On January 8th, 1997, BBC Radio 1 broadcast a special hour (called ChangesOneBowie) of exclusive semi-acoustic performances (recorded in New York) of classic Bowie tracks together with best wishes for Bowie from other musicians. Here is the full transcript (as transcribed by Grant Wallace).
The interviewer is Marianne Hobbs
I: David Bowie, it's lovely to see you
DB: It's lovely to be seen
I: Personally speaking I have to say I was in a blind panic when I was at the cusp of 20 so how does that feel ?
DB: Ironically I don't think I would have thought about it unless...so many people have bought it to my attention. I feel awkward about it. I mean its one of those things that I've never done before so it's like putting on a new suit in a way, it's sort of getting used to it. I'm just sort of, you know, easing into the whole idea of it. I feel good enough to be able to say that I wish I'd been 50 years ago (laughs), it does seem daft but hear in Neasden, I mean New York, there's not really a big age thing, its probably more an English thing than an American thing
I: In rehearsals for Madison Square Garden, you recorded some exclusive tracks for us which we're delighted to have. We're gonna hear them all in the next hour, we're gonna begin with The Man Who Sold The World. What still turns you on about that song?
DB: I guess I wrote it because there was a part of myself that I was looking for. Maybe now that I feel more comfortable with the way that I live my life and my mental state (laughs) and my spiritual state whatever, maybe I feel there's some kind of unity now. That song for me always exemplified kind of how you feel when your young, when you that there's a piece of yourself that you haven't really put together yet. You have this great searching, this great need to find out who you really are.
I: Recorded exclusively for Radio 1 that's David Bowie and The Supermen.
DB: That was very strange to do after all these years. I haven't really done that for so long. Interestingly enough the riff that I used on that, the dum-da-da-dum, I actually revived on the new album Earthling. I used it on one of the songs on that. You gotta spot it. When I was a baby, I did a rock session with one of the bands, one of the millions of bands that I had in the 60's - it was the Manish Boys-that's what it was - and the session guitar player doing the solo was this young kid who'd just come out of art school and was already top session man, Jimmy Page... and he just got a fuzzbox and he used that for the solo, he was wildly excited about it and he was quite generous that day and he said "look I've got this riff but I'm not using it for anything so why don't you learn it and see if you can do anything with it". So I had his riff and I've used it ever since (laughs). It's never let me down.
I: So David, scores of top international celebrities were clamouring to wish you a happy birthday
DB: ...Including Fred Nietzche (laughs) oh I'm dreading this.
I: We also asked them for a question, Robert Smith I think starts at ground zero..
RS: Hello David, this is Robert from the Cure, why did you choose the name Bowie when you changed your name? (sings happy birthday).
DB: You let me off very lightly Robert, I'll give you a big kiss tomorrow night. There was a band in the mid-sixties of world-wide TV fame called the Monkees and there was an English guy in them called Davy Jones and I was just David Jones at the time and I just liked the idea of that it was a Scottish name and the other that it was sort of images of the Bowie knife and the idea that the Bowie knife sharpened on both sides and it cuts both ways... just thought it was something terribly ambiguous about.. so I opted for that.
I: Many of your celebrity fans bottled out of asking you the question they really wanted to ask like a really tough question. Brett from Suede kind of got halfway there then backed down a bit.
DB: Well he's tall enough for the job isn't he?
B: Hello David, this Brett Anderson from Suede. There's lots of things you could ask isn't there, erm.. Tin Machine or something like that, but I just wanted to know.. one brilliant song that I've always really loved which is a very early song of yours and its always been one of my favourite songs, a song called Let Me Sleep Beside You. I wanna know what you think of it and why you don't play it. Happy birthday, see ya.
DB: How did you know about that song, I guess it must have been released or something. Er... da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-bong. Good riff, glad you reminded me about that Brett (laughs). I might use that riff, I'm the ultimate recycler. It sounds like it might have been influenced by Simon and Garfunkel but gone a little heavier. I still thought I might have a chance of being a romantic song writer, it never actually proved to be my forte. Do you really like that song? You are a funny bloke Brett (laughs), you really are.
I: Here's a man who once said Ziggy Stardust changed his life. I think you would call him very reverent indeed.
IM: Hello David, this is Ian McCullogh. Tell me this, between the Ziggy Stardust and Thin White Duke years, how decadent did decadence get? Which song other than your own did you wish you had written? Love on ya.
I: Two questions there
DB: Thank you very much for the questions Ian. How decadent was it, well I tell ya some days I wore green and red, it got that bad. What was the second question?
I: What song do you wish you'd written?
DB: Oh lord! It's governed by the moment. The one that comes straight to mind immediately is "Shipbuilding". I think its one of the most beautiful songs written. Stunning piece of work, makes me cry just the opening bars. Specifically the Robert Wyatt version. I think its just the most tragically beautiful song.
I: I mean I suppose you've had a pretty reckless existence, did you ever think you'd actually make it to 50 and still be a sane man?
DB: I didn't want to make it to 50. It seemed so unglamorous to wanna be 50. There's a certain point when you're young if your nuts enough you kind of go into auto-distract and you half want the whole thing to end because its better to kind of go out at 30 or dare you be 35, in a sort of ball of fire or smoke. But once I saw that I just couldn't do that then I sort of survived it all then it became unusual because I never thought about it. I really sort of felt kind of redundant until I was about 43'ish, 44, then I started to feel that there might be some point in getting old.
I: So how long does it take you to get over a serious night on the booze now David?
DB: About 24 hours (laughs). I actually don't drink anymore I'm afraid to say. I mean I'm aware that I'm talking to an English public here but I'm afraid it no more happens (laughs). No, I stopped drinking many many years ago, and everything else I suppose.
I: Which point did you decide this is it, this booze has got to go?
DB: I think that waking up just day after day and realising that I hated my life. It was sort of you get to a point where you think "I can't put up with this anymore" and I just did something about it.
I: I guess middle age carries a total stigma in the west
DB: I'm over middle age (laughs) I'm long past that
I: It's like the Sex Pistols got leathered for reforming at 40
DB: Quite right
I: Is there anything that you wouldn't actually now dare to do at age 50?
DB: Yeah quite a lot but I'm not telling you! (laughs) I don't know, that's a really good question. No I think I'm daft enough to have a go at anything really
I: And what about exercising, how long do you have to spend exercising to stop your arse sliding down the backs of your legs?
DB: (laughs) That's my line! I remember saying years ago that the first thing you realise when your 40 is you get out of bed and your bum drops. I don't know, well I haven't got much of a bum to begin with I'm still a skinny sod
I: David, Andy Warhol. It's a role you have already played once in your life isn't it and you've also chosen to record an acoustic version of the track obviously from Hunky Dory for us on Radio 1. Tell us a bit about Andy, what fascinated you about him?
DB: I think its the same kind of thing that fascinated every art student back in the sixties. The fact that this guy was as well known as the work that he did. The fact that probably more people knew the name and the look of him than what it was he actually did. When I first met him I took him this song and I played it and he was gobsmacked. He absolutely hated it and he (laughs) was cringing with embarrassment. I think that he thought I really put him down or something in the song and it really wasn't meant to be that, it was I guess an ironic homage to him. He took it very badly but he liked my shoes. I was wearing a pair that Marc Bolan had given me, brilliant canary yellow, semi-wedge heel, semi-point rounded toe, 71 they would've been. Anyway he used to design shoes in his advertising so we had something to talk about
I: Mick Jagger said about you, you should never wear new shoes in front of David Bowie, I don't know what he was referring to
DB: (laughs) I know why he said that. He showed me an album cover he was going to do using an artist called Guy Paellart and I immediately rushed out and got him to do my cover too (laughs), he never forgave me for that cause mine was Diamond Dogs and I don't remember what his was..
DB: I wanted to pick a couple of songs that were really the least known of my songs. I wanted to try this acoustically because it was so much an electronic piece on the album and I wanted to see what it was made of as a song when it was really stripped down and just became an acoustic piece.. erm, and its interesting to see how something that's really so minimal actually works quite well as a straightforward rendition. I know it's weird but that's Reeves, what can you do with him?
I: What do you think the David Bowie of 25 would've made of the David Bowie of 50?
DB: I think I would've driven myself mad because I mean, I wasn't used to having happy people around me and I think I would've wanted to put me in a box and nail me in cause it... I think I would've been too exuberant for a 25 year old. The 25 year old.. I kept very much to myself and I spent much more time on my own than with other people and I read too much and I think its just the other way around now
I: Do you have a favourite period when you look back at your career, a favourite hairdo, make up job or catsuit maybe?
DB: (laughs) I was never actually a catsuit.. did I wear catsuits? More kitten suits I think. I don't know, I always tie them to characters. I don't really think of them just as outfits and stuff. I mean if I see an outfit from the past in a photograph for me it reminds me of the entire character I was working with at the time. For me an outfit is an entire life experience (laughs), you know it also is when you're younger I think. An outfit is much more than just something to wear its a statement about who you are, its a badge, it becomes a symbol. A friend of mine George, when we were real young, we used to buy our shoes at Denson's in Lewisham, just under the railway bridge.. it was Denton's but the shoes were Denson high pointers if I remember rightly. It was 1961 and we prided ourselves on being the first kids in the area to have Italian shoes. Winkle pickers I think they vulgarly known as but they were actually called high pointers (laughs).
I: You've got a bit of a shoe fetish on the go today (laughs)
DB: I'm big on shoes (laughs). We were pipped by a much smoother guy in the 6th form called Gavin.. I mean even the name Gavin.. You know he was so cool - eventually he went into advertising. He had Chelsea boots.. they were so kind of elegant because they weren't pointed and they had elastic sides. We were so crestfallen..
I: I guess you're responsible for the hairdressing disasters of tens of thousands of teenagers..
DB: Disasters! (in mock shock)
I: When you decided to experiment with Henna for the very first time to get the sort of Ziggy Stardust..
DB: More fool them, they should of used.. what did I use.. Schwarzkopf was it..
I: So we're back to some of these celebrity questions. Here's the boss from U2
B: Hallo Spaceboy, Major Bono here. Can you hear me? Is something going wrong? There's something gone wrong alright. You're 50 and you look 15
DB: You sound like you're having a good night
B: Is there a picture of you somewhere that tells the real story. You're Dorian Grey. If there is who would you have had paint it? Happy birthday David, you're a prince of a man. The world should queue up to kiss your arse
DB: Thank you young Bono, you can be first in line (laughs). He's a lovely little bugger. He's a very generous guy, I remember just before Xmas, it wasn't a Xmas present, he sent two wonderful biographies on Samuel Beckett. On one of them Beckett's got a hairstyle not dissimilar to the one I'm sporting at the moment and inside he put "this man's got your haircut and I'm sure he's got a pair of stilettos somewhere" (laughs). He's a funny bloke. I saw a photograph I did actually, I did a thing on the Internet today and I was going through photographs and I found this one that was obviously taken very early in the morning after this gross party back in about 73/74 in New York, and there's me, David Johansen and Cyrinda Foxe lying on the floor fast asleep amidst all this unbelievable trash and rubble. We just look like three totally finished homeless out of it meths drinkers, I mean it's the most unbelievable photograph. It looks like three people who would never pick themselves up again.
I: Of course not everybody wanted to ask you questions though, some just had a really sort of personal message they wanted to deliver by carrier pigeon
SW: Hello David, this is Scott Walker. I'm coming to you via a very old crappy hand held tape machine. I hope it's alright. I'm gonna be a devil today and not ask you any question. I'm certain that among the many messages, there'll be those about that you always embrace the new, and how you freed so many artists and this is of course true. Like everyone else I'd like to thank you for all the years, especially for your generosity in spirit when it comes to other artists. I've been the beneficiary on more than one occasion let me tell you. So have a wonderful birthday, and by the way, mine's the day after yours so I'll have a drink to you on the other side of midnight. How's that?
DB: (sigh). (pause). Well.. (silence) that's.. I've just seen God in the window
I: He's the boss isn't he. You've absolutely got to love him
DB: He got to me there I'm afraid. I think he's probably been my idol since I was a kid. That's very moving. I wanna copy of that
I: You can have it
DB: I'm absolutely.. that's really thrown me. Thank you very much.
I: Interesting to hear Scott mention how you freed so many artists. I think that's true, you were of course the first androgynous icon. These days people think nothing of blokes in frocks, everybody's done it from Kurt Cobain to Eddie Izzard
DB: I don't think much of it either
I: But I suppose times were very very different showing off your sexual ambiguity. I bet you couldn't stop off for a cup of tea anywhere north of Soho without being battered
DB: Well you could but you took your life in your hands. I think again so much of it runs.. wanting to be provocative, making a point of being confrontational.. the other thing was that I refused to live any kind of life that was behind closed doors and all that but again I was fortunate enough to see how many people's lives have been so screwed up because they had to live their real lives in a strange sort of twilight kind of way and I just knew I wasn't the kind of person who could ever do that. And I think frankly that was the right thing to do. I would say that that is one of the most important things to do in one's life is that you can't hide who or what you want and you'll enjoy yourself much better in the long run if you're honest in the beginning I think.
I: Your influence has been incredibly broad. You feel it in the spectre of dance and the rock 'n' roll arena, even in fashion. You must of killed yourself laughing a few years ago when all the supermodels were shaving their eyebrows off
DB: Yeah, I tell you what I'm a fan of, music. I'm the ultimate fan. I get so excited about a sound that strikes me, that catches me and makes me dance inwardly. It's a life force for me and music always has been. I always will be this kind of 12 year old kid I suppose. Fashion doesn't do that for me in the slightest. It's just something to put on. I see it much more as something where I just dress up as different characters that I still come up with. I've gone back to doing characters on things like the Outside album and enjoy it, I really enjoy it. Now I feel a lot safer about it because I don't become them when I'm off stage. I do think fashion is funny. It's so nonsensical, we don't have to do it, its just one of those things like cuisine you know, we have to eat - we don't have to put a little dress on it (laughs). Broccoli with a pair of stockings on. It's totally unnecessary and that's what makes it amusing
DB: This I think is a really lovely song. It sounds really good even today, it's a good bit of songwriting. It was probably one of the first songs I wrote for Ziggy based on this concoction based on an American guy called Vince Taylor who came over to Britain and totally out of his mind. He was a failed Elvis impersonator from America but he went to France via England and made himself an Elvis in France and then one night went out on stage as Jesus and said that his music was over and he was here to save the world (laughs). Vince is no longer with us I'm afraid. I hung out with him for a while when he was over in London, he was quite out of his tree. I remember one day he took me down Tottenham Court Road and he had a map of the world and he laid it out on the pavement and showed me where all the Martians were gonna land. And we were like kneeling over this map in the middle of the rush hour and I thought where is this bloke at, He's out of his gourd and then I lost track of him. But someone like that stays with you and he became the role model for Ziggy, one of the many. Then I put together these bits and pieces of other artists and they all became this rather grand, stylish lad, Ziggy.
I: David Bowie with "White Light", a live favourite of yours David, I think they're all flinging their pants at you when you kick off with that one
DB: Well I think it's a lot of older girls who are throwing my pants back at me. Ones that I've left in their rooms many many years ago. The Velvets along with Scott and a number of others were a very very big influence on me. A very funny story about the Velvets, I told Lou this for the very first time in rehearsals the other day and couldn't believe it. When I first came to America-very early 70's- a friend of mine said "oh the Velvets are on down at the.." I think it was the electric circus. So I went down there to look at them and they were wonderful, they did all my favourites.. "Heroin".. you know all the finger clickin' songs and "White light" and "Waiting for the man" and it was so fantastic and after the show was over I went backstage and Lou Reed came to the door and I started talking to him about all the music, about how much of an influence they had been on me and I seemed to be the only bloke in Britain who had ever heard of 'em and all that and we chatted for about an hour and he was wonderful.. a really nice guy. A week later when I met my American friend again he said "what do you mean you talked with Lou Reed, he left the band years ago". I said "I sat down and talked with him", he said no that was Doug Yule the guy who'd took over, I said "God". When I told Lou the other day he said "you know I did a book signing the other week and I looked at the back of the crowd and I saw Doug Yule at the end of the line waving at me" (laughs) now I think Doug Yule has become more mysterious than Lou Reed in a strange way. The enigmatic Doug Yule
I: I suppose we couldn't do a show like this without some sort of token northerner so here he is
MH: Hello David you cockney git. This is mancunian Mick Hucknall. Answer me this. How do you react to music journalists when they judge your career? It's great to see you celebrating your music this way. I wanna wish you a happy birthday and much success and I think you're wonderful
DB: Well I think you're wonderful too Mick. Thank you very much. My immediate reaction to all that kind of thing is that I just look around my life and my group of friends and my family and if I feel good about that then I really don't have much to say about any of the rest. I think I've lived a wonderful life all in all, incredible experiences and I've got away with murder. I really don't have any right to be heavy on anybody who wants to judge my life and also judge their own as well
I: And who else I suppose but one of the Pet Shop Boys would have the brass neck to ask a question like this
DB: (laughs) I wonder which one
NT: This is Neil Tennant. David do you regret saying in the early 70's that you were bisexual and were you actually bisexual at the time?
DB: I wish I'd said Neil that I was trisexual but I never did. It was a joke that came too late. Trisexual? What does that mean David? It means I'll try anything (laughs). Alright Neil?
I: Well that kind of leads us quite neatly onto the next set of questions which are of course about sex and everybody wants to talk to you about sex I suppose. Who was really hitting on you those days, was it boys or girls?
DB: It was rather the other way around if my memory serves me right. My memory has never really served me well but if it serves me at all it was me hitting on everybody. I think it was that way around cause I felt that I had a real sex problem. I couldn't get any (laughs)
I: I don't believe that for one minute
DB: No and so you shouldn't. No I had a wonderfully irresponsible promiscuous time. It was just heaven. Actually it's not bad now (laughs).
I: What about the worst sexually transmitted disease and who gave it to you?
DB: I never had one (laughs)
I: Lets hear some more music then, from the Tin Machine era this is Shopping For Girls. Obviously Brett was hedging his bets a little bit. He didn't want to upset you David, with you being 50 and all, but he wasn't too keen on Tin Machine. How do you remember Tin Machine yourself, you were really belligerent about it at the time as I recall
DB: I'm still incredibly belligerent about it. No, I'm not belligerent about it. I see it in a very different way from everybody else cause I went through it and I know how much I needed that experience. I'd just given up writing about 87/88. I was very indifferent toward music, that was my real period of crisis. I just didn't know what I was supposed to be doing. I just made a major decision to make myself into something that was really the most unexpected thing I could do. Just to shake myself up and it certainly did that. Publish and be damned
I: Recorded exclusively for Radio 1 that's David Bowie from the Tin Machine era. Right, time for some more top international celebrity questions. Damon was going to ask you a question about your embracing of commercialism in the 1980's but he bottled out
DA: Hello this is Damon. Happy birthday David. Hope you're enjoying your own "this is your life". I've got lots of questions but one which I always wanted to ask you is why you've never written a musical. You've always sort of almost written musicals. Anyway, happy birthday
DB: I've written hundreds of musicals in my head but the thing that always puts me off is the thought of actually going along to watch a musical, they're always so bloody awful that I never actually finished one off in case it ends up on Broadway and that's the most depressing thing about it all. I don't know I had in mind that there must be some way of doing a travelling musical that works in rock arenas and I guess that may be something, it's certainly a last working ambition that's to be accomplished without it slipping into that awful saccharine thing of Broadway
I: So Ian McCullogh asked you a bit earlier on about excess and I think that's probably the subtext of Sean Ryder's question too
SR: Hi David it's Sean from Black Grape. Are you still enjoying yourself dude? Happy birthday David you're a cool dude man, big time
DB: Oh that's very nice, thank you very much. Love the band, I really do. They're a very exciting band. I do enjoy myself and I enjoy myself probably more in the moderate forms of existence
I: I have to say that one of my favourite documentary pieces I've seen about you was "Cracked Actor" which I think is a magnificent piece of work. It looked like you'd swallowed a chemistry set, you know the scenes in the back of the car? I mean what sort of combination of drugs were you taking those days, did it look like one of Elvis' prescriptions?
DB: Er.. my drug intake was absolutely phenomenal. I was seriously addicted. "Cracked Actor" is extremely painful for me to watch cause I know what my interior life was like and I was unbelievably screwed up. I can't tell you how bad life was for me. I guess one of the ironies of having that kind of success is everything on a material level couldn't have been better, it was going down really well. I had a wonderful audience at that time throughout America, it was quite phenomenal and everything else about my life, about me and how I felt about myself was just awful. Absolutely the worst. It was one of the worst periods of my life, the whole mid 70's period.
I: I tell you what though, I bet you had one of the most exciting bathroom cabinets in the western hemisphere
DB: So I've been told yeah (laughs). My old mate, my old mucker Eno said it's the thought processes, it's the aeroplane you can crash and walk away from. I don't put myself on the edge physically anymore. I like this old frame of blood and guts and I want it to remain around just for a little longer
I: Perhaps long enough to see some of the young contenders of 1997 really come into their own. I'm talking about Placebo who you've championed for a long time David and I think we've got a word from them
B: Hi David, this is Brian from Placebo. Now that we've done around ten gigs together, we've opened for you several times, I would like to know if we're actually going to get a chance to collaborate on a recording because that would make us very very happy
DB: Thanks Brian. I think they're a wonderful band. What he doesn't know is I'd love to produce Placebo. I don't know why but there's a lot about Brian and the way he works, his single mindedness that really reminds me of me when I was his age. I think he's an extremely talented writer and his potential hasn't been met yet. I guarantee they'll be a major band.
I: David you were of course very famously and very seriously ripped off by your management in the early days. You should be a phenomenally wealthy man these days, I mean you probably don't have to worry where the next bag of chips is coming from but I doubt you own your own sort of bijou cluster of islands in the Caribbean
DB: I would say that I'm rich but not wealthy
I: You are also I believe the first artist to float yourself on the stock market
DB: (laughs) I feel like a air balloon
I: I mean what do investors get, are they looking at used underwear or are they going to get a slab of royalties?
DB: I quite seriously never talk about my financial business
I: Miserable git
DB: (laughs) It's a nice story to have out there though
DB: I'm so pleased that I thought about doing Quicksand. It was somebody in the band that said I should do it. I'd forgotten all about it and since I've done it for you guys it's.. I've started using it in the set now onstage and I'd forgotten it's really a lovely song. I really like that one and I'm really knocked out that Smithy's doing it with me. Smith and Jones, together at last (laughs)
I: David Bowie, age 50, thank you so much for talking to us
DB: Thank you very much for having me on your program I've really enjoyed it, it was super, it's been fun
I: Can I ask you one more? If you had a choice if you could pick anybody in the world to have one illicit birthday kiss to receive from somebody who would it be?
DB: Oh dear.. I tell you what, I tell you what, me at 80 and Iman at 70
I: Thank you very much indeed, that was cracking
DB: My pleasure