In Australia, David Bowie was a man with-out masks. Open, jokey, very…warm is the only word. Back home –– which for Bowie these days is Switzerland –– March is an unmistakably wintry month; but half-way round the world in Sydney, even as autumn arrived, a brilliant sun still bathed the beaches at Bondi and Manly, and in the clear, caressing night air, the stars seemed like so many crushed diamonds strewn across the antipodean sky. It was a paradise perfectly suited to Bowie’s new menschlich mood, his gathering thaw.
“It’s not hip to be cool,” he said one day, sipping a beer. “It really isn’t. I had a heyday with the whole iceman-cometh bit. I’m cooled out, man. I’ve seen so much cool, it’s just left me cold.”
He ran a long hand through his bright blond hair, and his laugh was warm and wonderfully out of character. Or characters.
Bowie is thirty-six now. He made his first record –– with a boyhood band called the King Bees –– in 1964, and has been at it ever since. The past, of course, plagues him. All those masks he no longer needs, the old poses –– they keep popping up anew. “The biggest mistake I ever made,” he said one night after a couple of cans of Foster’s Lager, “was telling that Melody Maker writer that I was bisexual. Christ, I was so young then. I was experimenting….”
So: he is not gay, whatever he may have blurted out in 1972. Nor was he ever a transvestite, thank you. Still, American TV –– for want of any more-recent product, it’s true –– has kept running his 1979 “Boys Keep Swinging” video, and so total strangers still breathily inquire whether he’s doing drag onstage again. (“I’ve never done drag onstage,” he huffs.) Then there were England’s New Romantics, who were very big on his cocktail-zombie look for a while, and you wouldn’t believe how many Ziggy and Aladdin Sane clones continue to abound. Even in Sydney, the earnest girls who patiently hovered outside the Sebel Town House, where Bowie was known to be staying, invariably included among their daily number at least one copper-shock hairdo from his Pin-Ups period. It was something to see, first thing in the morning.
He’s put all that behind him now. Well, all but Ziggy. After a decade in mothballs, Ziggy still refuses to die. So this year, for a laugh, Bowie is bringing him back. He’s remixed the soundtrack to the never-released Ziggy concert film (“I don’t know what I was on when I mixed it the first time”) and will finally unveil it later this year. The movie –– which features Bowie in full glamrock flower, backed for the last time by his classic band, the Spiders from Mars –– was shot by documentarian D.A. Pennebaker at London’s Hammersmith Odeon in 1973, and has been gathering dust in Bowie’s archives ever since.
“That’s something I couldn’t look at for years,” he says of this near-legendary Ziggy artifact. “I was so fed up with him… it –– all that. But I dragged it out last year and had a look, and I thought: This is a funny film! This boy used to dress like that for a living? My God this is funny! Incredible! Wait till my son sees this!”
As it turned out, Joey liked it. But then Joey likes Captain Sensible, too, and as his dad says, a lot of the new British bands these days “make Ziggy look like a bank clerk.” Joey –– dubbed “Zowie” back in the glitter days, when David was still married to Joey’s mother, Angela –– is eleven now, a great-looking kid with soft, fair hair and a face full of freckles. Bowie takes him everywhere, and so here he is, nanny in tow, in Australia. Actually, right now he’s down the block at a video arcade, pumping away at the ponging consoles while Daddy attends to his art.