interview:David Bowie 80s

And it’s not satisfying because it’s not very useful, except – as Brian Eno would say – for setting up a new kind of vocabulary. Now I’ve got the vocabulary I’m supposed to do something with it! Ha ha.”

On the other hand the subliminal aspect of electronics allows one to speak more through the music than does rock’n’roll, where the vocabulary is so well known it has lost its effi cacy.

“That’s the promise, surely, yeah. It does speak in those terms,but I think also to reach a large audience they’re not willing to listen to music, or play the records, if they’re couched in terms
they’re not really familiar with.

“I mean, they’re not going to sit and listen to that kind of music and accept it. It’s like American television; the record buying public of America is still very much in the television format mentally and it is impossible for them to listen to something that doesn’t make its point in the fi rst 30 or 40 seconds. And I’m starting to subscribe to that at the moment.”

Previously you’ve said you’re not worried about your experiments losing your old audience, that you were content to pick up new audiences as you go along.
Are you effecting a reconciliation with your old audience?
“I don’t think so. The music I’m writing at the moment is probably going to reach a newer audience for me. But if I am going to reach a new audience, then I’m going to try and reach it with something to say, which is on a very obvious and simplistic level.I don’t want to be the grandfather of the new wave by any means.

“For me, I’m writing something that I’ve never really touched on before, which is a one-to-one situation. I mean an emotional situation between two people. Such a situation seems to take up
at least five of the tracks on the album. The love situation, the emotional situation between two people seems to have escaped me – or I’ve avoided it is probably nearer the truth – since
I started writing. Usually, it’s been the man in isolation and all that. Whether I’m becoming either one, comfortable or two, complacent with myself – I dunno which it is – but it is something I can feel I can now get involved with as a writer.”

I suppose the obvious question to that is: is it a response to your personal situation?
“Very much so. Are you married? So you don’t have children? I would never have thought it possible, but for me the one most enjoyable and hope-giving quality of my life over the past four of five years is my son.

“That’s had a very positive and strong bearing on whatever I intend to do in the future. I feel I have to make a commitment to something more altruistic to that which I’ve been concerned with before. If that sounds like a turnaround, then it’s a turnaround, and it has to be and I would have to face that charge. But I don’t think it will quell my natural inclination to want to experiment with music, though I think it will modify it greatly.”

You wouldn’t want anything you do to upset your son?

“It would make me refl ect on anything that would produce the kind of nihilistic quality which was part of my early music.

“Hopefully I was falling out of that anyway. That period had a lot to do with my problems as a human being. To produce that kind of music, though it’s interesting to look at someone really
fucked-up writing music, it’s not very helpful.

“The very simple problem is that we’re on a terrifying voyage and the effects that have been brought about by those causes are really quite transparent and obvious the need to belong to small tribal units when there seems to be too many other people about; the mistrust of somebody who is not from one’s own origins.
“Those kinds of things are so obvious that I guess maybe it’s quite a good idea to write
about them in a very obvious way. And I want to utilise videos to the same extent.

“It’s easy enough to glamorise a pop song. I’ve done that often enough in the past! You know, give it a surreal quality, kind of detached. That’s fi ne if you’ve got time to watch promos at that level, but these videos reach too many people and, anyway, there’s too many of those kinds of videos.

“So it occurs to me that it would be a very good idea to utilise those four minutes of space and try to make them say something simple and as hard-hitting and as hard-selling as a commercial,
but in terms of human quality and human life as opposed to, ‘This is the kind of outfi t, this the way you wear it and this is the kind of cool you have to have to be able to carry it off.’”

Is it easier to deal with complexities on film than it is in song?

“That is the problem I’m having, dealing with it in song format. Sometimes you can end up sounding neo-Dylan or something and that is already stylish and part of a particular cliquey kind of songwriting. I’m not very good at it yet. I’m still working on the one-to-one relationship, and from within that situation trying to create an overall humanist feeling.
“It is hard. I think Jim – Iggy Pop – is much better at it than me. If he could be manoeuvred into that kind of situation he could produce some stunning social observations.
“‘China Girl’ (by Pop and Bowie) is another track on the album. Now that’s a committed piece of writing, it’s a very strong piece. Where, for instance, the subject matter of ‘Let’s Dance’ is
nebulous. There is an undercurrent of commitment, but it’s not quite so straightforward…”

How do you feel about your legacy of songs in light of your present positive attitudes? Can you still sing them?

“Oh quite easily, yes. No problem at all. I’ve started listening to a lot of my old stuff, gone back to fi nd out what I was writing then and why. I guess they kind of stand up in their own place in time.

I don’t think of them, like, that’s a great old chestnut, sounding
good year after year, but they’re all interesting.

“With every song I’ve written I identify so much with the time and place that it was written in. It’s hard for me to shake off the particular year or particular trauma I was going through at the
time. It’s much easier for the audience to do that.”

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