A cooler blend of culture

From the Vault: a Cream interview with David Bowie

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Digging out an interview published in Cream in 2004, contributor Nick Bennett interviewed David Bowie, who chatted about character-swapping and cover songs while sneaking in a couple of jokes about Boy George and Russell Crowe.

This is the transcript as originally published hence word for word for when Bowie was alive – an interview, in fact, given the same year Bowie had all but ceased doing press interviews altogether.

 

Still touring striking shows – across 17 countries in front of millions of fans – David Bowie remains in fine form. At 57, the prodigious chameleon, so thick with rock’n’roll aristocracy, you want to call him Sir. Married to model and human rights activist, Iman, Bowie is living proof that great songs are a musician’s superannuation. He encourages fans to remix his music after downloading songs old and new for free. He is indeed a curious cat, and in press conference mode at Sydney’s International Passenger Terminal, he comes across as very English and very dry. [Cue: ‘Ground control to Major Tom’ type accent:]

“Radio coming in; it’s Queen Elizabeth the Second saying, ‘Bring us some more beef’.”

Yes, it is a bit nonsensical. But then so too has three quarters of Bowie’s discography been tinted with such oddity.

“Yeah, I’m a bit of a geezer,” admits the man. Obtuse, and never dull, his bravado may well be driven by performance nerves. That said, David Bowie is extremely comfortable on stage.

“I’m very happy as a performer, doing what I’m doing at the moment. It’s never been so clean and unencumbered; it’s just a simple performance.”

With a catalogue that extends back to the late 1960s, Bowie says he doesn’t need radio play to sell out his shows.

“I don’t rely on radio. I rely on word of mouth and how good we are on stage, which of course we are.”

The Thin White Duke, allegedly the survivor of a diet that once consisted of cocaine and milk, hasn’t toured Australia for 17 years. Hardened hacks might remember his visit in 1987 for the ‘Glass Spider’ tour, but few will recall it fondly. His latest album ‘Reality’ and spin-off tour, however, are both garnering great reviews. The album, produced by Bowie with longterm production pal, Tony Visconti, reverts to his better days.

“The new album is really about the band I’m with,” says everybody’s favourite chameleon. “It’s been pretty depressing in New York over the past two or three years and I really wanted to find something that broke bottom; kicked arse.”

Along with new Bowie-penned creations like ‘New Killer Star’ and ‘Days’ there are covers of George Harrison’s ‘Try Some, Buy Some’ and Jonathon Richman’s ‘Pablo Picasso’.

“I’ve liked doing covers ever since I did ‘Pin-Ups’ in the early ’70s. Before I learnt to write anything, I used to enjoy playing the material that my band did which was everybody else’s songs. I’m a real rock fan, you know.”

It seems there’s still a chance this icon of ever-changing guises will fire up another creation like past alter-egos Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane.

“I’d love to. I’d never ignore it. I love writing and coming up with little theatrical things. Maybe I could write [a character] for someone else… Boy George… That would give him something to put on Broadway that doesn’t get pulled off!”

Unlike Sting and Cher, David Bowie doesn’t get single-moniker references with regard to his first name, though like the pair of them, he’s dabbled semi-favourably in film. Two favourites on his CV are The Last Temptation Of Christ and Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence.

“I’d love to be a movie star and have my name on posters and photographs forty feet high, but you’ve got to work so hard at the acting. It’s not my profession. Russell Crowe can sleep safely.”

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Decades later, and with a recreational act that has clearly been cleaned up, David Bowie is still questioned* about his dodgy drug days that supposedly left him with a poor memory and a brain like Swiss cheese.

“Yes, it’s true, but that’s an old interview.”

 

* Note: This interview first appeared in Cream Issue 29, published July 2004.

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