Jan 30, 2004
David Bowie is no longer shying away from performing his classics on tour.
Doug Elfman: I know in the past you've said you're not completely thrilled about doing a lot from the catalog.
David Bowie: The idea at the beginning of the '90s was to stop doing the old songs, so I could give my new songs a chance. (Back then), I came out of a pretty dulled period, a period of indifference in a way. So it almost felt like I was having to give myself a kick-start somewhere. And it was probably a good thing. It might not have been fun for the audiences, but it was good for me. ... I don't feel inhibited by the old stuff, anymore. It doesn't feel like such a huge thing around my neck.
Elfman: Do you feel satisfied how your music is going to last into the future?
Bowie: Into the future. Ah, I don't really think too much that way. I'm OK today about it all. You know, I'm having a good time on this tour.
Elfman: To me, you and the Beatles are the artists of the 20th century.
Bowie: Good lord, you sound like an Englishman. [He laughs.] That's not the general American opinion, but thank you very much.
Elfman: Without you, there wouldn't have been a large infusion of things you did, like the music videos you made in the '70s -
Bowie: I don't know, I don't think I mean as much here as I do in Europe. Europe has a very different take on me than in the States. I'm still a quaint oddity in the States. The perception in Europe is somewhat different; it may be more like your viewpoint. I do see what's happened with music. ...I can hear odds and sods of what I laid down. And that's great, and I love it, and I kind of think that bands know what I contributed. I still get an awful lot of feedback from young bands, and that's pretty cool.
Elfman: Your influence seems to go through not just new wave and punk but electronica and a variety of different genres.
Bowie: I would take claim in a populist way for people to break down the different genres of music, that they can interrupt each other, that they can hybridize these things. You can use music, per se, as a palet and mix your own thing up. That really was something that I was very happy that came about.
Elfman: It always seemed to me that you were one of the very few people - like you and Prince and maybe a few others - who could balance true art and real commerce at the same time.
Bowie: That sounds like a "Spinal Tap" line if ever there was one. [He laughs. His interviewer laughs.]
Elfman: Were there times in the '70s, the '80s or the '90s or now where you felt like you were balancing more toward art or commerce?
Bowie: I think that in a lot of the '70s, I really got it right. I think a lot of the stage shows were a good mix of very well-known and not-so-well-known things. ...In the '80s, when I went into the "Glass Spider" tour, I think the feeling for that was, "Oh well, let's second-guess the audience and write stuff for them and do stuff for them that they would want." (At that point), there was some good things happening theatrically, but I think it was a very messy stage set-up. I think too many things happened at once at any particular time. ...Toward the more artsy thing, I think around '95, when I did "The Outside Tour," I banished virtually everything we'd done before 1990. ...And so we probably took it too far the other way. ...I just died a death in front of larger audiences, because they hadn't a clue of any of the songs I was doing.
Elfman: Did you get a kick out of that?
Bowie: Oh, yeah, of course, I get a really perverse fulfillment out of doing that kind of thing. But it's not to be taken lightly. And if you keep that up too often, what little audience one has left gets depleted completely.