Karel

January 26, 1996
Contributed by Sanfra Passchier

On 29 January 1996 after the concert in the Netherlands at the Oranjehal in Utrecht, David gave an interview in Amsterdam for the Dutch television program Karel (Karel de Graaf). February 1998 there was a repeat with unbroadcasted pieces. Below you can read the intergrated version of the interview.

K: Welcome.

D: Thank you.

(Big applause of the audience, members of the Dutch fanclub)

K: Nothing wrong with your popularity. David, nice to have you here, nice to listen to your lovely new CD.

First I would like you to take a look at a little clip of film that we made yesterday.

(The clip of film: People say hi to David before the concert in Utrecht. An American girl wants to interpret his concerts for the deaf people, because his music should not be denied to them. A Dutch musician Marcel Wiegers offers his own CD to David, etc.).

D: (lights up a cigarette) I believe I saw that girl last night. I believe she was at my stage left. I believe she had quite a party there.

K: Could you believe deaf people buying your CD's?

D: It's extraordinary, I have a friend who is hard at hearing and his particularly way is to hear the vibration of the music and he's got fairly sophisticated in hearing: he can recognise the instruments through the different degrees of resonance.

K: They actually want to do interpretations to all your concerts in America....

D: That's incredible.

(Karel gives Bowie the CD of Marcel Wiegers. Bowie shows it to the camera and doing a commercial:)

D: And this is damn fine music! (laughter, Bowie then serious) I just quickly played it before I came to sit with Karel.

K: Let's talk about Outside. For all those people who haven't heard the album yet. There's an intriguing although a little bizarre story behind it all. Can you summarise it for us?

D: It's substantially some kind of murder taking place upon the front steps of an art museum in a fictional town called New Oxford Town, somewhere in America. The most remarkable thing about it is that is not merely an murder, it's been set up as a piece of art. And the detective who will endeavour to solve this particular crime, his major problem is to define whether this is merely just murder or whether it is art. Who ever did it, that's a problem for the police: this is an art-crime detective. My collaborator is Brian Eno, with whom I worked before in the past, and what we intended to do is by using a metaphysical story to create a diary of the last five years of the nineties. So this would be number one of a series of four or five albums. And at the end, presumably we`ll know if it was murder, if it was art who it was or who they were... I don't know... But I think the shadow knows... (laughter)

K: Do you know any real artist, hopefully not murder, but who uses mutilation as an form of art, do you know them personally?

D: The one reason that Brian and I even settled on this kind subject matter is that there's is a great predominance of body-art at the moment in the visual arts - pretty much a world wide movement. At the moment there's an artist called Ron Athey who works with scarifications on his boyfriends back and then creates prints from the blood. Now that sounds bizarre in a way I guess, but it's not without it's prescience. The obsession with going to churches and seeing relics of our saints or in fact using pieces of body in the catholic church is quite a part of the ritual of the catholisism. I would imagine that your own museum of torture probably has a very large following, it's in Amsterdam I believe. The relationship between the body and the pain and the excess it can take it tends amount to understanding of the universe in some peoples minds. Not necessarily my opinion, I'm merely the author....

K: Of course with André Breton in the twenties, shooting a gun in the crowd...

D: Absolutely, that was his manifest surrealism.

K: There's somewhere at the back of my head a story of you as a young boy slicing up a dead pigeon. Is there any truth in it?

D: (Laughs) I know nothing.... I might have eaten a worm, but I don't know of slicing up a pigeon, No, I don't know about that one. I have to get the book....

K: You can use it in a song.

D: I think a lot of this, coming at the end of the millennium, a lot of the art that is produced and a lot of the stress and anxieties that we all have, have something to do with putting to rest the corpse of the twentieth century. One might assume that the corpse in my story is in fact the corpse of the twentieth century.

K: But then again, let not put up our hopes to high. You yourself said that when the day comes, January 1st in the year 2000 it turns to be a Tuesday morning and nothing else than that.

D: Absolutely, your greatest problem is trying to find a good news program. Probably so. I hope that that will be one of our major problems.

K: Let's stick with André Breton. The whole thing of looking at mutilation or at violent or at murder as a work of art also brings to mind this other bizarre phenomenon of fans: loving their idols so much that they want to equalise their idols and the only way they can think of is killing them. Where were you when John Lennon was...

D: (Points to the public) There are two or three people here who are incredible decent people.

(Laughter)

K: Has it ever been a fear for you?

D: No.

K: You lived in New York when John Lennon was shot by a guy who wanted to be as famous...

D: I find that an obsessive and a particular fear. I have merely general anxieties and they're more about getting through a day successfully myself, hoping to achieve something and hoping to some kind of moral balance throughout the day. That for me is an anxiety. Outside problems are not an issue for me at all.

K: Have you ever understood all those screaming girls who're just screaming because as they say: `he's so cute

D: I never attempted to.

K: So you never succeeded?

D: I never attempted to understand it. It's beyond my comprehension. I was a pretty obsessive fan when I was kid. I used to like Little Richard. In terms of a collector, I collected every record that he made, I tried to find as much about him as I could. I do remember when he first came to Britain, waiting outside at the stage door to get an autograph. I think I passed the autograph phase, I don't think I got any further than that

K: I want to talk to you.....

D: Do you mind if I smoke?

K: No, please go ahead. I'm not going to tell you not to smoke. You should know better than that.

D: I know. Do you smoke?

K: I have done. Enough for the rest of my life. But please go ahead. I want to talk to you about fear. Is it true that for a long time the fear to loose your own mental health, your sanity, has been a major fear in you life?

D: I'm just approaching fifty at the moment. I think looking back when I was in my late teens, my early twenties, one of the predominant characteristic of a young person are two things: One that his life should be squashed as quickly as possible or that he will live for eternity and he vacillates between those two point. And I think there's also a kind of romanticism attached to the zany or the crazed or the mentally unstable because of it's assumed otherness. I think the idea of being able to observe and to be a participant in an alternative reality is very exhilarating for some young people. I think also when you're an artist, it almost comes with the territory. And I think you assume that you must be a bit crazy just to be an artist. I had some traditional mental instability in my family so I that I was overly concerned that it may in some way apply for me as well. And then of course getting involved in drugs usage in the seventies gave it sort of long order. But I think for me personally as an artist it's not something that I would entertain any more, I feel fairly stable... (looks like an insane)

(Laughter)

K: (points to the audience) They're like: `you should congratulate him now'. Still I don't get it. If you were overly concerned because of mental disorders appearing somewhere in the family, there's one thing I don't understand: Why on earth, if you're so concerned about it, do you go on stage and invent a lot of characters that you've played for months and months on stage and a lot of time of stage. Weren't you tempting the gods?

D: Oh, I think that was pure shyness.

K: In one very serious interview you said: `Whether I fill the characters with my life of fill my life with the characters, that's unclear to me.' That shows to me that you lost yourself somewhat. That's tempting the gods when you're afraid of losing you sanity.

D: Not really, one doesn't have the equipment at that age to know if you're tempting the gods or otherwise. I think that you just flow with what you feel is a very energetic life, river of energy and excitement. I put myself in a situation where I really didn't know what the boundaries were, what the fineline was between my characters on stage and my absolute self. And that's something I never really came to terms with until the late seventies, when I started to find exactly who I really was by re-adjusting my life and taking myself out of a kind of pretty fast lane existence.

K: Did you in a way, like Lou Reed puts it: do a little of growing up in public with your pants down?

D: Rarely with my pants down... (laughter). And I'm not sure about growing up. I hope that I'll never fully grow up. No, I don't think... (laughs out loud)... no, I haven't grown up, believe me....

K: Did anybody ever tell you that the pictures that were taken of you when you were younger, let's say fifteen younger, look astonishly like Lady Di when she's sad? Have a look.

(Film: David as Ziggy in slow motion.)

D: I think she looks awfully like me...

(Laughter)

D: That's merely the luck of the generation. I don't know anything about her I'm afraid. Absolutely nothing.

L: And you don't want to get involved...

D: My life is difficult and interesting enough without having to be concerned about that poor young lady.

K: Let me ask you another question about who you reassemble. Do you reassemble your father?

D: Physically? Yeah ...well, I think I'm pretty much... Oh, I guess .. a medley between my mother and my father... like both .... I suppose, I guess. I don't know. Haven't thought about it really.

K: What kind of man was he? The typical polite English gentleman?

D: Yes, I think he probably was. He was a very decent man. I think if I inherited anything from him at all: it was maybe a love for books. He was an big reader. And that was one thing that did probably more for me than anything else that I ever applied myself to in life is that I became an gigantic reader, till this day. It still gives me the most extraordinary pleasure. I couldn't possibly tell you how fantastic it is just to become fully involved in the thinking, in the ideas and the locations of somebody else his mind. I guess that's why I want to write, really.

K: Did your father ever tell you when you went into the music, you're doing the right thing, I believe in you?

D: Yes. I hope that I would pass that on to my son. He made it very clear that my choices were mine as of a certain age. He never pressed me into thinking of financial stability is being something to particularly strive for. For me it was much more a case of what is it that you will really feel will make each and every day something to look back on and say: that was really good.

K: Was it that kind of man for himself as well?

D: Yes he was.

K: Was he a successful man?

D: Yes he was a successful man. Financially? No, not at all. But as a person he was. He worked for a charity called Doctor Barnardo's Homes. And that's something that gave him a terrific satisfaction.

K: Would you call him an outsider, in his days?

D: No.

K: No? He belonged to a group?

D: No. I don't think that any of my family belonged to groups. We're not group people. We' re very self-sufficient people. Give us a book and a paintbrush and we don't need anything else.

K: What about your own fatherhood, if I may ask. How did you do it? You were a single parent for I don't know how many years. How can you be a single parent and act in plays and....

D: I've got absolutely no idea, you'd have to ask my son. I believe that we always had a very strong relationship. I don't know. There's no rule book to go by. He turned out to be a very bright, charming, lovely young man. He's a good kid. He's no longer a kid, he's 24 years old. He's still studying.

K: Still studying? What is he studying?

D: He's taking his doctor in philosophy at the moment.

(A girl in the public says YES)

D: Bowie turns his head: Is that what you want to do?

The girl: Yes

D: Why would you want to study philosophy? I asked my son the same question.

The girl: Because it gives you the possibility to look at one thing in different ways.

D: Yes, I understand I agree with you. (Big smile and looks at her waiting for more.)

The girl laughs shy: But now you have to talk again...

D: (laughs out loud and than serious) She's quite right. I think that's why one is drawn to understanding how other people think and where they come from and where they're going and where they been through their lives, is that, when your stuck with a set absolutes when you're a kid - you go to this kind of church, you do that kind of think and you think this way - if you have any sense of imagination, I think you fall out very quickly of absolutes and you want to see as many avenues as possible. For me, I got to a place where I saw that I could pick bits and pieces of each of those avenues. It's not essential to take one avenue as the gospel. No one man is right about everything or even one group of people is not right about everything. I would pick and choose little bits of everything; a little bit of Buddhism, a little bit of this, a little bit of that to give me some basis, some kind of explanatory platform for my life. And that in itself is an enjoyment.

K: So you must be incredibly proud and glad with your son picking up philosophy to study.

D: I'm so pleased that he's going with something that interests him. I'd feel sad if he went for something because he thought it looked like a good career, in terms where I can get at the top.

K: Sons usually kiss the ground under their fathers feet when they're seven. By the time they're twice as old as that they're deeply ashamed of everything their father is and everything he stands for ....

D: That happened at about seventeen.

K: I mean, you were the ultimate extravagance at the surface at this planet.

D: Yeah, he probably had a bit of a problem with that.

K: Has he never told you: David, please shut up for about a year or so.

D: I'll tell you something that was really funny. It's a number of years ago, I guess he was about eleven at the time, maybe twelve. A band that he really liked called PIL, Johnny Rottens band, Public Image Limited were playing near us and he said: can we go and see them and I sad: of course and he sad: I'll go get ready. So he went upstairs and he came back downstairs and he put this wash-up red dye in his hair and straight up. And I said: If you think that I'm going out with you ..... (put his hand in front of his face)

(Great laughter)

K: What happened, you did go?

D: Of course....I think the period where one is embarrassed with one's family, I certainly went through it, I guess that every 16 or 17 year old pretends that he doesn't have any family, he just magically appeared on the planet or like `I was actually American'. He fictionalises some background for himself. But that's something that passed through. I think that he got to quite like me by the time when he was 19.

K: Is it true you're planning on having a new family again and moving to London?

D: Well, if it's Gods will, yes, I mean that would be tremendous. I think we both love that very much.

K: And then you go live in London?

D: Possibly, we sort of looking at our options at the moment. The last few years have, and probably continue to be, pretty much travel for both of us, and especially, because I do intend doing a lot more lifework. I enjoy, am enjoying performance again, more than I have enjoyed it for years and years. And I'd just like to make the most of it while I still can.... before I bring out my zimmer (playpen). But I guess probably I'll be pretty hard to stop even then really ....I will be the most encourageable bore, I'll still be doing spacesongs when I'm 90.

K: We'll give you a hint.

D: I'm sure you will (laughs)

K: Is it true you made an Arthurian tour with your wife?

D: Yeah, indeed, we ... where do you find all this stuff? (laughs out loud)

K: Is it true?

D: Yes, the particularl things that you pulled so far.... When I first met her she only been to London... by the time I met her, in fact she already retired as a model, she retired in 1989, she stopped modelling. The only time that she had been into London to see anything of England was on modelling assignments. So she came in for maybe 48 or 72 hours at the time. And she really had absolutely no idea what England or London was about. I picked - I'm so Judassist - I picked the last two weeks of May and the weather was just extraordinary, it's never like that in England and it was just quite beautiful. We took a trip to the Southwest of England, we went to Cornwall and Devon and things like all that, Glastonbury and all the sites where Arthur lived his life and lived his times. And she was absolutely thrilled and said: `This weather, it's beautiful, is it like this all the time?' And I said: `Yes. You just got no idea how beautiful England really is, this is the England nobody talks about..' (performance like he's driving). And it was just fantastic, so she's got a completely false sense of what it's like to live in England.

K: And you like to keep it that way....

D: Yes. (Laughs)

K: But this is almost like sailing up the Avon..

D: Well, I'm a romantic.

K: I mean, you're even taking on wallpaper designing for Laura Ashley ! What will be next?

D: No, no, no, that's not quite accurate, there're two names correct, that wallpaper and Laura Ashley. (Signs to someone in the audience.) Would you bring that down here for a second. I don't believe this, this guy has a piece of my wallpaper. (The guy give Bowie the wallpaper with a pencil.) Yeah, I certainly sign this, could I just borrow it for a second? This actually is a piece of the wallpaper that I did.

K: I did not know... who is this guy?

D: Let me explain it. I actually wanted to do an installation piece in a gallery show that I had in London and it involved creating pilasters which are sort of half columns that go against walls and I wanted them to be fairly Romanesque in style but they were covered in a extraordinary misshapen wallpaper. You could take these pilasters and move them and put them on any part of the wall that you want to. And one design that I did (shows it to the camera).... I couldn't find anyone to print it because it's very hard to get wallpaper printed and then Laura Ashley offered to print it for me, for my installation. So it's not quite designing wallpaper for Laura Ashley. What the wallpaper is, this particular one, that's an English painter called Lucien Freud in a Damien Hirst box. And Damien Hirst is, as you may or may not know, an artist currently in England who puts sheep in boxes. So it was sort of traditional art in the hands of modern art, kind of thing. That was one of them and the other wallpaper was a Minataur with an erection, which I'm quite sure Laura Ashley wouldn't be selling.

(Laughter)

K: Britain is changing, David.

D: Quite pretty for the bathroom, I think.....(keeps looking at the wallpaper)

K: Let me ask you one last question....

D: .....If you're a Minataur....

K: Can I ask you one more question? There're all kinds of people signalling (point to behind the stage)

D: Do I have a choice?

K: No, yes, no, you don't.

(Both laugh)

K: Why do you want go live in Britain again?

D: At some point in my life I would like to go back to Britain....I think... `I miss the gossip'... not my line, I wish it was. There's a play written by Alan Bennet called An Englishman abroad and it dealt with a spy Kim Philby. The actress Coral Browne went to see him in his rooms in Moscow. She asks him: `What is the one thing you miss Britain more then anything else?' And he says: `Oh, the gossip!' I quite feel like that. What I mean by that is that I quite miss a particularly way of looking at the world that a lot of my friends.... I kept in touch... and in fact my circle of friends in England is growing considerably over the last few years and one sort of misses their company.

K: Could it be so that you're not the complete outsider that you once where?

D: I think I stopped being an outsider quite some time ago. It's just that I have to convince the rest of the world that I stopped being the outsider everybody thought I was.

K: You done a great attempt at this table. Thank you very much for coming.

D: My pleasure.

K: And now we'll make some room for your band to play.

(Bowie plays with his band Voyeur of Utter Destruction (as Beauty), Hallo Spaceboy and Under Pressure.)

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