Below is a David Bowie interview from early 1972. It provides insight into the London cultural scene of the early ’70s.
Prior to the interview, the last time the journalist had seen Bowie was at the Roundhouse in a characteristically outrageous outfit. Bowie’s love of women’s clothing was drawing a lot of attention, which he didn’t mind except for the focus that it took away from his music. His first acclaimed album, Hunky Dory, was released the month before the interview (December 1971), he was sporting a newly cropped hairstyle, proclaimed music as his “mode of transport” and mused over what sort of cult figure he would become.
Danny Holloway, New Musical Express, 29 January 1972
David Bowie: “I’m Not Ashamed Of Wearing Dresses…But Unfortunately It’s Detracted From The Fact That I’m Also A Songwriter”
ON THE day I was to meet David Bowie at his home in Beckenham, Kent, I really didn’t know what to expect. I had heard and seen very little of him recently. The last time I saw him perform was at London’s Roundhouse over a year and a half ago when he showed up unannounced, wearing a gold outfit and curled hair. At the time his music sounded too busy and I couldn’t pick up on it.
After that came the big splash about David and his desire to dress in female attire. I felt sorry for him because it was obvious that a lot of people would dismiss him as a freaking transvestite and not give his music a second chance.
Then came the news that he had written ‘Oh You Pretty Thing’ for Peter Noone, which hit the charts. After that came nothing, until news spread like wild fire of an album totally worthy of every praise and exaggeration that Bowie-maniacs attached to it. Hunky Dory displays David’s versatility and talents as a songwriter.
As we sat in the living room of the huge Victorian house he shares, David played the new Biff Rose album, followed by tapes of his next – titled The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. It’s about the adventures and eventual break-up of a pop group. Ziggy Stardust is the lead singer and The Spiders From Mars are his back-up group (David is trying to persuade his group to call themselves the Spiders.)
On the carpet lies a copy of Forum magazine, a Yamaha steel string acoustic and a Fender Jaguar guitar, as well as scores of albums including the first Pretty Things albums, the Yardbirds and the Stooges.
Thick wall-to-wall carpeting cushions the room, while the furniture appears to be tucked close to the walls. David stretched himself out across the carpet and skipped from subject to subject.
I remarked on his newly-cropped hair style. “Oh yes, I had it cut a couple of weeks ago. I’m still getting used to it.” That got us around to talking about images. “I’m just an image person. I’m terribly conscious of images and I live in them.”
Was David serious about that dress bit or was it just a put on? “I’m certainly not embarrassed by it or fed up with it or ashamed of it, because it was very much me. But unfortunately, it all detracted from the fact that I was also a songwriter. The dresses were made for me. They didn’t have big boobs or anything like that. They were men’s dresses. Sort of a medieval type of thing. I thought they were great.”
Yeah but didn’t people get the wrong idea of him after that escapade? “Oh, it doesn’t matter! Because whatever their wrong impression of me is, it’s probably right. Things like that don’t bother me at all. The only thing that saddens me is that less attention is given to the music. I am an outrageous dresser. I always have been. I adore clothes and a dressmaker friend of mine makes them for me. But I don’t stay with one thing very long. I think I’m like a grasshopper. I really want to move on all the time.”
He pushed himself along the carpet so that his back was supported by the sofa and scratched the top of his head like Stan Laurel used to. His body is thin and pale and there’s a faint smile on his pin-up face as he continues. “I change all the time. My zip code to life is constantly being changed.
“I’m still very much a teenager. I go through all sorts of fads.”
Unlike many musicians, David Bowie is interested in all types of theatre and art.
As he points out, his music is NOT his main concern. “My life does not revolve around my music. My music is my mode of transport. I write melody to the best of my ability. The melodies I do write please me temporarily and have a very singular effect on me. I quickly put them down. I write songs very quickly because I get bored very quickly with my own stuff.”
Soon we got around to talking about his present plans and what he’s hoping to do. “We’re going to play a few select dates. The lineup is the same as on Hunky Dory. Mick Ronson on guitar, Trevor Bolder on bass and Woody Woodmansey on drums. We’re going to rock on stage. We’d like to consider ourselves to be in the same sphere as the Who. We want to be visually exciting. But we’re going to present ourselves on a very solidly routined and rehearsed basis.”
Does he have any special surprises up his sleeve? “No, I’m not going to pull any big prima donna things like that. I don’t think we need anything like that. Everybody’s expecting me to show up doing an Alice Cooper-type thing. But when Alice came out and I saw what he was doing, I decided to veer away from that angle because I didn’t want to go out and ask people to compare me with Alice.
“I would have loved to put on a theatrical show like that, but I wouldn’t have wanted to fall into that category. But I do have plans for a theatrical experience if and when the money comes in.”
And what about the future? “Well there’s a world tour which starts in the States in March. And when we get back we’ll compete mixing the fourth LP.
Bowie is everybody’s best bet to be the next home grown boy to become an international superstar.
When I asked him if he’s likely to become a cult figure, his only reply was: “what kind of cult would I develop? Gay lib? Spaced-out queen?”
© Danny Holloway, 1972
Review provided courtesy of Rock’s Back Pages.