David Bowie’s Most Profound Interview Moments
In his later years David Bowie was more of a reclusive personality. Following health issues beginning in 2004, when he suffered an acutely blocked artery, Bowie largely withdrew from making public appearances and his musical output was drastically reduced. In 2013, when he released his “comeback album” The Next Day, Bowie did not tour nor did he stage any interviews. Blackstar, which it is now understood that he created whilst knowingly on his deathbed, was also released with understandably minimal promotion from the singer.
But prior to this, Bowie proved that his knowledge didn’t solely extend to his understanding of music and the importance of the visuals accompanying it, with his intelligence, sharp wit and nigh-on prophetic opinions regarding the state of the both music and tech industries making him an extraordinary interview subject. From the more reticent Bowie of the Ziggy Stardust era, through to the role of gentlemanly elder statesman of music he so easily adopted in his later years, here are a selection of Bowie’s most profound interview moments.
Asking MTV why they don’t feature more black artists
Unearthed by MTV’s YouTube channel following Bowie’s passing, this 1983 clip shows the singer pressing presenter Mark Goodman into explaining why there were “so few black artists” featured on the music channel. Cue an awkward yet eye-opening few minutes of Goodman stumbling around unacceptable justifications, including an inference that white people would be afraid of music created by black people. Bowie’s steely expression throughout this entire segment tells the story, faltering only when he’s asked whether or not he agrees with Goodman’s remarks. “I understand your point of view”, Bowie says politely, before the assembled production crew play out the interview with their uncomfortable laughter.
Predicting his megastardom
Perhaps the most famous Bowie interview is his meeting with Melody Maker magazine in 1972, in which the singer stated that he was gay (we’ll get to that later), and also made some confident claims in regards to his ascension to fame. The interview, held at a time when Bowie’s star was rising in the US but had failed to take off in the UK, featured the following excerpt regarding Bowie’s thoughts on his flirtation with stardom:
Everyone just knows that David is going to be a lollapalooza of a superstar throughout the entire world this year, David more than most. His songs are always ten years ahead of their time, he says, but this year he has anticipated the trends: “I’m going to be huge, and it’s quite frightening in a way.” he says, his big red boots stabbing the air in time to the music. “Because I know that when I reach my peak and it’s time for me to be brought down it will be with a bump.”
Later in the interview, Bowie admits: “I definitely like being a star. Its the only thing that I can do that doesn’t bore me.”
A 2003 interview with the San Diego Tribune saw Bowie reminiscing over his career, and focused upon his thoughts regarding retirement in particular: “Honestly, it has never occurred to me that there will be a day when I stop writing or my fingers seize up”, he told the ‘paper’s George Varga.
He continued: “I could imagine at a certain age, when I have no vocal cords left, that I would find a young man who could sing my parts for me. But I don’t see why I would stop. Fortunately, I’ve retained much of the stubbornness and curiosity I always had as a teenager and in middle age to where I’m going now. As long as I have it, that interest, I don’t think it will stop.”
We now know that Bowie would pass away just two days after releasing his final album, Blackstar.
Predicting the rise of the Internet
(Relevant clip begins at the 6-minute mark)
In this interview with the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman held at the turn of the millennium, Bowie argued that the Internet was set to be the future of the future of the music industry. Though Paxman was notably unconvinced, Bowie was convinced that the web was carrying “the flag for the subversive and rebellious, chaotic and nihilistic”, adding: “Forget about the Microsoft element, the monopolies do not have a monopoly [on the Internet]”. Paxman appears to be unconvinced, but time has taught us that the singer was the belated victor of this particular debate.
On the collapse of the traditional music industry
Speaking in an interview with the New York Times in 2002, Bowie revealed his thoughts on the evolution of the music industry in the wake of technological advancements, stating it an “inevitability” that music would become “like running water or electricity”, that copyright would meet its demise, and that the importance of record labels would be greatly undermined by this tectonic shift in the industry.
The interview was conducted after Bowie had signed a short contract with Sony, which had been deliberately reduced as the singer evaluated “the Internet’s effect on careers”.
“I don’t even know why I would want to be on a label in a few years, because I don’t think it’s going to work by labels and by distribution systems in the same way,” Bowie explained. ”The absolute transformation of everything that we ever thought about music will take place within 10 years, and nothing is going to be able to stop it. I see absolutely no point in pretending that it’s not going to happen. I’m fully confident that copyright, for instance, will no longer exist in 10 years, and authorship and intellectual property is in for such a bashing.”
He continued: ”Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity. So it’s like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again. You’d better be prepared for doing a lot of touring because that’s really the only unique situation that’s going to be left. It’s terribly exciting. But on the other hand it doesn’t matter if you think it’s exciting or not; it’s what’s going to happen.”
On his sexuality
David Bowie’s androgynous style and his noted promiscuity inevitably attracted rumours regarding his sexuality, and in an era when Britain was characterised by its stiff upper lip, the singer was not afraid to express himself. In the interview with Melody Maker in ’72, Bowie “outed” himself as gay, though later concluded in the same interview that his sexuality could perhaps more easily be defined as bisexual.
He’s gay, he says. Mmmmmmmm. A few months back, when he played Hampstedt’s Country Club, a small greasy club in north London which has seen all sorts of exciting occasions, about half the gay population of the city turned up to see him in his massive floppy velvet hat, which he twirled around at the end of each number. According to Stuart Lyon, the club’s manager, a little gay brother sat right up close to the stage throughout the whole evening, absolutely spellbound with admiration. As it happens, David doesn’t have much time for Gay Liberation, however. That’s a particular movement he doesn’t want to lead. He despises all these tribal qualifications. Flower Power he enjoyed, but it’s individuality that he’s really trying to preserve. The paradox is that he still has what he describes as “a good relationship” with his wife. And his baby son, Zowie. He supposes he’s what people call bisexual.
Bowie would be questioned over his sexuality on multiple occasions throughout the duration of his career, including a great exchange with a presenter in the ’80s in which, after the interviewer claimed that he had “never answered” the question of whether he was or wasn’t bisexual, a visibly annoyed Bowie replied: “Oh, I have. I said I was bisexual. That’s enough.”
On The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-haired Men
Not profound in any way, but it would be unreasonable to conclude this overview of David Bowie’s greatest interview moments without this footage of his first TV appearance. At 17 years old, Bowie’s appearance on TV as part of ‘The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-haired Men’ was actually a stunt orchestrated by the future music icon to get his band, called the Manish Boys, some airtime on the BBC.
The 1964 broadcast sees Bowie complaining to host Cliff Michelmore: “The last two years we’ve had comments like ‘Darling!’ and ‘Can I carry your handbag?’ thrown at us, and I think it just has to stop now.”