It’s been a long and trying week for David Bowie fans. The influential musician died on January 10, shortly after the release of his new album Black Star . So much has been written about the artist, but we want to end this week by reading Bowie’s own words about his career, beliefs, inspirations, and the things he loved. Here are ten interviews with Bowie that demonstrate why he was such a profound figure in the world of art, music, and beyond.
Jackie was a British girl’s magazine that ran from 1964 to 1993. Bowie was only 23 when he spoke to the weekly on May 10, 1970. He discusses his interest in Buddhism, the best advice he’s ever received, his half-brother Terry Burns (who introduced him to jazz music), and more. Read the full interview over here.
Jackie: What interests do you have outside music?
Bowie: People. Architecture. And painting – I used to be a commercial artist six years ago. I spent just one year at it.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
To try to make each moment of one’s life one of the happiest, and if it’s not, try to find out why. I was told that by a Tibetan friend of mine, Chimi Youngdon Rimpoche [sic Chime Youngdon Rinpoche].
Why was his advice so important?
Because I’d reached a crucial point in my life. I was a terribly earnest Buddhist at that time, within a month of becoming a Buddhist monk. I had stayed in their monastery and was going through all their exams, and yet I had this feeling that it wasn’t right for me.
Are you still a Buddhist?
No, though a lot of the basic ideas are still with me. But I don’t believe it’s suitable for the West in its Eastern format.
What attracted you to Buddhism in the first place?
I was very interested in Tibet while I was still at school, and wrote a thesis on it. That made me interested in the country, and I started reading about its history and its religion.
I suppose I would still like to go there, but it’s been impossible to get into the country since the Communists took over.
How did you get it all out of your system?
I suddenly realised how close it all was: another month and my head would have been shaved – so I decided that as I wasn’t happy, I would get right away from it all. I vanished completely for a year. No-one knew where I was. Actually, I had joined the Lindsay Kemp Mime Company. I spent a year with them and learned from Lindsay that people are much more important to me than ideas.
Have you continued this interest in theatre?
With a couple of other people, I started an Arts Laboratory down in Beckenham which is still thriving. It meets at a pub down there. We have about 600 people attached to it now – all pursuing their own ideas: art, poetry, music, mime, writing.
We’ve done a marvellous puppet show with 7ft high puppets, and I’m trying to get them a TV series at the moment.
Are you superstitious?
I never whistle in theatre dressing rooms, because that’s something you’re told not to do as soon as you start in the theatre – but that’s more of a habit. I’m not superstitious about it or anything else.
Who has influenced you most?
My brother, Terry. He’s seven years older than I am – I’m 22 now, he’s 29. He was very keen on jazz when I was at a very impressionable age, and that led me into it.
I idolised John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy, and learned to play the clarinet and tenor saxophone when I was 12. When I first came into the business six years ago it was as a jazz musician.
Terry was very Bohemian and introduced me to the writers that meant a lot to him – like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. And all this led me into songwriting.
David Bowie’s January 17, 1973 interview with Russell Harty, which aired 43 years ago today, finds the glammed-up musician briefly discussing fan mail, his religious beliefs, and his chameleonic personality.
This 1974 Dick Cavvet interview finds Bowie at the end of his Diamond Dogs/Philly Dogs Soul Tour, performing “1984,” “Young Americans,” and “Footstompin’.” Bowie discusses Guy Peellaert, who created the Diamond Dogs cover, the creative process, his fear of flying, and more.
Photo via emininternation
Bowie and artist Tracey Emin corresponded through email in 2001 about art, fame, and what they were wearing. There’s also gems like this:
Tracey Emin: Throughout my life your music has had a big influence on me. I remember at the age of 14 vomiting at the end of “Rock’n’Roll Suicide” after drinking a bottle of sherry, and in later years sailing down the Nile listening to Young Americans on a Walkman full blast.
David Bowie: I also remember vomiting at the end of “Rock’n’Roll Suicide.” I remember vomiting at the end of quite a few songs.
British designer Alexander McQueen created the wardrobe for David Bowie’s tours from 1996 to 1997, as well as the Union Jack coat Bowie wore on the cover of his 1997 album Earthling. The icons spoke to each other for Dazed, and it’s another reminder that Bowie was a fantastic interviewer as well as an interviewee.
David Bowie: Do you think of clothes themselves as being a way of torturing society?
Alexander McQueen: I don’t put such an importance on clothes, anyway. I mean at the end of the day they are, after all, just clothes and I can’t cure the world of illness with clothes. I just try to make the person that’s wearing them feel more confident in themselves because I am so unconfident. I’m really insecure in a lot of ways and I suppose my confidence comes out in the clothes I design anyway. I’m very insecure as a person.
David Bowie: Aren’t we all?
We just wish we were as cool as 17-year-old Bowie, then going by David Jones, who founded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men. The artist created the gag group as a response to producer Barry Langford, who tried to get Bowie to cut his long locks. This was Bowie’s first televised interview.
“If it’s wearing a pink hat and a red nose, and it plays a guitar upside down, I will go and look at it. You know I love to see people being dangerous,” the musician told Off the Record‘s Joe Smith in 1988. Read the transcript and listen to the full interview over here.
Bowie starts the 1987 interview discussing the influence of Andy Warhol on his work and meeting Warhol at the Factory — which he described a “hive of activity.” He states that Warhol was a “quiet, lethal Svengali figure.” Bowie played “Andy Warhol” for Andy during that visit, too. And then Bowie imitates Warhol for a split second. Ten years later, he would play the iconic artist in Julian Schnabel’s movie Basquiat.
Just Bowie and Iman cozying up on a couch, chatting about love — no biggie.
Canada’s Music Scene Magazine interviewed Bowie for their November 1973 issue about his makeup “dos and don’ts.” This was during the Alladin Sane era— an album he described as “Ziggy goes to America”:
David tells us that mostly all of his makeup comes from a little shop in Rome, Italy, that imports fantastic coloured powders and creams from India. (He’s not telling the name of the store, however!!!) Basic essentials also include a white rice powder from Tokyo’s Woolworth’s equivalent- Indian kohl usually in black – for his eyes, which he smudges right along the lash line and some, times a little bit on the outside… He also uses a very light liquid base, sometimes white – sometimes pink or yellow – and applies it with a damp sponge. For stage, David will often use an irridescent base, usually pure white. When he paints that gold cirde on his forehead that’s such a hit with his fans he uses a German gold base in cake form bought at New York’s Makeup Centre. (He also told us that the little Japanese brushes that the Makeup Centre has for applying powders and paints are much better than anything you can find in Japan!) Eight hour cream by Elizabeth Arden is what you’ll see shining up David’s lips and eyelids in photographs, it gives that extra-gloss effect. And a must is that old-fashioned black mascara, (sometimes blue) – you know the kind that you spit on the little brush and it’s in cream/cake form… David will often paint waves of colour all the way across his eyes and eyebrows, rather than on the lids only usually in a pink or mauve tone. In his last few English concerts, Bowie painted tiny lightning streaks on his cheek and upper leg. Once in a while he uses pearlised gloss on his lips in a tan/pink that comes across like a white-silver highlight. And – a warning! He doesn’t use glitter too much, because it falls into his eyes when he’s performing and it just isn’t soft looking enough, he feels. Sometimes he will outline that gold circle in tiny gold rhinestones, stuck on with eyelash glue. As far as off-stage makeup is concerned, David doesn’t wear any base – he uses a light natural moisturiser with rice powder dusted on top – but most often he prefers to show his very light, bare, clear English skin.