FEATURE DAVID BOWIE
No frills: Davld Bowle ls through wlth stannen and scary monsters
8 The List 17-30 Nov 1995
what they meant. but it definitely had an atmosphere of the times, and in terms of the musical structure of those three things they had their weight.’ .
Taking into account Eno’s involvement, the album is reminiscent of U2’s big discovery about the 90s: that artists are as well turning their backs on moral certainties and embracing what’s going on without question orjudgement.
‘Yeah. I think you have to do thatjust to keep interested. I’ve tried the other thing and it’s. . . crushing. The Sound And Vision tour was a very successful tour in pure commercial terms, but it was really very, very hard to keep interested in what was happening on the stage.’
There was so much anticipation surrounding the release of Outside . . .
‘I can’t believe how well it was received!’ he interjects. ‘To have an album that was liked by both NME and Melody Maker is quite something these days, isn’t it? Especially for someone of my generation.‘
All this excitement about a reunion with Eno and a slight return to ‘the form of low, ‘Heroes’ and Lodger". Is that a critics’ thing, or are those albums a benchmark for Bowie as well?
‘I don’t know, I think I’ve had a few. I wouldn’t single out necessarily just the Eno ones. 1 think Young Americans in its time was an extremely important album, andfor me, in terms of personal success, The Buddha 0f Suburbia. I think that’s a really excellent album, but I don’t think the critics at the time saw that one at all, I don’t think they bothered with it. But the interesting thing is that it’s an excellent bridge album between Black 7ie, White Noise and this present one. Listening to Suburbia, you can almost feel which way l’rn going.’
And how does Bowie rate Eno in terms of his importance in rock and pop today? He laughs. Of course.
‘Much of what he laid down, his parameters — I think it’s better to call it popular music rather than rock, I don’t think any ofus are really in the area of rock — 1 think he widened. or rather opened up what it can do and threw in the idea of ambience, the whole thing that you can just have a textural feeling to music. It doesn’t necessarily have some mainline point to make. but just to create interesting atmospheres you relate to as a listener.’
Surely he couldn’t have foreseen back then that Eno’s ideas, brilliant as they were, would infiltrate the mainstream to the extent they have?
‘Oh, absolutely, yeah. It was quite obvious that what he was doing and the way that was going was virtually the only way that rock could
Five years, my brain hurts a 10!. Yes, that was his catchphrase. For about three-and-a-half minutes, until the next song brought a better one. But five years is a long time in the life of a pop artist renowned for his low boredom threshold. What makes him think he’ll be able to keep his interest up for the full five-year mission of the Nathan Adler saga?
‘Depends what each year’s like,’ he shoots back. ‘I mean. as the albums are dependent very much on what the year feels like. The idea is almost to do a textural diary of what it feels like to be going through that year.’
Outside has a similar putrescent stench of dystopia, with Bowie breezing into the moral vacuum as though it’s the only place he feels at home.
By the time it’s complete, he’ll have been involved in that project longer than he ever maintained the guises of Ziggy Stardust or the Thin White Duke. That’s quite an undertaking, by David Bowie standards.
‘Well, as a series of albums, sure, it is a long- term thing — more than ﬁve years. It won’t be a continuum. as there are other album things I’m doing in between those as well. It’ll be like a homework thing that you do at the end of the year. For instance, I’m working with Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails for a little while next year so there’ll be other things outside Outside.’
To the public, it appears that Bowie makes very dramatic shifts; that his career, his life, even, can be carved up into phases that begin and end abruptly. Is there any truth in that for him?
‘Oh, what do they know about my life?’ he chuckles. ‘No, 1 don’t see it like that at all. I’m just a working artist. That’s all I’m doing, just working — in interesting and diverse ways.’
Many people recognise change as David Bowie’s defining characteristic, though. ‘Ah, the ever-ch-ch-changing life of David Bowie, the chameleon of rock! Have you got “chameleon” written down there?’ I haven’t. ‘I think you’re quite right, because my understanding is that a chameleon changes colour to suit the background it’s against, so that it completely melds into it so that it’s unnoticeable. No, I always assumed that chameleon is the wrong word. though I know what they’re searching for. . . ’
Has he felt, then. that the face he presented to the world at each stage in his life was true to who he was at the time?
‘Good Lord. no. No. because a lot of my work at the beginning was very theatrical, and that was all to do with playing parts, so I don’t think it had anything to do with playing me.’
And offstage? ‘lt depends when and where you’re talking about. I stopped doing characters in 1976.’
Stopped living characters?
‘Well, both, actually, but from that point. on stage I wasn’t attempting to portray anybody. There again 1 was only performing in a way I could perform in front of .r thousands of people. So that’s as real as you want to make it.’
Without the surplus personae. and perhaps more importantly without the drugs that rendered him less than the picture of perfect sanity in the 703, David Bowie now radiates an aura of stability. Artistically, too, his creative fires have reignited. He’s had his stint as the eager stadium-pop star, and has nothing more to prove on that score. The next few years should bring some fun, for him and us.
‘A lot of them,’ he replies, choosing his words with care, ‘should hopefully alleviate the catastrophe of my success.‘
It was that bad?
‘I didn’t like it, not the commercial stuff. Personal success is much more important.’
Unspoken, the promise hangs in the air that when on the first day of the next century we’re sitting down to breakfast, David Bowie will be scheming new ways to put us off it.
David Bowie, with Morrissey as support, plays the SEC C, Glasgow on Thursday 30 November and Friday I December.