IT looked like a piece of master planning, but it wasn’t. It looked like a monster hit, and it was. David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, inspired by a visit to the film “2001”, was released just as the world was staying up all night to watch the moon landing.
Like the modest, self-effacing young man he is, David passed the credit on to his record company, but as it was written last November, he can hardly disown his amazing foresight!
“Put it down to luck”, he said over the phone from Perth, where he was about to begin a short tour of the Haggisland. “I really am amazed at the success of the record, even though I had confidence in it. I’ve been the male equivalent of the dumb blonde for a few years. And I was beginning to despair of people accepting me for my music. It may be fine for a male model to be told he’s a great looking guy, but that doesn’t help a singer very much, especially now that the pretty boy personality cult seems to be on the way out.”
Much as David takes his songwriting seriously, he is amused by pundits who examine his material looking for hidden meanings even he is totally unaware of. “My songs are all from the heart, and they are wholly personal to me and I would like people to accept them as such.
“I dearly want to be recognized as a writer, but I would ask them not to go too deeply into my songs. As likely as not, there’s nothing there but the words and music you hear at one listening. I see you’ve noticed that my songs are seldom about boy and girl relationships. That’s because I’ve never had any traumas with girls. I like to think myself a pretty stable person, and I’ve never had a bad relationship with an intelligent girl. And if a girl isn’t intelligent, I don’t want to know.”
Although David made a very good impression on the recent Humble Pie tour, he maintains he is a songwriter first, and even denies he is a good performer.
“It was my first tour” he told me, “and I never stopped being surprised the concerts even went on. It appeared so badly organised to me, but I suppose everybody knew what they were doing. For me, it was nothing near an artistic success, mainly because I was limited to a twenty minute spot, and I ended up accompanying myself after a mix-up. I was very pleased to see that ‘Space Oddity’ went down so well, I thought the audiences would miss the orchestral backing which was on the record. I throw myself on the mercy of an audience, and I really need them to respond to me. If they don’t, I’m lost. But all the same, I’m determined to be an entertainer, clubs, cabaret, concerts, the lot.
“There is too much false pride within the pop scene, groups and singers decrying cabaret without ever having seen the inside of a northern nightclub. I just want to sing to as many people as want to hear me, and I don’t care where I do it. Mind you, I refuse to have my hair cut or change my appearance for anybody. I’m quite happy with the way I look, and people will have to accept me the way I am, or not bother at all.”
A former commercial artist, David played tenor sax with a modern jazz group, “went through the blues thing” during which time he switched to vocalist, and then joined a traditional French mime company, where he met and worked with Marc Bolan.
“Marc has been a great influence on me, not so much with his music, but with his attitude to the pop scene. He shuts himself off from the destructive elements and prefers to get on with his work. That’s how I intend to be. In face I ran away from London a while back when people started talking about me, and didn’t really come back unless it was really vital.”
Inevitably, the underground cropped up and David had some interesting comments on the movement, “I thought when the whole thing started,” he said, “that a whole lot of new, musically-minded groups were going to appear with some meaningful music and try and spread it around. Well, we’ve got the music , and most of it is very good too, but I can’t figure out the attitude of so many of the underground groups.
“It seems to me that they have expanded their own personal little scenes to a certain extent and then they stop, content to play to the converted. That doesn’t get them anywhere, and in the end both the audiences and the groups will get fed up with the same faces and places. A lot is said and written about the musical snobbery with the fans, but I think the groups are just as bad. For some reason, even the words ‘entertainer’ and ‘cabaret’ make them shudder.”
Obviously, having a hit record and being able to command the money that goes with it is going to make a few changes to David’s life, not least of all in his bank balance. He seems to have made a good start already.
“I’ve bought a big car and a nice little house which needs a lot more time and some money spent on it before it will be as I want it. I suppose other little things will crop up as time goes on. At the moment, I’m more concerned with remaining a 22 year old, or even going back a year to 21. This business might keep you young mentally, but I feel almost middle-aged physically. I often regret not leading a more normal teenage life. From the time I was about 16, I never kicked a football over a common with my mates, I haven’t had to chat up a girl like an ordinary teenager for ages, and believe it or not, I miss it.
“I have to try and figure out if a girl knows who I am and whether she wants me for what I am or my name. It’s a more difficult problem than it sounds, but as I was saying, I haven’t had much trouble with girls, touch wood.”
The immediate future for David looks bright, with as much live work as he wants, an LP on release this week (14), and even the prospect of his own TV show. But the usual pressing worry about follow-ups hasn’t caught up with David yet. “Follow-up?” He queried, “but the first one’s still alive at the moment. Actually I haven’t even thought about it. I’m not sure if I’ve got a suitable song for another single, but even if I have, I don’t want to be one of those singers whose career depends on hit singles, and they are virtually dead for six months of the year. I hope to get some free time to do some writing when I return from Scotland, but even then, I can’t write just because I’ve got the time. But it’s a bit early in life for all my ideas to have dried up, isn’t it, so I suppose I’ll come up with something.”
At the moment, David seems to be the sort of person much needed in pop: full of original thought, a willingness to do work, a hatred of the hard drug scene and a class distinction in music, and common sense enough not to let the fame and adulation surely coming his way, turn his head.
I’m sure he has been around long enough to withstand the pressures, and if he can’t he’ll be wise enough to run.
Article written by Gordon Coxhill for New Musical Express, Nov 15th, 1969