Below is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in RS 498 from April 23 2001. This issue and the rest of the Rolling Stone archives are available via Rolling Stone Plus, Rolling Stone's premium subscription plan. If you are already a subscriber, you can click here to see the full story. Not a member? Click here to learn more about Rolling Stone Plus.
For fifteen years, David Bowie has been the ring-master of rock style, whipping up new fashions and attitudes with every flick of his public image. A prodigy of self-invention, he has been at various intervals Art Man, Dance Man and Pioneer Androgyne. Today he's just plain David, but the contemporary urban clubscape is still littered with Bowie replicants bearing painted witness to the lingering influence of his past personas: whole ribes of bleached and preening Elggys, plucked and pallid Aladdins, sleek, cadaverous Euro-lizards. But the man behind those masks has long since moved on.
As he sat down for an interview in a suite at a Westwood hotel one recent afternoon, Bowie was wearing simple black jeans, a snug tank-top T-shirt and steel-toed Gaultier brogues, it was February, one month after his fortieth birthday, and Bowie was in Los Angeles to shoot videos for his seventeenth studio album. Never Let Me Down. Cleareyed and lightly tanned beneath a generous thatch of blond-plus hair, he looked astonishingly fit and professed his eagerness to wade back into the rock-biz fray. He'll kick off a world tour in June, performing songs drawn from the breadth of his twenty-year recording career, backed by a band featuring his old pal Peter Frampton — the son of Bowie's high school art teacher — on lead. It will, he said, be something special.
The subject was rock style, of which Bowie is pretty much the reigning embodiment. Born on January 8th 1947, and raised in districts of Brixton and Bromley, he is old enough to have witnessed firsthand the arrival of rock & roll. As a kid, he marveled at the brawling, zoot-suited antics of the Teddy boys, England's first rock-oriented youth cult. In the, he took up the saxophone, joined a school band (the Konrads) and felt himself drawn toward the clothes-obsessed mods, who shared his musical taste for American R&B. He idolized such British beat legends as the early Who and the Yardbirds (whose lead singer, Keith Relf, inspired him to grow his hair down to his shoulders). As Davy Jones, he hacked around with a succession of groups — the King Bees, the Manish Boys, the Lower Third — to little avail. Advised in 1966 that another Davy Jones had hit it big as a member of the Monkees, he adopted the stage name Bowie and went solo. He recorded his first album in 1967 and scored his first hit single — the trippy "Space Oddity" — two years later.