Art Decade – David Bowie
The first time I met David Bowie I made the mistake of telling him that Low was my favourite LP of his. Well to be honest I think I may have actually said that I held Low and Heroes and Lodger, all three with Brian Eno collaborating, in very high regard, but that Low was, for me, the best. Christ I actually said that like a pompous little twerp. He was gracious and smiled, said thank you, but scarcely bothered with me for the rest of the evening. Sigh.
How to pick a favourite David Bowie LP ? Many people go Hunky Dory and have done with it. Many others, and I’m tempted here, go Aladdin Sane. It’s fantastic, but includes a cover of Let’s Spend The Night Together and I wish it didn’t. Station To Station is perfection, but so is Low in my book. Heroes is amazing. Ziggy Stardust is teenage genius music. And I have a huge soft spot for Space Oddity. Scary Monsters is outstanding. Many plump for the blue-eyed soul of Young Americans. As for the rest, well they’re simply brilliant, rather than out-of-this-world hyperbole.
My first real memory of DB was – like most people’s – Starman on TOTP, draping his arm languidly around Mick Ronson and singing the chorus with ineffable cool. I followed his every move from that point on, though oddly didn’t go to see the Ziggy Stardust show at The Dome in Brighton when I could have – I’m sure I had some fucked-up teenage justification at the time. Twat.
By the time I met him, in 1991, I’d seen him three times, all at Earl’s Court on the Stage tour in 1978, which was a marvellous band with Adrian Belew, Roger Powell and Simon House joining Bowie’s rhythm section guitarist Carlos Alomar, Dennis Davis on drums and George Murray on bass. The show featured the Low and Heroes songs, with stuff from Ziggy and the mighty song Station To Station for a punchline. He couldn’t have got any higher in my estimation at each stage of his career, from 1972 through to Let’s Dance. Then he took a few years off from being David Bowie and joined a band called Tin Machine which I wasn’t too fond of, but his legacy was already untouchable, untouched by any other artist I was aware of.
But then to make all of these outstanding albums, then take a sabbatical and come back with Hours, Reality, Heathen and recently The Next Day speaks to a genius at work, a man who can’t help but keep twisting and turning, creating new, interesting, artful work. And yes Bowie fans, I have’t mentioned Earthling, Diamond Dogs, Tonight etc. It’s been a long beautiful career. He’s truly in a class of his own.
In 1988 I’d been cast in Scandal which Stephen Woolley was producing, I had about five days work that summer with John Hurt, Roland Gift, Arkie Whiteley and Joanne Whalley before she met Kilmer. July 20th of that blessed year I embark on a day the like of which I would not revisit, but which seemed at the time both sweet and natural. Visiting Bruce Robinson and Richard E. Grant on the set of How To Get Ahead In Advertising at Shepperton Studios, hanging with old mates from the Withnail shoot before I drove back to Soho to the Scandal location, Bridget Fonda said hi from Lee Drysdale an old Scala mate (see My Pop Life #23) and Stephen and I left to find Forest Whitaker at The George public house, corner of Wardour St and D’Arblay St, with Stephen’s American co-producer Kerry.
I had organised tickets to see Steven Berkoff’s Greek at Wyndhams Theatre, St Martin’s Lane, so Stephen Woolley, Forest Whitaker Kerry and myself walked down there to watch Bruce Payne and Steven tearing it up onstage. I’d worked with both these fellows in Berkoff’s West at the Donmar some years earlier, and this was the best play of Steven’s I’d seen. Afterwards we went backstage to Bruce’s dressing room to congratulate and pass love. Some crowd in there ! There was David Bowie. “Ralph, this is David; David, Ralph” said Bruce, as casually as he could, which was pretty casual I’ll give him that. Stephen and Forest had decided to chip because they were both working early the next morning…I stuck around as a veritable cornucopia of glitterati filled the dressing room with glamour, some kissing and leaving, others hanging around. After some time dinner was suggested at Cafe Pelican, a French-style brasserie just across the street and my favourite hangout in the West End.
We sat down at the furthest table from the door and DB sat with his back to the room. I was opposite him and looked around the table. Iman. Steven Berkoff. Clara Fisher, musician, Steven’s partner. Bruce. Me. Gary Oldman. Ann Mitchell. Lesley Manville. David Bowie. We ordered, we drank wine, we chatted, we laughed, it was relaxed, charming, easy. I think we were eating when Gary brought up Nick Roeg, film director that he’d just shot Track 29 with, who’d also worked with David on Man Who Fell To Earth. Common ground. And that was when chippy me chipped in with my cultured assessment of Low. Sorry but I flipping love that album. It sounds like proper science fiction pop music. I mean, Brian Eno was another hero of mine since the days of Roxy, I’d bought all his solo stuff, now he was collaborating with Bowie?? Anyway back to Le Cafe Pelican ’89. Ah well. David had been friendly and interested up to that point with me, now there was a slight but noticeable withdrawal. I became fanboy. It was the most glamourous evening I’d ever had, and possibly will ever have and despite my faux pas, I was glowing and happy.
Next time I saw Stephen I told him what had happened. He’d worked with Bruce and David Bowie on Absolute Beginners, where they’d all met, and he gave me some words of advice. Good words. “When you meet people like Bowie, don’t talk to them about their work, it makes them uncomfortable. Talk about other people’s work – Brando, Lennon, Picasso. Anyone but him.” So wise. But hey. I’m a young soul on this earth, and I sometimes behave like one.
So. What is my favourite David Bowie LP ? Christ knows. Who cares, right ? Now, once again, it’s Low, recorded with Brian Eno, produced by the great Tony Visconti, partly inspired by The Man Who Fell To Earth (sci-fi pop!) partly a response to Berlin, Bowie’s new career in a new town, and his coming off and down from a cocaine addiction sustained at least since Diamond Dogs. This is one of the lesser-celebrated tracks, but my favourite from the windswept moonscapes of side two: Art Decade. But the album is, essentially, perfect.