David Bowie was the first, possibly the last, major pop star in danger of being typecast as a Martian. As the man with two-tone eyes and painted face who made “Space Oddity”, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, and The Man who Fell to Earth, Bowie has often seemed something not quite—or perhaps more than—human. He was just as aware of this stereotype as anyone, turning down a role in an adaptation of Stranger in a Stranger Land for fear it would consign him to outer space once and for all.
Based on how he expresses himself across the interviews Sean Egan collects in Bowie on Bowie: Interviews and Encounters with David Bowie, it must have all been a little strange for the man who was so clearly playing roles as any actor would. Never does he put on otherworldly airs: not during his ethereal Man of Words/Man of Music phase, not during his “magicks”-obsessed “fascist” period, not even during his coked-up Berlin days. In fact, he was at his most humble and most self-doubting at the beginning of his career, which isn’t surprising considering how many false starts he had. His hard-R&B mod bands never took off. His Anthony Newley/psychedelic song-and-dance man persona of 1966/1967 led nowhere. By the time he hit with “Space Oddity” in 1969, which is where Bowie on Bowie begins, he’d had enough failures to keep his ego in check. He is never overly impressed with his triumphs, nor is he exceptionally crushed by his failures (he is confident that Tonight and Never Let Me Down had their share of good songs sunk by bad production and only speaks of Tin Machine as a positive experience). Bowie is also the rare celebrity interviewee who seems almost as interested in his interviewers as they are in him. He shares the hot seat with Bruce Springsteen, Brian Eno and Suede’s Brett Anderson, and in one instance, actually plays host to fashion designer Alexander McQueen. Perhaps a more accurate title would have been Conversations with David Bowie. Throughout these pieces, our star is open (about drugs, sex, his family, his beliefs, etc.), humble, gracious, charming, and thoughtful, often quite in contrast to the people who interview him, who tiresomely fixate on aspects of his career that no longer seem very important at all (his silly—and brief—flirtation with fascism; his sexual preferences; his run of bum albums in the eighties).
Egan selects his pieces wisely. While his similar book on Keith Richards favored the guitarist’s late career lopsidedly, Bowie on Bowie gives equal space to the seventies, eighties, nineties, and 2000s (ending abruptly in 2003 shortly before Bowie decided to retire from doing press). And unlike Keith Richards on Keith Richards, which basically confirms much of what we already assumed about that old pirate, Bowie on Bowie accomplishes something more meaningful by changing our perceptions. And hasn’t that always been the essence of Bowie’s art?
Get Bowie on Bowie: Interviews and Encounters with David Bowie on Amazon.com here: