David Bowie: ‘In the ’70s, I Never Felt Like a Rock Star’

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David Bowie animation by Patrick Smith

David Bowie animation by Patrick Smith

The people at Blank on Blank had a terrific idea: take audio-only interviews with famous people and animate them. (They include a diverse group, ranging from Martin Scorsese to Ray Bradbury to Robin Williams.) Over time, Best Classic Bands will curate some of the ones with classic rock stars for our readers. We start with an interview that David Bowie did with longtime record industry executive Joe Smith in 1988.

Smith was able to get Bowie to open up on a variety of topics. “There was a real feeling of inadequacy in [the early ’70s]. I never really felt like a rock singer, a rock star. And I always felt a little bit out of my element. Now, from my standpoint, when I look back, I realize that from ’72 through to about ’76, I was the ultimate rock star.

“[Ziggy Stardust] was half out of sci-fi rock and half out of the Japanese theatre. The clothes were, for that time, simply outrageous. Nobody had seen anything like them before. The Ziggy thing was worth about one or two albums… I couldn’t really write anything else around him.

“I’m a moderately good singer; I’m not a great singer but I can interpret the song, which I don’t think is quite the same thing as singing it. I had no problem writing something for Iggy Pop, working with Lou Reed or writing for Mott the Hoople. I can get into their mood and what they want to do. But I find it extremely hard to write for me. So I found it quite easy to write for the artist that I would create. I did find it much easier, having created Ziggy, to write for him.

Smith asks: “Is it hard being David Bowie?” “Not now, really, no. The world that I inhabit is probably a very different world than the one that people would expect me to be in.”

Watch the video, produced by David Gerlach and animated by Patrick Smith

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Smith was a senior executive for many years with Warner Bros. Records, Elektra Records and Capitol Records. He conducted well over 200 interviews with such A-Listers as Ray Charles, Little Richard, Billy Joel, Quincy Jones, Paul McCartney, Steven Tyler and Tom Jones, while serving as President of Capitol, and has donated the interviews to the Library of Congress.

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