David Bowie officially announced yesterday that he will be releasing his 25th studio album called Blackstar on January 8, 2016, his 69th birthday.Earlier this year, Bowie shared a snippet of the title track, which will be used for the opening credits of The Last Panthers – an upcoming television series
In celebration, we’re digging into our own vault to re-issue our exclusive interview with the David Bowie. The interview took place via phone – Bowie called the office from Nice, France – and ran in our December 2003 issue.
“It’s if you can reach 80 and still hold a cup of tea, then you can become a legend,” laughs David Bowie from a hotel phone in France.
While Bowie himself might shrug off the notion, there is little dissension otherwise that, after some 30 years and 26 albums, he is as legendary as legendary gets. From the spacey glitz-rock of Ziggy Stardust to the low crooning of the Thin White Duke, David Bowie’s songs have become part of the defining soundtrack of rock and roll.
But maybe “legend” really is the wrong word. It sounds so final. And any suspicion that there was anything final about Bowie’s career was erased in September with the release of his latest album, Reality, which not only hit No. 1 on the Pan European charts, but debuted in the Top-10 in 15 different countries.
No, says David Bowie, this well is far from dry.
There’s a rattle in Bowie’s voice as we speak. It’s raw, ravaged by a case of laryngitis he first noticed a few days ago during a performance in Nice.
“I had to cut the show short. I only did about an hour and 45, which for me is quite short. And it was still bad last night, so we had to cancel,” he sighs.
“I suppose doing this interview isn’t going to help the situation any,” I offer.
“I can manage this,” he assures. “It’s going for notes that are high – it’s just not there. Three of the band have kind of come down with a flu and cold thing over the last few days. It’s November …”
Bowie is polite and generous during the conversation – and in a remarkably good mood for being sidelined by throat problems just a few weeks into his first large-scale world tour in nearly a decade.
There’s a sense of joy about him, something he attributes in part to the blessing of a 3-year-old daughter, in part to the overwhelming reception he and his band have gotten since launching the tour in October. In fact, Bowie’s giddiness doesn’t seem very legend-like at all.
“I try valiantly to not become complacent about any of it,” he explains. “It’s not a career thing for me. It’s really a day-to-day thing, and it really always just settles back on, ‘Am I enjoying what I’m writing? Am I enjoying performing?’”
As the conversation continues, it becomes increasingly apparent that the answer is yes, he’s enjoying his career immensely. At 56, Bowie is still racing full-speed down the hall like a school boy to see what surprises lie around the next bend.
“I’m not sure that I really had an impression of what I’d be doing at this [age],” he insists. “I think I properly thought I was gonna be dead. I really didn’t see this as a long-term enterprise at all. So, it’s a strange thing to still be doing what I do. I think the thing that I’m grateful for is that I still enjoy it as much as I ever did.”
That joy permeates his newest album as well, forming a stark contrast with its predecessor, 2002’s gloomy Heathen. But stark contrast is certainly nothing new to Bowie’s catalog. One minute, he’s an androgynous rock star from outer space. The next, he’s singing Christmas carols with Bing Crosby. He’s practically reinvented himself with each album. Well, maybe not reinvented himself …
“No, no, I hate that expression,” he chuckles. “I suppose [the disparity] is because I don’t particularly have a genre loyalty. I don’t think of myself as an R&B artist, I don’t think of myself as a country and Western artist. I don’t feel like I’m stuck with a genre particularly, so it’s never really bothered me in how I approach the songs.
“The consistency that I have, I think, is that there is a real continuum in the subject matter that I’ve written for 30 years or whatever,” Bowie continues. “I think it’s always pretty much stayed around the same kind of areas, but the way I interpret those things tends to change from album to album.”
Inspired by his adopted hometown of New York, Bowie has been attacking music in the new millennium as ferociously as ever. The rock gems on Reality sound more like the work of an enthused breakthrough artist than a proven veteran – and I mean that in the very best of ways.
“My geographical location has always sort of had a strong bearing on how the work eventually sounds. And I guess hometown these last few years has definitely just been shaking it out of me,” he says, “Since I finished that album I’ve written, hell, I’ve written at least 12 pieces. I just don’t stop writing, really.”
What does stop him from writing, Bowie says, is being on the road. That being said, it looks like his creative flood will be dammed for quite a while by the monstrous “A Reality Tour,” which ultimately will hit at least 17 countries in about seven months. The tour – which lands in the United States on December 6 – has been massively successful throughout Europe.
Although he’s in his fourth decade of rock and roll, Bowie is being praised for displaying a teenager’s vigor on-stage as he plows through hits new and old, from the current single, “New Killer Star” to classics like “Rebel Rebel,” “Changes,” “Fame,” and “Let’s Dance.”
“It’s much more of a sweep chronologically through what I’ve done, and then not always the most expected numbers, either,” he explains. “I’ll pull numbers from Low and Heroes and Lodger as well as do things from Ziggy Stardust and whatever, and I’ll always make sure that there’s a very large input from the last 10 years or so as well.”
With a toddler at home waiting for her daddy, Bowie was not so anxious to return to the road this time around. But the thrill of playing to a sold-out arena of 18,000 in Paris, for example, does help to take the edge off.
“It’s tough out here. It kind of gets lonely,” Bowie admits. “But on the other hand,
I think when the shows are really good – which fortunately so far it’s been really
fantastic – I guess that makes up for it in a small way.”
And more fantastic shows are certainly on the way, says Bowie, just as soon as his voice is back in tip-top condition.
“I think that won’t take long,” Bowie chuckles. “It’s a tough old trooper, my voice. I mean, it’s amazingly rigorous.”
I’m happy to report that the next night’s show went off without a hitch.
From the Vault is Fly’s ongoing series of articles from our print edition’s 20+ history. Follow along the series here.