David Bowie In America

The Iceman, having calculated, cometh

November 9, 1972
david bowie cover 121
David Bowie on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Mick Rock

"Dear Unk: I have noticed wooly boogers crossing the highway the past two days. Most have been going west, a few south and a few east. None north. Apparently the devious directions mean curved highways are frustrating their sonar apparatus."


– The Memphis Commercial Appeal

Tony Frost came across the lobby of the Memphis Downtowner Motor Inn in a hurry. You could pick him out because he was the only one in the lobby wearing a judo robe and black belt over his slacks.

Waiters in white coats were carting liquor and mix into an adjoining meeting room where David Bowie's post-concert party was to be held. A dozen travelers and their kids were clustered at the desk, bleating quietly over delays in getting their rooms. Frost ignored all of them and with strides remarkable in so small a man, zoomed up to Al De-Marino, the booking agent for Bowie's tour.

"Has the lobby been booked?" he asked eagerly.

The lobby? Frost was one of Bowie's three bodyguards and his steely grip had been felt upon the biceps of just about everybody on the tour. He had fingered, gripped and questioned everyone who stumbled anywhere within waving distance of the star, and many who had not. Now he was worried about all these loose people in the lobby of the Downtowner Motor Inn. Strange middle-aged men in sports shirts, gooey children with no visible means of support, rock writers lacking proper respect . . . All these strangers were lurking in the lobby, which after all was only a door away from the room in which Bowie himself would appear in little more than an hour.

Had the lobby been booked? Well, what difference does it make? Are you one to shrink back when action is demanded? Hustle that gang of two-pants suiters out quick, drive those gasheads down Elvis Presley Boulevard, show them a taste of the old judo if they give you any lip, teach them to get smart with rock & roll.

"No, the lobby hasn't been booked," said DeMarino.

Frost shot away like a billiard ball off a cushion.

*     *     *

David Bowie's manager is Tony De-Fries (pronounced as in "deep freeze," not as in "french fries"). His background as a London solicitor left him with the mental hardware to handle the legalities of Bowie's business affairs and with a lawyer-like paunch which he now enshrouds not in pinstripes but in tanktops and the like. His long, pointed nose is out of Dickens. His complexion is an uneven white. He favors fat black cigars. When he smokes one, he resembles a ball of oatmeal on a stick.

When I interviewed DeFries at the Plaza hotel in New York, he turned on his own cassette tape recorder when I started mine. This was to enable him to double-check any quotes I might attribute to him in print.

 . . . "I want to make it clear right at the start that Bowie is a star and we don't need any of you," he began. "Especially you writers. You are a worthless band of eels, sucking the blood of artists. You particularly I don't need. If you should ever show up in London, I'll have one of the big boys loosen you up so good you'll be able to store your elbows in your ears . . . "

 . . . No, he didn't. He didn't say that. I can't pretend he did because he made his own tape of the whole interview, which he could produce and prove me a liar. What he actually said was this:

"If you're taking a performer who's going to be . . . the most important artist in his area within a very short space of time, which already happened to Bowie in England, then you find yourself dealing with an audience who want to get to your artist by whatever means possible . . .

"If you don't have security, the artist suffers, because you get break-ins, riots, people hurt and all that sort of thing . . . That is not going to happen to Bowie if I can help it."

DeFries spoke with the measured tones of a lawyer talking as much for the transcript on appeal as for immediate effect. He kept an eye on the TV screen, awaiting an expected news spot on his boy.

"Bowie is setting a standard in rock & roll which other people are going to have to get to if they want to stay around in the Seventies. I think he's very much a Seventies artist. I think most of the artists who are with us at the moment are Sixties artists, and Bowie, certainly to me, is going to be the major artist of the Seventies. In 1975, he will be at his peak in music. What he does after that is going to depend on what his talents are in other fields."

Other fields?

"I want to see him on film. I want to see him making feature films . . . "

" . . . And doing the soundtracks for them for RCA," inserted Stu Ginsberg, the red-haired RCA publicity man, from across the room.

" . . . films in which he is developing another aspect of his personality. As well as being a mime he is also an actor . . . Bowie himself often says he is not a musician, and he really isn't. To me, he has the potential to be a major force in films in the way he has been in music."

Then DeFries became more philosophical.

"He is one person of many facets and many talents who can be and will be an industry on his own," he said.

"You see, I've always seen David as a building. I visualize him as a building. Something rather like the Pan Am building on Park Avenue."

The Bowie report came on TV.

"It's all part of the current trendy decadence of rock," said newsman Scott Osborne over a film showing Bowie and his Spiders from Mars in a blaze of strobe lights and feedback. A backstage interview with Bowie followed:

What do you want your audience to think when they see you?
I don't want them to think anything. They're probably just as confused about my writing as I am. I mean, I'm the last one to understand most of the material I write.

How would you describe yourself?
Partly enigmatic, partly fossile . . .


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