track isn't necessarily the high priest on the stage.
SECONDS: Do I detect a character from 1984 lurking on your new album?
BOWIE: Not intentionally ...
SECONDS: The guy who rents the room -
BOWIE: Ah-ha - Catshriek! Yes, the guy who owns the store in 1984.
SECONDS: That's a little bit of him, I thought ...
BOWIE: It is very much. A very English character, he's almost the stereotypical shop owner.
SECONDS: 1984's dystopian imagery has always played a role in your music.
BOWIE: It has, indeed. I think it comes out of my background. For those of us born in South London, you always felt you were in 1984. That's the kind of gloom and immovable society that a lot of us felt we grew up in.
SECONDS: It sterilized itself in its industrialization.
BOWIE: It was a terribly inhibiting place.
SECONDS: What's the alternative to that future?
BOWIE: I think we'll successfully glide through into the Twenty-first Century happy as larks. So much of the fear is psychological. There's the idea that there's a great brick wall and we can't possibly get past - that on December 31, 1999 - I think it's egotistic - we'll all suddenly not be here. I think this is a feeling of panic and desperation t h a t produces a massive momentum, as it does at the end of every century. It's only an exaggerated version, coming to the end of the millennium.
SECONDS: Do you think we will inevitably enter into an age of space exploration?
BOWIE: I suspect that the idea of cybernetics will really come into its own, that the changing and restructuring of systems will become all-important. Political systems will break down but the idea of an absolute political system will just become so archaic and out-of-step ... I think we will be able to fully understand what it means to be Postmodernist.
SECONDS: But will we have colonies on the Moon?
B0WIE: I don't think so.
SECONDS: You think we'll go inward rather than outward?
BOWIE: No, because I don't think we'll become so philosophically sophisticated- I think there might even he a reemergence of a kind of paganism - but a mutated version of it. I think we'll understand things differently. I think we won't have the time to develop intellect in quite the same way because the turnover of events is so fast. There's no real time to analyze. We might not be able to evaluate the past ... It might put us into the now in a very different way from the way we've realized it before. Even now, it's very hard to actually assemble what happened last week. The influx of information is so rapid and so prolific it's very hard to work out what has gone down.
SECONDS: As an optimistic Science Fiction fan, I always feel like it's going to get bigger and better ...
BOWIE: John Cage said the same thing - things are really getting better and better, it's just that we can't see it.
SECONDS: What's been your biggest contribution to Science Fiction culture?
SECONDS: Would that be Science Fiction concepts mixed into the Rock idiom?
BOWIE: No, I think that was done long before I came along. I think it's the idea that you don't have to stay loyal with one particular style or persona. Half of the understanding of what makes this work is being able to drift between the polarities of life, drift between invention and reality. That sort of movement from side to side has been kind of useful.
SECONDS: Are invention and reality opposites?
BOWIE: Reality as it's perceived, that there is this absolute thing called reality. In fact, reality is only defined by the inventiveness of your self. It's what you create around you that makes your reality.
SECONDS: What's the biggest misconception about David Bowie?
BOWIE: That I'm Elton John. I had an old lady come up to me last week and ask me, "Elton, can I have your autograph?" I said, 'Actually, my name's David Bowie.'
SECONDS: What's the key to aging gracefully in Rock?
BOWIE: Wear less makeup. I think that's an artist-by-artist question. For me, I don't think on the whole my music has been generational. I don't think I've talked for a generation. I've talked about specific subjects but those subjects have grown with me. A lot of it is about negativity, alienation, those things that take a philosophic high ground. One sort of hones those subject matters all the time and they're continually things I revert back to.
SECONDS: When is sex appeal an asset and when is it a liability?
BOWIE: I think you should ask Hugh Grant! It's what popular culture's for. What we don't get looked after for as far as the Judeo-Christian ethic finds its way into popular culture. It's kind of our gladiatorial arena; it's where we fight our fears and 'Problems. That's why we've got our Stallones. I don't think it's gratuitous at all, it's necessary. More strength to it, I say. Make 'em bigger, bloodier and sexier, otherwise we'll never get out of the Twentieth Century alive. It's pagans all the way to the finish line.
SECONDS: What should it say on your gravestone?
BOWIE: I can't answer that. I have no idea. "David Bowie" I guess. That would be quite sufficient.
(From Seconds August/September 1995)
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