On Tuesday, February 11th, at 10 pm, Bowie appeared on a show on VIVA 2 (sort of the German equivalent of VH-1) called "Geschmacksache" (A matter of taste). The format was basically Desert Islands Videos, and lasted an hour, with Bowie picking the videos that were played, and talking about each one and what it meant to him.
The show was actually a lot more interesting that I thought it would be (given the format), as Bowie used the opportunity to reflect on different aspects of his own career (without ever appearing in the slightest nostalgic), and impart some little nuggets of information I hadn't heard before. It was also interesting to watch as an exercise in marketing: Bowie has long since proven his mastery of this aspect of his career, and on that level this was another consummate performance.
Bowie appeared a little tense (maybe a result of smoke-deprivation: they came back from one commercial break and he was breathing out smoke as he talked for about the next minute. Apart from that, I didn't see much sign of a lit cigarette, although there was a constant stream of smoke wafting up), but he was very very charming. He smiled a lot, and acted silly in spots.
The program was book-ended by two Bowie videos: Space Oddity and Little Wonder. The rest of the videos came from other artists (although he sneaked in a few Bowie-related ones, like Lust For Life), and Bowie related a few interesting tales on his own past like
- the time he told Lou Reed what a wonderful influence he was on him only to find out a week later that he hadn't been talking to Lou Reed
- the first time he met Eno
- the definitive story of how he wrote "Lust For Life" and where that distinctive riff was lifted from
- how Tricky wants to turn Bowie's surrealistic piece for Q on Tricky into a song
- his thoughts on Trent Reznor
Interesting or what? If not what, then read on for my full blow-by-blow account.
The programme opened with Bowie clowning around in his seat, laughing and saying "I'm sorry, I'm just a happy guy", and then going on to deliver an impromptu Las Vegas cabaret type "Ground Control To Major Tom", complete with fake American accent and Mike Flowers type gestures (way to break the ice, Dave!). Then some German dude called Axel Terporten told us how cool Bowie was (in German).
Note: Thankfully, VIVA 2 broke with the normal tradition of German TV of having a translator talk in German over the original English, and went with sub-titles (many of which were wrong, or at least simplifications of what Bowie was saying).
Bowie then spoke about his Pollock-print T-shirt, and introduced Space Oddity (way to hook everyone in with your most famous song in these parts, Dave!) as the first song that got him any sort of audience anywhere, and one which dealt with the most recurring theme of his entire career, distance and alienation. (way to get in the first subliminal plug for Earthling, Dave!).
The video of Space Oddity was, interestingly enough, not the later Ziggy version, but the earlier "Love You Till Tuesday" version (which of course meant the music was not the hit single version). I've heard that Bowie really likes "Love You Till Tuesday", and this seemed to confirm that.
Next, he spoke about how he was always interested in clothes, and said that Marc Bolan (who he said was a fellow songwriter and quite good friend) taught him the trick of raiding the dustbins on the King's Road and Carnaby Street for slightly imperfect stuff in the evenings before the dustmen got there. He said this allowed them to put together entire wardrobes for nothing.
He then introduced a '71 TOTP clip of Marc Bolan doing "Get It On" as 'a song from my fashion director'. (way to establish yourself as rock legend and friend of other legends, Dave!)
After that finished, Bowie said that one of the first ever gigs he played as Ziggy (trainspotter's note: it was actually the 37th gig as Ziggy) was at the Greyhound Club in Croydon some time in '71 (trainspotter's note: 25 June, 1972). He gave trainspotter's like me another chance to correct him when he said that this was one of the smallest clubs they played (it actually held 1500, making it bigger than most of the places he played on that first '72 UK Ziggy tour). He then went on to say that the support band that night were Roxy Music (way to show how even legendary bands played second fiddle to you, Dave!), who he said were dressed weirdly and playing music like he'd never heard before, which he said looking back on it would be called 'post-modernist', but he didn't know at the time that that was what it was called. (way to show us all how intellectual yet funny you are, Dave!).
He said that at the end of the show 'a little guy came over to me, dressed even more glamorously than I was, which made me really annoyed' and started talking about the Dadaists and cybernetics. Bowie said that this strange individual later went on to become Professor Brian Eno, and that at the time, Bowie really liked him, thought he was very intelligent, and wondered what he was doing in a rock band (he thought he should have been teaching in college, albeit dressed differently).
Bowie then introduced Roxy Music's "Virginia Plain".
After that, Bowie said that the 72/73 period was very exciting to him because he started producing other artists like Mott The Hoople, and he even did a song for Lulu that was a big hit single for her. He said he also 'buddied up with' an American songwriter called Iggy Pop and they talked about working together. (way to show how your influence goes way beyond your own albums, Dave!).
He then tracked back to 66/67, when he said a friend of his came back from New York with a vinyl demo of a band Warhol was managing (I found it interesting that he referred to Ken Pitt (who he didn't mention by name) as 'a friend' rather than 'my then manager'). Bowie said that his friend didn't think much of the demo (saying they couldn't play their instruments very well) but that he was totally bowled over by it, thinking it wonderfully confrontational. He said that the track that particularly impressed him was "Waiting For The Man". He said that when he first went to the States in 1970, he went to see the Velvet Underground at the Electric Circus in one of the last gigs they ever played. He said that in the intermission, he went backstage to speak to the lead singer, Lou Reed, and told him what a big influence he was on him. A week later, he found out that Lou had left the band, and the guy he had been speaking to was his replacement, Doug Yule.
Bowie said he eventually met Lou, and became friends with him and produced an album for him, "Transformer", as well as the hit single "Walk On The Wild Side" (way to name-drop, Dave!). At one stage, he called Lou "Rou" by mistake, after which he kept referring to him as Rou Leed. He then said that Lou (or rather Rou) was still writing great songs, and introduced "Dirty Boulevard" as a song he really liked that Rou had written only recently (trainspotter's note: this song is from 1989. Recent???).
After that, Bowie spoke about Kraftwerk (way to make the German audience feel all good and cultured about themselves, Dave!), saying that ironically enough the first time he heard them was on American radio in 1974. He spoke about he felt at the time they were the future of electronic or techno music, how he got the Autobahn album and then bought all the earlier stuff. He talked about the origins of Kraftwerk, and the Kraftwerk/Neu (who he called 'another very influential German band') split. He then introduced Kraftwerk's "The Robots", saying he thought the video was brilliant too.
After that, he said that one of the most enjoyable albums he had made in Berlin (way to establish another German connection, Dave!) was "Lust For Life" with Iggy which he did just after he got there. He said that a couple of Iggy's old friends who worked on the album, Hunt and Tony Sales, later went on to work with him in Tin Machine in the late 80's.
He then introduced Iggy's recent "Lust For Life" video, saying that when he was in Berlin, there was nothing in English on TV to watch except the American Forces Network (I know that feeling), and that they had a news program which came on three or four times a night, the intro for which was an electronic signal that went "bip bip bip - bip bip bi beeba beeba", which he thought was very Tamla Motown. He started working with it on the guitar, and out of it came the distinctive riff that underpins "Lust For Life".
After that, he introduced The Prodigy (way to fast forward through those troublesome 80's and come right up-to-date, Dave!) as one of the live bands he'd been working with in the festivals (way to show that even the greats of today still play second fiddle to you, Dave!), saying that for him they were one of the great European live bands. He then introduced "Firestarter" as 'their big hit'.
After that, he spoke about the piece he wrote (way to establish your generalist credentials, Dave!) on Tricky for Q Magazine (he said that Q probably knew he was a big Tricky fan), saying that "for some reason it became very surreal, with me chasing Tricky up a building looking for an interview. At the top, he said "Okay, if you really want an interview, then let's jump"." He said that Tricky liked the piece so much, he wanted to turn it into a song. He then introduced "Overcome", saying that Tricky was a terrific synthesist.
After that, he said that on his last North American tour, he worked for 2-3 months with a powerful industrial band, NIN. He said that Trent was one of the more interesting writers coming out of America at the moment, and that they had gotten on really great together, and would hopefully be working together in the recording studio "in the some time future". He then played "Closer". I personally was surprised by this, as a cynic would say that the NIN hook-up had served its purpose and given the bad feeling it engendered between both sets of fans, and American journos trying to paint Bowie as an NIN-imitator and bandwagon-hopper, Bowie might try to leave that part of the past behind him, particularly in Europe, where NIN mean about as much as the Pet Shop Boys do in America. But I thought it was a very nice touch on Bowie's part that he didn't succumb to the easy option, instead tipping his hat to young Trent.
Note: Not wishing to re-open any old wounds or arguments or nuthin', but having taken the opportunity to listen more closely again to "Closer", I have to say that I firmly believe its mechanical beat is a lot closer (no pun intended) to "Nightclubbing" than the beat of "Seven Years In Tibet" is to either "Nightclubbing" or "Closer" itself. Anyone else hear bits of Prince's "Sign Of The Times" in there?
After that, Bowie started his introduction to Little Wonder by saying that "this is, of course, the video that I like more than anything else in the world" (way to go straight for the shameless plug, Dave!). He went on to say that the director was 'a Canadian girl called Floria Sigismond, who is incredibly talented'. He said that he saw a show reel she sent him early last year, and was particularly impressed by some of the early stuff she had done with smaller Canadian bands, which was very experimental, and made a lot of use of silhouettes and shadows, which reminded Bowie of a German (way to make the German audience feel all good and cultured about themselves #2, Dave!) expressionist film director of the 20s and 30s, Lotti Eisner (sp? the sub-titles didn't give the name), who used to make silhouette films. He said that he got Floria together with a very good visual artist that he knew, Tony Oursler, who does video projections on to very ugly puppets which gives them a very creepy macabre effect. He said that the idea behind the video was to combine these two elements, while keeping the thing grounded in a sort of "Dickensian science fiction" area. He said this gave it a hybrid English-German look which he thought was really cool (and so do we, Dave!).
After the "Little Wonder" video finished, Bowie said that he really enjoyed the show, meeting the viewers, that those things we had told him during the programme were really interesting, and that he was glad that we had finally had the chance to meet. He then finished by singing something I didn't recognise that went "Goodbye, Goodbye, We'll meet again, Some time, Somewhere, faw faw faw faw foffa faw", and said "Ta ra", and was gone, with Axel coming back to tell us again (more briefly this time) what a thoroughly good bloke Bowie is.
Your man in Germany,
Dara (way to piss the Hell out of the reader's by over-use of gratuitous 'way-to's') O'Kearney.