Interviewing David Bowie is a scarring experience. To showbiz, he is a super-planet. To rock, a messiah. To his fans, a god. To his pensioned Beckenham mother, an ungrateful little rotter who doesn't even send her postcards from California.
To the nervous, Bowie is sinister. A leader of troops of youths who wear his thirties suits and slicked-back hair like uniforms. The nearest the world could come to a Fourth Reich. Waiting for him is the worst. It makes you sweat, like Godot. And his bodyguard of what look like storm-troopers in black leather pants doesn't help.
Physically, Bowie is not disappointing. He looks terribly ill. Thin as a stick insect. And corpse pale as if his life blood had all run up into his flaming hair. Did Bowie say that Britain needs a fascist Prime Minister and that, at 28, he is the man to fit the goose-stepping boots? Bowie would blush if he could spare the blood.
'If I said it - and I've a terrible feeling I did say something like it to a Stockholm journalist who kept asking me political questions - I'm astounded anyone could believe it. I have to keep reading it to believe it myself. I'm not sinister. I'm not a great force - Well, not that sort of force. I don't stand up in cars waving to people because I think I'm Hitler. I stand up in my car waving to fans - I don't write the captions under the picture.'
So long as it's publicity, does it matter?
'Yes, it does. It upsets me. Strong I may be. Arrogant I may be. Sinister I'm not.'
Then why look it?
'How do I look?'
Like Dracula, Berenice, a zombie or an emaciated Marlon Brando playing a Hitler youth.
'No, no, no' - his still faintly Brixtonian voice snaps, and when he slaps a thigh, as thin as your wrist, you're scared it will be the next to go. 'I'm Pierrot. I'm Everyman. What I'm doing is theatre, and only theatre. All this business about me being able to raise 7000 of my troops at the Empire Pool by raising one hand is a load of rubbish. In the first place the audience is British, and since when will the Brits stand for that? What you see on stage isn't sinister. It's pure clown. I'm using myself as a canvas and trying to paint the truth of our time on it. The white face, the baggy pants - they're Pierrot, the eternal clown putting over the great sadness of 1976.' He asks if I remember him as Ziggy Stardust. Who could forget him in high heels, a scarlet bottle-brush hair-do, one chandelier ear-ring, and more Max Factor than Marilyn Monroe?
'Ziggy was putting over the bizarre in our time. Now Bowie's putting over the sadness.'
If you hadn't seen - and heard - Bowie perform, you'd accuse him of swotting up the lyrical phrases for the interview.
In fact Bowie is a poet, possibly a modern-day genius.
What W.B.Yeats - referring to an Irish dustman - called 'living poetry' flows from his death-pale lips (pancake make-up, and not, thank God, leukaemia).
He describes his one ear-ring, Ziggy Stardust period as 'looking like a cross between Nijinsky and Woolworth's' without self-consciousness of his own cleverness. The words his mother wouldn't understand pour naturally out of him. Like Dylan Thomasian chat.
This would bring us to the rumoured feud with his mother, if I can get up the guts to ask the question that nearly stopped The Russell Harty Show when Harty had the nerve to ask it.
'What would you like to say about your mother?' I asked of the millionaire whom his mother claims leaves her to languish on an £11.50 a week pension. The ice blue-green-grey eyes that froze Russell Harty to his chair, swivelling with terror, meet mine. The bones in the aesthetic face are cold.
'Nothing,' Bowie said.
By comparison, asking about his off-beat sex life would seem safe. Bowie has, at various times, declared himself all things to all women. Or men, without embarrassment. His wife Angie has spoken freely of free love as and when it comes. The fact remains that the Bowies' seven-year itchless marriage has lasted. Yesterday, they were together at his secret London hide-out - Angie glamorous, thinner even than he is, with ginger eye make-up to match his hair, and looking incestuously like his twin sister. Asked if she expects to be married to the man she seldom sees in ten years' time, she unhesitatingly says yes. When Bowie says, of her, 'How could I ever let go of this divine being?', he means it.
All this, added to their surrealistic sex views, if not sex life, should be confusing to their 5-year-old son Zowie, but somehow isn't. What do you tell a kindergarten child about his red-haired, white-faced, mascara'd father? 'That that's the way Daddy makes his money,' said Bowie. When Bowie becomes David Jones, proud father and talks of his son's pony-riding and French lessons, his image cracks up. Even the bones in the incredibly beautiful and terrifyingly unisex face soften.
'Are you telling me Bowie is just another doting parent at heart?' I said.
'Yes, yes, it's all there - of course it is,' Bowie smiles, and the Brixton-born Jones boy comes through. Looking back on 'shy, quiet' David Jones, how does David Bowie see him?
'I liked him. I still like him if I could only get in touch with him,' says Bowie, who has an unnerving habit of talking about himself as if he were in the past. 'We've been apart for a long time, and I've so many more changes to make. Jones is real. Bowie isn't real. There's nothing real about standing up in front of 7000 people. I suppose that doing that is a bit sinister when you think about it but, if it is, the only person I brainwash and scare stiff is myself.'
The bodyguard is looking nervous. I click my notebook and shake the leader's skeletal hand. I'm surprised - and even game to tell his mother - that I've found David Bowie one of the most mystical, exquisite, thoroughly odd and totally nice people I've ever met.
'Don't be surprised,' said Bowie the god, standing up and looking like David Jones in need of a good feed. 'After all, it is only rock-and-roll.'