So, at the request of friends, I’m uploading my one and only David Bowie interview for posterity, published in Hot Press – hard to believe – 20 years ago. (Click on the image to the left for immediate access). In 1995, I’d long been a Bowie freak and back again, having first seen him as a vision in white satin hot-pants screaming “Jean Jeanie”, but not catching him live for the first time in Paris during the Serious Moonlight tour.
Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was the first album I ever bought, followed by every Bowie album ever after that until a certain dodgy period from the early eighties to mid-nineties, but say no more.
There was a heat wave in New York when Hot Press Editor, Niall Stokes phoned me and said, “I’m calling you because I know you’d come home and shoot me if I didn’t … ”
It had been a strange year, kicking off with twelve people dead in a weird chemical warfare attack in the Tokyo subway; Timothy MacVeigh and Terry Nichols killed 168 Americans in Oklahoma City. While an historic peace accord was signed between Israel and the PLO, in Srebrenica, Bosnian Serbs massacred an estimated 7,000 Muslim men, raping thousands of women, in probably the worst European war crime since World War II.
In the art world, a sort of misguided, pre-millennial rococo was everywhere. Body modification through self mutilation and even plastic surgery was at its height. The previous year’s Nine Inch Nails’ album, The Downward Spiral, with its themes of self-harm, addiction and despair had spawned a follow-up album in June. Damien Hirst was suspending dead sheep and cows in formaldehyde and French performance artist Orlan was rearranging her face to resemble iconic works of Art.
It’s hard to believe that just two years previously, Bowie had produced the unspeakably bland Black Tie White Noise. As a massive contrast, Outside was dark in the extreme, offering a musical reflection that sought to capture the prevailing fin de siecle angst. Bowie had been graduating more towards fine art, and had begun to work with Brian Eno. They even visited the Psychiatric unit of a hospital in Vienna to interview artists who had gone to the extreme end of Outsider art. Based on a short story written by Bowie, which is in the sleeve notes, it was filled with deeply disturbing imagery.
And yet Outside was unique, haunting, musically rewarding – and everything in it constituted a clear nose-thumb at the less than cutting edge work that had gone before, inspiring Bowie fans around the planet to return to the fold.
Speaking of mutilation, the evening before I was at the Chateau Marmont, I was involved in a car crash on Sunset Boulevard and had spent most of the night in Cedars Sinai hospital, where River Phoenix had breathed his last two years before. The rest of the rest of the night was spent in that LA rock haven, the Sunset Marquis Hotel, being woken up every hour (doctor’s orders) by the desk clerk, in case my concussion was heading for fatal. “What happens if I don’t wake up to answer the phone?” I asked the Doctor, who, since I was not a rock or movie star, was obviously not going to admit me overnight. He just looked at me and shrugged!
With having to interview Bowie the next day the obvious incentive to keep breathing, I arrived up to meet him with a nasty bruised head wound – the only advantage to which was, I think, that Bowie placed his hand gently on my shoulder before the interview began, looked deep into my eyes saying, “Oh, dear, your poor face …”
This scene was tailored for the article, and was of course, about as far from my teen rock fantasies as you could possibly get, but the Bowie gig was really my favourite high-level interview ever. He was charming, funny, a gent and really by the time it wound up, I was about to invite him over to the Irish bar down the road for a pint! Never got to buy Bowie a pint, of course – but did have a great cover story: