Q&A: David Bowie

The Thin White Duke, on Zen, baseball, dreams, and more

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If David Bowie can't get through a conversation without recommending two books (The Origin of Satan, by Elaine Pagels, and The Bird Artist, by Howard Norman), a record (Scott Walker's Tilt) and a stage show (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which he now co-produces), the real surprise is not that he has so many enthusiasms but that he himself is only personally affiliated with the production of one. An actor, painter, sponsor of the arts, producer, writer, computer-game composer and - through BowieNet.com - an Internet-service provider, as well as a musician, he is almost ludicrously talented. His twenty-third studio album, Hours . . ., rocks the gamut from enchanting, intelligent and sexy to holistically, transcendentally compelling - as, in person, does he.

Why did you decide to call the record "Hours . . ."?

Oh, it's a feeble pun. Just to articulate the word is enough to show how feeble it is. It's not a complicated album, by any means; it's just about an older guy reflecting on his youth. I wanted to use very simple words and very simple feelings. I'm usually quite obscure in my lyric style - I layer words. And I just didn't do that this time; it's much more fundamental - love and the lack of love, unrequited love . . . it's got me sobbing just thinking about it.

All of those aren't necessarily simple.

Well, that's in the interpretation. I mean, I'm the first one to appreciate the basic idea that it's the union between the user and the art that creates and finishes the art. The art is not finished until it has a user involved - a viewer or listener. It's very Zen-like. Remember Alan Watts and The Way of Zen? He laid out the idea that when you put your hand out of sight of your eyes, it really doesn't exist any longer. I read it when I was around fourteen, and it changed my life. I loved all that. I just loved the idea of the Zen way of looking at things.

It's alluring. Yet I'm suspicious of many Western Buddhists.

Me too. That's why I never became one; but I found it tantalizing. Tantric-alizing. From about seventeen to about nineteen, I was going backward and forward about whether I wanted to be a spiritual person or whether I wanted to be a rock star, little knowing that it was the same thing. But I really had a fantasy that I would just stop being part of the so-called reality of life and sort of drift up to Scotland where there's a Tibetan lamasery and spend my life up there as a shaven-headed faux bodhisattva.

BowieNet does the Web site for the Yankees. Are you a baseball fan?

Well! It's legendary, my connection with baseball, surely. You mean to tell me you don't know? Actually, there is a true thing there, somewhere. When I was fourteen, I was a member of a group of expatriate Canadians who had a team called the Dulwich Blue Jays, and they'd play on weekends, and I used to play outfield for them. So I have worn the mitt.

You get quite a lot done, don't you?

I'm an addict. And I think, because of that, I throw everything into work, when I'm not . . .

. . . doing drugs?

Yes. It really is as simple as that. Fortunately, it is probably the safest drug, because I enjoy beyond belief all the arts. I just like seeing how we interpret our culture in whatever form it takes.

You're awfully damn smart, aren't you?

No! Not at all. I'm a gut person. I'm completely instinctual.

You don't think of yourself as an intellectual?

No, not at all. Not even remotely! Put me in a room with Brian Eno, who is a true intellectual, and I'm absolutely flummoxed.

 

Very early on. My mother never let me forget it. She was enthralled with the idea. Lately, I'm more of a sucker about the idea of sharing it with Stephen Hawking - that's quite a trio, isn't it?

What's your earliest memory?

It's really strange. I was lying in bed; I must have been four. And I felt a presence in the garden, so I went to my window and it was very dark and it was only a small garden, and there were two boxers, or they seemed sort of like boxers, but two shining white spectral forms, kind of battling at the end of the garden, and they turned and looked at me, and I ran back to my bed and pulled the covers up and couldn't sleep the rest of the night.

Do you remember your dreams?

Yes, I do, and I write them down.

Tell me one.

No, I won't do that, but I will let you know that at least thirty percent of most of the lyrics I write actually have references to dreams.

Thirty percent exactly?

Let's say 33 1/3 percent, since that's also the speed of RPM on an old-fashioned vinyl LP. Dreams at 33 1/3 percent.

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