- 04 Jan 17
No other artist has been lauded in Hot Press quite like the Thin White Duke, says Stuart Clark...
It’s telling that in the 25-years I’ve written for Hot Press, no other artist, Michael Jackson, Elvis or John Lennon included, has come up for interview discussion as often as David Bowie. He really is the quintessential musician’s musician.
Morrissey’s not a man to throw compliments around, but he was gushing in his praise for David when Paul Nolan met him in 2008.
“Weirdly,” he revealed, “the very first time my name was printed in the press was in 1972, because I’d entered a competition in Sounds magazine to win the forthcoming David Bowie LP – which was Ziggy Stardust – and I won. I’d bought ‘Starman’ but didn’t know anything about David, and hadn’t even seen a picture of him. I know it’s difficult to imagine for very young people now, but Bowie cropping up on BBC’s Nationwide in 1972 alongside Arthur Scargill and elderly people trapped in their own maisonettes was jaw-dropping.
“He was so important to me because his vocal melodies were so strong and his appearance was so confrontational,” he continued. “Manchester, then, was full of boot boys and skinheads and macho-macho thugs, but I saw Bowie’s appearance as the ultimate bravery. To me, it took guts to be David Bowie, not to be a shit-kicking skinhead in a pack. He just did not care. And all people care to a ridiculous degree – we’re all so frightened and boxed-in. Bowie would roll into Doncaster and Bradford in 1972 looking as he did, and if you had a problem with it then it was your problem, not his. He wasn’t persecuted by anything. It was the people who objected who were persecuted. I was very grateful, even though it wasn’t in my instinct to dress like him or imitate him.”
Asked by yours truly in 2012 whether he’d ever been starstruck, The Cure’s Robert Smith got straight to the point. “Only once,” he said, “which was when David Bowie asked me to play at his birthday party concert in Madison Square Garden. When I walked on to rehearse ‘Quicksand’ with him, it felt like I was dreaming. When he started playing guitar, I thought, ‘This guy’s been my hero since my early teens and it’s just the two of us on this huge, big stage. How the fuck did that happen?’ The stuff you’re into as a kid is always what makes the biggest impression. Bowie, Tommy Cooper, punk exploding... those are the memories you carry with you through life.”
A fan who became a close friend is Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins.
“I saw him last year, when he played in Chicago,” he told Paul Nolan in 2005. “He was incredible, the best I’d ever heard him sing. It was fantastic, I just loved the shit out of it. He certainly made some phenomenal records, but the thing was that he was a big influence on bands that I love. So I guess you could say that he’s been an indirect influence, in that I love Joy Division as much as I love David Bowie.
“I’ve known him now for 10 or 12 years, and find that the more I run into him, the warmer he gets. Each time you get a little closer to the man. He’s very well-read, he always keeps himself up on culture, and he always has something to say about everything, and that’s my favourite kind of guy. You can talk to David about politics, you can talk to him about Gene Vincent. He’ll hang with you on whatever. He’s very inspiring in that way.”
The profound influence Bowie had on other artists was highlighted again in 2013 when Joe Elliott talked to Roisin Dwyer. “Everything Bowie touched was genius,” he ventured. “He gave Mott a career, he gave Lou Reed his only hit and he helped Iggy along. There was a period when he was influencing everybody. The first song that Def Leppard ever played, when we got together in a rehearsal room, was ‘Suffragette City’.”
When Joe and Bowie’s paths crossed, it was usually on Irish soil.
“The first time, god bless Bono, was when David was in Dublin on the Sound & Vision tour and he came to a party in Bono’s house. He knew I was such a fan, he must have said to David, ‘Give Joe five minutes’. There were about 100 people there, so I had my little meet and greet, like when people meet The Pope or something. He was really sweet! Then I saw him in the Baggot with the first Tin Machine album, and the next time was in the Factory. He remembered me from Bono’s house so we talked and he introduced me to his wife Iman.
“People will be reading this thinking, ‘Oh, he’s Def Leppard, surely he should be talking about Led Zep or Sabbath?’” Joe concluded. “Trust me, I’m more Bowie, Bolan, Mott and Roxy. All that art-rock stuff that blew my mind when I was 12. I just ended up in a rock band!”
Also among the 250 people who managed to blag their way into that legendary 1991 Tin Machine gig was Jerry Fish.
“He’s just the most unassuming, down to earth bloke you’ll ever meet,” Jerry told us a few years back. “That’s kind of a surprise, because you expect him to be some sort of alien. I remember hearing Bowie for the first time, I was a T.Rex fan as a kid in the ‘70s, and Aladdin Sane was in the shops the same time as The Slider. I would’ve been very young, maybe nine or 10 at the time.
“What I love about the modern-day David Bowie is that he embraces technology. You never hear him giving out about it. He’s a today man, he’s a now person.”
Julie Feeney agreed that Bowie’s creative well had never run dry when we rang round in 2013 to find out what Irish musos made of The Next Day.
“He’s touching the core of some very, very deep sadness that he can’t even describe,” she said of his comeback album. “It’s like he’s channeling something from somewhere we can’t even get to. It’s that thing Johnny Cash has on the last ones before he died. I know that’s weird to say because Bowie is the most sprightly person, whatever age he is. I’m not being ageist, but there’s definitely something he’s reaching. You can’t quite put your finger on it. There’s a poignancy and a deep sadness there. I don’t really know any other music that affects me that way.”
Julie’s praise was muted compared to the double Macca-style thumbs-up Noel Gallagher gave it when we met last year in London.
“No word of a lie, until The Next Day came out I didn’t think he’d made a great album,” he insisted. “Like The Who and The Jam, I’d listen to the singles but not the LPs. Bowie did have 15 years to make it, I suppose, but it’s a masterpiece.”
Noel had met Bowie, but only virtually.
“He won a Brit Award for, I dunno, being the Best David Bowie of Alltime, couldn’t be there and asked me and Kate Moss to say something on his behalf, which we did,” he explains. “The next day I’m recovering on the sofa going, ‘Owwwwwwwwww, me head!’ – I hadn’t got back ‘til nine in the morning – and get an email saying, ‘Hi, it’s David. Thanks for the shout out the other night’. I reply going, ‘Fucking nice one, man, blah blah blah’ and we have a kind of 15-minute real-time conversation. I’m thinking, ‘Wow, David Bowie’s in a coffee shop in New York somewhere talking to me. I can live with this!’”
Noel loved the way that David Bowie had taken us all unawares – it’s a trick he was to repeat, of course – with the top secret February 2013 release of The Next Day’s flagship single, ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’.
“I came downstairs and my missus, Sara, said, ‘David Bowie’s got a new single out’. I’m like, ‘Are you sure it wasn’t ‘Heroes’?’ She shoots back: ‘I know what fucking ‘Heroes’ sounds like and it isn’t that!’ Nothing will match the jaw-dropping moment of going online and playing ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ for the first time. I’m lying on my bed listening to it, get to the end and think, ‘Hang on, it can’t be that good, I’ve got to listen to it again!’ I must have played the album 20 days in a row when it came out. I obsessed over it.”
Nile, Darling, Listen To This...
Astronaut Dr. Chris Hadfield caused a global sensation in 2013 when during his stint aboard the International Space Station he got his acoustic out and covered ‘Space Oddity’, a favourite song dating back to childhood.
“It started out as a project with my son,” Major Chris told Hot Press the following year. “It then turned out to be far more beautiful and musically interesting than either of us thought it was going to be. From there, it grew into some kind of viral, worldwide – how would I put it? – phenomenon. It has been exactly a year since I laid down the first vocal track. Even now, watching and listening to it, I’m really delighted with how it turned out. It is inherently beautiful and interesting.”
Hadfield admitted to getting a bit teary when Bowie responded with a ‘Hallo Spaceboy...” tweet.
“Well, I’ve been a musician my whole life,” he resumed. “I’ve fronted bands since the early ’90s, in and around the Houston area. I’ve played countless pubs. I’ve sung solo in front of huge crowds. But there’s something bizarre about having the music that I did recognised by someone who is in the upper echelons – the highest rarified atmosphere – of musical art, as David Bowie is. And not only that, but to receive compliments from him! Ya know, he said it was the best cover of the song he’s ever heard. For me, it’s really just heartwarmingly delightful that he liked it.”
Bowie’s film director son, Duncan, has tended to shy away from talking about his megastar dad. But in 2009, he did talk to then-Hot Press film critic, Tara Brady: “There have been times in my life when I’ve struggled with it, but I am my father’s son. I was brought up by him and I was surrounded by the things that he loved. We bonded over literature and movies. We watched films together all the time.”
When I spoke to him in 2005, Moby seemed to believe that Bowie was immortal. Sadly it’s proven not to be the case.
“The thing about David is that he’s a survivor,” he opined. “No matter what life throws at him, he comes back stronger than before, which is a quality I very much aspire to myself. When I was growing up, my heroes were Bowie, The Clash and New Order. The records he made while he was in Berlin, Low and Heroes, are among the most influential of all time.”
I asked him to compare and contrast Bowie with Bono, both of whom Moby had encountered during his – and their – partying days.
“With Bono you get the feeling that there’s no artifice,” he ventured. “When you hang out and talk to him he’s just being himself. David’s very guarded. You always get the sense that there’s a slight detachment. The key difference being, he’s made a career out of playing characters, while Bono’s made a career out of playing himself.”
Placebo’s love of Bowie came with a side-order of jealously, as leader Brian Molko explained to Hot Press in 2001.
“You see him with a beautiful wife, a gorgeous baby and all that money, and think ‘bastard!’” he deadpanned. “He’s someone who stared into the void, and somehow managed to pull himself back without ruining his body. Being around Bowie teaches you a great deal about what it means to be a star. The guy’s worth hundreds of millions of pounds, yet there’s no trace of arrogance. He says ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and knows more about music than you, me and everybody we know put together.”
The NME famously arranged in 1993 for Brett Anderson, the pupil, to meet the master. Asked 20 years later by Hot Press what Bowie was like that day, the Suede singer said: “Very sociable. Very friendly. Very supportive. All the very-s!”
Brandon Flowers also had his world comprehensively rocked in 2004: playing at Irving Plaza in New York, he looked up and “saw David Bowie singing along to ‘Mr. Brightside’. I couldn’t believe it! Afterwards he complimented every single one of us individually, and said that he could hear the whole history of rock ‘n’ roll in our songs. He’s a hell of a musician and a hell of a nice guy.”
Shortly after that 2009 interview with The Killers’ mainman, I got to sit down with Nile Rodgers, who eagerly recalled his first 1982 encounter with the Thin White Duke.
“Billy Idol and I popped into this after-hours joint in New York called The Continental – it opened at three or four in the morning – and sitting all by himself at the back of the room was David Bowie,” he beamed. “I’d been a Bowie fan ever since I’d dropped acid with a girl in Miami Beach years before and she turned me on to The Spiders From Mars.”
To underline his devotion to the Jones boy, Rodgers switched into Dick Van Dyke ‘god bless you Mary Poppins’ mode and treated me to a rousing, “Ziggy played geeeetar/Jamming good with weeeeeeird and Gilly/ And the Spidaaaaas from Maaaars!”
He then resumed: “I knew David lived in the same building as myself, Carlos Alomar and Luther Vandross, so I went over and said, ‘Hello neighbour!’ We talked about the friends we had in common – all the Young Americans musicians were people I’d played with in my Apollo Theater and Sesame Street house band days, so there was an instant connection. David called me a few days later and the next thing you know I was flying over to Switzerland to demo this new song he’d written called ‘Let’s Dance’. The first time I got to hear it was when he walked into my bedroom and, brandishing a 12-string folk guitar that only had six strings on it, said: ‘Nile darling, listen to this!’ It was a cool little ditty, but as of yet didn’t have that dancefloor thing going on, so I asked him to let me do an arrangement on it and the rest, as they say, is history!”
The last word fittingly goes to Gerry Leonard who, reflecting on the Bowie legacy, says: “He wove the tapestry. Right to the end he made his own rules. There’ll be a lot of musicians in the future asking, ‘What would David do?’ He’s the library, the reference book, our Oxford English Dictionary.”