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Cha...cha...cha...changes: A journey with Aladdin

by Roy Hollingworth - Melody Maker (12 May 1973)
Pictures by Barrie Wentzell

CHARING CROSS STATION, London, 9.10 p.m:

And when he arrived they screamed and they cried, and they rushed, and gushed forth and beat their feverish feminine fists into the backs of the indeed brave coppers who shielded HIM. For he is indeed HIM.

One girl, her face bloated, and most ugly with tears and ruddy emotion, fell half-way twixt train and rail. A young copper dragged her to safety. Ten yards down the platform HE was pretty close to injury to HIM. Bowie, despite all the fierce bodyguarding, was being kissed, and pinched, and touched, and ripped at. His hair now untidy; his eyes wild; his mouth open. A picture of terror. But his open mouth also bore the shadow of a crazed smile. They pushed him against a carriage door. It took spartan constabulary to lift this small squirrel-haired figure to safety; his face now very creased with every emotion a face could ever squeeze itself into. And they squeezed him into a car that was battered, and clawed at. And that car squeezed its way to safety. And Mr Bowie was back in England. And on Platform One, in a dirty wet huddle, lay two plumpish girlies, crying, and holding each other, and just crying. Everyone had gone, except they. Their tights all ripped, their knickers showing. And they just lay there crying.

THAT, my friends, is actually the end of the story. This arrival; this sweaty, shocking, swift and severe welcome home for Bowie, back from Japan, 7,000 miles by boat and train, because he won't fly. Via Trans-Siberian Express, he "Bowied" Moscow traveling "soft" in first class. Second class is called "hard." "And is indeed hard" said Bowie. Four and a half months away from England. He traveled the world, and, unlike the rest saw its people. No in and out of a hotel, and onto plane. He saw the people. And now Mr. Bowie is a very changed man. And PEOPLE are going to kill him with his concern for them. No amateur dramatics. Mr Bowie is concerned. So, where does this story begin? It begins in Terminal One lounge Heathrow Airport, waiting, seeing heavy rain spatter the runway / delay on flight / bad weather / We have to find Bowie in Paris / had to be found / BEA departure to Paris / "Will passengers avoid treading heavily on the gangplank as it is waterlogged" / Captain Black in charge / thunderstorm over Paris / Trident One hit by lightning three times / lands on a runway fit for a trawler. So where do we find him? We can find him at The George V Hotel - we don't see him, but we find him. A porter - out for a swift five francs - shows us to the Rouge Room where a Bowie reception was held. It was held. He lights match: "Monsieur Bowie ees not 'ere." Nobody was there. The room was as black as a Guinness. We phoned around. I find - on the phone - Leee Black Childers. Now Leee was the MM's photographer in New York, but when Bowie appeared in New York, he became Bowie's photographer. I was annoyed - but not deeply. "Yeah, David's here / Russia, wow / they loved him / gee they tried to take away my cameras / we've had such fun / why don't you see Cherry Vanilla?" Now the last time I saw Cherry Vanilla was in a hotel room in New York where she preyed over a table like a vulture preys over the bones of fat explorers. An ex-film starlet and groupie with much body and much voice. Now Bowie's "press aid." She ordered a table of things for me. Mostly wine. Which was never drunk. At 7 a bottle that might annoy people. "Bowie was arriving in New York, and I was a groupie. And I knew the press. Christ I was a groupie" (she split her nightdress to reveal nothing underneath). "And there I was, and Mr. Bowie gave me a job." What job did he give you dear? "His press lady." How is he? "Gee darling, I wish I knew." I now know that it is in fact true that one can live in splendor doing not the slightest damned thing. Cherry Vanilled on. And I left, and went to bed. 30 per night for a single room.

THE VERY NEXT morning Bowie was supposed to catch the 12.30 Paris-Victoria train. There's not even a twinkle from his room. Breakfast, 3, and then a cab to Paris Nord Station. We don't know whether the lad is on the train or not. He hadn't left the hotel. I run the length of the train - 22 coaches in search of the squirrel - haired kid. Twenty-two coaches, and he wasn't on it. Mission impossible. So Barrie Wentzell and I wait, somewhat dazed, awfully broke, and listening to the chatter on the intercom. It's no different from Charing Cross my dears except that they announce trains for Lyons instead of Tunbridge Wells. And the porters smoke Gitanes in presence to No.6.  And then, as the sunlight split the smoke of several hundred smoking porters, there appeared in all innocence, and in neat suit of silver and purples, David Bowie. Fresh from a limousine, and with that delightful wife of his, Angie. "The most remarkable woman on Earth," says David. She might well be. "So, we've missed the bleeding' train," says David looking at Platform 4, all empty, all empty like, and trainless. "Never mind dear," says Angie. "There's another soon," and she wiggles her American bottom, and vanishes to the inquiry desk. "Seven thousand miles," says David smiling and very, very fresh, and we miss the bleeding' train on the last leg. From Japan to Paris and we miss the train."
Well we couldn't catch the next one, for that involved a flight to Gatwick. And the next one involved taking a hovercraft from Boulogne to Dover. "Can't do it," says Bowie. "It flies, it's death." But David, it only flies a few inches above sea level. "Then, for the first time in two years I shall leave the land," says Bowie. Later, we board the train, and he's talking away. About music? No my people. About the fate of the world.

HE TALKED about the fate of the world for approximately two hours. Well, not just he, but we. "I have feelings that I know just what is going on. I have feelings." The train rattles through Monsieur, or somewhere like that. "I might put them into songs. You know, these feelings." Bowie still chain-smokes (almost everybody else's ciggies, not his own). Lee Childers lives behind his reflecting sun-shades. Cherry Vanilla vanillas on. Angie Bowie smiles, and is indeed very lovely. "You see Roy," said Bowie, softly, looking straight at me, dead-eyed, a can of beer acting as the microphone. "I've gone through a lot of changes.  A whole lot of changes. It's all happened on my way back from Japan. You see Roy. I've seen life, and I think I know who's controlling this damned world. "And after what I've seen of the state of this world, I've never been so damned scared in my life." Are you going to write about it? "If I did it would be my last album ever." You mean what? "It would have to be my last album ever." Why? "Because I don't think I'd be around after recording it." Are you ill? "I believe I am. I have a very strange pain in my right hand side. I've had it for a year. It's a pain that now has to be taken to a specialist." His eyes are full of menace now - mainly because his belly's full of beer, which we all constantly drink. We pass a field of French beef, and Bowie starts to cough, and cough, and he can't stop. "The cough darling?" inquires Angie. Bowie answered her with this deep, frightening cough which for God's sake, starts somewhere in his stomach! "The (cough) changes I've seen . . . they have to be written about." Then YOU write them David! (I say). "Yes (cough), I suppose somebody must (cough). I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders." Yes, he could actually carry the world on his shoulders. It's all down to the cut of the jacket. The shoulders are very big. My memory goes back to the platform on Paris Nord. They're piping out the music to "Last Tango In Paris." We were walking along, together, and talking about Lou Reed. "He's so damned fine," says Bowie. "And they throw up all this mystery around him, and all this bloody silliness. Can't they understand that he's just a New York cat, and that is JUST what he is. You know it would be so nice if people would be able to see that beneath it all - we're all very easy people." They'd never believe it David. They wouldn't want to. "Maybe you're right. But we are easy people. And maybe in a lot of ways . . . very simple. If only they could see. Oh God this intellectual confusion that surrounds us all. Why . . . why . . . why?" He carried his suitcase. "I know I'm sick of being Gulliver. You know, after America, Moscow, Siberia, Japan. I just want to bloody well go home to Beckenham, and watch the telly." But back to the train. The talk of the state of the world continued, and became intense, and deep. We pooled our experiences. Shared thoughts, ideas. "You know," said David. "The rock revolution did happen. It really did. Trouble was nobody realized when it happened. We have to realize now. Let me tell you, the ' underground ' is alive and well - more alive than it has ever been."

THE TRAIN rasped and clanked to a halt at Boulogne. Lee Childers and most of the party thought it was Calais - but it didn't really matter. "Oh, the seaside, how very lovely. How nice." said Bowie kicking his shoes into the sand that surrounds the Hover-Port. But then fear struck his face as he saw his next line of transport arrive. The Channel was clear, and like (as they say) a millpond. The sun was strong, and clean, and then this thing roared into sight. It was like a sperm whale with propellers. And was very noisy . . . And most monstrous. "Oh no," said David. "Oh yes," said Angie. "They don't hurt David."
"But they fly." Only inches above the sea David. He sat and hardly said a word during the "flight." He was worried. But it was safe. At the Hover-Port he'd met a couple of girlies. Sweet little things on a day trip to France. And they'd seen Bowie. And he talked to them, and signed their fag packets. They pinched themselves to see if it was real. Dover. The white-cliffs, now actually amber as the sun sets. His feet on English soil. A waiting room on Dover Station. He had a cup of tea, and a B.R. sausage roll. And then he talked so nicely to girls on the platform. "Roy, they're the salt of the earth. Those girls. They don't sit each night and compare notes of groups, criticizing lyrics, asking if it's valid. They just play the record . . . yeah, and maybe they dance. I love them. I love them dearly." More beer cans emerge as the train (a slow one) leaves Dover. Miss Vanilla is asleep. So is Mrs. Bowie. David reads a London evening Standard - and get back into Brit-things, (British Things). He laughs, and laughs. What a funny little country we are. "I've got to work harder this year than I've ever worked in my life. You know that?" he'd said earlier twixt train and hovercraft. "We're going to do a 79 date tour of America this year in about as many days. I might die. But I have to do it." "I mean, you know the Spiders have only played about 50 dates altogether. About time we started working I feel."  Through lavish English countryside the train trundled on. David and myself retire to a less crowded compartment. In fact - - - we're on our own. Alone together!Are you aware of what you're going back on to on this train David? "Er, not really. No. Four and a half months away has put me out of touch with what you might call the English rock scene. "I know that every little bag that we've been in up to now has been incredibly exciting. But now . . . well, we've reached this position, and it doesn't leave one with a clear mind as to what to do next." "But now I'm home, and after ten minutes I'm starting to feel British again. When I'm away, I try to divorce myself from that. Don't ask me why. I just want to be Ziggy."

DAVID, since you've been away, a world called "decadence" has crept into rock, and is now used by every rock writer. And David you have been held to blame for this "decadence." He smiles. "Yes . . . er, I can imagine that." He smiles. "What do you have to say about it Roy?? Am I responsible for it? he inquires. Well, I was in the States when YOU happened. I just read in MM that you had arrived, and it was decadent rock. I saw a picture of you, and I thought 'what the . . .'.  Bowie laughs. "Yeah, it was Melody Maker that made me. It was that piece by Mick Watts. I became a performer after that. That's true. It was the first time I had talked to the press about wanting to come back on stage and be a performer, rather than a writer. During the interview I really saw that I wanted to perform again." And did you expect it to come this far? "No. Never. I was a non-performing artist, excited about working on stage again, and well . . . It all exploded." "We moved at such intensity, such speed. I wrote so quickly. It wasn't until months after that I realized what I'd been writing. When the last period finished I sat back, and went 'wow'. It took the wind totally out of my sails." But you seem okay. I mean, I think you're very normal. "Oh, of course I am. I mean this decadence thing is just a bloody joke. I'm very normal. (Conversation is lost in a tunnel.) "I mean this so called decadent thing happening in English rock is it really decadence? Is it what I would call decadence?" How would you define decadence David? "Not putting a white rose on a white table for fear of the thorn scratching the table." I see, I did. "I don't really feel that decadent rock has arrived . . . yet. It will do." How do you feel about Roxy Music? "Well, maybe they are the nearest thing to being decadent at the moment. And I love them." "I really love them." "I'm going to buy their new album tomorrow. That's the first thing I'm going to do." What sort of a person do you find yourself now. You talk about illness, and you want to work harder. (At the Parisian cafe, he told me he had NO death wish). But what are you now? "I am me, and I have to carry on with what I've started. There is nothing else for me to do. I have been under a great strain though. For me, performing is indeed a great strain. I have also become disillusioned with certain things." Like what? "Well, it's very hard to say, but I never believed a hype could be made of an artist before the artist had got anywhere. That's what happened you see. I didn't like it. But when I saw that our albums were really selling, I knew that one period was over. The hype was over. Well, it wasn't but at least we'd done something to be hyped about. Dig?" Yes.

BUT that whole hype thing at the start was a monster to endure. It hurt me quite a lot. I had to go through a lot of crap. I mean I never thought Ziggy would become the most talked about man in the world. I never thought it would become that unreal. "I don't want to be studied as a boy next door type character - neither do weird. I want to maintain a balance between both. "The characters I have written about have indeed been the roles I have wished to portray. Ziggy - that dear creature. I loved him." "I feel somewhat like in Dr. Frankenstein. Although Ziggy follows David Bowie very closely - they are indeed two different people. What have I created?" "Ziggy hit the nail on the head. He just came at the rightest, ripest time." he added. He smiled at me. I like him. "Dylan once said of writers that they just pluck things from the air, and put them down. Later you can look back on them, and read things into them. I pluck from the air . . . It's only later that I see what I've plucked." "I know that I appear to write ahead of myself. I mean, let's take "Aladdin Sane." What was written then was written quickly, and really, without much thought as to what it was about." "But now, I sit back and look at those lyrics, and look at that album, and it's very valid y'know. Sure I have concepts. I have story-lines for the albums, but the actual thought, the actual inspiration comes suddenly, and is written as it comes." "What keeps me together, what shoulders these 'escapades' of mine is this dear woman Angie, who knows David Bowie . . . eh, she knows me better than I do." Wherever we traveled, each station, each town, there were few spare minutes when he didn't hug, kiss, and point at this lady, and say loudly "She's the greatest." "He gets very evil after a few beers, I mean Roy, look at this face now - he's Jean Genie, he's a little villain, but he's lovely." Said Angie, looking after us all. One remarkable woman to be sure. "It's not a death wish that I have Roy, although the very fact that I say that means that the thought enters my mind. But, y'know we're all very normal . . . And it's about time we told people so." "Otherwise what those kids are aiming for - I mean the revolution - is going to melt away. It's now we have to revolt. But, Roy, sensibly . . . and with thought."

DO YOU FEEL you are a statesman - or a performer? "I don't ever want to be a statesman Roy. I am a performer, and I leave space on that stage for theater too. But a statesman. NO. I know only a thin line separates a songwriter from being a entertainer, or making statements. I realize my responsibilities. "With Ziggy, I became Ziggy on stage. I really was. That was my ego." (This statement followed the entrance and emergence from another tunnel.) And what is your ego now? "Strong, and getting fiercer, but I don't think it's Ziggy anymore. It's a more mature David Bowie." You mean mature as being calmer? "Yes, more aware, more in control of myself. I think that's good. That will keep me alive." You see I have no idea what I look like on stage. I have never seen a film. I just don't know what I look like when I become 'that thing'. I must see a film of myself. It is essential. "I can't wait to see what we actually are." "I know that visually the band is going to be reducing. I mean everyone's wearing make-up ain't they. Eh? We are going to reduce on that level. It will still be David Bowie and The Spiders though." "I know I have created a somewhat strange audience - but that audience is also full of little Noddy Holders, and little Iggy Pops. I know we used to attract a load of 'queens' at one stage, but then other factions of people crept in. Now you can't tell anymore. They're all there for some reason."And we get young people. Those lovely young people. And they have to be considered very seriously. They cannot be forgotten - as they might be. We can not afford to loose them by continuing to make rock a cultural force. "We must not leave the young behind. I repeat that." "You see I don't want to aim statements at them. Again, the whole idea of being a statesman is abhorrent to me." And then the train stopped. We looked at each other. And it was Charing Cross. He smiled.

---This page last modified: 13 Dec 2018---

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