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David's present image is to come on like a swishy queen, a gorgeously effeminate boy. He's as camp as a row of tents, with his limp hand and trolling vocabulary. "I'm gay," he say's, "and always have been, even when I was David Jones." But there's a sly jollity about how he says it, a secret smile at the corners of his mouth. He knows that in these times it's permissible to act like a male tart, and that to shock and outrage, which pop has always striven to do throughout it's history, is a ballsbreaking process. And if he's not an outrage, he is, at the least, an amusement. The expression of his sexual ambivalence establishes a fascinating game: is he, or isn't he? In a period of conflicting sexual identity he shrewdly exploits the confusion surrounding the male and female roles. "Why aren't you wearing your girl's dress today?" I said to him ( he has no monopoly on t o u n g e-in-cheek humour). "Oh dear," he replied, "You must understand that it's not a woman's. It's a man's dress."
He began wearing dresses, of whatever gender, two years ago, but he says he had done outrageous things before that were just not accepted by society. It's just so happened, he remarks, that in the past two years people have loosened up to the fact that there are bisexuals in the world - "and - horrible fact - homosexuals." He smiles, enjoying his piece of addenda. "The important fact is that I don't have to drag up. I want to go on like this for long after the fashion has finished. I'm just a cosmic yob, I suppose. I've always worn my own style of clothes. I design them. I designed this." He broke off to indicate with his arm what he was wearing. "I just don't like the clothes that you buy in shops. I don't wear dresses all the time, either. I change every day. I'm not outrageous. I'm David Bowie
How does dear Alice go down with him, I asked, and he shook his head disdainfully: "Not at all. I bought his first album, but it didn't excite me or shock me. I think he's trying to be outrageous. You can see him, poor dear, with his red eyes sticking out and his temples straining. He tries so hard. That bit he does with the boa constrictor, a friend of mine, Rudy Valentino, was doing ages before. The next thing I see is Miss C. With her boa. I find him very demeaning. It's very premeditated, but quite fitting with our era. He's probably more successful then I am at present, but I've invented a new category of artist, with my chiffon and raff. They call it pantomime rock in the States."
Despite his flouncing, however, it would be sadly amiss to think of David merely as a kind of glorious drag act. An image, once strained and stretched unnaturally, will ultimately diminish an artist. And Bowie is just that. He foresees this potential dilemma, too, when he says he doesn't want to emphasise his external self much more. He has enough image. This year he is devoting most of his time to stage work and records. As he says, that's what counts at the death. He will stand or fall on his music. As a songwriter he doesn't strike me as an intellectual, as he does some. Rather, his ability to express a theme from all aspects seems intuitive. His songs are less carefully structured thoughts than the outpourings of the unconscious. He says he rarely tries to communicate to himself, to think an idea out.
"If I see a star and it's red I wouldn't try to say why it's red. I would think how shall I best describe to X that that star is such a colour. I don't question much; I just relate. I see my answers in other people's writings. My own work can be compared to talking to a psychoanalyst. My act is my couch." It's because his music is rooted in this lack of consciousness that he admires Syd Barrett so much. He believes that Syd's freewheeling approach to lyrics opened the gates for him; both of them, he thinks, are the creation of their own songs. And if Barrett made that initial breakthrough, it's Lou Reed and Iggy Pop who have since kept him going and helped him to expand his unconsciousness. He and Lou and Iggy, he says, are going to take over the whole world. They're the songwriters he admires.
His other great inspiration is mythology. He has a great need to believe in the legends of the past, particularly those of Atlantis; and for the same need he has crafted a myth of the future, a belief in an imminent race of supermen called homo superior. It's his only glimpse of hope, he says - "all the things that we can't do they will." It's belief created out of resignation with the way society in general has moved. He's not very hopeful about the future of the world. A year ago he was saying that he gave mankind another 40 years." A track on his next album, outlining his conviction, is called "Five Years." He's a fatalist, as you can see. "Pretty Things," that breezy Herman song, links this fatalistic attitude with the glimmer of hope that he sees in a birth of his son, a sort of poetic equation of homo superior. "I think," he says, "that we have created a child who will be so exposed to the media that he will be lost to his parents by the time he is 12." That's exactly the sort technological vision that Stanley Kubriks foresees for the near future in "A Clockwork Orange." Strong stuff. And a long, long way away from camp carry-ons.
Don't dismiss David Bowie as a serious musician just because he likes to put us all on a little.
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IN REPLY to Michael Watt's article about David Bowie I would like to say that if five copies of "The Man Who Sold The World" were bought by Bowie, then the total British sales must have been seven copies because I bought two. (One to freak by and one I'm saving for when I have children). I first saw Bowie in 1969 at Harrogate, as soon I'd seen heard the man, I knew then that this guy was the most exciting, alive and mind-screwing trip that had ever entered my brain. There is a juke-box in Halifax that is still suffering from a cosmic freak-out caused by a bunch of dirty, drunken, hairy gas-converters who played "Oddity" and "Freecloud" again and again until everyone's brain had reached warp-factor 10. So, if Bowie is really gay then a few guys will have to take a second look at the gay world. - BINKS, 1 Gerard Street, Derby.
Fan Letter (early 1972)
---This page last modified: 28 Jun 2002---