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Record Collector JANUARY 2016 - by Kris Needs
SANE HELLO WAVE GOODBYE
In 1973 David Bowie morphed Ziggy Stardust into Aladdin Sane before killing him off for good within months. Kris Needs presents the second part of his memories of this pivotal period.
On June 26, 1973, it was another quiet afternoon in the offices of the Thame Gazette, the quintessential rural local paper where I'd become a trainee reporter the previous month at the age of eighteen. My job mainly consisted of typing up obituaries and WI reports, but also gig and record reviews. There was only one thought coursing around my brain today though. Last night, David Bowie's Aladdin Sane tour had struck a few miles away in Oxford; just over a year since I'd caught the early Ziggy Stardust show at the city's town hall where he'd first gone down on Mick Ronson's guitar. Now he was returning to the more opulent New Theatre as the UK's prettiest new star.
A lot had happened to Bowie in the past twelve months. Ziggy had taken off beyond the wildest dreams of anybody, apart from maybe Bowie and manager Tony DeFries. In I972, I'd been helping with his fan club, but was now running an appreciation society for Mott The Hoople, who'd become pop stars thanks to David's unbelievable rescue gift of All The Young Dudes. Though I was still smarting from the shitty treatment I'd received from BoWie's new bodyguard at his show at our Friars Aylesbury club the previous July (part of DeFries' "Colonel Parker" tactics, placing David as an untouchable star), I reasoned that, as a bona fide journalist with links to his MainMan management firm, it was worth a shot. After finding out Bowie was staying at Oxford's plush Randolph Hotel, I phoned and left a message with his assistant, not holding out much hope.
About an hour later, the genteel voice receptionist called out: "Kris, there's someone on the phone for you." Probably the vicar with his church bazaar report, I thought as I picked up the receiver. "Hello, Kris?" said a voice so familiar it sent an instant tingle up my spine. "This is David Bowie".
Possibly sensing that I'd just fallen off my chair, he glided into animated conversation, asking "How are the boys and girls in Aylesbury?" with genuine affection in his voice for his earliest pocket of space cadets. He talked about his new album, Aladdin Sane, the insane success of his current tour and fondly recalled his three landmark appearances at Friars like they were decades ago, though barely two years had elapsed since his first show at the venue in September 1971, when he seemed to mentally morph into the Ziggy Stardust persona he unveiled there the next January. David signed of? by inviting me to that night's gig and to visit him afterwards, ostensibly to talk for the Thame Gazette and the next Mott newsletter. After I hung up, I sat staring at the wall for at least ten minutes while what had just transpired - and what was about to happen - sank in. Now it seems totally surreal but, at that time, it was another seismic event during a succession of particularly seismic events.
Some recapping is necessary before I recount what happened later that day. Last month we left Bowie setting off to invade the US; a key move in his immediate and long-term future. He'd been bitten by New York's intangible buzz and would end up relocating to the city he still lives in today, but first he soaked up the rest of America on buses and trains as Ziggy Stardust opened his September 1972 offensive. The experience fuelled the self-described "Ziggy goes to America" soundscapes of Aladdin Sane, despite the tour also sending him to sparsely-attended venues in the Midwest after it opened in Cleveland on September 22.
New York featured heavily in DeFries' grand plans. In May 1972 he'd acquired an Upper East Side apartment for MainMan's US HQ and started building a team around former Andy Warhol associates Leee Black Childers, an advance guard when Bowie and Mott were on the road, soon-to-be company president Tony Zanetta and Cherry Vanilla, who ran the office and carried out promotion or, as she put it when I met her in 1977: "Screwed disc jockeys across America to get David's records played on the radio."
DeFries wanted to push MainMan as a star stable with an image of success it had yet to attain. Drawing such loud, colourful staff from New York's most exotic subterranean strata helped stoke the illusion. "David had all of us there to direct where he performed and look after his publicity because we were fans," added Cherry. "We weren't establishment. He had us there rather than some professional PR man who lives in the suburbs and doesn't go to concerts. That was great of him; what other rock star would have done that?"
When Bowie disembarked from the QE2 on September 17, the squad flew into action, but the first thing he needed was a keyboard player for the tour. He knew who he wanted once he heard the startling synth-voice explorations, strangely seductive mix of avant-jazz experiments and bared-soul outpourings of Annette Peacock's recent I'm The One album. Now seen as one of the most fearless but overlooked pioneers of boundary-pushing music, by 1972 Annette had already married Albert Ayler bassist Gary Peacock (at the age of nineteen), collaborated with Paul Bley on the prototype Moog, hung with LSD guru Timothy Leary and been turned into a hologram by Salvador Dali. She became one of Bowie's obsessions and a target of his affections after being enticed into the MainMan fold.
"After I'm The One was released, Al Kooper wanted to produce my next album and had arranged a meeting with Clive Davis at CBS, which I didn't show for, because I wasn't able to cancel my appearance at a European festival," recalls Annette. "So Al went on my behalf. After the Festival, I called Al to find out how the meeting went. He told me Clive was in the UK at the CBS Music Convention, and wished to meet me there. So I went, and it was there that Tony DeFries presented himself to me, and said, 'David has many ideas, so I respond only to those he repeatedly mentions. David has repeatedly mentioned you.' He handed me his card and said, 'Call if you need anything!' The card said 'MainMan'. It was too cold in New York that year to not have sufficient heat for my daughter and me in our Soho loft, so I called and said, 'I don't know about you, but it's cold where I am.' 'How much do you need?' was his response. The rent was paid, a charge account at Manny's Music Store and the Record Plant studio set up, and a stipend of $300 a week. I installed astroturf and a sauna and made a sanctuary, while Tony said no to what would have been signficant opportunities and told me he wished to erase my jazz image and promote me as a torch singer."
After Bowie and entourage had settled at New York's Plaza Hotel, he phoned Annette and said he needed a favour. "When my daughter and I arrived, we found Ziggy holding court with a coterie of journalists," she recalls. "The dialogue went 'I love The Plaza, but why am I here?' 'I like your keyboard player, and he hasn't responded to my messages, would you speak to him?' I called Mike, and conveyed David's interest. 'Who is he, what's the music like?' I assured Mike about the musical content. 'What's the pay?' 'David, what will you pay?' 'What does he want?' 'How much do you Want, Mike?' There was silence on the line and in the room as we waited for Mike to respond with '$800 a week', a great deal of money then. 'He wants $800 a week.' 'Tell him he's got it.' David didn't steal Mike from me. I wasn't touring my album and didn't record another for six years. I procured Garson for Bowie."
Garson was a New Yorker who had recently graduated in music from Brooklyn College and recorded two albums with country-jazz-rock outfit Brethren, but his unique style was born from studying with piano iconoclasts such as Miles Davis' collaborator Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk's arranger Hall Overton and blind bebop legend Lennie Tristano. The latter had taught names such as Lee Konitz, Wayne Marsh, Dave Liebman, Philip Glass and Suicide dynamo Martin Rev at his house in Jamaica, Queens. Born in Chicago and moving to New York in 1946, where he played with Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach and major fan Charlie Parker, when Tristano died in 1978, the music had long celebrated the innovations he had made as the link between bebop and modern jazz, from free improvisation to studio overdubbing. Lennie was something of an outsider in jazz and probably his own worst enemy, refusing to milk commercial trends and instead opening his piano school, where pupils could learn about left-handed bass patterns, chords and improvisation.
"Lennie was quite the taskmaster," recalls Garson now. "I had to memorise three thousand left hand chord voicings the first year, then play all kinds of scales with bizarre fingering to strengthen weaker digits. The lesson was ten minutes and I travelled four hours every Sunday for this discipline, which went on for three years. Lennie never played for me once. I later saw Lennie live many times at the Half Note with Lee Konitz and Wayne Marsh. He was phenomenal; with a whole other approach to jazz and improvisation. He still hasn't received proper recognition, like Monk, Ellington or Bill Evans have, when he might have been the most creative of all of them. To top it off, he was blind!"
A few bars of Changes were all it took when Garson turned up for his Spiders audition. Now his quicksilver avant-garde flurries, Weimar swagger and glacial cluster bombs would sit perfectly in the live shows and, especially when it came time to record the next album. Garson quickly became the mercurial bridge between Bowie's current and next phases, ending up the musician who has played on the most of his albums, including Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Young Americans then returning for later works such as Outside. When Bowie corralled New York jazz musicians for the sheets of sound on Sue (A Season In Crime) and now Blackstar, it was history repeating itself as he tapped into the infinite possibilities of jazz, which has always pointed most directly at the future, rather than recycling the past by the very nature of it being a vehicle for personal expression.
While in New York, Bowie checked out the hothouse action at the Mercer Arts Center, a multi-roomed arts "supermarket" opened by air conditioning magnate Sy Kaback in a section of the decrying old University Hotel between Broadway and Mercer Street. Here, New York Dolls reigned over a bright new scene which embraced outsider acts such as transexual tornado Wayne County, whom Bowie signed to MainMan, and electronic proto-punk duo Suicide. It was called the city's most happening new scene since Warhol's Plastic Exploding Inevitable, and Bowie took many notes.
The US tour was a joy to Bowie, who loved the long drives by bus, taking in panoramic scenery and place names immortalised in song. On the drive between Cleveland and Memphis, he started jamming on I'm A Man, heisted from Bo Diddley by Muddy Waters and covered by The Yardbirds. Bowie riffed lyrics inspired by Iggy Pop, and a chorus acquired from mating Jean Genet with Eddie Cochran's Jeanie Jeanie Jeanie. Bowie later said he wrote The Jean Genie while chilling out with Warhol associate Cyrinda Foxe, who worked briefly for MainMian.
When the band entered RCA studios on October 6, the track emerged after two takes and provided Bowie's follow-up to John, I'm Only Dancing the following month, reaching Number 2 in the charts. On September 28, Ziggy took New York when he played Carnegie Hall. MainMan's UK staff gathered at DeFries' Chelsea HQ to hear the reviews at a shindig which doubled as Ian Hunter's wedding reception. In my mind the excitement greeting every report was comparable to the NASA control crew receiving news of the Moon landing three years earlier.
DeFries used the buzz from the New York show to add further bookings, sending the Bowie bus to Boston, Chicago, Detroit, St Louis and Kansas City, the latter two notable for empty seats and stunned crowds. These dates were in the space of a month, which meant long drives, many inactive days and further outlays of cash from RCA. Though a new star to many he touched, Bowie was unknown to masses in the Midwest. He was on safer ground in LA, where scenester DJ Rodney Bingenheimer stoked a buzz through radio and his English Disco, ensuring the glittering under-age hordes which descended on Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on October 21 and 22.
Holed up in the Beverly Hills Hotel, the MainMan entourage enjoyed a week of sleaze and excess, which prompted Bowie to write Cracked Actor. He also spent three days at Western Studios, mixing Raw Power, the first fruits of the Columbia deal DeFries had sealed for The Stooges. Iggy had been a prime but ultimately untameable catch for Bowie when he brought him on to the MainMan roster. After turning down Bowie's offer to produce Raw Power, Iggy had deftly twisted his solo deal into a Stooges reactivation, getting his new writing partner James Williamson flown in, followed by Asheton brothers Ron and Scott, who became the rhythm section. Maybe this avoided the rather dry, compacted sound of the Bowie, Lou Reed and Mott albums, but it also hampered The Stooges' career, as they seemed to tread a downward path, while Ziggy took an upward trajectory. Their fortunes had not set off on the best foot after Bowie played his high-profile US press showcase at Aylesbury on the same night The Stooges made their long-awaited UK debut at London's Scala cinema. They hadn't started recording yet, but Mick Rock had already taken the cover photo of Iggy in his silver jeans and slap.
In my September MainMan itinerary, which listed day-to-day activities of Bowie, Mott and The Stooges, the entry for September 10 shows Mott touring the UK, Bowie setting sail for the US and The Stooges entering CBS Studios on Whitfield Street to record their album, booked in until October 6. Iggy mixed it, though DeFries informed The Stooges his boy would have to do a remix. There has been controversy over the sound quality but ultimately, Raw Power's charged-up roller coaster, led by its street-walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm, outweighed any technical flaws as a cohesive collision of pure energy, lyrical bite and sheer sonic attack - providing one of the definitive blueprints for punk after it appeared the following May. When I visited The Clash recording their debut album in the same studio in 1977, the first thing Mick ]ones said to me was: "The Stooges recorded Raw Power here!" Back in LA, The Stooges were getting into drugs and trouble holed up in the MainMan mansion in the Hollywood Hills, which would see them evicted from both the premises and DeFries' patience.
Still on the roster, Annette Peacock visited Bowie in LA, recalling "hanging out with Mick, David and Iggy, who all were lovely". "David was calling at 3am from LA to say he wanted to work with me, and that he'd shaved off his eyebrows. Mick advised me not to work with David, saying 'He'll steal all your shit!' It was against my free-spirited nature to tolerate other people making my decisions, but circumstance had offered this unexpected, odd situation, which I thought that I could manage at least a year, and did."
Bowie was optimistically booked into San Francisco's large Winterland the following week, then Seattle. Both cities had yet to cotton on beyond the initial cult which first sprang up around Bowie. There were four days to kill before the next show in Phoenix, Arizona, but the alien desert landscapes and strange lights Bowie saw on the journey inspired him to write Drive-In Saturday, an evocative doo-wop ballad set in a post-apocalyptic future when couples had to relearn about sex from old porn movies having forgotten how to reproduce. Name-checking Mick jagger, Twiggy and Carl Jung, Bowie places himself as a reminiscing character.
Bowie tried the new song out live before offering it as a follow-up to All The Young Dudes, but Mott The Hoople turned it down. As Hunter says in his Diary Of A Rock And Roll Star, Mott felt the song was "too complicated" but the main reason was that, had Mott accepted it, they'd have been eternally in Bowie's shadow. His production of the All The Young Dudes LP had sanded down the band's rough edges and rampant energy.
"The fans didn't like it because we weren't theirs anymore," says Hunter, who luckily never signed the MainMan contract he'd been given. "We couldn't live off David our whole lives. We've got to have our own song." Bowie later blamed Mott's rejection of Drive-In Saturday for his next major action in building his increasingly alien image, the eyebrow removal. But Hunter still took advice from Bowie, who foretold Mott splitting up. "Mott was a democracy," said Hunter. "That was the problem. I remember Bowie taking me to the Stage Deli in New York and telling me 'You've got to take this (the group) over.' But with Mott it had to be five nil; couldn't be three-two. So I went back and got them all in a room and said, 'David reckons I should take over the band,' and (guitarist Mick) Ralphs said 'Like fuck you are,' and that was the end of that. But I think democracy had a lot to do with (Mott's) demise."
Mott were crisscrossing the US the same time as Bowie, with Leee Black Childers as tour manager. But "DeFries got fed up with it," says Hunter. "He really did. Not that we were enamoured of Tony. We weren't. We knew we were only there because of David. The idea had been that one crew were going to do David and we would tour, David would do a record then he would tour. It worked for about a year then it stopped working. That's not the way music is. So Stan (Tippins, Mott's personal manager) rang Tony and said he'd had enough. Tony only had management of the Dudes album. We had contracts with DeFries but I kept 'em at home. We never signed them. Too sticky."
Recorded in New York on December 9 (at the sessions where he recorded his own version of All The Young Dudes), Drive-In Saturday would now become the first single released when Aladdin Sane was ready (the following April), flipped with Ziggy outtake Round And Round. While it reached Number 3, Mott also went from strength to strength, commencing their golden run with the Mott album and hits such as Honaloochie Boogie and All The Way From Memphis. When Mott played Hammersmith Odeon as a major band in December 1973, Bowie danced in the wings with new chum Mick Jagger.
After the Phoenix show, Bowie's tour wove a slow path through Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Nashville (where he nipped into RCA's studio to mix The Jean Genie) and Miami, before returning to Cleveland, playing two nights at the much larger Public Auditorium. After Pittsburgh, the tour finished on a high with three nights at Bowie stronghold, Philadelphia's Tower Theatre.
Bowie wrote the title track of his next album on the voyage back to England aboard the RHMS Ellinis, a luxury liner built in the 1930s. He was inspired by reading Vile Bodies, Evelyn Waugh's satire of the pre-war "bright young things" (a term which earned a reference in the song, and also the title of a 2003 screen adaptation). The book focused on frivolous, decadent behaviour on the eve of "imminent catastrophe", dovetailing with Bowie's view of modern society, enhanced by what he'd seen in the US, particularly NYC and LA. Playing the song at Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit in 1996, Bowie announced the song was about "young people, just before the two world wars, wanting to go out and screw girls and kill foreigners".
On his return to the UK, Bowie played two Christmas shows at the Rainbow Theatre among a clutch ofUK city hall dates slotted in during December and January before he returned to the US in February. Between these gigs, Bowie had to record and mix his new album at Trident with co-producer Ken Scott. The Jean Genie reaching Number 2 had further stoked Bowie-mania in the UK, boosted by his supremely wired and swaggering live appearance on Top Of The Pops on January 4.
Bowie and the Spiders got down to recording the songs which made up Aladdin Sane, the grandiose, frazzled echo from Ziggy's landing in America. It saw Bowie expand his studio palette by using backing singers, school friend Geoff McCormack, who also played percussion, and sax-parping sessioners Ken Fordham and Brian Wishaw.
The evocative title track - fully titled Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?) - was Mike Garson's rite of passage as he whipped up a piano solo which seemed to embody New York's eternal avant-jazz spirit, with Cecil Taylor attack, together with clanging, skyscraper resonance, perfectly complementing enough of Bowie's heist of On Broadway in the final coda to require a co-composing credit to the Mann-Weill songwriting duo. In 2009, when I was helping Paul Trynka bring home his epic Starman book, Garson recalled how Bowie coaxed this epoch-making solo by deft stealth "I played a blues solo and David said, 'No, that's not what I'm looking for.' Then I played a little Latin solo. 'No, that's not what I'm looking for'. Then he said to me, 'Well, you told me about playing on the avant-garde scene in New York. Why don't you try something like that?' I said, 'Are you serious?', he said, 'Absolutely'. That whole solo was one shot, one take. Boom, that was it. But it came about because he got it out of me... I tell people Bowie is the best producer I ever worked with, because he let me do my thing."
The song gave the album its title, the allusions to mental illness inspired by his half-brother Terry, diagnosed with schizophrenia. The title was announced as Love Aladdin Vein then amended, partly because of drug connotations. The dates in the song title refer to the years preceding the two world wars and the third Bowie thought was imminent. The first time the world heard what the title of the album would be was on TV chat host Russell Harty's show on January 17, where Bowie also performed Drive-In Saturday.
The grinding boogie of Watch That Man can be seen as Bowie's homage to The Stones as seen through the glammed-up, downtown perspective of The New York Dolls, complete with backing chorale and his vocals buried deep in the mix (according to Ken Scott "using the vocals like an instrument rather than a lead"). Bowie mentioned Billy Murcia, The Dolls' tragic drummer who died at a party during the band's UK tour the previous year, in the album's most evocative creation Time, and its haunting evocation of Brecht-Weill cabaret with episodic changes and "burlesque vamp". Garson excels himself by ejaculating a glistening roll of 1920s stride piano, avant-jazz angularity and show-tune flourish as Bowie croons and yelps about time, complete with memorable couplet "he flexes like a whore / falls wanking to the floor".
Garson also shines on Lady Grinning Soul's James Bond-style ballad, apparently inspired by formidable soul singer Claudia Lennear (also said to have inspired The Stones' Brown Sugar).
Urban paranoia never sounded so groovy as Panic In Detroit - inspired by Iggy's account of revolutionary insurrection in his Michigan youth, and the drastic riots which gripped Motor City in 1967 - which sprinkles salsa elements over a trusty Bo Diddley beat (which prompted bitter complaints from drummer Woody Woodmansey, further marking his card with The Spiders). Like the jaded romp of Cracked Actor, Bowie's ode to LA sleaze via a faded actress, Panic In Detroit boasted one of several killer Mick Ronson riffs.
Still needing songs, Bowie resurrected The Prettiest Star, a flop as the follow-up to Space Oddity in March 1970, and recorded a lasciviously wired cover of the Stones' Let's Spend The Night Together; all frantic, coked up, legover frenzy with a car-crash of a drop to further stoke its lubed-up frizzle.
Barely were the stains dry on the sheets when Bowie had to return to the US for his next tour, pausing to supply photographer Brian Duffy with another striking cover image dominated by the lightning bolt splitting his face (representing the "split personality" subtext which was at that time associated with the idea of schizophrenia). When Bowie disembarked from the SS Canberra, he checked in at the funky Gramercy Hotel and made for Max's Kansas City, then the main artists' watering hole in Manhattan, with its infamous red-lit back salon ruled by Warhol's circus and upstairs room where he caught Biff Rose (whom he'd covered in '71), supported by a kid from New Jersey called Springsteen.
This time Bowie was selective about the dates he played, opening for two nights at Radio City Music Hall, playing four at Philly's Tower, also visiting Nashville, Memphis, Detroit and LA. He hooked up with exotic peroxide-cropped singer Ava Cherry, who fell into Bowie's bed and the MainMan court, singing backup and as part of the Labelle-predating Astronettes. Bowie would produce a whole album of his bespoke compositions and covers at Olympic that November, eventually released in 2009 under Ava's name.
By now there were ructions in The Spiders, with Woodmansey and Bolder incensed after they found out Garson was getting eight hundred bucks a week compared to their fifty quid. Clandestine manoeuvres by the band to get a deal with CBS resulted in DeFries stepping in and landing Ronson a solo contract with RCA, which he'd pursue the following year. This understandable mutiny sealed The Spiders' humiliating fate with Bowie.
Bowie's whirlwind itinerary leapt over to Japan for twelve days. He wanted Annette Peacock to accompany him. As she recalls: "On his way to the airport for Bowie's tour in Japan, Tony stopped by to invite me. I was quite aware that I would lose everything when I told him 'no thank you', and that it was over. I'd regained my freedom and thought it was a fair trade-off. I'd found out what it was like to live lavishly. I'd seen the price of fame up-close. I'd tried on the lifestyle and decided that neither felt nor looked better on me than freedom. I considered that a good thing to know. Bowie ultimately plagiarised my music, as Mick had warned me he would. Still, it was quite an affirmation from an icon whose judgment had been proven, for me to know that thirty years before, when I'd made I'm The One, I had gotten it right." Annette is still forging forward, remaining true to herself.
Returning to the UK, Bowie undertook his famous epic train trip through Siberia and Russia, and from there passing through the haunted ruins of East Berlin (en route to Paris) which made an impression that stayed with him, blossoming later in the decade. Plagued with woefully-inadequate sound and vision, May 12 at Earls Court was a disastrous start to the UK tour, but the ensuing two-month trek around the country's city halls and cinemas marked a peak of Bowie-mania. This was the time when. the whole country, from teenybopper to tabloid, acknowledged that it had a new star, a product of the present and future who liked to acknowledge his past. It seemed like Bowie had the genre-straddling future of music throbbing impatiently in his new Japanese jockstrap, demon seeds ready to mate with any exotic passing spores which glowed enough to tickle his wired-up fancy.
The tour wound its way south through Scotland, then pinballed around the country, sometimes playing two shows a night. By the time it reached Oxford on June 25, Bowie must have been frazzled, stoked on artificial energy and reserves he never knew he had, a total opposite to the leisurely US jaunt.
This is where we came in. My college friends Rick and Judy Pierce, who still help at Aylesbury's Friars club today, were already going to the show (having splashed out £1.30 apiece on tickets) so kindly gave me a lift. We witnessed a different production altogether from those primitive early Ziggy onslaughts. Just like the Rainbow the previous August, there were seats from which to appreciate the theatrical production this tour had become.
Now sporting a gold circle on his forehead and an array of Japanese costumes, Bowie had taken Ziggy as far as he could, even splitting the character to unleash the oriental space peacock of Aladdin Sane as a new exotic dimension. The set started with the traditional double-header of Hang On To Yourself and Ziggy Stardust, before Watch That Man heralded new album tracks, joined by All The Young Dudes, Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud, Space Oddity, Changes, Moonage Daydream, The Beatles' Love Me Do, Round And Round and Jacques Brel's My Death. Ronno's guitar showcase was now on The Width Of A Circle from The Man Who Sold The World, while the home stretch saw him career through Let's Spend The Night Together, Suffragette City, White Light/White Heat and, finally (and presciently) Rock'N'Roll Suicide.
It was time for my audience with Bowie. The last time I'd spoken to him was in a deserted dressing room at Dunstable over a year earlier, when he had predicted nothing was going to be the same again after the new mania which had greeted his performance. How right he was, I thought, as I walked the short distance to the gothic grandeur of the Randolph Hotel. Walking into the foyer, the first person I encountered was Stuey George, the same grim-faced bodyguard who had menacingly blocked me from visiting Bowie in the Friars dressing room the previous July (though he'd not recognised me and been perfectly friendly when I'd seen him at the MainMan office). I burbled that I was here by the invitation of Mr Bowie. A phone call upstairs and I was ushered into a roped-off area of the hotel lounge to wait for the man.
Ten minutes later, Bowie materialised. Sporting tailored black denim dungarees and open-top platform mules, he was skinnier than ever, deathly snow-white pallor accentuated by the fire-red of his hair. Grinning widely, he loped over to where I was perched with outstretched hands. Even if it was all part of his legendary charm, it really felt like seeing an old friend and is one of the reasons I always stick up for Bowie. For the next hour, he is the perfect, chain-smoking host, despite visibly fighting exhaustion as he struggles to smile and be cordial. After small talk, he stops, sits straight and asks: "Right, what do you want to know?"
I remember I'm now a journalist and, in retrospect, could probably have cleaned up as he talks about the tour.
"I have to get onstage," he allows, but adds how tired he is, confiding that "it can get like being in a factory - I would like to take things easier." He asks about Mott, probably knowing their breakaway single Honaloochie Boogie is storming the charts. When I ask about Iggy, he shakes his head, looks at the floor and laughs.
At one point, he leans forward in an intimate gesture I'd seen before, plants his elbows on his knees and goes to say something, then suddenly jerks his head up in response to the surrounding clatter and racket going on outside our bubble. He almost grits his teeth with a desperate glint in his black eyes before carrying on talking.
Beneath his unfailing good humour, Bowie seems knackered and wired. I ask what he could possibly do next. "Just wait and see," he replies with a secretive smirk, mentioning changes coming almost as an aside. He talks of a TV special and invited me to that.
When I go to leave, he jerks himself up for a hug, preceded by a mighty intake of breath to give him the necessary momentum. "So, see ya soon," are his last words.
At this point, Bowie knew he was going to kill off Ziggy on the final night of the tour at Hammersmith Odeon on July 3, even if few others did - including the band. It made perfect sense as it meant Bowie could get rid of the troublesome Spiders, move on to a new phase, have a much-needed rest and boost his star status in proper Sinatra style.
As it happened, I didn't go to that last gig, when he prefaced Rock'N'Roll Suicide with that now famous statement that this was "the last show we'll ever do". After Oxford a week earlier, I felt like I'd gone as far as I could with Bowie now. It couldn't get any higher until he unveiled what was obviously fermenting inside that hyperactive reactor of a brain. Also, it was my nineteenth birthday and I had something planned. I didn't have a good record with birthdays, having bounded down the stairs on my fifteenth to find Brian Jones had died, followed by Jim Morrison two years later. Now Bowie had killed off Ziggy.
But, even if his next move was to record a water-treading covers album, he had invited me to see him performing on a TV special in October, which would inevitably give a clue to what would be afoot as Bowie prepared to enter the savage jaw of 1974.
Who could have predicted that, over forty years since these marvellous golden years, Bowie would still be making shape-shifting masterpieces which dwarfed the competition to insignificance?
That night in Oxford, Bowie denfinitely seemed like he could; if he was allowed to survive that long.
THE 1980 FLOOR SHOW
The first public sighting of Bowie since he killed off Ziggy and pulled the legs off the Spiders was on October 19 and 20, 1973, when he took over the fabled Marquee on Wardour Street to film the surreal cabaret he hoped would break the US wide open as his contribution to NBC's late night show The Midnight Special.
While intending to homage the '60s in a futuristic setting, Bowie has since referred to the project as Ziggy's last stand, retaining the carrot-top and some songs as Mick Ronson played his last show with him. He also previewed the title track, originally intended for a musical version of George Orwell's 1984 until the author's widow trounced copyright hopes and it became a germ to nurture on his next LP.
The 1980 Floor Show was a typically hurried, ambitious and sometimes delightfully silly revue. The Marquee in 1973, though steeped in the history Bowie had witnessed in the '60s, was small and run-down. Bowie's crew rebuilt the stage and painted the walls black. The lucky few who got an invite included two hundred members of the newly-formed Bowie fan club, which replaced the Aylesbury-based one I'd helped with. Bowie stayed true to his invitation and I picked up my ticket at the door - the first time I'd been to a London gig for free!
The nature of filming meant Bowie went over each song countless times, usually miming to a backing track surrounded by dancers. Between takes he laughed and signed autographs for the fans crowded at the front. I turned up on the second day, and mainly remember endless versions of Time, complete with word change to "falls swanking to the floor" and Bowie in a one-legged, flame-adorned blue leotard designed by Freddie Buretti, like his other costumes. He was surrounded by writhing dancers in black spider-web leotards, creating an endearing amateur-dramatic effect.
Apart from The Troggs playing Wild Thing, the other main guest was Marianne Faithfull, coming off her hefty smack jag and unveiling a voice which seemed to have descended several octaves in a haze of smoke as she crooned As Tears Go By, sporting an angelic white gown. The previous night she had joined Bowie for Sonny & Cher's I Got You Babe, sporting a back and arse-less nun's habit while he paraded his red PVC "angel of death" corset, lined with black fur and complemented with black PVC stiletto boots (which he also sported for his version of The Who's I Can't Explain).
Bowie had performed Everything's Alright, the Mojos song he'd covered onPin Ups, backed by a band including Ronson, Bolder, drummer Aynsley Dunbar, Mike Garson and Mark Pritchard. For The Jean Genie, he donned a fishnet ensemble decorated by three strategically-placed hands, but had to replace the dummy limb at his crotch with gold pants for US TV standards. Even then the paranoid camera crew filmed him above the waist. Rock'N'Roll Suicide was excised altogether for its title (the confrontational New York duo of the same name could have warned him of the obstacles the word Suicide could bring).
The song which pointed at the next direction was the Shaft-recalling 1984, which he sang in a cloak, stripped away by backing singers Ava Cherry and Jason Guess to reveal a keyhole costume. He donned a white suit to sing The Merseys' Sorrow to transsexual goddess Amanda Lear, who wielded a pole manipulating string-clad figures on a giant chess board.
Oddly, one of my strongest memories is of walking in and spotting the exotic MainMan contingent revelling in their extrovert fabulousness at one of the tables, including peroxide blond southern gentleman Leee Black Childers, flame-haired vixen Cherry Vanilla and Wayne County, barely recognisable in the jeans and sweater he'd had to wear after upstaging Bowie the previous night in bewigged finery. At the bar, the genial Wayne came over and began talking to me, knowing my innocence in these matters but commencing a friendship which continues today. More confusing was the lanky English gent making a less-than-proper suggestion in a very proper voice, who turned out to be UK R&B legend Long John Baldry.
Edited down to an hour (to lose elements considered even mildly offensive) and shown on November 16, the film has never been made available commercially. Surely it's now a period classic of major interest to Bowie fans, but maybe it's considered simply too of-its-time. Propositioned by legends and witnessing Bowie in action from the closest quarters since those Aylesbury shows, I know I won't forget it.
HOW BOWIE BECAME THE SPECIAL MAN / Record Collector CHRISTMAS 2015