David Bowie interviewed by Russell Harty (Part 1)

David Bowie is interviewed on The Russell Harty Show over a satellite connection in 1975

Here David Bowie is interviewed on The Russell Harty Show over a satellite connection in 1975.

The interview was an awkward affair, made more difficult by the time delay of the satellite link. Clearly not comfortable, Bowie looked bemused by Harty’s attempts to be playful and humorous.

The Interview

Russell Harty: His admirers called him a prophet, a demi-god, and a superman. His critics said he was simply a hoaxer and a charlatan. But his fans adored him, and copied his outrageous dress. And some of them to the extent of dyeing their hair orange… just like his. But nearly two years ago he left these shores for America where he has lived in retirement from the glitter of the pop-musical world.

Earlier this year he starred in a film in Mexico, I’ll be having a sneak preview of a bit of that film a little bit later. But more important than that, David Bowie has an announcement to make. Let’s now go over live by satellite to beautiful downtown Burbank, in Los Angeles. Are you there, David Bowie?

David Bowie: Yes.

RH: The last time we met on the air you were sitting in this studio at this side and you had a very elegant earring hanging from either your left or right ear, I can’t remember. Do you remember that?

DB: How are you Russell, it’s nice to see you.

RH: Thank you, it’s nice to see you David. You look well, what colour is your hair?

DB: Which bit?

RH: The centre bit at the top, above where your nose would be.

DB: Well, it’s… what colour does it look?

RH: Well it looks like a bit something out of the end of Straw Dogs.

DB: Something out of the end of Straw Dogs.

RH: Right, right. Now you’ve got an announcement to make to us all David, haven’t you. You’re changing your plans for the future, and you’ve something up your sleeve for 1976.

DB: Yes, I’m… I’m touring, but I’m coming back to England in May to… play shows and… look at you… and look at England… and be English.

RH: Again.

DB: Well as always, but English in England.

RH: You know you haven’t… your accent, your voice, your method of speech has not changed, you’ve been away for two years.

DB: Yeah.

RH: Does that mean that you’ve been locked away somewhere?

DB: Yes, I don’t talk to anybody.

RH: But do people talk to you?

DB: I’ve heard it rumoured, yes.

RH: Now when you come back to England to sing…

DB: Well, I’ve always had this thing in my ear, so it’s been difficult to hear them.

RH: But people could shout into your other ear, couldn’t they.

DB: Yes.

RH: Right. Now when you come back to England, you’re not presumably coming back with the glammery-glittery Ziggy Stardust thing, are you?

DB: Uh-huh.

RH: Are you coming back as that?

DB: Oh, I don’t know yet… I haven’t even worked on it. I think it will probably… it’ll be a lot more spontaneous.

RH: You haven’t planned your wardrobe, you haven’t planned a figure. You haven’t planned an image, whatever that may mean.

DB: I think the image I may adopt may well be me. I’m sort of inventing me at the moment.

RH: You mean re-inventing you, yourself.

DB: Yeah, self-invented.

RH: From the waist upwards.

DB: Yes, jolly uncomfortable.

RH: Is it?

DB: Yeah.

RH: Now then, you really have no simple idea about what you’re going to wear. I mean are you going to wear a little suit, a straight suit, or are you going to…

DB: I know what songs I going to sing, which is the most important thing. But nothing else, no.

RH: Are they new songs?

DB: And I know the kind of musicians I’m bringing back. And I know sort of approximately how long I’m going to sort of play for on stage, but that’s the important things.

RH: Right, what’s brought you back? Are you short of money, or are you short of the ‘feeding off live audience’ bit.

DB: I’m short of England more than anything else.

RH: In what way, I mean you do know the England you left two years ago is not the England you’re going to come back to.

DB: Yeah, well this Thursday is nothing like last Thursday but it’s just as important. I’d miss it if it wasn’t after Wednesday.

RH: Do you know that the pop-scene at this end, the pop-world has changed somewhat since you left?

DB: No, no.

RH: Have you heard of The Bay City Rollers?

DB: Yes.

RH: Well you know that they’re appealing to a kind of large mass-hysterical audience of young people who wave a lot of stuff around.

DB: Yes.

RH: Now I wonder what kind of audience you’re going to come back to face?

DB: I don’t know, what do you think?

RH: I don’t know, I’m thinking in a kind of way you may have to create a whole new scene for yourself.

DB: No… [very long pause while Bowie casts around for an answer] I can’t qualify that, I’ll just come back and play my songs.

RH: Now, for someone… you’ve been quoted as saying David, that for someone who’s not really a very good musician, you’ve made a lot of rumpus, a lot of noise…

DB: Yeah…

RH: If you don’t think you’re a good musician… what are you looking at… what are you searching for?

DB: Got it! ‘Treetop Applejuice’.

RH: Is it good? Will you spit some across the satellite?

DB: No.

RH: Good. For someone who claims not to be all that good a musician why are you coming back to perform on stage, or have you… are you a better musician in fact than you admit?

DB: I can’t link those two parts. If I’m not that good a musician, why am I coming back?

RH: Yes, yes.

DB: Well, coming back has got nothing to do with being a musician.

RH: But do you think you’re a better musician after two years…?

DB: Well, I don’t play anything on stage. I’m a good performer, and I’m a good singer. That has nothing to do with being a musician, does it?

RH: Well, I don’t know…

DB: It might do…

RH: You must tell me that. I mean it’s such a profound statement I don’t think I can…

DB: It doesn’t have to be that one-sided, does it? Aren’t you going to contribute?

RH: A little bit, yes. I’m worming away by expensive satellite.

DB: Okay.

RH: Alright, now you also said you need to astound people. You didn’t want to come back just as an ordinary person doing an ordinary gig at the Odeon Hammersmith or wherever it is. Do you have any idea at this stage apart from just getting out on a stage how you shall astound us, or does it actually come to you in the middle of the night before?

DB: I shall probably be a lot fatter that I’ve been. That’ll be my… No, I haven’t any thoughts about that at all. The impact of the show has to be the astounding thing not the dressing of it, you know. The dressing of a show is just a dressing, it’s sort of a perfunctory kind of thing. But the content has to astound. I mean you can dress a show with a trillion dollars or a trillion pounds worth of goodies, but if the show is not substantial there will be no impact, you see.

RH: In your memory what is the best thing you’ve done, on any stage anyway, that still lives with you, that you measure… use as a measuring stick.

DB: Best… best… that’s very hard. One of the most exciting things I did was work with… old Lindsay, Lindsay Kemp. Back in the… where would it be? I can’t remember which theatre we did it in, but years ago. It was a combined sort of mixed media show. That was very good.

RH: And it didn’t have to be a big glossy exciting thing, I mean it was a small… but something important to you.

DB: Well, yes of… yes, yes.

RH: Right, now you just finished making the film called The Man Who Came To Earth.

DB: … Fell To Earth.

RH: Fell To Earth, I beg your pardon. It’s not a easy film to explain to people who haven’t seen it, and it’s not yet finished, is it?

DB: It’s finished in visual, but it’s not finished in sound. I’ve got to record the sound, we’ve written a lot of it. It’s… I tell you… all I can tell you is it’s a love story more than anything else. It’s very very sad, very romantic. It brought a lump to my throat watching it. And it ‘s been a gas working on it… yeah.

RH: How much of a new… how easily did you take to the discipline of filmmaking, which is as we all know is a hard…

DB: Oh, quite easily. I’m a very disciplined person, you know. It was… it was exciting for me to work with other people who are as disciplined as I am.

RH: Are you… I mean are you being absolutely accurate and honest when you say you’re a disciplined person.

DB: Oh yes. Of course.

RH: You impose a discipline on your own music-writing, on your own work. I mean you don’t just get up when you… you know, you hear what I’m saying to you, a lot of people in your position…

DB: A discipline doesn’t mean that you make sure that you have breakfast at eight o’clock in the morning and you are out of the house by half past eight. A discipline is that you… if you conceive some thing, then you decide whether or not it’s worth following through, and if it’s worth following through then you follow it through to its logical conclusion, and do it with the best… to the best of your ability. That’s a discipline, yes?

RH: I applaud that answer…

DB: Whether there are areas in it that are not to one’s liking, you have to go right the way through it and do it. And that’s what I do.

RH: And more important, not to other people’s liking. I mean there are often things that if you decide to do as a major star, you’re going to get people worked up about.

DB: Well, of course. Yes.

RH: Because you don’t appear at the right place at the right time, or imagination is drying up and you need something else to refuel it.

DB: It’s because I thoroughly enjoy looking at myself and looking at the environment that I’m in at anytime with the eyes of someone who’s not involved in any particular line of the arts. So it comes out as sort of eclectic manifestation, you know. I’m still a fan of everything, a fan of films, a fan of records, fan of rock bands, and a fan of yours…

RH: Well, most kind of you…

DB: I’m a fan of yours… quite a fan of yours…

RH: Are you really?

DB: Yeah.

RH: Well let’s get back to eclectic manifestations. Now the film… we’re going to look at a bit of it, and then we’ll talk a bit more about it. Here you are having fallen to earth, and as you’re adjusting to the earth’s atmosphere you gain the attention of a young lady in your hotel room.

DB: Listen, I must say just before you put that on, it’s assumed that I’m an alien from outer-space – it’s not necessarily true.

RH: All right, fine we’ll come back to that.

[scene from ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’]

RH: David, that film is not finished, it’s not final edit and ready yet. But there are already, seeping through it, kind of areas of mystery. A lot of it is mysterious, is that quite deliberate?

DB: Yes it is a mystery… as love affairs generally are.

RH: Is it giving too much away to say that it’s a… it doesn’t end too happily either.

DB: It’s a very sad film, no it’s not a happy ending. I thought Candy Clark… isn’t Candy Clark good?

RH: Yes, very good indeed!

DB: Excellent!

RH: Has she worked in films before?

DB: The last thing that she was in was American Graffiti.

RH: But did you yourself, were you yourself a contributing factor to the film. I mean did Mr. Roeg stop and say which way should we go, which way do we move, what do you think, or were you under total direction?

DB: No, my… under total direction. My contributing factor was my acting and persona in general. I’ve got the greatest respect for Mr. Roeg and his work, I wouldn’t have done the film otherwise.

RH: Are you still into the extra-terrestrial bit? Are you still aware of forces apart from satellites that are moving around this globe or this planet or around you, David Bowie?

DB: Of course, yes.

RH: What kind of eclectic manifestation do you have of this?

DB: A mountain… or a tree.. is a manifestation of forces that we are not capable of dealing with.

RH: Do you go to church at all? Do you…

DB: No. I…

RH: … pray?

DB: Yes, of course.

RH: But do you pray to mountains and to trees, and to those physical manifestations, or to some kind of spirit?

DB: I don’t think I would like to get into that over a twenty-minute interview.

RH: You wouldn’t…

DB: When I come back to England, I will talk to you about that, yes… at length. But I wouldn’t want to nutshell it.

RH: Has the film – that’s sensible – has the film whetted your appetite for making more movies?

DB: No, funnily enough what it did do was increase my appetite for going back to a lot of the bits and pieces I used to do many years ago, like painting, writing, spending free time with myself and my family, getting out of cities …

RH: And relaxing a lot…

DB: No, not relaxing… so much as feeling at ease.

RH: Well, can I let you to feel at ease for fifteen… for a second or two while we take a commercial break at this end?

DB: Well, of course.

RH: And we’ll come back to you in about two minutes’ time, meanwhile stay tuned.

DB: Okay.

[station break]

RH: Welcome back, David Bowie, sitting on some strange beachside back of you in Burbank, Los Angeles. We were talking about films and filmmaking, one the people I presume you would have liked to have worked with would have been Pier Pasolini?

DB: Would I?

RH: Well I’ve read that in odd interviews you’ve given to people, you found his work exciting.

DB: I can’t think of working with anybody apart from Nicolas Roeg at the moment. I’ve never done a film. I don’t know when I’ll do another film. And for me it’s not a question of getting into films. It was something tangible and tactile for me to work in, and it was an experience that I needed. I’m not sure whether I like the idea of becoming an actor… per se.

RH: Per se, rather than per me.

DB: Yeah.

RH: You are in that kind of privileged position though, aren’t you David, where you don’t have to make any kind of decision like that, do you?

DB: Oh, I have to make as many decisions as anybody else every day. Yes, I do have to make decisions. I consider myself fairly responsible.

RH: I wasn’t doubting your own self-responsibility. But I’m saying you are better equipped than most people to make that kind of firm decision about your own future – I will do a …

DB: That’s not what you said at all.

RH: Well if that’s not what I said…

DB: Ah… ah…

RH: It’s what I meant, right?

DB: Yes, I can make firm decisions.

RH: I mean you’re equipped with fame, you’re equipped with a certain amount of fortune, you’re equipped I presume with the kind of advisers who will give you good advice. And therefore you’re not like a girl or a boy sitting in a basement in Notting Hill, struggling to get into some kind of proper situation… who wants to be an actor, who wants to be a film star, who wants to get on to the scene.

DB: I was, though.

RH: Can you remember those days?

DB: Yes, very much. I’m doing all the things that I use to do in those days.

RH: But do you see, that’s what perhaps makes you better than you would otherwise be. Because you can remember that kind of hard discipline and that kind of hard time.

DB: Yeah.

RH: But now you’re in a position to enjoy it.

DB: Yes.

RH: Are you enjoying today, are you enjoying this conversation?

DB: I think it’s wonderful. I do enjoy it, no I enjoy it a lot. It’s a shame it’s so short, because these days I’m very careful about launching into sort of…

RH: I’ve noticed that.

DB: … discussion. It’s only because I like conversation a lot, and it seems such a waste to… just to… you know, fire away at random. This is lovely though, I think it’s moving at a very sensible pace.

RH: Good, and also I’ll tell you what I quite like which I shouldn’t like. I mean doing the conversation at a distance of x-thousand miles…

DB: It’s odd, isn’t it?

RH: It’s very odd, but I don’t mind you not answering questions. I mean there are about five difficult questions I’ve thrown at you, and I’m happy that you don’t give the answers to them… because you’re quite right.

DB: It’s the lack of time. It’s the lack of time.

RH: Right, you know since you were on this… on these shores before, your Mrs, your Angie has been a guest on my show and created a reasonable stir.

DB: She was lovely, I saw it. I had a copy sent over to me. Lovely, I thought she was very good.

RH: And she wore a big hat with a lot of things on it.

DB: Yeah.

RH: And I suspect… is she at this side of the Atlantic now? Is she here… is she in London?

DB: She’s in Switzerland and looking for a house.

RH: For the both of you?

DB: Yes, well we shall stay there for a little while whilst we’re touring Europe.

RH: If she’s going to see this program…

DB: For the three of us, the three of us.

RH: And for Zowie, Zowie. How do you say it?

DB: Yes.

RH: How old is he now?

DB: Zowie.

RH: How old is he now?

DB: Well, he’s four-and-a-half coming up for five in sort of May.

RH: And does he go to playschool or whatever it is?

DB: Yes, yes.

RH: Is he bright?

DB: Yes he’s…

RH: Does he know…

DB: He’s very bright…

RH: Does he know who you…

DB: He’s a child… he’s as bright as any child should be at four-and-a-half. He’s not a prodigy of any kind. Thank God.

RH: Yet.

DB: Yet.

RH: Give him time David, give him time. You know that since you’ve been away or quite recently, the newspapers have been having a bit of a bash at your mother… and saying that she’s a bit tearful from time to time and that she’s suffering a certain amount of anguish in that she doesn’t hear from you an awful lot. Is that eyewash, or is it real.

DB: That’s really my own business.

RH: And that’s how it’s going to stay, is it?

DB: Yes… I see you still have a keen sense of rumour, Russell.

RH: Highly developed sense of rumour. Well, David we’re coming towards the end of our all too brief conversation.

DB: Ooh… that’s a shame!

RH: I think what we might do is end with a bit of music. I gather that at your end in beautiful downtown Burbank, you have some music with you. I mean you’re not going to get up on you feet and do it, but…

DB: No… I wish I could actually, but time won’t permit it. But … I know what it is… I’m very drunk in this!

RH: In what?

DB: What you’ll see now. I was very nervous so I had a couple of drinks, which I never do… I really shouldn’t have. It’s lovely, it’s very funny.

RH: Does it show?

DB: Oh yes.

RH: Well let’s have a look at it. The song is called The Shape Of Things To Come

DB: No, it isn’t.

RH: … and David Bowie … No, of course it isn’t. We’re having a preview of The Shape Of Things To Come

DB: Ah…

RH: The song is called Golden Tears. Mr David Bowie, we’ll come back to you …

DB: Years. You did get it wrong, you said TearsYears

RH: YearsYears. Why don’t you introduce it from that end?

DB: This is David Bowie singing Golden Years from his forthcoming album Station to Station.

[clip of ‘Golden Years’ as performed on “Soul Train”]

RH: Very well done, you didn’t seem all that intoxicated to me. You seemed to be well in control of that situation.

DB: Well, that’s my judgement.

RH: Were you a stern critic… of yourself?

DB: Yes.

RH: But you’re happy that we should all have seen that, even though you think you weren’t in full control of that situation.

DB: Oh yes, of course.

RH: You were wearing a demob suit or something, what kind of suit was it?

DB: A suit.

RH: I know but do you know what a demob suit is?

DB: Yes, it was… yes. it was the kind of thing people wore when they came out of armies.

RH: That’s right, and with lots of bags around the knees and things.

DB: Yes, it was functional. It was a functional suit. That suit was very functional. It was a functional suit.

RH: Right, now I’ll tell you what David, we’ve had quite a functional conversation, I mean you have functioned at your end…

DB: It’s been very good, I liked it very much…

RH: Well you functioned at your end, and the satellites functioned in the middle of the sky, and I functioned at this end, and you wore a functional ear piece, and you’ve had a functional glass of whatnot at your side…

DB: And I hope the functional English functionally enjoyed this…

RH: I’m functionally sure they functioning well will have done. But I’m going to hold you to your promise, which is when you do come back, we’ll keep the airwaves open a bit longer.

DB: Most certainly, I’d love to do that. I’d appreciate that a lot.

RH: We won’t talk about Angie, we won’t talk about your mother, we won’t talk about Zowie, we’ll talk about extra-terrestrials…

DB: Well, let’s not plan it. The worst thing we can do is plan a conversation.

RH: Meanwhile, can I wish you a Happy Christmas…

DB: Let’s have a telephone on the show!

RH: A phone-in?

DB: Yes.

RH: Will you do that?

DB: I’d love to.

RH: Well if we can get satellites across half the world, I think we can get a telephone from Clapham.

DB: I’m sure we can. Yes, that would be wonderful… I’d like to do that a lot.

RH: Alright and you’ll be truthful and honourable, and answer every question that is put to you?

DB: I’ll be David Bowie.

RH: Which is a useful and functional end to this interview. God bless you, happy Christmas, and goodnight.

DB: Thank you. I love you very much, all of you.

RH: Ladies and gentlemen, David Bowie.