Yes, it’s that time of year again. St BryanGod Day. Never heard of it? Pah.
So very quotable (see post title and also: “I cannot breathe in the atmosphere of convention,” he told one interviewer. “I find freedom only in the realm of my own eccentricity.”), it is hard to believe that David Bowie is actually allowed to age at all. But he reaches the very elegant and refined vintage of 65 today and I would like to wish him many, many returns of the day. So, in his honour, here is an interview from Petticoat Magazine, January 1973…
Heralded by a thunderous chunk of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Fourth Movement as adapted by Walter Carlos for march from A Clockwork Orange, Ziggy Stardust and his Spiders From Mars skip on stage virtually unseen under cover of the murky gloom.
When the spotlights come on the audience gives up a single gasp of utter disbelief Ziggy’s hair is a solid bob of flaming Apricot Gold, made even brighter by a deathly-white made-up face. He is wearing a blue Lurex jacket open to the navel and a pair of blue denims tucked into what , appear to be boxing boots.
The Spiders—Mick Ronson on guitar, Mick Woodmansey on drums and Trevor Bolder on bass—seem ill at ease in their silver jumpsuits.
The exhibition that follows is of secondary importance. David Bowie made his impact the second he stood there under the lamp, legs apart, hips gently swaying, guitar slung over his back and a limp smile playing on his mouth.
There`s no getting away from it, the boy is beautiful.
Articulate and animated David has his own ideas about what he is — “just a cosmic job” — and where he’s going — “to be an astral spirit” — but he leaves us to make our own interpretation.
The heads hold him in awe and regard him with respect, a last stubborn vestige of what was once the Underground.
A number of usually-cynical music paper writers forgot to be objective when Bowie re-appeared on the scene last year and quite openly played John the Baptist to his Messiah.
To them he is the Samuel Pepys to a Clockwork Orange generation; chronicling alarm, violence and anarchism but always ending on a definite note of optimism. (As you’ll find out if you listen to Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World collection.)
Fans just bop to him in Stoke-on-Trent, hang his picture on their bedroom walls, grab at him in stage door scrums and dismiss him the minute his latest forty-five rpm chartbuster slips from the Fun Thirty, just another hit parade idol.
So who is David Bowie? He was born David Robert Jones in Brixton, South London, probably twenty-five years ago. His accurate birthdate is a well- kept secret. The family moved to Bromley, Kent, and David won O level GCEs in art and woodwork before leaving Bromley Technical High School at sixteen to become a com- mercial artist with an advertising firm.
It only took him six months to realise that his artistic sense‘was in danger of collapsing under the strain of working in the world of advertising. He handed in his notice and formed his first professional group, a “progressive blues” outfit known as David Jones and the Lower Third.
One record that lingers from that period is I Dig Everything, a piece of shattering, quavering vocal acrobatics from Bowie. But with the advent of the Monkees in the mid-sixties David had to face up to stark reality. The Monkees were being sold on the unspoiled features of an exiled Mancunian, one Davey Jones. It was obvious this bright-eyed, young smiler was going to happen so David played it shrewd and dug up the name Bowie.
David Bowie and the Buzz were on the point of breaking big a number of times. They had a residency at the Marquee in Wardour Street and since they had no money they lived in a beaten-up old ambulance parked right outside the club.
“We were second billing to the Hi Numbers who later became The Who,” David recalls. “Even then Pete Townshend was writing great stuff. In fact he and I were the only ones with anything to say.”
Sadly The Buzz subsided and a disillusioned Bowie stopped playing professionally to throw himself into a lengthy period of meditation and self-examination. He read huge amounts of Albert Camus, Harold Pinter and Oscar Wilde. He joined the Buddhist Tibet Society and helped to establish a Buddhist monastery in Scotland.
He met and worked with mime actor Lindsay Kemp and then formed his own mime troupe as part of his Arts Lab project in Beckenham, Kent, where he’d now set up his headquarters.
Several misguided people said at the time, that by Bowie’s efforts, his Arts Lab commune could become Britain’s first self-sufficient sub- community, but the project floundered.
By the time David had made a “don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss- me” appearance in the film The Virgin Soldiers and had gone to the cinema one night to see Stanley Kubrick’s 200l-A Space Odyssey.
“The whole thing just zapped me,” Bowie said. Bowie went home and wrote the song that was to change his life. Space Oddity was the story of Major Tom, the astronaut who shut off his communications systems, said goodbye to a doomed world and prepared to spend the rest of his life in never decreasing circles in outer space. Space Oddity was also a mammoth seller, topping thei charts round the world. It elevated Bowie to big box-office status.
“It was a catastrophe,” he remembers. “One month I was playing acoustic guitar to ah handful of people in folk clubs, the next I was out on the Mecca ballroom circuit, a pop star; playing to thousands of scream- i ing kids who wanted to pull me to pieces.
“I couldn’t take it for very long so I went into retirement for a couple of years.” In those two years, during which he married Angela, the daughter of an American mining engineer and had a daughter [sic], Zowie, his peace went undisturbed. Bluntly, he was finished and that was the way he wanted it.
“I had time to sort myself out and write. I needed that time where nobody wanted me to do anything, nobody expected anything of me.”
Then he suddenly appeared with some new almost frighteningly significant songs to which he gave the name The Man Who Sold The World. He was back but this time he was given respect as a composer not just adulation as a pop star.
It was about this time that David was photographed in his Mr. Fish dress. “It’s a man’s dress,” he insisted, “it hasn’t got boobs or anything. I`ve always loved clothes and think that you should dress exactly how you like without a care for what people might think.
“I cannot breathe in the atmosphere of convention,” he told one interviewer. “I find freedom only in the realm of my own eccentricity.”
David finally consolidated his new-found position in pop with The Rise and Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, the saga of an imaginary pop group, it’s adventures and eventual destruction.
He is very involved with the stars and beyond, and warns that we should be happier than we are about the prospect of meeting real Spiders from Mars in the years to come.
Bowie leads an isolated life. He surrounds himself with allies and no-one else gets through.
How would he like people to think of him?
“Anyway they want to,” he says. “I’d hate to think I was anybody`s guru, nor am I a pop , idol. Music is far from being my whole life, it’s only my mode of transport for getting my thoughts and beliefs across. I want to retain the position of being a photostat machine with an image.”
There are many reasons to slobber and pore over Dominic Lutyens and Kirsty Hislop’s superb book 70s Style and Design, but the most spectacular image, for me, is the incredible shot of Noosha Fox which opens this review. I really do struggle to do ‘regular’ book reviews; I just want to scan the pretty images and gush most tragically over the contents. Assuming the contents are gush-worthy, but you needn’t worry about that with Seventies Style and Design.
From start to finish there are more lush visuals on offer than any other book tackling the era. It suffers, if suffering is exquisite, from the same problem as Marnie Fogg’s Boutique book in that, frankly, you’ll probably read it about twenty times before you actually come close to reading the text. I sat down, determined to read it from cover to cover for this review, and my determination was flagging after the midway point because I just wanted to gaze at the images. Which in turn got me thinking about the potential of a ‘double book’ where you have a separate tome dedicated to the images, and can sit down and properly concentrate on the written word; clearly researched extremely well and full of ‘new’ information, which just gets lost or swiftly forgotten amongst the visuals. Tricky, but well worth it, I reckon.
My gushing only hesitates at two issues, which is quite amazing for picky little me. The first is probably too general to explain properly, the second is horribly specific.
Firstly, the ‘theming’ of the subject matter into edible chapter-sized chunks (Pop to Post-Modernism, Belle Epoque, Supernature and Avant Garde). I completely understand the motivation behind this, and the themes aren’t your average “chapter one: Psychedelia, chapter two: Glam Rock” type. Thank goodness. Thought and care has gone into them. But it’s always going to struggle a bit in an era which the authors even admit was something of a ‘free for all’ in its style and design themes. You could be forgiven for exiting from the last page with an idea that the Seventies was relentlessly fabulous, iconic and glamorous in its appearance. They even make punk look mouth-wateringly elegant. It is wide in its coverage, but it still orbits only in the atmosphere of what is now perceived to be interesting, beautiful and/or iconic. Which is a curious kind of Russian doll trap, given that the chapter on the Art Deco revival goes into the very interesting notion of cherry-picking from the Twenties and Thirties.
Page 73, 70s Style and Design
I’m not sure how self-aware the authors are, but it amused me to see this in a book which itself contributes to the modern synthesis of the Seventies into a more glamorous, louche and decadent era than most ‘average’ people who lived through it would recall. I know I’m guilty of much the same thing, especially when writing my blog and listing my wares, but I’m also deeply attracted to the more mundane, everyday primary sources. I love dull, contemporary documentaries, unfunny and borderline-gloomy sitcoms, films and dramas, pictures of slightly iffy looking people in iffy looking clothes and naff interiors and objets. It can’t always be high-gloss, high-sparkle.
I know examples of bad taste are ‘clichés’, but many great aspects of the Seventies are in danger of becoming as much clichés themselves. See the likes of Lady GaGa. When one becomes tired of Bowie, has one become tired of life? Sadly, I have found myself pondering this lately.
Saying that, it’s always wonderfully refreshing to read a book about Seventies design which doesn’t set out to sneer or incite howls of I-can’t-believe-people-dressed-like-that laughter.
Plus, high-gloss and high-sparkle are exactly what we need these days. And I don’t blame anyone choosing to jettison Gloomy Style and Design from their research, not least because the book would be twice the length and half the fun with those things included.
My second criticism, and it really is horribly specific, is the omission of Janice Wainwright. There! I said it was specific. If you want a pure-as-the-purest-spring-water example of the best of the Seventies aesthetic, I would say she was high up amongst the greats. Ossie, Biba, Mr Freedom, Bill Gibb are included, certainly, but Janice remains as yet unsung. In a book which gives us references to Universal Witness, Antony Price’s Plaza, Manolo Blahnik’s Zapata, Strawberry Studio and Kitsch-22, it seems a shame to leave anyone out!
What I love about the design of the book is that there are plenty of full-page, high quality images which have never been seen before, interspersed with a more scrapbook-esque mish mash of visual references. Adverts, photoshoots, posters, labels; some are annoyingly small but it’s just so nice to see them all included without any detriment to the written word. The inclusion of many lesser-known designers and characters is quite wonderful; I hadn’t encountered Thea Cadabra and her incredible shoes (see front cover) before, and now I’m a bit obsessed.
Also, any book which contains a half page reproduction of a Malcolm Bird illustration, the aforementioned full page photo of Noosha Fox and which uses the word ‘splendiforously’ is always going to take pride of place on my bookshelf.
Highly recommended for any vintage wishlist this Christmas (and beyond).
Painful as it might be to realise, Live Aid happened 25 years ago today. Even more painful, I imagine, for those who remember it more vividly than I do. I was certainly aware of it, and I remember attending some bring-and-buy sale possibly on the same day, but I wasn’t really old enough to properly appreciate the talent (both musical and totty) on show that day.
I think the main reason I adore them so much is that they are the perfect example of how pervasive the glam-look became in the early Seventies. As a natural successor to the mod and then the psychedelic dandy (both of which you could use to describe early incarnations of both Marc Bolan and David Bowie), glam rock was as peculiarly popular with men as it was with women. It makes less sense for men than either mod or dandy. Both of those looks were smart and instinctively retro. The kipper ties and paisley prints were flamboyant, but they harked back to the fops and dandies of the past.
Glam, however, was like nothing before it.
I appreciate that most men wouldn’t have been wandering around in full make-up, seven-inch platform boots and silver lamé. But the fact that proper ‘blokes’ like The Sweet would appear on TV and in magazines dressed as such, must have heavily influenced the general street style. Away from the gorgeous young things styling themselves on Marc Bolan, men did wear flares; they wore super tight t-shirts, brighter ‘feminine’ colours and, yes, they did wear moderate platforms.
This period is possibly the last time men would, somewhat paradoxically unselfconsciously, just dress however they liked. Without fear of mockery or being thought effeminate. Every other street style subculture since then has been rigidly regulated and adhered to, and only by those with enough confidence to try. This lot were just having fun.
Watching the latest glut of ‘guitar heroes’ and ‘I’m in a rock band’ type programmes on the BBC lately, even the grimiest, blokiest of rockers were wearing skin tight t-shirts and flared jeans, and is that a hint of a heel I can see there? Can you really imagine that happening now? Please excuse me while I drift into a reverie about men being manly enough to walk around in flares and tight t-shirts….
I don’t even need super-fit, super-lean young specimens of the sex. I find the chunkier, hairier, gruffer ones the most endearing.
Which brings me back to The Sweet.
They weren’t pretty like Bolan. They weren’t weird like Bowie. They weren’t goofy like Slade. They weren’t flamboyantly arty like Roxy Music (although, Eno is another good example of a most unlikely candidate for ostrich feathers and make-up, but he rocked it pretty impressively). They were four blokes who had already tried the psychedelic route, and failed with their version of Slow Motion (a Miss Peelpants favourite when it was done by The Magicians).
It’s a rather sad story, really. They were so desperate for success they allowed themselves to be moulded by the Chinn and Chapman hit factory into strange parodies of Bolan and Bowie*. They had little control over their musical output and, presumably, their appearances. They were even replaced by session musicians on some early tracks, despite being very competent musicians. But they seem to have thrown themselves into the glam style with great enthusiasm and flair, whether or not it was something they would have done to that extent without influence.
When they eventually broke free of the manufacturers, the first self-penned hit was Fox on the Run, they wrote some of the greatest material of their career. But while the make-up was toned down, and the costumes consigned to glam history, they continued to wear tight flared jeans and t-shirts – despite the spread of comfortable living and age starting to show.
I don’t suppose they had enough identity after this point, which is why they weren’t so able to metamorphose into a more serious rock band for the late Seventies. And the New Romantic love for glam rock was far too snooty and serious to take much influence from them. I remember being very sad when Brian Connolly died in 1997. He had been a heavy drinker and the failure of his career post-Sweet just exacerbated this. I’ll definitely visit him when my time machine arrives and I’m doing the rounds of hugging random people from history….
*That said, I love this era. I love the music, the clothes and everything. And I’m sure, in retrospect, they loved it too. It was just unadulterated, lightweight fun.
You cannot keep me seated when Blockbuster is playing. Seriously.
I have a confession to make; I’m afraid I go weak at the knees for guys in stripes. Not any old stripey thing, I hasten to add, but nicely tailored Sixties or Seventies numbers (and a bit of early Eighties stripey shirt action, Duran-style). I’m not sure where it came from, or why it has such a strange effect on me, but I’m not sure I really care. I’m just enjoying the view…..
Watching the Seven Ages of Rock on YeSTERDAY [or is it yEsterday? I can never remember now…] I happened upon a surprising Ossie spot. After initially enjoying young Mr David Gilmour (yummy!), the BryanGod (yummier!!) and then a young Peter Gabriel (surprisingly yum in his early days, I hadn’t realised)…..they proceeded to show the clip of Gabriel with the fox head….and a red dress. But not just any red dress….
Oh yeah. Mr Gabriel was wearing an Ossie. Presumably belonging to his wife? I think it rather suits him, and certainly makes an interesting contrast to Bowie and Jagger wearing “official” Ossie menswear.
I once sold the black version over at Vintage-a-Peel. I wonder, should I ever come across another one, whether the Gabriel connection would be a unique selling point?? Methinks perhaps not….
It’s not often you’ll get a vintage fangirl squee out of me (I guess cult TV fans will know what a squee is…..otherwise, just imagine a squeal and much hand clapping and excitement), usually only when I spot a frock I have in an old magazine or film, but when a friend sent me a link to these Bowie ‘videos’ from his Love You Til Tuesday film, I squealed like the Ossie-snuffling-pig that I am.
I’m not really sure it gets much better than Bowie in Ossie. Everyone knows Jagger in Ossie frocks and jumpsuits. But I’m not really a Jagger girl, not like I’m a Bowie girl anyway.
As an entertaining postscript, he seems to have adored that chinoiserie print shirt because I’ve found two more clips of him wearing it over the next year (and those are only the ones on youtube). Those were the days my friend, when you didn’t care if you wore something more than once because damn! it’s an Ossie and it’s fabulous. I find I still take that attitude about vintage pieces, you can wear something everytime you go out but you’ll still always find someone new will compliment you on it.
To end, and just because I feel like it, here are Flight of the Conchords with their truly, truly excellent Bowie tribute…