David Bowie On Stardust

Audience appreciation is only going to be periodic at the best of times. You will fall in and out of favor continually.

Joe Smith

Interview by

April 19, 1988
Cassette Tape

Recorded during the writing of Off the Record
Hear the full interview catalog: The Library of Congress


David Robert Jones:

Born on January 8th, 1947 in the Brixton section of London

Bowie got his start in music playing saxophone as a teenager

While in school, one of his favorite teachers happened to be Peter Frampton’s father

Bowie’s right eye has a permanently dilated pupil after he was punched in the eye during a fight with school friend over a girl

He feared being confused with Davy Jones of The Monkees so he changed his name to Bowie–inspired by the knife developed by the 19th century American pioneer Jim Bowie

Bowie started his own mime troupe in the late 60s

On July 3 1973, David Bowie announced the retirement of his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, on stage at London’s Hammersmith Odeon Theatre. “Not only is this the last show of the tour, but it’s the last show that we’ll ever do,” Bowie told the crowd. His band didn’t get the memo.

John Lennon co-wrote and sang back up vocals on Bowie’s hit Fame

Sir Bowie? He turned down the offer of knighthood from the Queen in 2003. “I would never have any intention of accepting anything like that,” he said. “I seriously don’t know what it’s for. It’s not what I spent my life working for.

Animated Transcript

David Bowie: If it’s wearing a pink hat and a red nose, and it plays a guitar upside down, I will go and look at it. You know I love to see people being dangerous.

David Bowie: There was a real feeling of inadequacy in that era. I never really felt like a rock singer or a rock star or whatever. I always felt a little bit out of my element which is a ridiculously high falutin way of looking at it. Now, from my standpoint, when I look back, I realize that from ‘72 through to about ‘76, I was the ultimate rock star. I couldn’t have been more rock star.

Joe Smith: You had a zillion records and the lifestyle, everything.

David Bowie: But the lifestyle and everything. Anything that was going out there that had anything to do with being a rock and roll singer, then I was hey let’s go for this, let’s see what it is like.

[Music: David Bowie “Ziggy Stardust”]

Joe Smith:  I read a quote, somebody called you a surreal cartoon character brought to life.

David Bowie: It was, sort of. Ziggy was. I mean he was half out of sci-fi rock and half out of the Japanese theater.  The clothes were, at that time, simply outrageous. And simply… Nobody had seen anything like them before.

Joe Smith: Was there a point where people did not take your music seriously because you were doing theatrics?

David Bowie: I think I moved out of Ziggy fast enough so as not to be caught by that one. Because most rock characters that one can create only have a short lifespan. They are one shots, they are cartoony. And the Ziggy thing was worth about one or two albums before I couldn’t really write anything else around him or the world that I wanted to sort of put together for him.

[Music: David Bowie “Ziggy Stardust”]

David Bowie: I am a moderately good singer. I am not a great singer but I can interpret a song, which I don’t think is quite the same as singing it.  So I was never unaware of my strength as an interpretive performer but writing a song, for me… it never rang true. I had no problem writing something for Iggy Pop, or 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 artists I would create, because I did find it much easier having created a Ziggy, to then write for him. Even though it was me doing it. I was able to sort of distance myself from the whole… yeah, well it can become very complicated.

Joe Smith: There is a psychological name for that.

David Bowie: Yes. It is. Fucking with the fabric of time there. It did bring a whole sackful of its own inherent problems with it.

[Music: David Bowie “Moonage Daydream”]

Joe Smith: Do you have an affection for some of these characters that you have created as you look back?

David Bowie: I think the only time I get sort of nostalgic about any of that stuff at all is if I see the old videos or I see a bit of the Ziggy Stardust concerts or whatever. No, other than that I do not think I am cold about them, but I think it’s work done.

Joe Smith: I think that is an actor’s attitude too.

David Bowie: I think you have to. Otherwise you start… You get into a danger of getting into the rut and maybe try to perpetuate something that has gone before. A lot of people that I know are bugged with the idea that they have got to have an audience, or they have got to be liked. I think the more that you fall into that trap it makes your own life harder to come to terms with, because an audience appreciation is only going to be periodic at the best of times. You will fall in and out of favor continually. I do not think it should be something one should be looking for. You should turn around at the end of the day and say I really like that piece of work, or that piece of work sucked. Not, was that popular or wasn’t it popular?

[Music: David Bowie “Lady Stardust”]

Joe Smith: Is it hard being David Bowie?

David Bowie: Not really, not now, no. I do not have the outsider problem. For me, the world that I inhabit in reality is probably very different world than the one people expect that I would be in. It is quite sedate. It’s far removed from a lot of what they would feel to be the limousine traveling rock existence, or whatever.


David Bowie: I went to one of the first art-oriented high schools in England. I had a very excellent teacher, Peter Frampton’s father who really kind of is quite an inspiration. I went into the visual side of an advertising agency and I was doing pasteup jobs and small designs for raincoats and things like that. Awful, absolutely awful.

Joe Smith: Maybe you should have kept it….

David Bowie:Well, if all this goes down the tubes …

Joe Smith:You can always …

David Bowie:Get on Madison Avenue with the best of them. I think those days are over. But it did give me an unbridled interest in art. It goes through your entire life.

Photo Credits:

David Bowie “Ziggy Stardust” | “Moonage Daydream” | “Lady Stardust”

Music Credits:

Adam Bielawski
Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision
CBS Television

Video Credits: 

Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture, Parlophone
David Bowie “Life on Mars” Video, EMI
Old Grey Whistle Test, BBC