After the announcement from his official Twitter account late last night, followed by the glazed refreshing and refreshing of browser windows and, what seemed like hours later, the confirmation from the Hollywood Reporter, we found our way to David Bowie’s 1976 Playboy Interview.
It was the year of Station to Station and The Man Who Fell to Earth. Cameron Crowe started meeting with him in 1975 and reported that Bowie could never talk for longer than an hour at a time. “He would shoot to his feet and dart in another direction: sometimes to write a song or two, other times to dash off a painting,” Crowe recalls in his intro. “In one instance, he ended a session by asking for a random list of 20 items. I gave it to him. He studied the list for 10 seconds handed it back and recited it from memory. Backward and forward.”
The handful of quotes we offer below (read the uncut version of the Interview here) goes far beyond proving Crowe’s point that Bowie knew “exactly what interviewers consider good copy.” They give a glimpse of a voice that, regardless of the sad events of yesterday, is one of the most simply alive of any we’ve ever heard.
On the media
I’ll play along, absolutely anything to break me through. Because of everybody’s thirst for scandal — look at how big People is — they gave me a big chance. All the papers wrote volumes about how sick I was [after he posed in drag on the cover of the UK edition of The Man Who Sold the World], how I was helping to kill off true art. Why? Because I was a dangerous statement. The follow-up to that was, “How dare he have such a strenuous ego?” That, in itself, seemed a danger to some people. Am I, as a human being, worth talking about? I frankly think, Yes, I am. I’ve got to carry through with the conviction that I am also my own medium. The only way I can be effective as a person is to be this confoundedly arrogant and forthright with my point of view. That’s the way I am. I believe myself with the utmost sincerity.
‘The point is to grow into the person you grow into.’
On managing contradictions (Bowie had already sworn off rock ‘n’ roll twice)
I lie. It’s quite easy to do. Nothing matters except whatever it is I’m doing at the moment. I can’t keep track of everything I say. I don’t give a shit. I can’t even remember how much I believe and how much I don’t believe. The point is to grow into the person you grow into. I haven’t a clue where I’m gonna be in a year. A raving nut, a flower child or a dictator, some kind of reverend — I don’t know. That’s what keeps me from getting bored.
On the message
I have no message whatsoever. I really have nothing to say, no suggestions or advice, nothing. All I do is suggest some ideas that will keep people listening a bit longer. And out of it all, maybe they’ll come up with a message and save me the work. My career has kind of been like that. I get away with murder.
What year is it now? '76? I suppose I’ve been knocking on heaven’s door for about 11 years now, with one sort of high or another. The only kinds of drugs I use, though, are ones that keep me working for longer periods of time. I haven’t gotten involved in anything heavy since '68. I had a silly flirtation with smack then, but it was only for the mystery and enigma of trying it. I never really enjoyed it at all. I like fast drugs. I’ve said that many times. I hate falling out, where I can’t stand up and stuff. It seems like such a waste of time. I hate downs and slow drugs like grass. I hate sleep. I would much prefer staying up, just working, all the time. It makes me so mad that we can’t do anything about sleep or the common cold.
'The more I get ripped off, the more flattered I get.’
I’ve always thought the only thing to do was to try to go through life as Superman, right from the word go. I felt far too insignificant as just another person. I couldn’t exist thinking all that was important was to be a good person. I thought, Fuck that; I don’t want to be just another honest Joe. I want to be a supersuperbeing and improve all the equipment that I’ve been given to where it works 300 percent better. I find that it’s possible to do it.
Never have been in love, to speak of. I was in love once, maybe, and it was an awful experience. It rotted me, drained me, and it was a disease. Hateful thing, it was. Being in love is something that breeds brute anger and jealousy, everything but love, it seems. It’s like Christianity — or any religion, for that matter.
Sorry, Hugh. Sex has never really been shocking. It was just the people who were performing sex. Now nobody really cares. Everybody fucks everybody. The only thing that shocks now is an extreme. Like me running my mouth off, jacking myself off. Unless you do that, nobody will pay attention to you. Not for long. You have to hit them on the head.
'The last thing I want is to be established. I want to go to bed every night saying, “If I never wake again, I certainly will have lived while I was alive.”’
On art and appropriation
The only art I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from. I do think that my plagiarism is effective. Why does an artist create, anyway? The way I see it, if you’re an inventor, you invent something that you hope people can use. I want art to be just as practical. Art can be a political reference, a sexual force, any force that you want, but it should be useable. What the hell do artists want? Museum pieces? The more I get ripped off, the more flattered I get. But I’ve caused a lot of discontent because I’ve expressed my admiration for other artists by saying, "Yes, I’ll use that,” or, “Yes, I took this from him and this from her.” Mick Jagger, for example, is scared to walk into the same room as me even thinking any new idea. He knows I’ll snatch it.
On the future of music
It will return to the sensitivities of the working class. That excites me. Sound as texture, rather than sound as music. Producing noise records seems pretty logical to me. My favourite group is a German band called Kraftwerk. It plays noise music to “increase productivity.” I like that idea, if you have to play music.
On evil, rock ‘n’ roll, and how to live
Anything that contributes to stagnation is evil. When it has familiarity, it’s no longer rock 'n’ roll. It’s white noise. Dirge. Just look at disco music — the endless numb beat. It’s really dangerous. So I’ve moved on. I’ve established the fact that I am an entertainer, David Bowie, not just another boring rock singer… The last thing I want is to be established. I want to go to bed every night saying, “If I never wake again, I certainly will have lived while I was alive.”