Pin-Ups (Circus Magazine, April 1975)
During his comparatively short but meteoric career, David Bowie has made himself into a walking-talking movie screen. He simply projects the image and effects of himself which he wants others to see. He does not want people to look at the person who is the star; he’d rather become an entire imaginary novella. On every album, on every tour, he’s cast himself into some fun role. Not the “ha-ha” type of fun, but the type that you wish to convey in postcards that say “Wish you were here!”
But now David Bowie’s decade-long star-trek has become lost in space. On the second half of his recent “Diamond Dogs” tour he dropped his props and masks to perform like a regular stage crooner, the Sinatra of the Seventies. He even attempted to expose himself as a real person to a national television audience by appearing on the potentially candid Dick Cavett Show.
But wasn’t Bowie perhaps only portraying the role of a performer?
For while Bowie casts about for his next fictional stage image, it seems he’s perhaps unconsciously adopted a new off-stage caricature for his private life as well. David began his career as Everyman, but gradually shed everybody else to find himself at the top of a golden pinnacle alone. Now, cloistered high above the streets of Manhattan, he’s resolutely cast himself into the image of the Martyred Star (Garland? Monroe?), living out all the lonely cliches of life at the top. It may be his most dramatic personality configuration yet.
David’s problem is that most of the fun of being a star was getting there, and now that he’s made it up to that awesome altitude it’s hard to figure out what to do next. Like the jokester at a party who has put a lamp-shade on his head to get attention, David now doesn’t quite know what to do for an encore.
Fads and projects are what his career has boiled down to, but although he and his voice-box, MainMan, were always announcing some new Bowie spectacular soon to be on everyone’s lips, many of them never came through. The busted project became one of his trademarks. “David is still one of the most talented people around today,” said a close friend of his “but his problem is that he loses interest too fast. If something is a little too difficult, or if something else attracts his attention or he turns paranoid for some reason, then he just immediately drops it, no matter how far along in development it is. Everything he works on runs the risk of being nothing more than just something to take up time.”
The Bowie American television spectacular was one project which he did come through on but it was only partially what it had been meant to be. “It was actually going to be the first glimpse of a musical play he was working on called ‘1984’,” explained a Bowie confidant. “It had some of the music in it (‘1984’ and ‘You Didn’t Hear It From Me’) and it also co-starred Marianne Faithfull. She was intended not only to be on this program, but also to go on and star in his production.”
But somehow the master creator lost touch with his brainchild. “We were two hours behind schedule,” our source confided. “I was standing in the back watching, and everything was a mess. Bowie simply left and everything had to go on without him.
“I would say that about ninety per-cent of the people who make it as big stars – and there ain’t many – get all screwed up with ego problems.” So said one of the Queens of the rock world scene. “The problem with David is that he has absolutely no sense of friendship. It’s part of his trip to be, not cold or mean, just not really like reacting to other people like other people.”
Following last fall’s “Diamond Dogs” tour, David dropped out of the scene altogether. There was no more of that something he had loved when he was still climbing up onto the milky way. Now, when he was snapped by a noted New York rock photographer while talking to David Johansen, he quickly snapped back, “That was very rude of you!”
The fans who loved the Space Invader felt a little disconnected from their idol too, and there was not a lot of ultra thrill about his big step to funky chickenism. Wandering out of theaters after his heavily rhythm & blues laced shows, most people were left wondering ‘why’s he doing all that stuff?’ and when he appeared with a naughty case of sniffles on the Dick Cavett show, he made a statement that sounded almost like an announcement, to the effect that he would soon be doing something new and different. Almost as if he felt forced to say so.
As during David’s previous performing lulls, projects on the horizon and rumors in the wind are what David Bowie is today. He is holed up in one of New York’s ritziest hotels, been there all winter, and everyone who has managed to trickle through the front door of the suite comes back with a different bunch of news and new Future Bowie Forecasts: he is writing a book about his Siberian Travels. He is considering doing a film with Mark Bolan (a remake of ‘Whatever Happened To Baby Jane’ it is rumored). He is going to do a movie about Christ (with Guess Who doffing the crown of thorns).
“Everybody is always talking about what he’s going to do,” said the ruby-lipped intimate, “he has millions of ideas, but no real way to bounce them off of anybody who can give any advice or react in any way that could really help him. You see, he is usually surrounded by ‘yes men’; if you aren’t one of them, you aren’t part of the Bowie party. He never gets any perspective but his own.”
And now into the winter lair of the little lame prince himself.
When I walked in, I didn’t look directly at him at first (he was sitting on the couch). No matter how much he wanted to be a black brutha I knew he was a Star. I looked around the suite first. An enormous video-tape unit and extra large screen dominated the living room. There was a big stereo there too, and a lot of soul singles, you know, about 3,000 versions of “Rock The Boat” with different names. They were lying around like autumn leaves. Whenever anyone wanted to put another on, it was a search through the clutter of clothes and records to come up with the right one.
Alice Cooper was in the room with a couple other people who had stopped by to wish David well after the first concert in his Radio City Music Hall series. Bowie was sitting alone; man, I thought, is this number skinny! Not so much fashionable as sickly in army fatigue pants and a khaki shirt. This, I kept thinking, was the bloke who wrote ‘After All,’ ‘Drive In Saturday’ and ‘All the Young Dudes.’ It was no let-down seeing him emaciated, he still looked not so much real as like a projected hologram. Steeped in star through and through.
He didn’t exactly talk to the people in the room. He spoke lightly with Alice, but there was never anything like really talking, it was all more like the rest of the room listening to him giving a seminar on dues-paying and the strain of being a performer.
“I can never give a bad performance,” Bowie said sounding much more cockney than foppish as I had always imagined him to be. “At times in the not-so-major cities I give a great performance, but when I am at my best, it is a fantastic . . . event!” He paused for everyone to soak this up. “When I gave up performing I had no idea that people would take it so seriously… No, it wasn’t a joke but it was how I felt at the moment, sometimes moods like that seem like they will last forever.”
There was a hyper-tense beam of jangling energy that ran across his determined lips, into the hollows of his cheeks and boiled inside the sockets of his eyes. He was speaking a language he thought was that of a human being, yet he gave the non-stop aura of being a star, and it seemed that everyone in the room had to respect him as such. He kindly conceded that Alice was an excellent ‘vaudeville’ performer, but it was obvious that he didn’t consider that to be all that swell. He explained his new ‘soul’ tour in a way that made it sound as if it were a vehicle that he had chosen to ditch all the Ziggy memorabilia. He was riding it back to an unpretentious beginning, a music he could trace back to his own soul with.
And all the time there were the almost ominous references to the audience, those multitudes who wait for him to decide what to adore and call fabulous and accept next. “I must live up to those people’s expectations, I have almost got to be invincible!” He looked around at all of us.
Then he jumped up and played with the video-tape machine. He loves the machine, he said, and tapes of him in rehearsal and in other private moods were all about. With a few blips and then a big squibble across the screen, David Bowie’s image jumped to life in black and white. “Awww.” he said looking at it for an instant and then talking to one of his underlings who had manned the camera for this tape. “Why couldn’t you have focused it better?” It was a tape of a band rehearsal, but the figures could have been the Archies as easily as Bowie’s troup due to the bad focusing.
“Hey, that’s me…” Bowie chirped a little happier, “that’s me with the cap on!!” It still could have been the Archies; I guess it was one of those occasions where you would have to have been there to know for sure. “We’re about to do a great version of an old Joe Tex song next,” he informed us. It was not glitter music at all, it was just old-fashioned oldies… But he was right there in tune with it, pumping his foot in time to the bad sound. “You shoulda been there,” he said, “I don’t know why people don’t like this r&b show, I have got some of the best old-time blues players I could buy!”
He enthusiastically moved closer to the screen, almost encircling it with his arm, looking with a childish grin at the bouncing images, and squinting especially hard when the ‘one with the cap’ came into view. Here David Bowie had his own magic mirror, and his eyes were searching for anything that it reflected – something that might show him where he was going.
Article by Lance Loud for Circus Magazine, April 1975