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Andy Kent is one of the most important freelance photographers in the music business. At 28, his well matched wardrobe, trimmed hair and full beard give the look of a successful young businessman. Which he is.
Yet, after six years of shooting almost every L.A. concert, Andy’s motivation has long since transcended fandom. It is now a job. He and his partner Neal usually flip coins over who has to shoo ta local performance. The winner gets to stay home.
It’s been two weeks since the beginning of David Bowie’s 1976 worldwide concert blitz, of which Andy Kent is official tour photographer. These days, he is a changed man. Gone is the apathy of someone who has seen a loud rock and roll band a few hundred times too many. Now Andy feverishly scans the radio for Bowie records. He speaks constantly of the man’s genius. He arrives at Bowie’s show hours before they begin. He helps the band choose their on - stage at tire. He discusses and critiques the set every night with Bowie. Andy feels important. “I told David the other night,” he reports, “that I haven’t worked this hard in years. I really feed off his energy.”
Andy Kent is only one of a thirty-nine person entourage that is powered by the same blind devotion to David Bowie. It is not hard to become totally drawn in by the man–he has a special talent for making all those around him feel as if they are, indeed, most crucial to his vision. Yet, in the end, Bowie has them all on salary. Ever since his costly (millions were lost) split with ex-manager Tony De Fries, he manages and owns himself entirely.
This is Bowie’s first tour since that incident. Likewise, the current stage show is a virtual oneman tour de force. There are no sets, costumes, glitter or dancers. For the first time in years, it’s just David.
To say that few in the business expected Bowie’s tour to be a success in any way would be a vast overstatement. His guitarist of the last two years, Earl Slick, has just parted bitter company
over the firing of Bowie’s former advisor Michael Lippman. And the last word before David left for tour rehearsals in Jamaica (he stayed at Keith Richard’s home in Ocho Rios), came from another English pop star who’d just visited him. The remark went something like “He’ll be lucky if he gets through the rehearsals, much less a six month tour.” One month later, the same pop star would send Bowie a congratulatory telegram praising Station to Station as “the best thing I’ve heard in a long, long time”.
Bowie got through the rehearsals. Despite a severe dose of racism from the natives (“They just don’t like white people there,” explained road manager/lighting designer Eric Barrett. “It’s that simple.”), David came up with a tight, hour-and-twenty-minute set list. It is, as follows: “Station to Station,” “Suffragette City,” a slowed “Waiting For My Man,” “Word On A Wing,” “Stay” and “TVC 15″ from the new album, a sinister new song “Sister Midnight,” “Life On Mars,” “Five Years,” “Fame,” “Changes,” “Jean Genie” and encores “Queen Bitch,” “Rebel, Rebel” and “Diamond Dogs.” Conspicuous by their absence are “Young Americans” and, of course, “Golden Years.” Says David: “‘Golden Years’ is very difficult to sing in the same key I recorded it in. We should have it in the show by New York (late March), though, in a lower note range. As for ‘Young Americans,’ I’m sorry. I just don’t feel like singing it . . . ”
The new guitarist, a 21-year-old unknown Canadian named Stacey Heyden, has risen well to his task. He’s just a little nervous. During the sound-check for opening night, he stood rigid and practiced playing “Stairway to Heaven.” It seemed to relax him.
Several hours later, the sold-out Vancouver crowd milled about the arena to the pre-show sounds of Kraftwerk’s Radioactivity album. Along with Roxy Music, Kraftwerk is Bowie’s favorite band of late. Originally, it was them that they wanted to open the show – but the idea was scrapped when the band had too many keyboards and synthesizers to transport on a string of onenighters. Instead, now Bowie shows you Un Chien Andalou, the 20’s impressionist film that every college cinema student studies. The audience tonight is understandably ambivalent. It is not exactly a film one can easily consume. The scene where a woman’s eyeball is slit open is a big hit, nonetheless.
David would later explain the Kraftwerk and Un Chien Andalou do little more than set a schizophrenic mood for the concert. “There is no particular significance to the show,” he said. “It’s just a very good rock band… with me singing.” That, in fact, is exactly the charm of David’s latest persona. Very simply, he is a crooner with a great moves – a regular Frank Sinatra. And it works.
The show, in itself, is not a magical rock and roll event. The band (Carlos Alomar on rhythm guitar, George Murray on bass, Dennis Davis on drums and Heyden on lead) is inspired and the songs are good. But it is Bowie that is stunning. Dressed in black formal slacks and vest, he prowls an all-black stage brilliantly lit with white-hot light. One thing is really obvious as he leans into “Station to Station.” There’s no need for mascara or guitar humping, David Bowie, at his very basic, is a consummate entertainer. Opening night is a tumultuous victory.
Afterward, there’s a small celebration dinner party at David’s room for the band to listen to the tapes. By the meal’s end, though, everybody is much too inebriated to concentrate on the recording. Except Bowie, who is juiced, but still listening on headphones in the corner. He’s oblivious to the two pimply Vancouver teenagers sitting next to him. They gaze longingly at him. They try to fondle him through his Japanese house robe. They want him. And they are, quite possibly, two of the ugliest girls one could ever hope to miss. When Bowie awakens to the scenario around him, his already blanched face turns even paler. He carefully jumps to his feet and locks himself in the bedroom.
Seattle – February 3
Backstage at the Seattle Coliseum: “Jeez, I wonder who brought those beauties to David’s room last night.” Stacey Heyden is grinning into the guilty face of Dennis Davis.
“If you thought I was going to hang out with them,” Davis chortles, “you’re more crazy than they were ugly. Let me tell you, those chicks were so ugly only their mother could look at them… and she died laughing.”
It’s another sellout tonight, and another audience entirely. Both halls prohibited smoking. This crowd could have given a shit. When Bowie sneaks out for a look, he almost gags at the heavy haze of pot smoke. “Gosh, I hope I don’t bum their trip.” David laughs, then cowers in mock terror. “No, no, no… don’t do it… don’t play ‘Life On Mars.’ Oh God… I can’t handle it.” He laughs again, changes out a pair of dungarees and gets ready for the show.
The stone glitter underbelly of Seattle is out in full force tonight. As Bowie takes the stage, one 16-year-old Mexican boy still has his back to the show.
“Whereth Glenda, man?”
he demands with a transparent lisp. His blue makeup smeared eyes are blinking back tears. “Whereth Glenda?” He’s getting angry now as Bowie kicks into “Suffragette City” behind him. Finally he grabs the writer by his lapels and almost shakes himself off his platform heels. “Ju bedder tall me,” he shouts. The lisp is all gone. Then suddenly, the kid wheels around and sees Bowie on stage. “Thorry,” he purrs. “I didn’t know thee was already up there.”
For the band, the show is a near disaster. Lighting cues are blown, monitors malfunction, Tony Kaye’s keyboards are off pitch just enough to grate his nerves to a pulp. But, in the classic rock and roll tradition, those not on stage see and hear a superb performance.
Over a late dinner at the rooftop restaurant of the Edgewater Hotel, Bowie is troubled by the technically marred show. On impulse, he produces an itinerary and, in between coping with the autograph seekers, works out the numerological forecast for the next week of concerts. “Portland,” he announces to the table, “will be very good. San Francisco [where he last drew a pathetically small crowd on his debut visit three years ago] will either be incredibly great or a miserable disaster. The first [of three shows at the Forum] Los Angeles concert we’ll definitely be great, as will the next one… and the last one is up to me to save.” He heaves a relieved sigh. “All right then. What’s on the menu?”
Meanwhile, a fleet of young Seattle glitter boys have been gathering outside the restaurant. They all but mob David when he finally leaves. They begin to clutch at him and kiss him on the cheek and mouth before Duane Vaughns, formerly Mick Jagger’s and now David’s fourth degree black belt bodyguard, clears them all with a menacingly gentle “O-kay.”
A minute later, Bowie realizes one of the fawning Seattle admirers has pickpocketed not only his cigarettes, but the itinerary and several other important papers. David huffs in disgust. “It’s the queens.” Which is all Duane has to hear before he’s off to retrieve them.
Vaughns, recently featured with Bowie on the Dinah Shore Show, subscribes to the Angela Bowie credo of security – “Don’t alienate the fans.” That’s not to say he isn’t fiercely loyal to his boss. Duane returns an hour later, out of breath and holding the booty in a bloody fist.
David gasps, “Oh my God.”
“Don’t worry,” says to Duane, “I didn’t hit anybody. When I finally found the kid that had everything, he wouldn’t stop lying to me… wouldn’t admit he had the stuff. So I put a hole in the wall…and back everything came.”
Yet the same pack of queens is back roaming the Edgewater halls. They listen at every door, searching for the faint English accent that could be Bowie’s. They find it, and knock on his room door ever so timidly. Angie answers.
“Hello gentlemen.” It’s a strange sort of warmth Angela Bowie shows them. Not quite a smile. Just teeth.
The spokesman for the group, another pockmarked glitter child, is aghast. “Angie,” he squeals. “Angie Bowie!!!”
She is brisk. “Yes, honey, what can I do for you?”
“Where’s David, Angie?”
“He’s here,” she allows. In the next room. David freezes.
“This is so pathetic,” Bowie rests his head in his hands. “It’s so… so 1972, you know. I thought all this had died. I mean, didn’t it disappear along with T Rex?”
“Can we talk to him, can we talk to him?” they chime from the hallway.
“You can talk to him from here.” Fair enough, “Daaaaaaaaavid???”
They clamor for, and get autographs. “All right, thanks kids,” says Angie. She tries to shut the door and finds a foot thrust in the way. Her pleasant demeanor changes instantly. “You’ll do well to take that foot out of the door,” she thunders. “Unless you like to see it twisted back around and into your groin… ”
The door swings shut. Effortlessly.
An hour later – David, Angie and Duane have escaped to Andy Kent’s room. The Bowies, perched on the Magic Fingers equipped bed, are feeling more comfortable now. But Angie is still bristling over Seattle fandom.
“I mean, there’s a way you can be fanatical, and not obnoxious.” She shrugs. “The Japanese kids are the best. You should see them at the concerts there – they run on each other’s backs. It’s incredible. I can appreciate that. That’s creative fandom.”
Angie has been on the road with David, and will be sticking close to his side, throughout the tour; rumored bizarre proclivities aside, they really are a model, loving Seventies couple of sorts. “I’m pretty much over my affection for men,” confesses David unblushingly. “The only time I get halfway wistful for those old days is in Japan. All those little boys are so cute, I just want to take them all up to my room.”
And then, in a bit of Axis free association, David smiles weakly and says: “When you think about it, Adolf Hitler was the first rock star. It certainly wasn’t his politics. He was a media popstar. I totally advocate using the media, you know. I think it’s great. I’m with McLuhan all the way. But sometimes…”
As if on cue, an oddly familiar voice lisps out from the hallway. “Glenda?”
“… it turns back around on you.”
Portland Coliseum – February 4
A “soft market,” as euphemisms go. Only six out of eleven thousand seats are filled and still, Bowie works them like a master cabaret singer. The show, as predicted, is very good.
“I guess I should admit to you that the show does have a slant,” Bowie sheepishly explains in his room that evening. “It’s a very European-oriented show. I’ve never been there before and this is exactly the stark kind of performance I want to take over there.
“This tour is very important to me. Not just for the money, but for myself as well. I’m not about to let anything get in its way – not drugs, managers… anything. It’s funny, I remember when I first met John Lennon he told me ‘Stick with it. Survive. You’ll really go through the grind and they’ll rip you off right and left… but just survive.’ I said something cocky at the time like ‘I’ve got a great manager [DeFries]. Everything is great. I’m a seventies artist.’ The last time we spoke I said ‘John, how are you? I’ve been ripped off blind.'”
David is smiling, though. A survivor. “I suppose the answer is not to take any of it seriously.”
Someone mentions the gloomy mode that seemed to permeate Young Americans, and David agrees. “Young Americans was a fucked-up album. It certainly wasn’t an R&B record, that’s for sure. It’s the phoniest R&B I’ve ever heard, if that’s the case. If I ever would have gotten my hands on that record when I was growing up, I would have cracked it over my knee. But if it was a fucked-up album, The Man Who Sold The World actually is more so. But there was a power in that LP. There is a certain pathetic dignity about Young Americans… I kind of like that.”
Station to Station, on the contrary, is according to its creator “very much a studio LP. It was built in the studio. It’s devoid of spirit – very steely. Even the love songs are detached, but I think it’s fascinating. It’s very much like me, or very much like I want to be.”
Like many other semi-detached citizens of the Western world, David has found his listening tastes in 1976 running to machines. All the people milling around the hotel lobbies of the tour, wondering what unearthly pleasures David might be indulging himself-in, would have been surprised to discover that he spent a great deal of time in his rooms, enthusiastically immersing himself in the Fripp & Eno No Pussyfooting album of synthesizer stasis jams. “I’m so much enamored of this new sound,” he said. “It’s like Metal Machine Music is just one step further than this.”
“I’ve played Metal Machine Music all the way through, I’ll have you know,” interjected the writer, but David, ever the master of oneupsmanship, was ready even for that one.
“Oh, yes, so have I, many times!” His space face beams. He then races off in another direction, snatching up the writer’s notebook. “Let me try this with you,” he says. “Give me twenty objects or words.” “Basket… hand… tray… fish… throw… tree… light… sun… water… growth… glass… fern… house… life… telephone…play…desk…paper…wrap…sheep.”
“All right,”David immediately hands back the list and folds his hands in his lap. Each word carefully written under the other. “Ready?”
He closes his eyes and without mistake, reads the list from top to bottom. Then backwards. “I’ve got a photographic mind,” he announces.
San Francisco Cow Palace – February 6
Excellent show. The audience is, by far, the best yet. Bowie brings out Bill Graham to thank onstage. Pandemonium. “The tour,” says Administrative Assistant Pat Gibbons, “is on.”
At the small reception afterward, someone asks Bowie about Mick Ronson and The Rolling Thunder Revue. “I wish him the best. He’s a fine, fine person. I’m glad he’s happy. I hope he stays that way.”
The concept of the tour, however, Bowie found “silly.” Even though he didn’t see it. “Now, you see, we’ve reached the point where, instead of there being clichés of the archetypes, there are archetypes of the clichés. The massage is the medium. Patti Smith… I know I should see her, I know, but she just seems like another ’60s waif. And Rolling Thunder… a parody of itself. Ronno was the freshest thing about it.”
Los Angeles Forum – February 8,9 and 11
Suddenly, the guest list overwhelms the show. David Hockney, Christopher Isherwood, Lenny Kaye, Linda Blair, Patti Smith, Elton John, Steven Ford, John Baldry, Linda Ronstadt, Rod Stewart and Britt Eklund, The Tubes, Norman Lear, Louise “Mary Hartman” Lasser, Henry “Fonzie” Winkler, Candy Clark, Herbie Hancock, Michael Des Barres, Carly Simon, Maria Schneider, Valerie Perrine, Ray Bradbury and Carole King all come to see and be seen. Rona Barrett is granted an interview.
On closing night, most everybody is directed to the press room, a place where David will definitely not be making an appearance. Only Isherwood, who chronicled Nazi politics, is snuck into David’s dressing room. Bowie is awed. In the meantime, Henry “Fonzie” Winkler spends an hour wandering around the press room. “Where’s David? I mean, is he coming at all?”
Bowie receives a hometown hero’s reception in L.A. He leaves only a few claiming the band is a bit too starched. Either way, most everybody here simply wonders aloud just what character to expect next… a sign that perhaps Los Angeles really does understand Bowie’s one man repertoire.
But – the question remains more than ever at the first turn in his biggest tour – is Hollywood really what we wanted from David Bowie?
Sitting in the celebrity section of Bowie’s final Forum show, columnist/editor Lisa Robinson could have struck the nerve of the matter. “Look over there,” she whispered while David struck a series of stage poses for a blitzclicking Andy Kent, “do you believe that? With all her money, Carole King still goes out in public wearing a $3.95 schmata. What song is this?”
Courtesy of Creem – Cameron Crowe – May, 1976