In the spring of 1972 when Dylan Jones was 12, he saw David Bowie performing Starman on Top of the Pops. It was a life-changing moment, for him and for thousands of others. Over the next four decades Bowie went on to define popular culture in a manner that possibly nobody else ever has, and Jones followed him ever y step of the way. After the singer’s death early last year, Jones documented his life through the words of those who knew him best. He inter viewed more than 150 people, casting the net as widely as possible, from guitarists to girlfriends, groupies to neighbours. The result is a vivid catalogue of anecdote, opinion, gossip and memoir. It’s a book Jones has been writing for one year and all his life, he says. These extracts from David Bowie: A Life are from the early ‘70s, when Bowie was just becoming a star
THE MAKING OF AN ICON
WOODY WOODMANSEY (drummer, The Spi
ders from Mars) Coming from Yorkshire, we were musician-musicians. We didn’t dress up. Meeting David, it was like, this guy dresses up! Even for breakfast! When I first met him he had a rainbow T-shirt on, hair down his back, bangles on, red corduroy trousers. Shoes with red stars painted on them. I thought, bloomin’ ’eck, he’s more dressed up than my girlfriend. But we chatted for a few hours and he played stuff, and we thought this guy can write, and he means it. I had never really met anyone that determined. He was assuming he’d made it already.
GLENN GORING (musician) David and Angie [Bowie, his wife] rented a large ground-floor flat in Haddon Hall, Southend Road, Beckenham. It was pretty much an open house… At that time Zowie [Duncan] Bowie was an infant. So you would have this nappy-changing, toy-rattling, baby-crying, family environment woven into this bohemian, slightly crazy atmosphere.
RICK WAKEMAN (pianist) David used to call Haddon Hall ‘Beckenham Palace’. The minstrels’ gallery was bigger than my entire house. He also had a grand piano, which was unusual in those days. He asked me to sit down, took out this battered old 12-string guitar and said, ‘I want you to listen to these songs.’ Then he played Life on
Mars? and it was fantastic. It ticked every box. Great melody. Great chords, surprises, and then when you thought it was going to go a certain place it went somewhere else. He was very good at that. When I asked him why he was playing his songs on a tatty guitar, he said, ‘If it sounds good on this, think about what it will sound like with good musicians on good instruments.’
ROY DALLEY (neighbour) I lived on a council estate on Beckenham Hill Road, which was half a mile from Haddon Hall. I was 10 years old and when my friends and I discovered that David Bowie lived down the road we’d go down there and hang out. Haddon Hall was a kind of dark, almost scary-looking place. We knocked on the door at least six different times before anyone answered. One day Angie answered the door, and after that she always did. She was incredibly generous with her time, chatting to us all. She had a larger-thanlife personality. Her hair was some kind of tone between sky blue and turquoise, and cut in the same style as Bowie’s. Bowie himself would always be in the background. We saw him once, sitting at the window, with the bright-red hair, but as soon as he saw us turning into his drive he just shot away. You’d also see other kids hanging around, as he was becoming famous by then. We weren’t rude, we were just wide-eyed kids going to see the weird pop star who lived up the road.
BOY GEORGE (singer) Angie had opened the window at Haddon Hall when we were kids and shouted, ‘Why don’t you all just f— off ?’ We were delighted – it was an acknowledgment of sorts. We adored Angie just as much as we adored David.
SEX, DRUGS AND EARLY STARDOM
CHERRY VANILLA (actress) The first time I met David was when I went with [photographer] Leee Black Childers and [singer] Jayne County to see him at the Country Club on the outskirts of London. We introduced ourselves to Angie, who intro duced us to David, and we all became friends. We all recognised something in each other. I think he saw the roles we could play for him. We weren’t servants, but we wanted to tell the world how fabulous he was. Everything was sexual in those days. Time was going fast. You just wanted to accomplish something and also have as much fun, and as much sex, as you could. We were all in love with him. He was our mission. We just wanted to end up in bed with him at the end of a working day.
ANGIE BOWIE (ex-wife) I would say that for quite a long time David had a sex addiction. Even when he was in The Manish Boys [1964-5] he was obsessed with sex . Dana [Gillespie, singer and Bowie’s girlfriend] said that back then the band used to have a hearse, which was basically their booty buggy, you know. So yes, there was probably a sex addiction. We had an open relationship.
David was bisexual, I was bisexual. I wouldn’t have had any use for David if he hadn’t been bisexual. Being bisexual obviously helped his image; of course it did! How could you go to a dance club, and not understand or appreciate all the fabulous alternative society people who love your music! So it was very planned. I didn’t manufacture his image though, I didn’t have to!
WENDY LEIGH (biographer) One of the ways in which David made it in America was by being very English and having these wonderful manners. Let’s not forget, he wasn’t a working-class hero, in the same way that Mick Jagger wasn’t. He was middle class to the core, and in the States he used to play on his Englishness. He would romance women, sing to them, properly seduce them. He would talk and talk and talk until they were desperate to sleep with him.
After a concert in LA in 1972, the DJ Wolfman Jack threw a party at his home, with Bowie as the guest of honour. He spied a girl who was dancing with Kim Fowley [record producer and singer], who knew everyone. David asked Fowley if she was with him, and when Fowley said no, he walked across to her, and said, ‘My name is David Bowie. Would you like to accompany me to the bathroom?’ When they eventually came out, he kissed the girl on the cheek, shook her hand, and said, ‘Thank you.’ He played the English gentleman to the hilt.
JOSETTE CARUSO (groupie) I went to see Bowie at Carnegie Hall in 1972 and it was unlike anything I had ever seen before. The show itself was
‘When I first met him he didn’t take many drugs, maybe a diet pill every now and then, and a glass of white wine to get himself tipsy’
‘At the end of the party, everyone was gone apart from me and David and Mick Jagger, so it ended up with the three of us sleeping together. And we had a wonderful time’
insane, as everybody just dressed up beyond belief to see him. I was backstage after the gig, and David’s bodyguard invited me to go back to the Plaza Hotel. So I went, and was standing around in this amazing silver sequinned mirrored dress when David walks up to me and says, ‘I can see me in you.’ Which was the most flirtatious thing to say. But that was very David. Very polite, very flirtatious. Anyway, we were talking and making out and then he whispered that Angie was starting to look at me and was probably going to throw a plate of cakes at me. So David invites me to the next gig, which was in Philadelphia. I didn’t go to the show; I went straight up to his suite at the Benjamin Franklin Hotel and waited for him.
When he turned up he really turned it on. He properly seduced me. I remember we talked a lot about The Catcher in the Rye, as he seemed to identify with the book’s protagonist, Holden Caulfield. We talked about Nietzsche, Freud, Picasso, paedophiles, so many different things.
We spoke for over an hour, as though he was actually trying to woo me. And then all this conversation obviously led to bed, where he was wonderful. Just terrific. He was ver y well endowed – I mean, absolutely. He didn’t appear to be on drugs, but he really knew his way around a woman’s body. He was an English gentleman, and it wasn’t just about him. He took control in bed, and was very considerate, and very focused on making love. Lots of kissing, lots of hugging. The sex was wonderful. He was the ultimate rock’ n’roll lover.
Something weird happened later that night in Philadelphia. Something really chilling. At one point there was a knock on the door, and, after a while, one of his bodyguards went to answer it, and then called for David. So David went off and came back a few minutes later white as a sheet. He was visibly shocked. Someone had just turned up and offered him a warm, dead body to have sex with. The town had never seen anything like David before, and he obviously looked like such a freak that some sick people thought he might be into necrophilia. That was the perception of Ziggy, and that’s how crazy that tour was, that’s how decadent it was. David was completely horrified. He said, ‘Who on earth do they think I am? Why would they think I’d be interested in something like that? Why would I be interested in f—ing a dead body?’
CHERRY VANILLA When I first met him he didn’t take many drugs, maybe a diet pill every now and then, and a glass of white wine to get himself tipsy. He didn’t really get high until he started getting into cocaine, which I actually helped him get into. He went into cocaine really fast, but then he came out of it quite quickly too. I helped him get the very best cocaine when he was doing it, but he only did it for 18 months or two years tops.
MARY FINNIGAN (landlady, lover) David was scared of LSD and hinted that he found the prospect of losing control during the psychedelic experience terrifying. He talked about his halfbrother Terry’s mental illness. ‘He’s schizophrenic and it probably runs in the family,’ he said.
AVA CHERRY (backing singer) Mick Jagger knew David, and I was friends with both of them. So all three of us used to hang out a lot, and, yes, we did have some fun together. We were staying at The Sherry-netherland [Hotel] in New York one night, where David had given a party for Rudolf Nureyev. At the end of the party, everyone was gone apart from me and David and Mick, so it just ended up with the three of us sleeping together. That was it. And we had a wonderful time.
THE ZIGGY STARDUST YEARS
DAVID BAILEY I took my first pictures of Bowie for Vogue in 1972. He came in full Ziggy Stardust costume. Acting already. I said to him, ‘Who are you today? Lassie or f—ing Hamlet?’ But right then, right at that moment, he was Ziggy Stardust, and there was nothing I could do about it. You never know who you’re getting when you photograph an actor, and he was always an actor.
TREVOR BOLDER (bassist, The Spiders from
Mars) When he wanted to describe exactly how he wanted us to look, he took us to see A Clockwork
Orange. A lot of people thought it was Star Trek but it wasn’t. And we just dressed up. It was the makeup thing that was the big deal. [Mick] Ronson [also a Spider] was definitely against it, but then we started using it… It was more theatre make-up than anything glammy. He just wanted us to stand out. We went along with it, and all the girls liked [it].
I am enormously proud of what B owie achieved on our behalf, as it was like reaching the summit of Everest.
KEN SCOTT (record producer) Tony [Defries, music manager] told David that he was going to
make him a star. And he did it by encouraging David to become quite distant from everyone around him, by acting as though he was already famous. I’ve seen lots of people do this since, but David was the first time I’d seen this process in action. It was fascinating to watch.
[He insisted] that Bowie separate himself from the rest of the band. I could never work out if the personality change was because he was adopting the Ziggy persona, or whether it was the result of becoming successful. Success changes everyone. The whole thing became intertwined. He basically became more distant, which was a huge issue with the band. What you have to remember is that when the band got together, even though it was David who was steering them, they were very much a band, very much a group of lads, but as soon as the success happened, David’s ascendancy was almost vertical. Up and up he went.
NICK KENT ( journalist) Whenever I spoke to Iggy Pop about David Bowie he would always say, ‘That guy is a white-hot talent.’ Everyone I knew spoke about Bowie as a talent.
IGGY POP (singer) David was worldly. I learned things that I still use today. I met The Beatles and The Stones, and this one and that one, and this actress and this actor and all these powerful people through him. And I watched.
DANNY FIELDS (manager, publicist and
author) David was very good at spotting talent more cosmic than his own, and very good at flattering people. David was a vampire, but a good vampire, he did something good with the blood. He shared the nutrients.
FAMILY, ROOTS AND MADNESS
DANA GILLESPIE (singer and girlfriend) I went once to his parents’ place in Bromley. I was 13 or 14, just after we met. They’re in this tiny little working-class house. I walk in and the parents are sitting there and there’s a television blasting away in the corner, and nobody spoke. I think we had little tuna sandwiches. I came from a house where everyone chatted away and had a lot of social intercourse, but his parents didn’t say anything. It was a really cold house, a very chilly atmosphere. I could immediately tell that David didn’t really like living at home. He was uncomfortable during the entire visit. When his parents went out, David said to me, ‘I want to get out of here. I have to get out of here. I want to go up in the world.’ So he went up in the world.
DAVID BOWIE I had a brother, a half-brother, Terry, who was a jazz and soul fan and he would bring home albums by Tony Bennett. He always thought Tony Bennett was better than Frank Sinatra; I think he was probably right actually.
OLIVER JAMES (psychologist) Terry was an important person in his childhood, and in his teenage years, and he was a very cool guy. Him being cool helped Bowie to develop his own cool. I guess he would have felt guilt… because as Terry had a different father, David’s father didn’t want Terry in the house. David was certainly the chosen one. He was treated better, he was loved, and he appeared to have some control over his life.
ANGIE BOWIE (ex-wife) I had Terry at Haddon Hall for a while, as I brought him from Cane Hill [hospital, after he was diagnosed with schizophrenia] to live with us for six months. They gave him drugs which they said were going to manage him as best as possible, and David felt so guilty. I said don’t feel guilty, get Terry to come and spend some time [with us] and it will change everything. And it did. A lot of his music afterwards, where he deals with insanity and madness… had a lot to do with the fact that he had a chance to spend time with Terry and talk to him.
HANIF KUREISHI (author and playwright) I always got the sense that he couldn’t quite work out the Terry element of his life. He found it confusing. He would talk about how awkward it was in the house for his mother and father when Terry was around. And I’ve often wondered if the whole alien thing didn’t come from that. Someone who is sort of slightly to one side who doesn’t quite get what’s going on.
TONY ZANETTA (actor, Warhol acolyte) In the early days… he talked about his family. According to him everyone was schizophrenic… there was a lot of madness in the family. The undercurrent to that was, I’m mad, I’m insane, and this is my way out of it. After a while it wasn’t really spoken of, so much, but it was always there.
NINA SIMONE (musician) [ When we met in July 1974] he said, ‘The first thing I want you to know is that you’re not crazy – don’t let anybody tell you you’re crazy, because where you’re coming from, there are very few of us out there.’ He told me that he was not a gifted singer. He said, ‘What’s wrong with you is you were gifted – you have to play. Your genius overshadows the money… whereas I wasn’t a genius, but I planned, I wanted to be a rock’n’roll singer and I just got the right formula.’ He [had] more sense than anybody I’ve ever known. It’s not human – David [wasn’t] from here.
David Bowie: A Life, by Dylan Jones, is published by Preface (£20). To order your copy for £16.99, call 0844 871 1514 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk
‘David was a vampire, but a good vampire, he did something good with the blood. He shared the nutrients’
Performing with The Spiders from Mars in 1973
With Angie and son Zowie (now director Duncan Jones), 1974
With singer Dana Gillespie – an early girlfriend – in 1971
Singing Starman with Mick Ronson on Top of the Pops in 1972
With wife Angie at Haddon Hall, Beckenham, Kent, in April 1971
Signing an autograph at Union Station, Los Angeles, in 1973
Backstage with Iggy Pop at The Ritz, New York, 1986
His last performance as Ziggy, with singer Ava Cherry, in London, 1973
At Café Royal in London with Lou Reed and Mick Jagger in 1973