INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Melody Maker MAY 19, 1979 - by Michael Watts
"MY NATURAL RESPONSE TO DISCO"
Swahili. German pilots. Hawkwind's violinist and All The Young Dudes played backwards... Track by track through David Bowie's latest album, his thirteenth, Lodger.
In recent weeks, when he's not being slapped around by Lou Reed, David Bowie has returned to something he does rather well, if infrequently - i.e, giving interviews. They are all in a good cause, of course - i.e., himself.
Next week he releases the third album in the trilogy he has made with Brian Eno. Lodger is his jokey way of describing himself in one of his chief occupations of the last few years, travelling around the world, which has furnished him with so much song material.
As he told radio station WPLJ in New York, his biggest influence now was his environment rather than other artists (like Lou Reed): "I have to pick a city with friction in it," he explained. "It has to be a city that I don't know how it works. I've got to be at odds with it. As soon as I feel comfortable, I can't write any more. You can look back on my albums and tell which city I was in merely by just listening to them.
"Each album was fairly successful at illustrating the particular era, or sort of photographing the time I was in. It was a musical time photograph. I'd like to look back at my albums through the'70s and think that I had a little set of photographs of time capsules about what each year was like."
Bowie also had some comments on punk for interviewer Jimmy Fink. He compared it to '60s conceptual art: "One could theorise it, but it was very hard to experience it. And it seems to be a similar situation at the moment."
But movements worried him. It was the old elitism: "I don't like collections of people, whether it be politically, socially or artistically. I've always tried to ridicule those factors.
"I slammed out at rock'n'roll when it got very cliquey, and have been known to slam out at politics in a similar exaggerated, cartoonist fashion. Gangs of people frighten the hell out of me. I think it can crucify what's called a movement if it's made into a group of people. I much prefer to call them a group of individuals.
"I think the most defeating part of punk is that there are a lot of bands and artists who have very good individual ideas in musical expression that may be blinkering themselves by being too willing to be accepted as part of a punk-rock movement - they are grabbing for the security of an umbrella category before they've actually had time to evaluate their own writing."
Travel was the only movement that interested him - a statement that he reiterated in an interview with London's Capital Radio on Monday evening. Talking about Lodger, he told Nicky Horne that the album could have been aptly titled Travel Along With Bowie, although there had been other suggestions, such as Look Back In Anger, Planned Accidents and Despite Straight Lines; in fact, he and Eno might still work on a purely instrumental album called Planned Accidents.
He ran through each track as follows:
FANTASTIC VOYAGE: "Well, that is definitely pop. What's interesting about that is the logistics. We played the same chord sequence four different ways and the same thing exactly occurs elsewhere on the album. You've got to spot it. I wanted to put some sort of point of view forward that was in the narrative fashion right at the front of the album. It starts veering off to the obscure after this, but it's a pretty straightforward song about how I feel, in a very old-fashioned romantic fashion. One feels constantly that so many things are out of our own control and it's just this infuriating thing that you don't want to have their depression ruling your life or dictating how you will wake up each morning."
AFRICAN NIGHT FLIGHT: You will, of course, have noted the use of Swahili. Translated, that meant hello, goodbye. That came together because in Kenya, especially in Mombasa, in many of the bars, you will find these German ex-pilots who hang out wearing most of their pilot's gear. They are always saying they have been there for seventeen years and really must go back to Germany. You've got a good idea why they are there in the first place, but they live strange lives flying about in their little Cessnas over the bushland, doing all kinds of strange things.
"They're very mysterious characters, permanently plastered and always talking about when they are going to leave. The song came about because I was wondering exactly what they are and what they are doing and what their profession is and why they fly around. This track is very interesting. What we did was to take the basic idea of Suzie Q and play it backwards. Then Brian decided to put prepared piano on it. He put pairs of scissors and all kinds of metal things on the strings of the piano. Then we took out the main band so you just had the piano left. It was a case of starting out with one thing, putting another thing on top of it, and taking away the number you first thought of."
MOVE ON: "This, of course, is blatantly romantic. The interesting thing about this one is in the middle section: I was playing through some old tapes of mine on a Revox and I accidentally played one backwards and thought it was beautiful. Without listening to what it was originally, we recorded the whole thing note for note backwards, and then I added vocal harmonies with Tony Visconti. If you play it backwards you'll find that it's All The Young Dudes. I did this in New York, which is a very enjoyable city at the moment. It's very exciting there and is probably having its heyday as far as the arts are concerned. The whole arts thing in New York is extraordinary, much more exciting than London, which is a bit patchy.
"I'm so pleased that the conclusion of these three albums has been so up. You never know until you come out of the studio exactly what you've done, and I think it would have been terribly depressing if the third one had been down. At least this one has a kind of optimism."
YASSASSIN: "That's Simon House on violin. He was with Hawkwind. He understood the notation immediately, even though he had no experience with Turkish music before. This song is about the kind of character you find in coffee bars in Turkey. An interesting thing about this track was putting two ethnic sounds together. We used the Turkish things and put it against a Jamaican backbeat. They're both parallel."
RED SAILS: "Here we took a German new-music feel and put against it the idea of a contemporary English mercenary-cum-swashbuckling Errol Flynn, and put him in the China Sea. We have a lovely cross-reference of cultures. I honestly don't know what it's about."
D.J.: "This is somewhat cynical, but it's my natural response to disco. The DJ is the one who is having ulcers now, not the executives, because if you do the unthinkable thing of putting a record on in a disco not in time, that's it. If you have thirty seconds silence, your whole career is over. The most absurd thing about this is that I was with John Cale in New York and I played his viola on stage at Carnegie Hall. He called me and asked me to play at a benefit for a radio station in New York. I had never played viola in my life before, but I learned four notes on it and it sounded great. I may learn another four and play it on my next album."
LOOK BACK IN ANGER: "I had this thought about angels and Angels of Death, which is the character that is most revered. But this one is about a tatty Angel of Death. We did one thing on this track which was a lot of fun but terribly frustrating for the musicians. Brian and I came up with a series of cards with chords on. We stuck them on a blackboard and we had all the musicians sitting on chairs in front of the blackboard. Then Brian and I just pointed at the one to play next. It got very intense, and the more intense it got the better it got. We did that for thirty minutes and kept yelling out the style to play in. Fortunately, I'm with guys who are very receptive to what I want to do. They get angry, of course, but only if they're not fully aware of what is going on. Often I can't help them much because I'm not sure what's going to come out of it either."
BOYS KEEP SWINGING: "What we did on this one was to have everybody play the instruments they didn't usually play. Suddenly we had Carlos Alomar, who is the rhythm guitarist, on drums and Dennis Davis on bass. What was extraordinary was the enthusiasm that came from musicians who weren't playing their usual instrument. They became kids discovering rock'n'roll for the first time again. "Boys..." has exactly the same chord sequence as Fantastic Voyage.
REPETITION: This is about wife beating - something you are faced with in the American newspapers all the time. I think my voice sounds rather like it did five years ago. Fantastic Voyage could quite easily have turned up on Hunky Dory. This album seems to contain things from lots of different areas of my career."
RED MONEY: "This song, I think, is about responsibility. Red boxes keep cropping up in my paintings, and they represent responsibility there."